How to Take Sharp Photos

Ever return home from an epic day of adventure filled with amazing photo-ops only to download the images onto the computer and realize your photographs don’t appear sharp? Unfortunately, that has happened to me more times than I’d care to admit. You’d think by now with all the photographs that I take, I’d know better.

mountain reflections in a lake Grand Teton National Park, WY

Making our photographs sharp, clean and crisp is something most of us want, but isn’t always easily achieved. Camera shake, subject movement, and poor focus are usually the main reasons behind poor image quality.

So, let’s talk about some ideas to help capture sharper photographs.

6 tips for beginners to take sharper photos.

1. Is it me or the camera?

The first thing we need to consider is our vision. When was the last time you had your vision checked? Oh, how embarrassing to have learned this lesson the hard way. Amazing how much sharper my images appear with new glasses.🤓 Or consider the resolution on your computer screen. Computer screens can have a huge impact on how our images are displayed. So, let’s make sure it’s the actual photograph that isn’t sharp and not our vision or computer screen. Have someone else review your images and then check the images on different devices.

2. Holding the camera steady.

Camera shake is a common reason for blurred photos. While the best way to tackle camera shake is to use a tripod, there are times and situations where using one isn’t always possible … and then there’s lazy ole me who usually leaves the tripod at home. But there are other options such as holding your camera with both hands, keeping the camera close to your body, and using a wall, tree, or another solid object for support, all of which, can help steady and minimize shake. Also, be sure your image stabilization is turned on.

great blue heron

3. Make sure the equipment is clean.

Make sure your lens and sensor are clean of any dirt and dust. Eliminating smudges, dust, and grime can impact your photographs.

4. Exposure Triangle

Understanding the exposure triangle is huge; ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed. The first thing we need to think about in our quest for sharp photos is the shutter speed we select. I’d like to think the camera gets it right when we shoot in auto, but that isn’t always the case. Plus, if we want to improve our photography skills, we really do need to move beyond auto.  Remember, the faster the shutter speed, the less impact camera shake will have on our image and the better chance of freezing any movement. But we still need to think about aperture and ISO.

Aperture impacts the depth of field, the range that is in focus in our image. Decreasing the aperture to F11 will increase the depth of field meaning that both close and distant objects will be in focus. By doing the opposite and moving your aperture to F2.8, we’ll need to be more exact where we focus. With a large aperture, only our subject will be in focus.

petrified wood

ISO – When I think back to the era of film photography, ISO was directly correlated to the speed of the film loaded in our cameras. I still think of it that way. To achieve the sharpest and most crisp image, shooting with an ISO of 100 or 200 is ideal, but lighting conditions may not always be ideal. We’ll need lots of light to shoot with an ISO of 100.

ISO has a direct impact on the noise and grain of our images. If we move up to an ISO of 1000, we’ll be able to use faster shutter speeds and a smaller aperture but we’ll suffer by increasing the noise and decreasing crispness in our photos. Depending upon our camera and how we intend to use the photograph, we can usually get away with using an ISO of up to 400 or even 800 without too much noise. A good quality DSLR/Mirrorless can easily go up to an ISO of 3200 or more. My Panasonic FZ300 is good up to 400 and then noise really starts to set in and I lose the sharpness to the image. Each camera is different which leads me into the next tip.

5. Sweet Spot

#phototips, #photographytips, #cameratips, #photography, #travel, #howto, #beginnersguidetophotographyCameras and lenses have spots in their aperture or zoom ranges that are sharper than others. In many cases, this ‘sweet spot’ is one or two stops from the maximum aperture or zoom. So instead of shooting with your lens wide open (ie where the numbers are smallest) pull it back a stop or two and you might find you get a little more clarity in your shots.

The same with zoom lenses. I know with my Point & Shoot as well as my Bridge camera, I don’t shoot with the lens zoomed in or out all the way and I also know F4 is my FZ300’s sweet spot (F8 equivalent to a DSLR). It just takes some trial and error to get to really know and understand your equipment.

6. Check focus

Always check what part of the image is in focus before hitting the shutter. Consider setting the camera to one autofocus point instead of several. This is especially important when shooting wildlife or people. Also, depth of field is something we need to consider. A large aperture like F2.8 will usually have only one autofocus point in focus versus a small aperture like F11 will have several of the autofocus points in focus.

Final thoughts

Practice, practice, practice! And remember, photography isn’t a science. It’s a creative art of expression. And in the end, what matters most about an image is how it makes YOU feel and the memories that photo evokes within you.

