Scott Kelby, the author of many digital photography books says, “If your photos aren’t sharp then the rest doesn’t matter”. Key to any image is its sharpness and in order to get those photos pin sharp you need to follow some basic guidelines.


There’s nothing worse than looking at a portrait photo and the eyes are out of focus with a perfectly sharp nose. The eyes are the windows to the soul and their sharpness is critical to a good image. There are times when we want slightly out of focus images or parts of images out of focus. But, mostly we want crisp and clear images. Here are some steps for sharper images.

1. Pin sharp starts with a tripod

Every professional photographer and many amateurs will tell you that a tripod is an essential part of your gear if you want sharp images. Of course it’s not always possible to use one, but, when you can use one. It stabilises your camera and stops camera shake from unsteady hands. A good, sturdy tripod costs money but it’s a basic part of your kit and fundamental to sharp images.

2. Cable Release

Don’t press the shutter; use a cable release. A cable release is a cable that goes to a connection on your camera. By pressing the cable release you don’t transfer any movement from your hand to the camera. Unfortunately not many entry level compact cameras have this feature, but, there is a solution in point three.

3. Self-Timer

If you have forgotten to bring your cable release or your compact camera doesn’t allow its use, use the self-timer. All cameras including compacts have this feature. Although you still press the shutter, there is a time delay of 2 to 10 seconds allowing camera shake to subside before the shutter is activated. Still, you need to press the shutter button gently to limit any transferred shake.

4. Mirror lock-up

This feature is something only for digital SLR camera owners. When the shutter is depressed a mirror, which is in between your sensor and the viewfinder, pops up to allow light to pass and hit your sensor. This micro movement can affect your final image so what manufactures have added is a mirror lock-up. It locks the mirror in position once you have composed your image. Although you can no longer see the image through the viewfinder it prevents the micro movement from affecting your image. Use it if you are fanatical about sharpness.

5. Use your lenses sharpest aperture

All lenses have a sweet spot. They are sharpest at this aperture, usually two stops below fully open. Unfortunately this applies only to DSLRs. You should be able to tell by looking at your images and finding which images are usually the sharpest. Check the EXIF data by right clicking on your image on the computer and seeing what aperture it was taken at. Then shoot at this aperture whenever you can.

6. ISO

Avoid increasing your ISO as this causes your image sharpness to degrade. Rather shoot on a tripod. Shooting on higher ISOs adds noise to the images which is the reason for images lacking in sharpness.

7. Turn off image stabilisation

If you have a lens or camera that has image stabilisation or vibration reduction, turn it off. There are tiny motors inside the lens which stabilise the image but also contribute to lack of sharpness through vibration. They are great for low light/handheld situations like weddings, but when you’re using a tripod, turn it off.

These are a just a few tips for getting sharper images. No single one will improve your sharpness, but used together they will improve you overall sharpness in an image.

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Wayne Turner has been teaching photography for 25 years and has written three books on photography.

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