Get Sharp Pictures Like the Pros

Controlling camera movement is the key

04-26-2011 // Rob Sheppard
Valley of Fire by Rob Sheppard

Are you feeling that you could never match the sharpness of a pro’s photo? After all, you may think, they have much better and more expensive gear than anything you have. And perhaps you have a point-and-shoot camera that cannot possibly do pro work. But maybe that is not really true.

I have found that nearly all cameras on the market today can do a great job of getting sharp photos of nature. I have shot with all sorts of cameras, from pocket size to big pro cameras, and sharpness is consistently high. This is not from some magic pro fairy dust! You can do it, too!

Camera movement during exposure is the number one cause of unsharpness for nearly every photographer (even pros – they just delete the bad shots!). Small, compact and point-and-shoot cameras can be especially susceptible to this problem because they are so small. There is no "mass" to the camera to help keep it steady during the shot. In addition, many photographers think they can handhold a camera at much slower shutter speeds than they really can.

Here are some ideas on gaining maximum sharpness from your gear, no matter what it is:

1. Watch your handholding technique.
A compact or point-and-shoot camera is designed to be held with both hands: left hand on the left side of the camera, right hand on the right side. One-handed shooting is a sure way to blurry and less sharp photos. A DSLR camera is designed to be held as follows –grab the right side of the camera with your right hand, then tuck your left elbow into your chest and rotate your hand so it is palm up. Place the camera onto that waiting palm of your hand. Avoid holding the camera with the left hand palm down or facing right – that is much less stable.

2. Keep your elbows down and tucked into the sides of your chest.
Flapping arms with elbows flying will guarantee less sharp photos.

3. Be careful how you use the shutter button.
Press the shutter with a continuous pressure down, never punch the shutter or jab it.

Thistle bloom taken by Rob Sheppard

4. Use a fast enough shutter speed.
If you can set the speed, be aware of what you are setting. If you can’t, see if the camera tells you what speed it is using.

  • For wide-angle lenses, use 1/60 second or faster.
  • For moderate focal lengths, 1/125 or faster.
  • For telephotos, choose 1/250 at the minimum, but 1/500 will often be better. This is tricky when using a zoom lens. You may get a sharp image at the wider focal length, but if you then keep the same shutter speed, the photo may be blurry if you zoom to a telephoto setting simply because you can't use that same shutter speed.

5. Try a bean bag.
A bean bag is a simple, easy-to-use and inexpensive camera support. Put it on something solid, then the camera on it.

6. Use a good tripod.
A good tripod is well worth the investment. It will do more for you than buying a new lens. A low price lens will do better than an expensive lens if the low price lens is always shot from a tripod and the expensive lens never is. A good tripod will be lightweight yet very sturdy and will be easy to use. Many serious photographers think little of spending $1000 and up for a new camera, but have trouble spending $300 or more for a good tripod — yet the tripod will last longer than the camera and will guarantee better results (something that the new camera probably can't). It is possible to get a decent tripod for less than $200, but it may be heavier and harder to use. Avoid cheap tripods that flop around when you set them up. They can be worse than no tripod at all.

Rob Sheppard is a photographer, writer and photography teacher in southern California. He is the former editor of Outdoor Photographer and PC Photo magazines. Visit his blog Nature and Photography for more photography tips.

Related PhotoZone Resources
    Flickr Icon           Facebook Icon           Twitter Icon           YouTube Icon   
Certify your yard today!