As a new photographer, you may have run into the common issue of getting blurry images no matter what you do. This can oftentimes be very frustrating; after all, you just purchased some of the best glass and camera money can buy! As a photographer, I wish it was that easy, but it really isn’t. The following are common elements necessary to get the sharpest images.
When it comes to getting the best images possible, it’s highly important you become familiar with the exposure triangle and mastering everything it has to offer. In short, exposure is a combination of shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. This blog post won’t be a lesson on exposure. Instead, I will recommend a fantastic book by Bryan Peterson named “Understanding Exposure”. You will not only learn how to use manual mode on your camera; you will also be comfortable with it! Once you master exposure, you will almost always end up with great images.
You may be wondering, outside of exposure, what can cause blurry images? One common issue that most newbies don’t know about is your lens could very well need a calibration. Some manufacturers refer to this as fine-tuning. In layman terms, every lens and camera body has certain tolerances from the manufactures.
Manufactures tolerances can vary from body to body and lens to lens; meaning that when you pair a certain body with a certain lens, you can ultimately have a largely different result than your friend that has the same setup. I highly recommend using Focal by Reikan for automated calibration. The software makes it easy to get the most out of your lens and camera. If you don’t want to dish out the cash you can also view this youtube video and purchase a target to calibrate the old fashioned way.
So now that you understand and have calibrated your camera; what else can cause blurry images? When it comes to portrait photography you can’t afford to lose sharpness. Soft and blurry images are a huge turn off for customers. Shutter speed (part of exposure!) is probably the most common factor in getting blurry images. Once you understand exposure you will understand that your shutter speed needs to match your subject.
If you are shooting something that moves fast, you need a fast shutter speed! For example, a child that moves a lot would call for a shutter speed between 1/150 and 1/250. A flying bird, moving vehicle, and other fast-moving objects would call for shutter speeds in the 1/400+ range. It’s always best to increase ISO if you don’t have enough lighting: that way you make sure you can get the shutter speeds necessary to get a sharp image. Most modern cameras can easily handle iso in the 6400 range and remain relatively noise-free. You can also remove some noise in post-processing.
Without diving deep into an exposure rabbit hole, aperture controls how much light enters your camera. The wider the aperture (the low number) the less sharp your image will be due to depth of field and the bokeh effect. Bokeh is the cool effect when a subject is clear and the surrounding objects are slightly (or completely) blurred. If you shoot wide open, say f/1.8, your images may appear blurry because your depth of field is narrower. If you want an image that’s sharp across the entire image, you would need to shoot at the very least f/5.6.
Lens Design and Damaged Equipment
If you master everything I have mentioned so far, you should be golden, here are a couple more things to note though. Some lenses by design are naturally soft and lack the sharpness many are seeking. This is where it’s important to research the lens you are using and making sure it meets your needs. Uses may vary and not everyone is looking for a super sharp portrait lens. There is always a chance that a piece of your equipment may be defective. You can borrow or rent a lens or body to verify if the issue may lie with your equipment.
Vibration reduction (VR) is an awesome feature that many lenses have. In short, the lens compensates for the natural movement that takes place when you are taking or recording an image. This works great when taking pictures handheld! This feature that many lenses have is not flawless though. To the surprise of many, if you are using a tripod and you have vibration reduction on, you can actually get what’s called “shutter slap”. Basically, since the camera is perfectly still, the vibration reduction kicks in when the shutter is opened and it determines the slight shaking of the shutter opening is a handheld vibration. The feature tries to compensate for this movement that really isn’t taking place and ultimately leads to a blurry image. If you have a vibration reduction lens and you are using a tripod, make sure you turn vibration reduction off!
Getting clear and sharp images consistently is easier said than done. You need to think of all the factors mentioned above when composing your images. It sounds very complex, but I promise you; if you put in the effort to learn it, you will be so excited about what you will be capable of!