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8 Tips to Take a Sharp Photo
Manual Mode Tips, Techinique
8 Tips to Take a Sharp Photo

One of the most popular questions I receive is “How do you get your photos so sharp?”. If you are shooting something stationary then my number one advice would be to use a tripod but my guess is you are shooting moving objects like kids, dogs, or husbands so you need to figure out how to get sharp photos without a tripod.

8 tips to take a sharp photo

  • No.
    01
    You need a good lens.

    I hate to break it to you but a kit lens (the one that came with your camera) just isn’t as sharp as others. That being said, you shouldn’t rely on your equipment to take sharp photos. Just because you have a super expensive lens doesn’t mean you are going to get sharp photos if you don’t know how to use it. The same thing can be said for a kit lens, if you use it right you can get some sharp photos.

    Read more: What lens should I buy first?

  • No.
    02
    Make sure your shutter speed is AT LEAST 1/125.

    I know we talked about this when we discussed shooting in manual mode but it can’t be said enough. If you are photographing a moving subject you need to stay above 1/125. I have even read some people say they don’t go below 1/250 if they are photographing kids. However, sometimes the lighting isn’t in my favor to shoot that fast. Personally, I don’t go below 1/125 if I’m shooting my kids.

    ss 1/640, ISO 100, f 6.3

    I should have lowered my aperture number so I could have increased my shutter speed.

    Notice how low the shutter speed is which caused her to not be as sharp - ss 1/50, ISO 100, f5.0

  • No.
    03
    Lock your elbows.

    Since you don’t have time to set up your shots for a tripod you need to be your own tripod. Lock your elbows as close to your body as possible.

  • No.
    04
    Snap in between breaths

    If you hold your breath when you take your shot you are less likely to move. I’m not talking about holding your breath for a long time. Just for a split second. More like take the photo in between breaths. You would be surprised how a subtle movement on your part can cause a blurry picture.

  • No.
    05
    Don't shoot wide open.

    I am a huge fan of shooting wide open but you need to figure out your lens and become very comfortable with nailing your focus. If you shoot wide open (at a low number like f1.8) you are more likely to have your focal point fall on something other than the eye or whatever you are focusing on because you have such a small field in focus.

    ss 1/160, ISO 100, f2.8

  • No.
    06
    Press your shutter release button softly.

    You don’t need to push your shutter release button very hard. The harder you push the button the more likely you are having accidental camera shake blur your photo. Be gentle.

  • No.
    07

    I talked about this on Monday but I can’t say it enough. Using this added feature to get sharper photos can only improve your photos.

  • No.
    08

    If you leave your focal point on the center button then only the center of your photo will be sharp. This isn’t a good thing unless the person’s eye is in the middle of the photo (which isn’t a very interesting composition). Make sure you change your focal point so that the focus is on your subject’s eye.

I hope these tips can help you improve the sharpness of your photos. Please don’t rely on post-processing to “sharpen” your photos. This is definitely something you need to nail in camera. Practice, practice, practice!

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90 Comments
  • February 7, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing this. I’m going to pay extra attention to my shutter speed this week!

  • February 7, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Such great advice. Thank you so much! xo

  • February 7, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    These are wonderful tips – I don’t mess with my focal points (prefer to compose/recompose) but everything you just said makes a huge difference. I just need to learn how to back focus…that would help even more!

    • February 9, 2011 at 4:55 AM

      Yes, I hear that is an extremely popular practice with Canon users :O)

  • February 8, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    I, too, need to learn to back focus. I must start practicing.

    I have got to start saving moo-lah for a lens. I took some photos this week of 4 kids under 2. I struggled with focus to say the very least.

    My question is how do I know the SS is 1/125 when I am looking through the viewfinder? Do you just snap the shot, then look at the SS, lowering the aperture if the SS is to slow? I tend to struggle to do all of it when I am in the moment trying to capture something.

    • February 9, 2011 at 4:58 AM

      You should be able to view what your shutter speed is when you are looking through your viewfinder. In my camera it is in the lower left hand corner when looking through my view finder. Depending on what type of shot I want I either lower the aperture number or raise my ISO. Don’t worry, the more you practice the easier it will be for your fingers to do all the work for you :O)

    • July 6, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      I love reading these articles because they’re short but inofamrtive.

