Sharpness

Sharpness is one of "those" aspects of photography that give photographers a hassle (myself included).  There are multiple reasons for having soft images (meaning out of focus) and most of those reasons are the result of the photographer and not the gear.  There is a saying by well know photographer Scott Borne that says it all:  "99% of all lenses are better than 95% of all photographer"...  What does that mean?  It means that many sharpness issues photographers blame on equipment are a direct result of their failure to use the equipment properly. 


So, what can we do about the sharpness problem?
  1. USE A TRIPOD-this is perhaps the biggest way to improve your sharpness.  It works by eliminating camera shake.  I am certainly about saving a buck when I can but you do not want to skip on your tripod or tripod head.  If you spent $1000+ on a camera why would you put it on a $24.99 tripod from Walmart?  It would be best to save your money and get a decent one.  You do not have to go all out and get a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod for $1,199.00 but somewhere around the $120-$300 mark should do you fine. 
  2. Use a remote release.  If you are doing any type of long exposures such as night photography you will want to use a remote release.  Even pushing the shutter button can cause a bit of shake.
  3. Increase you shutter speed (if possible).  If you are taking photos of moving subjects (people, animals, cars etc) you really need to be aware of your shutter speed.  Depending on your lens try to keep the speed around 1/125 or higher to ensure that the motion is stopped.  The faster a subject is moving the higher the shutter speed needs to be to freeze the motion.  Of course you may not want to freeze the motion completely but that is another topic.  See Panning:  Auto Racing and a New Experience for a bit more information.
  4. Watch your apeture.  If you are taking the photos with an f-stop of 2.8 the focusing plane is very small.  Try making the apeture smaller (increasing the f-stop number to f8 or f11 for example)
  5. Learn proper hand holding technique when not using your camera without a tripod.  You want to make sure that your left hand is positioned underneath the lens not on top or to the side.  When possible keep your elbows tucked in to your ribs as well.
  6. Make sure if you are using auto focus that your point of focus is on the right part of the subject.  Most, if not all, auto focus systems pick the object closest to the photographer to focus on.  If necessary change focus points or switch to manual focus.
  7. Did I mention a tripod?
     
On the full sized version you can see the hair on the legs of this spider.

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