One of my biggest challenges when I first began photography was capturing razor-sharp images. At the time I did not think much about it but as my photography got better I noticed that a lot of the images weren’t nearly as sharp as they should have been.
Does this sound familiar to you? You’re not alone.
Don’t worry, though. Capturing sharper images isn’t that difficult. Follow the tips shared below and notice a difference starting already today. There’s no need for you to go through the same mistakes as I did.
#1 Use a tripod
When I first published this article four years ago I started this advice by saying the following:
My number one tip for taking sharper images is using a tripod. I can not stress it enough how important this is. I frequently get asked if I use a tripod for my images. My answer? Yes. I use a tripod for 99% of my shots, and so should you! It doesn’t matter if you are photographing in bright daylight or in the twilight, a tripod is essential.
If you ask me the same today, my answer is a little different: While a tripod is an essential tool for landscape photographers, it isn’t needed in every single scenario. The tripod will only have an impact on the image sharpness once the shutter speed lengthens.
Since I first posted this article I’ve gone from using a tripod for 99% of my images to somewhere around half. Part of the reason behind that is also due to the fact that I’m not strictly shooting around the golden hour anymore.
However, having a tripod available is still one of my best tips for capturing sharper images. A tripod is essential when you’re photographing in dim light (around sunrise, sunset or at night) or if you’re working with Neutral Density filters to do long exposure photography.
The most common cause for blurry and soft images is due to the shutter speed being too slow and the photographer isn’t using a tripod. You simply aren’t able to hold the camera perfectly still when using slow shutter speeds.
Recommended Reading: Leaving the Tripod Behind? Read These Tips for Handheld Photography
There’s no magic rule for when you need to change from handheld to a tripod as it depends on the camera and lens but an old saying/guideline is that the slowest handheld shutter speed equals 1/focal length.
A sturdy tripod is preferred
Using a tripod isn’t a guarantee of capturing sharper images. It’s important to choose a tripod that is sturdy enough to carry your camera gear and that can withstand some wind and weather.
A sturdy tripod stands steady on the ground and has less vibration (that leads to camera shake) than a low-end model. Choosing the right tripod can be tricky as the price and quality range is huge but I recommend having a look at our advice for purchasing a new tripod if you’re in the market for an upgrade.
Position the tripod properly for sharper images
By planting the legs well into the ground you’re already closer to capturing a sharp image.
Notice where you put the tripod legs. Is the ground solid? Try to avoid setting the tripod on the edge of a slippery rock or on any surface that might move during the shot. If the ground is soft try to press the legs down in the ground until it stands still.
I know it’s tempting to just quickly mount the tripod, especially when standing in a river or a place where you need to be alert of the surrounding elements, but it’s worth spending the extra 30 seconds to make sure it’s standing steady. If not only for the image sharpness itself, also for the safety of your camera gear.
#2 Use a remote shutter release
A remote shutter release is the second piece of equipment you want to add to your backpack.
Using one helps remove the vibration caused by pressing the shutter button on your camera. Combining this with a tripod will eliminate most camera shake and result in sharper images.
Unlike the tripods, this can be an affordable tool; a 10$ release from Amazon will do the job.
However, more expensive models have more advanced features such as continuous shooting (essential for time lapses) and the possibility to lock the release button. Locking the release button is a nice feature for those using Bulb Mode and shutter speeds of several minutes (rather than manually holding the button)
It doesn’t matter whether you choose a cable release or a wireless shutter, they both give similar results.
There is one other alternative if you’re not interested in spending the extra money on a remote shutter release: use the built-in shutter delay function.
In most scenarios, using the camera’s delayed shutter function will be a good alternative. However, there are some times where a remote shutter is better:
Let’s say that you are photographing at a beach and want to capture the motion of the waves. By using a remote control you can choose the exact moment you want to take the picture, which allows you to freeze the waves in the exact moment you desire. This is not the case when using a delayed shutter. You then have to plan 2 seconds (depending on your settings) before the camera takes the picture. By that time the wave you wanted to freeze is long gone.
#3 Focus manually rather than automatically
There’s a lot of discussions when it comes to the best practices for focusing but I believe you should focus manually as long as your camera is mounted on a tripod. I know this can sound a little scary if you’re just getting started but it gives you extra flexibility and fine-tuning possibilities.
Autofocus has improved a lot and it’s amazing to see how far autofocus technology has come. Especially when looking at wildlife or sports photography. How good autofocus works for you highly depends on your camera but it does give good enough results when walking around photographing handheld.
However, manual focusing gives you the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on a very specific point. This comes in handy when you’re close to the foreground or shooting with an open aperture.
The best way to manually focus is to use your cameras “Live View” function. Zoom in on your focal point in live view and twist the lens’s focal ring until you find the sharpest point.
Not that hard is it?
#4 Bonus tips: Remove the camera strap
I’m in a generous mood today and you’re a bunch of fantastic people, so I’ll share one extra advice with you:
Remove the camera strap!
Removing the camera strap is especially important when shooting long exposure photography in windy conditions. The last thing you want is for your image to be less sharp because the strap was flickering in the wind.
What are your favorite methods to get sharper images? Have you tried any of the above?