  • February 8, 2011 at 1:11 AM

    I love your tips!
    I changed my setters to back button focusing and love it!

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing these tips. I have most of them down, but it’s so nice to get a reminder. I’m still amazed at the steps that I go through to get a great shot. They’re becoming second nature, but whenever I explain what I’m doing, I’m amazed that I’m picking this up.

    Love your blog! It’s crazy helpful!

  • Brittany
    February 8, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    I will be referring to this post often! This is in my top 3 of annoying problems that I have. I think it’s my shutter speed mostly . . .

    Thanks Courtney!

  • February 8, 2011 at 2:24 AM

    Great tips. I tried the back button focusing a little, I need to practice more. It took a little bit to get used to.

  • Karin
    February 8, 2011 at 3:43 AM

    This is a great post, Courtney! Thank you for all of this information. It is true, you often take such sharp photos.

  • February 8, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    Awesome..I’m going to keep in mind some of your tips, some I already used, yay me! :) I do have to tell you I’ve been struggling with moving my focus points. One reason is because things/people are moving. Any suggestions on how you manage that with your face pressed against the LCD screen? :) I have to agree with Ashley, at this point I’m extremely comfortable focusing and then recomposing.
    ~ingrid

    • February 9, 2011 at 5:01 AM

      If that is what you are comfortable doing and you are getting the results you want then GREAT! I know a lot of Canon people prefer to do it that way. Personally, I have better luck changing my focal point. I just move the toggle button with my thumb while my eye is still looking through the view finder. Lots of practice I guess :O) Do what works best for you and gets you the best results :O)

  • February 8, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    Thank you for sharing this, I always seem to forget something and it makes my pictures not quite as crisp, thanks for the reminder!

  • February 9, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    I finally had 2 seconds to myself – LOL! I LOVE your blog! Not only am I loving the tons of inspiration, your tutorials are wonderful. I’m trying to read all I can. Just added you to my RSS feed and I can’t wait to see more. (I sent you a quick email on my way out the door earlier today…hope that came thru. Thanks again for your sweet comment). Great to e-meet you! :-)

    • February 9, 2011 at 10:03 AM

      I know the feeling :O) Thanks for your kind words!! I’ll go check that email!

  • February 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    Thanks for the great tips! It seems I will have to invest in a better camera sooner than later. I just have a regular canon powershot. Looking at all your beautiful shots and what you can do gives me a serious case of camera envy.

  • February 9, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    I have an extremely important how-to-take-sharp-pictures tip. First, wipe off the smudgy fingerprints your toddler left on the lens. ;-)

  • April 2, 2011 at 9:33 PM

    ok, confession time – I’ve never considered how “aggressively” i’m pressing the shutter button – thanks so much!!

  • May 13, 2011 at 5:50 AM

    Wow! I found your blog through Paper Heart Blog … All I can say is wow! Your blog stands out because you seem to really describe in detail how things work! I am learning Manual mode and just found this post – love love love it! I am practicing the back button AF – what an amazing thing LOL! ANd I love moving the focal point too. Thanks for sharing and you’ve got me as a follower for sure! :)
    Skye

    • May 13, 2011 at 8:55 AM

      Aww, thanks and welcome!! I love BBF!! Let me know if you have any questions :O)

  • liz
    February 10, 2012 at 5:59 AM

    Yep I just ame across your bog too.. and love all the tips. I put my amera to bak button lok, still trying to get the hang of it… but as long as my shots of more in focus it is worth it.

    • Courtney
      February 13, 2012 at 3:14 PM

      Yay! So glad to hear you are giving back button focusing a try!! Hope you see a difference in your shots!! and Welcome!!!

