A common frustration for amateur photographers seems to be that their photos are often blurred. This can be incredibly disheartening. After all, you may have spent hours waiting for that perfect sunset but got home and checked your photos only to find that they are not razor sharp. In this article, we examine the most common reasons why your images may not be sharp.
Shutter speed too slow
One of the main reasons that your photos are not sharp is probably because your shutter speed isn’t fast enough. This could be for what you are photographing or the conditions that you are facing. For example, if you are photographing something that is still like a statue or mountains, you can afford to have a slower shutter speed as there isn’t going to be any movement. But on the other hand, if you are photographing someone running or a race car, clearly the movement of the subject will mean that speed that the camera’s shutter opens and closes needs to be faster. The faster that your subject is moving, the faster your shutter speed needs to be to freeze the action.
But things are often made a little more complicated by the conditions that you are photographing in. For example, even if you are photographing a statue in low light conditions, there’s a limit on how slow you can set your shutter speed if you are not using a tripod. This is because as steady as you might think your hands are, at slow shutter speed you will not be able to hold the camera steady and so your photos will be blurred through camera shake. How slow you can go handholding the camera will depend on you. But as a rough guide, anything slower than 1/60th sec will usually result in camera shake.
ISO too high
One way to tackle the issue of being able to handhold a camera in low light conditions is to raise your ISO. This increases the camera’s sensitivity to light and thus allows you to be able to have a fast shutter speed in dark conditions. But raising your ISO comes at a price in the form of extra noise in your photos. Too much and your photos will begin to look soft and not sharp enough. Sometimes there is no way around this and you have to sacrifice some of the sharpness in the image to be able to actually capture the photo.
It’s also important to remember that some cameras are better at keeping the noise at bay than others. So it’s always a good idea to test your camera at different ISO levels to determine what would be the acceptable level of noise. As a general rule, you should always only raise your ISO as high as you need to.
Using the wrong aperture
The other component of the exposure triangle is aperture. This could be the reason that your photos are not coming out sharp. The aperture controls your depth of field. Or in other words how much of your image will be sharp. Set your aperture at f/2.8 and whilst the point that you are focusing on will be sharp, the rest of the image won’t be. On the other hand, if you set your aperture to f/16 then your image will be sharp from front to back.
So why not just set your aperture to f/16 all the time? Firstly because the higher for f/number the smaller your aperture (the opening to allow light in) will be. This means that your shutter speed will be slower. This brings us back to point one in this article which means you won’t be able to hold your camera steady. But also because sometimes you don’t want the entire scene to be in focus as you’ll want the attention to be on your main subject. For example, when you are taking a portrait you want to isolate your subject away from the background.
So, choosing your aperture is vital to ensuring that your image and where the focus will be is going to be sharp.
Another reason for your images not being sharp is that the small vibrations when the photo is being taken have caused the camera to shake. This could be because you have set your camera on a tripod and pressed the shutter button. This causes a very small vibration which might not seem obvious, but at slow shutter speeds cause the camera to shake slightly. This small movement will mean your photos will be slightly blurred.
Another less obvious reason could be because you didn’t lock your mirror. Every time you press the shutter button, the camera produces a mechanical process to take the photo. Part of this is a mirror in the camera flipping over and back again. This small movement like pressing the shutter button causes small vibrations that mean your photo could lack sharpness at slower shutter speeds. The way to tackle this is to set your camera to flip the mirror over and keep it there (rather than flipping it back and forth).
So to maximise your chances of capturing a sharp photo, use a cable release (or if you don’t have one, set your camera on a timer). Also, remember to lock the mirror in your camera (which is done through the settings in your DSLR menu).
You’re using low-quality equipment
I always find it astonishing when I see people with expensive cameras, using a cheap and flimsy tripod. Not only are they putting their camera at risk of falling over, but they are sacrificing the sharpness of their photos. Cheaper, low-quality tripods often suffer from vibration from everything from wind, a slow stream to even vibrations in the floor by people walking nearby. Again, at slow shutter speeds, this will cause your camera to shake and thus blurred photos.
The same is also true of cheap low-quality lenses. The cheaper glass and manufacturing could leave you with photos that are not sharp. Better quality equipment is expensive, but often that extra cost is reflected in the quality of your photos.
There’s nothing more frustrating than looking at photos you have taken, only to realise that they are not as sharp as you thought they would be. With time and practice, you will become better at capturing tack sharp images. But in the meantime, follow these simple tips and you’ll be on your way to capturing sharp photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.