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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

How to take sharp photos every time

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

A man with a camera learning photography with Devon Photographer Gary Holpin Photography

Before we look at some quick tips for ensuring that your photos are sharp, let's start by looking at the reason for blurred photos. There are two main categories of blur in photos:

Focus blur

Depending on the scene, it may not be possible for everything in the photo to be in focus (sometimes this is desirable, e.g. the blurring of the background behind a portrait). In this case, parts of the photo will be sharp, and parts will be blurred.

Movement blur

This can either be caused by movement of the camera (likely if all of the photo is blurred) or caused by the subject moving whilst the camera shutter was open (likely if only parts of the photo are blurred).

So, there are multiple reasons why some or all of your photo might be ‘blurry’:

  • Not focussed properly (usually it's most important for the main subject to be in focus)

  • A large aperture was used, creating a narrow plane of focus, and when the area of the photo that is blurred was outside of the plane of focus

  • A longer shutter speed was used and the subject was moving (water, people, pets etc)

  • A longer shutter speed was used and you moved the camera whilst the shutter was open (camera shake)

  • You might have a really dirty lens! Having greasy finger marks on the lens can sometimes make parts of the image look bleary. This one is easily solved - clean your lens!

So, how can you make sure that your photos are sharp - here are some quick tips that will help.

Keep your camera steady

In order to avoid your photos being blurred due to camera shake:

  • Learn how to hold your camera properly, with one hand on either side, holding the camera close to your body and with your elbows tucked in by your sides.

  • If light is quite low (and longer exposures are likely to be necessary) then put your camera on a tripod. If you don't have one, you can try and rest your camera on a solid object such as a wall or a the tope of a fence post. A rough rule of thumb is that if the shutter speed is slower that 1/50 second, then you are at risk of camera shake.

  • Make sure Image Stabilisation is switched on. Many cameras (and some lenses) have built in image stabilisation which tries to compensate for small movements of the camera.

Make sure you focus on the subject

It's normally most important that the main subject is in focus, especially if it's an obvious main subject such as a person or your pet dog.In this case it's really important that you focus on the subject and make sure it's in focus. This is especially the case if a large aperture is used (when the zone of focus could be very narrow) and focussing just in front or behind your subject could mean that it is out of focus. Using auto focus it can be a bit hard to control exactly where the camera focusses, so I always recommend that you check your camera manual for which other options are available for controlling where you focus. The available methods are camera dependent but the best in my opinion is the ability to use a flexible box, which you can move to the point where you want the camera to focus.

In landscapes, focus one third of the way into the scene

In landscape photos, there may not be an obvious subject, so where do you focus? Well, as a rule of thumb, you should focus approximately one third into the scene; although this can be difficult to judge, it's important not to focus very close to you, or very far away, so once you've found how to better control the focus on your camera, choose a point somewhere in the middle distance and focus there. The reason for this is that it's not possible to have everything from very close to you to the far horizon in crisp focus, and you maximise the amount that is in focus (the 'depth of field') by focussing around a third into the scene.

Use Continuous / Al Servo Focus mode for moving subjects

By default, your camera is probably in Single Focus mode; this means that when you half press the shutter, the camera will focus, then you press the shutter all of the way and the photo is taken. You camera will also have a Continuous Focus mode (sometimes called Al Servo Focus mode - check your manual for details); this is specifically for moving subjects (such as wildlife, children, sports etc). In this mode, when you press the shutter half way, the camera focusses, and if the subject starts moving the camera will try and track it as it moves so as to keep it in focus (you then press the shutter all the way down to take the photo as before). This is particularly important if you are using a large aperture (with a shallow depth of field) as otherwise, if the subject moves even a little, your photo might be out of focus.

Use a smaller aperture (Pro tip!)

If you can't get everything in the photo in focus from front to back, then try using a smaller aperture (on either Shutter Priority or Manual mode). Smaller apertures (e.g. f16 as opposed to f2.8) provides a much wider zone of focus from front to back, so by using a smaller aperture ensures that much more of the photo from front to back can be in focus at the same time.

Don't move once you've focussed!

Once you have pressed the shutter half way down and focussed, make sure you don't move forward or backward before taking the photo. This is because if you are using a large aperture (with a shallow field of focus) even s small movement forward or backward might mean your subject is out of focus when you take the photo.

Use a faster shutter speed (Pro tip!)

If your photos contain moving objects and these appear blurred (e.g. the arm of a person that was moving when you took the photo, then the problem may be that your camera is using too slow a shutter speed, causing motion blur. This is most likely in poor light. If you know how to use Shutter Priority or Manual mode, then you can select a faster shutter speed so as to prevent such motion blur.

Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?

If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, one of my highly rated weekend residential workshops for beginner photographers or for intermediate photographers?

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