Sharpness The Deadly Dozen |

Sharpness The Deadly Dozen |

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sharpness The Deadly Dozen


Defeat these threats to sharp photos and create images that get optimum sharpness from any camera and lens

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Whenever you have any sort of animal in your photo, the eyes must be sharp or the image looks out of focus. This native California bee was shot with manual focus and Live View.


Chaparral yucca in the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California show sharply against the morning sky.

Want Sharp Photos? 
Just buy a better lens, right? If it were only that easy. Many photographers have tried this solution with unsatisfactory results. The pros get consistently sharp images. How do they do that, even when they’re not using so-called pro lenses? One thing they do is pay attention to the 12 challenges in this article and work hard to minimize their damage. I guarantee that if you pay attention to them, too, you’ll gain consistently sharper photos and you’ll get the best from whatever gear you own.

[Pro Tip] 
When you have to shoot a slow shutter speed handheld, try setting your camera to continuous shooting. Press the shutter and take five to six photos in a burst. Because the camera isn’t moving much between shots, you’ll often get at least one sharp shot in the group, if the shutter speed isn’t impossibly slow. 

The Minimum Handholding Speed Rule: 1/Focal Length = Minimum Shutter Speed.
The classic rule of thumb for sharp photos is to set a shutter speed equal to 1/focal length as your minimum shutter speed for handheld sharpness. That held true for 35mm film, and likewise, it applies to full-frame image sensors. With smaller sensors, you need a faster shutter speed. Use the magnification factor for the sensor format and plug in a new focal length: 1.5X for APS-C and 2.0X for Micro Four Thirds (MFT). Here’s how that would work for a 100mm lens: 

Format Size Focal Length Minimum Shutter Speed
35mm Full-Frame 100mm 1/100 sec.
APS-C 100mm x 1.5 = 150 1/150 sec.
MFT 100mm x 2.0 = 200 1/200 sec.


These two shots of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, Utah, look very similar in sharpness at a small size. Enlarged details show the true story. The sharper photo has more contrast and image brilliance. Both were shot on a tripod. The sharpness problem isn’t simply blur or not blur. Fig. A and Fig. B look about the same printed small, but enlarge them as seen in Fig. A-1 and Fig. B-1, and they’re definitely not the same.