Photographers, both amateur and professional spend thousands of dollars on their cameras and lenses to be able to create stunningly detailed photographs. However, poor technique can sometimes negate all that trouble & expense, and not produce sharp photos. On the other hand, gaining fundamental know-how to use even basic equipment, can elevate its ability. This will allow you to produce stunningly sharp and detailed images to the best of your equipment’s ability.
Detail means different things to different people, and our understanding of what a “detailed” image is can change as we progress down our path of learning. So, let’s start off by defining an extremely detailed and sharp image.
Defining the Challenge – Detail in Photography
Let’s start by defining what we mean by “Detail”. To a photographer, detail could mean getting everything in sharp focus, or getting more contrasty images, with well-defined elements. Decide on this first.
I think that both interpretations are valid and go hand-in-hand with each other. In this article we will deal with both aspects of detail photos.
Who Hates Blurriness?
So, you don’t like blurry edges framing your subject… You shoot in bright sunlight often, pointing away from the sun, or keeping the sun at a 30-degree angle… You’re often not happy with your lens – it’s never sharp enough… Did you agree with me on at least two of these points?
You Love Crisp Detailed Photos
If you did agree with me, then you probably love detailed images, and the tips that follow in this article give you a great foundation to be able to create images that are chock-full of detail and are sharply in focus.
Learning how to make the most of your current equipment will give you an appreciation for your equipment, and provide a great starting point to make the most of high-end equipment too.
How to Create Images With More Detail Than You Can Imagine
Here we have 15 tips to provide you with all the information that you need about the different ways to make your detail shots sharper, more detailed, and rich.
I. Focus With Care
Modern cameras do a wonderful job of focusing accurately at speed. But often enough, the autofocus point is not exactly where it should be. This could give you a slightly out-of-focus point of interest. This is especially apparent in photographs with a shallow depth of field where correct focusing is super-important. Double-check your camera’s focus point before you click.
If you’re shooting a portrait, using the eye focus mode could allow you to offload this responsibility entirely to the camera. With sufficient light, a modern camera will always be able to pick up the subject’s nearest eye and focus on it, always producing a sharply focused eye.
If you’re shooting a street scene, be more careful about where you place your focus point, as it is possible that there are objects at varying distances. The same goes for landscapes.
You can prevent accidental mis-focusing by increasing the depth of field. To maximize the depth of field, you could use use a photography technique involving the hyperfocal distance of your lens to extend the depth of field even further.
II. Don’t Stop-down Your Lens Fully
Using a small aperture increases the area of the scene that is in focus (depth of field). However, there’s a threshold beyond which a small aperture will actually start to soften your image due to diffraction.
Very often your lens will perform 2 or 3 f-stops down from its widest aperture. This means that you should set your camera to photograph with your highest aperture number (smallest aperture size) minus 2 stops. The small aperture size gives you a greater depth of field.
So why should you not use the smallest aperture? Because of a phenomenon called diffraction – read the complex explanation here. In short, the aperture that gives you the most depth of field isn’t always the sharpest option.
III. Don’t Open up Your Lens Fully
A wider aperture will result in a shallower depth of field, causing more of your photograph to be out of focus. While this doesn’t equal low sharpness, it can give the impression of not much detail being present in your scene. On the other hand, shooting at the widest aperture of a lens presents other challenges too…
Unless your lens is an expensive professional-grade lens, it’s likely that the design and quality of its elements will be unable to keep up with the large aperture resulting in a slightly soft image. Most lenses have a sweet spot – a range of apertures that produce the sharp photographs with the highest contrast. In regular consumer-grade lenses, these are usually NOT the smallest and largest apertures.
The same rule applies to expensive professional lenses too, but even at extreme apertures, they usually produce better images than regular consumer lenses.
IV. Use an Appropriately Fast Shutter Speed
Often, people find that their images are blurry even though they’re using a small aperture (or maybe because of it?). Using a small aperture requires an appropriately low shutter speed to ensure that your image is well exposed. This could cause lowered sharpness in photos.
