It is disappointing to take what you think will be a good photo, only to see on your computer screen that the image is slightly out of focus or just not sharp. There are several things you can do when taking photos that will increase your chances of making them sharp. Through learning the functions of your camera and improving your focusing techniques, you can create sharp photos consistently.
Knowing the features of your camera is important in obtaining good results. There are settings that can help you make sure you have your subject in focus. For starters, most modern cameras have at least two focus settings: one-shot focus and continuous focus (different brands might use different terminology, but they all basically do the same thing). One-shot focus is best used for a static subject, and continuous focus works best for subjects that are moving. The seagull photo was shot with continuous focus.
Continuous focus often is used for sports photography, when the participants are moving, and the photographer can track them and hold focus on them as they move. To accomplish this, press the shutter button halfway and track the subject while moving, with the focusing points continuously on the subject. If the focusing points fall off the subject, you likely will lose focus, but as long as the points are on it, you can press the shutter and keep the focus continuously.
One-shot focus is basically just that — taking one shot at a time, refocusing and shooting again. If you’re taking photos of people, focus on their eyes, then take your shot.
Your camera probably has multiple focusing points. It likely will grab the focus of whatever is closest to the lens, but this might not be your intended subject. One way to control this is to set your camera to one focus point or just a few focus points. Then you can use this point to focus directly at the subject and, if needed, slightly move your camera to recompose the scene, once you have your subject in focus. This typically works with a static subject.
Another consideration is the aperture, or f-stop. The wider the aperture (the smaller the f-stop number) is, the more shallow the depth of field (the area that is in focus) will be. This is great if you want a blurry background, but, sometimes, it might be too shallow to capture your entire subject in focus. Notice in the butterfly photo, the head is in focus, but the wings fall out of focus. This is controlled by the aperture. If you want the whole butterfly in focus, then you need to close down your aperture (to a larger f-stop number) to enlarge the focus area (depth of field). So instead of shooting at f/2.8, maybe try f/8 or f/11.
When you use a smaller aperture, be careful not to use a shutter speed that’s too slow. By closing down the aperture, you are letting less light into the camera. You likely will compensate for that by using a slower shutter speed, but one that’s too slow will cause motion blur or camera shake, as you might not be able to hold the camera still enough to take a sharp photo. The rule of thumb is: You can hold your camera at a shutter speed of 1/focal length of your lens. If you are using a 50 mm lens, you typically can hand-hold at a shutter speed of 1/60 second or faster. If using a 200 mm lens, then the slowest you want to try to hand-hold your camera would be 1/200 second (or the closest speed on your camera, such as 1/250 second). For anything slower, a tripod is recommended.
When holding your camera, specifically with slower shutter speeds, there are techniques to improve the chances of not having camera shake. If your lens has image stabilization (or vibration reduction), be sure this option is turned on. This feature is there specifically to help give you sharper images. If you can, brace yourself next to a wall or tree to steady yourself. Keep your elbows tucked in close, put one hand under the lens and hold your breath as you press the shutter gently. Of course, if you can increase the shutter speed, that will improve the likelihood of getting a sharp image.
If you have to shoot at any shutter speed slower than the aforementioned rule of thumb, using a tripod is recommended. For a tripod, turn off the image stabilization (or vibration reduction) on your lens. Use a shutter remote so you will not shake the camera while pressing the shutter. Remotes are available wired or wireless or as an app on your phone, depending on the make of your camera. If you don’t have a remote, you can use the delayed shutter feature, which delays the time between your pressing the shutter and the camera taking the photo. Usually, you have the option of two seconds or 10 seconds. This will give the camera time to stop shaking after you press the shutter.
Taking sharp photographs is not difficult, but it is a process. Learning these tips and making a mental checklist each time you take a photo will help you take the sharpest photos and get the most out of your equipment.