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Taking Sharp Photos

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

When you’re snapping photos, sharpness is everything. Whether it’s digital or film photography, the absence of focus can ruin a Kodak moment. But, if you follow the easy tips below, you’ll be on your way to capturing some great pictures. Let’s get started!

Avoid Camera Shake

This is the first thing you need to take care of. Most times, camera shakes lead to blurred images and not the other way around. The best way to avoid camera shaking is to always use a tripod. In cases when you don’t have one, place your camera on any solid surface you can find. You can also use the self-timer function to lessen your chances of shaking.

Check Your Images

You should get in the habit of checking the photos you take with the LCD display and by zooming in a little bit. What you see on your LCD screen might look good, but when you zoom in, that’s how you’ll know if the picture is properly focused or blurred. For example, if you’re photographing a person, zoom in on their eyes to make sure they’re as sharp as possible. For everything else, try to look at the subject more than the foreground or background. That is, unless you want to keep all three (subject, foreground and background) in focus. Once you zoom in, if you see that the image isn’t properly focused, you have time to shoot again for better results.

Get Your Physics Right

Whether it’s film or digital photography, one thing hasn’t changed a bit: the optics of lenses. When it comes to your camera’s lens, there’s one key component you should be aware of: hyper focal distance. When the lens is focused on the hyper focal distance, the depth of field extends from half the hyper focal distance to infinity. If you’re using a shorter focal length lens, you need to focus one-third of the way into your photo with a smaller aperture setting. If you do that, you’ll end up achieving maximum depth of field. If you’re using a focal length lens (a telephoto lens, for example), you can apply the same rule.

Make a Calculated Move

There are precise ways to calculate hyper focal distance whether you use a point-and-shoot camera or an SLR. The best way to get an idea of what the hyper focal distance is for your camera at different settings is to make use of a depth of field calculator. If you’re interested in researching this, I recommend applying the following mathematical equation to tell exactly how far you need to go for a sharp focus. Hyper focal focusing is valuable in several situations, including photojournalism, street shooting or even when you’re shooting moving objects and you don’t have time to refocus.

The hyper focal distance formula goes like this:

H=F square divided by NC + F where
H is hyper focal distance
F is focal length
N is f-number
C is the circle of confusion limit

If you don’t want to do any calculating, just shoot between f/8 and f/11. Those tend to be the sharpest points for a lot of lenses and they cover a depth of field deep enough to put most of your picture in focus. If you’re shooting in lower light and you open your aperture to decrease the shutter time, you’re also decreasing your depth of field and increasing your chances of more blur than you want.

Know Your Sweet Spot

Certain lenses, especially zooms, have “sweet spots” that will give you total sharpness. With most cameras, you can get pin-sharp images at f/8, but much less so at f/4 or f/22.

Image Stabilization

The secret to razor-sharp images is to turn off any image stabilization. Why? Well, because the tripod will take care of stabilizing the camera. That’s all there is to that!

Aperture Settings

Set your aperture further than one or two stops away from the limits. For example, if your lens goes to f/22, don’t go any further than f/16. Similarly, if your lens goes to f/2.8, don’t go any wider than f/4.

Zoom Lens

If you’re using a zoom lens, don’t take it all the way out. If followed throughout, that could make a big difference in the quality of your photographs.

Shutter Speed

Make sure you use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action. As a rule of thumb, standing subjects can stay still for about 1/30 to 1/60sec. On the other hand, walking requires 1/120 and running 1/250 to 1/500. Of course, it all depends on your distance from the subject, so feel free to experiment.

Minimal Focusing Distance

If you’re not able to take sharp close up shots, one reason could be that you’re using your lens under the minimal focusing distance. The solution is to back away a bit from the subject until the lens is back to focusing at its best.

And Finally…

The more sharpness you demand and the bigger prints you need, the shorter the depth of focus actually becomes. Therefore, be moderate in your calculations and don’t go to extremes. Have fun!

~ Zahid H. Javali

One Response to “Taking Sharp Photos”

  1. Trish says:

    Zahid, you didn’t mention the little icon in the lower left when looking thru your lens that indicates when the shot is in focus. It is dependent on the focus you’ve selected though: center focus;, full frame focus, etc. Cameras have many choices and telephoto lens are a great choice maker, including those macro shots. Trish

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