Sharper Images

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  • #9890

    How can I get my pictures sharper without a tripod or any other support?


    1. Shoot in RAW and always sharpen in Lightroom from 50 to 100 depending on the image. If you shoot in JPEG your camera sharpens the image and you may not like the results your camera’s software comes up with.
    2. Do not shoot a scene that is beyond the dynamic range of your sensor.
    3. Exhale slowly while shooting and shoot between heartbeats.
    4. Shoot at a fast enough shutter speed (1/focal length or faster) with your lens set at a mid range aperture; f/6.4 f/8 or so.
    5. Shoot at ISO 400 or much less if you can.
    6. Do not underexpose and try to push the shadows in Lightroom, you will have too much noise. I do this way too much because I am paranoid about blowing out detail by overexposing my shots. This is a worse transgression than underexposing your image.
    7. Do not use a zoom lens. Use a prime. Always use a lens hood, always.
    8. Don’t use a UV or clear filter over your lenses. Use filters only if you must (i.e. ND, polarizer, etc…)
    9. Make a tripod with your arms and forehead and a wide stance with your feet or lean up against a building, fence, tree, car…. or get on the ground.
    10. Pan with your subject if it is moving. practice this technique.
    11. Make sure everything is clean.
    12. Focus manually or check your auto focus system using a tripod and take several shots in manual and auto focus to see how accurate you auto focus is working. Some cameras let you adjust your auto focus.
    13. Use back button focusing to focus and set it up for single point focusing and lock focus BEFORE you take the shot.
    14. When shooting people; always focus on the eye that is closest to the camera.
    15. Shoot multiple shots and look at the images 1:1 in LR and pick the sharpest ones.

    That’s all I can think of.

    test your lens:

    Ezra Morley

    That’s a pretty good summary, @timtam! I think you covered every point I can think of!

    I don’t totally agree with #5 about shooting ISO 400 or below all the time. If you limit yourself to ISO 400 and an aperture of f/6.4-f/8, you’re going to get more motion blur than anything else! Of course it depends on your camera, but any modern DSLR can go to ISO 1600 and be just fine for web-sized pictures, and even small prints. Of course, if you shoot RAW, and use the advanced noise reduction software available nowadays, you can get very decent results!


    I’ll add one more to my list. Shoot with a speed light to freeze the subject and negate the effects of camera shake.

    JonahB was asking about getting sharp images so a lower ISO is a must. I hope I didn’t come across as suggesting always shoot at a low ISO. I regularly shoot up to 1600 ISO or much more; however, I don’t expect to get very sharp images above ISO 400. For all around indoor shooting in a large room I will usually shoot manual at ISO 800 with a speed light at f/4 so I don’t end up with a dark background which will occur if you shoot using with a flash and auto settings.

    Here are some samples of the difference for indoor shooting at different ISOs. I don’t know if the differences show up in the compressed jpegs very well. The ISO 400 shot should be significantly sharper. All hand held.

    ISO 400
    ISO 800
    ISO 1600

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by timtam.

    @timtam has very good points, but I just thought I might bring some balance in regards to clear/uv filters. While adding a cheap piece of glass in front of your lens is less than optically ideal, scratching the front element of your lens (by cleaning or by use) is not a way to get sharper images. Always use high-quality filters such as b&w (why go cheap on what’s already not that expensive?) It is actually unlikely you’ll be able to distinguish any difference with a filter on, unless you start stacking nd’s cpl’s etc, then take your clear/uv filter off to avoid vignetting, naturally. Here’s Bryan Carnathan on filters: The effects of a *high quality* filter are negligible, and most of us would rather chuck a 100$ filter, than send our lens into CPS to get a front lens element replaced. It’s also worth mentioning that most “weather sealed” lenses (such as the 70-200 2.8 is II) require a front filter to complete weather sealing.


    Oh, and if you choose to use a filter, be careful what you choose: some lenses such as the 24-70 2.8 ii have a curved (convex)front element so only some filters will work without scratch the glass. These buggers get scratched all the time, just ask Cicala over at lense rentals.

    Mr. Quebec

    It was not the first time I hear that UV filters alter the sharpness of the image, so I went ahead and tried to see if there is any differences. I installed my camera on a tripod, took two shots (one with a $25 filter and one without), and cropped severely the pictures and then compared them.
    I’ll drop them here so that you can see the results…
    First : with the filter
    Second : without the filter

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 3 months ago by Mr. Quebec.
    Mr. Quebec

    Oops, I guess it can be pretty hard to judge on sharpness if there’s not the original picture that shows how much the re-sized version was cropped…
    There it is.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 3 months ago by Mr. Quebec.

    Definitely a difference.
    Did you use a remote? Try it with lower ISO with a flash at f/8.

    I suggest losing the filter only when you are going for max sharpness, i.e. in studio on tripod, remote, macro, etc….


    Hi! thought I’d try my own tests:
    tripod with IS to off, mirror-lockup, remote release. I took five shots with each combination, refocusing each time, then manually selected the one that looked best.
    This is on the Canon 60d with the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II at 100mm, iso 100, 1/320 sec, f5.6
    The three tests are: bare lens, 77mm 75$ hoya filter, 77mm 116$ b&h uv filter (
    Wanna guess which is which? 😉


    And here is the third one, along with an un-cropped version.


    I am going to say test-2 has the filter on the lens.


    test1 has the B&H filter
    test2 has no filter
    test3 has the ‘cheap’ Hoya filter

    Edit, sorry I got that wrong, the lens started with the B&H filter already on it, silly brain.

    Mr. Quebec

    Did you use a remote?

    No, I didn’t.

    I suggest losing the filter only when you are going for max sharpness, i.e. in studio on tripod, remote, macro, etc…

    That’s what I think too. It’s better to remove the filter, but at the same time I prefer to lose some sharpness than to have the risk of ruining my lens, just like Nasa said.
    BTW, the quality of the filter is very apparent too! My $25 filter can’t compare with a $100 B&H filter, although I think that in my case, I won’t put a $120 filter on my $100 lens. I will be as sad to scratch my filter than to scratch my lens 🙂 !

    Ezra Morley

    I used to “religiously” use a UV filter on all of my lenses. However, I got tired of the unwanted reflection, aberrations, and other artifacts, (maybe a slight exaggeration) and finally I kind of got away from using it. It got to where I was removing it so often that I figured I might as well leave it off. I don’t have a $100 filter, they were $5-$10 filters… I have a lens hood on my kit lens 100% of the time, so hopefully if I drop it, the hood will absorb the shock.

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