Perfect image sharpness is the ultimate thing that all photographers long for. Some day you get to understand that—even when you have mastered all composition, light and color, and post-processing techniques—it all comes down to how sharp your photos are.
Soft photographs aren’t exactly what clients are looking for these days and this is why you should try to achieve extreme sharpness in all of your shots. These 10 tips that we are sharing with you below will help you understand what’s wrong with your pictures and learn how to take tack sharp photos.
There are two main reasons why your photos may come out soft: camera shake and technical peculiarities either of your camera or your lens. We will give five bulletproof tips for every reason that may be making your beautiful photos less sharp.
Always shoot with a tripod
This is a true cliche in the world of photography tips, but still it works in most cases when your photos come out not as sharp as you expected them to, which is often associated with camera shake. Take your tripod every time you go out to take photos—let alone making studio photographs—and bring it along on your trips.
Use a remote shutter release
If you use a tripod but your photos still come out soft, try using a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake caused by you pressing the shutter release button. Remote shutter releases are cheap, durable, and really useful.
Shoot in Mirror Up mode
Yet another reason for camera shake are micro movements that are caused by the mirror inside of your DSLR going up milliseconds before the photograph is made. By shooting in Mirror Up mode you will avoid these micro vibrations because the mirror will go up once you fully press the shutter release button for the first time—or trigger it using a remote shutter release—and the photo will be made once you fully press the button for the second time.
Mind the shutter speed
The reason for camera shake may be as obvious as shutter speed. However, instead of switching to faster shutter speeds without any particular reason, we recommend you to follow this one simple rule when it comes to choosing the right shutter speed when shooting handheld.
Set a shutter speed value a tad higher than the focal length that you are shooting at. For example, if you are shooting wide at 18mm, the ideal shutter speed should start at 1/30. If you’re into wildlife or sports photography and are shooting at 200mm, your working shutter speed should start at 1/250.
If you don’t have a tripod or prefer not to use it this time, the best piece of advice would be to try to stabilize your camera by putting it on something—on the floor, ground, sandbag, or your folded t-shirt—and shooting like this. Also, be sure to use these techniques for reducing camera shake.
Stop down the aperture
Not all lenses shoot perfectly sharp photos on all apertures and this is especially true with cheaper zoom lenses. Every lens has a sweet spot in aperture and you should try to find your lens’ sweet spot yourself—or browse for the aperture values for your lens over the web—to avoid photo softness.
As a rule, the lens sweet spot is two aperture stops below your lens widest aperture. In other words, if your lens’ widest aperture is f/3.5, we recommend you to shoot using the aperture of at least f/5.6. Also, don’t push it down too much because most lenses become diffraction limited at f/11 or f/16 depending on the glass quality.
Try to turn off VR/IS
It may sound a bit counterintuitive, but sometimes Vibrance Reduction (Nikon) and Image Stabilization (Canon) systems turn out to be the reason for image softness. Try to turn them off on your lens and make some test shots to see whether this is the reason for the lack of sharpness.
Shoot using the lowest ISO
Digital noise produced by high ISO values is often mistaken for image softness. Always try to shoot using your camera lowest ISO setting—50, 100, or 200 depending on your DSLR—and never increase ISO above the low light performance level of your camera.
Upgrade the lens
Sometimes the reason for image softness is the lens itself. The thing is that your glass and its quality matter a lot and there will definitely be a difference in image quality between a $200 zoom lens and $1000 fixed lens or $2000 zoom glass.
Photography is not the cheapest hobby/profession, but just like all other expensive things in the world, good equipment is worth it and pays you back.
Sharpen in Lightroom/Photoshop
If the reason for image softness is your lens or camera—which may lack the number of MPs and therefore provide less detail in photos—and you cannot afford a new piece of gear yet, try to slightly sharpen your photos using Sharpening tools either in Lightroom or Photoshop.
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