If there is blurriness, it’s most likely that either the camera or subject is moving, causing the image to move on the sensor during the time that the shutter is open. To remove motion blur and get sharp photographs, you can freeze your subject in the frame with a fast enough shutter speed.
IV.I. How to Determine an Appropriate Shutter Speed?
I like to use a simple reminder 1/’focal length of your lens X 2′. This means that if you’re using a 100mm lens, you should set your shutter speed at anything faster than 1/200th of a second to avoid camera shake. Depending on your subject, you may have to go even faster to create tack sharp photos.
V. Use a Higher ISO if Needed
You may have to use a slightly higher ISO setting to ensure that you can get the right shutter speed for your subject. Don’t be afraid to use an ISO between 1600 and even as high as 4000, because image noise is not as bad a problem to have, as a blurry image. In fact, I often welcome noise in an image. It gives the photograph texture and a certain mood that could add to the atmosphere of the photograph.
VI. Use Optical Image Stabilisation and IBIS to Reduce Shake
If you simply can’t get the right exposure even after, and you are forced to use a lower-than-optimal shutter speed (as determined in one of the previous points), try to use a lens with an Optical Image Stabilizing technology (Canon calls it IS, Sony calls it OSS, and Nikon calls it VR).
These lenses sense the movement of the camera and negate it by physically moving the optical elements within them. Many mirrorless cameras go a step further and have a technology that moves a sensor along 5 different axes, often in conjunction with the optical elements of the lens, to provide extreme correction of unstable camera movements.
These technologies are very useful when trying to take photographs in low light without a tripod or other means of stabilizing your camera.
VII. Use a Tripod to Stabilize Your Camera
If your subject is not moving and you have the leisure of arranging and framing your subject, use a tripod. Using a tripod for your photograph ensures that no vibrations carry through, to the sensor. As an added benefit, you get to retain the exact same composition from frame to frame and make small adjustments that would be difficult or impossible with a hand-held camera.
You also get the option to take sharp photographs with a small aperture (larger depth of field), but with low ISO (less noise), and a slow shutter speed to ensure that you get a correctly exposed image. In fact, many photographers use this technique to create images where moving objects are no longer visible in the image as they have not remained in one place long enough. This can remove distracting elements (for example, tourists at a popular landmark), allowing you to focus on the important elements of the scene.
VIII. Shoot in Sufficient Light – Add More Light if Needed
A small aperture + fast shutter speed means that you need to have enough light to correctly expose the image. Increasing the ISO isn’t always an option if you want low noise, so the only other option is to introduce more light into the scene. This can be done with continuous lights, flashes, or by using a reflector/bounce card.
To ensure that you have enough light, you could only take photographs in bright sunlight. Alternatively, you could use off-camera flash strobes to provide a brief, but powerful burst of light. These methods provide the camera’s sensor with enough light to create a well-exposed image, with low noise. As mentioned before, you can also use continuous lights to boost the available light in any given scene.
IX. Do Not Use Very High ISO Settings
Now, we’ve already suggested that you should not hesitate to push your ISO setting a little higher to get a sharp photograph with no shake/blur. However, pushing things too far could result in too much noise in patterns that are no longer appealing, but that interfere with our appreciation of the image.
High ISO can also cause degradation of the image’s definition as well as its color rendition. So what is one to do? The answer is: Experiment beforehand to get used to how your camera reacts in low-light high-ISO situations. With practice, you will know how high of an ISO you can comfortably use, while not being too low to make the most of today’s technology.
As always, higher ISOs increase the level of noise saved in your file, degrading the quality, and level of detail. Stick to lower ISOs, and you’ll always get smoother images with less digital noise. Of course, the previous tip helps in this respect. If you are able to add more light, then you can automatically reduce your ISO setting.
X. Light Your Subject From an Angle – Create Contrast
Angular lighting casts shadows, bringing out textures and giving surfaces a more tactile quality. Shapes are also rendered more pleasingly as the third dimension is also represented in the shading. Most things look better when lit from an angle rather than straight-on. The textures bring out the surface qualities of elements in your photograph, like the shine of polished metal, the smoothness of a silk garment, or the rough texture of a sandstone column.
