sharpness-example

10 Tips for Sharper Photos (Even when zoomed in)

Photo by Jim Harmer

10 Tips for Sharper Photos.  #9 was the most helpful for me.  I never thought about that before.

Daily readers of this site already know how I feel about sharpness.   Sharpness is vital to professional photographers who make large prints, but beginners probably will not notice much of a difference between a razor-sharp photo that they view on a computer screen compared to a fairly-sharp photo that they view on a computer screen.  Nonetheless, photographers are crazy about sharpness, and I am too.

Sharpness Tip #1: Shoot like a sharp-shooter

Anyone who has ever shot a gun or bow and arrow knows that the key to shooting well is finding a firm shooting foundation.  Shooters do this by stabilizing themselves against a bench, using a monopod, or standing in the most stable positions.  Not surprisingly, photographers should use the same advice.  If you haven’t taken a minute to consider whether your photography posture is solid, think about it for a minute and decide how to improve your stability.  If you don’t regularly use a tripod, just do it!

Sharpness Tip #2: Don’t zoom to the extremes

I have never tested a lens that is sharpest at the extremes of the zoom range.  For example, if you shoot a 75-300mm lens, you will get sharper photos at 280mm than 300mm.  The Nikon 70-200mm lens shoots sharpest at 135mm.  I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but I haven’t seen them personally.  Almost all lenses are sharper somewhere between the extremes of the zoom range.

This is especially important if you are shooting a less expensive zoom lens or a kit lens.  Spend just a minute and take a picture of a newspaper taped to the wall across from you at different focal lengths and apertures.  You’re likely to find quite a variation in sharpness levels depending on the focal length.

Sharpness Tip #3: Determine your sharpest apertures

Just as the zoom dramatically impacts sharpness, so to does the aperture.

Many photographers learn that the sharpest aperture on many lenses is f/7.1 or f/8, but it totally depends on the lens.  That is a good general rule, but it is foolish to accept this as 100% true.  Just take a minute to lock your lens on a tripod and shoot a subject at all of your aperture levels to see what photo is sharpest.  If you are a landscape photographer, you will likely notice that many wide-angle lenses are significantly sharper at slightly higher apertures, because they are made that way.  This test will only take you 5 minutes to perform and will improve your photos for the life of the lens.

To test sharpness, make sure to shoot from a distance that you commonly shoot that lens, shoot in lighting conditions similar to what you will shoot in the field, and do common-sense things like shoot on a tripod with a cable release and mirror lock-up.

This test was performed on a Nikkor 70-200mm lens at 200mm.

This test was performed on a Nikkor 70-200mm lens at 200mm.

Sharpness Tip #4: Do Your Output Sharpening Last

Unfortunately, many photographers use the sharpness slider in Camera Raw or Lightroom first thing. I strongly discourage this technique because sharpening should match the medium, or be applied selectively.

Photos should be sharpened differently for the use on the web as they are for print.  For example, when saving a photo that will be displayed on a computer (like posting a photo to Facebook, for instance), less sharpening is needed because a screen is a sharp output medium.  When saving a photo for matte paper, more sharpening should be applied than when printing on glossy paper because the matte paper soaks the ink more than the glossy does.

Also, a photo that will be seen small should be sharpened differently than photos that will be seen large.  It just doesn’t make sense to sharpen before finishing the editing process.  This way, you’ll be able to go back and re-sharpen the photo in a different way when you want to use that photo for a new purpose without needing to re-do all of the other edits done in Photoshop.

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Sharpness Tip #5: Stop mashing your shutter button

In my photography workshops, I see many photographers smash their shutter button with more force than they would smash a cockroach.  Mashing the shutter button will torque the camera at the critical moment when the photo is recording the scene.  The proper way to press a shutter button is to simply roll your finger back across the button.


Sharpness Tip #6: Pick up the manual for your LENS

The lens manual will tell you whether or not to use image stabilization (vibration reduction for us Nikon folks) when the camera is on a tripod.  Some lenses should have vibration reduction ON when using a tripod, and other lenses should have image stabilization turned off when on a tripod.

Lenses made in the last couple of years will make this switch for you, but you’d probably be surprised by looking at the manual for your lens to find that many lenses that you think may be turning this off for you… are not.  The only way to know is to check the lens manual.

Sharpness Tip #7: Decrease Your ISO

Photographers know that increasing your ISO increases the noise in the photo, but their knowledge usually stops there.  Did you also realize that increasing the ISO also dramatically reduces the visible detail in the photo?  When I say “dramatically,” I mean dramatically!

When you’re in a situation where you have to increase your ISO beyond where you’re comfortable, consider adding flash or moving to an area with better lighting to produce a sharper shot.

