9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People


If you are struggling with soft or blurry images, you are not alone. Many photographers have difficulty with getting crisp, clear, in-focus images. This is especially true when taking pictures of people. It can be done, though, if you take the right steps. Try out these nine tips to make sure you get sharp images when you are photographing people. With a little practice, you should start seeing results right away.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People

1. Shutter Speed

If you set your shutter speed too slow, chances are that your images are not going to be as sharp as you want them to be. Make sure to set your shutter speed at least the same speed as the focal length of your lens. To be extra sure, you could even double it.

For example, if you are shooting with a 35mm lens, make sure your shutter speed is set to 1/35th (doubled – 1/70th) or faster. If you are shooting with an 85mm lens, set the shutter speed to 1/90th (double to 1/170th) or faster.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People

Shutter speed 1/1640th of a second.

2. Steady Hands

To hold your camera steady, firmly plant your hands on your camera and make sure that you are not shaking, even slightly. Ideally, a tripod could eliminate the possibility of this, but if you are shooting handheld, make sure to keep things as steady as you can. Even the slightest movement could cause your photo to become out of focus.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People - Shot hand held

Shot handheld.

3. Set Your Focal Point

There are a few ways to set your focus, but one great way is to set your focal point to the center focal point on your camera and focus in on the person you want to photograph. You can change the points around, but generally, the center one will give you the clearest focus.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People - Shot with center focal point

Shot with the camera set to the center focal point.

4. Look at the Eyes

If you are taking a photo of just one person, set your focus on their eyes. The eyes are generally what will stand out in a great portrait, so making sure that they are in focus is key. Remember those focal points? Make sure that center one is lined up right on their eye.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People - Focus on the eyes

Note: if the person is posed slightly sideways, always focus on the eye closest to the camera.

5. Pose Them

If you are taking a photo with more than one person or a family, the way you pose them can affect the sharpness and focus. An easy pose which helps to make sure the focus will stay sharp is lining them up. Keep everyone on the same plane (equidistant from the lens). This will be helpful especially if you are still learning manual shooting mode, and working with your aperture. When you pose a group of people for a picture and they are in multiple lines, or if you have some closer to the camera, while others are farther away, this could make it more difficult to get everyone in sharp focus.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People - Posed in a line

6. Setting Your Aperture

The wider you set your aperture, the greater the chance there may be some parts of the image that are out of focus. Remember how you’re going to pose them? When you pose the people in a line on the same plane, you can keep your aperture wider and lower the risk for a blurry photo. It is also easier to shoot with a wider aperture if you are just photographing one individual.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People - Aperture 2.2

Shot at aperture f/2.2

7. Focus on the Person Closest to You

If there are many people in your photo, set the focal point on the person closest to you. Ideally, this person will also be in the center of the group. This will help to make sure that they are in focus as well as any people in the photo that are behind them. Then, adjust your aperture to make sure all group members will be in focus.

8. Choose Your Lens

Not all lenses are created the same and some are better at capturing sharp images than others. It’s not necessarily always the most expensive lenses either. A good starter lens that has great focus and won’t break your bank account is the 50mm f/1.8. A few other great lenses that generally produce sharp photos and aren’t as pricey are the 85mm f/1.8 or the 50mm f/1.4.

9 Ways to Ensure You Get Sharp Images When Photographing People - Shot with 50mm f/1.4

Shot with a 50mm f/1.4 lens.

9. Clean Your Gear

If you’ve tried all these steps and you are still experiencing soft, blurry pictures, it may be time to clean your equipment. If it’s been awhile (or if you’ve never had it cleaned), take your camera and lenses into a local camera shop you trust and have them clean your gear for you. Hopefully, that will make a big different in the sharpness of your images.

Now you try it. Next time you go out to photo shoot, think about these steps and carefully plan to get sharp images. Don’t just assume it’s automatically going to happen. With practice you will get it, so keep trying.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Emily Supiot is a child and family photographer in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition she is a photography educator for beginner and intermediate photographers and offers eCourses, tools for editing and a catalog of free photography tutorials on YouTube.

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  • MonroeAlan

    Even more detailed — focus on the eye closest to the camera — the near eye. If that eye is sharp, little else matters.

  • Anne

    Thanks for the article. What about focus and recompose. Can I still stay center focused and recompose. How do I keep the center focus to stay there and not change the focus?

  • Steve Scarlett

    Back button focus is one way. Depending on your camera you may have the ability to set another button on your camera to focus the lens. Use that button to focus then recompose. Google it for your specific camera.

  • Anne

    Thanks for answering. I have used bbf. Do I hold the focus button down and hold it while pushing the shutter button at the same time for still subjects? Or release it, recompose and shoot. Then, for moving subjects, do I hold it down the whole time while recomposing.

  • Steve Scarlett

    The way I understand it, I could be wrong of course, the BBF button works the same as the shutter button. I have a Canon so; Still subject: Focus Mode = ONE SHOT, Press button to focus then release, recompose then shoot. Moving subject: Focus Mode = AI SERVO, Press button to focus, keep thumb on BBF button, track subject and shoot using the normal button.

  • Anne

    Thanks, it’s clear now!

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  • Vadim Sokol

    How about depth of field? I know many persons who bought 50 mm and open aperture to 1.8 and started to take pictures from a distance about 1 m. And as a result – eyes 90% out of focus because of 0.04 cm od DOF.

    If you are shooting group – you can’t do normally with 1.8 aperture. Close it to 5.6 or better to 8.

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  • Florin Augustin

    Shouldn’t shutter speed be set depending on the crop factor? E.g. for a APS-C sensor (crop factor 1.5) and a 50mm lens, shouldn’t be the shutter speed 1/150 (50x2x1.5)?

  • Martin Schiffer

    For shooting groups a DOF calculator is highly recommendable. There are free apps for iPhones and Android devices.

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