One of the biggest problems and challenges in special for new photographers is to take sharper photos. Although the extraordinary DSLR equipment and lenses are able to capture breathtaking photographs, at the same time, it is relatively harder to be able to take sharp photos.
How to take sharper photos with your DSLR? Ensure that the shutter speed is fast enough to avoid motion blur when taking handheld photographs and take an extra moment to double-check that your main subject is in perfect focus. A good quality lens, lower ISO values and post-process sharpening are additional factors to help you take sharper photographs.
Sharpness is one kind and way to describe a crisp photograph and in order to learn how to take sharper photos with your DSLR, you must understand first what is or may be the cause of your photos to be unsharp. Non-sharp photos I would like to classify them under a few categories:
Out of focus: One of the most common issues in special when you are capturing photographs during difficult lighting scenarios where autofocus is not working very well and/or with high ISO values. The main subject is out of focus.
Depth of field: This is the artistic way for the background to be out of focus whilst your subject remains in perfect focus. That is the outreach to obtain an artistic image but not all the photographers are looking to obtain a shallow depth of field.
Motion Blur: Another common issue where either the subject is moving and/or creating motion or the shutter speed is too slow to be able to capture handheld photographs.
Other scenarios: There may be other scenarios where your lens is very cheap or damaged from the factory and unable to focus at all, the human eye and camera have difficulties or impossible to focus on some surfaces, etc.
I will follow and extend these common issues further in this post. I would strongly recommend you to keep reading.
But moving further, I want to share with you as well 7 tips to take sharper photos with your DSLR. Follow the table of contents to shuffle through the sections or keep reading to get through each of them.
7 extra tips to take sharper photos with your DSLR
#1: Understand the “sweet spot” of your lens aperture.
You may find out that in my blog I often used the term “sweet spot” and what I mean is that every lens has an aperture range, but only between some specific aperture openings you will get the maximum sharpness.
As an instance, let’s say that you own a 50mm 1.8G lens, okay? You will find yourself shooting on f/1.8 or f/16 and the photo is not perfectly sharp. The sweet spot of your lens aperture may be between f/5.6 and f/8 or another value, where the photos you are taking are the sharpest for your lens.
Of course that every lens has a different “sweet spot” for apertures, therefore it is a good practice to test that.
How can you check what is the sweet spot of your lens?
Place your camera on a tripod and use a timer or shutter release to minimize the camera shake. Pick a subject to focus, preferable something outdoors under the right light conditions.
Take a photo on each aperture such as f/1.8,f/2.2,f/2.8,f/3.2,f/4 to f/22. Your values may not be the same, depending on the camera or lens model you own. Review all your photographs on a computer and see which ones are the sharpest. Check the f/settings. Now you found the sweet spot of your lens.
On wider apertures, you may notice the edges to be a bit soft while the center is on focus, vice versa or nothing at all. Some lenses may not present the same amount of sharpness on the whole image area in special were the images taken may have soft edges, distortions and probably some vignette. Chromatic aberration may be more noticeable on the edges also. Those are common issues found more or less around all the lenses existant.
#2: Live preview + zoom in and manual focus
One of the top techniques to obtain the best sharpness when you take a photo, in special in landscape photography is to use the live view mode and manual focus. This will require you to have your camera mounted on a tripod.
How to get sharp photos with live view mode and manual focus
Total Time: 5 minutes
Mount your camera on a tripod
The first step would be to mount your DSLR camera on a tripod
Set manual focus on the lens and live view mode
Following the first step, set your lens on manual focus mode and your DSLR on live view. Your lens should have an MF/AF switch, MF being the manual focus
Adjust your settings according to the scene.
You should also use manual settings with the lowest ISO due to the fact that you are shooting on a tripod, therefore, longer exposures may not be a problem (not always). Set your aperture, shutter or any other settings according to your scene. If the photo will look too dark or too bright after captured, readjust your settings until they are on the right values.
