How to Make Absolutely Sharp Images

12 Tips to Avoid Blur Pictures

Whether you are interested in landscape photography or portraiture, or anything else in between, getting a sharp image is something that is always the top priority for every photographer.

Image sharpness, however, depends on some things. Today, we are going to learn about a few of these as well as a few tricks on how to avoid getting soft images.

Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this tutorial, you will have gathered enough knowledge to get sharp images 9 out of 10 times you click the shutter release.

Related Post: Best Cameras for Photographing Nature

1. Watch Out for That Reflex Mirror

Before we delve deeper into how to get sharp images every time, we need to understand how a camera works. At least a bit about the reflex mirror.

Camera, here, refers to DSLRs. As surprising as it may sound, DSLRs are prime candidates for image shake.

DSLR cameras have more mechanical moving parts than your smartphone camera or for that matter the point & shoot type cameras.

E.g., when you press down the shutter release button, a mirror flips away from the front of the sensor and gets locked for the sensor to be able to record an image. After shooting the picture, the mirror then flips back into its original position to repeat the cycle.

This mechanical movement of the mirror flipping in and out is what makes the most amount of shake.

Of course, other than the mirror, your hands are also prime candidates for a shake. Surprised? When you breathe in and out, your chest expands and contracts. With it, your hands move as well. That movement creates camera shake and therefore softer images.

2. Focus Blending

Focus Blending is a technique where two or more identical images, but with different focusing points, are blended in Photoshop to create one image with a large area of the frame in focus. How is this achieved? The camera is set-up on a tripod.

You need to make at least two images. You can make more depending on the scene and how much depth of field you need. If the site is a landscape, you need at least three images. One for the background, one for the foreground and one for the area in between.

Afterward, the images are opened as layers in Photoshop and focus blending is applied using a tool known as Auto Blend Layers.

When the dialogue box opens, choose Stack Layers and hit OK. The layers, which are individual images, will be blended. They will also be auto-aligned to ensure that they all line-up correctly. Some cropping will be involved.

While focus blending is a technique that is usually applied for achieving a larger depth of field such as when shooting landscape photos etc. this technique is also useful when you have particular areas of your image that are softer.

3. A Sharp Lens

There is no alternative to a sharp lens to make sharp images.

If you have to choose between a budget camera and a top-grade lens, always pick a top grade lens. Lenses such as the 70-200mm f/2.8 E FL ED VR is an example of a sharp lens.

A sharp lens will, however, work best when you pair it with a high-resolution sensor. Only a high-resolution sensor will be able to make full use of an ultra-sharp lens.

4. Use a Small Aperture

A small aperture (high number on the camera setting) will create a significant depth of field.

Related Post: Sample Images of Small & Wide Aperture

A small aperture because it tends to bring a lot of the frame within focus. Some photographers prefer to use this technique when shooting landscape photos.

However, this method to create sharp images is not without flaws.

If you stop down the lens too much, lens diffraction will set in.

“Lens Diffraction” is a phenomenon which softens the image quality. Thus, instead of pursuing the smallest aperture, use an aperture that gives the best balance between a large depth of field and a sharp image quality.

An alternate solution you can use is the Hyperfocal Distance. Hyperfocal Distance signifies the distance between the lens and the closest subject that is in focus when you focus the lens at infinity.

That invariably means anything between the nearest subject in focus and infinity will be in focus.

Find out what the Hyperfocal Distance of your lens/camera combination is and use that information to maximize the depth of field of your images.

Alternatively, you can make multiple images, with each one focusing at a different focusing distance and then blend everything together in Photoshop using the steps we learned above.

Focus Blending, however, has its limitations. It does not work for all types of images.

5. Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Slow shutter speed is one of the banes of sharp photos.

The slower the shutter speed, the higher the chances of getting a blurred picture.

The thumb rule is to use a shutter speed that is at least the same or greater than the inverse of the focal length.

It means if your focal length of the lens you are using is 100mm, you need to shoot at least at 1/100 of a second or faster. To be on the safe side use a shutter speed that is a stop faster. In the above example that would be 1/200 sec.

6. Use a Small ISO Number

Night Skyline in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, UAE. Photo by Robert Bock.

Using a small ISO number ensures that your camera does not pick up additional noise when recording the image. Noise is the last thing that you want if you need an entirely sharp image.

At higher ISO your sensor starts to boost the signal. That invariably also increases noise or what is known as static in the acoustic parlance. Noise reduces image sharpness.

How far you can stretch the ISO depends on your camera model, so try different ISO settings and see yourself where your cameras limit is.

Related Post: What is Auto ISO Mode and When to Use it

7. Watch for the Wind

The wind is another prime candidate for creating soft images. The wind can blow stray strands of hair, confuse the auto-focusing mechanism of your camera and create soft pictures in the process.

When shooting landscapes, the blowing wind will move flowers, leaves and sway trees creating blurred (and therefore soft images).

8. Use a Tripod

A tripod is the most ultimate tool to produce sharp images, period.

No matter the camera, no matter the lens and no matter the technique and or settings that you use. If you don’t have a tripod with you 9 out of 10 images you shoot will be soft.

It is a very tedious and long drawn process trying to sharpen a soft image during post-processing.

If you don’t want to spend the best part of a day post-processing one image invest in a tripod.

9. Don’t Reduce Shutter Speed too Much

There is a well-known rule: the longer the focal length, the higher the likelihood of the image turning out soft.

The trick to getting sharp images when shooting with a long lens is to ensure that the shutter speed is never less than the inverse of the focal length.

Low light situations tend to augment these situations because if you have less light, you compensate for the lack of light with a slower shutter speed.

Wide angle lenses, on the other hand, tend to suffer from slow shutter speed induced image softness.

10. Sharpen your Photos in Photoshop

One of the advantages of digital photo editing tools such as Photoshop and Lightroom is the incredible amount of options to sharpen an image. Image sharpening can be done using a plethora of instruments, but I prefer the Unsharp mask in Photoshop to get sharp images.

When sharpening, please keep in mind what can pass well after sharpening and what will not.

Clouds, for example, do not need to be sharpened. Neither does the skin of a little baby or beautiful women.

But you can always sharpen the background, mountains, rocks, etc. Thus, you have to sharpen areas of your photographs selectively.

Do not go overboard with the sharpening tools. Over-sharpening tends to introduce artifacts in your images. These are difficult to remove.

11. Use Continuous Shooting Mode

The continuous shooting mode allows you to shoot multiple frames in a rapid succession. Shooting multiple frames gives you a critical advantage.

A series of frames provides you more chances of getting at least one frame that would be tack sharp.

This technique is best when you are shooting hand-held. Not so much when you are shooting on a tripod.

12. Brace yourself against a wall and other Hand Positions

Brace yourself against a wall when shooting hand-held. The wall gives you critical support and ensures that there are minimal movements of the hand.

Hand positions are important too. If your hands are tucked in close to your body, it gives you better stability when shooting.

Your legs should be spread out too, just like a tripod and keep the line of equilibrium straight down the middle of your body. This position ensures that you are balanced correctly. Don’t do any deep breathing either.

Slow breathing helps slow down the heartbeat. Even your heartbeat contributes to vibration and resultantly image blur. Always to shoot when you are exhaling.

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