Happy shooting! 📷

solitude

(Thank you for using my affiliate links)

Panasonic Lumix FZ300
How to Create Stunning Digital Photography
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019

 

 

 

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72 thoughts on “How to Take Sharp Photos

    1. Thank you Sue. I can’t emphasis practice enough. Since I’ve been shooting with the same camera for the past four years, I can navigate its menu in the field with ease. I recently bought an updated model and still learning the new little features that came with the upgrade. Fun times!

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  1. Great images you picked for this informative post, Ingrid. And, of course, thank you for the tips. A “quick guide” to photography. I hope to do all this more manually in the future, but to make photography a real hobby (understanding all the terms, use of the camera, and practice) takes time…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it does take practice. Fortunately for me, I love photography so I get in plenty of practice. I haven’t been out shooting nearly as much as I’ve wanted, but hoping this summer excursion will have the camera working in overdrive. Right now the saguaros are blooming 🌵❤☺

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips Ingrid. I just purchased a 100-400 zoom lens for my Panasonic G85. Took it out for first time today. Practiced with bird photos. I got some ok photos for the first time out. I can see there is a little bit of a learning curve. I need to get used to the heavier lens and holding it steady. Going with the mirror less camera was definitely the right decision for me. I don’t think I could shoot with the heavier APS or full frame equipment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congrats on the new lens. I look forward to seeing your images. I almost bought the Panasonic G85 but at the last minute went with the bridge FZ300 mostly because of weight. Happy shooting!

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  3. I thought my bad eyesight prevented me from using the viewfinder…that is, until you showed me the focusing knob! I’m having a ball experimenting with the 300, Ingrid. Thanks again for all the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great tips and great photos. Thanks! Recently I more often take my Manfrotto monopod when hiking. It ‘helps’ reduce camera shake, particularly on zoomed shots. Another tip I heard recently, good for zoom shots also, is to use the 2-second timer, so your shutter button press doesn’t shake the camera. It gives you time to take a breath, and hold steady. RE: the FZ300, Graham Houghton on YouTube has some lengthy (lengthy) tutorials FWIW, though you are obviously quite accomplished.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great tips John. I’ve actually been looking at monopods that can be used as a hiking pole. Thanks to Graham, I was able to take my camera off auto. His tutorials and manual are the best.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My monopod, which wasn’t uber pricey, has a steel point at bottom, is 3-section collapsible/height-adjustable, and makes a thick 2+ foot club that I would not want to be hit with.

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  5. Great info. I enjoyed reading your tips. It is always good to review the basics. I struggled with sharpness mostly on one of my lenses. Sometimes the lens quality is just not there, especially with third party lens manufacturers. I have since replaced that lens with the same brandcas my camera and have seen much improvement. It was more expensive but I now have greater confidence in nailing the sharpness of my images than I did with the other model.

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  6. Thanks, Ingrid! Great tips for understanding shutter speed, ISO and aperture–still learning these myself. Your images are gorgeous and show good examples. I shoot with the viewfinder without my glasses–fine so far, but as you say, other factors play into the sharpness. My pro photography class instructor recommends shooting in aperture mode for most shots. What is nice is to save the shot in your camera and read the specs of the image of those you really like and duplicate them for future similar shots. Did you recently get the Lumix 300 or did you already have it? I love mine, as you know.

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    1. Personally, after a great deal of practice, with the bridge camera (which is NOT a DSLR), I prefer to shoot in Program or shutter priority. F4 is the sweet aperture spot on the FZ200 and I’m assuming it is on the FZ300, which mine is in the mail 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s where I fall down most so this was an apt reminder – thank you for the breadth of this post – I’ll be looking for the sweet spot p.s. The herons are razor sharp and hence the impact

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    1. This may not always be the case. I have a Nikon lens for which the manual says to “generally” leave stabilization turned on when using a tripod, but some circumstances may dictate turning it off. I have another Nikon lens which requires image stabilization be turned off when tripod mounted. I’m not sure why this is. I’m not expert on the subject of image stabilization.

      I do know there are different ways to stabilize images: in-camera, in-lens, mechanical and electronic. There is an informative piece about it on Wikipedia for those who are interested:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_stabilization

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  8. Wow, you are talking technical stuff, Ingrid! And I’m sure you are practicing what you preach as evidenced by your photos. Excellent photography post.
    As for me, I need to practice, practice practice, as you said.

