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Monday, September 20, 2010

Six Techniques For Sharper Photographs—09/20/10

Make blurry pictures a thing of the past

This Article Features Photo Zoom


Sharpness is a tricky thing. It goes without saying that we want sharp photographs, but like so many things in photography it involves a tradeoff. It’s important to remember, though, that if a shot’s not sharp all the other aspects of color, contrast, exposure and noise just don’t seem to matter. Yet almost every photographer finds themselves taking sharpness for granted until it’s too late. Use these six techniques to help prevent camera shake and motion blur that can turn an otherwise perfect photograph into a heartbreaking tragedy.

1. Tripod and cable release. It goes without saying for long exposures, but using a tripod can actually make many "normal" exposures noticeably sharper too. A good rule of thumb is that if the subject permits you to use a tripod, you should. (And if the exposure is long, be sure to incorporate a cable release or self timer to minimize camera shake too.)

2. Faster shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed, the less opportunities for motion blur and camera shake—two prime causes of blurry photographs. If sharpness is your prime concern, strike a balance between the widest aperture that permits a faster shutter speed, and the aperture that is itself the sharpest.

3. Choose the sharpest aperture. That’s right—not all apertures are equally sharp. Usually your lens will be less sharp at the extreme, fully wide open and stopped all the way down. Test your lenses to determine which one is sharpest aperture; it’s usually about two or three stops from wide open. (On an ƒf/2.8 lens, for example, ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/8 is likely to be the sharpest.)

4. Increase the ISO. On its own, a higher ISO won’t help you make sharper pictures. BUT... if your choice is between a noisier sharp photo (from a high ISO and faster shutter speed) or a blurry low-noise photo (from a low ISO and slower shutter speed) choose the noisy sharp photo every time.


5. Buy a better lens. Just like all apertures aren’t created equal, neither are all lenses. There are no hard and fast rules about lens sharpness, no way to know whether one lens is sharper than another without testing (or relying on someone else’s test results, often posted online). It’s a good bet, though, that the $99 kit lens that came with your camera won’t be a sharp as a top-of-the-line pro model. If sharpness is worth it to you, upgrade your glass.

6. Understand how focus affects depth of field. If the depth of field of a given focal length, aperture and distance is three feet, then one foot of that depth of field will fall in front of the focus point and two feet will fall after. This rule applies on every lens at every aperture, give or take. So as a rule of thumb, pick a point of focus that is approximately one-third of the way into the total area you would like to be sharp, then stop down and check the DOF preview until you’ve got everything as sharp as you want it.

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