Why are my pictures blurry? This is one of the most frequent questions that beginners ask.
Capturing sharp photos is often seen as the holy grail for most amateur photographers. Whilst it might seem complicated at first, there are basic rules that everyone can follow.
Here’s our guide on how to avoid blurry photos.
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1. Select a Faster Shutter Speed to Avoid Camera Shake
The most common reason for a blurry photo is an incorrect use of shutter speed. The faster your shutter speed is, the less chance there is for camera shake. This is particularly true when shooting handheld.
There is no way that anyone will be able to handhold a camera steady enough at slow shutter speeds. For most people, this limit will be around 1/60th sec.
How slow you can go with your shutter speed handheld will come down to you. The best way to know for sure is to test it out. Take several photos of the same scene, reducing your shutter speed each time. Check the results to get an idea of the lowest shutter speed before you see the camera shake.
A general rule is to set your shutter speed to at least your lens’ focal length. If you are using a 200mm lens, then your shutter speed should be at least 1/200th sec. For 20mm focal length, use at least 1/20 sec. If your lens has image stabilization, you can reduce your shutter speed further.
Keep in mind that your choice of subject also affects the minimum shutter speed. If you are photographing a moving subject, you might need a faster shutter speed.
2. Use a Wider Aperture for Greater Depth of Field
Depth of field is also an important element of capturing sharp photos. It is a predictable combination of your aperture and focal length.
The wider your aperture is (ie. smaller f/number), the shallower your depth of field will be. This means that if you are using a wide aperture, only a small part of your image will be sharp.
If you take a portrait, you can keep the person’s face sharp while the background is blurred. But if you photograph a landscape scene with a wide aperture, you will find that a huge part of the photo is blurry.
Start with an aperture of around f/8 and use smaller if you want a greater depth of field.
Be aware of using small apertures without testing your lens first. As you may find, a very narrow aperture (over f/16) has a detrimental effect on the sharpness of your photos. It is called diffraction effect.
You also need to be aware that using a smaller aperture will mean having to use a slower shutter speed.
3. Don’t Raise Your ISO Too High
The third component of the sharpness-determining exposure triangle is ISO. It might seem tempting to raise your ISO to be able to select a faster shutter speed. But you shouldn’t forget that this will also mean more noise in your image.
Due to too much noise, your subject will begin to look soft on close inspection. For example, even a still portrait of someone taken at 6400 ISO will cause them to have a blurred face.
New DSLRs have improved the amount of noise that it produces at high ISOs. But if you want the sharpest photos possible, keep your ISO as low as you can.
A good way to test your camera’s ISO is to take a series of images of the same scene at different ISOs. You can examine the results on your computer by zooming in to determine how high you can set your ISO.
4. Keep Your Camera Steady
If you are shooting handheld, you should ensure that you are using the correct posture. The goal is to hold the camera as steady as possible.
Start by making sure that you are supporting your camera. Hold the lens from below with your non-dominant hand. Tuck your elbows into your sides and avoid having them extended.
You should try to either hold your breath or exhale very slowly to reduce vibration as much as possible. It is even better if you exhale the air out halfway before exposure.
If you have a solid surface nearby, you can try to use it to steady yourself. Propping up your elbows on a ledge or leaning against a wall will help you minimise camera shake.
5. Use a Tripod for Added Stability
If you want to capture the sharpest images, a tripod is essential. Using a tripod will allow you to shoot using a small aperture and a low ISO as the shutter speed will not be an issue. It will also help to get your focus right.
Make sure to secure your tripod on a surface that will not move. Be careful with taking long exposure shots on places like bridges. It might come as an unpleasant surprise when your camera starts shaking cause of passing traffic.
Also, ensure that you use a good quality carbon fibre tripod. It should be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of your camera. Cheap tripods will suffer from vibrations that can result in blurred photos.
Remember to turn off your image stabilization when using a tripod. Keeping it on makes the camera look for movement when there is none. This generates movement itself, which might mean you end up with a blurred image.
