We all want to get the sharpest photographs possible, to give that professional finish to our shots. There are lots of ways to sharpen images with Photoshop and other editing tools, but these can only do so much. In order to really get a sharper and better looking image, your best bet is to learn how to do it in camera as well as in Photoshop.
There are a number of issues which may affect the sharpness of your photos. In order to achieve the best possible clarity, it’s advisable to go through them one by one.
Here’s our guide to getting those images looking as sharp as possible when you press the shutter.
Image is by Breelle Hilsenrath Photography
Get your settings right
The first thing you need to look at is whether your settings are right for the image you are taking. Aperture plays a big part in getting it right. If you are taking a photograph of a person, you might want the focus to be as sharp as possible across their whole face. For a close-up detail, it might be more important to focus only on one part of the scene.
You will learn to judge for yourself which setting is best in this regard. Generally speaking, go to your camera’s lowest aperture number and then dial it back up two or three stops. This is a good range to try.
Of course, your aperture may have to change based on the amount of light available, so you can’t always stick to this rule. When using a shallow depth of field, always be sure to focus carefully – it’s no use getting a sharp photograph if the main subject is actually out of focus!
Watch out for culprits such as walls, items of clothing, and people moving in the background which might steal your focus when using an automatic focusing mode.
Switch to single point autofocus so that you have better control over the scene and can choose the point that best deserves attention.
A high ISO will also interfere with your ability to get a sharp image. The higher your ISO, the more noise will be in the image. In an ideal studio shooting environment, you can put it all the way down to 100 and forget about it, which will give you the optimum focus capacity. If you have no choice because the scene is too dark, you may have to sacrifice focus for visibility.
Try shooting in RAW always so that you can retain the most information possible in the file, as this will help to adjust the image more easily later on – allowing for a tighter focus.
Upgrade your equipment
Of course, all of these settings can only help to bring the best out of your equipment. Once you reach the limits of what that equipment can achieve, you will need to try something else.
Your lens is one of the most important factors in getting sharp focus. If you can only afford to upgrade your lens or your camera body, choose the lens! High quality glass will always give you better images.
You will of course want to spend as much as you can on your lens to get that professional quality, but you can often pick up very good lenses at a low price if you choose a smaller size. A 50mm f1.8 lens, for example, can be a lot cheaper than a good zoom lens – and it’s perfect for portraits.
You may also want to get your hands on a tripod. A tripod helps to steady the camera, which means you can lower your shutter speed and let more light in. So long as your subject is stationary, this will mean you can prioritize your aperture and therefore get the right focus level for the sharp photograph that you want.
However, not all tripods are created equal! Make sure that the tripod you choose is very stable and can easily support the weight of your camera and lens. Additionally, place it on firm and stable ground to ensure there is no wobbling when you press the shutter.
You can also get a shutter release cable which will allow you to press the button remotely. This eliminates shake introduced by pressing the button. With newer models, you may even be able to use an app on your smartphone to press the shutter.
Finally, you can also upgrade your camera body. Generally speaking, the larger your sensor is, the higher resolution your images will be – and this means that when you look closely at them, you will have sharper images.
Check your equipment
Even with very good equipment, there are still some factors that might affect your clarity. Check the following before you shoot:
- Ensure your tripod is stable, as outlined above
- Remove any lens filters unless absolutely necessary
- Check the surface of your lens for scratches and dust
- Turn off vibration reduction mode – this may cause some interference if you are using a tripod and shutter release cable
Tweak the little things
If your images still aren’t as sharp as you would like, there are a few more steps you might be able to try.
If you are using a longer shutter speed, and need the camera to be absolutely still, then turn on mirror lock-up. This means that the mirror stays in an open position between shots rather than dropping down. The movement of the mirror will therefore not cause any movement in the camera.
Use burst mode if you are struggling because you don’t have a tripod. This will take a volley of images in one go and while one or two may be shaky, the others may be clearer. Use anything around you that you can to form a makeshift tripod or to keep yourself steady while you hold the camera.
When pressing the shutter, try squeezing the button slowly rather than pressing quickly. This will eliminate some of the camera shake introduced there. Take a slow breath out as you do so.
These tips should help you to get sharper images straight from your camera. Put all of them together plus some of Summerana’s sharpening Photoshop actions, and you won’t get any better results than that!