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How to get sharper images

To see photographs of the highest quality, I recommend browsing magazines like National Geographic Traveler, Arizona Highways, National Geographic, CNN Traveller, Audubon, Time, Nature Photographers and Practical Photography. The photographs in these magazines stand out because they have clearly defined subjects, good composition, proper exposure and sharp focus.

If you would like to take photographs of similar quality, it is important to have a clearly defined subject, correct exposure/lighting and a good composition that excludes distractions. However if you accomplished all these and the image is not sharp or out of focus, the resulting photograph is worthless. It is therefore very important to give a lot of time and attention to achieving SHARP FOCUS.

Sharp focus can be achieved by:

  1. Using a “safe” shutter speed when handholding the camera
  2. Using an IS/VR lens to reduce the effect of camera shake
  3. Using a tripod, placing the camera on a steady surface or bracing it against a firm structure
  4. Using a self-timer or shutter release with a tripod

“Safe” shutter speed
If you are using your zoom lens set at 70mm a “safe” shutter speed (for non-IS/VR lens) is 1/150 seconds or faster. A “safe” shutter speed is considered to be 1/2xN second (one over 2 times N) where N is the focal length being used.
For example, if you are shooting a landscape at 28mm (N = 28), the recommended shutter speed is 1/2×28 (1/56) second or faster. 1/60th of a second is good, 1/125th is better and anything faster would be ideal if the lighting conditions allows. The faster the shutter speed the less likely camera shake will affect your photographs.

If low light prevents you from using a high shutter speed and a tripod is not convenient, change to a higher ISO whenever possible.

IS/VR Lens
Canon uses the designation IS to refer to its Image Stabilizer lens while Nikon uses VR to refer to its Vibration Reduction lens. These lenses have built-in systems that help reduce the effects of camera shake. When used properly they are effective in producing sharp images.

Pentax and Sony have anti-shake compensation systems built into some of their camera bodies. Addressing the problem of camera shake and blurry photographs, Sony has this to say: “…While the ultimate solution for camera shake is a tripod, there are many casual shooting situations where a tripod simply isn’t an option. For this reason, selected DSLR lenses are equipped with optical image stabilization. These stabilized lenses incorporate motion sensors to detect camera shake. They then compensate with a motor-driven lens element that moves in an equal-but-opposite way. While this approach does work, it adds sensors, motors and cost to the lenses that have this feature. And it limits the feature only to those few, specially-equipped lenses. A better option is a DSLR camera that builds image stabilization into the camera body itself. In this way, the benefits of image stabilization are available to all system lenses – at no additional lens cost.”

Tripod or steady support
The use of a tripod can assure you the sharpest possible image. However tripods come in different types, designs and weight limitations. When choosing a tripod take into consideration the weight of your camera and lenses, the maximum and minimum height the tripod reaches, the weight of the tripod and the type of heads it can support. A search online for “choosing a tripod” will point you to many sources of valuable information on tripods.

In lieu of a tripod a steady surface can be used to reduce camera shake. For example the roof of your car can provide a stable platform for your camera. Pressing the camera body against a post or tree can also help steady your camera for sharper focus.

Self-timer or Shutter Release
Professionals sometimes use the camera’s delayed timer or a shutter release cable when using a tripod, to ensure an absolute sharp photo. The timer on some Canon cameras can be set to release the shutter 2 or 10 seconds after the shutter button is pressed. This compensates for any slight camera shake that may occur when the shutter button is pressed by the finger.