Tips on How to Take Tack Sharp Photos

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Here are some tips you can use to get the sharpest images possible from your gear.

Yeah, yeah, we all know this but admit it, you don’t use it often. I’m guilty of the same thing. It’s hell lugging it around, but it still remains as the most basic tool you can use in getting sharper photos. Tripods eliminate the biggest source of camera shake which is, of course, you.

Different types of tripods and tripod heads are available on the market and it’s always best to pick one that you are comfortable using but there are several things you need to keep in mind:
-Heavier tripods are generally more stable.
-If weight is a consideration, get a carbon fiber tripod which is lighter than conventional metal tripods and doesn’t resonate vibrations. It’s a lot more expensive though.
-Make sure that the tripod’s maximum load is much more than the weight of your camera.

If you’re stuck without a tripod, try to find something in your environment that can help stabilize your shot. You can try leaning on a door frame while you shoot or placing your camera on a table. You can also manipulate your shutter speed to reduce camera shake. The rule is to choose a shutter speed that is equal to or more than your focal length. So if you have a 100mm lens then your shutter speed should be at least 1/100. If it’s a 200mm lens then shutter speed should be at 1/200 or less.

Cable Release

Another source of camera shake is your finger pressing the shutter button. You can eliminate this by getting a cable release if you’re camera is on a tripod. A cable release is just a remote shutter button connected to your camera that allows you to take your shot without having to touch your camera.

If for some reason you forget to bring your cable release to a shoot, or do not want to buy one, then you can use your camera’s self timer. Just set the time duration and wait for your camera to take the shot. This is only useful for inanimate subjects.

Use the Your Camera’s Mirror Lock-Up
You can eliminate one more source of camera shake when you’re using a tripod by using your camera’s mirror lock-up. When you take a picture using a DSLR, the first thing that happens is your camera raises the mirror that you are using to look through your lens before the image is exposed to the sensor. The mirror flipping up can be a source of camera shake. It is also what makes that distinctive clicking sound you hear from DSLRs. When you engage the mirror lock-up, you need to press the shutter twice. Once to raise the mirror then another to take the shot. This way, the mirror is already up when the image is exposed to your sensor.

You will need to fiddle around with your camera’s menus to find this option since it’s usually buried under a lot of sub-menus.

Use Your LCD
One of the biggest advantage in using digital cameras is being able to check your shots using the LCD. Although viewing your pictures on it is not really that accurate, you can still get a fair idea if you need to re-shoot a scene. The best way to check for sharpness is to use the zoom function while viewing you pictures to look at the smallest details of your shot.

If you’re using the Canon 40D, you can actually use this method when you shoot in Live Mode. Simply frame your shot then have the camera focus for you. After that, select a portion of the object you’re shooting by zooming in and then manually adjust the focus to make even the smallest details sharp.

Use the Lowest ISO Possible
Whether you’re shooting in a bright or dark location, you will need to use the lowest ISO possible. Higher ISO will increase the level of noise present on your photos.

Use Stabilized Lenses
If you absolutely have to shoot handheld then it is advisable to get lenses that are stabilized. These types of lenses have built in mechanisms to counteract camera shake so you can still get sharp photos without a tripod. We use a Canon IS lens that’s able to capture sharp handheld images even at a shutter speed as slow as 1/6 of a second at a focal length of 55mm.

You may be wondering why these lenses have the option to be turned off if they’re so useful. It’s because you will need to turn off your lenses’ stabilizing capability when using a tripod. This is because anti-shake mechanisms are built in such a way that it is always looking for camera shake to correct even if there is none. This act of correcting absent movement then causes slight vibrations.

Find Your Lenses’ Sweet Spot
Not all lenses’ are built the same way, but most pros will tell you that there is always that one or two aperture settings that will provide you with the sharpest image. The rule of thumb most follow is that the ‘sweet spot’ is about two full stops smaller than your maximum aperture. So if your maximum aperture is f/2.8 then your sharpest setting would be at around f/5.6. If you want to be more exact then the only way to go is to shoot the same scene multiple times keeping everything else constant and see for yourself which aperture setting gives your the sharpest image.

Of course you can’t always use your sharpest aperture since different subjects or shots might require a specific aperture setting. Knowing your sharpest aperture is good to know when the f-stop setting is not your biggest concern.

Get the Best Lens
Get the best lens that you can afford. We cannot stress this enough. Your lens has a great impact on image quality since it’s the one responsible for relaying the image to your camera’s sensor. It doesn’t matter if you’re using the biggest and baddest DSLR – if your lenses suck, the point is moot.
Did we miss out on anything? If you have additional tips and tricks, we’d love to hear from you.

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