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Working with the Contrast

Friday, August 31st, 2007 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography
 
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Working with the Contrast

Image sharpness can mean the essential difference between good and bad photography. Plus, if you are contributing for stock photo sites, this becomes the key decider between acceptance and non-acceptance. So, what is sharpness? Well, it’s basically the crispness of the photograph and the clarity of the different elements in the photograph (the detailing). Sharpening a photo can be done in the post-production process, but it’s best to limit the amount of software sharpening you use, because it can yield poor results if abused. The following simple steps can help you achieve a better sharpness for your pictures. So, what are you waiting for? Keep reading!



1.) A Tripod is a Must in Most Cases

Often times, we avoid using a tripod because it’s heavy and cumbersome to carry. But, if the shoot is important to you at all, it’s best to carry your tripod along. After all, you won’t be traveling to far-off places too often and it’s best to capture crystal clear images for posterity, rather than useless fuzzy pictures. So, even if you have a rock steady hand, you should use a tripod to steady your camera. Some alternatives to the tripod are monopods, beanbags, logs, rocks and similar steady platforms. This tip is particularly good in low light conditions and for indoor shots.

2.) Need for Shutter Speed

If you’re ignoring tip #1, you should at least be using a fast shutter speed. The rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed faster than 1/(focal length). So, a 200mm focal length should get a 1/250 second shutter speed. If you’re using a tripod, you’ll want to avoid the 1/30 to 1/4 second range, unless you lock your mirror up. The mirror slap can actually cause enough vibration to shake the camera a bit. Therefore, if you can lock your mirror, do it.

3.) Aperture Should Be Your Priority

The first part to this one is depth of field, more of which will at least create the appearance of higher sharpness. As you stop down the lens, more of your image will be in focus. The second part to the aperture tip is using the “sweet spot” for your lens. Every lens has an aperture that produces optimal sharpness results. For most, this is somewhere around two or three stops down from the maximum aperture (but do a little research on your particular lens before you do anything).

4.) Lower ISO Speed

Slower ISOs tend to resolve more detail, in addition to producing less noise. Always use the lowest ISO value possible. You should only bump the ISO when you can’t achieve the results you need by altering the shutter speed and aperture.

5.) Look Through the Lens

Many believe that getting a good camera is all there is to taking great pictures. On the contrary, the lens is just as important. In fact, the lens is more important than the camera in some cases. High quality lenses give you the capability to produce high quality photos (technical finesse). I suggest that you buy the best you can afford. When doing your lens research, look for lenses with high resolution and high contrast. If you’re out for ultimate sharpness, a high quality prime lens will typically out perform a high quality zoom.



6.) Boost Contrast

Our eyes naturally pick up on high contrast situations and this can give your photos a better appearance of sharpness. Look for subjects that display high contrast, such as direct sunlight situations. You can also boost the contrast in post-production by using things like Photoshop’s levels and curves adjustments. In addition to lighting contrast, color contrast can improve the appearance of sharpness. Both types of contrast can be smothered by light hitting the front of the lens, which creates a hazy photo. To avoid this, use a lens hood or shade the lens by some other method. Polarizing filters and UV filters also tend to help with sharpness, by cutting out some of the haze and boosting contrast.



There you have it! Keep all of these things in mind the next time you go on a clicking spree. Not only will your pictures acquire a nice crisp tang, but your photography skills will also improve considerably!

~ Zahid H. Javali

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