This weeks blog post will help anybody who picks up a camera. It doesn’t matter if your camera is a DSLR or a iPhone, this will help whatever level of photography you find yourself in. We’ve all seen the pictures on Facebook or Twitter where the picture is so fuzzy that you can barely recognize the people it. Have you even seen someone who is trying to take a picture and no matter that they do, the image turns out blurry? This weeks blog post will explain why and what you can do to vastly improve the chances of your images being sharp.
First of all, I’m not saying that from hence forth, you will take tack sharp pictures no matter the situation or lighting. That’s just simply not true. Even the best photographers out there take an out-of-focus shot once in a while. In order to be able to help you take sharper images, let’s first establish what’s going wrong:
1. Your shutter speed is too low
Chances are, the majority of the blurry pictures you’ve seen are taken in a somewhat dark environment. Most of the cell phone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras never leave the Automatic setting. That means the camera picks the shutter speed and aperture for you. Usually, when you’re in a low light setting, the camera will pick a shutter speed that is too low to take sharp pictures while hand-holding the camera. You’ll either have to use the flash to give you more light, lean up against a wall to stabilize yourself, or set the camera on a tripod or a table to give it a stabilized base. If you want to dabble in manually setting the shutter speed (which I suggest you do), the general rule of thumb is in order to get sharp images from a hand-held camera the shutter speed needs to be at least one second divided by the focal length of the lens. That means if you were shooting with a 100mm lens the shutter speed needs to be at least 1/100 sec. There are other, more complicated variables that can be considered but for 90% of general situations, that’s a good starting point. Those of you with DSLRs, you may want to consider investing in good glass with image stabilization and/or a good tripod. That will certainly help you as well.
2. Focus settings
Most modern cameras have so many settings that have an impact on sharpness that if they’re not all set correctly, you may be disappointed with the outcome. From type of focus to focus points to aperture to ISO (and the aforementioned shutter speed), each plays a significant role. The more advanced the camera, the more options you likely have. The trick is knowing what settings are best for each circumstance. When it comes to focusing, there are several options from manual to automatic. Whether you’re photographing a person or a forest, where you focus will be different and will impact the outcome. Most point-and-shoot cameras show you where they are focusing with a box on the LCD screen. Sometimes (particularly with smart phones), you can set the focus point by touching the screen).
DSLRs are equipped with auto focusing settings that involves a few steps. There are usually a number of rectangles on the display and one will glow green or blink when the framed subject is in focus. It will usually flash red if it can’t focus. What some beginning photographers don’t know is that you can move that rectangle around the frame and center it on the subject you want in focus. Some cameras allow you to have multiple focus points. You’ll really need to read up on the proper focus procedures for your particular camera so you can tweak these setting for the best possible outcome for your given environment.
Your aperture setting has a direct impact on what’s in focus. A shallow depth of field (created by a LOW aperture like F/1.4, F/2.8, etc) creates more blur either behind or in front of your subject. A large depth of field (created by a HIGH aperture like F/20, F/22) puts everything in focus. Portraits work well with a shallow depth of field as long as your focus point (see #2) is on your subject. You’ll want that focus point directly on the eyes of your subject. Landscape images usually require everything to be in focus, so you’ll want a larger depth of field. Check your camera’s manual to learn how to manually set the aperture.
ISO is your cameras sensitivity to light. A higher ISO means the camera will be more sensitive to light. There’s a downside to that, however. The higher you set your ISO, the higher the likelihood of introducing noise into your image. Noise is the visual manifestation of a lower signal-to-noise ratio. I won’t get too technical and nerdy about it. Noise is similar to grain in old school film cameras. Generally, you can probably get away with using ISO as high as 800 on most cameras without too much noise but for pin sharp images keep it as low as possible. The amount of image enlargement also affects how much noise you see when using a higher ISO. You’ll want to keep that in mind as well.
5. Get your eyes checked
If you wear glasses or contacts, your blurry images may actually have nothing to do with your equipment. If you haven’t gotten your eyes checked, your vision may have deteriorated enough to affect what you see when taking pictures. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this one. I need to get my eyes checked soon. I’ve neglected that for a couple of years now. After you get your eyes checked, check the diopter on your camera (if it has one). Fine tuning that can also help you create sharp images.
6. Clean equipment
Last but certainly not least is making sure your equipment is clean. Keeping smudges and grime off of your lens is important. If you have access to the image sensor in your camera, you want to keep that clean too. BE CAREFUL with that though. If you scratch it in any way, your camera will be an expensive paperweight! You’ll then need to send it in to have the sensor replaced, which is neither fun nor CHEAP! There are sensor cleaning kits out there that can assist. If you wear glasses or know someone who does, the microfiber cloth that comes with the glasses is perfect for keeping your lenses clean.
Following those tips will get you well on your way to razor-sharp images that you can be proud of. If you have any other tips or comments, feel free to post them!!