The Quest for Sharpness

Photograph by Daniel Hancock

Photograph by Daniel Hancock

Almost always, one of a photographer's greatest concerns is the sharpness of their photographs. Unless for rare creative compositions that use camera movement, blur is frequently an issue. Fortunately, there are several options to ensure optimal sharpness   1. Camera Quality Camera quality is always a basic. Certain cameras can take sharper pictures than others due to better optical and sensor quality. Normally, compact and point and shoot cameras are at the bottom, and SLRs are at the top of the quality line.   2. Shutter Speed Shutter speed is the length of time that light is let through to the sensor or film. A fast shutter speed such as 1/300 of a second might be required to catch someone jumping in midair. However, to catch a car going approximately 60mph would require a shutter speed such as 1/2000. If a longer shutter speed is used, moving objects will be blurred. Though, this can be used to one's advantage if one has a tripod to blur things such as waterfalls or crowds of people.   3. Aperture While an open aperture allows more light into the sensor permitting a shorter shutter speed, it may reduce image sharpness. The majority of lenses are sharpest when the aperture is 1-2 stops smaller than the maximum aperture. For example, if it is a 50mm f/1.8, it would be sharpest at about f/3.2. This is because the edges of the lens are typically not as sharp, so by decreasing the aperture, you are decreasing the amount of light that is coming in from the edges of the lens.   4. Steady Your Camera Steadying you camera can allow you to use shorter shutter speeds. There are several ways to do this, depending on the situation. Typically, the only method that works for shutter speeds over 1 second is a tripod. However, there are many other methods for shorter shutter speeds.  
  1. Tripod (the best method)
  2. Rest your camera on an object
  3. Brace the camera against a pillar or other vertical object
  4. Lean against a solid object
  5. Use the viewfinder instead of the LCD
  6. Hold the camera with elbows pressed firmly against your side
  7. Breathe out before pressing the shutter button
  8. Rest the camera on your knee
  9. Place you elbows on something solid or on your knee
  5. Self-Timer or Remote Release When using a tripod, a remote release can keep your camera steady by preventing the pressing of the shutter button on the camera which will jerk the camera. If one does not have a remote release, the self-timer can be used for a 10 second pause before the camera takes the photograph. This gives the camera some time to steady before it takes the picture. As always, for these longer exposures, you will not want your hands (or any other body part) to be in contact with the camera or tripod.   6. Mirror Lock-up (This is only for SLRs during night photography) When a picture is taken, the mirror in an SLR moves to redirect the light from the viewfinder to the image sensor to record the image. If taking a long exposure (1 second or longer), this can create some camera shake which will blur some of the details. However on most SLRs, you can lock the mirror so this will not happen. Details about this function will be found in your camera manual (if you camera model supports it).

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