Sharpness Tip #8: Test different copies of a lens

When lenses are created, they are made to certain tolerances.  Especially in the case of lower-end lenses, the tolerances are not precise and allow for size variances.  For this reason, one lens may shoot better on one camera than another.  Make sure the lens is working well for your camera.  If it isn’t, you might consider returning the lens and buying another copy of the exact same lens model and see if it works better.

Sharpness Tip #9: Know Your Focus

I’ve given portfolio reviews to THOUSANDS of photographers in my online photography classes just in the last year.  THOUSANDS!  When they ask me about the sharpness of their photos and how they can improve, the problem is imprecise focus at least 95% of the time.

So here’s my recipe for proper focus every time…

#1. Decide if you are shooting an action photo or a photo with a stationary subject.  If you’re shooting a moving subject, choose continuous focus (AI servo on Canon or AF-C on Nikon).  If you’re shooting a stationary subject like a landscape or a person standing mostly still, choose AF-S on a Nikon or Single Servo on a Canon.

#2. Always choose the focus point yourself.  Don’t let the camera decide.  Get used to moving the focus point with the four-way selector on the back of your camera.  If you’re shooting a portrait, ALWAYS place the focus on the eye of the person closest to the camera.  On the nose or face or body of the person is not good enough.  Always focus on the eye.  If you’re shooting a landscape, generally focus one-third up from the bottom of the frame, but if you have a strong foreground element, you may want to focus closer.

#3. Once you’ve focused, be extremely careful not to sway forward or backward at all.  When shooting with a fast lens at a wide f-stop, even a slight movement will move the focus before the shot.

#4. Be sure not to focus too close to the lens.  Each lens has a close focus distance, and the camera manufacturers like to push the envelope with this distance.  I usually find that if I focus right at the closest point where the lens will still focus, the result is a blurry shot.  Back up a little bit from the closest you can be to the subject and you’ll always improve the result.

Sharpness Tip #10: Upgrade your shutter button

Less expensive cameras come with either a metal or plastic shutter button.  It does the job just fine, but it encourages the poor habit of “clicking” or “mashing” the shutter button.  More expensive cameras like the 5D Mark III, Nikon D810, etc, have squishy shutter buttons with a rubber coating on top so that the press of the button does not vibrate the camera as much.

For only a few dollars, you can pick up a rubber pad to fit over your shutter button which will solve this problem and upgrade your shutter button for you.

It can be tough to tell how sharp a shot is when looking at the back of the camera. Zoom in all the way on the eye and the difference is easy to see.

It can be tough to tell how sharp a shot is when looking at the back of the camera. Zoom in all the way on the eye and the difference is easy to see.

Bonus Tip: Zoom to the Eyes!

The best way to know if you have a sharp photo while shooting is to zoom in on a picture you’ve just taken all the way to 100%.  Zoom in on the eyes and see if you can see the eyelashes.  If the eyelashes are just a clump of black, the photo is not sharp.  If you can see each hair in the eyelash, you have a sharp shot.

If you have more sharpness tips, please share it with the rest of the Improve Photography community by leaving a comment below.


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. Excellent! Thanks so much for answering my question in such elaborate detail. I’ll definitely be implementing these techniques on my next shoot!

    1. Hi really useful information. As a beginner, I’d love to know more about what you mean on tip 4 about the differences in sharpening for the web and for print.

      1. Author

        Excellent question, Steve. I’ll write up a post to explain this. Stay tuned to the blog for the next week and you’ll see the post.

  2. You should keep the speed at least at the same numbers that the lens. At 100 mm at least 1/100, with the 1.6 crop factor of a non full-frame make it 1/160 an so on …

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    1. Very good tips, thank you! maybe for the folks that own a cheaper DSLR where the shutter button clunks between half-way down and a full press use a remote control for less than 15$.

      Thank you for this great website!

  4. Hello!
    This may seem like a silly question but I have a difficult time getting a group shot (family, weddings etc) with everyone’s face in focus! I know this has to do with aperture…I’m just not being successful and it looks unprofessional. Do you have any advice for me moving forward? I have a family photo shoot tomorrow morning and would love to bring new knowledge to this session.
    Thank you!

  5. Another thing that helps sharpness at super wide apertures is focus technique. You have to use you focus points and not the focus and recompose method.

  6. Another idea, instead of the camera’s timer, is a wireless remote. They make a great one for Nikon – ML-L3 $13.95. When used in conjunction with a tripod it helps produce sharp photos, and you can fire off shots as fast as you can push the button. You do not need to keep resetting the timer. This is a must have for anyone using a tripod.

  7. When shooting relatively slow shutter speeds with a Canon EOS DSLR,capture the image using Live View with Silent Mode 1 or 2. This locks up the mirror and the first shutter curtain is electronically simulated at the beginning of the exposure. This is totally silent and vibration free. Naturally, a tripod, remote release, and critical focus are required as well.