Use + sign to zoom on your subject
Using the (+) sign from your camera will digitally zoom on your subject or the point you want to focus on. Use the up-down-left-right buttons to navigate your focus area and use the focus ring to perfectly bring in focus the subject or scene. This is called the fine-focus mode.
Take a photo with the mirror up function and timer/shutter remote control
The last step would be for you to take a photo with the mirror up function. Every DSLR should have this function reduces drastically the shake induced from the slamming shutter when the photo is captured. Moreover, using a timer or shutter remote control would be beneficial as you won’t have to touch the camera anymore and this would be perfectly stabilized on the tripod.
Keep in mind that the zoom function is just for a preview in order to check or fine-focus and is not going to be the final image resulted. The final image is the one framed in the live view mode without the zoom function. Also, the depth of field, aperture, lighting, and colors may differ from what you see on the light view to the final image.
Also, ensure that the weather conditions are favorable, as following the above steps in a windy condition will simply not work. The wind will rock the tripod and your DSLR, therefore, your images will look blurry. Attaching a weight between the tripod legs would help to stabilize the tripod and the camera on windy conditions. Not all the tripods have a weighting hook.
#3: Use faster shutter speed with image stabilization ON.
In good light condition, using faster shutter speed will always get you sharper photos while taking photos with your camera hand-held. A shutter speed 1/200 or 1/320 will definitely do the job.
In some situations, some lenses in special zoom lenses may have image stabilization which allows you to capture photographs with slower shutter speed and not induce any motion shake into the image. This depends, of course, on the lighting situations of the scene, settings you are using and/or the quality of the lens/camera and the photographer.
As a comparison, a steady photographer may be able to take a sharp photo without any shake induced into the image with a shutter speed of 1/60 sec where if the lens image stabilization is ON, the shutter speed can be even 1/4 or longer. This is another step in obtaining sharp photographs where shake motion may be a problem.
But also keep in mind that there are many factors which can contribute to take sharper photos, although using the faster shutter speed is one of them, it may be mainly used to avoid taking blurry photos.
#4: Use sharpening in post-processing.
In almost all certain situations, the sharpness of an image can be increased during post-processing. Shooting in RAW will allow you to edit the image and do the required modifications without to suffer from quality loose as attempting to edit a JPEG image. Therefore, for this option to work, I would definitely recommend shooting in RAW.
As I am working only with Lightroom (rarely using Photoshop) I will explain the right way to do it below:
How to sharpen your photos in Lightroom
- Obviously, select your photograph and go in develop mode
- Zoom in on your photo using the 1:1 ratio, on the main focus point
- Scroll down on Sharpening and slide the amount (standard 40) up to 60 or 70. You can use more, but beware not to oversharpen your photo.
- You can also increase the Radius and Detail slightly
- Mask a little bit the photo using that slider. Not too much, nor too less
- You can slide up slightly the noise reduction > luminance to further mask the noise resulted from sharpening.
- Press The Y|Y at the bottom of the photo to compare the results with the original photograph.
#5: Use a shutter release to shoot remotely
Following the how-to from the #2, I recommend the (wireless) shutter remote control which can be extremely useful in many situations where you are shooting with your camera mounted on a tripod.
Some of the DSLR’s (as the Nikon D750) may have incorporated an infrared sensor which allows you to use some standard wireless shutter remote controls without the need to attach additional accessories on the top of the Hotshoe for your DSLR.
For many other cameras without this function, as shown in the image above, there are wireless or by cable shutter remote controls. Why do you need one to be honest?
Using a timer to take a photo in order to reduce any shake induced when you touch your DSLR will only increase the amount of time you spend by photographing and in many cases, this would be not ideal in special where a shutter remote control can be easily found anywhere on the market for a relatively cheap price.
Research which shutter release is good for your camera type in order to avoid buying incompatible accessories.
#6: Invest in a good quality lens
Investing in a good quality lens would be probably one of the hardest pocket pains but useful tips I can give due to the fact that better quality lenses have an increased sharpness.
Cheaper quality lenses would suffer from lack of sharpness and the images would be soft. If you would ask me what should you invest more between either a new good camera or lens, I would absolutely vote for the lens.
