5 Ways to Take Stunningly Sharp Images

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You can take sharp images. You can take them consistently, quickly, efficiently. However, you just may not realize it yet.

sharp images sanderling reflection

The Problem

The thing is, getting acceptably sharp images is a common problem among photographers. It’s something that I myself often struggled with getting consistently. I can’t tell you the number of times I used to come home, only to find my memory cards full of blurry or out of focus images.

I used to think the problem was my camera optics. In order to take pin-sharp images, I thought I needed a top of the line camera and lens. But it turns out that, when it comes to sharpness, the problem is generally the photographer (or the choices that the photographer makes).

And fortunately, that problem is very easy to fix.

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In this tutorial, you’ll learn five ways that you can get sharp images. And then, next time you go out shooting, you’ll consistently take pin-sharp images. Sound good? Read on to find out how.

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1. Use a fast enough shutter speed

When you press the shutter button on your camera, the internal sensor is briefly exposed to the light. This is how the camera actually captures an image.

The length of time that the sensor is exposed to the light is called the shutter speed.

sharp images yellow flower

Depending on your camera settings, the sensor might be exposed to the light for a long period of time (a slow shutter speed) or a short period of time (a fast shutter speed).

One of the main reasons your images are coming back blurry is that you’re not using a fast enough shutter speed. If you use a slow shutter speed, then your camera sensor remains open to the light for too long. It captures too much. That is, it captures motion.

But if you want to freeze the motion and capture only a sliver of a second so that everything is crystal clear, frozen. To do this, you need a fast shutter speed.

sharp images white ibis

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to do this. In your camera’s settings, you can generally increase the shutter speed. Or you can use the Action (Sports) setting, which many cameras have.

Even if your subject isn’t moving, your hands might not be rock-steady. This causes camera shake which in turn causes image blur.

A faster shutter speed will help fix this.

2. Tuck in your elbows

A shutter speed increase solves many issues with blurry photographs. But what if you can’t use a fast shutter speed?

photography without tripod golden retriever sunset

When the light is low, for instance, when you’re indoors or when you’re outside at night – a fast shutter speed lets in too little light, causing the image to be dark (we call this underexposure). Your camera will compensate for the low light by keeping the shutter open for longer, exposing the sensor to more light.

This is when it becomes important to eliminate camera shake completely. If the camera shakes, your image will come out blurred. So how do you stop your camera from shaking?

The first way that I’m going to talk about is simple: You tuck in your elbows. Don’t shoot with your arms out. Instead, firmly grip your camera while pulling your elbows in. This will serve to stabilize the camera and reduce camera shake.

sharp images woman in window

I tucked in my elbows in order to get a sharp shot of my model in low light.

3. Stabilize your body against a wall (or the ground!)

Sometimes, tucking in your elbows isn’t enough. If the light is really low, you may need to take more drastic measures to reduce camera shake.

One big tip is to stabilize your body against a feature of the landscape, something solid.

sharp images reddish egret

When photographing birds, I often stabilize my elbows against the ground, ensuring a sharper image. If you’re a street photographer, for instance, you can search for walls to lean against. If you’re a landscape photographer, you can hold onto a rock or tree.

It also helps to get down on the ground. You can kneel and stabilize your arms on your knee. Or you can get down on your stomach and use the grass, concrete or dirt as a stabilizer for your camera.

Trust me, it works!

4. Use a tripod

I’ve been talking a lot about stabilizing your camera, and the ways I’ve suggested will generally work well, especially if you’re in a pinch. But there is a more dedicated solution – use a tripod.

With a good tripod, you can completely eliminate camera shake. This will do wonders for keeping your images sharp.

sharp images ann arbor nickel's arcade

I used a tripod to capture this image of a musician at night.

There are a few downsides to using a tripod, however. The first is that you lose flexibility. It takes time to set up a new composition when you’re using a tripod, time that you might not want to spend. This is especially true if you’re photographing in a fast-paced atmosphere (e.g., portraiture or events).

The second downside is that good, solid tripods are expensive, especially if you want one that’s lightweight. Cheaper tripods may seem like a bargain, but they often don’t do the job well, or at all and replacing them costs more than buying one good one in the first place.

So be careful before choosing to invest in a good solid tripod.

