How to Get Razor Sharp Focus in Your Photos Every Time?

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    In photography, the term "tack sharp" describes an image that shows the main subject in sharp focus, with clean lines, crisp details, and no blurring. Achieving this level of sharpness is one of the keys to a truly eye-catching picture. Taking tack sharp photos is all about reducing camera shake to an absolute minimum. There are many different ways you can do this.

    Some apply to all situations, while others can only be used in certain circumstances, but each one helps reduce the amount of camera shake by a small fraction. The more methods you can use, the sharper your shots will be. Getting sharp photos is one of the fundamental goals of photography. If your images aren't as sharp as you'd like, take a look at our tips. We'll help you minimise the possibility of returning home with blurry images that may not live up to your high expectations.

    While the auto-focus in your cameras and lenses from Beachcamera.com are superb, nothing will get you consistently sharp images more than manual focusing, even in low light. The great thing is that it's also very easy to do. Switch from using your Viewfinder to using Live View. Then find the magnifying button on your camera. By pressing this, you'll zoom into a selected area of the scene. Once you've switched to manual focus, simply adjust the focus ring until the details sharpen. Then zoom out. That's it.

    When you take a photo, the mirror in your DSLR slaps up and down to let light into the sensor. This movement can shake the camera very slightly, which can create a blurry image. Fortunately, this will lock the mirror up during shooting for most cameras if you're already in Live View. On some cameras, the mirror still slaps down when using Live View. In which case, visit the in-camera menu and look for the mirror lock-up option.

    If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

    Before and during every shoot, you must keep your lenses clean. Any dust or smudges can not only soften images but can distort light and colours. This point goes without saying. Handheld shots won't get you the sharpest possible image, especially in lower light situations. 

    How to Take Sharp Pictures

    Set the Right ISO

    Start with setting your camera to the lowest ISO "base" value (in my Nikon camera, ISO 200). Remember that the camera base ISO will produce the highest quality images with maximum sharpness. The higher the ISO (sensor sensitivity), the more noise you will see in the picture. I suggest reading my article on understanding ISO.

    Use the Hand-Holding Rule

    If you have a zoom lens beyond 100mm, I would recommend applying the general hand-holding "rule", which states that the shutter speed should be equivalent to the focal length set on the lens or faster. For example, if your lens zooms at 125mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/125 of a second.

    Keep in mind that this rule applied to 35mm film and digital cameras, so if you own an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera with a crop factor (not full frame), you need to do the math accordingly. For Nikon cameras with a 1.5x crop factor, multiply the result by 1.5, whereas for Canon cameras, multiply by 1.6. If you have a zoom lens such as the 18-135mm (for Nikon DX sensors), set the "Minimum Shutter Speed" to the most extended focal range of the lens (135mm), which is 1/200 of a second. Here are some examples:

    • 50mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/75 (50mm x 1.5)
    • 100mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/150 (100mm x 1.5)
    • 150mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/225 (150mm x 1.5)
    • 200mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/300 (200mm x 1.5)
    • 300mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/450 (300mm x 1.5)

    Remember that this only affects blur from camera shake. If you are taking pictures of a fast-moving subject, you very well may need a quicker shutter speed than this to get a sharp image.

    Choose Your Camera Mode Wisely

    How to Get Razor Sharp Focus in Your Photos Every Time?

    When I'm taking pictures in low light, 99% of the time, I shoot in Aperture-Priority mode and set the aperture to my lens's widest setting – the maximum aperture, AKA the smallest f-number. This is usually in the range of f/1.4 to f/5.6, depending on the lens. (For example, with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens, I will set the aperture to its maximum value of f/1.8.) The camera automatically meters the scene and guesses what the shutter speed should be to properly expose the image. You can easily adjust the camera's guess with exposure compensation. So, set your camera to aperture-priority mode and set the aperture to the lowest possible f-number.

    Set your metering to "Matrix" on Nikon or "Evaluative" on Canon so that the whole scene is assessed to estimate the correct shutter speed. We have an exclusive range of wedding photography Mornington Peninsula services. Check them out here. 

    Pick a Fast Enough Shutter Speed

    After you set your camera to aperture priority and pick the correct metering mode, point it at the subject you want to photograph and half-press the shutter. Doing so should show you the shutter speed on the bottom of the Viewfinder.

