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How to Take Sharp Photographs

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Perfectly sharp images are what many photographers want and strive for. A blurry shot will look mediocre compared to one that is sharp, no matter how spectacular the subject matter is. Fret not. It's easy to get up and start taking pictures; it doesn't take much work to get those clear, sharp photographs you've been hoping for, either. It takes just a little familiarity with some technical trivia.


  1. Avoid camera shake. Watch your shutter speed. As a general rule, you should not allow this to fall to a speed slower than the reciprocal of your 35mm equivalent focal length. However, if you're using digital (or are willing to use your film up a bit quicker), you can try taking several shots in succession and hopefully one will have a satisfying level of sharpness.
    • Turn on vibration reduction (also called "image stabilization", depending on the manufacturer), if you have it. When VR/IS is on, the lens element(s) or image sensor move so that the image stays in place when projected onto the sensor. As a result, camera motion is less likely to affect the sharpness of your photographs. Turn it on whenever the lighting conditions makes getting a sharp picture difficult. Keep it off when you're shooting on a tripod; it isn't needed and actually makes your photographs less sharp.
    • Use a shorter lens (or zoom out) and get closer. Remember that, according to the reciprocal rule of photography, reducing your focal length will give you less camera shake at any given shutter speed. Additionally, when you're using a variable-aperture zoom, you can often use a larger aperture with shorter focal lengths. Furthermore, getting closer might force you to be more creative when framing the picture.
    • Use a tripod or a monopod as a last resort. If you're using an SLR and find yourself with so little light that you have no choice but to use long exposures, you might want to invest in a remote release cable. If your camera has a mirror lock-up (also called exposure delay mode), use it; this will stop the vibration from the mirror from affecting your images. Check your camera's manual to see what it's called. Mirror lock-up has two definitions; the other definition refers to when the mirrors and shutters move out of the way after you click the shutter button so that you can clean the image sensor without the sensor being active. If your camera doesn't have mirror lock-up, you can use the self timer.

  2. Set your aperture wisely. Most lenses are sharpest two or three stops faster than the minimum aperture (usually around f/8 or f/11).
    • Don't shoot your lens at its widest aperture unless that's the effect you're looking for if you can avoid it. Nearly all camera lenses are noticeably softer wide-open than they are stopped down a little. What's more, on fast lenses (and especially on telephotos, which magnify any defocus there is), your depth of field will be so shallow that even the tiniest movement after the focus is locked will cause the subject to be out of focus.
    • Don't shoot at your smallest aperture either. All lenses are inherently softer at smaller apertures due to diffraction effects. If you don't need the depth of field, then don't stop down below f/8 or so on modern digital SLRs.[1] Using smaller apertures will force longer shutter speeds, too, which will increase the risk of camera shake causing your photos to be unsharp.(With that said, if it's a choice between necessary depth of field and diffraction, then you might choose to err on the side of diffraction over defocus. Diffraction is a relatively simple phenomenon compared to defocus, and it might be easier to correct later on in software. Defocus is not; it'll differ on the same lens depending on aperture and subject distance, and varies again from lens to lens.) If you need to stop down because you want a longer exposure, purchase an ND filter.

  3. Watch out for focus misses. This can be caused by either human error (you) or camera error.
    • Use your focusing aids, if you're focusing manually. Go through your camera's manual to find out how to focus manually with a focus aid. Some autofocus cameras will give you an audible or visible focus confirmation when the subject is in focus; use it. Otherwise, if you find yourself focusing manually on autofocus cameras, you may want to install a manual focusing screen for it, like the Haoda Screen.
    • Make sure your autofocus is not missing. Some combinations of lenses and cameras do this, for reasons probably best known to the people who make them. Try it out; if you get consistent focus misses on a known good lens then you should return your camera for servicing.
    • Use your AF lock. If your subject doesn't fall under an autofocus point, select the AF point nearest to your subject, move the point over the subject, lock autofocus, and reframe. Keep in mind, however, that locking the autofocus also locks the auto-exposure. If so, you may have to use exposure compensation.
    • Get your rangefinder calibrated, if you're using a rangefinder camera. These often fall out of calibration after a while.

  4. Watch your ISO speed on digital cameras. Most digital cameras apply more noise reduction at higher ISO speeds; sometimes this smears subtle textures and makes pictures look less sharp than they are. Turn off noise reduction if it affects the sharpness of your pictures. Don't shoot at high ISO speeds in daylight. If you have a top-end DSLR (like the Nikon D3 or Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III), you don't have to worry about the ISO speed.
  5. Use the Continuous Shooting mode. The camera will move slightly as your finger overcomes the resistance of pressing the shutter button. Also, if you have a DSLR camera, the movement of the mirrors in the body will add to camera shake. You can avoid some of this by using the Continuous Shooting mode available on your camera. This mode will take images as long as the shutter button is held down. In addition to avoiding camera shake from the initial button press, you will also have a choice of which image is best.
  6. Use your "Unsharp Mask" plugin in Photoshop, GIMP, or your favourite image editor. This won't make up for poor focus, camera shake or the spherical aberration that often comes with shooting lenses wide open (these are all way too complex phenomena to correct this way), but it will give it a bit of a sharpness "kick". Use a small radius (perhaps a pixel or less) and a large amount. If you're clever with layer masks, do this selectively so that only the parts that merit your viewer's attention are extra-sharp (hint: gaussian blur your layer mask with a very large radius).


  • If you must buy a new lens, and this article rightly assumes that most lenses are sharp enough when used properly, then consider going for a prime lens (lens with a fixed focal length, meaning you cannot zoom). Lenses like 50mm f/1.8 on a cropped sensor camera are popular, cheap, sharp, and great for portraits. Normal lenses (50mm equivalent on a 35mm film camera) are useful in a wide range of situations. On the cheaper Nikon and Canon DSLRs, a normal lens has a focal length of about 35mm. Primes tend to be sharper, cheaper, and faster (you can use a faster shutter speed). But don't buy another lens to make your pictures sharper unless you've played with all the things mentioned.
  • Many web browsers display images at 100% resolution, so you can open an image with your web browser if you want to view it at 100%.

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

  1. You may want to refer to Ken Rockwell's page on selecting the sharpest aperture, especially if you do need that extra depth of field.

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Take Sharp Photographs. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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Contamination said...

Remember that if you are using image stabilisation, it's going to drain a lot of juice.

I personally love Gorilla Grip tripods as they can go almost anywhere and aren't too big.

Good advice!

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