Have you been wondering why the photos you take does not look as sharp as the photos clicked by some of the professionals? It’s an issue faced by most photographers – especially beginners and hobbyists. Reasons for this can be many. From using a bad lens to even the way you hold your camera – many things can induce shake and blur and consequently affect the sharpness of your images. But here in this article we are NOT going to talk about the issues that affect sharpness, but how to solve them. We are also NOT going to give you the conventional tips for making sharper photos like mirror lock-up or a sturdy tripod, but we will talk about ways which not many people have spoken about when it comes to improving the sharpness of your image.
Images can be made sharper both while photographing i.e. in camera and during the post-processing phase. We will take a look at both.
Tips for Making Sharper Photos In-Camera:
Always Use Manual Focus:
It’s a good idea to use manual focus whenever you can and as much as you can. The purpose is to get your camera to focus exactly where you want it to. With autofocus, most of the time the camera focuses at areas other than your area of interest and it can be a little difficult making it focus where you want the focus points to be. So the solution to this problem is manual focus. Manual focus puts you in complete control of your camera’s focusing ability and thus goes a long way in making your images sharper than usual.
Choose the right Aperture
Most photographers agree that regardless of the lens being used, shooting between f/5 and f/10 gives you the best result when it comes to sharpness. Every lens has a ‘sweet spot’ (aperture at which the lens produces sharpest image) and the sweet spot for each lens varies. But the general agreement for most lens is that sweet spot is f/8. There are ways through which you can find the sweet spot of your lens. Once you find it, it would be a good idea to use that aperture as much as you can.
Now the obvious question that comes to mind is what about depth of field? The same aperture cannot be used for all types of photos? Let’s be honest here. Depth of field is a big issue on photography and it does matter. For instance, in landscape photography, people choose an aperture value of more than f/11 since they want the entire image to be in focus. But let me tell you that many pros use an aperture value between f/7.1 to f/9 since they produce the best results. You can go a little lower than f/7.1 if you want a shallow depth of field.
Get Closer to Your Subject & Use a Shorter Focal Length
Whenever possible and if it does not drastically affect your composition, it is a good idea to use shorter focal length in order to reduce the effect of camera shake. At longer focal length every little movement of the hand may seem like an earthquake and may ruin the photo completely. But what happens when you have to use longer focal lengths? Compromise if possible and walk a little and get closer to the subject and shoot with a shorter foal length. If none of these are possible, stick to zoom and don’t let camera shake affect your photo by increasing the shutter speed.
While Using Shorter Focal Lengths Don’t Go too Wide
Some wide angle lens have a tendency of softening the image around the edges. The way to counter this is not to go too wide while capturing the image. Many photographer intentionally focus around the edges rather than the central point to avoid this softening issue. Another way to counter this problem is to take multiple shots in the portrait mode (flipping the camera vertically) and then merging the images during post processing. This not only reduces edge softening, but also reduces barrel distortion dramatically.
Adjust Your Diopter Properly
Have you ever noticed the small wheel beside the viewfinder of your DSLR that you never used? That’s the diopter. It allows the photographer to make minor adjustments to the view he/she is seeing through the viewfinder. Adjusting the diopter will not have any effect on the image being recorded by the image sensor, but will go a long way in allowing the photographer to properly see if the image is in focus or not. It comes especially handy when you are using manual focus.
In order to adjust the diopter properly always use a long telephoto lens – something like a 200mm one. Look through the lens at something which is at least 30 feet away from you and rotate the diopter till it look perfectly sharp through the viewfinder. The amount of adjustment needed will vary from one person to the other depending on the vision of that particular person.
Always Keep Your Lens Clean
Most people ignore this step, but it is extremely important to keep your lenses clean all the time. I suggest you clean your lens before every shoot since the presence of even the tiniest dust particle on the lens can soften the image and worse, it can distort light and color. So I suggest to you that you always keep a micro-fiber cloth with you just to clean the lens, but if you want to up the ante a little bit, use leans cleaning solutions which are readily available in the market.
Tips for Making Sharper Photos in Post-Processing
Always Manually Blend Your Exposures
There’s a tendency in most HDR software to soften the pixels and increase the noise level in the photo. The way to skirt this issue is by starting to manually blend your exposures to get that perfect result in terms of sharpness and noise level. Manual blending will even allow you to retain your photo’s natural sharpness if you have got them right in camera. We will do a separate tutorial on manual blending in the time to come.
Selective Sharpening is the Best Way of Going About it
There is no point sharpening the areas of your image which are supposed to be soft. That is why selective sharpening is the best way of approaching this whole sharpening business. In areas where you may need to mask out changes, it is always advisable to do the sharpening in a separate layer. If you edit your photos on Photoshop then you have in your disposal some great sharpening tools such as unsharp mask, smart sharpen and high-pass sharpen filter. Use these carefully and never oversharpen your photo. It is still better if your photo is a tad bit undersharpened, but oversharpening will completely ruin it.
Reduce Noise Selectively
Just as you sharpen your photo selectively, I suggest you adopt the same approach with noise reduction i.e. reduce noise selectively. Just like sharpening, don’t go overboard with noise reduction as it would also compromise the sharpness of your image. When it comes to selective noise reduction, a good tool to use is Nik’s Define 2. Since the program has now been made free by Google, acquiring it won’t be that difficult if you don’t have it yet.
Also remember, that various photo editing software like Topaz Adjust adds a lot of extra noise to the photo. Do be careful while using them and remove the extra bit of noise with the use of RAW noise reduction or Define 2.
Sharpen Extra for Facebook
Since Facebook compresses every photo to a great extent, it has the tendency of reducing sharpness of the photo by a great deal. So we suggest that you always sharpen a bit extra for Facebook to retain the natural sharpness of your images. The best tool to use for this is the smart sharpen option of Photoshop. But do this extra bit of sharpening on a new layer. If any area of the photo looks overshaprned, mask it to balance it out.
Do you have any other tips for making sharper photos? If you do, share with us in the comment section or join our Light n Focus Facebook group and share with our members. Ciao!!