Consider the fact that your lens plays the greatest role in taking high-quality photographs. You can have the top quality cameras such as Nikon D5 or D850 but if you have a cheap lens… you got the point.
As an instance, if you followed or often read my blog, I mentioned that I have a Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lens. This lens has one of the greatest sharpness from all the lenses I owned and tested. The above link is to the review of this lens and I largely talked about the sharpness on it.
#7: Clean your lens. Use no filters.
Short to say, avoid having anything in front of your lens, such as additional protection glass or filters of any kind and ensure that your lens will be always cleaned before using it.
Although a dirty lens can have a minimum impact in sharpness, it does have a great impact in contrast and autofocus. Moreover, in general, filters can have an outstanding and unique role in photography but keep in mind that some filters in special cheaper ones can affect the sharpness of your photo.
That wouldn’t mean not using any filters at all, no no. In fact, I do recommend polarised and ND filters but only beware not to use them when you don’t have to.
Sharpness, in other words…
Furthermore, I want to talk about sharpness and unsharp photos. Remember that at the beginning of this post I mentioned at least 3 types of common issues or general queries which can affect sharpness? It’s time to extend that and see what can we do about it.
Those common issues can be solved by approached some other techniques than the ones you are used with, and with a bit of training and practicing, you will be able to overcome them. What now is a great issue for a photographer, in the close future can be nothing.
Out of focus.
The out of focus occurs when the main subject, elements or scene is not in focus. Under different scenarios, this can often occur, where in some other scenarios this can never happen. In the end, there is a balance between the camera, lens, photographer and the scene.
- Difficult lighting scenarios – Did you ever tried during the evening to focus on something but this didn’t work as expected? Well, probably everyone did, and there I can say we are a bit limited by the technology.
Although a good quality lens plays an important role with autofocus and focusing on difficult lighting scenarios, a camera would have the same importance as your lens.
In general, I do not recommend to spend much money on a camera but to center your attention on a very good quality lens, but if your main area of photography is during the evening, night or any other similar situations, take into consideration a good quality full-frame DSLR with good autofocus sensor (as Nikon D5, D850 etc.) and high ISO capabilities.
- Some other similar issues when often the subject is out of focus would result from high ISO values. Each DSLR comes with an image sensor, DX or FX. FX (or full-frame) is one of the largest camera sensor types, therefore, under the same lighting conditions as the above point, I would recommend using an FX camera.
This is like a domino effect. Using an FX camera with a larger sensor would allow you to capture photographs in more difficult lighting scenarios easier than with any other camera. Keep in mind that larger is the sensor, more light it can capture.
With a larger sensor, we don’t have to increase the ISO as much as with other cameras (considering the same scene), therefore, it will be easier to use autofocus with lower ISO values.
Although many photographers do not give great importance to it, a high ISO number affects the ability to use autofocus or properly focus on a subject.
- Your lens may fail to focus properly. I will give a good example here, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8. Although this is an amazing lens, it may come cranky and you will require to adjust its autofocus values manually with a USB dock and a focus panel.
As an instance, you want to focus on a specific element but the lens would focus farther or closer of that point, therefore, when you are outdoors taking photographs and you expect that your subject to be in focus, this won’t be due to this less common issue.
This Sigma lens above mentioned is not the only one that may come with this issue, and although the great majority of the lenses won’t have this problem, some will require you to fine-tune the autofocus if the lens will allow it. If not, is time for you to return the lens and replace it with another copy.
Depth of field
99% of the cases, depth of field is not an issue. In fact, the depth of field will give the image an artistic look where the subject is on focus and the background is out of focus. If there are sources of light in the background such as lightbulbs, the depth of field will create bokeh.
- Although this is not an issue, many times a photographer may want the background to be in the same focus as the foreground and middle ground/the subject.
