Five Image Sharpening Tips Every Pro Swears By
A very common request I get from beginners is to check if their camera or lens is working in perfect condition as they find their images are usually blurry.
There are many criterions to judge if an image is a good one and “sharpness” is considered as one of the most important criterion. It is very disappointing when you take a picture at a special moment and the image come out as soft/blurry or out of focus. In some cases, it’s the camera that can make a difference while in others it’s the photographer and their decisions.
In this article, I will take you through the techniques that I use to make sure that my images always come out sharp.
1. The camera setting
a. Select the focus point manually: Choose a single point auto-focus instead of auto focus or zone focusing.
b. Select the right focus mode: These options are known as One Shot, AI Focus & AI Servo in Canon & AF-S, AF-A & AF-C in Nikon.
c. Use the mirror lock: We can lock the mirror to void vibrations due to mirror flip ups. It is very useful in macro photography because here even an extremely small vibration can change the focus.
d. Use continuous shutter: In continuous shutter mode, the mirror opens up for the 1st image &remains open for as long as the shutter button is held down. This will also allow you to choose the sharpest image from the lot you shoot.
2. The lens
a. Take care of your lens always: Lens which has fungus will give you soft images. So keep your lens away from moisture & dust.
b. Use manual focusing: It is sometimes difficult to auto-focus in macro photography or when your subject is very close. This is where you can use manual focusing. Some lenses also offer to override auto focus manually. Don’t forget to adjust the clarity of your viewfinder using dioptric adjustment knob if you use a pair of spectacles.
c. Know the minimum shutter speed of your lens for a steady shot: Many of us think 1/60second is the slowest shutter speed for handheld shots to get a sharp picture. However it varies from individual to individual& the situation of the shoot. Photographers also identify the minimum shutter speed of a lens to get a sharp handheld shot. The way they calculate this is the closest shutter speed of 1 by the focal length of their lens. For example, if you use a 200mm lens, the minimum shutter speed will be 1/200sec. If you use a crop-sensor body, calculate it with the effective focal length. Meaning, if you use a 200mm lens on a crop body, the effective focal length will be 350 i.e., 200×1.5 crop factor=350.
d. Find the sweet spot: Every lens has a particular range of aperture that will allow you to capture the sharpest image. This is usually one or two stops away from the biggest aperture. For example, if you have a 50mm f/1.4 lens, it will give you the sharpest image between f/1.8 and f/2.8. So the aperture ranges 1.8 to 2.8 is called the sweet spot of that lens.
3. The tripod, remote & image stabilizer
a. Choose your tripod wisely: A good tripod is an absolute necessity. For example, opt for a carbon-fibre tripod if you travel a lot or use a heavy duty tripod if you are into wildlife photography. Opt for a monopod if you do street photography frequently.
b. Use a remote: You can get shaky images even if the camera is mounted on a tripod due to the pressure of your finger while releasing the shutter. Avoid this by using a remote. If you do not have a remote, you can use a self-timer to release the shutter if your subject is still or if the moment you want to capture allows you to use it.
c. Be careful when you use an image stabilizer: It is not a 24×7 switch! You need to switch it off when your camera is mounted on a tripod or when you are using a fast shutter speed. The reason is simple. It is programed to create a motion in the opposite direction of your camera’s movements to neutralize the vibration. So, even if there is no shake in your camera because it is mounted on a tripod, the image stabilizer will still create a vibration that can shake your image if you are using a slower shutter speed.
a. Use a fast shutter speed for moving subjects: A slow shutter speed can create a blurry or shaky image if your subject is not still. Remember a faster shutter speed means you have to use a bigger aperture or higher ISO.
b. Choose the right aperture: A bigger aperture means shorter DoF and shorter DoF makes focusing difficult, especially in macro photography.
c. Identify the right ISO: A higher ISO allows you to use faster shutter speeds but the image can be grainy or noisy and so it won’t look sharp.
a. Always shoot in RAW: A RAW file allows you to sharpen the image to some extent later. Remember that if you go over, your image will be grainy.
b. Use the unsharp mask in Photoshop: This tool will allow you to sharpen your image to a certain extent.
Use these simple tricks to get amazingly sharp images and do let me know if they worked for you. You can always reach out to me if you need any further clarification.
About the author:
Udayan Sankar Pal is an internationally acclaimed photographer who aces on building stories through his photographs. A committed photographer for over 20 years, he is also the founder of the world’s only Archive of Photography Exhibitions.