5. Use a Shorter Lens

I have one more recommendation for eliminating blurry photographs, that is to use a shorter lens.

This is for a few reasons, but I’ll focus on the simplest one. A longer lens is harder to keep steady. It destabilizes the camera (and the image is magnified), and will, therefore, cause camera shake.

sharp images golden retriever

I used a wide-angle lens to photograph this golden retriever as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Hence, this tip is short and sweet. Especially when shooting in low light, put away your longer lenses and your telephoto zooms. Bring out your wide-angle and portrait lenses, ones that you can easily hold steady.

That’s how you’ll take sharp images.

Conclusion

Capturing consistently sharp images may have seemed daunting, but I hope that you now realize the truth. Getting sharp images is easy!

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I urge you to get out and try these tips now.

  1. Use a fast shutter speed.
  2. Tuck in your elbows.
  3. Stabilize your body.
  4. If you want, invest in a tripod.
  5. Use a wider lens.

And admire those crystal clear images!

Do you have any other tips for taking sharper images? Please share them in the comments below.

sharp images wilson's plover

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jaymes Dempsey is a macro photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To see more of Jaymes's work and read about his time in the field check out his website and blog or follow him on Facebook.

  • kenneth

    Jaymes, your article is very beneficial to many who like to have tuck sharp pictures. I would suggest if
    financially able get a good solid tripod. The photo of the full moon was taken by using 400mm lens mounted on a tripod at the sea side ,the wind so strong that it wobbled my tripod .I could not https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/01c674f08985559e837db2d54b27426bf26e93b6e20f966c14710f70b8647f43.jpg get a tuck sharp photo of the moon.

  • Hello, Jaymes, Thanks for sharing a useful article. Really the five ways of take sharp images are amazing. I think the all tips are very important for a photographer.

  • I am looking for such an informative post for a long time. Thank you for this post.Thank you for sharing your expertise. This post is very helpful. It’s informative too! Hammond Institute

  • BlackEternity

    A sturdy tripod is always a great idea but don’t think your shot of the moon is only impossible because of the tripod.
    I got shots of the moon with absolutely no wind whatsoever. Keep in mind that at these extreme long distances, the atmosphere itself can blur your picture and on top of that – Focus is a pain. My Sony camera has electronic focus and all of the lenses I own focus a tack beyond infinity so you have to fiddle around to nail the absolute sweet spot with the lens.
    The wobbly outline of the moon looks like fringing from the atmosphere. The just ever so slightly misaligned focus does the rest. (probably).

    Again – The Tripod is definitively a point here worth mentioning.

  • Dave Hallberg

    One of the best purchases I made was a monopod. It gives me a lot of flexibility and I am able to use it in places with limited space, or where tripods are banned. It gives me a great platform for extended exposures and also is adjustable for low to the ground shots as well.

  • George Johnson

    One of the worst things is the tiny view screen on the back of the camera. The shutter speed is just a tad too slow, a quick peek at the preview and it looks OK. It’s only later on when you see it on a 30″ screen while you work on it that you see how bad just the tinniest little bit of blur can be.

    When we learn to drive manual ( or “stick” as our US cousins call it ) we “feel” the engine, we learn the right point to change gear by feel and sound. Your camera should be the same, you need to learn what it sounds like when the shutter snaps, obviously I’m talking standard D(SLR) here. I know when I’ve blown the shot by the sound from the camera’s shutter gives me a clue when it’s not quite right speed for the conditions. To get that comfortable with your camera can take months or years. I’ve had a 5D2 for 8 years and only recently upgraded to a 5D4 and it’s thrown me completely, it’s taken me about 6 months to get comfortable with it and the sound of the shutter!

    If you do a lot of tripod work and you want ultra-sharp buy a loupe, it’s a must. They are perfect for checking that shot on the camera screen right up close before you head home and realise you may have blown it.

    Having said all that there are times when razor sharp images don’t cut it and a little fuzz can be endearing in an image, I sometimes like to shoot street images slightly slower than I should then you get a good sense of motion in the areas you want and stillness in areas you don’t. Like everything in this game, “Horses for courses.”, there’s no wrong or right, just what you feel is appropriate for the image you wish to make.