  8. Good tips, although not convinced about #3 – finding your best aperture. Many great pro photogs shoot almost exclusively wide open and get pretty stunning results (Cliff Mauntner for example). Maybe if you’re pixel peeping at 100% there may be marginal difference away from the wider extremes, but with regular viewing, can you honestly see a difference?

    1. Author

      With professional lenses you can usually get away with shooting at just about any aperture–especially portrait lenses which are made to be shot wide open. But all you have to do is run a test and you’ll see there is a definite difference when shooting at the sweet spot.

  9. For Mario – I have an olympus E-510 with crop factor 2, so when Focal Lenght is 100 mm i should keep the speed at least at the same number that the lens. At 100 mm at least 1/100, with the 2 crop factor of a non full-frame make it 1/200 an so on. Is this correct Jim ?

  10. Hi,

    Polaroid has a new gadget that I will try during my next airshow. I shoot moving subject and can’t go below 320 (to avoid freezing the prop). Panning an stability is very hard. This thing, Polaroid Aputure Magic Rig / Polaroid Rig http://www.amazon.com/Polaroid-Stabilizer-Support-Cameras-Camcorders/dp/B005MRXPE4 cost 60$ and is very versatile. You can adapt it to your position for better confort. The trick is practice. I made lot’s of reading about sharp shooter rifle handling and I’m getting better and better.

  11. Thanks for these tips! Is there also a difference in sharpness when shooting raw or jpeg. I would almost say that the jpeg looks sharper than the raw one.

  12. Thanks for these tips! Is there also a difference in sharpness when shooting raw or jpeg? I would almost say that the jpeg looks sharper than the raw one.

  13. Thats a fact. The Camera Computer will so Dome work for you while getting the jpeg. The contrast and color optimization will give a “sharper” view and most cameras use the unsharp mask filter when shooting jpeg – more or less is depending of your preference.

  14. Good article and tips! Quick note: I think you had a dyslexic moment in tip 2:

    If you shoot a 70-200mm lens, you will achieve greater sharpness at 100mm than at 70mm.

    Happens to best of us.

    -Phil

    1. I don’t think that was a dyslexic moment. He’s trying to say not to use the the extremes of your lenses.

  15. im shooting TIFF and im finding tiff.s to be sharpest and has best overall image quallity

    1. Author

      @Bob Mulholland – Yeah… I have my reservations on DXOMark. It seems that no matter how technically perfect their tests are, they RARELY seem to line up with the real world tests that I do. I wish I could rely on it, but I often find that their results are COMPLETELY different from how my tests (and many other photographer’s) end up. For example, they say the 70-200 is sharpest at f/2.8 and I can’t even find a way to possibly justify that.

  16. Now that’s a good #11. My first two lenses made me think i was the worst photographer in the world.

  17. That’s for video. A monopod will be more stable for photos.

  18. Great tip on the vibration reduction and tripods. I would have never thought of that and would have figured VR would do nothing while the camera was attached to a tripod. I could see the camera then getting a bit confused and have the opposite effect.

  19. Here is a tip for certain DSLR cameras. Compose your shot with appropriate lens zoom and use auto focus with tips described in article. Then, switch to ‘live view’ on the image viewer on the back of the camera (TIP: Practice with the camera on a tripod so both hands are free.) Next, switch to manual focus mode and digitally zoom in (usually by pressing a ‘+’ button the back of the camera. YOU ARE NOT ZOOMING IN WITH THE LENS. After digitally zooming on your focus point in live view, use the manual FOCUS ring on your lens to get a super sharp focus. Press the shutter release button. The shot will be captured using the preset zoom you set with your lens in step one with a perfect focus exactly where you want it. Yes, for photo situations without excessive movement. However, I have used it in low light, concert photos with singer in front of a microphone!

    1. Thank you! I was wondering when someone was going to mention this technique. I am a complete beginner and I figured this trick out on my own. By taking a picture this way you make sure you can “see the eyelashes” BEFORE you take the photo. Works best for stationery objects and with a tripod—add in the remote control and you are golden. I doubt there is a more effective surefire way of taking super sharp photos. If you use a decent older Nikon lens the results are astonishing.

  20. Agree with everything you said except I think the mirror lock up function is a complete marketing gimmick and makes no difference.
    Perhaps that’s a subject for your FB page.
    You could run some tests and post the results.

    1. Author

      I tested mirror lockup quite extensively. It does NOT make even a SPECK of difference under most conditions; however, when shooting at 1/15 to 1/40 shutter speed, it makes a BIG difference.

      So I recommend it for this test just because I don’t want someone to be shooting indoors and have that be throw off the test.

      Here’s my write up about mirror lockup: http://improvephotography.com/9442/mirror-lockup-is-a-conspiracy-sort-of/

  21. Phil,
    Please re-read tip #2. He fully states that you will receive the sharpest image somewhere in the Middle of your lenses range, not at the ends of the range.

