Sharp Photography Tips & Techniques

There are lots of ingredients that go into making a spectacular photograph, but the most important is for the picture to be in sharp focus. Even the slightest blur takes away from the picture, no matter how good the subject, lighting, and color.

Photographers have somewhat varying opinions on what constitutes a tack sharp picture, but generally, a tack sharp photograph has good, clean lines. The picture has clear definition instead of a soft blending of lines—or even downright blurriness.

sharp camera photo

Photo by Stefan Katrandjiski; ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/2000s, 50mm.

There are several things you can do to increase your chances of getting that coveted tack sharp picture.

Hand-Held Digital Photography Tips

If you’re hand-holding your camera, brace your arms against your sides to help steady the camera. If your camera has anti-shake technology, such as Vibration Reduction (VR) or Image Stabilization (IS) that can be switched on and off, this is the time to have it turned on.

You can also lean against a wall or tree or whatever sturdy object that’s handy, and help keep yourself and your camera steady. Alternatively, lean or lay your camera or lens on some readily available sturdy object to help steady the camera.

Steadying your camera by hooking the strap under your elbow and wrapping the rest around your forearm will also help stabilize the camera and hold it steady in your hand.

Getting those tack sharp photos while hand-holding your camera can be difficult, so to increase your chances of getting that perfect shot, use the burst or continuous shooting mode to take several shots at once. That increases your chances that at least one of the pictures will be in sharp focus.

metropolis photo

Photo by Tom Davidson; ISO 400, f/8, 2-second exposure.

Tripods for Better Focus

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s easier to get a tack sharp photo using a tripod. You just can’t hold the camera as steady as a tripod will. And like most things in life, with a tripod you get what you pay for. A cheap tripod will help, but it won’t hold your camera rock steady like a more expensive tripod will. The moral of the story is to buy the best tripod you can reasonably afford.

The more expensive tripods don’t come with the head attached. You have to buy it separately, but that means you get to choose what suits you best. To get a sharp photo, buy a quality ballhead that won’t let your camera slowly slide to one side.

If you’re going somewhere where carrying a tripod just won’t work, beanbags make a nice cushion for cameras in these settings. They cushion your camera, helping to steady it and increase your ability to situate the camera to focus on the subject you want.

To improve your chances of a tack sharp photo even more, use a cable release instead of pressing the shutter. It may not seem like much, but the movement from pressing the shutter will make the camera move enough to prevent getting those tack sharp photos.

If you don’t have a cable release, the self timer will also work. It allows you to press the shutter, while giving the camera time to stabilize before it actually takes the picture.

Advanced Photography Secrets for Sharp Shots

If you have a DSLR camera, there are even more ways to make sure your camera stays steady while taking pictures.

The first is to use mirror lock-up. This locks your camera’s mirror in the up position so when you take a picture the mirror doesn’t move until after the picture is taken, limiting the movement inside the camera. This means to take a picture, you will have to press the shutter release button twice on your remote or cable release (you’re not going to all this trouble and pressing the shutter release on the camera, are you?). The first press lifts the mirror and the second press actually takes the picture.

sharp dog

Photo by TheGiantVermin; ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/500-second exposure.

The second method is to turn off the Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization. That may sound counter productive, but when you’ve stabilized your camera with a tripod and other methods, the vibration reduction keeps looking for shakes/movements. If there isn’t any movement, the vibration reduction actually causes some shaking while looking. A good rule of thumb is to keep these turned off when shooting with a tripod, and only turn them on when you’re hand-holding the camera.

One last way to increase the sharpness of your pictures is to have good glass. The lens you use makes a big difference. A quality lens with good glass is more expensive of course, but it’s another instance of getting what you pay for. Think of it as an investment in great photos.

Use as many methods as you can to steady your camera, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting lovely tack sharp photographs.

About the Author:
This article was written by Pat Lyne from Photography Learning Center with information on digital cameras, digital photography, and more.

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3 responses to “Sharp Photography Tips & Techniques”

  1. Kathy Clark says:

    thank you for sharing these very helpful tips.

  2. Serge Naiken says:

    I am an amateur photographer. I use a website to share my pictures and I received reviews from other amateur. When one sees my photo in focus another says not one bit of the image is in focus. I don’t know who is right. Personally I see my pictures quite good because I always take several shots at one time and choose the one most in focus.
    I therefore see your tips on sharp shots very interesting and helpful.

  3. Kilroy says:

    One technique I use in churches is to hold my camera or telephoto lens against pillars. I managed to get sharp pictures at 1/8 s with that.
    It also works with trees or any other cylindrical object with a rough surface you can use to steady your camera.

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