8 Tips for Sharper Images
“How can I get my photos sharper?” is one of the most common questions I get asked during my workshops and seminars. There are no shortcuts to getting sharp images, so here are my eight suggestions for staying in focus:
1) Use a tripod
Nothing will keep your camera and lens fixed and steadier than a good quality tripod. There are lots of choices when purchasing a tripod system and there are basically two types you can choose from:
1. Tripods that are cheap, light weight, and easy to carry.
2. Tripods that actually work…
I’ll discuss tripods in detail in a future newsletter, but you should be prepared to spend from $500+ for a carbon fiber model with a ball-head and quick release system.
2) Use a remote shutter release.
It makes no sense to secure you camera to a tripod only to jab the shutter with your finger. Use a remote release.
Bonus Tip: If you forgot your remote release, use your DSLR’s 2-second timer.
3) Capture in Live View Mode
The old-school advice for shutter speeds that are 1/4sec and slower was to enable “mirror lock-up” to reduce vibration. With Live View, the mirror is already secured since you’re viewing directly off the sensor. Bonus Tip: Enable Silent Mode 1 or 2 on Canon DSLRs. The simulated electronic shutter action reduces the vibration even further.
4) Achieve Critical Focus
Check and double-check your focus. In Live View, magnify the view on the LCD monitor to ensure that you’re in focus. Use a small aperture (f/11, f/16, f/22) to increase depth of field. A piece of blue painters tape or gaffers tape is perfect for securing the focusing ring and prevent it from slipping.
5) Select a Fast Shutter Speed
If you’re shooting sports, (or ignoring Rule #1 above) select a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and reduce camera shake. For sports I recommend shooting at least 1/500sec, but 1/1000sec and faster is preferred. To reduce camera shake with a hand-held cameras, select a shutter speed that is the inverse of the lens focal length. Example: if you’re using 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200sec or faster.
6) Enable Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction
Canon and Nikon both have lenses that feature technology that compensates for slight camera-shake from hand-holding a camera. Although it’s no longer required, I still recommend turning off this feature when using a tripod.
7) Minimize Filter Usage
The more glass you add to the front of the lens, the more the image may suffer degradation. There are proper times for using filters and I only carry three in my bag; a polarizer to reduce glare, a vari-ND to cut down light, and an IR filter for infrared photography. Many photographers affix UV filters to protect their objective lens, but in that case I strongly advocate buying a top brand UV (Heliopan, Hoya, B+W).
8) Invest in “Pro” Lenses
There is huge difference in quality (and price) between consumer lenses and the Canon L series and Nikon ED/N lenses. Glass quality, coatings, and construction all contribute to higher overall quality. Most experts will advise you to invest in “glass”. Camera bodies come and go, but a good lens can last forever.
For the sharpest images possible, I recommend that you follow all of these tips whenever you can. It takes time, patience, and effort; but that degree of diligence is what turns a snapshot into a great shot…