  • February 22, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    New fan here!! I bought a ‘new to me’ Canon 30D just before Christmas, after my Canon PowerShot S3IS died. (I have to have a camera for product shots of the Laptop and E-Reader sleeves I make and sell online). Anyways, I’ve been quite intimidated by my new camera and resorted to using my phone for the shots I need. Yesterday I was determined to not sew another stitch until I sat down and learned how to use this camera. Thankfully (!) I found your blog and the way you explain things is genius! Today I took new products shots that I’m actually pleased with! I know I have a long way to go and a lot more to learn, but I just wanted to thank you for all of the instruction you offer here. I’ll be a regular visitor now!

    • Courtney
      February 25, 2012 at 3:37 PM

      Yay! I’m so glad to hear that you are getting better product shots!! Whoo hoo!! Welcome!! What is your shop web address??

  • February 26, 2012 at 2:13 AM

    Thank you Courtney. My shop address is http://www.etsy.com/shop/XSBaggageandCo. The photos that I took with my new camera, after reading your blog, are the 3 iPad Sleeves made with ‘Green Chevron’ fabric.
    Thank you again!!

    • Courtney
      February 27, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      Those photos of the Green Chevron looks awesome!! Way to go!!! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Courtney
      February 27, 2012 at 3:25 PM

      P.S. do you ship to APO’s? I saw a key chain thing I want :O) It’s same shipping price as in the States you would just need to fill out a customs form. Thanks!

  • Christina Dawson
    August 2, 2012 at 9:30 PM

    Thank you so much for all your advice and tips!! I am new to your website and I love it! My question is about “nailing your focus” with a 50mm f/1.8. You said you have to become very comfortable with nailing your focus if you’re going to shoot wide open. 1.) How do you learn how to do that? and 2.) What f-stop do you recommend for individual portraits, if not 1.8? Thanks, again!

    • Courtney
      August 8, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      I think the best way to become comfortable is practice and more practice. I know, probably not the advice you want. But honestly, that is the best way to learn how to do anything in photography. Don’t feel like you can’t shoot wide open just don’t do it all the time. For individual portraits, I like to shoot around f/2.2 all the way up to f/2.8. That is if only one person is in the image. Hope this helps!!! Oh, and WELCOME!!! :O)

      • Sara
        May 21, 2014 at 10:54 PM

        Hi Courtney, I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful blog, I’ve learned so much and got tons of inspirations from it since I’ve found it! One thing I still find hard to work out (I’ve read all your posts on it) is getting a sharp focus for my 50mm 1.8 (on Canon 7D) when I take photos of more than 2 people. The other day I had a shooting for a family with a constantly moving 2.5 year old and 80 % had the wrong spot in focus or were completely blurry. For a shooting like that, which aperture would you generally use and which AF points would you use? I used 2.8 and AF point expansion, which gives an area of 4 points. The 7D also has single point, spot, Zone and 19 Point AF. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

        • May 22, 2014 at 2:44 PM

          Thank you :) I would change your camera to single focus, choose your focal point and shoot around f/4 for two people if you have a hard time getting them both in focus :) Hope that helps.

          • Sara
            May 27, 2014 at 11:39 PM

            Thank you, Courtney, I’ve tried your tips and the results are much sharper, thanks so much for that! And thanks for all your time and energy you’re putting into this beautiful website, I’ve learned soooo much through it in the last couple of months!

  • March 17, 2013 at 4:36 AM

    Good tips here. I am not a real taker of photos but I can do with some tips. I did not realise about the shutter speed and aperture number, that’s very interesting.

    • Courtney
      March 21, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      Glad you found some useful tips!

  • January 5, 2014 at 1:33 AM

    I am so excited by the fact that this advice is all beginning to make complete sense to me. I am in manual mode whooohoooo. Thank you enormously for all this incredibly valuable information.

  • January 5, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    Thanks for the tips! There are so many things to remember when getting a great picture that I usually forget a step or two. I love reading your tips it helps burn them into my memory a little more :)

    • January 6, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      Thanks! Yes, it can be overwhelming but eventually you don’t even think about it anymore.

  • January 5, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Thank you Courtney for sharing these marvelous tips. I finally understand how to bbf thanks to you and members of your Facebook community. Stay Blessed!

