Beginner photography tips: common problems with focus and sharpness
Even with the latest autofocus and image stabilisation systems, blurred or soft images are still among the most common problems. There are three main causes of blur: focusing, subject movement and camera shake.
Spotting which is affecting your shot can be tricky. If the whole image is blurred, this is usually camera shake; while if the subject is blurred but another area of the image is soft, this is usually due to focusing or subject movement.
Beginner photography tips for getting sharp images
When shooting fast-moving subjects such as sports and action, the subject isn’t sharp
To freeze any movement, you will need to use a faster shutter speed, but to achieve this you may also need to increase the ISO, particularly if you are shooting in dull conditions.
You also need to make sure that the autofocus point is positioned over the subject, and the autofocus is set to Servo or Continuous AF mode.
However, an alternative technique to this is to move the camera to track the subject, so that the subject is sharp but the background is blurred.
This panning technique does take a little practice to get right, but can give your images a much greater sense of movement and action than freezing the movement completely.
Shooting static subjects the background of the shot is sharp, but subject is blurred
This problem is most common when you are shooting with a wide aperture to achieve shallow depth-of-field effects, and the camera has focussed on the background rather than the subject.
If the subject is positioned to one side of the image, you should change the AF point so that it corresponds to the position of the subject.
Now half-press the shutter release until the subject is sharp, then press the shutter fully to take your shot.
The whole of your image is blurred, with no sharp areas visible at all
The most common reason for this is camera shake, due to using a shutter speed that is too slow, allowing the camera to move during the exposure.
The higher the focal length of the lens, the more it will magnify any movement, so you have to use a faster shutter speed to avoid camera shake. As a rough guide, with a full-frame camera you should use a shutter speed of 1/focal length of the lens.
For example if you are using a 250mm lens, you should use 1/250 sec or faster. For cameras with smaller sensors you need to use a faster shutter speed, as the effective focal length is higher.
So, with the same 250mm lens attached to a camera with an APS-C sensor, you need to use 1/400sec or 1/500sec or faster. To achieve this you may need to set a higher ISO, especially in dark or overcast conditions.
The image stabilisation or vibration reduction features will allow you to get sharp results at slower shutter speeds than these.
But even these have their limitations, so you should still try to use the fastest shutter speed that you can, unless you want to use motion blur for creative effect.
The autofocus won’t lock onto the subject when using one of the off-centre AF points
The automatic focusing on most SLRs relies on there being enough light for the system to work, along with some contrast or detail in the subject for the camera to focus on.
The sensitivity of the outer AF points is lower than the central one on many cameras. So if you are shooting in low light, or with a lens with a small maximum aperture such as f/5.6 or smaller, try using the centre AF point rather than the outer ones.
Image is blurred even though you have used a tripod
Having gone to the trouble of using a tripod, it’s frustrating if you find that the images aren’t sharp. The first thing to check is that you have switched off any image stabiliser systems on your camera or lens, as these can reduce the sharpness.
If this isn’t the problem, the most likely cause is the camera moving during the exposure, despite being attached to the tripod.
Ensure you’re using a remote release or self-timer to fire the camera to reduce any chance of moving the camera.
Then check that the legs of the tripod are on solid ground. In strong, windy conditions, you can help to reduce movement of the tripod by attaching extra weight, such as your camera bag, to the centre column of the tripod.
PAGE 1: Beginner photography tips – common mistakes with setting up your camera
PAGE 2: Beginner photography tips – common mistakes with exposure and colour
PAGE 3: Beginner photography tips – common problems with focus and sharpness
PAGE 4: Beginner photography tips – common mistakes with composition and framing
10 reasons why your photos aren’t sharp (and what you can do about it)
Metering mode cheat sheet: how they work and when to use them
Best camera focus techniques: 10 surefire ways to get sharp images
Getting sharp images: every photo technique you need to know starting out
Avoid focus errors: how to use autofocus in your everyday photography