If you want to consistently capture sharp images, you’ve come to the right place.
Because, while getting clean, crisp, sharp photos may appear difficult, it’s actually quite simple if you know the right techniques. And that’s exactly what I’ll be covering in this article: my top 11 best tips, techniques, and secrets for sharper images.
So, whether you’re a newbie dealing with blur or an expert photographer seeking that additional bit of sharpness, keep reading!
1. Hold your camera correctly
What is the most common cause of image blur?
When you press the shutter button, if your camera moves even slightly, you may get a blurry photo. This is especially true when using telephoto lenses, shooting at high magnifications, or shooting in low light.
That is why, if you want to shoot crisper images, you should practice your handholding technique. Grip your camera with one hand and cup your other hand beneath the lens. Keep the camera close to your body, your elbows tight, and – if at all possible – support yourself with a wall, a tree, or another substantial object.
Also, don’t punch the shutter button; instead, push it softly.
Proper handholding technique will result in a significant boost in sharpness, although it is not failsafe. If you photograph in low light, you may find it difficult to capture clear handheld images, which is where my following advice comes in:
2. Use a tripod
If you want to take sharp shots, utilizing a tripod is the finest thing you can do for yourself.
However, you will need to get a robust tripod; a cheap, plasticky type will only provide limited benefits (and may even increase the blur, depending on other factors).
A tripod is required for photographing long exposures at night. I’d also include a tripod for most landscape photos and circumstances where you’ll be utilizing a long lens.
But, before you grab your tripod, ask yourself: Is it really necessary for me to carry this with me? If your tripod is hefty and you’re going on a long trek or flying, you could be better off without it. (Tip: If you enjoy taking photos while traveling, invest in a nice portable tripod.) They’re both strong and little!)
3. Select a fast shutter speed
Another important cause of fuzzy photos:
The shutter speed is too sluggish.
The shutter speed, you know, refers to the amount of time the camera sensor is exposed to light. Furthermore, if your shutter speed is too slow, portions of your photograph will have time to move (and your setup will have time to shake, as well).
You don’t need to worry about using a fast shutter speed if you’re using a tripod and your subject is motionless (e.g., a desert landscape). However, if you’re handholding your camera or hoping to capture fast action, a fast shutter speed is essential.
How do you choose the best shutter speed for capturing tack-sharp images? Use the reciprocal “rule” for handholding if your subject is stationary:
The shutter speed should be faster than the focal length of the lens.
So, if your lens is 50mm, shoot at 1/50s or faster. If your lens is 100mm, shoot at 1/100s or higher. If you have a 200mm lens, shoot at 1/200s or higher. Does that make sense?
The rule isn’t perfect, so choose your shutter speed with caution (a too-fast shutter speed is rarely harmful). When using a long lens, shooting at high magnifications, or shooting with an unstable foundation (e.g., standing on a chair), you should err on the side of caution.
Remember that you cannot select your shutter speed in isolation. If you raise the shutter speed, your photographs will get darker – unless you increase the ISO or wider the aperture to compensate for the increased exposure.
4. Choose a narrow aperture
The depth of field (the window of focus) in your photos is affected by the aperture. Another cause of fuzzy images is a lack of focus or a shallow depth of field.
You may now enlarge the focus window in your photographs by reducing your aperture. An aperture of f/16 may be sufficient to maintain the entire image crisp (depending on a variety of circumstances, including the focal length of your lens). An aperture of f/2.8, on the other hand, will often provide a limited window of sharpness.
If your photographs are fuzzy due to a shallow depth of field, just increase the aperture to f/8, f/11, or even f/16, and you should see a big boost in clarity.
Technically, if your photographs are fuzzy due to a lack of focus, you should improve your focusing technique (as I discuss below). However, by narrowing the aperture (and therefore increasing the depth of field), you may allow yourself a little more discretion while shooting.
Keep in mind that narrowing the aperture will darken the image, so keep an eye on your exposure as you make modifications. You may compensate by decreasing the shutter speed or increasing the ISO, but doing so has serious ramifications, as I demonstrate throughout this post.
5. Keep your ISO as low as possible
In several of the preceding pieces of advice, I mentioned the option of increasing your ISO for a brighter exposure — and in certain instances, this is a smart idea. A high ISO will enhance picture exposure, resulting in a more detailed photograph.
High ISOs, on the other hand, have a drawback known as noise. Noise is simply little speckles of light and color that appear throughout your images, and when it becomes excessive, it may adversely damage clarity.
So, what ISO setting should you use to get crisp images? It depends on your camera, and high-ISO noise performance is always increasing. You can typically get away with an ISO of 800 or 1600 these days, especially if you have a modern full-frame camera.
And, if you need a fast shutter speed (for example, if you’re shooting an indoor sport), it’s better to increase the ISO than to underexpose all of your photos.
However, wherever feasible, leave your ISO at its default setting. That is how you will obtain the finest photographs.
(It’s worth noting that noise can also be reduced in post-processing.) However, this usually results in a slight decrease in image quality, so proceed with caution!)
6. Enable image stabilization.
Many cameras and lenses have image stabilization, which is meant to intelligently compensate for camera shake.