6. Lock Up Your Mirror to Minimise Vibration
Every time you take a photo, your camera’s mirror flips over to allow light to hit your sensor. This causes an inevitable movement that results in a slight camera shake.
At fast shutter speeds, this movement doesn’t disturb your images. At slower shutter speed, it causes small vibrations, affecting the sharpness of your photos. When using a tripod for long long exposure photography, you need to lock your camera’s mirror.
The mirror lock-up – which you can find only in DSLR cameras – has the same function as your shutter button. It flips the mirror up for the camera to take the photo. But instead of doing it right before the shot is taken, it does it in advance. That is how this feature gives you a chance to eliminate the vibration caused by the mirror flipping.
An alternative option is to use the live view mode on your camera, which also locks your camera’s mirror.
7. Use a Remote or Timer to Avoid Touching Your Camera
When aiming for perfect sharpness, it is important to avoid touching your camera. Even pressing the shutter button will cause a slight movement.
This means that you can get everything else right, and your photo still might get somewhat blurry. A remote release or using the self-timer on your camera will ensure that it won’t be an issue.
Nowadays you can even use your smartphone as a remote in case your camera has a built-in WIFI!
Be aware of your camera strap flapping in the wind, it could also cause small amounts of camera shake.
8. Pay Attention to the Focus for Sharp Results
Another reason that your photos could be blurry is that you don’t have the focus on the correct part of the image.
It’s important to check that your focus point is aiming at the right element in the photo. If you are taking a portrait but point at the background by accident, the camera will focus there. Aim at your subject and press the shutter button halfway down to focus before taking the photo.
- One-shot – the camera will focus on what you are pointing at. As long as you keep the button down, it will not re-focus elsewhere.
- Continuous focus – this is a good option when you are photographing something in motion. Once the focus is set, the camera will continue to track the subject.
- Autofocus- this focus mode switches between single and continuous mode based on the subject. Keep in mind that this isn’t always reliable, as the camera may make a mistake and focus on the wrong part of the image.
9. Shoot in Burst Mode to Capture the Moment
Another good tip for capturing sharp photos is to use burst mode.
It is especially useful when shooting a moving subject. Not only does it increase the chances of a sharp photo, but it also means you can choose the perfect frame in the action sequence. This is the reason burst mode is most commonly used by sport and event photographers.
You may sometimes find that the first and last shots in a burst of photos are blurry. This is due to the movement of actually pressing and releasing the shutter button. You can avoid this problem by picking the middle shots from a burst sequence.
10. Use Manual Focus for Complete Control
The autofocus on cameras these days is superb, but it is still no match for the human eye. Manual focus can ensure you to focus on exactly what you want.
Manual focus is especially useful when you are using a tripod, such as photographing a landscape scene or a close-up of a flower. To find the exact focus spot, use the camera’s live view mode and zoom in x5 or x10. Then focus manually and make small adjustments to ensure the best sharpness.
Always remember to switch back to autofocus when you have finished with manual mode. Otherwise, you may find yourself missing a shot.
11. Look Out For Your Lens
Even if you have managed to follow everything written above, a dirty lens glass can still ruin your pictures.
Back focusing is also a common issue that results in unsharp photos. It means that the focus falls behind what you want to focus on. It can originate from manufacturing errors or the lack of lens calibration.
To avoid this focusing problem, you need to keep your camera’s firmware updated. You also have to calibrate your lens on the camera body to align the optics. To get to know more about lens calibration, read our article here!
12. Check Image Quality Before Posting
Many photographers find that photo quality decreases when up- or downloading images. This common problem is caused by the sites’ automatic photo cropping.
Social media web pages resize photos as a default, which results in low quality up- and downloads. Sometimes it is possible to upload photos in higher resolution, but I do not suggest counting on that.
However, there are plenty of cloud storage sites available where you can share your photographs in full quality. In most cases, the registration is for free, and you can immediately start uploading your work.
It is important to embrace your failures, as frustrating as they might be. If you find that your photo is blurry, try to examine the reasons behind it.
But with a bit of practice and using the tips above you will be on your way to capturing pin-sharp photos in no time!