10 reasons why your photos aren't sharp (and how to fix them)

If your images aren't as sharp as you'd like, then read this

Getting sharp photos is one of the fundamental goals in photography. If your images aren't as sharp as you'd like, take a look at our ten-point guide to work out where you're going wrong and how to get it right next time.

10 reasons why your photos aren t sharp and how to fix them

Reason No. 1. Your Photos Aren't Sharp: Shutter speed too low

In the days of film photography there was a general rule that in order to get sharp images from a hand-held camera the shutter speed needed to be at least one second divided by the focal length of the lens.

So if you were shooting with a 100mm optic the shutter speed needed to be at least 1/100sec, which because of the way shutter speed is set usually translates to a setting of 1/125sec or faster.

This rule still holds today, but it is somewhat complicated by the focal length magnification factors of sub-full-frame sensors and image stabilisation systems.

For example, if a 100mm lens is mounted on a Nikon APS-C format SLR like the D5200, which has a focal length magnification factor of 1.5x, the photographer would need to set a shutter speed of at least 1/150sec.

Canon APS-C format DSLRs like the EOS 650D have a 1.6x focal length magnification factor, so the shutter speed would need to be at least 1/160sec.

10 reasons why your photos aren t sharp and how to fix them

10 reasons why your photos aren't sharp (and how to fix them)

The image stabilisation systems built into some lenses and cameras have a mechanism to compensate for accidental camera movement and this allows slow shutter speeds to be used when the camera is handheld.

Many lenses now claim a 4EV compensation, which means that the shutter speed can be reduced by 16x. That's the difference between 1/125sec and /18sec.

Even with image stabilisation some people are better at handholding a camera steady than others. The amount of coffee and alcohol that you've drunk can make a difference as well.

Reason No. 2 Your Photos Aren't Sharp: Camera shake

Advanced tripod tips beat camera shake in any weather or terrain

If you can't use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze accidental camera movements or camera shake, and can't or don't want to push the sensitivity, then you need to put the camera on some form of support.

A monopod can be extremely useful when you're using a long, heavy telephoto lens and you want take some the weight off your arms and reduce the shaking that becomes very apparent as soon as you look through the viewfinder.

It is light and easy to move allowing plenty of freedom to move the lens around and track a moving subject.

However, when you need maximum stability, a tripod is the way to go. If you don't need the full height of the tripod only extend the thicker leg sections and don't pull-out the centre column to get the best results.


Head of Testing, Cameras

Angela (Twitter, Google+, website) is head of testing for Future's photography portfolio, writing and overseeing reviews of photographic equipment for Digital Camera, Photography Week, PhotoPlus, NPhoto and Practical Photoshop as well as TechRadar's cameras channel. Angela has a degree in photography and multimedia and prior to joining Future in October 2010 was Amateur Photographer magazine's technical editor.