10/18/2012

Nailing Focus: Part 3 - Equipment

Over the last couple of weeks we have looked how to achieve sharp focus in your shots, by looking at focus modes and focusing techniques. Next, I'm going to turn my attention to equipment, and how this may affect how sharp or in-focus your images appear.




Camera
The type of camera you have may be a factor in why some of your images are not tack sharp. For example, in entry-level DSLR's (and even some mid-range) the ISO capabilities can be quite low. If you are using a very high ISO setting with an entry level camera, your images will simply not come out as sharp as if you were using a top-of-the-range model, or if you were shooting with plenty of light.



Lenses
Another piece of equipment that can affect how many in-focus, or sharp, pictures you get is your lens. I think it is true to say that some lenses are sharper, and just simply quicker to lock focus than others. So whilst some lenses are struggling to lock focus, a different lens will have already nailed it - and that second or so can be the difference between a perfectly in-focus image or one that is not. The quality of the lens is also factor in how sharp your image can be, and primes are usually sharper than zooms.  There is one last point to note about lenses (although it is an unlikely one) but if you find you are continually getting out of focus images, you might want to test to make sure your lens is calibrated correctly, as you may have one that is forward or back focusing.

What you can do?
Like me, you may not have the funds to upgrade to a professional level cameras and lenses, but that's OK, as there are lot of things we can do to make sure our images still turn out nice and sharp.

1) Try to shoot in as much light as possible, so that you can use relatively low ISO's.  Either move to a different location with more light, or, use an external flash or flash diffuser and let more light onto the scene that way. This helps you get a sharper picture, and also helps you achieve focus more easily (as it can see better!)

2) If you must use high ISO's, make sure you use a high enough number to reduce camera shake or you will find motion blur ruins your photos more than the noise will.  Noise is definitely worse in the shadows, so if you are using a high ISO number you might also want to over-expose your image by a stop or two, to reduce the noise.

3) If your camera/lens is having a hard time locking focus, try focusing on an area with more contrast.  This usually isn't so much of a problem when photographing people, as you will probably be focusing on the eye and this usually has enough contrast. Other low contrast items can be challenging.

4) If you are having a hard time getting focus, another thing to check is that you are not too close to your subject - some lenses need a certain amount of distance away before they can focus correctly.

I almost didn't write this post as I don't want to give the impression that you need the best camera or lens to achieve sharp images - you don't.  However, it is worth knowing what your cameras limitations are and how to improve them, and that is really all I really want you to take away from this. The one thing you can do that will make a lot of difference is make sure you have plenty of light.  I struggle with the ISO limitations on my camera, so if I am worried about tack-sharp images (for example a portrait shot) then I take them outside, or in an area indoors that has a lot of natural light coming in (facing into a window for example). This helps with the sharpness of the image, and how quickly I can focus. For casual shots, I tend to stick my Lightscoop on my camera to make up for the lack of light.

I think we have come to the end of our Nailing Focus series - I hope some of you have found it helpful!

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