  • Jack Lewis

    OK, don’t laugh, but try a “string tripod”. Let me explain. Get a string long enough to attach to your camera on one end and reach the ground with the other end. On the bottom of the camera is a threaded slot where the monopod or tripod attaches to the camera. Buy an eye bolt (at any hardware store) that screws into the threaded slot on the camera. Attach one end of the string to the eye bolt and let to other end lay on the ground where you can stand on it. Then when you want to steady the camera, stand on the string and pull the camera up until the string is tight. This resistance will steady the camera and significantly reduce any movement. Cost about $2.00 for bolt and string. Very portable, very accessible, very inexpensive and very effective.

  • Jim Wolff

    I am considering a monopod as well, but I’m wondering if I should get the monopod with three short legs at the bottom, or just a single rod.

  • Jim Wolff

    I agree with all these points, and especially using a wider angle lens (if possible). Some cases, such as portrait work, may enhance the size of objects closer to the lens (e.g., person’s nose) which you do not want. In those cases a 50mm or 85mm prime works best. But otherwise, I agree that a wide angle lens really seems to help with clarity, and then of course, using a F8 or F11 F-stop and the highest shutter speed possible for your shot based on your lighting.

    When all else fails, a tripod with a remote shutter release.

  • Jim Wolff

    Okay, I’m not laughing…. ha ha… but I will try this. Sounds interesting. Probably looks goofy, but it might be worth a try.

    Another suggestion is pressing and holding the viewfinder up against your forehead as you shoot your picture. This helps to prevent camera shake or jerking the camera when you press the shutter.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Excellent tips Jaymes, every one valid! Dave Hallberg mentions the monopod, often overlooked but a useful tool that can be used in situations where a tripod cannot. I’ve gotten away with using one in museums where a tripod would be a definite no-no but the light level is often low enough that the only way to hand holding is a stratospheric ISO and so lots of noise.

    But a downside to a monopod is the head. If the camera is just screwed onto the platform you are stuck with horizontal framing plus you can’t let go of the rig. Add a ball head and you still can’t let go. If you want to go hand-held you have to unscrew— all in all a nuisance.

    I have attached a picture of my 7-foot Polaroid monopod (I am tall) with a V-bracket that works with any lens (originally designed as a shooter’s rest for a firearm). Rest the lens in the Vee and it is as stable as it would be screwed to a head (you have only one leg after all). Switch from horizontal to vertical and back in less time than it takes to explain, plus the center of mass is always over the axis. Go hand held instantly (I always have my camera strap around my neck). Want to move fast to a different location? Your camera is on its strap and you just run with the staff in your hand. I shoot some events and when using a long focal length it’s wonderful regardless of shutter speed.

  • Charles G. Haacker
  • tdsutter

    Excellent article. My only (additional) suggestion involves your suggestion #2. I’d add: “and hold your breath.” With my elbows tucked in, if I’m breathing, I still get blurry photos. Thanks for the great article.

  • Dong Do

    Use trigger

  • Jack Lewis

    Yep – looks just like mine – even the same cord; including the “burned” end to prevent raveling. Thanks

  • Ed Petranek

    Charles,
    Can not seem to find the V-bracket.Could you please point me in the right direction?

  • ???-chunchunhi Chun

    Very good article for Sharp Photo.
    One point I like to add on your comment regarding tripod, better turn off “Steady Shot” from camera which added to help Hand shake. If you did not turn off, steady Shot will make the camera shake and you can not get sharp photo no matter how good the camera and lens. Unless the speed is shorter then 1/2000 s

  • David Gee

    Thanks Dave. I have a very basic monopod. Is there any advantage in having more expensive all bells amd whistles monopods? Do you use vibration reduction when you have a VR lens on a monopod?

  • Dalibor Milenkovic

    Have you used digital zoom to focus the image? This image does not look like it wobbles, but more like the (manual) focus is not exactly set. Aim for the ‘terminator” zone – edges of the moon is where you can see sharp image. The full moon is never sharp enough (looked at with the telescope) except for this edge zone.
    Even in the windy conditions I can make quite sharp moon images by using up the digital zoom to focus manually (10 times on my T3i).

  • Dave Hallberg

    My monopod is just a basic height adjustable stick. I did, however get a nice adjustable head for taking shots at various angles. As for using image stabilization, that depends on the situation and location I am shooting in. As for the bells and whistles, that is a personal choice. I have found that my basic worked most times, but I got the head for those times I wanted the advantage of an adjustable head.

