Top 5 Tips to Sharper Pictures

Author: David Huffman

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As a Trip Leader for AHPW, I see our students master new ways to improve their pictures with each click.  Our classroom workshops emphasize the settings, camera features and techniques to improve your pictures and give you more control.  And our field workshops help you put all that knowledge into practice.

I’m constantly reminded that there are multiple ways to improve the sharpness of your photos.  Here are my Top 5 Tips to Sharper Pictures.

1.  Lower ISO’s produce sharper images.  Your camera sensor was designed to deliver its absolute best image quality at the “base ISO” which is probably ISO 64 or ISO 100.  Any higher ISO setting uses electronics to increase the “gain” in the signal and introduces small amounts of image degradation.  So stay low for sharper pictures.

2.  Smaller camera lens apertures produce sharper images, to a point.  As the aperture changes from wide open to a middle range (about f/8 to f/11) most lenses improve in sharpness especially in the edges and corners of the image.  You will also see that the depth of field increases, bringing more of the subject in focus both behind and in front of the primary focus plane, or point.  So experiment with smaller apertures to see which of your lenses improve in sharpness.
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3.  Higher shutter speeds improve sharpness because you will reduce the effect of hand-holding camera shake.  A general rule is to use a shutter speed no slower than 1/focal length of the lens.   For example, if you use a 50mm lens, the minimum shutter speed to hand hold is 1/50th of a second.  Of course, using a tripod is the best way to reduce camera shake.

4.  Your camera and/or lens may offer VR Vibration Reduction, also called IS Image Stabilization.  These small moving lens parts act like a gyro to steady the image.  It’s important to experiment with your own combination of lens and camera body at a variety of shutter speeds to see which shutter speeds are your minimum.   When you mount your camera to a tripod, be sure to turn off the VR so you don’t introduce unwanted vibration to the setup.

5.  Lens focus is possibly the most important contributor to sharp pictures.  Don’t assume that autofocus is always best.  Turn AF on and off and compare your images.  Experiment with different AF settings including single shot and continuous with a variety of still and moving subjects.  And practice often, because you will see your results improve due to your familiarity with your equipment.

I’ve included a few images from our recent Slot Canyons Photo Workshop.  All images were taken on tripod, and most with a 2-second shutter delay and mirror up to reduce camera movement.  These images were from a 36MP camera and have been printed up to 60 inches wide with no apparent loss of sharpness.   Full frame image sensor cameras and top-of-the-line glass will maximize the image quality, too, but only if you have already mastered the basics.
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David Huffman is a APHW Trip Leader, Instructor and Author.  Visit his images and information at:  www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

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