50 Simple Ways to Get Brilliantly Sharp Photos
With few guidelines in photography being as crucial as sharpness, Aditya Nair explores the fuzzy concepts behind sharp images.
Take a moment to look around and observe your surroundings. The coffee cup on the table is in sharp focus. Your eyes move on to the spoon lying next to it, which is now in focus. Now imagine for a second, living in a world where everything you see is hazy, out of focus and unsharp. When we start observing hazy objects around us, almost immediately a headache ensues.
It is for this reason why poorly focussed images can be visually disturbing. It is also the reason why HDTVs are amazing! While a deliberate blur can look beautiful, here are some easy tips to ensure your images remain tack sharp.
1. Half Press to Focus
We often press the shutter-release button without focusing. Half press the shutter-release button to achieve focus and avoid making blurred images.
2. Face Detection
When photographing people, use the Face Detection mode of the camera. When set to this mode, the camera will only look for and focus on the faces in the frame.
3. Avoid Camera Shake
To reduce camera shake while shooting handheld, choose a shutterspeed that is equal to or faster than the inverse of the focal length. Therefore at 50mm, a shutterspeed of at least 1/50sec will suffice.
4. Factors that Affect Camera Shake
While the aforementioned is a good guideline to follow, there are situations where it might not work. If you are in a cold environment or in a moving car, you will need to use a faster shutterspeed.
5. Switch on IS
Cameras or lenses with stabilisation will allow you to use shutterspeeds that are two to four stops slower while shooting handheld. At 50mm you will be able to shoot sharp images even at 1/12sec instead of 1/50sec.
6. Is Digital IS Useful?
Digital stabilisation merely boosts the ISO, allowing faster shutterspeeds. Therefore, it will add noise to the image and sometimes even cause softening.
7. A Clear View
Use a lint-free cloth to clean dust and fingerprints off the lens. If you are not using the lens, store it in a dry environment or with desiccant bags to prevent fungus from growing on your lens.
8. Capturing Moving Subjects
With a twirling dancer, you may need a shutterspeed of 1/250sec, but for a car speeding across the frame you may need a shutterspeed of 1/2000sec to freeze motion. Also, remember that stabilisation will not account for moving subjects.
9. The Lowest Possible ISO
A higher ISO setting tends to reduce apparent detail in the image. Sharp edges in the images begin merging due to colour noise. So, you should use the lowest possible ISO setting that allows you to handhold the camera.
10. Capture a Burst of Images
The Burst mode is useful when you have to use a slower shutterspeed. Later, you can choose the sharpest image from the set that you have shot.
11. Use a Flash
A flash is an effective way to freeze the subject. If you are using a slow shutterspeed to capture ambient light, the use of a flash will ensure that the subject is rendered sharply.
12. Flash for Portraits
If you are attempting Slow Sync Flash photography with people, use a second curtain flash. We tend to instinctively move once the flash is fired. Here, as the flash fires at the end of the exposure, your subject will remain still through the exposure anticipating the flash.
13. While Shooting with Light Cameras
We often shoot with just one hand when using a phone or a compact camera. Instead, use both hands to support the camera. It will help reduce camera shake.
14. Holding a DSLR
Grip the DSLR with your right hand and support the base of the lens with your left hand. Keep your elbows tucked in to stabilise the camera.
15. The Right Posture
Position your feet so that they are shoulder width apart. This will give you better stability. Control your breathing while you shoot. Inhale, release the shutter and then exhale once the image is made.
16. Tripods are Incredible!
With noise free images at higher ISOs, one may think that tripods are no longer necessary. Using a tripod, however, is the single best way to shoot tack sharp images, when slow shutterspeeds are required. Monopod and flat surfaces can also help you shoot at slower shutterspeeds.
17. Weighing the Tripod
It is better to use a tripod that is three times heavier than the weight of the camera and lens. Newer tripods, however, are designed to be far lighter while being able to carry heavier cameras.
Make sure that the weight of your camera and lens does not exceed the maximum load-bearing capacity of the tripod. If it does, you can weigh the tripod down by attaching a counterweight to the hook provided.
18. Switch off IS When Using a Tripod
If you are using a tripod to shoot, it is better to switch off any stabilisation. The IS system will cause a disturbance in the image as it tries to stabilise nonexistent camera shake.
19. For Long Exposures
In addition to a tripod, using the mirror lockup function of the camera along with a remote release will further minimise camera shake. If you do not have a remote trigger, you can use the Self Timer function of the camera.
20. Choose the Right Depth
What kind of photograph are you planning to make? If you are shooting a portrait, a wide aperture will help you keep the person’s face sharp while the background recedes into a blur. On the other hand, if making landscapes, the choice of a narrow aperture will ensure sharpness throughout the frame.
21. The Right Amount of Blur
Often, choosing the wrong aperture setting will mean that the background will not be completely blurred and will continue to distract. Conversely, by overdoing the blur, the secondary element in the frame may not be as sharp as you want it to be.
