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6 Reasons Your Photos Might Be Lacking Sharpness

Capturing sharp photos needn’t be difficult. Most amateur photographers who struggle to capture sharp photos make one of the common mistakes listed below. The good news is that with a little bit of practice and knowhow, you will be able to take sharp photos most of the time. At the very least, you should accept that you will make mistakes and have blurred photos from time to time when starting out. Instead of getting frustrated, try to analyze each blurred photo to understand why it might be lacking in sharpness. In the meantime here are 6 reasons your photos might be lacking sharpness.


Reasons your photos might be lacking sharpness

1. Shutter speed too slow

Often this is the number one culprit for photos lacking sharpness. There are three potential mistakes when it comes to shutter speed. The first is simply the question of are you using a fast enough shutter speed for what you are photographing? For example, a cheetah running will need a much faster shutter speed to freeze the action. Whereas, a statue doesn’t. So the first thing you should do is understand what shutter speed you need for the subject you are shooting. As an example, you might be able to get away with something like 1/60th sec when taking a portrait. But for someone running, you will need a shutter speed of something like 1/200th sec.

The second issue is around the lens you are using. As a general rule, your shutter speed should at the least be the same as your lens focal length. So for example, if you are shooting with a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/200th sec. However, there is a slight caveat to this rule. Image stabilization in modern lenses is very good. It can allow you to shoot below the minimum required. But, to be safe, stick to this rule.

Lastly, how fast you need for your shutter speed also comes down to you. If you have steady hands, then you may be able to shoot sharp photos at a slower shutter speed than someone else. Test this out by photographing a scene at different shutter speeds to determine how slow you can go.

Image: Closer inspection of this photo reveals that there is a lack of sharpness.

Closer inspection of this photo reveals that there is a lack of sharpness.

2. Not using the correct aperture

Your aperture determines your depth of field. This also has a major impact on the sharpness of your photo. For example, if you are photographing a landscape scene with a shallow depth of field like f/2.8, then only a small part of your scene will be sharp. Depending on where you focused, only things along that distance will be sharp. So in this scenario, where you want more of your image to be sharp, you need to use a smaller aperture (i.e., higher f/number).

For something like landscape photography, you need to use an aperture of f/8 or smaller.


3. ISO is too high

Even though modern-day DSLRs have hugely improved in the amount of noise that appears in photos at high ISOs, unfortunately, it still does affect sharpness. If you set your ISO too high, your image will begin to look soft and as a result lack sharpness. Always remember only to raise your ISO as high as you need to.

Better still, if you can, use a tripod and keep your ISO low.

Image: This photo was taken at 6400 ISO. When zoomed in, as you can see the noise is making it feel...

This photo was taken at 6400 ISO. When zoomed in, as you can see the noise is making it feel soft.

4. Haven’t locked up mirror

A lot of amateur photographers may not be aware of this potential issue when using a tripod. Every time that you click the shutter button, the mirror inside the camera flips over to allow light to hit the sensor.

When you are using a fast shutter speed, this process doesn’t cause any problems. But when you are photographing using a long exposure where your shutter speed is very slow, when the mirror flips over, the vibrations can cause a lack of sharpness in your image. You can either use the function in your DSLR menu to “lock mirror” or shoot in live view mode for the same effect.

Image: An example of the lack of sharpness even when using a tripod when the mirror hasn’t bee...

An example of the lack of sharpness even when using a tripod when the mirror hasn’t been locked.

5. Poor quality tripod

Just like anything else, there are good quality tripods and poor quality tripods. Of course, buying a better and more sturdy tripod might be expensive, but isn’t that a price worth paying for sharper photos?

A poor quality tripod will put your expensive equipment at risk because it may not be sturdy enough even to withstand a gust of wind. However, cheap material can also be prone to vibrations, which, in turn, can mean a lack of sharpness in your photos.

So don’t take the risk. Ideally, invest in a good quality carbon fiber tripod.

6 Reasons Your Photos Might Be Lacking Sharpness

6. Not using a remote or self-timer

Even the faintest of touches can cause camera shake when photographing at long exposures. This means that even when you press the shutter button to take a photo, you are causing movement. The only way to be sure that your photos will not suffer from camera shake is to use a remote release or the self-timer on the camera. This will ensure you will not have to touch the camera when you take the photo.


By far the best way to ensure that your photos are sharp is to use a tripod. But whilst that is not always possible or convenient, by following the advice above you can still ensure that your photos will be sharp.

We hope these tips help you achieve sharper photos! Do you have any other tips to add to the reasons your photos might be lacking sharpness? Share with us in the comments!



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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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