“I don’t understand it! They looked so great on the LCD screen at the back of my camera!”
Don’t you just hate it when you get home from a photo shoot, where you were totally convinced you had some fantastic photographs, and in feverish excitement, trembling fingers and all, you download the images only to find that once they’re on the computer screen you see that, “Oh no!” – image after image after image is soft, out of focus and just bleh.
Fear not my little buttercups, I know that feeling all too well. Been there done that, many, many times. So many times in fact that I became totally obsessed with image sharpness and went on a Moira Mission to find out how to fix it.
Here’s what I discovered and to make it easier for us to remember I used the anagram C.L.A.S.S.I.C. Amn’t I cleverest sausage ever?
- Clean Lens – A clean lens helps your camera’s auto focus to work. Can you imagine trying to see something clearly through a dirty window? Indeed, your camera feels the same way, give your auto focus a hand and keep those lenses clean.
- Lens choice – Prime lenses tend to be sharper than zoom lenses unless we are talking about the super-duper-uber expensive zoom lenses. The better the lens, the better the sharpness and image quality. This doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to get a prime lens. If you’re on a tight budget, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is an excellent lens for the price and the sharpness is pretty good at about f/4. It sells for around US $110.
- Aperture – A higher aperture (smaller hole) will give you more depth of field and result in more of the image being in focus. As a rule I normally use a lower aperture (big hole) of about f/2.8 unless I am photographing a dog directly head on and I want to make sure the muzzle and nose remain in focus, in that case I’ll close the aperture down to f/4. It’s trial and error, each lens will behave a little differently, you need to practise and see what works for you. Another thing to remember is that the closer you are to your subject the shallower your depth of field will be.
- Shutterspeed – Another way to maintain sharp images is to observe the handheld camera and shutterspeed rule. I use the word “rule” loosely, I don’t like rules so let’s call it a suggestion instead 🙂
When handholding your camera, avoid using a shutter speed that is less than your focal length. In plain English that means, don’t shoot slower than 1/60th of a second if the focal length of your lens is 60mm or don’t shoot slower than 1/200th of a second when using a 200mm lens. Here’s another thing to bear in mind, the bigger your lens is, the heavier it’ll be and more difficult to hold steady.
- Steady camera – Don’t confuse a blurry image for a poorly focused one. Blurry photos are the result of camera shake, not poor focus. A steady camera is ultra important for sharp images. Learn to hold your camera correctly. One foot in front of the other (boxing stance), arms tight against sides with your elbows tucked in. The left hand cups (isn’t that a great word? Cups…) the left hand cups the lens underneath while the right hand holds the camera grip with the index finger resting gently on the shutter button and lastly, I tend to ram the viewfinder up against my eyebrow as tightly as I can and take the shot. Use a tripod if your shutterspeed is too slow to handhold the camera. Be careful not to jab at the shutter button but squeeze it gently.
- ISO – Keep a low ISO to avoid digital noise which can soften your image. These days camera technology and editing software is so advanced that we’re able to achieve acceptable images at very high ISO’s. Nevertheless, I try not to go higher that ISO400 for a cleaner looking photograph.
- Centre AF point – the centre focus point is the most precise of all the points and is sensitive to both horizontal & vertical lines. That’s not to say that you can’t achieve a sharp image by using the other points, of course you can, it’s just a little harder.
I turned the anagram into a little image that you can add to your Pinterest board as a reminder, or you could download the free chapter on focus points and image sharpness from my online course textbook here.
I have two more pieces of advice for you…
Firstly – locate the MAGNIFY button on your camera, this will allow you to zoom into a photo on the back of your LCD screen during the photo session so that you can check there and then whether the image is sharp enough for you.
Secondly, don’t obsess over image sharpness to the exclusion of all the other aspects of photographing a subject, like light, perspective and composition or to the point that it becomes detrimental to your enjoyment of the art of photography. It takes many more elements than mere sharpness to create a powerful image.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams
Here’s the kicker folks, after all my researching, practising and reading, nowhere did I find the real truth.
The real truth is this – nobody, not even the top professional photographers in the field get a sharp image every single time they click the shutter – Bam!
So my darlin’s, take heart, be kind to yourselves, by all means do everything you can to get sharp photographs, follow all the tips I gave you but then relax and accept that sharpness is not the be all and end all, and not every photograph you take will be as sharp as you’d like it to be, just suck it up and try again. You are not alone.
Above all things, remember why you started and don’t let anything get in the way of your love of photography.
Registration for my online photography class, The incremental photographer is open! Class begins 7 March 2016. We had so much fun with this class last year, I can’t wait to meet all my new students and see you blossom like little flowers in the nurturing light of my tender loving care.
The above image shows my happy little office nook where I download your homework images and record the feedback videos for your assignments.
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