How to Tell the Difference between Camera Shake or Poor Focussing?

How to Tell the Difference between Camera Shake or Poor Focussing?

‘Darren I’m getting blur in almost all of my shots but I can’t work out why. I thought the camera had a focusing problem but one of my friends thinks I might be moving my shots when taking images and getting camera shake. Is there a way of telling which is which?’

That’s a good question and one that I’ve had a couple of times now – so perhaps it’s worth answering publicly here on the blog.

Without seeing the images it is impossible to know what the problem is in your particular case – but let me attempt to give you some tips for diagnosing your own problem.

Camera Shake

There are three main things to look for when looking for camera shake:

Full Image Blur – If you are suffering from camera shake you will almost certainly find that all of your image is blurred whether it is the main subject, your background or your foreground. Look closely and you’ll see that there are no sharp points in the image at all.

Double image – Another indication that you probably have camera shake is when you see an effect where there is almost two exposures of the same image. Particularly pay close attention to the edges of objects where you might see them twice. You can see a good example of this to the left.

Motion Blur – Camera shake is achieved when your camera is moving during the time of exposure. As a result you’ll often see a ‘blur’ that looks like your subject is moving – even when it might be a still life subject. Look for light streaks or lines when examining your image close up.

If you’re suffering from camera shake you might like to check out these tutorials:

Poor Focusing

In contrast to seeing a full image suffering from blur – often when you’re simply incorrectly focusing your camera you’ll find that the wrong part of the image is in focus.

Scan the full image and you’ll sometimes find that something in it is nice and sharp, even if it is your foreground or background.

Also – with poor focusing you will often find that the blur is smoother or softer where as in camera shake the blur can have a more jagged or harsh look.

If you are looking for more information on taking sharp images check out our tutorial on the topic.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Dennis O'Mara October 14, 2009 01:08 pm

    I hold the lens in my left hand and use my right hand for holding the camera body and operating the shutter button. When taking my shots I set myself up and then setup the shot. When I am ready to shoot, I slowly press on the shutter button. In my early days I was too quick to click the shutter button causing blurred results. Auto focus is good, but I find myself using the manual focus more & more lately. I take the focus right out, then slowly bring the shot into focus going too far and then returning to sharp focus. Of course I am talking about shots where I have the time to do this - not sports or action shots.

  • noah June 25, 2009 03:06 am

    A tip for dealing with camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button. If your camera has the feature where it takes several shots in a row, often the second or third shots will have much better sharpness than the first. Because you have already bypassed the instable moment caused by pressing the button.

  • Sam Kocherov February 15, 2007 01:58 am

    A major problem with camera shake is the user's intention to opt for the smallest physical size of camera, making it more difficult to hand-hold support. Resting the camera in the palm of the left hand (sorry lefties) and learning to smooth out the shutter release button will help. A small table top tripod might help to use as a "handle" and of course if ALL cameras had a cable release socket, electronic or mechanical, would help.

  • Thomas February 10, 2007 05:52 am

    Thanks for the great tips! I have camera shake issues and have found myself unwilling to stick to tripod shots.

    One thing that would help me would be more remote shutter release options. As a user of so-called pro-sumer grade camera's, I continue to be shocked at how rare the option of a simple remote control for the shutter release is.

    After decades of time spent perfecting remote controls for TV's, one would think it would be pretty simple to create a better option than 'using the timer' as a workaround.

  • Charlie Thomson February 2, 2007 12:17 pm

    I really did not mean to be dogmatic. I intended to stress the use of a good tripod. These "anti shake" devices may fail. You may not be able to return and retake that once in a life time shot. I guess this rubs off from my pre-digital days when I used a 4x5.


  • Jim Donahue February 2, 2007 11:50 am

    Small Camera or Big Camera ALWAYS use a support..Tripod..Monopod..Bean Bag or the fence post but ALWAYS use some type of Support

  • Charlie Thomson February 2, 2007 10:47 am

    I know without a doubt when I make an exposure. It is poor focus. Anyone that wants top quality, sharp shots, Use a Tripod! I do not depend on this new technology.

  • Andrea February 2, 2007 10:38 am

    Well, there are a lot of (expensive) lenses that come with gyroscopy things that prevent this camera shake problem. Sony recently came out with this technology in the body of the camera, but I haven't heard how it measures up with the more tradiational lens placement. (I'm just talking about DSLRs by the way, I haven't reasearched this in other cameras.)

  • Rebecca G. January 29, 2007 11:09 pm

    Good distinctions. My first disappointment with my first digital camera was the camera shake. It was a little pentax point-and-shoot and the shutter release took a lot more "oomf" than I was used to with my film camera. Result - blurred images. Even after I learned to hold my breath, keep steady, etc., I'd still have shake. Not the case at all with my dslr. Are some cameras more prone to wobbliness, do you think?