Why are my photos not sharp?

One of the questions that is being asked over and over from the people attending my photo workshops in Brussels is “Why are my photos not sharp?” I know it is probably very frustrating to come home from vacation and to find out that most photos you took are blurry and out of focus. They might look relatively sharp on the back of the camera, but seeing them on your computer screen is painful. I know because that has happened to me as well and to probably almost everybody else.

Why are my photos not sharp?

Jaisalmer, India. Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 35mm F/1.4 lens

The good news is that there are usually just e few reason why your photos are not sharp and most of them are quite easily fixable. Here is the list:

1. The shutter speed is too low. This is the most common problem. If you are using automatic or semi automatic mode and not paying attention to what the shutter speed is or even if you have manually put a shutter speed that is not ideal for the current lightning conditions, you will probably have blurry photos.

A simple rule to follow is to never use a shutter speed that is lower than your current focal length.  Even better make sure it is at least two times that!

For example: if your focal length is 16mm I will try to take photos with shutter speed at least 1/16th if I am not using tripod. If you are using a telephoto lens at, for example 200mm, you should make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/200th. Rule aside I personally always try not to fall under 1/100 when using wide angle lens and 1/400 when using a telephoto. Use that as I guidance only, since sometimes it will not be possible to have shutters speeds so high.

2. You are causing camera shaking . Using a tripod will not always be a solution to this one. Sometimes you can make your camera shaky just by pressing the camera’s shutter button. It may not seem like a big deal, but when using very slow shutter speeds it is!

So what can you do? You can use the camera’s built-in delayed shutter or buy a separate remote shutter release. 

Why are my photos not sharp?

Jaipur, India. Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 85mm F/1.4 lens

3. You have not chosen an optimal aperture. You should know by now that there isn’t one correct aperture in each and every photo situation, but you should understand how it impacts your photos. When using an aperture such as f/2.8 or lower the overall sharpness of your photos  will be lower than when shooting with an aperture of, for example, f/16.

When using a wider aperture such as f/2.8 or lower your plane of focus will be very small and if you miss your focus or introduce camera shake the image will appear blurry.

When using a more narrow aperture such as f/22, you’ll notice that the overall sharpness of your photo will be reduced. While the image might be in focus from front to back, it will be less sharp than what it would have been at a wider aperture.

Finding the ideal aperture for each situation can be tricky at first, but practice makes perfect 🙂

Why are my photos not sharp?

Varanasi, India. Fujifilm X100S with 23mm F/2.0 lens

4. You are using a low quality lens. The people who have taken my photo workshop in Brussels know that I am a firm believer that the camera is the least important element when it comes to making good pictures. I don’t like to focus too much on the equipment you use as I’m a firm believer that you can capture great images regardless of the tools you’re using. However, when it comes to image-quality there’s no doubt that high-end camera gear makes a big difference.

You have probably heard professional photographers advising to invest money in lenses and not in camera bodies. There is a reason for that. Most kit lenses (the lens sold with the camera body, usually something like 18-55mm) are of lower quality and will never be as sharp as a pro-grade lenses, no matter of  what camera or aperture you are using. Also when it comes to sharpness nothing can beat a prime lens (with fixed focal length).

Why are my photos not sharp?

Varanasi, India. Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 24mm F/1.4 lens

5. You have missed your focus. New cameras are great when it comes to auto focusing, but they still make errors from time to time. Especially when it comes to photographing in difficult lightning conditions – backlit subjects, low light etc…

Sometimes focusing manually while using the live view can help big time. You can zoom the scene to 100% and manually focus until everything looks perfect.

So next time you go out to photograph and wonder “Why are my photos not sharp” remember this simple five point list. Also, check your photos on the screen of your camera zoomed in to 100% from time to time to make sure all looks good and sharp and happy shooting 🙂

Would you like to know more? Please consider attending my “Everything you need to know” photo workshop in Brussels.