Every photographer knows the importance of capturing sharp photos. Photos could work for personal projects or social media if they are slightly blurred. But if you are looking to sell your images you will find that your images will be rejected if they are not perfect. Unless the photo is supposed to be blurred (i.e. motion blur) then it will not get through the QA of picture editors. Here are 7 simple tips to help you capture sharp photos every time.
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Use a tripod
Most photographers will tell you that this is their favourite accessory. If you want to take the best photo possible in the best possible light, a tripod is essential. The great thing about using a tripod is that it gives you full control over the photo. But also usually it means you can step away and think about the photo. But the greatest benefit of using a tripod is that it will allow you to take a photo with a greater depth of field. Even if you have to use slow shutter speeds. Tripods vary a lot from one another. Cheaper ones are often not sturdy enough so make sure you do your research and buy the best tripod you can afford.
The correct aperture
This is a topic that usually generates a lot of debates. In simple terms the smaller the aperture (larger f/number) the greater your depth of field. Thus the sharper your image will be all the way from the foreground to the background. But it isn’t as simple as that. In fact, very small apertures (large f numbers) can have an adverse effect on the sharpness of the image. Diffraction can cause your image to look soft at very narrow apertures. Most photographers would agree that apertures of around f/8 to f/10 will produce pretty good results. But the only way to know for sure is to test your lenses to find out what their limitations are.
Use manual focus
The auto-focus in DSLR cameras has come a long way and is now superb. But if you want to ensure your photos are correctly focused and sharp you should look to manual focus. Manually focusing will ensure that the photo is focused on the subject you are looking to photograph. Not something in front or behind that the camera has accidentally focused on. Almost every digital camera now allows you to “live view” the images on the screen on the back of the camera. So set your camera to manual focus and zoom into the image. You can then check that details you want are sharp and make adjustments as necessary.
This is sometimes where beginner photographers stumble when it comes to capturing sharp photos. You might not realise, but on traditional DSLR cameras with a mirror, every time you press to take a picture, the mirror inside the camera flicks up and down to allow light to come into the sensor. If you are photographing with a fast shutter speed this won’t make any difference. But for longer exposures, this movement can shake the camera slightly. This will make your photos look soft because of the slight blur. Some cameras will automatically lock the mirror in “live view” mode. But if it doesn’t or you are not going to use “live view” make sure you adjust the “mirror lock-up” setting in your camera’s menu.
Remote timer or release
Often the most difficult images to capture sharp are ones that need long exposures. After all, this is where things have time to go wrong. You need to be aware of any movement as even the slightest can cause camera shake and make your image look blurry. Sometimes this comes from pressing the shutter release button on the camera. The best way to avoid this is by using a cable release but if you don’t have one, fear not. You can set your camera on a timer so that when you click to take a photo, the timer starts. Needless to say that this only works if you are using a tripod or have rested your camera on a sturdy surface.
Think about ISO
There are times when you have no other choice than to raise your ISO. This might be the only way to allow enough light into the camera to take the picture. But the higher your ISO, the greater the level of noise in your photos, which in turn means the softer your image will be. Different cameras have different levels of noise. So it is imperative to test your camera at different ISO settings. This will give you an idea of how much noise you will get in your photos. By doing this before you need to use your camera in the field, you’ll have an idea of how high you can set your ISO before the level of noise becomes unacceptable.
There’s no doubt that every photo will benefit from some form of post-production. Whether that is simple cropping or more advanced colour corrections and retouching. But the key is to ensure that the post-production is subtle and enhances the image rather than overpowering it. So use post-production to make your images look sharper. But avoid too much noise reduction or sharpening which can show up in your photos. If you can tell that your image has been post-processed, then so can picture editors – subtlety is the key.
It’s usually one of the most frustrating things for a photographer. To think that they have captured a great photo only to realise that it isn’t sharp. With practice, you will improve and those annoying blurred photos will become less and less frequent. Follow the simple tips above and you will be on your way to capturing sharp photos.
Kav Dadfar is a travel photographer and author of almost 350 articles on photography. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
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