Who doesn’t want to learn how to obtain sharper, clearer photographs with their DSLR or Mirrorless camera? It’s truly the most commonly addressed topic when it comes to learning photography. You invested in a better camera because you want better images, so why aren’t those images coming more easily?
Let’s review 4 changes you can implement RIGHT NOW to achieve sharper photographs.
Your Focus Settings — Single-Point AF
Camera manufacturers pride themselves on their cameras’ ability to focus automatically and accurately. When you take a photo, by default your camera is going to decide what to focus on. You’ll see this happening by pressing your shutter halfway down and seeing a variety of dots light up, usually right over someone’s face or an object that stands apart from the rest. This is referred to as Automatic Point Selection (auto-area AF), and we want to change this setting to Single Point Selection (single-point AF). Because this setting varies on every single camera I’ve seen, you’ll want to check your manual or google “change single point focus [insert camera model]” for instructions. I promise that the results are worth the effort!
Pro Tip: Single-Point Selection will only work in the Creative Modes (P, S/Tv, A/Av and Manual) so be sure to switch your camera mode (the dial on top of your camera body) before trying to change this setting!
Check Your Shutter Speed
Shutter Speed is more than just capturing motion. We already know that we need a fast (1/400 or faster) shutter speed to capture a kids soccer game and that 1/200 works well for everyday use.
When we’re allowing our camera to choose settings for us (either in Auto or in some of the Creative Modes), it will often choose a shutter speed that is so slow that the image looks out of focus, when the blurriness is in fact camera shake. Camera shake happens when the shutter speed is so slow that our own movements are caught on camera, creating a blurry photograph.
Pro Tip: To avoid camera shake, always make sure your shutter speed is AT LEAST 1/60 and preferably 1/125. If you’re shooting in P or A/Av and you can’t get the shutter into this range, try increasing your ISO.
Clean Your Lens!
When someone tells me that they’re not getting crisp photos, the first thing I check (or ask them to check) is how clean the lens is. A dirty lens = a blurry photo. This is such a simple fix! Grab a lens cleaning cloth (my favorite is the Norwex Optic Scarf – I keep one tied to every camera in my bag) and make sure the front of the lens is spotless. If you shoot a lot, you’ll be cleaning your lens a lot, especially if there are kiddos involved.
If you have a filter on your lens, remove it and make sure the lens itself as well as the interior of the filter is clear of dust smudges. Finally, remove the lens to make sure that the inside of the lens (the part that meets your camera body) is clean as well.
Check your F/Stop
We know from our lesson on Exposure that our f/stop has a direct impact on how much of our image is in focus. This is referred to as the depth of field. Think of this as a slice of focus. The smaller our f/stop number, the narrower our depth of field will be (or the smaller the slice of focus). Conversely, the larger our f/stop number, the wider our depth of field (the larger the slice of focus). So, if you’re shooting at a low f/stop number, either to let in more light or to obtain a blurry background, the area that is in focus is going to be very, very narrow, so it’s extra important that your focus be spot on. If you’re trying to photograph a small group of people and your f/stop is set at 1.8, the slice of focus is simply not big enough to put everyone in focus, so you’ll need to increase to 3.5 or 4.0 and try again.
In the illustration above (I am clearly not a graphic designer!), the camera is in pink, the background is in green (trees!) and the blue dot represents the subject. The dark purple areas represent the depth of field at the indicated apertures.
As you can see, f/2.0 has a narrower depth of field (a smaller slice of focus) than f/11. Keep this mind when photographing groups!
Pro Tip: For group shots, throw your camera into A/Av mode and use the dial to adjust your f/stop so that it’s at a number that roughly corresponds with the number of people in your group. f/2.5 for two people; f/3.5 for three; f/4.0 for four, f/5.6 for five or more. Then encourage the group to snuggle up so their faces are closer together and stay within your slice of focus!
I’m hopeful that the tips above will help you to better capture sharp, clear photographs every time. If you haven’t already, download my free Guide to Creative Modes — it’s an incredible resource that clearly explains the creative modes in a simple and actionable way!
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