If you’re using natural light, change the position of your subject, or move so that the light is not directly in front of them. Experiment with different angles of light, and you’ll get some very interesting results. This technique is best taught by asking the student to experiment with light themselves.
XI. Use Textures and Patterns in Your Image
You can use Textures and Patterns to fill your frame with richness. They bring surfaces to life and give your viewer something to appreciate instead of a plain flat surface. Textures reveal themselves when light hits them at an angle, while patterns are more easily displayed. Light them appropriately, and you will create an image with depth, detail, and life. Textures can tell a story.
XII. Use the Largest Camera Sensor Possible
With mirrorless or DLSR cameras, this means using a full-frame camera or medium format sensor camera instead of a micro 4/3 or APS-C camera. If you’re shooting film, it means using a medium or large format camera.
More recording area automatically means that it can capture more detail because each individual photosite will be larger, and thus be able to capture more light. As an analogy, think of the amount of detail that can be painted into a miniature painting versus the detail in a 20ft giant painting.
XIII. Use a Good Lens – Don’t Be Cheap
We’ve tried our best to bring a lot of detail into our images using many techniques and photography best practices. However, sometimes the subject at hand simply deserves to be treated with respect, and so we must use the right equipment that is needed to deliver a highly detailed photo.
Expensive professional lenses cost an arm and a leg, and then some… because the lens designers made sure they got it absolutely right. They picked the best materials, they combined these in the best way possible. They also picked the finest workers to build them and spent a lot of time researching and developing the technologies that go into producing a quality product. These do not come cheap.
If you need a very high level of detail in your images you won’t be using a cheap-ass lens. The same goes for a filter.
The easy way to do this is to rent a lens that would suit your needs. This is a good option if a lens rental company is easily accessible to you. If not, see if you can borrow one until you earn enough money to buy one yourself. Don’t get into debt if you aren’t already earning a tidy sum of money from photography.
XIV. Use a Wide-Angle Lens
Lenses with a shorter focal length generally have a greater depth of field. This means that you will get sharper photographs because there is more of the image in focus. If you use a telephoto lens at the same aperture, you would have less of the image in focus (less depth of field).
A wide-angle lens also allows you to include more of a scene in your photograph, giving the impression of a busy space, with many things to be looked at. A wide-angle lens sweeps all of this into its field of view, demanding that we ensure that everything is just right. A telephoto lens isolates, while a wide-angle lens brings things together ina scene.
XV. Shoot in RAW Image Formats
When your goal is to output sharp photographs, the journey doesn’t stop at capturing the photos. It continues well into post-production. One of our readers left a comment to that effect and reminded me of this fact. Shoot with RAW files. Don’t be shy about it. Storage media is cheap these days. Once you bring your files into Adobe Lightroom or your other favorite RAW photo editor, you can tweak the contrast, sharpness, and clarity sliders to coax the most out of your RAW image files. Thanks for the tip, Adilson.
Finding detail in an image can go far beyond the technical sharpness of an image or lens. Detail could ultimately mean the level of care taken in your composition, the choice of the moment when the shutter is released, the design of the set, the sitter’s costume, and much more. I leave it to you, dear reader, to interpret this charter as you like, and to create richly detailed images no matter your skill level.
Do you have any more suggestions on how to get detail in your images or how to make them? Do add them in the comments.
Help Us To Continue Creating
Get our email newsletter to stay up-to-date with our latest posts. It’s easy to read and is mailed once in 2 weeks.
The easiest way to support Beyond Photo Tips is by using our affiliate links when you buy anything at all. It will never cost you anything extra, and we get a small commission from it, which helps us a LOT! We share our recommended equipment list here.
Some of the links to products on this website are affiliate links, and we only ever link out to gear that we recommend.
You could also show your appreciation by buying us a coffee. Finally, we appreciate you being a part of the community, so do say hi!