You’ve just had a fun, full day of photography. You come home, transfer the pictures to your computer and are just… a bit disappointed with the results. How the heck do you get sharp pictures?
Photos always look good on the tiny LCD of your camera, but sometimes when you look at them on a larger screen, they’re soft and lack that “oomph” you thought you were capturing.
In this guide, we’ll be going over various methods you can take to get sharper pictures next time you go out to shoot. While this is somewhat generic advice, some of it is specifically tailored to Sony cameras.
Let’s dive in!
Why are my pictures not sharp?
Before we get rolling, let’s go over the four main reasons your photos might be coming out blurry.
First up, the most common reason for lackluster photos comes down to camera shake.
You see, your camera’s shutter is open for a certain amount of time, and any movement during that time will disrupt the exposure.
Shallow Depth of Field
The second reason is that you may be shooting at too wide of an aperture.
To put it simply, the “higher” the aperture (F-stop value), the more of your image will be in focus and, thus, “sharp”.
Third, you may just have inaccurate focus.
Generally, most modern lenses and cameras have incredible autofocus systems, but they can still sometimes trip up.
Typically, keeping the “focusing mode” on AF-S or AF-C and the “focus area” on wide should do the trick.
Finally, the last major reason is that your lens or camera sensor might just be a bit dirty.
Cleaning a lens is simple. Take a microfiber cloth (please make sure it’s clean) and wipe off the front (and if needed, rear) element of the lens.
Then, use a lens blower to blast off any excess dust.
Cleaning a sensor is a bit more complicated and risky, but anyone can do it!
Petapixel has a great article about it and, if you’re too nervous, it’s always possible to take the camera into a photo store to have it done professionally.
Taking Sharp Photos
So, now that we’ve got the main causes of soft photos out of the way, what actionable steps can we take to get sharper pictures?
Use a Fast Shutter Speed
First up, let’s talk about in-camera settings.
As mentioned earlier, camera shake and handholding at slow shutter speeds is typically the number one cause of blurry pictures.
Always ensure that your shutter speed is set to something that you can comfortably handhold.
I have naturally shaky hands, so I tend to shoot at 1/100th of a second (or slighter faster, like 1/60th if I’m using in-body stabilization).
Typically, I aim to always shoot with a shutter speed that is 2x the focal length of my lens.
As an example, I’ll usually shoot at 1/100th if I’m using a 50mm lens (once again, I have shaky hands).
Use A Tight Aperture
As for aperture, if you’re looking to create an image that’s entirely sharp all the way through, you’ll need to shoot with a higher F-stop (generally F8 is the sharpest on most lenses).
Higher aperture values allow more light into the lens, thus getting more of your composition into focus.
Again, if you’d like a more thorough explanation of F-stop/aperture, read here.
Try Not to Use High ISO (unless needed)
Finally, try not to use an extremely high ISO.
Shooting as close to “Base ISO” (the lowest ISO your camera can go) will always provide the absolute best image quality.
With that being said, don’t be afraid to push your ISO up when needed.
When handholding images, it’s more important to have a non-shaky shutter speed versus low ISO.
In low light, always increase your ISO before you resort to lowering your shutter speed below a reasonable level. We don’t want noise or grain, sure, but we also don’t want a shaky image due to improper shutter speed.
Remember the Exposure Triangle
Expanding upon the previous advice, it’s important to always remember that all three settings (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture) work together to create perfect images.
Always try to find the best balance of settings.
For example, if you’re shooting landscapes during mid-day, you’ll likely use ISO100, 1/4000th shutter speed, and F8 aperture.
On the flipside, if you’re shooting a portrait at sunset, you may want to use ISO500, 1/100th shutter speed, and F1.8 aperture.
It’s all relative to the scene that you are currently working with.
CapturetheAtlas has some INCREDIBLE infographics that explain this concept more.
Next up, physical technique plays a much bigger role than you’d expect.
Properly holding your camera can do wonders for reducing camera shake and blurriness in images.
Holding the Camera Close
This first tactic is what I usually use. Assume a split stance, and put the viewfinder up to your eye.
You can now lock your elbows into your chest, and this will form an incredibly rigid stance that will allow you to shoot with a lot more stability.
Bonus tip: “hug” stuff like light posts, trees, etc. for more stability.
Using a Neck Strap
Alternatively, you can use a neck strap to create stability.
Extend the camera out and pull the strap tight around your neck.
This will provide natural leverage and should (in theory) allow you to shoot more stable pictures.
Hold Your Breath
When employing either of these tactics, holding your breath can help your body stay just a little bit more still.
Seriously, I’m not joking. It’s like playing a sniper in an FPS.
Upgrade Your Gear
I wanted to save this for last as I don’t really believe in telling new photographers to “go buy new crap!” but in this case it’s kind of true.
You can do a lot with a basic and cheap kit, but there are limitations.
Use a Tripod
The absolute cheapest and most simple gear upgrade you can get is a tripod.
A tripod provides a platform that is completely stable, allowing for extremely long shutter speeds and eliminating any potential of camera shake.
Lugging a tripod around can be a pain, but that’s how many photographers get amazingly clear and crispy images.
Heck, I just use a Gorillapod most of the time. It was a bit pricey, but I can stuff it in my backpack easily and there is really no “setup” involved.
Bonus tip: when using a tripod, put your camera on a 2-second self timer to remove any possible shake from you physically hitting the shutter button. Yet another bonus tip: if your camera has stabilization, turn it off when using a tripod. Sometimes IBIS can cause blur… ironically.
Get Better Lenses
Although using gear as an excuse is a bad habit to get into, the simple truth of the matter is that the kit lens is often very limited.
Upgrading to a razor sharp, wide-aperture lens can do wonders for beefing up your picture quality.
Get a Stabilized Body
Finally, upgrading to a camera with built-in stabilization can do wonders.
My old a6000 is a fabulous camera and I still adore it, but the lack of built-in stabilization is a big downside.
Upgrading to the a7iii changed the game for me. I can shoot handheld in lower light, it’s nice and stable for videos, etc.
Shooting sharp photos isn’t necessarily difficult, but it can take a lot of practice along with trial and error.
As for upgrading your gear, my advice is to just practice as much as possible with what you’ve got.
Expensive gear does not equal skill. Seriously, I can’t state this enough: expensive gear isn’t critical for getting sharp photos.
To recap real quickly, here are the absolute basics of getting sharper pictures:
- Make sure your camera sensor and lens are clean
- Use a fast shutter speed
- Ensure you have enough depth of field (high aperture)
- Use high ISO only if you have to (remember the exposure triangle!)
- Stabilize the camera (use a tripod, keep it close, hold your breath, etc.)
Like I mentioned earlier, if you’re looking to delve deeper into your camera’s manual controls and learn more, go check out my articles on shutter speed (a6k, a7) along with aperture/F-stop (a6k, a7).
Thanks for reading, now go take some sharp pics! 🙂