  22. I have read so many comments on sharpness. This article finally listed something new and I think very important that many don’t talk about. Thank you for teaching me something new.

  23. Thanks for the tips. I didn’t know so many of them! Sharpness is very important in a picture – it enhances the creativity of a photograph.

  24. You could see this as an extension to the “shoot like a sniper” tip: snipers generally pull the trigger while exhaling, or to be more precise, in the moment between fully exhaling and inhaling again. This will help with photography as well, especially when shooting a long lens handheld.

  25. What advice for a sharp photo do you suggest when shooting at f2.8 or so to get that depth of field blur everyone wants. I shoot nikon d800 and I can get the eye sharp but it doesnt keep the entire face sharp. If I bump it to f7 or so…no blurry background???? Using my 35 to 70 mm nikon lens. I tried my 85m 1.8 but not happy with that at all.

  26. Tip #10 sounds great. Is this a rubber pad specifically made to cover the shutter or is it something that can be found in a hardware store?

    All great tips, especially Tip #2: Don’t zoom to the extremes. I had read that before but forgot about it. I’m going to try these tips this weekend. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Pretty interesting article though most of the tips were about physical things you do. Nothing on auto focus or remote shutter or auto timing for night shots? And what about getting sharper photos at low apertures? I mean we shouldn’t be just shooting at 7.1 because it’s the sharpest every time.

    1. A previous reader was the only only one to mention the trick outlined below. My variation of it is that you get out of LV mode and then take the pic. If you don’t then your shutter speed may be too slow. If you use a tripod you won’t even have to use the viewfinder so this is ideal for a remote shutter control
      Michael wrote as follows:
      “Here is a tip for certain DSLR cameras. Compose your shot with appropriate lens zoom and use auto focus with tips described in article. Then, switch to ‘live view’ on the image viewer on the back of the camera (TIP: Practice with the camera on a tripod so both hands are free.) Next, switch to manual focus mode and digitally zoom in (usually by pressing a ‘+’ button the back of the camera. YOU ARE NOT ZOOMING IN WITH THE LENS. After digitally zooming on your focus point in live view, use the manual FOCUS ring on your lens to get a super sharp focus. Press the shutter release button. The shot will be captured using the preset zoom you set with your lens in step one with a perfect focus exactly where you want it. Yes, for photo situations without excessive movement. However, I have used it in low light, concert photos with singer in front of a microphone!”

  28. nice tips..thanks so much. looking forward to more helpful tips.

  29. Thankyou x 1000! I have a Nikon D3100 and the basic kit lenses, and lack of sharpness is my one frustration. I am going to try these tests out asap! This is possibly the most useful article I’ve read with regards to my photography

  30. Amazing tutorial….So loaded.Many thanks…Never understood photo sharpness as I have after reading your article…Again many thanks.

    Alex Gabriel
    Nairobi,Kenya

  31. From Tip#9: ” Always choose the focus point yourself. Don’t let the camera decide. Get used to moving the focus point with the four-way selector on the back of your camera. If you’re shooting a portrait, ALWAYS place the focus on the eye of the person closest to the camera.”

    What should you do when your camera doesn’t have enough focus points to choose from meaning none of them are on the eyes of the subject? Is it ok to use spot focusing on the eye and and recompose the scene for each shot?

  32. I find these tips very helpful, and each well explained. I am sure each point can be fleshed out a bit more, but these tips are best I’ve heard on this topic. Thank you. Frustrating, though, that most zooms are not sharp fully extended. Why buy an expensive zoom if you can’t use it to the max? Nonetheless, very helpful.

  33. Wow! Thanks so much for the info. I struggle with this quite a bit and have read lots of different sites that pretty much say the same thing. This post has info I’ve never heard and explains the info I have heard so it makes sense! I too feel like I don’t have enough focus points to be spot on without recomposing. I also have been taking pictures of kids a lot and find it hard to switch focus points and focus quickly enough. I’ll keep practicing and check out the rubber cover for the shutter button. Thank you!

  34. And for some super-geeky tips:
    1) Learn your camera’s focus sensor types. Vertical, horizontal and cross (and how the first two “change” when you tilt your camera 90 degrees). Focusing on the eyes is difficult when the lashes are the predominant lines apparent to the focus sensor, and the focus sensor is trying to apply a horizontal lock to vertical lines.
    2) Test your lens’ focus distance error, and if your camera allows for it, dial in a compensation factor. My D7000 and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4G as uncorrected end up focusing behind the intended focus point enough to destroy sharpness (I’d focus on the eyes, but the hair behind the ear would be the sharpest, ARRRGGH!). I laid out a tape measure on a table perpendicular to the lens, focused on a spot about 6 feet away and did test shots, adjusting the in-camera focus compensation in between until the spot I was actually focusing on was as sharp as I could get it. You can buy special ruler rigs just for doing this, (or send your rig back to the manufacturer if under warranty for adjustment) but they were more than I was willing to spend.

