Everybody wants their photography to be ‘tack sharp’. You can get beautiful lighting conditions, an amazing scene and a perfect composition but if the image isn’t sharp you’re wasting your time. Follow my photo tips for making tack sharp images and you’ll be well on your way to improving the sharpness and quality of your photographs.
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1 – Use a Sturdy Tripod
Sure, you can take nice ‘handheld’ photos but if you’re serious about image sharpness you’ll need to invest in a sturdy tripod. Don’t waste your money on those rickety $60 tripods, get something with quick release leg mechanisms and high quality manufacturing. A good ball head will also make adjustments much quicker and more flexible. If you shop around it’s possible to get a decent tripod and ball head for around $300.
2 – Use ISO 100 or Lower When Possible
If you increase your ISO settings you’ll loose sharpness due to light diffraction. Unless you absolutely have to go higher, I recommend setting your ISO as low as possible. In low light situations this will slow down your exposure which you may or may not want. Newer cameras are better at squeezing out more light in high ISO shooting situations but there’s a limit. You’ll see a noticeable drop in image sharpness passed ISO 400.
3 – Use a Prime Lens
Prime lenses typically offer better image quality than zoom lenses mainly because the simple construction results in less light diffraction and optical distortion. With a prime however, you’ll need to zoom with your feet and the fixed focal length won’t work in all situations so multiple primes are usually required – which can get expensive. One my favourite prime lenses is the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon Lens for Landscape Photographers.
4 – Find the Sweet Spot of your Lens
Most wide angle lenses perform best with apertures from around f/8 to f/11. Don’t expect maximum sharpness from extreme settings like f/2.8 or f/22. Obviously you might prefer these setting for certain effects like shallow depth of field or extremely long exposures but be aware that you’ll sacrifice overall sharpness. Experiment with different aperture settings to discover the sweet spot of your lens.
5 – Use Mirror Lockup
If your camera has a mirror it will most likely have a mirror lockup function which can be enabled in your cameras settings menu. Enabling mirror lockup will force your cameras mirror to engage about half a second before your shutter opens, reducing the movement and vibration within the camera during the shutter release. Any movement and vibration within the camera is a bad thing as it will reduce your sharpness. We want that camera as still as possible so this is a great tip to reduce vibration.
6 – Use Remote Shutter Release or Timer
When your finger presses down on the shutter engage button this causes movement and will result in a loss of sharpness. Eliminate this problem by using a remote shutter release. These can be wireless or a cable release. If you don’t want to spend money on a remote shutter release simply use the cameras 2 second self timer so that the shutter opens long after you’ve removed your hands from the camera.
7 – Focus Properly
A lot depends on your creative vision and shooting style but for maximum sharpness throughout the image using a standard prime lens, here are some basic guidelines. The issue of focusing deserves it’s own dedicated tutorial but here are a few photo tips that will help with focusing.
- Use Manual Focus.
- Use ‘Live View’ if your camera has it. Zoom in and focus manually.
- Don’t focus on clouds, water or any object that offers no sharp, contrasting edges.
- Focus on a contrasting object that has a clearly defined edge about two thirds of the way into the distance of your image. By that I mean that if you have some foreground objects that are quite close to you it’s best to NOT focus on those as objects or the distant objects will be out of focus. See the featured image for this post above and you’ll notice a red square to indicate where I set my focus.
- Focus on objects in order of priority. If your foreground and most distant objects have less importance to your composition, don’t focus on them. Pick the area of your image that is most important and find a sharp edge within that area, focus on that edge.
If you have a tilt-shift lens or know how to use Focus Stacking you can achieve maximum sharpness throughout the entire image with full depth of field.
8 – Shoot in Bright Light
Obviously bright sun light doesn’t always give you the most atmospheric mood, especially for landscape photography. My favourite light is pre-sunrise and not ideal for delivering ultra sharp images because the camera is struggling to suck in every bit of available light.
Ever wondered how fashion photographers get such super sharp images? It’s because they have a whole rack of lights on hand to deliver intense bursts of light right where they need it.
A twilight image can’t compare with a midday image when it comes to sharpness because the midday image has so much intense light and will result in hardly any noticeable light diffraction.
As an outdoor photographer shooting in low light situations the photo tips above will help you squeeze out as much sharpness as you possibly can from your camera and the scene in front of you.
Good luck, go try it out and let me know your results. Please post comments or questions or let me know if I got something wrong.