6 Tips to make sharper photos

Purple flowers on green background

How many times has this happened to you? You come back from a trip or an excursion where you have taken photos and when you look at your photos full screen, they’re not sharp. Or not sharp where you wanted them to be. This blog post will help you out. With a few simple tricks, your photos will be sharper, so you will have more photos you can keep.

1. Use a faster shutter speed

Bee eater in Southern Africa
Thanks to image stabilization and a fast shutter speed this bee eater is still sharp even if I cropped the photo

When shooting hand held and your photo shows a bit of motion blur it means your shutter speed wasn’t fast enough. It can be because the subject moved or because of camera shake. There is a simple rule of thumb to determine the slowest shutter speed for hand held photos: Take your focal length and double it. Your slowest shutter speed is 1/double focal length.
Let me give you an example. If you shoot at 24 mm, then 2×24 = 48. So, you need a shutter speed of 1/48 s. Now your camera does not use 1/48, so use 1/50 s.
If you shoot at 200 mm, you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/400 s, since 2×200 =400.

Here I used a shutter speed that was too slow. He moved his head which is now a little blurred. (Focal length 450 mm / shutter speed 1/125 s)
Hippo in South Africa out of the water
The same hippo a little later after I adjusted the shutter speed (focal length 280 mm / shutter speed 1/800 s)

2. Use lens or camera stabilization

When taking your photos hand held, use stabilization. Lens stabilization has different names depending on the brand you use (IS for Canon, VR for Nikon, etc.). Stabilization will help reduce camera shake. Together with the first tip this should give a big improvement. Remember that when you are taking photos from a tripod, you should switch the stabilization off, otherwise it might actually introduce vibrations, and make things worse.

3. Do not shoot wide open

If you have a very luminous or fast lens, using the lowest aperture can result in a photo where what you wanted to be in focus, is not. When taking photos with a f/1.8 lens or a f/2.8 lens, it is often better to use an aperture of f/3.5 or f/4. The reason for this is not that the lens can’t take a sharp photo at f/1.8, but because the depth of field is so shallow often just a few millimeters when you’re close to your subject, that it’s easy to miss the focus where you want it. Closing the aperture a little, gives you more depth of field and makes it easier to get the area of the photo sharp where you want it.

Purple flowers on green background
This photo was taken at f/6.3 with a f/2.8 lens. Closing the aperture still gave me a blurred background, but more of the flowers is now sharp.

4. Change your focus point

This is a bit trickier on some cameras, but only requires a little practice. We are often used to focus with our centre focus point by pressing the shutter button halfway and then recompose before to take the photos. When we use a fast lens with a low aperture, like we have seen in tip 3, the depth of field is very shallow. Recomposing the image is often enough for the subject to become slightly soft in the photo. We can have a sharp photo where you want, by changing the focus point. We now first compose the photo and then focus. Have a look in your manual how you can select the focus points manually.

5. Use a tripod

Up until now we have been talking about hand held photography, but especially for landscape photography, the easiest way to get sharper photos is by using a tripod. Select a tripod and even more important tripod head that can support the weight of your camera + lens easily. You can easily focus using LiveView or even manual focus anywhere you want in your scene. You will see that using a tripod not only gives you sharper photos, you also have more time to compose your photo, so your compositions will improve as well. I personally use a Sirui tripod and head; the NX-3204 + KX-40. The legs are made of 4 segments of carbon fiber and it folds down to 51 cm. The head holds more than 20 kg, so more than enough for my gear.

Llandudno beach in South Africa with waves washing on the sand
I could noever have taken this photo without a tripod. The water is moved on purpose, but the rocks are tack sharp

6. Use a remote shutter

Even when using a tripod, you could still introduce some vibrations to the camera when pressing the shutter button with your finger. You can easily avoid this by using a remote shutter. There are many remote shutters for sale and you might even be able to use your phone.
Another way to avoid pressing the shutter button is to use the self timer. The 2 second self timer is usually enough. The only disadvantage is that if your photographing action it’s more difficult to pick the right moment. In that case it’s better to use a remote shutter.

 

I hope your photos will be sharper from now on. I have learned these tips the hard way and hope that you don’t have to go through them yourself.

3 thoughts on “6 Tips to make sharper photos

  1. Zubida says:

    Nice post. As some equipments helps to get sharp image, so we should keep clean it. Otherwise it can impact our shots. So, keep the lens and other equipment clean from smudges, dust and grime.

    • mm
      David Kooijman says:

      Thank you! Of course keeping you lenses and filters clean is paramount. Dust spots and fingerprints can make your photos less sharp locally.

  2. family photography Brisbane says:

    When any photographer ponders about wildlife or nature photography, he/she becomes tensed as wildlife shooting requires specific techniques and tips. Thanks for these nice tips for taking sharper photos. Appreciated!!

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