  35. Great article with a lot of good information. I admit when I started reading it seemed very basic and I (like everyone else) pretend to be beyond basics. However, going back to basics for a refresher is never a bad thing. I say that to say this, it turns out I am a masher not a roller. Thanks for giving me something NEW to work on!

  36. If you have your subject far enough away from the background, you will still have the bokeh you are looking for. 🙂 Even at f7.0

  37. There are dozens of DIY constructs that do not require cash for AF fine tune correction, some lenses front focus or back focus for whatever reason.

    [link removed as violation of comment policy]

    There are also commercial offerings that allow fully automated AF fine tune calibration and testing.

  38. Tip #12:
    When shooting handheld, never shoot below 1/200 of a second. 1/100 seems good enough, but when you zoom in, there is a dramatic difference in sharpness.

  39. Tip #13 Use Flash to freeze the action. A flash often fires a lot quicker than your shutter speed. In certain dark/difficult shooting situations, a pop of flash will “freeze” the subject and allow you to push your shutter down to 1/60. Remember, that’s only if you absolutely, positively have to take a shot, and you can’t control the lighting in a better way.

  40. Good tips in this article!

    I read that using the electronic shutter helps to eliminate camera shake to get sharper images and works better than just using mirror lockup when using a tripod.

    I also read about using a table tripod on the camera and brace it against your chest to help hold the camera steadier.

  41. what is hte sharpest focal length and zoom for nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lense. i use this lense on nikon d610. very hard to get a sharp picture as i expect.

  42. I use a Canon Eos 60D and it has optical image stabalizing (i am sure many do) the trick i learned is very much like when firing a rifle. gradually squeeze the trigger, the system spins up the lens and then can take the better sharper shots. if you just hammer the button, the system can’t help. There ARE times when you have to fire off a snap shot, but take several and hopefully the system can get you a better shop on at least one.
    When i shoot night shots on a tripod, i look through the viewfinder but i keep a bit of space so that i don’t bump anything. as i gradually squeeze the remote, it takes a half second for the stabalizer and you can see the image waver slightly when it does. then the shots are crisp.
    I have applied this to most of my regular shots and get the sharpness i want.

  43. It obviously depends on the focal length of the lens, and also te vibrations of the camera model. Mirrorless ar more forgiving in that.

  44. I use a Nikon d7000 with 35mm and 18-105mm lens. I noticed that sometimes manually focusing will give you a sharper image that using the auto focus.

  45. I’ve gotten into the habit of only using center focus point, therefore I’m recomposing the shot once I grab focus on the subjects eye. Wondering if the slight movement of recomposing is affecting my sharpness

  46. I’m really struggling to get a sharp image. I’m using manual focus on a canon 6D EO, with a EF 24-105mm lens, on a tripod, rigged up to a laptop so I can shoot from there. I’m shooting products and for some reason I cannot get a sharp image.
    Only a few days ago I used manual focus on a baby and got sharp eyelash detail perfectly. Any ideas? Could this be a fault with the lens? Do I suddenly need glasses?!
    HELP!

  47. I have a Canon 5D Mark III coupled with a Canon 500 mm EF Lens. My tripod is a Gitzo and the head is a Wimberley so I have a pretty stable base. I take long distance pictures of birds which requires me to blow them for viewing. The images are not as sharp as I need them to be. I have been reading about the effects of the low pass filter and how it softens the image. Is there any truth to this and if I have the camera modified, will it improve my images. Canon has not even commented on the filter.

  48. I see some increase in sharpness when I enable front shutter curtain with mirror up. On the Nikon that’s D5.

  49. Thank you so much. I have a problem with this and now I can use your tips to improve on my photography.

  50. I like to use my cable trigger release when shooting landscapes. This insures I’m not “mashing!” If I don’t have my cable trigger release with me, I use the 2 Second Delay which gets my hands off the camera before the shutter opens. =))

  51. Great article and thanks for the tips – I want to see every eyelash so I’m going to put these tips to the test!

  52. First time on site always looking to improve my photography
    great tips Thanks

  53. Your site was recommended to me by a friend who is a photographer. I have found it to be very helpful. I am trying to experiment with the manual settings, as you suggested and have seen more flexibility with my pictures. Thank you for offering valuable information –

  54. Thanks for the fantastic tips.
    I have a question.
    Sharpness tips “9” paragraph 4.
    I don’t understand this is it possible to explain this for me.
    We went to do some bird photos and 90% of my picture are not sharp.
    I am not sure what I did wrong.
    I have a Canon700D and was using a Canon 70-300 lens on AV setting.
    I think my F stop was too high.
    When I looked at the setting on my computer most of the unclear shots were with F16 ISO 100 Speed varied according to the camera setting.?

