How to Take Sharp Pictures

Passion RoseNikon D750; 1/125s; f/4; ISO-400; 120mm; On and Off Camera Flashes Used

It has happened to me many times and I’m sure it has happened to you before as well. That moment when you take that stunning photo, just to realize at a closer look... That it's blurry!!

You become frustrated and wonder: why did this happen to me?

Well to say it simply- it is usually related to focusing, shutter speeds, physical movements, and various of other factors. This of course doesn't say much, so keep on reading to learn more!

1 » Focusing.

Now focusing is perhaps what you're most familiar with, but it is also perhaps the most complicated part as well on this list. Before taking any photograph, you have a variety of settings to choose from, starting with either manual or auto. Most likely you aren't going to use manual as it isn't practical to use with most subjects, and modern autofocus technology is pretty reliable.

There are three main options of autofocus methods:

  • AF-(Single)-Servo: this will allow the camera to stop focusing once it confirms that the subject is in focus. Note that usually the camera will not allow you to take any picture until it locks the focus. This option is not recommended unless you are taking pictures of still life or landscapes.
  • AF-Continuous: as long as you are holding down the focusing button, the camera will be constantly refocusing. When you hit the shutter button, the camera will capture the picture no matter what. This option is most practical to use with portrait or wildlife photography.
  • AF-Auto: you are letting the camera choose one of the above options.

However, that is not all. Now you have to select where your camera should focus.

  • Single: this option lets you choose the exact point you want the camera to focus in the viewfinder. This is my preferred option as it gives the most control.
  • Dynamic Area: you still select a specific point just like single, except if the subject moves away, the camera will adjust within the area of a specific amount of chosen points (e.g. 9, 21, 51).
  • 3D Tracking: similar to single, except once you activate the focus, the camera tracks the motion of the subject.
  • Auto: this uses algorithms to identify special features such as faces to focus on them.

Additionally, if you go through your camera's settings, you may find an option to turn on thumb or back button focusing, which extremely helps with efficiency and to pay closer attention to details.

2 » Aperture.

One thing to remember is that DOF (depth-of-field) is also important, which is a factor that comes from aperture. If you are shooting at f/2.8, it could be about a foot or two (shallow), but f/16 could be infinite (deep). Note that DOF in relation to aperture depends on focal length and the distance away from your subject. Just remember that if you are taking portraits, you are probably going to use a larger aperture for a shallow DOF, which will make it more difficult to get what you want sharp when focusing.

3 » Shutter Speed.

Now maybe poor focusing isn't the problem? Then it is probably motion-blur caused from shutter speed. There are two factors that determine the appropriate shutter speed:

  • Focal Length: at minimum, make sure your shutter speed is equal to the reciprocal of the focal length. For example, if you are using a nifty-fifty lens (50mm), then your shutter speed should be at least 1/50 of a second or faster.
  • Physical Movement: the above statement only factors focal length, but it doesn't factor the movement of your subject. If you're taking pictures of someone running, then you're going to need a lot faster shutter speed compared to taking a picture of someone walking. However, in my experience I have found that it is possible to use a slower shutter speed of a fast moving object if you are able to match move with the subject. I personally think the best way to learn this, is through experience and experimentation.

Bonus: to also help avoid motion-blur, you could just use a tripod or monopod, however that isn't always practical. When not using a tripod, try to keep your elbows in, holding up your camera close to your body, and breath-in before taking your picture. This helps to stabilize your camera. Sometimes cameras or lenses have stabilization or vibration reduction features that also helps avoid motion-blur as well.

4 » ISO.

You would think that ISO (the sensitivity and speed of the sensor to light) has nothing to do with getting sharp photos. Well I thought so too, until one night, I brought it up too high. Simply, the higher the ISO is equal to more noise, and the higher the noise is equal to a decrease in detail and ugly looking effects. When you edit the photo later to get rid of the ugly noise effects, you will process some noise reduction, but it will make it look blurry. If possible, always try to keep your ISO at your camera's native range or below 500.

5 » Lenses.

Depending on the quality of lens you may use, it can affect the sharpness or your resulted image. Some of the lenses that I own for example have a fluorite coating on the glass with a precise autofocus mechanism, which will capture the most insane detail! It helps to have good quality glass, but usually it isn't an option as they might not be affordable. Of course that doesn't mean you can't capture super sharp photos with any other lens, it just helps to be consistent and efficient.


Getting crystal sharp photos is very important, but remember that photography holds its importance as an artistic medium for physical and emotional expression. This just helps you more clearly convey your story with photography!

Gabriel ProfileWritten by Gabriel Dupon
Photographer based in Northern Colorado.

Gabriel Dupon Photography

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