    • If the shutter speed shows 1/100 or faster, you should be good to go, unless anything in your photo is moving quickly (or if you're using a long telephoto lens; remember the hand-holding rule). Snap an image or two and see if you are getting any blur in your image. I typically review my pictures on the back of the camera at 100% and make sure that nothing is blurry. If anything in your photo is blurry – the entire image, or just one fast-moving subject – use a quicker shutter speed like 1/200 or 1/500 second.
    • On the other hand, if the shutter speed is below 1/100, it might mean you simply do not have enough light. If you are indoors, opening up windows to let some light in or turning the lights on will increase your shutter speed. It is still possible to capture sharp photos faster than 1/100 second handheld, but it becomes increasingly more difficult the longer your shutter speed is.

    Use High ISO in Dark Environments

    If the images you are getting are still blurry, you should try to take another picture while holding the camera more steadily and avoiding shaking it too much. If that doesn't work, try setting your shutter speed to a level that allows you to take sharp photos while simultaneously increasing your ISO.

    Either by using Auto ISO, which will be covered in the following section, or by manually increasing the ISO, you can accomplish this. When working in low-light conditions, it is not unusual to have to use a fairly high ISO in order to achieve a shutter speed that is adequate. Even though this causes the photo to have more noise or grain, it is typically preferable to the alternative of capturing an image that is blurry.

    Enable Auto ISO

    The "Auto ISO" function found on many modern cameras is an extremely helpful tool for capturing sharp images in a variety of lighting conditions. Put it in the "On" position. Adjust your camera's settings to a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600.

    If there is an option to select a minimum shutter speed, make sure that it is set to "Auto" so that the hand-holding rule will be applied automatically. If you do not have this option, make sure that the "Minimum shutter speed" is set to 1/100 of a second.

    If the amount of light that enters the lens decreases and the shutter speed drops below 1/100 of a second, the camera will automatically increase the ISO to keep the shutter speed above 1/100 of a second, which is considered to be above the hand-holding rule. This is a helpful feature because it ensures that the shutter speed remains above the hand-holding rule.

    I would suggest setting the "Minimum shutter speed" to somewhere between 1/200 and 1/250 of a second if your hands tend to shake when you take photos. Alternately, if the minimum shutter speed is set to "Auto" and you have the option to change it, you should set your priority to "faster" just to be on the safe side. Check out our other article for more information on how to keep a camera steady while you're holding it by hand.

    There are cameras on the market that do not have an Auto ISO feature. In that case, you will need to manually adjust the ISO settings in order to achieve the same result. Simply increasing your ISO in low-light conditions will allow you to maintain a shutter speed that is appropriate for the situation. Increasing the ISO to a value higher than 1600 or possibly 3200 is not something I would recommend.

    Why shouldn't they? To put it plainly, anything higher than that in entry-level DSLRs produces an unacceptable amount of noise, which degrades the image quality as a whole. It is recommended that you keep the highest ISO setting on older models of DSLR cameras, such as the Nikon D90/D200/D3000/D5000, at 800.

    Hold Your Camera Steady

    There is a direct correlation between the shutter speed of your camera and the appearance of blurry images when you are hand-holding your camera. When the shutter speed is significantly slower than 1/100 of a second, there is a greater possibility that the resulting images will be blurrier. Why? Because while holding a camera by hand, factors such as your stance, breathing, and technique for holding the camera all play a significant role in ensuring that the camera is stable and that the resulting images are free from shake.

    Imagine you are holding a rifle in your hand. That's how it feels. You shouldn't move around while you're trying to shoot; instead, you should stand as still and stable as possible, pull the stock firmly into your shoulder, then exhale and fire the weapon. This method also works wonderfully for your photography, particularly when you are forced to deal with slow shutter speeds.

    One of your legs should be on the front, and your body balance should be spread across both legs as you hold the camera in the same manner as you would hold a rifle (with the exception that your right hand should be on the shutter instead of the trigger). When I'm shooting handheld at long shutter speeds, like 1/10 second, I let out an exhale, which helps me get sharper images.

    You should give it a shot and see what kind of results you get. The shutter speed of a camera can be adjusted to a higher number, which allows for the elimination of camera shake, whereas the shutter speed of a gun cannot be altered in this manner. This is one of the key differences between the two methods of taking pictures.

    Focus Carefully on Your Subject

    How to Get Razor Sharp Focus in Your Photos Every Time?

    Figure out how to focus properly and how to handle problems with focusing. This one is significant because the focus of your camera has a direct impact on the sharpness of the image. The first thing you need to learn is how to tell the difference between a problem with focus and a problem caused by camera shake or motion blur.

    If the subject of your photograph is blurry, the thing that is in focus and sharp should ideally be something that is either closer to the camera or further away. It is very likely a point of concentration. If the entire image is blurry and nothing is sharp, the problem is likely caused by using a shutter speed that is too slow when shooting handheld.

