I know some people who like to take sharp photographs. Because of this, their images tend to have a certain set of parameters to ensure that their images are crisp and clear from foreground to background.
Are you like that?
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? If you did, then you probably know some of these tips that I’ve got for you already. If not, you’re in for a treat.
So, if you want to improve the sharpness of your photographs, what do you do? You’ll find some clues to that answer in the lines above, but here are 12 more solid tips!
12 Tips to Ensure Sharp Photographs Every Time
- Focus Carefully – Today’s cameras do a wonderful job of focusing automatically. But often enough, the autofocus point is not exactly where it should be, resulting in 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.
- Don’t Stop-down Your Lens Fully – 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 great depth of field, yes? So why not just just use the smallest aperture?
Because of a phenomenon called diffraction – read the complex explanation here. In short, the biggest f-number isn’t always the sharpest option.
- Don’t Open-up Your Lens Fully – Don’t use your lens’s widest aperture unless it’s a professional grade lens. Most lenses have a sweet-spot. A range of apertures that produce the best resolution images (in terms of edge sharpness, not number of pixels). In regular consumer grade lenses, these are usually NOT the smallest and largest apertures. The same rule applies to Pro lenses too, but even at the extreme apertures, they usually produce better images than regular lenses.
- Use a Fast Shutter Speed – Often, people find that their images are blurry even though they’re using a small aperture. It’s most likely that either their camera or subject is moving, causing the image to move on the sensor during the time that the shutter is open.
You can freeze your subject in the frame with a fast enough shutter speed.
I like to use a simple reminder 1/’focal length of your lens X 2′. This means that if you’re using an 100mm lens, you should set your shutter speed at anything faster than 1/200th of a second to avoid shake. Depending on your subject, you may have to go even faster.
- Keep the Camera Still. Use a Tripod – If your subject is not moving and you have the leisure of arranging and framing your subject, why not use a tripod? This ensures that no vibrations carry to the sensor. As an added benefit, you get to retain the exact same composition from frame to frame, and make minute adjustments that would be difficult or impossible with a hand-held camera.
- Shoot in Sufficient Light – Small aperture + fast shutter speed means that you need to have enough light to correctly expose the image. Take photographs in bright sunlight, or use off-camera flash strobes to ensure that the camera’s sensor gets enough light for a good exposure.
- Do Not Use a High ISO – Depending on the circumstances, it may or may not apply. I’ve been talking about high shutter speeds and small apertures, right? You need to use a high ISO to get there… right? The answer is: use as low an ISO as you can. Higher ISOs increase the level of noise in your image, degrading the quality and level of detail. Stick to low ISOs, and you’ll always get smoother images with more image detail. Of course, the previous tip helps in this respect, if you are able to add more light.
- Light from an Angle – Angular lighting casts shadows, bringing out textures and giving the surface 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, thus making it more detailed.
- Use the Largest Image Capturing Area Possible – with dSLR cameras, this means use a full-frame camera or medium format camera. If you’re shooting film, it means use a medium or large format camera. More recording area automatically means that it can capture more detail. Think of the detail that can be seen in a miniature painting versus the detail in a 20ft giant of a painting.
- Do not use a cheap lens – Expensive professional lenses cost an arm 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. 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.
- Use a Wide-Angle Lens – Lenses with a shorter focal length generally have greater depth of field. This means 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).
- Shoot RAW – When your goal is to output sharp photographs, the journey doesn’t stop at capturing the images. It continues well into post-production. One of our readers left a comment to that effect and reminded me of this fact. Shoot RAW. Don’t be shy about it. Storage media is cheap these days. Once you bring your images into Adobe Lightroom or your other favourite RAW photo editor, you can tweak the contrast, sharpness and clarity sliders to coax the most out of your images. Thanks for the tip, Adilson.
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.
Photo Credit: Alex is Late
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Published: June 9, 2011 | Last Updated: December 24, 2020