10 Tips for Sharper Photos

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One of the most important elements of a good photo is having the appropriate sharpness. In some cases you’ll want everything in the photo to be acceptably sharp, and in other cases you will want to use selective focus to one specific area of the photo that is sharp and take advantage of blur or bokeh in other areas, such as the background. Regardless of which approach you are taking, getting a sharp photo is critical.

Here we’ll take a look at ten things you can do to get sharper images.

1. Use a Tripod

Using a tripod is one of the most effective ways to eliminate blur due to movement of the camera. A steady tripod removes any shake or movement while the photo is being taken, and helps greatly for getting the sharpness you are after. Tripods are especially useful, and really essential, in low light situations or any other time that you are using a slow shutter speed.

Carrying a tripod isn’t always convenient or possible, and in some of these situations a monopod can be a good alternative. We’ll look at plenty of other tips that can help you in situations where you don’t have a tripod or a monopod.

10 Tips for Sharper Photos

Lake Tahoe by Giuseppe Milo

2. Use a Remote Shutter Release

When you are using a tripod it can be helpful to also use a remote shutter release. Even the smallest movement like that caused by your finger pressing down the shutter button can reduce the sharpness of the photo. With a with a remote shutter release you won’t need to press any buttons and it will further reducing the chances of blur from camera movement or shaking.

If you don’t have a remote shutter release you can also accomplish the same thing by using the timer. Set the timer so the shot is fired a few seconds after you press the button and it will help to avoid any shaking while the photo is being captured. This works in situations where your subject is still, but in some cases it will be hard to anticipate the shot, even with just a two-second delay on the timer.

3. Steady Yourself

When you don’t have a tripod available you can use some other object for stability. You can either rest the camera on it, or lean and use it to stabilize yourself. For example, you could use a tree stump, a fence, a post, a table, or some other object as a makeshift tripod to steady the camera. Or lean against a wall to give yourself the stability.

4. Hold the Camera Properly

You can work to minimize movement by holding the camera properly. There are a few different approaches you can use, but generally you’ll want to use two hands to hold the camera, keep your elbows in, and keep your feet shoulder width apart for a steady base. See this article for more details.

10 Tips for Sharper Photos

5. Use a Fast Shutter Speed

One of the most common causes of blurry photos is not using a fast enough shutter speed. A fast shutter speed can allow you to freeze the action of the subject of the photo, and to minimize any blurriness caused by your own movement. Of course, the right shutter speed will vary from one situation to the next, but if your photos are blurry try using a faster shutter speed, especially if these is any movement in the frame of the photo.

6. Use Lenses with Image Stabilization

Many lenses include a feature for image stabilization (IS), which can help to reduce the impact of small movements while the photo is being taken. If your lens has image stabilization, turn it on (you may want to turn it off when using a tripod since the tripod will provide the stabilization).

Not all lenses are created equal. Even aside from image stabilization a higher quality lens will produce sharper photos than a lower quality lens. Invest in good quality lenses and your work will benefit.

10 Tips for Sharper Photos

Photo by Gregoire Lannoy

7. Know Your Lens’ Sweet Spot

The aperature can also have a significant impact on the sharpness and focus on an image. Using a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) will allow you to keep elements in both the foreground and background in focus. With this in mind you may decide to just use the smallest aperture possible to try and keep everything in focus. However, it’s very common for lenses to not perform their best at the extremes. For example, if your lens offers f-22 as the smallest aperture you may get the sharpest photos a few f-stops away from that. Most lenses have a sweet spot where their focus and sharpness tends to be the best. So you may want to use f-18 instead of f-22 if that falls within your lenses sweet spot.

Testing the sweet spot of any lens is pretty easy. Use a tripod and take multiple photos of the same subject at different f-stops. Then open the photos in Photoshop or Lightroom and zoom in at 100% and compare the sharpness. It’s best to do this with a few different test subjects, and you should be able to find the sweet spot of your lens. With that knowledge you can make sure that you stay within that sweet spot in the future.

8. Focus Wisely

Where you focus will obviously have an impact on the sharpness of your photo. If you are using auto focus make sure that you are selecting the most appropriate focal point in order to ensure the best results. If you are taking portraits you will generally want to focus on the eye. If you’re shooting a landscape you may want to focus somewhere about 1/3 of the way into the scene.

9. Pay Attention to Your Focal Length

Focal length also has an impact on sharpness. If you are using a telephoto lens any movement will be magnified, increasing the likeliness of a blurry photo. If possible, get closer to your subject rather than zooming in.

10. Apply Sharpening in Lightroom or Photoshop

Both Lightroom and Photoshop make it possible to apply sharpening to a photo. This will not allow you to take a photo that lacks sharpness and make it perfect, but it will allow you to make slight improvements if you are starting with a photo that is already reasonably sharp. In Lightroom all you need to do is adjust the sharpening sliders (see this article if you are not familiar with this process). In Photoshop there are a few different ways to sharpen a photo, but the unsharp mask is often the best option.