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    1. Oh, you are a pro and take amazing photos. I could learn a thing or two from you. We need to go out shooting together. It has been way to long since our last visit. Hope to see you soon!

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  9. This is great. I’ve found that my photos are sharper when I use shutter priority and let the camera figure out the aperture. I used to use aperture priority but often found I ended up with soft photos. Anyway, lots of helpful tips here! Happy trails!

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    1. I hear ya Laura and totally agree. I rarely shoot in aperture priority unless I’m striving for bokeh. Hope that Colorado weather is starting to behave!

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  10. Great tips! I struggle with the Exposure Triangle the most and wish I understood it better. It takes time, practice and experimentation which I need to do. I take most of my photos on “A” and play with the WB but that, for now, is the extent of my experimenting. Looking forward to a personal lesson!

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    1. I would suggest shooting on Program and using the WB. F4 is the bridge camera’s sweet spot. The only time I use Aperture priority is when I want to create bokeh. For wildlife I always use Shutter priority. Most of the time I leave ISO on auto. But we can talk all about it in person 😃

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  11. Ingrid,

    Great tips on getting sharp photos.

    Here’s a general rule-of-thumb principle regarding hand-holding cameras and camera shake that I learned years ago: if you want to know the slowest shutter speed at which you can safely hand-hold a camera while avoiding camera shake it’s about equivalent to the formula of 1 over the focal length of the lens. For example, if you are shooting with a 300mm telephoto lens then the slowest shutter speed you would use while hand-holding would be 1/300th of a second. This rule applies to 35mm form factor cameras. I don’t know if it applies to other types of cameras such as point-and-shoots.

    There is an additional consideration for 35mm digital cameras that use the smaller APS-C sensors as opposed to full frame sensors. Such cameras magnify the focal length of lenses by a factor of about 1.5 so that, for example, a 300mm lens has an effective focal length of 450mm. So, for that lens using the hand-holding rule the slowest shutter speed that should be used would be 1/450th of a second.

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    1. Thank you Russ for your input. Excellent tip. Since this post was geared toward beginners (considering I’m still a novice myself), I didn’t want to dive too deep and get in over my head 😀 but the math seems pretty straight forward and a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Thanks!

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  12. Nice post – Question about your thoughts on ISO in Auto. I have seen varying opinions about leaving your camera set to Daylight anytime you’re taking photos outdoors, which seems to work ok. Lately, I have been leaving my camera’s ISO set to Auto and this seems to be working just fine for me. I always shoot in RAW, so if it doesn’t look quite the way I wanted, I just fix it in Lightroom or PS. Your thoughts?? How do you handle ISO?

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    1. If I may interject… it sounds like you may be confusing or conflating ISO with color balance. ISO is a measure of how sensitive your camera will be in relation to how much light is available. Color Balance, on the other hand, is a measure of how your camera will record the scene in relation to the color of the light, not how much light there may be.

      By leaving your ISO set to Auto your camera will automatically adjust its sensitivity to the amount of light present but it will not effect how your camera interprets color. On the other hand, setting the Color Balance to Auto, your camera will automatically adjust for the color of the light but will not change its sensitivity to light.

      These controls are generally independent of each other and set separately.

      For those who may not be aware, the color of light varies. For outdoor photos it changes based on numerous factors including the time of day, elevation, latitude, whether you are in direct sun, shade, if it’s cloudy, as well as the season. This is why, for example, things tend to take on a warm reddish glow at sunrise and sunset. It has to do with how the atmosphere filters sunlight. For indoor photos it is largely a factor of the kind of bulbs or LEDs illuminating the scene. If your camera is set to the wrong color balance or if it picks unwisely when set to Auto Color Balance, then your photos may take on a color cast and look too red, too blue or too green, for example. In my experience, which is considerable (50+ years of shooting, many as a pro), automatic color balance is sometimes magic but at other times not so good. When shooting in RAW it doesn’t matter how your color balance is set unless you are also capturing JPEGs at the same time in which case the color balance settings will be applied to the JPEGs. I have also encountered unexpected results when picking Color Balance settings manually. In the end, the best setting whatever looks best to you and your creative, interpretive vision.

      HTH.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. No problem Jai … I can relate 😄 I leave my WB on auto most of the time, but definitely like to change it when it’s overcast. I find I don’t have to do as much editing and like getting it right in camera as much as possible.

          Liked by 1 person

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