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How to Take Sharp Photos - Guide

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

Every photographer wants to take sharper pictures. Here's how to capture insane detail in every shot, start to finish.

An example of a very sharp photograph of Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP

One of the things that makes photography frustrating is softness and blur in pictures. Sharp photos are much more appealing than soft images. It is very disappointing when you take a picture of a special moment and images come out soft/blurry or out of focus. So, in this article, I will go through the techniques I use to make sure that my images always come out tack sharp.

Let’s start with the reasons why an image might come out blurry:

  1. A long shutter speed can capture camera shake, which would produce a blurry image

  2. Your subject could be moving and causing motion blur, made worse by a long shutter speed

  3. Poor focus acquisition would result in a soft image

  4. You might have a bad lens or a lens that is not capable of producing sharp photos

  5. Your ISO could be set to a very high number, resulting in lots of noise and loss of detail

In order to resolve these issues, you need to address them all at the same time, which will help achieve optimal sharpness. There are a few other causes of blurry photos, too, which I will cover below.

Sunset at a Lake in Yellowstone

How to Take Sharp Pictures

1. Set the Right ISO

Start with setting your camera to the lowest ISO “base” value (in my Nikon camera it is ISO 200). Remember that the camera base ISO will produce the highest quality images with maximum sharpness. The higher the ISO (sensor sensitivity), the more noise you will see in the image. I suggest reading my article on understanding ISO.

2. Use the Hand-Holding Rule

If you have a zoom lens that goes beyond 100mm, I would recommend applying the general hand-holding “rule”, which states that the shutter speed should be equivalent to the focal length set on the lens, or faster. For example, if you have your lens zoomed at 125mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/125 of a second.

Keep in mind that this rule applied to 35mm film and digital cameras, so if you own an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera with a crop factor (not full frame), you need to do the math accordingly. For Nikon cameras with a 1.5x crop factor, just multiply the result by 1.5, whereas for Canon cameras, multiply by 1.6. If you have a zoom lens such as the 18-135mm (for Nikon DX sensors), set the “Minimum Shutter Speed” to the longest focal range of the lens (135mm), which is 1/200 of a second. Here are some examples:

  • 50mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/75 (50mm x 1.5)

  • 100mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/150 (100mm x 1.5)

  • 150mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/225 (150mm x 1.5)

  • 200mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/300 (200mm x 1.5)

  • 300mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/450 (300mm x 1.5)

Remember that this only affects blur from camera shake. If you are taking pictures of a fast moving subject, you very well may need a quicker shutter speed than this in order to get a sharp picture.

NIKON D300 @ 280mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/4.0

3. Choose Your Camera Mode Wisely