If there’s one thing you need to get consistently right in your photographs, it’s sharpness. Not even the wonders of Photoshop can fix blurry images. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools at your disposal to ensure each and every one of your images comes out crystal clear.
Words and Photography by Urth HQ
If you’re wondering how to take sharp photos every time you use your camera, here are the camera settings, photography tools and techniques we’d look to first.
How Your Camera Settings Can Affect Image Sharpness
Aperture affects image sharpness in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s important to decide on what depth of field you want. A large aperture like f/2.8 is going to create a very shallow depth of field, while a narrow aperture like f/11 is going to create a deeper depth of field, like you might see in a landscape image.
Typically, an aperture of f/11 or f/16 is adopted for landscape photography because of how the aperture size renders a scene with the appearance of front-to-back sharpness. This is true, but there is a limitation to this rule. It’s important to note that often, approaching aperture sizes of f/16 or f/22 can make an image appear less sharp due to lens diffraction. The same is said for a lens that boasts an aperture of f/1.8 — you may find that it’s actually sharper at f/2.8 or f/5.6 than it is at f/1.8.
Every lens has different aperture sweet spots so it’s good practice to shoot at different aperture sizes and learn the capabilities of your equipment, but as expressed above, the minimum and maximum aperture values are often the least sharp, so it’s best not to shoot with them if you can avoid it.
Head to A Complete Guide to Aperture: Examples & Photos for more.
Shutter speed is highly important in creating a sharp image free of blur. Try avoiding going below 1/125th of a second. We’re rarely capable of having steady enough hands to shoot at any speed slower than this without assistance from a tripod (keep reading for more information on the best tripods for sharp images).
Another guide if shooting handheld is to ensure your shutter speed is equal to greater than the focal length of your lens. For example, if you’re shooting with a 200mm lens, you ideally want your shutter speed at 1/200th of a second or greater in order to reduce the risk of loss of sharpness.
Find out more in A Complete Guide to Shutter Speed: Examples & Photos.
We know that changing your camera’s ISO changes your sensor’s sensitivity to light. By increasing your ISO, you may also be increasing the appearance of grain or noise in your image, which may make it appear unsharp. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid the appearance of grain.
Equipment You Need for Sharp Images
TYPES OF LENSES
As mentioned above, the longer the lens, the faster you should be setting your shutter speed, unless you’re using a tripod. Particularly with longer, heavier lenses, steady hands become a greater challenge and for that reason, it’s best to keep your shutter speed equal to or above the focal length of your lens.
Another note worth mentioning is that better quality lenses will produce sharper images. Photography can be an expensive hobby and there are products to suit everyone. The more expensive products however, are generally best, comprising better build quality and superior optics for sharper images.
Fixed or prime lenses (i.e. 24mm, 50mm as opposed to zoom lenses such as 24-70mm) are also expected to produce sharper images due to their more concise construction, negating the need for various moving parts that zoom lenses require.
A lot of cameras these days have in-built image stabilisation which allow us to create sharper images in less than optimal lighting conditions. This technology is quite innovative and also very complex.
For more technical specifications on the matter, head to Image Stabilization: When to Use it and When to Turn it Off.
But it’s not only cameras that have stabilisation properties. Lens-based image stabilisation allows a far smoother experience when photographing, most commonly with longer lenses, and far sharper results.
If your lens has an image stabilisation feature (usually a toggle button on the side of the lens), be sure to engage it to reduce camera shake.
Tripods are essential for shooting in low-light conditions that may require shutter speed lower than 1/125th of a second. It’s always good to have one with your photography kit as you never know when you may need to use it.
When choosing a tripod for image sharpness, again, it comes down to build quality. Lighter tripods are susceptible to the elements. Strong winds can produce camera shake that affects overall image sharpness whereas a stronger, heavier tripod is more likely to withstand inclement weather.
Other Reasons Why Your Photos Aren’t Sharp
When shooting outdoors, you might notice that a distant subject is blurrier than you’d expect. This is likely due to ultraviolet light radiating through the atmosphere, which can create a distinct hazy effect that camera sensors often struggle to cut through.
A UV filter greatly reduces the impact of UV light, leaving you with sharp photographs even on the brightest or haziest of days. Aside from this benefit, a UV filter can act as a full-time companion to your lens, protecting the expensive glass from chips and scratches.
HIGHLY REFLECTIVE SUBJECT
From glistening rivers and damp rocks to shiny shop windows, basically everything generates a reflection that detracts from your camera’s ability to capture contrast and saturation in your image – both key elements of a vivid photo.
Adding a CPL filter will allow you to photograph reflective surfaces and regain these vital details. While some photographers try to reduce these reflections in Photoshop, a CPL filter cuts out reflected light from the onset, meaning your camera will capture extra highlights, shadows and contrast. An otherwise decent image will be transformed into something that’s remarkably vibrant.
Fingerprints and dust on either the front or rear elements of your lens are inevitable if you’re frequently swapping equipment. This can reduce image sharpness as the camera can be pulled out of focus.
To keep your images sharp, it’s a great idea to have a glass cleaning system at the ready, which usually includes a brush, an air blower, microfibre cloths and a high-quality glass cleaner. Urth’s all-natural Glass Cleaner is free from alcohol and ammonia while offering premium cleaning and protection. Our best selling cleaning kit will be back in stock soon.
The above are all very small things to act upon or consider when trying to achieve the sharpest images possible. Practice makes perfect and understanding the intricacies of your equipment allows you to work within its technological parameters.
Next time you’re out in the field, do some test shots at various shutter speeds, apertures and with or without image stabilisation. Take them home to review and zoom in on the various parts of your images to determine how your lens and camera performs in creating sharp images.