Secret to Sharp Photos

Taken with a Nikon D70, Tokina 12-24mm lens at 1/250s, f/16 and ISO 200.

Taken with a Nikon D70 and Tokina 12-24mm lens at 1/250s, f/16 and ISO 200.

The title is a bit of showmanship.  The “secret” won’t be surprising to you.  The way to go about it might hold some surprises.   Whether you use a digital SLR or a simple camera phone, the steps I talk about below will help in getting sharper images.

The way to get sharp photos is a three step process.

  1. Hold the Camera Steady
  2. Focus, Focus, Focus
  3. Proper Exposure

1. Hold the Camera Steady.  This is the reason for most blurry photos since the dawn of photography.  I’ve always had a steady hand and have been successful at getting sharp photos hand-held down to 1/15th of a second.  Last year, I learned a new technique which has allowed me to get some as slow as 1/4th of a second.  Below, is a 7 1/2 minute video by National Geographic photographer, Joe McNally, about the technique he calls, “Da Grip”.

If you need rock still, a tripod and remote shutter release is a must.  I don’t use a tripod often unless I know I will be needing multi-second shutter times like for fireworks, waterfalls or night photography.  I do find the image stabilized lenses made today have greatly helped me in getting sharp hand-held photos.  Along with using tehniques like Joe McNally’s Da Grip.

2. Focus, Focus, Focus.  Focus is extremely important whether you want to selectively focus on one element in the frame shooting with wide open apertures or put everything in focus from front to back using apertures like f/16 or f/22.  Understand how your camera focuses.  Some cameras have up to 51 focus points while others have only 5 or less.  If you have not reviewed it in awhile, this is a good time to pull out your camera’s manual (you do know where it is, right?) and read up on your camera’s focusing capabilities.

3. Proper Exposure.  Getting the proper aperture (f-stop), shutter speed and ISO is critical and keeps post processing to a minimum.  The less you have to tweak a digital image, the clearer it will look.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend getting the book, “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson.  I read this book every year to remind me it’s not about what the camera can do but what the photographer does to make great pictures.

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16 Responses to Secret to Sharp Photos

  1. montucky says:

    Thank you for this post! It is a good reminder, and I found several things in the video that will be quite useful to me since nearly everything I shoot is hand-held.


  2. giiid says:

    Interesting video, thank you for showing it.
    Your photo is very picturesque, – lovely colors.


  3. krmb says:

    Not only is the image top-drawer, but the post is wonderfully concise. You rightly point out a number of things that we sometimes take for granted in this age of “let the camera do everything for you.”
    Great post.


  4. Rico says:

    I better get a tripod then. 🙂
    “it’s not about what the camera can do but what the photographer does to make great pictures.”
    I couldn’t agree more.


  5. Gerry says:

    And another precinct heard from! Thank you for the links and the advice. Because you are willing to include utter duffers under your Big Tent of Photography, you make me feel it’s worth trying to improve my skills (versus saying, “Well, I’ll never be any good so the snapshots I take now are good enough for my purpose”). Thanks to you, I’m determined to get as much as I can from my simple P&S. OK, I’ll even read the manual. Sheesh.

    That’s a lovely photo as well as a sharp one!


  6. Great video (he does get a bit sidetracked at times, doesn’t he? LOL).
    I always loop the strap around my wrist, too, if I don’t have it around my neck… will have to try the other techniques, too.


  7. morningjoy says:

    Beautiful image! I love the way my eye’s drawn to the red roofed building. The color is awesome!
    Thanks for the tips. You’ve hit it on the head. All three of those elements are essential. I recently took an exposure workshop that helped me so much. Having good gear is great, but technique reigns. I have a new camera and right now I’m in the process of studying my manual and then practicing what I’ve read.


  8. Glad everyone got something out of this post. The idea for this post came from a comment I received last week. I’ve shared this video before and Joe McNally, a character for sure, is a fantastic photographer. He’s also a guy I’d like to sit in a bar with and just listen to his stories for hours.

    I failed to mention for digital cameras, don’t forget the timer. Set your camera on a firm, flat surface or use a table-top tripod, set the timer for 5 or 10 seconds and press the shutter. It became an important backup one morning when I left my remote release at home. 🙂

    A camera is a tool for us photographers. I’ve seen incredible photos from iPhones and inexpensive P&S so don’t let your equipment get in the way. Get out there and take pictures. The more you do, the more you learn and the better your photographs will become.


  9. Raj says:

    Great tips Scott! The picture above is exceptional!!


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  12. Kat says:

    Thanks Scott for all you work on this Blog, you have given me more insight and inspiration to trying new things. I got the book Understanding Exposure and will read it on my flight to Hawaii!! Can’t wait to get some great pictures there! Your information is priceless and links to others is priceless!


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