Shooting Sharp


My friend Rob Sheppard just posted an article on his blog about sharpness and how to get better sharpness from your images through software. It is a great article and compliments what I am about to present, so go there and read after you have read my article about sharpness: Rob Sheppard Blog on Nature and Photography.

Sharpness is the result of equipment, technique and post processing. There are many sites that will discuss the relative sharpness of cameras and lenses and Rob has addressed post-processing sharpness in his blog, so I am going to discuss technique and factors that affect sharpness when capturing your image.

  1. Support – ie, use a tripod. This cannot be overstated. A tripod will make a huge difference in the sharpness of your image. Even at shutter speeds where you think you can handhold your camera, a tripod will make a difference. If you are shooting a small camera and light lenses, you can get away with a smaller tripod, but a large dSLR (Nikon D4) and larger lenses require bigger tripods to achieve stability when shooting. The introduction of carbon fiber into tripod legs has made the relative weight less, but you still need a tripod the matches the weight and size of your camera.
  2. Shutter Speed – Even on a tripod, shutter speed makes a difference. Shutter speeds between 1/8 sec and 1/30 sec are more prone to imparting vibration to the image and degrading the sharpness because of the mirror slap setting up vibrations. This is much less of a concern in current cameras because of technology built into the mirrors and cameras, but still something to keep in mind.
  3. Aperture – Knowing the performance of your lenses is critical in obtaining the highest sharpness. Most lenses have 1 aperture that creates the sharpest image. It is usually somewhere between wide open and fully stopped down. Think about this when you compose your image. F1.4 or F22 might not be the best choices if overall sharpness is what you are going for.
  4. Cable release – Using a cable release decreases vibration your finger sets up in the camera by pressing the shutter.
  5. Mirror Lock up – Ok, this isn’t practical when you are shooting animals or sports or anything that might be moving some, but for landscapes it can really decrease the vibration set up in the camera from the mirror. To use mirror lock up, press the cable release once to pick the mirror up, wait about 1 second for vibrations to cease, then press the shutter button on the cable release again to take your image.
  6. Filters- any filter has the possibility of degrading your sharpness. The cheaper the filter, the more likely the degradation. Even expensive filters can reduce sharpness if not treated well (kept clean and free from scratches). Also make sure you don’t have any fog or condensation on your filter. If you must use a filter, pick the best filter you can afford. This is not a place to save money. Why put a cheap (price and performance) filter in front of high quality glass in your lens?
  7. Patience – many times you might be shooting a macro scene and there is some movement from a slight breeze. This movement in your subject will decrease the sharpness of the image. Sometimes you want the movement for the artistic effect, but if you don’t, wait. You will eventually be rewarded with a lull in the window and no movement in your subject and you grab the image in between breaths of wind.
  8. Shooting Hand Held – Sometimes the only way to get what you want is to shoot hand held (see the image above that my lovely wife took of me getting down to banana slug level for an image). If you have to hand hold, put your drive on continous high and shoot away. Even at fast shutter speeds, some of the images in a series will be sharper than others. Trick I learned years ago at Nikon School..

 Keep these factors in mind as you go out to shoot next time, then follow Rob’s advise on sharpening in post production for the sharpest images you can get!

5 Responses to “Shooting Sharp”

  1. Alton Marsh says:

    Valuable tips. Maybe you could publish the apertures for best sharpness that you already know.

  2. Kent Wilson says:

    Very nice site, Bill. I like the mix os photos, tips, etc.

  3. Craig Myers says:

    Enjoyed the complementary article presented by you and Rob. our new site is nicely done. Simple and easily navigated.

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