    1. I am no expert……I shoot alot of birds and usually shoot at F8 which seems to be my sweet spot

    2. For birds I tend to use shutter priority so that I dictate the shutter speed. Birds move a lot, even when sitting so I find it best to focus on freezing their motion at 1/800 or 1/1000. I also put the camera in zone focused AI Servo and use back button focus.

    3. If you’re shooting birds I’d probably use the TV feature (where you set the shutter speed). F16 at ISO 100 seems to be way too low an ISO (Unless you’re shooting in a blinding desert or snow field) and F16 is probably too small. Cameras should be good at ISO 400-800 and you can easily lower your aperture to F8 to get a quicker shutter speed.

  55. Thank you so much for this.
    I have been struggling with my photos they are not as sharp as the example above.
    I’m using a 4ti canon, do you think that would be the problem? I’ve been so frustrated with my lack of sharpness that I’m ready to spend the money on the 5D III. Is it me, the camera or the fact that I take a lot of close- ups?
    I’m fairly new on photography but on my way take to the next step.
    I appreciate your opinion.
    Thank you!

    Lyria

    1. @Lyria,

      The Canon T4i is a fantastic camera and should be able to produce very sharp images. I am a non-professional, hobbyist photographer who writes for this website, and my recommendation is not to move on to another camera until you have mastered the one you have. I recommend you go through the beginner articles Jim wrote here. You may also want to check out this article I wrote about beginners getting some help with blurry pictures here.

      I am betting your problem is that you are not using a fast enough shutter speed in your photos. The value your shutter speed should be set to depends entirely on the situation your are in, which is why those articles are great ways for you to learn how to determine that. That said, the lens you are using also plays a role, and after you have read and feel like you understand the articles I have already suggested, read this one about why a “nifty fifty” lens should be the second one a beginner should invest in here.

      Good luck, and keep reading the site as we will have frequent updates and articles that will help you on your journey.

  56. wonderful blog post and helpful tips for sharper photography sharpness…thanks for sharing and step by step details

  57. Does anyone have any tips for settings for studio self portraits using softboxes? I use a Rebel xti with the standard 18-55 mm lens. I use the timer of course and auto focus on a mockup stand-in that is head level. I focus, push the button, move the stand-in and get into exact place of stand-in. It is hit and miss with sharpness. Any tip would be appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Have you tried manual focusing? You might also try a higher f/stop esp if you have a strong light source. shoot your stand in if the resulting image is in focus too if you haven’t done that.

      1. hi Edward, no I haven’t tried manual focusing yet. The f stop is usually about 3.5 I think. I can try it at 7.1 or 8. Not sure what you mean by “shoot your stand in if the resulting image is in focus too”. Thank you for your reply.

        1. “shoot your stand in” meaning if your stand-in’s photo is sharp then its what you do after the fact like standing in the wrong spot. good luck!

  58. Can someone tell me what I can do to fix my camera it will not auto focus on Manual mode. I have a Cannon60D?

  59. Hi ,
    I find this tip really useful by the way the camera i use is a canon T5i with an 18-55mm and a 55-250mm lens. When I take a picture I completely zoom and then come back to the point where I wish to take but still I am getting noises on my pictures. Why is it? What should I do? Is there any problem with my camera sensor or is there a problem with my picture adjustment.

    1. @Thomas, noise is probably due to high ISO. You should (as mentioned by Jim) shoot on the lowest ISO possible. If you are forced to use higher ISO because of poor light and you do not want to use other light sources to capture the natural setting, choose the setting high ISO in the camera. It will remove some of the noise. You also have software which can remove this noise as well.

  60. I am a Newborn photographer. Sometimes my photos are sharp, sometimes they’re not. I shoot with a Nikon 5200 and 3200. I use several lenses: a Nikon 35mm and 80mm lenses and keep my aperture at 1.8, shutter speed at 125 to 250, ISO at 400 and spot meter. I use natural light and an off camera flash with a shoot through umbrella. Can you tell me how to tweak my settings? The settings I’m using are recommended in several books, but I’m not thrilled with all my pictures.

  61. Thanks for this! For one thing, I didn’t know that the lenses are never sharpest at their extremes. And THANK YOU for #3 especially! I have NEVER seen that tip anywhere!

  62. Also a good tip if you are using Canon and shooting RAW. Crank your Picture style sharpness to the max. The previews on the back of the camera area actually using those settings. The sharpness will not translate to raw unless you are using Canon conversion software and you can tone that down. This helps seeing where the focus and sharpness falls.

  63. Awesome tips listed here. The final bonus tips is excellent. I had never thought to do this as a way to check if a shot is sharp or not. Fantastic job on this post. Thanks for sharing!

