5 Tips For Getting A Sharp Shot

5 Tips For Getting A Sharp Shot

Sharpness in your photos isn’t everything but it is one of the most important things. Even if you are conveying motion or isolating your subject against an out of focus background your subject still needs to be sharp.

Here are 5 tips to staying sharp:

Hold it right
Hold your camera with your right hand and cup the lens from underneath with your left. The advice has been the same since the 70’s!

The right way to hold your camera

Support system
The longer the lens you are using, the harder it is to keep steady, especially after shooting for a while. This is where a monopod comes in. It’s obviously not as stable as a tripod so you won’t be taking 10 second exposures with it but it will really help you reduce camera shake while still giving you freedom of movement.


Keep your shutter speed up
There’s a simple rule of thumb to calculate how slow you can reliably hand hold. 1/Focal Length. Put simply, if you are shooting at 24mm, you shutter speed should be at least 1/30th of a second. At 200mm it should be at least 1/250th. Yes, Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction lenses and good technique let you go slower, but the 1/Focal Length rule is a good place to start.

Pick the best focus point
I think most people focus and recompose – the technique where you position your subject under the centre focus point, half press your shutter button (or back button), change composition and take the shot. This is fine unless you are shooting with a shallow depth of field. Even that slight swing of the camera will change the distance to your subject and potentially move your focus from the eye to the tip of the nose or the ear. To reduce the amount of movement you have to make, select the focus point that closest to the area you want critical focus on.

Don’t be shallow
Just because your lens goes to f/1.8 or wider doesn’t mean you have to. If your subject is moving, even an inch backwards or forwards can knock out your focus. Stop down a bit so you have enough depth of field to cover what you want sharp and give yourself some leeway. Especially if it’s a situation that you aren’t in total control of.

Got some tips of your own? Add them to the comments below.

Back Button Focus

Back Button Focus

If you don’t want to miss that epic shot that’s about to happen right in front of you need to be quick, and to be quick, you need to know you camera better than it’s own mother. When you become truly comfortable with your camera you can adjust settings without looking, like knock it into Av mode and stop down to f2.8 all before you’ve brought it to your eye to compose the shot.

Once you’ve got that muscle memory developed you can start customising your camera to suit the way you work and for me, the biggest single change is to turn on back button focusing.

Out of the box, all DLSRs will be set up to use a half press of the shutter button to focus and meter and a full press to take the shot. It’s one finger, it’s easy and it’s established. Back button focus is trickier. It’s two button, not at intuitive and you’ll miss focus a lot when you first start using it.

So why bother? Here’s why.

With focus on the back button I can leave the camera in AI Servo mode (i.e tracking focus instead of one shot) so I am ready for anything. If I need to shoot something moving, I just hold down the back button with my thumb and fire away with my trigger finger. If it’s a static subject, I tap the back button to get focus the release it, recompose and shoot. The best of both worlds. If I had AI Servo focusing on the shutter button I wouldn’t be able to focus and recompose.

Higher end SLRs wil have a dedicated AF-ON button on the back, but pretty much any SLR will let program up the AE-Lock button to focus. Check you manual for how and give it a try.

And persevere… it can take a bit of getting used to.

Here are a few examples taken at the opening round of the Drift Allstars European Series using this method. In some cases I switched between shooting fast moving cars in shutter priority to shooting the drivers shaking hands in a second or two. The only change I had to make was putting the camera into aperture priority. Back button focusing saved me having to waste precious seconds changing focus mode.