  • Helga

    Great tips! Thank you! What I do when I don’t have my tripod… I hold my breath and put it on a 2 second timer!

  • Janet Richardson

    Am I seeing knots periodically on this cord? If so, why? Thanks.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Absolutely, Ed, and I realize I should have linked it in my post. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DJMVXJ7/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Hi Janet, good eye, yes there are knots, that I originally put in because I had had an earlier model with a much thinner cord that tended to slip from under my shoe so I put in knots. When I decided to switch to parachute cord I still put in the knots, but it was shortly after I made this shot that I realized they were not only unneeded, they were a nuisance so I took them all out. If you make one with a thin string and it slips, add knots. If you use a thicker string they may not be needed. Some recommend using a stick or something to step on but I find the cord alone is plenty and instantly flexible for height changes.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Hi David: I saw your question about VR or other stabilization on a monopod, and I will answer that I leave mine on. Never on a tripod or a beanbag or any other support where the camera cannot move at all so the VR will “hunt” and maybe cause smearing, but I leave it on on a monopod, especially because I use that Vee bracket https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DJMVXJ7/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 so my camera can still move in a lot of different axes (except vertically) so I assume it can’t hurt. It never has that I can detect.

  • Ed Petranek

    Charles, thank you very much for the info.I surchased Amazon quite a long time using the term V-Bracket. Never thought to call it a yoke.-ED

  • Janet Richardson

    I am intrigued. It works? I am going to try this. I know going higher on shutter speed alleviates shake, but lower apertures and higher ISOs come into play. And yes, I do know a tripod is the best bet, but sometimes you just don’t have time or inclination:)

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Yes it really works, should gain you at least a stop (or a shutter speed). Jack Lewis has explained its use, but it’s just step on the cord and pull up until it is tensioned. If you need it higher or lower all you have to do is shift the cord under your foot. All it does is somewhat limit the vertical travel of the camera, which can still move in a lot of directions, but it does help by at least delimiting vertical travel. If your camera or lens has image stabilization that also helps. If you have a viewfinder and kind of “mash” your camera into your face, that helps. Keep your elbows tucked into your ribs, and try to breathe like a sniper. That’s not holding your breath, which can actually make you shake, but rather take a good breath, let out half of it, hold that and squeeze the shutter. Ideally put your thumb on the baseplate of the camera so it opposes your shutter finger. It’s an awful lot to remember but taken together it all helps. ( ?? ?? ?? )

  • Janet Richardson

    Thanks. Yeah I do all of that. And actually do breathe like a sniper, don’t ask me why I knew, can’t smash against my face I wear glasses. The rest of it I do, I think the only thing left to do is give up caffeine not sure that will happen. You have been a big help.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    You’re right about the goofy look, Jim. I’ve used mine most often in museums. I love to shoot in museums and never use flash. It’s distracting plus the curators have designed the lighting as they want it to best show off the exhibits. I like to capture the lighting they work so hard to get. Some museums forbid flash, and tripods, and even monopods (!) but I have never been challenged using a stringpod anywhere. What *has* happened *several times* is that museum guards wander over to inquire, “What the heck IS that?” Never tell me to put it away, just are intrigued by the thing, usually wander off shaking their heads. ‘Cuz it IS goofy looking! ¯_(?)_/¯

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Ha! I will give up caffeine when they pry my 16-oz cup from my cold, dead…. ¯_(?)_/¯

  • Mark

    I used to have a 5D MKII and one thing that I’d find with it was that the focus point could be a little too imprecise and when you thought you had nailed focus on an eye it had in fact focused on part of the nose or eyebrow. Pictures of moving (not even fast) people often had too much blur or poor focusing even at higher shutter speeds and greater DoF settings. It frustrated the hell out of me as you could always nail still life shots with it. Turns out the MKII has what is generally considered a pretty crap focusing system which was greatly improved for the MKIII and MKIV. Although by that time I’d lost faith in Canon and jumped ship to Sony for their continuous eye-AF and superb motion tracking which is outstanding and is a better fit for a larger number of my photos.

  • Mark

    I forgot to add….sometimes you do need newer kit.

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