  64. Hi Jim
    I would like to purchase your best package deal for my Nikon D750 camera settings and photography tips for everyday purposes. I very much like your articles and tips and details and they are all my everyday problem solvers.
    Can you please let me know where should I start? I am not happy with 9 out of 10 my photos. I am not a professional or money making photographer. I took pictures for family events and gatherings. they assigned me as a family photographer. but I am not quite happy about my pictures.

    Thank you
    Joshy

  65. Thank You sooooooo much .. This article has taught me a lot.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  66. The magnitude spectrum of a two dimensional discrete Slow Fourier Transform (DFT) is your friend. With it I can analyze a photo that cannot be re-created and find out how much of the frequencies are used. Then I can use brickwall audio resampling to make the picture quite sharp and be able to hardly compress it at all using JPEG with full quality color sampling. The 5 Megapixel camera I have from 2005 actually is full resolution at 1024×768, and when printed on a 4×6 inch inkjet it looks passable. The pictures from this dinosaur of a camera go from 2 megabytes to under 512 kilobytes, and lose almost no quality.

  67. Thanks for the great tips. I like the reminder about choosing the focus point yourself with the four way selector. It’s a great reminder and something I need to “focus” on doing more!

  68. I fully expected this article to be the same re-hashed tips but thankfully it was very useful. Good info, much appreciated.

  69. “Unfortunately, many photographers use the sharpness slider in Camera Raw or Lightroom first thing.”

    Bad advice. Capture sharpening should always be done in your raw processor to restore image sharpness caused by antialiasing filters and demosaicing. Jeff Schewe’s books are an excellent source of advice and information regarding this topic.

    Schewe actually recommends 3 separate sharpening steps in any workflow – Capture sharpening, localized sharpening and Output sharpening.

    “Photos should be sharpened differently for the use on the web as they are for print. For example, when saving a photo that will be displayed on a computer (like posting a photo to Facebook, for instance), less sharpening is needed because a screen is a sharp output medium. When saving a photo for matte paper, more sharpening should be applied than when printing on glossy paper because the matte paper soaks the ink more than the glossy does.

    Also, a photo that will be seen small should be sharpened differently than photos that will be seen large. It just doesn’t make sense to sharpen before finishing the editing process. This way, you’ll be able to go back and re-sharpen the photo in a different way when you want to use that photo for a new purpose without needing to re-do all of the other edits done in Photoshop.”

    Excellent advice that many newcomers should be aware of.

  70. Thank you for the experienced information. I’m a novice and this information was clear and concise enough for even me to follow and utilize. Happy Thanksgiving.

  71. This is by far the best list of advice for a sharper in focus photo that I have seen literally anywhere …thank you, I’ve learned a few small things that have had a big impact. I am no longer frustrated by some daunting issues I simply had no knowledge of, until now.

  72. Thanks for this article..I thoughg there is any problem with my lens.I bought 11 20 tokina 2.8..And your righy i experience also the blurry effect..Imagine in landscape are super sharp but shooting people i encountered blurry shots eventhough my focusing are right.Now i will try what you have said..Thank you…

  73. This is the first article I have read that’s clear and easy to understand! A lot of good information here. Thank you!

  74. I AM not able to focus correctly it’s hard to find it and one more thing my hand my shiver a lot is their any tip to get rid of it inspite of using a tripod ??

  75. I was having a tough time getting sharp photos with a Nikon D3200. I was feeling like I was going crazy as my photos never seemed sharp no matter what I did with my best glass on the camera. It turns out the camera had a back focus issue that needed to be repaired by Nikon, as the camera WASN’T focusing properly on my chosen focus point. Back focusing or other camera body focus issues can certainly cause lack of sharpness and require manufacturer repairs.

  76. Despite my repeated shooting on different weather conditions and different camera modes, I am unable to get sharpened and good photographs in my Canon EOS 60 D DSLR Camera. When such photos are put to use in computer, it is out of focus. Why this happened. Any advise?

  77. Here’s another tip: Calibrate your lens to your camera body using your camera’s autofocus microadjustment (AFMA), if available. You can use software like Reikan FoCal or something like LensAlign or DataColor SpyderLensCal to perform AFMA. This is especially critical with wide-aperture fast lenses, where razor thin depth of field make even small focus errors more evident.

  78. Jim

    Great tips as a beginner to digital photography I have been struggling with the finer details of sharp focus. Reading through these tips made me stop and examine what I was doing and then I had the aha moment and my sharpness improved.

  79. Thank you!

    These tips are more helpful that most tutorials that I’ve read.

    Starting now, I will spend time integrating these tips into my photography.

    Again, thanks……

  80. Thanks for useful information. I tried app 14 to 22 range to get sharp landscape photography. It was a normal sunlight not very brite. With this app range I was getting shutter speed 125 plus with ISO 400. The pitchures does not comes out sharp and land scape was dull. My earlier pitchures with wide app open coming sharp. I have learnt from literature that for landscape photography app 14 + is recommended. Please advice.