    And finally, if an object that is moving quickly in your photo appears streaky or blurry in the direction that it is moving, then the shutter speed of your camera is not fast enough to prevent motion blur caused by the subject. There is no issue with the focus; you need to increase the shutter speed.

    If you are having problems acquiring a good focus, here are some things that I recommend for you:

    • Lack of light can make auto-focus malfunction, which causes the camera to acquire focus incorrectly. For your camera to focus correctly, make sure there is enough light.
    • In most cameras, the centre focus point is the most precise. I advise moving your focus point back to the centre, focusing, and recomposing if you are having trouble focusing because it is somewhere else.
    • Many cameras allow you to focus without touching the shutter release button by choosing a different button. I aligned my camera in this manner, focusing solely on my thumb, and using my index finger to press the shutter release. Back-button focusing is the term for this. If you're used to half-pressing the shutter button to focus instead, it takes some getting used to back-button focusing. Once you give it a shot, though, you might find it useful.
    • By analysing the contrast in the vicinity of the focus point, the camera's autofocus system operates. For instance, your camera won't focus if you try to focus on a spotless white wall because it won't detect any areas of contrast. On the other hand, if you place your focus point halfway between a dark object and a white wall, your camera will quickly lock onto the proper focus. The rectangular focus point should be positioned on a region with the most contrast, in my opinion. Examples include the edges of objects, the lines that divide various colours, printed numbers and letters, etc.
    • Until you can clearly see in the Viewfinder that the object is in focus, focus several times. You'll need a good viewfinder and clear vision for this one. Some entry-level DSLRs have a small viewfinder, making it challenging or occasionally even impossible to determine if the focus is on target. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do if you can't tell if the subject is in focus by looking through the Viewfinder; instead, you'll just have to take numerous photos while continuously adjusting the focus and check the results on the LCD of the camera.

    Reduce Motion Blur in Your Subject

    When taking a picture of a person, you should instruct them to stand still and not move while you snap the photo. When working with slow shutter speeds, it is possible that your images will still come out blurry even if you do everything correctly because your subject may have moved while the shutter was open. This is the case even if you use a tripod. This effect is known as motion blur. Some people find the effect of motion blur appealing, particularly when it is applied to fast-moving objects such as cars.

    To achieve this effect with your camera, first switch it to the Shutter Priority shooting mode, and then reduce the shutter speed to 1/100 of a second or less. Request that your subject quickly move their hand while keeping the rest of their body still. The end result should be a picture in which the subject's body is clear but there is a blurring effect on the subject's hand due to motion.

    Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

    Use a slow shutter speed, such as one tenth of a second or even several seconds (if you're using a tripod), in order to create the effect of motion blur. When taking pictures of people or action, however, you will almost always want to avoid blurring caused by motion, so you should make sure to use a shutter speed that is fast enough.

    The hand-holding rule does not apply if the subject you are photographing is moving extremely quickly because the goal is to eliminate blur caused by camera shake, not blur caused by the motion of the subject. For instance, when I take pictures of hummingbirds, I might set the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second or 1/2000 of a second, and there will still be motion blur in the wings!

    Turn On Vibration Reduction

    If your lens supports vibration reduction (VR on Nikon) or image stabilisation (IS on Canon), check to see that it is set to the "On" position and that it is turned on. The ability to shoot at slower shutter speeds while maintaining image sharpness is made possible by the inclusion of anti-shake and vibration reduction technology in a wide variety of consumer zoom lenses.

    If you have one of those lenses, you should experiment with decreasing the shutter speed to a lower value. Go ahead and give it a shot. You can even adjust the "minimum shutter speed" setting in your camera's Auto ISO to something as low as 1/50 of a second and the resulting images will still be crisp.

    Use a Faster Lens

    Get a good fast prime lens like the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX or the 50mm f/1.4 / f/1.8 lenses. Both of these lenses are available from Nikon. The price of these prime lenses is relatively low, ranging between $200 and $400 for the model with an aperture of f/1.4.

    Prime lenses have a simpler design and are optimised to perform only one focal range, so very few zoom lenses are able to match the optical quality of prime lenses. This is because prime lenses are optimised to perform only one focal range. Prime lenses are much faster than most zoom lenses, making them excellent choices for low-light photography as well as portrait photography. However, you will lose the ability to zoom in and out of your subject.

