Sharp Images 5 Top Tips
Getting sharp images is vital, because except in the rare instances when you don’t want image sharpness for ‘arty’ reasons, an un-sharp image is pretty much useless.
So here are my 5 top tips to help you ensure you always have pin sharp photos. And as always these are up to you to mange and you think your way through each and every photo you take.
This is the no 1 cause of the majority of soft images. Especially when shooting in low light or with a long lens. Humans cannot keep completely still. When hand holding, we’ll always move the camera just a bit and this can affect image sharpness if the shutter speed is not fast enough to freeze those tiny movements.
The longer your lens is, the more these movements are magnified. Therefore you have to keep a close watch on shutter speed as you zoom in. The basic rule is to make sure the shutter speed you use is at least as fast as the focal length is long.
For example, if your lens is at 150mm you need at least 150th second. For safety you should double this to a 300th second but if you have image stabilisation you’ll probably get away with it. If your camera has a crop sensor you should definitely double it. The smaller your sensor is, the faster shutter speed you’ll need, because small sensors have the effect of making your lens longer and therefore the ‘shake’ effect will be stronger.
Compensate for the increased shutter speed by widening your aperture and increasing your ISO. If you don’t know how, you need my Ultimate Beginners Course, which more than covers this and a everything else you need to get going fast…
Just because your camera has auto focus, it doesn’t mean you’ll always get sharp photos. Autofocus is fantastic but it doesn’t know what part of your photo you want to focus on, so it makes its best guess.
To ensure sharp photos, you have to tell it. There are a host of autofocus controls that enable you to choose a single point within your composition, to track motion towards and away from you. Fully auto is great when it’s obvious what the subject is because it’s filling the frame. If it’s moving, you can combine that with the tracking facility.
Just think about what you’re taking a photo of and match the correct autofocus mode to it. If none match, you can focus manually. Thinking about what you’re doing is what my 7 Building Blocks of Photography are all about.
This is a creative choice for you about how much image sharpness you want. Maybe it’s only a little so foreground and background are soft, but your point of focus is sharp. Like a portrait for example. Or perhaps you want everything sharp as is usually the case shooting landscape.
Depth of field is like a block of sharpness within your image. You can expand and contract it and move it back and fourth in the image to control what’s sharp and what’s not.
Groan, moan, groan…. I know, few photographers, especially new photographers, want to have to carry a tripod with them. But the benefits are massive if you can be bothered to put in that little bit of extra effort.
In most cases, a sturdy tripod with a good solid head will increase your image sharpness by 200%. A tripod eliminates the risk of camera shake so you can shoot in low light and use a long lens knowing your photos will be sharp.
A tripod slows you down and gives you more time to think, plan your composition, make sure your focus is where you want it, your depth of field is as deep as you need it and use a low ISO for better image quality. Boom – sharp photos in the bag.
A word of warning. Only buy a sturdy tripod that will not vibrate or wobble on a breezy day. If it’s flimsy and vibrates when you touch the camera it’s a useless waste of money. You’re better not to buy it at all and muddle through on your own. That goes for the tripod head too. There’s no point having a strong tripod then putting a plastic head on it that can’t fully support the weight of your camera.
Dirt, dust and greasy finger marks on your lens will stop your photos being sharp. It’s so easy to clean your lenses so always do it.
There are a lot of rumours online that you’ll damage your lens by cleaning it too much. That’s just ARSE fodder of the worst kind! I have lenses I’ve been cleaning with a huff of breath and a clean, lint free cloth for more than 10 years and they’re perfect.
Sometimes I have to clean them several times an hour if I’m working in a dusty location or if there’s sea spray in the air. Remember, I do this for a living and have to shoot what the client wants. I can’t say No it’s too dusty.
You will not damage your lens by cleaning it provided you use a clean cloth every time and blow excess dust off before rubbing it. So, to keep your images sharp, keep your lenses clean.
I have completed another in person beginners course prior to UBC, I have to say that UBC knocked the spots off my other experience. One example is that previously my approach was driven by individual exposure settings producing an often disappoint outcome ... now I start with the desired image driven by composition and light before I even get to the camera.
- Ian Watkins -