“My Images Are Not Very Sharp!” (April-May 2010 Newsletter Tip)

Do your digital images lack sharpness? This month, we’ll talk about some of the things to look out for, and some of things you can proactively do to assure that your digital images are sharp. After all, an unsharp image is, for all practical purposes, an unusable image. This is particularly true if you are looking to either publish your image or to make a large-sized print from it. And when I work with someone in the field, the subject of making a sharp image always seems to come up! Most of the tips I will be discussing are relevant for both the point-and-shoot and the digital SLR camera, although some may be relevant to only one camera format. Before I list out the “tips”, let me say that unsharp images are usually a result of either (a) camera/lens settings, (b) subject movement, or (c) “camera shake”. If we focus in on these 3 areas, we will be well on our way to making sharper images. So, let’s get started.

In the category of “Camera/Lens Settings”, there are several things that you should look at:

  1. Are you shooting at too slow of a shutter speed?  If you are shooting moving subjects (wildlife, sports or action), then you will likely need to be shooting with a shutter speed of 1/250 second or faster.  Of course, other factors will help affect what shutter speed you will need:  hand-held vs. using a tripod, lighting conditions, how fast the action is, if your camera/lens has IS or VR (noise reduction technology), etc., so you should play with several different settings to determine what works best for you in the conditions you are shooting and with your equipment.
  2. The aperture setting will also affect the shutter speed.  If you are shooting with a small aperture (f/22, etc.) then the shutter speed will be greatly slowed down than it would be if you were shooting with a large aperture of f/4.
  3. You can also look at setting the ISO at a higher setting (perhaps ISO 400 to ISO 800, or even higher with high quality cameras), which will allow faster shutter speeds.  Here is where the higher-end DSLR cameras will usually outperform the point-and-shoot cameras; unless the camera’s sensor is of high quality, you will experience more “electronic noise” in your images when you use a higher ISO setting.  High noise is indicated by either (a) specs of greens and reds in the darker areas of your image, or (b) a very grainy appearance.

If you are shooting a “Moving Subject”, then there are several things to consider:

  1. With a moving subject, it is pretty much imperative that you shoot with a faster shutter speed (re-read the discussion of “Camera/Lens Settings”, above).  And you should work on being able to “pan” with the subject.  This refers to being able to keep the subject in the viewfinder when you are tracking and shooting the subject.  If you cannot do this smoothly, then you are more likely to experience blurry photos as you jerk the camera around trying to keep the subject in the frame.  The trick is to be able to smoothly and consistently keep the subject in the viewfinder.  This is especially true for photographing things like flying birds, pets that are running, a baseball player running the bases, etc.
  2. There will also be a difference between (a) the subject running directly to or from you, and (b) the subject running parallel to you.  With a subject running to/from you, the distance it is from the camera will constantly change, and quickly,  than compared to the subject running parallel to you.

Let’s talk about “Camera Shake” now.  This term refers to hand-holding a camera and not being able to hold it still enough to get a sharp image:

  1. Camera shake is much more of an issue when shooting at slow shutter speeds and with very small (f/22) aperture settings.  If possible, change the camera settings to assure you are shooting at the fastest possible shutter speed.
  2. All good photographers know that they should use a tripod whenever possible.  By construction, tripods will be a valuable help in eliminating camera shake.
  3. If you are using a DSLR (i.e., a camera with interchangeable lenses), always try to use a lens with image stabilization built into it (if your camera body does not have this feature).  Image Stabilization technology helps to identify camera shake and electronically counters the shake, often resulting in rock-solid images, even when you aren’t!  Lenses with image stabilization cost a little bit more (~20%), but are so very worth it!
  4. If you don’t have a tripod and don’t have an image stabilization lens, try using your body as a tripod.  Firmly place your feet about shoulder’s width apart and, while holding the camera in your hands, place both your elbows solidly against your midbody.  In effect, you are making your body act as a tripod!
  5. Another option is to lean against something solid (a tree, large rock, building, car, etc.).  This will help maintain a shake-free camera.

I hope these tips will help you make sharper images.  If you have any more ideas to add, or need more information/clarification on anything I’ve included in this post, please e-mail me.  And happy, and shake-free, shooting!

Posted in Photography Tips.
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