There are two best approaches you can obtain (as close as possible) for the whole scene to be in focus and sharp:
- Step down the aperture. Using a wider aperture like f/1.8, f/2.2 etc. would create a very shallow depth of field and many elements may not be in focus other than the main subject (not always). Using an aperture of f/12 -f/22 or even smaller would sharpen the scene across the image. But beware that this won’t guarantee the whole image to be in perfect focus.
- Use focus stack techniques. This is a more complicated approach where you are shooting multiple images of the same scene but with different focus points from the closest to the farthest and then stacking them in photoshop. This method, although complicated, would result in amazing images with unreal sharpness.
Below is a video on how to focus stack, a video created by the photographer and YouTuber Thomas Heaton.
Not always the sharpness resulted from focusing is the issue here. One another issue would be the motion blur. The artistic way of motion blur is reflected in creating long exposures, light trails, people running in motion, etc. but many photographers would consider this an issue where the main event of photographing a scene or subject is in motion where should not be.
I want to categories motion blur as an issue under two categories:
- Unwanted subject motion
- Shake motion
- Unwanted subject motion
The unwanted subject motion is when in the scene and subject you are photographing comes with ‘unwanted motion’. I will give you a good example for better understanding.
You have your DSLR set to your tripod facing a road. There are cars in motion. You want as much as possible to freeze the cars but the photo resulted have the cars in motion. Although many photographers would like the cars to be photographed in motion, your vision may be different, therefore, the car’s motion is lacking sharpness (due to the motion of course).
The solution would be very simple: increase the shutter speed as much as you can in order to freeze the image (e.g. 1/500, 1/1000 etc.). The same example goes by attempting to photograph a bee on a flower where the wings are in motion. To freeze the bee’s wings you would need a shutter speed of 1/4000. which is super fast.
I considered to categorise the unwanted motion under this post, “how to take sharper photos with your DSLR” because although the subject is in perfect focus, the subject will remain unsharp due to this ‘unwanted motion’.
- Shake motion would reflect the above point but in this case, you are taking photographs handheld. When you check your images, you realize that there is motion due to the fact that you slowly moved your camera and you weren’t steady enough.
Two solutions to this common issue:
- Increase the shutter speed. When you increase the shutter speed as on the above point explained, you freeze the image. Sometimes, where the lighting conditions would not allow us to increase the shutter speed too much, we would have to increase the ISO a bit to compensate.
- The alternative would be to set your camera on a tripod. The main role of a tripod is to keep the DSLR in place with lack of motion on it, in order to take longer exposures and sharper photos.
One tip I want to share with you when you are photographing with your DSLR handheld on lower shutter speed (e.g. 1/30sec) would be that when you are watching through the viewfinder and you are ready to capture the photograph, hold your breath for a couple of seconds to stabilize yourself and drastically reduce the motion resulted by your hands and body’s shakes and movement.
There could be a million and one other reasons why your camera either fail to autofocus or your photographs are not sharp, other reasons than the above-mentioned ones.
One example would be photographing against a flat colored surface, in special white. If there is not a bit of complexity in your image and you try to photograph against such flat-colored scenes or objects, the autofocus will fail to calculate and obtain an image on focus. In many cases, the camera and the lens will attempt to focus over and over.
As an instance, did you ever tried to photograph a perfect blue sky? Your camera and lens may not be able to focus; or photograph a white wall.
Avoid picking the focus point(s) to focus on these surfaces, and if for some reason you have to do it, use manual focus, although it would be even difficult to preview the image if the surface is perfectly neat.
Conclusion on how to take sharper photos with your DSLR
If you are just starting into photography, you will see that those are some common issues you may have when you try to take sharp photos. Even for more professional photographers, there are many situations where the photos resulted would be unsharp.
I would recommend you practice and follow the advice given in this post. After all, this post is for free for you to help you take sharper photos and extraordinary long work is done to put everything all together.
Thank you for remaining with us until the end of this post. Check our other posts if you feel for and discover new and unique tips given by us, tips and guides to be found only on this blog and nowhere else. After all, we are writing with passion in order to help you become an extraordinary photographer. For now, take care my friend and I hope to see you around.
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