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Photography 1.07: How Do I Take Sharp Photos?

Updated on June 8, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

Here's another article in my series teaching the basics of photography. I have over 30 year professional photography experience to share.

Often beginner photographers find it challenging to take sharp photos. This is an important problem to overcome because you cannot fix a photo that’s blurry.

Blur in photos happens for three main reasons:

  1. Poor focus
  2. Subject movement
  3. Camera movement

At times, you may want you photo, or part of it to be blurry. In this article, I will outline how you can avoid getting blurry photos when you want them to be sharp.


Getting Your Photos In Focus

In my article ‘Photography 1.06: These Camera Controls Will Make You A Better Photographer’ I touched on focus. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of photography you need to master.

If you’ve been used to taking photos with your phone, focus is not often a problem. With a camera, you need to be much more careful about focus.

Focus on the most important part of your composition because sometimes all of your photo will not be in sharp focus. If you focus on the background, what’s in the foreground may be blurry. Focusing on your subject in the foreground the background might be blurry. This depends on some variables that I’ll teach you about in other articles in this series.

If your main subject is out of focus, there’s no fixing it later. Sharpening tools that are part of imaging software like Photoshop cannot fix an out of focus photo. Learning to get your focus right on the most important part of your composition is vital.

The whole of your photo does not need to be sharp for it to be considered in focus. Selective focus is a common creative tool used by photographers. This technique can make your photos more interesting. Keep following this series of articles and I’ll teach you how it’s done. For now, I’ll stick to the basics because it’s good to have a solid foundation to build from.

When you begin to compose your photos, look at what the most interesting part of your composition is. Focus on this. Either with your auto-focus or manually. This is a good starting point for any photo.

Mastering focus takes practice. Work on it and you’ll learn how to get it right most of the time. Some subjects are more challenging to get in focus than others, especially moving ones.


Managing Movement in You Photos

When you photograph a subject that is moving you can sometimes end up with a blurry photo. This can be because you have not managed to focus well. It can also be because your shutter speed is too slow.

To capture a moving subject so that it’s sharp you need to select a fast enough shutter speed. The speed you need depends on how fast your subject is moving.

A photo of a person walking can be made sharp using a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second or faster. A motorcycle racing will require a much faster shutter speed to get it sharp. Maybe 1/1000th of a second or more.

At times you may want to use a slow shutter speed when you’re photographing a moving subject. You can use the blur to good effect to convey a sense of motion in your subject.


Holding Your Camera Steady

Using a slow shutter speed you can also get blurry pictures if your camera moves when you are taking the photos. Even slight camera movement can cause the whole photo to be blurred.

The solutions to this problem are to use a faster shutter speed or a tripod. You can also place your camera on a firm surface if you don’t have a tripod.

Most of us handhold our cameras when we’re taking photos. Some people can hold a camera more steadily than others. Having a large lens on your camera can make it more difficult to hold steady.

Experiment taking photos using different shutter speeds to discover the slowest speed you can use. Pay attention to the shutter speed when you’re taking photos and make sure not to select a speed that’s too slow for you to manage.


Photography Challenge 1.07

Lens - Standard

Exposure Mode - aperture and shutter priority

Focus Mode – Any

Location – Outdoors

Time – Any time of day

This challenge will teach you more about getting your photos in focus and how movement can cause blurring in your photos.


Focus on Focus

First, find a subject to photograph that’s not moving and not close to the background. Set your exposure mode to Aperture Priority. Then set your lens to the lowest f/stop number. This is the widest aperture setting.

Stand back a little from your subject and take some photos. Then move in close and take some more photos of the same subject. Get as close as you can. Don’t worry if you can’t include the whole of your subject, but do make sure you can see some of the background in each photo. If you can’t get your camera to auto-focus, you may be too close. Back up a little and try again.

Don’t change your aperture setting while you’re taking this series of photos.

Take notes on what lens you used and how close you were to your subject for each photo.


Hold Your Camera Steady

Now let’s take a look at how to avoid blur from camera shake.

Set your camera’s exposure mode to Shutter Priority. Set the speed to half a second. This is slower than you would normally want to use.

Take a photo of the same subject. Is it sharp? It’s most likely to be blurry unless you have extremely steady hands or you are using an Olympus camera. Olympus cameras have incredible image stabilization that allow you to hand hold and get sharp photos using very slow shutter speeds.

Take a series of photos and adjust the shutter speed to be faster for each one. Check your results and discover at what shutter speed your subject is not blurry. This is a good indicator of the slowest shutter speed you can use and hold your camera steady.

For more information about how to hold your camera steady, please read the second article in this series, 'Photography 1.02: How To Hold Your Camera the Right Way'.


Managing Moving Subjects

Now let’s try photographing a moving subject and capturing some sharp images.

Set your shutter speed to 1/15th of a second. Find some moving traffic to photograph. Traffic that’s moving reasonably fast will be best. Take some photos at 1/15th of a second and then a series where you adjust your shutter speed progressively faster between photos.

Can you see the difference in the amount of blur between these images? What shutter speed did you use where the traffic looks sharp?

For an extra challenge, find another subject that’s moving either faster or slower than the traffic and repeat this part of the exercise.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Photography Focus


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