One of the main complaints from amateur photographers is the lack of sharpness of images they have taken. Many newcomers blame that they have a bad camera and hence the results… but on contrary, more the advanced the camera you have more chances to get blurry pictures for newbies! Sounds funny? Yes but that the truth. Why? let’s explore…
First, let examine how we can create a sharp picture, but before that let’s understand what is sharpness? Check the below picture.
Observe the above picture almost everything looks ok, right? Yes looks sharp and focused, now check the below two pictures. They are crops of the above picture.
Check the first picture sward in the hands of actor and the left hand on the next picture. Is it sharp? But the actor’s face seemed to be sharp enough.
To understand what went wrong, lets check the EXIF data, ISO 800 is used as I was shooting at night time and I have to depend on existing stage lighting, f 6.3 is the maximum aperture I could have, this is done to allow maximum possible light in, a focal length of 97 mm because I had to zoom quite a bit to get closer to the subject and the shutter speed of 1/100 of a sec. So the question is, is this shutter speed I used is sufficient? I feel that I should have used the faster shutter speed, say about 1/200 sec… now you must be wondering, then why is the face of the actor is sharp? Well, that’s the catch… that’s the reason why we often get bury pictures.
Actually, the actor was in a kind of motion sequence of the drama being performed. Compare the motion of his face with respect to the motion of his sword and the hand. While his face is stationary whereas other two things I mentioned above are not. So this resulted in blurry hands and the sward. Luckily in this shot, though the viewer would pay more attention to the subject’s face and that’s sharp in this case. What if the face was also in motion? Definitely, we would reject the picture as “blurred”.
Let’s check the below picture
Is this picture sharp? no, it’s not, but it’s a stationary object still its blurred? how is it possible? Before going further let’s check the EXIF again. ISO 800 because it’s an indoor picture, f 2.8 to allow maximum light, focal length 19 mm, shutter speed 1/8 sec. Can you tell me what is the culprit here? If you guessed it right, yes, its the shutter speed again! But why? I agree that subject is stationary, but what about the camera? is it stationary? it was not, in this case, that means I must have shaken the camera as I clicked the shutter button. This shake need not be a jerky motion, but simple as breathing in/out could impart a camera shake. This is another reason for a blurry picture.
Now check the below picture
Yellow flowers are blurry as they are not focused whereas the red ones are in focus. That means the picture will be sharp where we focus.. very basic, but important to note when we have multiple objects/subjects in our frame. Imagine you are taking a portrait shot of two kids playing in the same location as the flowers.. Will that result be acceptable?
Check the above image, its a landscape and we want everything to be sharp in landscape(unlike the portraits or flowers). So I choose an aperture of f 13. Now check the below crops of the same above picture.
The pic on the left shows leaves of both the coconut tree from the nearest to the furthest tree about 300 meters apart still both the leaves are sharp and focused. Also, check the house which also is in good focus. Aperture value f 13 is the key to achieve this. By keeping the narrow opening of aperture you are going to create a larger sharpness area.
If you check the above picture, the fisherman and his net are pretty much focused. Let’s assume that I have put my camera in autofocus as usual and attempted to take this shot. Will my camera be able to capture this shot? It will not.. Why? think about the time frame camera actually, has in order to focus on the net? Moreover, I don’t think any camera would be able to lock the focus in such as short time. So anticipating this I turned on the manual focus of my camera and pre-focused to the fisherman even before he spread his net and choose an aperture of f 10 (narrow opening). That way almost everything around the fisherman will be sharp. I also needed faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of net, so set it up at 1/1000 sec and yes I had to bump up the ISO to 1600.
Check the above picture, I wanted to have “Breathing space” for the fly, but if I had composed the shot as above and clicked the trigger, would I get this result? I don’t think so… See the cameras are generally programmed to focus on the centre area(based on your focus mode you have chosen) so if your subject is not in the centre, there is a chance that camera focuses on something else than your intended object. Hope you got the issue here. One way to solve the problem is to have manual focus on the fly and then recompose and then take a shot. But in this case, though you are in hurry as the fly might change its position or fly away. So, in this case, you have to use a technique called “Focus Locking”. First, you have to compose the shot keeping the fly in the centre, half press the shutter so that camera focuses on the fly. Now keeping your shutter button still half pressed recompose the shot as you want(providing the breathing space in this case), and once your composition is right, continue to press the shutter fully to take the shot. This is a very essential technique that every photographer should be able to do. Also, make sure to focus on the eye of the fly.
Mobile phone photographers don’t be disappointed that you don’t have a DSLR! Above picture is taken from my 3-year-old Samsung Note 4, I know you don’t have most of the controls I talked about above, but you can do manual focusing. Once you compose the shot, touch the area you want the camera to focus, this way camera will do precise focusing, that’s what I achieved above. Also, try to use sports mode whenever you think you need better shutter speed.
So we can summarize following points as noted below to have sharp pictures,
- We must focus carefully on the intended subject. Choose correct settings specifically the shutter speed and the aperture.
- For humans and animals generally, focus on the subject’s eyes.
- Make sure you have chosen the faster shutter speeds so taking account of camera shake and the subject’s movement. Rule of thumb is for stationary objects use the shutter speeds inverse of the focal length. That is if you are shooting at 30 mm then shutter speed should be at least 1/30 sec. Generally, I further double the value so that I shoot at 1/60sec to be safe.
- Use tripods or put the camera on fixed surface whenever you are shooting in low light conditions and anticipate a camera shake.
- Try to keep the ISO as low as possible because most of the cameras produce grainy (noisy) pictures above ISO 1600.
- For close-ups try the manual focus as auto-focus may miss your intended focus area.
Some more info on focusing from my older post
Liked this session? make sure to check out my earlier sessions here.
Hope I am able to add some focus to sharpness. Have questions? post it below.
- Post one or two pictures, keeping today’s topic of “Sharpness” in mind. Apply all the things we learnt in the previous sessions. (I recommend fresh pictures if possible, but old pictures also fine!)
- Let me know type of camera(mobile, DSLR, point and shoot)
- Try to put EXIF data (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) so that I can comment better unless you shot the picture on the mobile phone.
- Add a tag ‘XDrivePhoto’
- Add a pingback to this post. (Basically, copy the URL of this post, and paste to your post. (Anywhere)
- Title the post as “XDrive Photo Lesson – 5 – Sharpness”
Your ping-backs may not appear immediately as I have to enable them later. I will check your post and I will comment on your post itself. I will post selected contribution links to this post later so that others can also see and learn from them. (Please note there is no time limit for your contributions, you can post them anytime, I will respond to them as you contribute. You can also make more than one contributions to the same topic)
Although these lessons are geared towards newbies, expert photographers also welcomed heartily. I need to learn too! There are no teachers here everyone is learning.
Cheers and Happy clicking!