There are only two reasons why your images are coming out blurred. It’s either caused by incorrect focus or by camera shake. In other words, it’s either the camera, or it’s you. Let’s cover all bases and nail down the possible issue.
Hold the Camera Correctly
It might sound basic, but holding your camera in the correct manner can greatly improve the shots you’re getting and help eliminate camera shake. There are numerous ways to hold a camera, each depending on the type of shot you’re trying to capture. However, for general handheld shots you need to ensure your stance is firmly planted. Any movement from your feet will affect the final image.
Once you’re confident your stance is fixed, you need to turn your attention to your arms and the placement of your hands on the camera itself. Ideally, your arms should not spread beyond shoulder-width – so keep your elbows in. Next, the underside of the lens (with regards to a DSLR) should be resting in the palm of your left hand. Some photographers prefer to grip the side of the lens. Find what’s comfortable for you. Either way, hold it securely, but don’t grip it too tightly.
Now, image blur often comes from pressing the shutter. The shutter button operates with just a light press, so you only need to press it gently and slowly. Also, try setting your camera to burst mode and keeping the shutter button pressed in order to fire off a number of shots. This not only removes the risk of your trigger finger causing camera shake, but also bags you a couple of different versions of the same subject – which is always handy.
Still think your trigger-finger is causing image blur? Set your camera to a 2 second self-timer and re-take the shot.
Use a Faster Shutter Speed
There are various unwritten rules regarding what shutter speed to use. The one I adhere to is to avoid using a shutter speed slower than the inverse of your focal length. To explain that in simpler terms, if you’re shooting at 100mm, don’t use a setting slower than 1/100th second. If you’re at 250mm, 1/250th second should be your limit.
If you have full control over your camera’s settings, try shooting at a wider aperture (lower F number). This will open up the lens, allowing more light in, enabling you to use a faster shutter speed. Furthermore, doubling the ISO value used for the shot will enable you to use a shutter speed twice as fast, for example.
Use a Tripod
If you’re not going to be darting all over the place snapping away, consider using a tripod and a remote shutter-release or self-timer. Unless you’re shooting at a very fast shutter speed, you’ll never be able to hold a camera as still as a tripod can.
Re-Think Your Focus Setting
You’re most-likely using auto-focus set to matrix. Here, the camera chooses where in the frame to focus on, using any of its many auto-focus points. If you don’t understand what I’m refering to, then it’s probably safe to say you are indeed using this default setting. While this may work well in certain situations, it becomes flawed in many others. Take the example of a portrait headshot. Your goal here is to get the subject’s eyes pin-sharp, as these will be what people look at first. Get the eyes out of focus and the whole image will look blurred.
Your camera’s multi focus points will scan the subject’s face and make an assumption on where to focus. Quite often this will be a nose, forehead or mouth – or something close to the centre of the frame. If this happens, chances are the eyes won’t be pin-sharp. Don’t be afraid to tell the camera what you want it to focus on. Do this by manually selecting the focus point on your DSLR. For portraits, line up your selected focus point with your subject’s eye. This manual setting is there for a reason and it’s worth spending time learning how to quickly select different focus points on your DSLR.
For the following image, having manual control over the camera’s focus point meant I could focus on the LCD screen on the back of the camera in the foreground. Allowing my camera to select a focus point automatically would have resulted in it choosing the fireworks in the background – not the shot I was looking for.
Now that you know the root causes of blurry and out-of-focus photos, I hope you’ve managed to identify your weakness and can, at last, stamp it out. When you’re next taking a shot, remember to also think outside of the viewfinder at what your feet, body, arms and hands are doing. Couple that with taking control of your camera’s settings and you’ll enjoy pin-sharp images.
Author – Oliver Pohlmann