Nature and Photography Blog

Quick Tips for Keeping Your Photos Sharp

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Closeup

 Here is some tips that will help you keep you photos sharper.

1.) Tripod:

A tripod is critical for sharpness. The tripod stabilizes your camera and minimizes handshake. The sturdier the tripod the better your results will be. Usually the heaviest tripods are steadier. Some of the best brands are Gitzo, Really Right Stuff, and Bogen.

Another major advantage of a tripod is it helps you pay more attention to your compositions. Did you notice the beer can on the ground in the corner of your landscape photo?

I use two different tripods depending on which lens I will use. If I am using a heavier lens like my 500mm F4 lens I prefer a more rugged tripod. If I am not using my long lenses and I am hiking I use a lighter tripod.

2.) Use proper technique with your tripod.

a.) Do not raise the center column. A properly sized tripod should be able to be eye level without the use of a center column. A center column makes your tripod a monopod which is less steady.

b.) The tripod lens is strongest at the top so if you need to lower your tripod shorten the bottom part of the legs first.

c.) Make sure all connections are tight like Screws, panning locks etc. You can also add weight to a tripod. You can hang your camera bag to a tripod.

d.) When I use shooting with a long lens I use my right hand for shooting and I rest my left arm on the lens to hold it steady and dampen vibrations.

I try to use a tripod for every photo. The only exception I can think of when photographing from boats and I handhold most of my birds in flight photos.

3) Remote Camera Release:

Once you push the shutter you shake the camera. A cable release will minimize this problem. I use a cable release often.

4.) Timer:

Use you camera’s timer if you don’t have a cable release. Set it for the shortest durations possible because your subject may move or the light will change.

5.) Mirror Lockup:

Many cameras have this feature. When you push the shutter the camera mirror flips up out of the light-path just before the shutter opens, and then returning it when the shutter closes. This causes vibration of the camera, particularly when the mirror slaps into the top of the mirror box. This motion can make your photos less sharp mostly between 1/8 and 1/30 of a second. Mirror lockup is best for subjects that are not moving like landscape photography. In the future most cameras will be mirror less.

 6.) Relax and Shoot between Breaths:  

7.) Image Stabilization (Canon) & Vibration Reduction (Nikon):

They help me get much sharper images with long lenses and in dim light. This feature has increased my number of Keepers. For most cases you want to leave this feature on. It is so important I won’t buy a lens or camera without it, given the choice.

However when shooting with a tripod some of the older versions of this technology gets mixed up because of the lack of motion and will actually work against you. I noticed with Canon sometime the viewfinder seems to bounce when it is a problem. Most new technology lenses recognize that the camera is on a tripod and automatically shuts off.

 When in doubt take a same photo twice one with this turned on and off.

Remember IS and VR is still no excuse for not using a tripod.

8.) Filters:

Some filters can reduce the overall sharpness of your lens. Try the same photo with and without the filter. Filter can also increase lens flare.

UV filter can be a problem for this also. I personally just use a polarizer and split neutral density filters (2 and 3 stops).

9.) Shutter Speed:

Make sure you are using a high enough shutter speed to stop the action. If it is too low you can increase your ISO. Like everything else in photography it’s a catch 22. If you increase the ISO you increase noise.

10.) Wind:

Wait for the break in the wind. Even the slightest breeze can blur you subject. Unfortunately this can require a lot of patience.

10.) Autofocus:

Autofocus is incredible technology but it is not perfect.

a.) Sometimes the autofocus will lock on the wrong subject. If you photographing an owl in a tree and there is a branch between your camera and the owl. The autofocus may lock on the branch instead of the owl.

b.) Sometimes it may find the subject but lock on the wrong area. For example if you were photographing a moose sometime autofocus will lock on the tip of the nose leaving the eyes unsharp. It this case you can depress the shutter and try again but you probably need to shut of the autofocus temporarily.

11.) Eyes:

Make sure you focus on the eyes. If they are out of focus the whole image will seem out of focus.

12.) Flash:

This will make your photos sharper if you are not getting enough shutter speed. I use it most for indoor low-light situations and macro photography.

13.)  Experiment:

I do not want to come back from a shoot and find out I did not get the shot I wanted. While you are in the field try several options to see what works best. You can always erase the image later. Experimenting increases your creativity and helps raise the bar for your next photo shoot.

14.) Know your lenses weakness:

a.) Lenses are typically sharpest 2-3 stops down from wide open. At their largest apertures, lenses most clearly show their optical imperfections including corner sharpness.

b.) Certain lenses have known optical flaws which you need to be aware about. Zoom lenses rarely have the same sharpness throughout the entire focal range.

c.) Some lenses are a lot sharper than others. Canon and Nikon have high end lens. For example with Canon they have their L lens series which is much sharper than their consumer versions.

d.) Not all lenses have equal quality. Even in the same production run some lenses are softer than others. If you buy at a local store see if they will allow you to test multiple lenses.

You can send your lens back to the manufacturer and have them test calibration.

14.) Camera Settings:

Make sure you don’t have some custom setting turned on that may have a negative affect on sharpness.

15.) Use the correct format:

TIF and PSD are lossless so you won’t lose any image quality by saving and resaving images. Formats like JPEG when you save the image it compresses the data and you lose data permanently.

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