How to Get Sharp Pictures – Part 3 of 3

We’ve reached Part 3 of our 3-part series on getting sharp pictures. This blog has been text-heavy, which differs from my usual approach of going relatively lighter on text and including photos as examples. So far, we’ve covered the first 4 of 7 causes of less-than-sharp pictures and how to address each. Causes #1-4 included camera shake, motion blur, inaccurate focus and your ISO/aperture choices. Let’s look at the final 3 causes now. Again, I am only scratching the surface of each as there are entire articles and even books devoted to each of these individual topics.

CAUSE #5: CAMERA EQUIPMENT

  • Good quality camera equipment make a difference. The internet is full of articles on whether to put your money into good lenses or a good camera if you are faced with a choice. Those on the side of good lenses form the majority when discussing sharpness and image quality. Can you still get sharp pictures using lower priced lenses and cameras? Sure! But, all else being equal, high quality cameras and lenses give you a better starting point.
  • Prime vs. zoom lenses. Although it is less the case than it used to be, prime lenses (those that have a fixed focal length, such as 50mm) are generally considered to be sharper than zoom lenses. Good quality zoom lenses can be sharp, but keep in mind that use of a zoom lens (especially a low or medium quality one) might affect overall sharpness.
  • Keep your lenses clean. You don’t want to be shooting pictures through dirty glass. Take it easy on lens cleaner, though. There are proper ways to keep your lens clean, so make sure to do some research on that.. and watch for a future blog on it.
  • Use filters of comparable quality to your lens. If you put filters over your lens, then the “weakest link” principle holds true. Don’t put poor quality filters over a premium lens.

CAUSE #6 – LIGHTING QUALITY

Lighting is everything in photography. Try shooting a subject in a dimly lit room and then in beautiful lighting (natural lighting or using flash) and you will see a difference in perceived sharpness even if both images are exposed properly. If you are shooting in dim light and your pictures don’t seem sharp, then lighting could be a contributing factor. You can’t always control lighting, but many times you can. Consider shooting at a different time when the lighting is better or adding flash. The important point here is to know that lighting quality affects perceived image sharpness.

Compare the next two photos. Although there are a variety of factors going into the perceived sharpness of these two images, lighting is probably the key factor here. The top image was shot in dim light with no flash, whereas the bottom image used flash. Yes, these are processed differently, but the starting point was a lot sharper in the bottom image due to the flash lighting.

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Balinese Dancer : Prints Available

A Balinese dancer looking out the window

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Early Morning Smoke : Prints Available

Indonesian man having a morning smoke in a village outside Jakarta

CAUSE #7 – SHARPENING IN POST-PROCESSING (OR LACK THEREOF)

If you notice your images are not as sharp as your favorite photographer’s images on his or her site, it could be partially due to post-processing. Post-processing can really make a night and day difference in the sharpness of the final image. If you shoot your photos in RAW format, then the files themselves are structured to preserve as much data as possible. These files often look dull and flat without processing. The idea is to add an “appropriate level” of sharpness for the medium in “appropriate areas” of the image. The point here is that, if you don’t sharpen your images in post-processing, you will likely not get the level of sharpness you see in images that have been sharpened in post.

Well, that’s it for this series. I hope this at least gave you some ideas on how to get tack sharp images. As I have only touched on each topic, feel free to shoot me an email through this site if you have any questions.

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