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Sharp photos - and how to get them ...

 24th May 2010

sharp photosHave you been in the right place at the right time, in perfect light, got the composition spot on ­ but when you enlarge it the photo’s not sharp? Countless thousands of great images are spoilt because of sharpness.

Using our Photography Videos request form Coen, Rob Lyle, Peter Mentall and Romas Majus (to name but a few) have all asked us to make a ‘how to get sharp photos’ video - which we will.

For now here are some tips to help you get sharp photos every time.

There are three main things to consider in order to ensure nice crispy sharp photos.

Where you place the point of focus

We’ve all got ‘auto focus’ lenses these days ­ but in reality they’re not completely automatic. The camera doesn’t know what you want to have in focus and what you don’t, so switch off any Multi Area Focus functions and use Spot Focus instead.

Spot focus means that the camera focuses on whatever you place the highlighted square ‘gun sight’ on when you half press the shutter button.

sharp photos 2In this illustration it’s set to the centre square - ­ but you can set it to work on any one you want it to depending on the composition you want. IE ­ subject right or left etc.

Check out your handbook to find out how to assign different focusing points in the viewfinder.

Yes I know reading the manual's not a popular thing to do - but not all cameras control the focus points in the same way. Sorry but you'll just have to bite the bullet on this!

Once selected - simply place the square where you want the most sharpness to be, press the shutter button halfway and that's where the camera will focus.

To ensure really sharp photos do the focusing and press the shutter straight away - because even the tiniest movement on your part could change the focus - so don't dilly-dally!

Camera shake

Camera Shake accounts for more un sharp photos than anything else - ­ particularly if you’re using a long lens. Here’s why.

When your lens is ‘zoomed’ right out to longer focal lengths (100mm +) the image through the viewfinder jumps about because us humans can’t hand-hold the camera completely still. The tiny movements we all make just by breathing etc are magnified through the lens. And the longer the lens the more movement you get.

The best way to get sharp photos with a long lens is to use a tripod - ­ but you might not have one with you. Leaning against a tree, careful squeezing of the shutter button (rather than 'poking' at it) all help minimise camera shake.

Here’s a little rule of thumb which will eliminate camera shake in all but the most unsteady handed of individuals.

sharp photos focal lengthsDo the following in the order it’s written

  1. Zoom the lens and compose your picture the way you want it.
  2. Now look at the barrel of your lens to see which focal length you’ve set.
  3. Re-compose your photo and check what your shutter speed is through viewfinder (circled in red above) - ­ NOT on the top LCD because shutter speed will change depending on what your camera’s pointing so you must check with your shot composed.
  4. Make sure you’re using a shutter speed at least as fast as the focal length of the lens.

For example - if you’re zoomed to 60mm and your shutter speed is a 60th second or faster ­ your picture won’t suffer from camera shake.

If your focal length is 120mm you’d need at least a 120th second (or faster) shutter speed.
200mm would need at least a 200th second and so on.

Short lenses are great because if your lens is only 12mm long - you only need a 12th second or faster to hold the camera still enough for biting sharp photos.

To achieve the necessary shutter speed - ­ try using shutter priority (also called TV) mode. Or if you’re using a particular aperture because you want a certain depth of field you can increase your ISO instead.

Some lenses have Vibration Control or Image Stabilising which will let you use a speed of about half of the focal length and still have sharp photos.

Lens quality

I did a ‘One to Two’ photography course with Jim and Ann last week and we found Jim had a sharpness issue because his 18-250mm super-zoom lens is soft. Even when shooting on a tripod with fast enough shutter and very careful focusing, the beautiful photos of white tulips he was shooting weren’t quite sharp. Lenses which go from very short to very long can’t do a good job at all focal lengths. They're Jacks of all trades - but masters of none.

Despite being convenient ­ you’re better to buy a short zoom, a mid range and a long zoom and swap between them. I’ve been on a quest for a super-zoom which can give me sharp photos across the range for a couple of years but haven’t found one yet.

So in summary…

  • Be careful where you focus
  • Make sure your shutter speed is at least as fast as the lens is long ­ or use a tripod
  • Use zoom lenses of less range ­ or prime lenses for the very best sharpness

I hope this 'sharp photos' photography tip has been helpful. Next time I'll explain more about ISOs and how to use them.

If you'd like to let me know any areas you're having problems with - please use our request form on our photography video page. It's very useful to know what you want to know from you - rather than hoping what I say is handy!

If you're a beginner and are struggling to get the pictures you'd hoped for - our Beginners Course download is designed to help you see results ASAP, is written in a friendly style and is as jargon free as possible.

Mike BrowneWith summer here now is also the perfect time to have a One to One course - that's a whole day of my undivided attention to help you get photography issues cleared up - and some practical hands on help from someone who's been right where you are now.

Happy shooting till next time.....



PS - Sorry for the gap in photography tips this month. Jayne and I have been working 12 days a week shooting commissions which is great for business - but leaves no time for anything else.