How to Take Sharp Photos

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Be a sharp shooter and don’t shake your camera. Have you sometimes looked at those wonderful coffee table books or maybe at some photo websites and asked yourself, “How can the pictures be so sharp? Is it some kind of digital trickery? Why can’t my pictures be so crystal clear?”

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“Divided Belfast” captured by PictureSocial member David Hobcote

This is what I saw the other day. I was walking through the park near my home. A young man was taking a photo of his wife and child. He had taken out his camera and he’d clearly done some thinking. First of all, they were not out there in the bright sunshine where they would have black sockets for their eyes but they were in the open shade under a tree in front of the lake. Good idea.

Then the man had squatted down on his haunches to take the photo. He didn’t want to be looking down on his wife and little girl. Also a good idea.

And then, the next thing he did was compose the picture on the screen of his camera which he held out right in front of him at the end of his arms. No, no, no! I wanted to go up to him and say, “Please don’t do this.” Anyway, he got up, the three of them looked at the screen, they seemed pleased and off they went.

I’m pretty confident that if that family wanted an enlarged picture it wouldn’t be very big before it looked pretty blurred. Maybe they’ll think they need a new camera. I’m sure it’s obvious. You simply can’t hold a small and light camera right out with your outstretched arms while balancing on your heels and expect it not to shake and quiver like a leaf in the wind. And that’s the basis of camera shake. So, what can you do?

Hold your camera steady

Quite often when you want to take a photo you know the viewpoint’s very important. You may be in the middle of a field. If so, you must be the support for your camera. You must stand, or kneel, but make yourself a really solid base. Stand with your feet apart. You must hold the camera as steady as you can—certainly not waving it around with one hand. If you can, bring the camera to your eye if it has a viewfinder. If you have a strap, you can wrap the strap around your neck and use it keep the camera steady. And when the time comes to actually take the photograph, remember to press the shutter release very, very gently. If you jerk it, you will shake the camera.

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“Seagull in Flight” captured by PictureSocial member Linda

Take several photos of the same subject

If your subject isn’t changing all the time, take several photos—10 or so—at the same settings. You’ll find that one or two are sharper than the others.

Use a fast shutter speed

If your shutter speed is too slow the shake will show. It’s not easy to judge with modern digital cameras but the old photographers’ rule might help you.

Always use a shutter speed related to the focal length of the lens.

For a 50mm lens use a minimum of 1/50 second. For a 300mm lens use a minimum of 1/300 second. Get the picture? Long lenses will magnify the shake.

Find a support

As I said, viewpoint is very important but perhaps you can change your viewpoint a little bit. If you don’t have a tripod, look around you and you might see a tree, a wall, a bench, a table, a lamp post, something that’s absolutely solid, unmoving, unshaking.

If something like this is in the right the place, then use it to brace your camera. When you do this, make sure the camera itself makes contact. In other words, if you’re using the branch of a tree, hold the camera on the tree branch directly, not just your hand or your arm but the camera itself. This will make the camera rock solid.

Of course, you might find that the horizon is not quite straight or something of that kind. You can change this by moving the camera a little bit or using your hand to help, though that’s not ideal. You can correct it in post-processing.

Use the self-timer

If you have a solid support like a wall, and you have the exact viewpoint you want, you can use the self-timer. The self-timer is normally used to take pictures of yourself but if you switch the self-timer on and press the shutter release gently there will be a delay of a few seconds before the shutter fires. This will kill any vibration or camera shake.

how to take sharp pictures

“contrasts” captured by PictureSocial member David Hobcote

Use these techniques and your pictures should be sharper. If you want to be more sophisticated you will have to take some more equipment to support your camera. But that’s for another day.

About the Author:
Hi. I’m John Rocha (johnrochaphoto). I’m a British photographer based in Sofia in Bulgaria. Most of my work now involves rights managed and royalty-free stock photography. I’ve made the transition from the darkroom to the lightroom in the last few years but I still experiment with film and non-camera photography.

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