How to take Sharp Pictures (w/ Sony Cameras)

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.

Pictures 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 sharpness.

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!

Getting sharp images takes some practice.

Why are my pictures not sharp?

Before we get rolling, let’s go over the three main reasons your photos might be coming out blurry.

Camera Shake

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.

If you’d like to learn more about camera shake and shutter speed, check out my in-depth articles on the subject (for a6k series and for a7 series cameras).

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”.

If you’d like to dig deeper into depth of field and aperture, I have various articles that cover the subject (for a6k series and for a7 series cameras).

Inaccurate Focus

Third, you may just have inaccurate focus. Generally, most modern lenses and cameras have incredible autofocus systems, but they can still sometimes trip up.

It’s worth digging into the autofocus settings on your camera (read more: a6k series, a7 series) and making sure everything looks good.

Typically, keeping the “focusing mode” on AF-S or AF-C and the “focus area” on wide should do the trick.

Dirty Lens/Sensor

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. Use a lens blower to blast off any excess dust.

Cleaning a sensor is a bit more complicated and risky. 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?

In-Camera Settings

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 insure 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).

dirt bike
Using a fast shutter speed allows you to capture sharp and clear action.

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.

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 cityscape at sunset, you may want to use ISO800, 1/200th shutter speed, and F5.6 aperture.

It’s all relative to the scene that you are currently working with. CapturetheAtlas has some INCREDIBLE infographics that explain this concept more.

car drifting around corner
Remember that all parts of the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) contribute to a clean, sharp image.

Physical Technique

Next up, physical technique plays a much bigger role than you’d expect.

Proper Handholding

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 the Neck Strap

Alternatively, you can use the 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 Call of Duty.

man in ghillie suit
Pretend like you’re this guy (hold your breath when taking photos).

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.

You can cheap out and get a budget one (clunky but does the job) or, personally, I’d suggest picking something a bit more in the mid-budget category.

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.

man with tripod
A tripod is the most foolproof way of insuring your images are sharper.

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.

If you’re looking for a budget pick, I would suggest the Sigma 30mm F1.4 (my personal favorite) for Sony a6k series users and the Sony FE 50mm F1.8 for full-frame users.

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.

lineup of sony lenses
Better gear is rarely the solution, but sometimes certain lenses are just bad.

Conclusion

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.

Like I mentioned earlier, if you’re looking to delve deeper into your camera’s manual controls, 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! 🙂