  • Terri Jones
    January 13, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    Hello,

    I am a new photographer and I’ve always had a passion for it. I am a natural (so they say) as far as what I want my images to portray and the look I want, but I want to learn new techniques and get more familiar with the aperture and speed shutter. Basically I have an 18-55mm lens for my Canon and for some reason the aperture wont go below F4.5, is it because of the type of lens I have or is it my settings? I want to be able to capture wide shots and with that blurry effect background. Thanks for youre feedback.

  • January 15, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    The sharpest focal point will always be your center one. It’s almost better to focus using your center focal point and re-compose your shot. You just can’t do it with the aperture wide open…it’s got to be at least f4.0 or f5.6 to maintain sharpness when you recompose.

  • Barb.
    January 26, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    Ok, I’m confused about changing the focal points. What are you referring to exactly?
    My camera has the choice of multi points or a single center one to choose where the camera focus is. Is this what you are referring to? I have a sony a55. So much of what you post or video isn’t the same as Cannon/Nikon.

  • Kristen Sparkman
    February 22, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    I just want to say that your blog is the best thing that I have come across as far as photo tips go! So easy to understand! Thank you so much! Can’t wait to get home and fix my canon to do BBF!!! :)

  • kristen
    February 24, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    When shooting a group where should my focus point be? If I’m wanting everything to be in focus and sharp

  • Kristen
    April 17, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    I bought an entry level Nikon D5100 as I am trying to learn photography. I would like to eventually have a career in photography :) Do you think this camera is a good starter dslr to learn photography with? Or should I buy a professional model?

    • April 18, 2014 at 2:12 PM

      I would say if you already own the D5100 learn that camera inside and out. I don’t recommend people upgrade for the sake of upgrading. Instead, if you want to upgrade you will know exactly what a new camera can do that your current camera can’t :)

  • Shanta
    April 22, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    Great article….when photographing a large group, like a wedding party where should the focus point be in that situation ?

    Thanks

  • Shanta
    April 24, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    Courtney thank you so much! My question after reading that post…it said shoot arounf F8 for larger groups, so everyone can be in focus. I’m confused, would you not want it “wide open” as low as the F-stop will go for a larger gourp? I get that so confused and just want clarification.

    Your site..tips..turotirals are very helpful:)

    Shanta

    • April 28, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      When you shoot wide open, (smaller aperture) less of the image is in focus. So when you have a lot of people you need more of your image in focus so you would stop down on your aperture (higher number). :)

  • Lisha
    May 19, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    Great Tips can’t wait to read more on your page and do the 30 day challenge. Just tried out the adjusting on my camera since I was also having such a hard time with my moving kids to be in focus and I was so excited to finally get a sharp picture :) Thanks!

  • May 20, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    I recently bought a “workshop” tutorial online (im a sucker for these things) from Nichole Van. Its about skin tones/editing. I felt as though she put a lot of emphasis on buying an expensive dslr/lens to have better photos, skin tones and such. Now I feel after reading this ebook that you will get good photos with an entry level, but if you go out and get a pro camera/lens then you will have awesome photos:/ …..

    • May 22, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      I have seen people get amazing images with entry level cameras. Lenses do make a huge difference so if you are looking to upgrade I would say invest in the lens :)

  • May 20, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    I have a 50mm lens, a kit lens 18-55mm and a 55-200mm lens. I want to do portraits of my kids would the 50mm be okay or should I get a 35mm/85mm. My camera is a D5100 Nikon so it has a crop sensor. Any help would be great.

    • May 22, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      It depends if you are doing them indoors or outdoors. I LOVED my 50mm and only used that lens for almost a year. It is great for portraits but I heard the 85mm is even better at portraits but would be too tight indoors :)

  • June 13, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    I also use the shutter timer to shoot and make the minimum moves to my camera :)

  • June 14, 2014 at 12:52 AM

    How do I find back button focus? I have never heard of this. I have canon 5D. Thank you

    • June 17, 2014 at 10:05 AM

      Hey Linda,
      I don’t know how to do it on a Canon. I’d check your manual or Google back button focus for your camera :)

  • Karen
    July 1, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    I’m still struggling with focus. I took some pictures this weekend at a wedding reception and am so disappointed in how blurry some of them turned out. They are shots of groups of 2 or 3 people standing still, just waiting for me to take their picture (no movement involved) and they are still blurry! Any advice??