So, if your equipment has this feature, make use of it. Image stabilization isn’t flawless, but it will allow you to handhold at very slow shutter speeds, especially if you’re using top-of-the-line image-stabilized gear. In some low-light settings, you can even avoid using a tripod entirely.
Keep in mind that image stabilization helps with camera movement but not a subject movement, so it won’t increase clarity if you’re shooting low-light action (though a few lenses do offer sharpness gains when panning in low light; for more details, consult your lens manual).
Another item to consider:
Turn off image stabilization if you attach your camera on a tripod and set the shutter speed to less than 1/80s. You won’t need the stabilization since your tripod will keep your images clear, and active image stabilization on a rock-solid foundation will actually increase the blur.
7. Improve your focusing technique (and use the right settings)
If you frequently discover that the wrong section of your photograph appears sharp, you have a focusing problem.
First, I’d suggest double-checking your focusing settings. Make sure your camera is set to AF-S mode while capturing stationary subjects (One-Shot AF on Canon). When capturing moving subjects, use the AF-C mode on your camera (AI-Servo on Canon).
Adjust your focusing points as well. The optimal option will depend on the situation, but for stationary subjects, a single-point configuration is usually sufficient, but for moving subjects, a collection of AF points or some type of AF tracking is preferable.
When concentrating on fast-moving subjects, make sure you use the viewfinder rather than the LCD. And pan your camera along with the subjects (and keep panning even after you’ve clicked the shutter button).
When focusing on stationary subjects, it’s generally preferable to utilize the focus-and-recompose approach, in which you grab focus on your region of interest, half-press the shutter button (this locks focus), and then recompose until you obtain the desired result. Only then should you press the shutter button all the way down.
Pro tip: If you’re photographing a subject in low light or up close and your lens continues dropping focus, just switch to manual focus. Then, using the focus ring on the lens barrel, carefully adjust the point of focus. Sure, it’s a slower method, but it gets the job done!
8. Make sure your lenses are sharp
This is for DSLR and mirrorless camera owners:
Invest in the best lenses you can afford since they have a significant influence on image sharpness.
Kit zooms (such as the 18-55mm lens that is sometimes packaged with starter cameras) are typically soft, especially when contrasted to pro-level lenses offered by major lens manufacturers.
If you don’t have a lot of money but want to change your lenses, look into fixed-focal-length choices (called primes). These are usually inexpensive, but the image quality is excellent.
You may also hunt for pro-level zooms on the used market, where you can typically get them for half the price of a new item.
I was looking for an everyday zoom lens with both wide and telephoto zoom capabilities shortly after purchasing my first DSLR. I purchased a Canon EF 28-135mm lens. It was an excellent lens (and cheaply priced), but it lacked sharpness. A few months later, I borrowed a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens (“L” refers to Canon’s professional family of lenses), and the improvement in clarity was astounding. While the first lens was adequate for the price I paid for it, I decided to upgrade (and the current lens is now nearly constantly attached to my camera!).
By the way, before you run out and spend a lot on new glasses, consider this: Are my lenses really so soft? Sure, you may not use thousand-dollar lenses, but there are plenty of lenses that are adequate, especially if you mostly publish your photographs on social media.
9. Get your eyes checked
It may come as a surprise to you, but poor vision may also reduce visual clarity! You may fail to achieve perfect focus, focus in the wrong spot by mistake, or fail to realize if your lens has a focusing problem.
So, have your eyes examined! I just had my test for the first time in several years, and I was astonished to discover that they had deteriorated dramatically. Getting new spectacles enhanced a variety of aspects of my life, including my photography.
In a similar vein, if your camera has a diopter, adjust it. A diopter is a little wheel that sits next to your viewfinder and allows you to adjust the sharpness of the image. The diopter is very handy for persons with impaired eyesight because it can compensate for poor vision (you won’t need glasses when shooting!).
10. Clean your equipment
Dirt, dust, smudges, fingerprints, and other debris will accumulate on your lenses over time, reducing sharpness.
Two get a camera cleaning kit (you can find these on Amazon for a few bucks) and set out an hour or so to clean all of your lenses. Working carefully is required since poor cleaning methods might permanently harm or taint your lens components.
Similarly, dust may get into the sensor of a DSLR or mirrorless camera, causing unsightly blotches. I’d recommend leaving a sensor clean to specialists — it can be destructive if done incorrectly – but if you’ve spotted ugly stains all over your photos, it might be time to get one done.
11. Use your lens’s aperture sweet spot
Depending on the setting, the image will grow softer or sharper as you alter the aperture on your lens.
Wide apertures, such as f/2.8, are often softer, but the “sweet spot” range is typically about f/8. (If you go too narrow, you’ll notice softness due to diffraction, so stop at f/13 or so.)
Of course, the specifics vary on your lenses, so thoroughly test each one; take a series of images at various apertures, then pixel-peep on your computer to discover the clearest files.
If you have a zoom lens, you should additionally verify sharpness across its focal length range. Many zooms become softer as you travel toward the extremes, but by determining the appropriate focal lengths, you may achieve even crisper photographs.