Tips for Sharper Images

I published a video with five tips for getting sharper images with your DSLR. The comments and tips left by the DPR community where excellent and I used those in a second video - both videos are embedded below - sometimes though a quick text list is preferred over a video- here are all of the tips.

Tips for Sharper Images:

Sweet Spot

Don’t shoot wide open(wide open refers to your aperture). Stop down which means close your aperture down from its maximum. Sharpest photos for many lenses are going to occur between f/5.6 and f/9 and this is referred to as the sweet spot.  This sweet spot varies from lens to lens but f/8 is usually a safe bet for the sharpest images with any lens.    Please don't take this tip as a suggestion to only shoot with your prime lens, that might open up to f/1.8 or wider, at only f/8 - use that when you have enough light and you don't care about depth of field. Use your judgement when shooting and find a compromise  - Don't always shoot at f/8 and don't always shoot wide open.

Fast Enough Shutter Speed -

Keep your shutter speed faster than your focal length and keep your shutter speed fast enough to freeze moving subjects. This is a tip that I have talked about before but again and again I hear from readers with blurry images simply because their shutter speed was slower than their focal length.  If you have an image stabilized lens you can cheat a little and go slower but you will need to practice, test and review your shots to see how slow a shutter speed you can reliably hand-hold.  And remember that image stabilization doesn't help with moving subjects.  See the chart below for some suggestions on shutter speeds for moving subjects. These are just starting points and the higher shutter speeds should be used when the subject is moving across the frame as opposed to toward and away from you.

Subject Suggested Shutter Speed
Walking 1/60 - 1/125th
Dancing 1/160 (Slow Dancing)- 1/250th (Crazy Dancing)
Running 1/200th - 1/250th
Soccer /Football 1/250th - 1/500th
Horses, Dogs Running 1/320th - 1/1000th
Car Racings 1/1000th - 1/2000th

Center Focus PointUse your center focus point so you know exactly what you are focusing on. When you let the camera use all the focus points it may poorly determine where it should focus and you will end up with your subject blurry simply because the subject is not in focus.  Switch to and use your center focus point so that YOU know where you are focusing.  How to switch your focus point? Bonus - the center focus point is often more accurate than the surrounding points.   Be careful about recomposing after focus if shooting at wider apertures.


If you are using a tripod make sure Image Stabilization is off.  Some IS systems can be fooled when on a tripod and actually compensate for movement that isn't there creating soft images.  Mostly seen at slower shutter speeds.  IS = Image Satbilzation, VR = Vibration Reduction, OS = Optical Stabilization, VC = Vibration Compensation.  See my full glossary of lens terms/acronyms.

Keep your ISO low

The higher the ISO of your images the noisier or more grainy they are going to look and this will decrease the perceived sharpness of the image.  This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of Auto ISO- it can be quick to go higher than you need causing very noisy images.  If you must choose between slow shutter speed and higher ISO go ahead and increase your ISO.  Noise can often be reduced in post process and motion blur can't (although photoshop is working on it)

Additional Tips for better/sharper images submitted by viewers/readers

Make sure your lens(es) are clean.  A quick swipe with a soft lens cloth should do the trick.If your subject has eyes - human or otherwise - those should be what you focus on. This becomes especially important when working at a shallow depth of field(wide apertures).Be careful not to move the camera when you push the shutter button - big movements change composition and smaller movements shake the camera.  Use the two second timer if no tripod is available and hold camera as steady as possible. I used that technique to take this photo or a waterfall without a tripod. Using the 2-second timer allowed me to concentrate and hold the camera as steady as possible with no change when the camera snapped the photo.Use the camera's high speed drive mode - Fire off a series of shots and one is likely to be sharper than the others.  Use this when your subject is moving or you are working at dangerously slow shutter speeds(and have no other options)And keep in mind the the sharpest lens is a good tripod and a good tripod head.  Having a good tripod that can hold the camera rock steady will allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds so you can keep your ISO down and your aperture up for sharp images.