  81. Wow! that’s one of the best, most practical tutorials I’ve ever seen (in any field)

  82. The article was very good

    Two critical points

    Lower iso and not letting the camera choose the focusing

    There are fundamental differences between film cameras and digital which affect results for the unwary

    Firstly digital cameras do not take photos whereas film does

    Digital cameras measure light in angstroms or kelvin and store those measurements

    Software is then used to simulate a photo

    This is akin to the pointillism technique that painters used whereupon they would paint with a very fine brush one point at a time

    When viewed at a distance it emulated an image

    Sort if like paint by numbers

    Canon states that their focusing method us predicated upon contrast and not really the subject

    Which makes it difficult in dim light where contrast is low

    They also state that for vertically spaced subjects the camera focuses on the first thing it sees

    Which is where I find the greatest challenge for accurate focusing

    While one can manually focus with live preview this is awkward at best

    My best results are from subjects which are spaced on a horizontal plane or infinity as in landscape

    The other thing that people always thought us the greater the megapixel the better the photos

    Not quit accurate

    For my 2 1/4 film I am dealing with a sensor that is equivalent to 3600,mm whereas a typical non full frame DSLR us about one tenth of that

    It is really the size of the sensor which dictates the quality of the results

    It really doesnt matter how many pixels you out on the head if a pin

    One only has to look at the results of 35mm and larger formats using 100 Asa film to see the difference

    The article rightly points out that there is a vast difference between shooting for large prints versus viewing on a monitor

    For digital there are more variables for prints using digital

    The size of the sensor
    The software used
    The monitor
    The printer etc
    The paper used.

    If film is stored properly and is really old the results will always be the same when printed on silver based paper years later as I have found

    For prints many photographers opt for photographic printing for optimal results

    For proof I have shot on film and created a digital film image

    Printing the negative gives the best results with the digital image being marginal good

    Albeit I use medium format film

    I have been using my t5i for about a year and still struggle to get a good prints

    Technology aside there is one caveat

    Often times the image is more important than the absolute sharpness if the ensuing result

    For most digital images are not printed but rather shared via computer

    An image can tell the story admirably without being empirically sharp

  83. Reply to Aftab Alam

    From John Cairns CPA

    Some high end digital’s do have micro tuning but I don’t know if the T5i does

    Because of the nature of digital lenses electronics micro focusing is especially useful for changing lenses

    This would be ideal for using EOS film lenses on a T5i

    The older EOS lenses tend to be better than Canons kit lenses

    I use these a lot

    The catch is that EOS film lenses are full frame

    So a 105mm lens is more like a 150 etc

    In essence they are about 1.6 times the focal length of a modern Canon digital lenses

    So yes micro adjustment would be great if the T5i had it

    1. On the T5i there is a little thumb wheel just above the eye priece

      This is called a dioptre adjustment

      It adjusts the eye piece to suit the individual’s eye for more accurate viewing

      It does not affect the camera focusing

      Once set it works for your eye and may not work for other people’s eyes

      Much like your glasses

      Each pair if glasses works for your eyes only

      The micro focusing adjusts each lens to the camera to maximize focusing

      There is often a little bit of change required because of the gap between the lens mount and the camera

      Each lens may require a tiny bit of adjustment to maximize focusing

      We sometimes confuse sharpness with focusing

      An image can be in focus but may not be quite as sharp as we would like

      Poor quality lenses may focus well but the image may not be that sharp

      Which is why Canon markets three lens series

      Mediocre or cheap lenses

      Medium quality lenses

      And the red banded lenses of really good quality

      The kit lens will focus find but not be as sharp as the red banded lenses

      The caveat being that the price of the high quality lenses are exponentially more expensive

  84. Can you please guide me on the following ?

    I purchased (under your guidance) in USA a Canon PowerShot G5 camera which, with its 1/1.8″ size sensor and only 5 MP effective pixels, gave me very sharp images. Lateron I also used Canon IXUS which ofcourse due to its smaller sensor gave me bit blurred images. It was however surprising that, even Canon EOS 500D, the professional series model with much larger sensor (22.3 x 14.9 mm) too gives me blurred images similar to IXUS.

    So, I am confused, and has the following questions.

    1. Why I got sharp images with PowerShot G5, and, blurred ones with EOS 500D although it has larger sensor?

    2. I now wish to buy a new camera which can give me sharp images equivalent to PowerShot G5. Which are the simple (without unnecessary sophisticated features) and cheap cameras in the market (Canon or any other brand)?

  85. Great tips Jim!

    One tip I have about focusing on the eyes is that if the subject head is angled so that one eye is closer to the camera than the other is, focus on the closest eye to the camera. It looks odd if the closest eye is not sharp and far eye is.

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