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      It may have been that your shutter speed was below 1/125 or your aperture was too wide.

  • Tracy
    July 8, 2014 at 10:20 PM

    Thank you for this! You’re the photo advice I’ve always wanted, but never found anywhere! I love how youre so accessible to your followers. I’m hoping to splurge on the photo bags you’ve shown on here so I can have my camera with me always. Congrats on reaching so many fans, you deserve it!

  • Amber
    July 8, 2014 at 11:34 PM

    Maybe I need to adjust something else. But even if I lower my aperature all the down, 1.4, and raise my shutter up, I still get dark images! ???

    And same thing that Karen said, I can get great sharp photos with one subject and maybe two, but with groups of more people, it’s not so great. I have a nikon 7100.

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      If you raise your shutter speed you are limiting the amount of light that comes into your image. Try raising your ISO if you need more light :)

  • Michelle
    July 9, 2014 at 12:28 AM

    Courtney I have a question. I have a Nikon D5200 I’m using a Nikon 50mm 1.8 and a Sigma 17-50mm 2.8 lens. My question is when I’m shooting in manual mode should I have my lens set on A-auto or M-manual? I love your tutorials you are awesome.

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:10 PM

      I prefer to shoot in auto focus but that is up to you. I shoot manual mode for my settings but auto focus. I know a lot of photographers who prefer to use manual focus but whatever you choose won’t affect your manual mode settings :)

  • July 9, 2014 at 1:35 AM

    Kudos, Courtney, on a successful and fabulous photography website.
    For me, Your tutorials are like translating Greek into abc’s. You’ve made the difference between respecting my camera and using it properly, instead of fearing my camera and remaining on auto.
    I wish I could sit down with you in person up fine tune my knowledge (or lack of).
    If you’re ever in San Antonio, TX, let me know!
    Thanks again gor all you’ve done for ALL of us!!
    [email protected]

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      Thank you so much for your sweet words! I totally get it b/c photography was a foreign language to me when I started out. I’ll keep that in mind if I’m in San Antonio :)

  • Dee Van Billiard
    July 9, 2014 at 1:52 AM

    Still having trouble shooting in manual mode. When Im in auto it all seem to come together, maybe Im not understanding my camera well enough yet to learn how to set…. Im trying and thanks for all the tips!!

  • Sreenath S
    July 9, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    Really good article… Expecting more useful tips from you !
    Thanks :)

  • July 9, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Great information, thank you! I’m practicing with my dog & flowers :)
    I am definitely going to try the tip of holding my breath!
    How was Okinawa? Look forward to seeing your photos of your visit.

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      Thanks! I didn’t actually go back to Okinawa (although that would have been fun). All my girlfriends from Okinawa met up in Tennesse :)

  • July 10, 2014 at 12:26 AM

    I am so in need of photography help. I usually just go with the stock settings because I always forget which does what, but I know I could do so much better. I will start paying better attention. Be back for more tips!!

  • July 15, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    All good tips, but there is one more you left out: use image stabilization, if your lens has it. It helps reduce the effects of hand held camera shake, especially when you’re zoomed in. The Image Stabilization on top quality professional lenses, such as Canon’s f/2.8 70-200 IS LII USM lens, can give you the equivalent of 2 stops. Which means shooting at 1/60 gives the same results as shooting at 1/250.

  • Mindy
    October 2, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    What am I doing wrong when the people in the picture have a peach tint to their faces??? It doesn’t happen all of the time but not sure what I am doing wrong?

  • October 8, 2014 at 1:41 AM

    Thanks for the great article, very, very useful! I’ve got another great advice for sharper images: the full body posture. Stand, kneel, sit steady in full balance. Even while photographying children, families.

  • Sandy
    April 21, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    Hello everyone.

    If there are 2 or more people in a picture, where should I put the focal point?

    Thanks!

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