5 Reasons Your Pictures Are Blurry

We’ve all been disappointed and frustrated by blurry photos. But what exactly causes the blur? And how can you keep it from happening? Tony and Chelsea Northrup have taken the most common mistakes that cause blurry photos and squeezed them into a very helpful video:

1. Camera shake

Motion blur occurs when your shutter speed isn’t fast enough to freeze the picture when the camera is in motion.

motion blur example

Example of motion blur due to camera shake

A good rule of thumb, sometimes referred to as the reciprocal rule, is to take the focal length and use that as a guide for your shutter speed. For example, a 50mm lens should be used with a shutter speed no slower than 1/50 of a second. Of course, with APS-C sensors, you’ll want to multiply that by the crop factor, so 50mm lens on a Canon APS-C sensor would require 1/80 of a second shutter since a 50mm lens on a crop sensor becomes an 80mm lens.

Image stabilization offers up to four stops of image stabilization, which will allow to slightly break the rule. Bear in mind that “up to four stops” is not always four stops. It varies by the situation. You can safely go one stop lower if necessary with image stabilization, two stops being the middle ground. However, four stops is pushing it to the limits and you’ll really need to get lucky to utilize it.

Additionally, having a good stance improves your balance, which helps you get sharper images. Make sure you’re holding your camera correctly, breathe in, then breathe out and snap.

Using a tripod fixes this issue completely.

2. Subject Movement

As mentioned earlier, you can really go slow with the shutter speed with an image stabilized lens. However, the image stabilization and the rule of thumb for focal length, won’t help you if your subject is moving rapidly.

subject movement blur

Example of motion blur due to subject movement.

In this scenario, you’ll have to raise the shutter speed or you risk your subject being blurry while the background is sharp. (Often this blur is used on purpose in order to induce the notion of movement in pictures. For example, a bus in motion blur against a sharp background.)

With people standing still, 1/60 of a second is a starting point to freeze motion, but if your subject is moving fast, try 1/250 or faster.

3. Shallow Depth of Field

If your depth of field is too shallow, you risk too much of your subject being blurry.

shallow depth of field

Example of blur caused by shallow depth of field

The solution here is to stop down the lens (higher f-stop number) and choose your focus point carefully (it’s best to focus on the eye nearest to the camera). Increase the aperture value until you are satisfied with the result. You will lose a great amount of light, so you’ll need to compensate with your shutter speed and ISO. You’ll want to mount on a tripod to avoid trading the depth of field blur for motion blur.

4. Failed Focus

There are several reasons why you can miss your focus.

improper focus

Example of incorrect focusing

It could be that you chose the wrong point to focus on, the camera decided to focus differently than you thought it would, or your lens isn’t calibrated properly. The first two issues are solved by choosing one or several tightly packed focus points to be the only points that you will use to focus; this way, you pinpoint your exact point of focus and don’t leave it up to your camera. The second issue is resolved by recalibrating your lens.

5. Haze, Mist, and Glare

Your images can look soft and blurry due to weather conditions. For example, if there is tiny bit of haze, mist, fog, or smoke in the air and your subject is a bit further away, the image can suffer as a result. A solution is to get closer to your subject or wait for the air to clear out.

haze and humidity causing blur

Side by side comparison on what humidity and mist can do to an image

A foggy lens often an issue of condensation. When you go from cold to warm places your glass can fog up. This usually clears within few minutes, but if you don’t notice it right away it can mean several lost shots.

Glare occurs when there is direct light going into the lens. This often makes the image look soft due to the light reflecting inside and between the lens elements. Lenses with good coatings have less of an issue with glare.

Do you have another issue that creates blurry images? Feel free to share it with us in the comments, and we’ll try to help you out.

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