Photography Focusing

How to Take Sharp Photos

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Written By Nate Torres

In this guide, I’ll be covering some tips you should keep in mind when you want to capture sharp photos.

Capturing sharp photos is essential for capturing high-quality images, and unless you are purposely going for a creative motion blur effect, then you should be striving to capture a sharp, well-focused image.

With that being said, let’s dive in!

1. Use a Tripod

The first tip I always recommend if you want sharp photos, is to use a tripod.

Tripods provide stability and help eliminate camera shake, which is one of the main causes of blurry photos.

In case you don’t know what a tripod is, it’s a three-legged support system that helps keep your camera steady and stationary.

Tripods come in various shapes and sizes but they all do the same thing for the most part — help keep stabilization.

2. Use a Faster Shutter Speed

The second tip is to use a faster shutter speed if possible.

The shutter speed refers to the amount of time that your camera’s sensor or film is exposed to light when you are taking a photograph.

It’s one of the three elements of the exposure triangle (aperture, ISO, shutter speed), which makes up the concept of exposure in photography.

Because of this, when you adjust your shutter speed, you’ll also need to know how this affects your aperture and ISO so I highly recommend understanding the exposure triangle before reading further.

With a faster shutter speed such as 1/1000s, your camera shutter will open and close very quickly — allowing you to capture fast-moving subjects and freeze the action.

fast shutter speed bird photo
fast shutter speed bird photo

With a slower shutter speed, such as 1/15s, your camera shutter will open and close very slowly, which creates a motion blur effect if you are capturing a moving subject.

slow shutter speed bird in focus
slower shutter speed causing motion blur

Therefore, if you want sharp images, you’ll want to ideally have a faster shutter speed.

Now of course, I’m not saying you’ll always need to have a really fast shutter speed like 1/1000s because depending on your light conditions, it might not be feasible.

The main point is based on your lighting conditions, set your exposure by prioritizing your shutter speed — especially if you are shooting handheld and you don’t have a tripod.

If you have a tripod, you can get away with having a bit slower shutter speed because you will have the stabilization.

3. Stabilize Yourself

The third tip to get sharp images is to stabilize yourself.

Listen, I get it; sometimes you don’t want to bring a tripod, it can get cumbersome!

Especially if you photographing an event such as a party or at a nightclub and you need to be on the move.

In such a case, then your next best option is to stabilize yourself.

If you’re shooting handheld, then brace yourself against a stable surface or use proper posture to reduce your body movement.

And if you want to be extra safe to ensure you capture a sharp image, then place your camera on a stabilized surface — it doesn’t have to be a tripod.

If there is a railing, table, or rock in your area, prop your camera on it! Just make sure you are wearing camera straps or you’re holding onto your camera tight so you don’t drop it!

4. Focus Accurately

The fourth tip to get sharp images is to focus accurately.

What I mean by this is that you’ll want to use the right focus mode (ex. single point autofocus).

When discussing accurate focus, the two points you’ll want to take into account is where you place your focus point and your focus mode.

Your focus modes adjust and change your focus points.

Here are the different focus modes you should know and their goal and use:

  1. Single-Servo Autofocus (AF-S or One-Shot AF):
    • Goal: To achieve precise focus on stationary subjects.
    • Use: Ideal for still subjects, such as portraits, landscapes, and product photography, where the subject isn’t moving.
  2. Continuous-Servo Autofocus (AF-C or AI Servo AF):
    • Goal: To maintain focus on moving subjects.
    • Use: Essential for tracking and keeping fast-moving subjects like athletes, wildlife, or vehicles in focus.
  3. Automatic Autofocus (AF-A or AI Focus AF):
    • Goal: To provide a balance between single and continuous focus modes by automatically switching based on subject movement.
    • Use: Suitable for general-purpose photography when you may encounter both still and moving subjects.
  4. Manual Focus (MF):
    • Goal: To give the photographer full control over focus.
    • Use: Useful when autofocus struggles to lock on or when precise control is required, such as macro or astrophotography.
  5. Single-Point AF:
    • Goal: To allow precise focus control by manually selecting a specific focus point.
    • Use: Ideal for composing shots with a specific point of interest, like focusing on a subject’s eyes in a portrait.
  6. Multi-Point AF:
    • Goal: To let the camera automatically select focus points based on the scene.
    • Use: Helpful when you want the camera to choose the focus points in complex compositions or dynamic situations.
  7. Face Detection / Eye Detection AF:
    • Goal: To automatically detect and focus on human faces, particularly the eyes.
    • Use: Ideal for portrait photography to ensure the subject’s face, especially the eyes, is in focus.
  8. Zone AF:
    • Goal: To offer a balance between single-point and multi-point focusing by selecting a specific zone or area for focus.
    • Use: Useful when you want control over focus within a particular region of the frame.
  9. Wide/Tracking AF:
    • Goal: To provide flexibility for focusing on subjects across the entire frame or to track moving subjects.
    • Use: Beneficial when you need the camera to continuously adjust focus as a subject moves within the frame.
  10. Back-Button Focus:
    • Goal: To separate the focus function from the shutter button for greater control.
    • Use: Useful when you want to decouple the act of focusing from taking a photo, allowing you to focus first and then shoot.

Once you select a focus mode, you will see focus points on your screen.

The most popular focus mode for sharp images in my opinion is single-point autofocus.

This is the focus mode I use especially if I am photographing a person such as during portraits, headshots, etc.

With the right focus mode, in this case, single point autofocus (AF), you’ll want to place the focus on your subject’s eyes or the main point of interest.

5. Consider Depth of Field

The fifth tip to get a sharper photo is to consider your depth of field.

Remember how I mentioned you should know the elements of exposure before reading this guide, well this is why.

The depth of field in your photos is controlled by your aperture settings and the f-stop number you choose.

A larger f-stop number, such as f/16 produces a narrower depth of field which will sharpen the overall image. So, for example, let’s say you’re photographing a mountain, and you have your focus point on the mountain. A narrower depth of field will sharpen both the mountain, the foreground, and the background.

narrow deep depth of field
narrow deep depth of field

A smaller f-stop number, such as f/1.8 produces a shallower depth of field which will ensure sharp focus on your focus point but blur the rest of the image. Using a smaller f-stop number is what creates that bokeh effect that is so popular.

shallow depth of field
shallow depth of field

All-in-all, it’s essential to know how your aperture will affect your depth of field and what will be in focus depending on your aperture settings.

6. Lens Quality Matters

The sixth tip to get a sharper photo is to remember that your lens quality matters.

What does lens quality mean? Essentially, the quality of your lens means how sharp it can get and the quality of the focusing.

High-quality lenses are designed with precision and superior optics. They incorporate advanced lens elements, coatings, and optical technology to minimize aberrations, distortions, and lens flaws.

Now, before diving any further, it’s important you understand the different types of lenses:

  1. Standard (Normal) Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Around 35mm to 85mm for full-frame cameras.
    • Description: These lenses closely mimic the perspective of the human eye, making them versatile for general photography. They are often used for portraits, street photography, and everyday shooting.
  2. Wide-Angle Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Typically less than 35mm for full-frame cameras.
    • Description: Wide-angle lenses have a wider field of view, making them great for capturing expansive scenes, architecture, landscapes, and creative perspectives. They exaggerate the sense of depth and can be used for dramatic effect.
  3. Telephoto Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Greater than 85mm for full-frame cameras.
    • Description: Telephoto lenses have a narrow field of view and are ideal for capturing distant subjects, wildlife, sports, and events. They compress perspective and allow for isolating distant subjects with a shallow depth of field.
  4. Macro Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Varies, but often between 60mm and 200mm for full-frame cameras.
    • Description: Macro lenses are designed for close-up photography, allowing you to capture intricate details of small subjects like insects, flowers, and products. They provide 1:1 magnification, producing life-sized images.
  5. Prime Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Fixed, with no zoom capability.
    • Description: Prime lenses have a single, fixed focal length (e.g., 50mm, 85mm) and are known for their optical quality and sharpness. They often have wide maximum apertures, making them excellent for low-light and portrait photography.
  6. Zoom Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Variable, allowing you to zoom in and out.
    • Description: Zoom lenses cover a range of focal lengths within a single lens. They are versatile and convenient for various shooting situations, from wide-angle to telephoto. Examples include the standard zoom, wide-angle zoom, and telephoto zoom.
  7. Fish-Eye Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Very short, typically around 8mm to 16mm.
    • Description: Fish-eye lenses provide an extreme wide-angle view, often with a circular or hemispherical distortion. They are used for creative and artistic effects, such as capturing 360-degree panoramas.
  8. Tilt-Shift Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Varies.
    • Description: Tilt-shift lenses allow you to control the plane of focus and correct perspective distortion. They are commonly used in architectural photography to keep buildings upright and control depth of field creatively.
  9. Superzoom (All-in-One) Lenses:
    • Focal Length: Extremely versatile, covering a wide range from wide-angle to telephoto.
    • Description: Superzoom lenses are designed for convenience, offering a broad focal length range in a single lens. They are great for travel and situations where you don’t want to carry multiple lenses.
  10. Specialty Lenses:
    • Description: There are other specialty lenses, such as soft-focus lenses for achieving dreamy effects, anamorphic lenses for cinematic shooting, and lensbaby lenses for unique artistic effects. These lenses cater to specific creative needs.

Out of these lens types, prime lenses, in particular, are known for their optical excellence. They typically have a fixed focal length and a simpler optical design compared to zoom lenses. This simplicity often results in fewer optical imperfections and superior image sharpness.

prime lens example
prime lens example

The main takeaway is that if you are using a very cheap lens, don’t beat yourself over the head thinking it’s just you and your photographing techniques, because your lens plays a role in how sharp your photos can get.

Investing in high-quality lenses, including prime lenses, is a key strategy to ensure sharper and higher-quality photographs.

7. Use Image Stabilization

The seventh tip to capture sharp photos is to use image stabilization.

Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) is a technology designed to counteract camera shake, especially when you are in a low-light condition or when you have to use slower shutter speeds.

When choosing a lens, just be aware that this feature exists, and you’ll want to look for a lens that has built-in image stabilization.

8. Mind Your ISO

The eighth tip to capture sharp photos is to keep your ISO in mind.

Similar to what I mentioned in tip number five, ISO is the other component of exposure.

ISO controls the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light.

A higher ISO setting will make your camera sensor more sensitive to light increasing the brightness of your image, but it can introduce noise while simultaneously reducing sharpness.

high ISO lots of noise
high ISO lots of noise

A lower ISO setting will maintain your current image quality and not add any additional brightness.

With that being said, based on your lighting conditions, you’ll need to know how to balance all three elements of your exposure in order to capture a well-exposed image that’s also in sharp focus.

9. Shoot in RAW

The ninth tip to get sharp photos is to shoot in RAW.

We have a whole guide on the benefits of shooting in RAW so be sure to check that out.

Shooting in RAW format preserves more image data, which can be crucial for post-processing sharpening.

To ensure you’re shooting in RAW, just head to your camera settings and make sure you’re taking your photos in RAW file format.

10. Post-Processing

The tenth tip to get sharp photos is to use post-processing.

Using photo editing software to fine-tune sharpness is the final step to achieving sharp-looking photos.

Just be careful not to overdo it, or else the image will start looking fake or overly edited.

Some of the tools to increase sharpness include the Texture, Clarity, and Sharpening tools which you can find in most editing softwares