22. Preview the DOF
Often overlooked, the DOF preview button is in fact very handy when you want to judge the depth-of-field at a
23. Use a UV Filter
A UV filter is a great way to prevent dust and fingerprints from appearing on your lens, which can make images look soft. At the same time, using a cheap quality filter can also reduce the sharpness. particular aperture value. The button is usually found on the camera near the base of the lens.
Making Sharp Blurs
27. Emphasising the Sharpness
If the background is sufficiently blurred the main subject will automatically seem sharper.
28. The Sharpest Point
Lenses do not produce the sharpest images at the extreme ends of the aperture range. Usually, the sharpest images are produced at apertures that are two to three stops less than the widest aperture.
29. Better Optics
Instead of buying an expensive camera and a cheap lens, invest in lenses with better optics as they produce sharper images. Additionally, with cameras that have high megapixel counts, you will also need lenses with better optics to produce sharp photographs at full resolution.
30. A Prime Lens
With a prime lens you can shoot at wider apertures which is useful when shooting in low light. These lenses also weigh less and have better optics. Zoom lenses with great optical quality tend to be expensive and are considerably heavier.
31. Hyperfocal Distance When Shooting Landscapes
This technique is great for landscape photography when you want everything in the frame to be sharp. If there are foreground elements close to the lens, however, ensure that the hyperfocal distance covers these elements as well.
32. Hyperfocal Distance While on the Streets
If you do not want to be bothered by having to change the aperture constantly while shooting on the streets, simply set the focus ring to the hyperfocal distance and then you can continue shooting.
33. Avoid Using the Widest Apertures
With wide apertures like f/2.8 the hyperfocal distance will be far away and the corresponding DOF will be shallow.
34. Capturing Sharp Bokeh
Circular bokeh is considered to be the mark of a good lens. That said, sharpedged bokeh can also be pretty interesting, especially if the bokeh is the main subject. You can create such bokeh by shooting a pointillistic source of light using a midrange to wide apertures.
35. Use a Lens Hood
Lens flare reduces the contrast in the image and makes it look hazy. Even a properly focussed image can look unsharp due to flare. A lens hood will help reduce the flare in situations where the source of light is at the periphery of the frame.
36. Underexpose to Reduce Flare
Flare is also caused when the light source is a part of the frame and can reduce the sharpness around the edges of the light source. Slightly underexposing the frame will help reduce the flare.
37. Single Shot vs Continuous AF
With moving subjects like birds, using Continuous AF will ensure that your camera adjusts focus whenever the subject moves. While shooting stationary subjects such as a traffic signal in the midst of moving traffic, use Single Shot AF so that your camera does not refocus every time a car whizzes past the frame.
38. Focus at a Point
Using Single Point AF will help you select the exact spot you want to focus on. On the other hand, Multiple Point AF is designed to focus on a subject in the foreground. It works well when the background is distinct. However, it is easily confused when the subject is only a small part of the frame or if the subject is getting merged with the background.
39. Clean the Sensor
Over time, a camera’s sensor accumulates dust which can result in soft images and spots on your pictures.
40. Try the AF-lock Button
If you do not want to keep switching between AF modes, you can use the AF-lock button as a substitute for Single Shot AF. As long as you keep the shutter half pressed, the AF-lock button will hold the focus.
41. Ensuring Accurate Autofocus
In low light, the AF may not focus properly. The AF-assist beam will not be able to help you when the subject is far away from the camera. In such a situation, use a torch to help the camera focus properly.
42. Manually Focus the Lens
In situations where the AF might get fooled due to multiple elements or the presence of fog, MF can give precise results. With the Live View mode switched on, digitally zoom into the frame to perfect the focus.
43. Minimum Focusing Distance
Lenses have a minimum focusing distance. If the subject is closer than this distance then the lens will not focus on it. If you need go close to a subject while using a compact camera,use the Macro mode.
44. Move the Camera
For macro and close-up photography, set the focus ring at the minimum focusing distance and then physically move the camera till the subject comes into focus.
45. Sharpen Images
While software like Adobe Photoshop give you options to sharpen images, these cannot fix an unsharp image. They merely enhace the appearance of sharpness to a certain degree. The only way to ensure sharpness is to get it right in camera!
46. Choosing a File Format
With RAW files you have the maximum amount of image information. If you do not have the option of shooting in RAW, then choose a JPEG Fine or JPEG Superfine.
47. Switch off Noise Reduction
Switch off high ISO and long exposure noise reduction as it will cause image softening. If needed, use a software to reduce the noise later as you will have more control and can minimise softening.
48. Effects of In-camera Sharpening
Cameras allow you to sharpen images in-camera. However, use this feature carefully as the image may end up with oversharpening artefacts and halos, which can look disturbing.
49. Check for Image Sharpness
Periodically look at your photographs while shooting to check that the images are sharp. Zooming into an image on the LCD will help you find out whether the camera is focussing properly or if there is visible camera shake.
50. Displaying the Images
If you are uploading an image on the web, you can use a slightly unsharp image as long as it is downsized properly. For large prints, however, the photograph needs to be tack sharp.
Once you have captured sharp images, the fun really begins. Go ahead, make a large print and explore each and every detail!
This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Better Photography.