This week’s blog post will help everybody regardless of whether your camera is a DSLR or a iPhone. We’ve all come across posts (or profile pictures) on Facebook or Instagram that could be drastically improved by a bit less fuzziness. These five tips will have you well on your way to sharper photos.
I’m not saying that from hence forth, you will take tack sharp pictures no matter the situation or lighting. There’s so much more involved than just these five tips. Besides, out-of-focus shots just happen. Even the best photographers out there take an out-of-focus shot once in a while. If you can learn to address these 5 areas on the fly, you’ll certainly lessen the number of blurry shots to end up with.
1. Your shutter speed is too low
Chances are, the majority of the blurry pictures you’ve seen are taken in a somewhat dark environment. Most of the cell phone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras never leave the Automatic setting. That means the camera determines the shutter speed and aperture settings for you. Usually, when you’re in a low light setting, the camera will pick a shutter speed that is too low to take sharp pictures while hand-holding the camera. The camera doesn’t know, or care, whether or not you’re capable of holding it steady or not. It just wants to give you a proper exposure.
You’ll either have to use the flash to give you more light, lean up against a wall to stabilize yourself, or set the camera on a tripod or a table to give it a stabilized base. If you want to dabble in manually setting the shutter speed, the general rule of thumb is this: In order to get sharp images from a hand-held camera, the shutter speed needs to be at least one divided by the focal length of the lens. That means if you were shooting with a 100mm lens the shutter speed needs to be at least 1/100 sec. There are other, more complicated variables that can be considered but for 90% of general situations, that’s a good starting point. Those of you with DSLRs, you may want to consider investing in good glass with image stabilization and/or a good tripod. That will certainly help you as well.
2. Focus settings
Most modern cameras have so many settings that have an impact on sharpness that if they’re not all set correctly, you may be disappointed with the outcome. The type of focus (manual, continuous, etc), focus point selection, aperture, and the aforementioned shutter speed, are just a handful of settings that determine whether or not you get sharper photos. The more advanced the camera, the more options you likely have. The trick is knowing what settings are best for each circumstance. When it comes to the actual act of focusing, there are a number of options from manual to automatic. Whether you’re photographing a person or a forest, where you focus will be different and will impact the outcome. Most point-and-shoot cameras show you where they are focusing with a box on the LCD screen. Sometimes (particularly with smart phones), you can set the focus point by touching the screen).
DSLRs are equipped with auto focusing settings that involve a few steps. There are usually a number of rectangles on the display and one will glow green or blink when the framed subject is in focus. It will usually flash red if it can’t focus. What some beginning photographers don’t know is that you can move that rectangle around the frame and center it on the subject you want in focus. Some cameras allow you to have multiple focus points. You’ll need to read you instruction manual to get the proper focus procedures for your particular camera. You can then tweak these settings to produce sharper photos.
Your aperture setting has a direct impact on what’s in focus. A shallow depth of field (created by a LOW aperture like F/1.4, F/2.8, etc) creates more separation between your subject and your out-of-focus background. A large depth of field (created by a HIGH aperture like F/20, F/22) puts everything in focus. Portraits work well with a shallow depth of field as long as your focus point (see #2) is on your subject. If your subject is a person or animal, like a dog or a cat, you’ll want that focus point directly on the eyes of your subject. Landscape images usually require everything to be in focus, so you’ll want a larger depth of field. Check your camera’s manual to learn how to manually set the aperture.
ISO is your cameras sensitivity to light. A higher ISO means the camera will be more sensitive to light. There’s a downside to that, however. The higher you set your ISO, the higher the likelihood of introducing noise into your image. Noise is the visual manifestation of a lower signal-to-noise ratio. I won’t get too technical and nerdy about it. Basically, noise is the grainy stuff you see in pictures. Generally, you can probably get away with using ISO as high as 800 on most cameras without too much noise but for sharper photos, keep it as low as you can for sharper photos given your environment. The amount of cropping you do also affects how much noise you see when using a higher ISO. You’ll want to keep that in mind as well.
5. Clean equipment
Last but certainly not least is making sure your equipment is clean. Keeping smudges and grime off of your lens is important. If you have access to the image sensor in your camera, you want to keep that clean too. BE CAREFUL with that though. If you scratch it in any way, your camera will be an expensive paperweight! You’ll then need to send it in to have the sensor replaced, which is neither fun nor CHEAP! There are sensor cleaning kits out there that can assist. If you wear glasses or know someone who does, the microfiber cloth that comes with the glasses is perfect for keeping your lenses clean.
These tips will lessen the learning curve and help you get those razor-sharp images that you can be proud of. As always, thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes with me this week. If you like what you’ve read here, please subscribe and share via the social media links. You can also find MTM Photography on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so be sure to check out those pages! I’ll see ya next week!