Do You Know What A Tack Sharp Photo Looks Like?

by | Sep 18, 2020 | Perspective, Pic of the Month | 2 comments

One trait of an amateur photographer is that, in their portfolio, they will showcase photos that are not tack sharp.

And why do they showcase them?

Simple. Because they think they are “sharp enough”.

And that’s what makes them amateur. Professional photographers never showcase “sharp enough” photos. They showcase only what is tack sharp!

So, if you want to grow in your photography, always strive to showcase only photos that are tack sharp. And to do this, you have to know what tack sharp looks like. Professionals know what tack sharp looks like.

Take, for instance, this set of four very similar photos I took during the Photography Field Day at Wickham Park in Connecticut last month. It was a tough scene to get in focus! The insect was flighty and the flower swaying back and forth. Which of these photos would you showcase?

200818_James Staddon_1088 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 100 (inset)

200818_James Staddon_1090 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 100 (inset)

200818_James Staddon_1092 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-640 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 100 (inset)

200818_James Staddon_1093 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-640 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 100 (inset)

I hope your answer was “none”.

The fourth one may appear “sharp enough”, but if I was gathering portfolio material to showcase to the world my standard of excellence, I would have to make the extremely difficult decision not to include any of these. It’s a beautiful location! It’s perfect composition! And oh, it’s such a colorful scene! But none are worthy of my portfolio.

Why? Because they’re not tack sharp.

It’s so tempting to go with the “best of the bunch”. Especially when there are no actually tack sharp images in the bunch! But it’s not worth it. To pursue excellence, one must leave the “best of the bunch” mindset. Am I willing to leave the “good enough” behind, even if it means showcasing nothing from a shoot? The fourth one may pass the quality standards for stock photography. Attendees may ooh and ahh over it in an end-of-workshop slideshow. But when it comes to standing by what I believe to be excellent, I would have to say “no”.

And the reason I know to do this is because I know what tack sharp looks like.

So, if you thought the fourth picture above was tack sharp, let’s expand our understanding.

The following photo is what I believe to be as tack sharp as my 24-70mm can get at f/2.8. Each lens is different. Some are sharper than others. But usually you’ll know tack sharpness when you get it.

200818_James Staddon_1091 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-640 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 100 (inset)

There has been no sharpening applied to this shot. It’s the RAW image straight from the camera except for a +1 Exposure adjustment to bring it to the same brightness as the other shots. But this is what I would consider tack sharp.

Doesn’t it look so much better than the fourth shot from above?!

And can you imagine, if I was using a better lens or a narrower aperture, it would be even sharper!

But striving for sharpness isn’t good enough . . . you need to know what tack sharp looks like!

So let that be your takeaway today. Familiarize yourself with what tack sharp looks like. Experiment to find out how tack sharp your lens is. Find the sharpest aperture. Learn the factors that play into achieving tack sharpness. You won’t settle for what’s “good enough” in the “best of the bunch” like an amateur when you know what tack sharpness looks like.

Which reminds me of that verse in Proverbs, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; . . .” Do you know what truth looks like? Are you so familiar with truth that you know it when you see it? or can distinguish it from each almost-truth that’s out there? You won’t ever have to settle for what’s “good enough” when you know what truth looks like!

200818_James Staddon_1089 W

Visitor on the Meadow Sage

The Irish Garden at Wickham Park, Connecticut

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  1. Ernest

    Now I’m going to have to delete half of the photos in my portfolio! 😉
    I need to get out of the “best of the bunch” mindset.

  2. James Staddon

    Don’t be TOO hard on yourself. 🙂 Adobe Stock approved picture #4, and looking at the compressed JPG previews uploaded here to the blog, there’s not much of a difference between #4 and #5. But the more you get into it, the more photos you take, and the more sharp your pictures become (due to increased knowledge or new lenses), the more perfect your portfolio will become. 🙂


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