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7 Tips For Getting Sharper Photos


Jo Plumridge

This article is an extract from Issue 56 of Photography Masterclass Magazine
Person with arm extended holding camera in their hand that is pointed towards them
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We all want our images to be pin sharp. Nothing can ruin the impact of an image quicker than it being soft and out of focus. Most people know the basics of half pressing the shutter to focus, and then pushing it down fully to take the shot, but there’s a lot more to getting sharp photos than that! In this article, we’ll look at ways to ensure you always get your subject in focus.

1. Stance

This may sound simplistic but, before you even press the shutter, you need to make sure you have a good stance. Your body weight needs to be supported and stable so that you don’t accidentally move slightly and cause camera shake. This is particularly important if you change your angle of view. For example, if you want to take a low level shot, don’t crouch down as crouching offers little stability. Instead, try kneeling on one knee so that you can use your raised let to provide support for your arms. It’s all about keeping steady!

Sketch of photographer holding a camera using a stance to correctly support the camera

2. AF Point

Leaving your camera to select where it’s going to focus can often lead to your focal point not being where you want it. Selecting your own focal point is particularly important if you’re using a small depth of field, as your area of focus will be small. As a matter of habit, I always leave my camera set to the centre point AF (and its surrounding points), as many shots will need a central point of focus.

3. Shutter Speed

Unless you’ve got incredibly steady hands, don’t try to take hand held photos at anything below 1/60th of a second, as you’re likely to get camera shake. If you need to use slower shutter speeds you’ll need to use a tripod. In addition, if you’re using longer telephoto lenses you’ll want to use a shutter speed that’s as fast or faster than the focal length of your lens. So for example if you’re using a 200mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/200th or 1/250th of a second and above to avoid shake.

4. Apertures and Lenses

Image of open camera aperture

All lenses have a ‘sweet spot’ – an aperture that they produce their best results at. You’ll get your best results at this aperture and also at a particular focal length if your lens is a zoom one. Unfortunately, it’s also a fact of life that the cheaper your glass is, the more likely it is to tail off a little at its extremities. All this means in practice is stopping down a stop (e.g. from f3.5 to f4), as cheaper lenses can be a little soft at wide-open apertures. It’s worth taking the time to research any lens you’re planning to buy to make sure you know both its limitations and its sweet spot.

5. ISO

Although it’s not technically an optical issue, when you boost your camera’s ISO you will decrease the sharpness of your image. This is because the more you raise the ISO from its native setting, the more digital ‘noise’ you will get in the image. And this noise (or grain) will reduce the overall sharpness of your image. Obviously there is sometimes no choice but to raise your ISO but don’t resort to it as your first option.

Diagram showing different increasing ISO values

6. Mirror Lock-Up

Even the best DSLR camera will shake slightly when it takes a photo. This is because when the mirror flips up out of the way of the shutter, it does so at a very high speed and this causes vibration. Mirror lock up mode means that you can delay the shutter opening until the mirror is out of the way. This helps to avoid shake. Note that mirrorless cameras don’t suffer from this problem for obvious reasons!

7. Remote Release

Another way to avoid camera shake as your shutter is being released is to use a remote release. In the old days of film these screwed directly into your shutter button but modern digital cameras have a variety of options, such as electronic, infrared, Bluetooth or even Wi-Fi.

Image of camera remote shutter release

In Conclusion

By following these tips, you should be able to ensure that you always get sharp shots and photographs that are in focus.

Be sure to check out the video below for more info on how using the reciprocal rule can get you sharper photos!

Video Tutorial: The Reciprocal Rule

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