    Primitive lenses, which have a relatively small depth of field, are able to produce images with a pleasing bokeh quality (nicely blurred backgrounds). When I got my hands on my very first prime lens, I couldn't believe how much of a difference there was in terms of sharpness. I just couldn't believe it. If you have never used a prime lens before, I highly recommend that you give it a shot because you will not be disappointed.

    Your photographs will be your most treasured wedding keepsake. Not sure where to start when it comes to looking for your wedding photographer of choice?

    Use Depth of Field Strategically

    When taking pictures of people or animals, you should always focus your camera on the eye that is closest to you. This is very important to keep in mind, particularly when working with large apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8, as the depth of field will be quite limited with those settings. If the subject's eye can be seen clearly in the photograph, then the picture is probably good enough to use.

    This kind of image would normally be deleted by me, but I'm glad I held on to it for this article. As you can see in the image that is displayed above, I was unable to acquire the proper focus on Ozzy's eye and instead managed to concentrate my attention on his hair.

    Pick a Sharp Aperture

    In order to achieve the best possible sharpness, aperture also plays a role. When I'm photographing landscapes, I typically use apertures that range from f/8 to f/11, but when I'm taking portraits, I use apertures that range from f/1.4 to f/8, depending on what kind of effect I want to achieve with the background.

    The majority of lenses are at their sharpest between f/5.6 and f/8; therefore, if you are taking pictures during a bright sunny day, try setting your aperture to a number between f/4 and f/8 and see if that makes a difference in the sharpness of your images. Just keep in mind that experimenting with the aperture will change the depth of the field and will have an effect on the bokeh of the lens, which is typically more important than the effects it has on sharpness.

    Clean Your Lenses!

    Once, a novice photographer approached me and asked for my guidance on how he could improve the contrast and sharpness of his photographs. After observing the front element of his lens, I quickly offered him the suggestion of cleaning his lens. It was so filthy that it was hard for me to believe that he was able to take pictures of it at all. If the front element of the lens is grimy and dirty, the camera will focus incorrectly and the contrast will be low. Check out my article on cleaning DSLR lenses if you are unsure how to carry out the task in the correct manner.

    Use a Tripod in Low Light

    Get a tripod for low-light situations (see my article on how to choose a tripod) (see my article on how to choose a tripod). A stable tripod is an absolute necessity if you want to capture nighttime scenes such as lightning storms, fireworks, city lights, and other cool things in your photographs.

    Rather than purchasing a low-quality tripod that is only suitable for point-and-shoot cameras, you should put your money into a heavy-duty, sturdy tripod that is capable of supporting your DSLR or advanced mirrorless camera. It is also very helpful to have a self-timer mode, as well as a cable or wireless shutter release, in order to reduce the amount of camera shake.

    Shoot a Burst of Photos

    You can take photos of your subject in a series of bursts by simply holding down the shutter button while the camera is set to the "continuous shooting" mode (also known as the burst mode). Using burst mode increases the likelihood that you will get a picture that is perfectly in focus, which is especially helpful when photographing a subject that is moving, such as children.

    You should be able to take at least three pictures per second with most modern cameras, and more often than not, you should be able to take four or five. Even if your subject is moving around, you can still take clear photographs of them if you plan ahead and move along with them.

    Common Problems with Focusing and Solutions

    Focusing on one thing at a time can be challenging at times. I'm referring to both the autofocus and the manual focus, the latter of which can be challenging to achieve in certain scenarios. In that case, I have a few pointers for you to try when you just can't seem to get the focus right!

    Low Light Conditions

    When shooting in conditions with low light, one of the most common circumstances that makes focusing difficult. There are cameras and lenses that perform better than others, but all of them will be useless once the light level drops below a certain threshold. In low light conditions, autofocus simply cannot be achieved, and neither can it by the photographer.

    The live view is extremely helpful in circumstances like these. When you are focusing, you will have the ability to zoom into the scene. If it is too dark for you to see anything in the Live View of your camera, you may want to try lighting up some of the subjects with a headlight, torch, or lamp. This will allow you to take better pictures. After that, you can check the Live View once more to see if you are able to correctly focus.

    If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

    Fast Moving Subjects

    We have already covered this topic, but it bears repeating that it can be difficult to maintain focus on subjects that are moving quickly. Utilizing continuous autofocus with the auto-area mode selected is the most effective method for composing the shot while also ensuring that the subject is sharply focused. Choose the dynamic area mode on your camera if you are not moving it and are instead keeping a stationary position. This will allow you to track and follow the subject as you move your camera. Create lasting memories through your Yarra Valley wedding photography that will be cherished forever. 

    FAQs About Photography