Getting Sharp Photos with Still Subjects

I did a post yesterday on tips for getting sharp photos with moving subjects, so I thought I'd expand on that and do one with tips for still subjects too!  The good new is with still subjects you have a lot more time to get your focus right, but nailing focus can still be tricky. Here's my tips for getting sharp images....

- As before, watch your shutter speed. This is probably the number one culprit for soft photos which is why it is always at the top of my list! The minimum I would go to is 1/125 for children. Even when they are stationary, they tend to be squirmy, and I find this gives me a better hit rate.  Even if they move a little after you have locked focus it can cause your image to look soft.

- Remember that YOUR movements can affect the sharpness of your photos too. Hold your camera properly and keep your elbows into your side.  Take a deep breath then press the shutter before you exhale.

- For children who are stationary, it's probably better to toggle your focus points, especially if you are dealing with very shallow depths of field. Focus recompose at low apertures will probably throw off your focus.  If shooting portraits, toggle your focus points and choose the one nearest the subjects eye.

- Watch your depth of field if you are using wider apertures. If in doubt use a calculator to work out how much of your area will be in focus. In some cases when using very small apertures, you can find that the front eye will be in focus, but the back eye will be slightly soft like in the photo above (it's marginal but it's there)  There is also some personal preference at play here. Taking portraits as an example, I personally love a very shallow depth of field, where the eyes are in focus but everything else fades away into softness (for example the ears and the back of the head) but others prefer the whole head to be in focus. with only the background out of focus. It's your photo, so you can choose whichever style you prefer, but to make sure your photo is sharp where you want it watch the depth of field.

- Use a shutter speed of at least the same focal length of your lens. So if you are shooting with an 85mm focal length, you need an absolute minimum of 1/85. (This is just to rule out your movements against the lens, not for your subjects movement!)  I have super shaky hands though so I find that shooting handheld I need at least 1/80 to get a shot, even if use my 50mm lens. As my subject is generally children, I use an absolute minimum of 1/125 at least anyway so this isn't generally issue unless I am trying to keep my shutter speed low for some reason.

-  Avoid using high ISO's. This leads to noisy images and they are just not as sharp.  This is unavoidable at times but realise that your images are going to look a lot less crisp.  My images start to look less sharp from ISO400 onwards (getting progressively worse!)

- As a general rule, prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses. There are some high end examples when a zoom is as sharp as a prime, but generally you will get a sharper image with a prime.

- Don't shoot wide open. Lenses generally have a sweet spot, which is usually a couple of stops above the lowest aperture setting. So an 85mm F1.8 will probably be sharpest around F2.2.

- If you are shooting in RAW, you will need to apply sharpening later in editing. (If you are shooting in JPEG, the camera adds sharpening when it converts it to JPEG although you may want to add more anyway)  Be careful not to overdo though!

- Your lens quality will also affect how sharp your final image is.  Kit lenses are known not to be particularly sharp, but some cheaper lenses like the 50mm F1.8 are actually pretty sharp even though they are not terribly expensive. Generally speaking,  good quality lenses will yield sharper results.

- Understand your camera's limitations. I struggle a lot with getting sharp images - I find that my best images in terms of sharpness are when I shoot outside. This is simply because of the extra light available I can keep my ISO down and my shutter speed high.  If I am shooting indoors I need to get my subject as close to the light source as possible, and I need them to be relatively still as I have to use a slower shutter speed (and a larger aperture) otherwise I will have to bump my ISO up to levels where it affects the sharpness.  Indoors plus moving children is a recipe for unsharp photos with my camera (I still take them - I just understand that they will not be as sharp!)


Anonymous said...

A wonderful summary to keep in mind thank you

Kerry said...

Happy Friday. I’m nominating you for a Liebster Award and sharing a little blog love your way. Check out my post to read about the details. I've been checking your site out for photography tips since I want to get better at taking shots of my own kids. http://breadwinningmama.com/2012/11/30/my-blog-earned-an-award-happy-friday-to-me/

Audrey said...

Hi Kerry, thank you so much - I'm terrible at doing these things but I promise to try!

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