5 Ways To Take Sharper Photos

I have been teaching photography courses for the last two years and before that, I helped to train new digital tech, and Jr. photographers at my previous job. I have found that one of the biggest problems that new photographers have is getting sharp photos. Whether you are a food photographer, a product photographer or a lifestyle photographer these tips are for you.

Get A Tripod

1. Use a good tripod or studio stand. This tip is actually two-fold. Being on a tripod will ensure that your camera is locked in place. Secondly being on a tripod and not moving the tripod will ensure that your composition is not moving unintentionally. I often find that students will be trying to get everything perfect from a stling or lighting standpoint and then they move the camera and have to start over again. Having a good steady support will ensure that your photos are tack sharp considering that the subject is not moving and that the camera is properly focused. I swear by my Manfrotto 055CX tripod. It is a great lightweight and sturdy tripod for a good price. My recommended ball head is a Really Right Stuff BH55 if you can afford the cost and the weight. No matter what tripod and head you go with it is important to shoot with a tripod.

D600 On Tripod.jpg
Tripod and Tether Cable
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RRSBH55.jpg

Shutter Speed Matters

2. Shutter speed. As a general rule in photography, you want the shutter speed to be at least as fast as the focal length of your lens. So if you are using a 50mm lens you need to be at 1/50sec if you are not on a tripod. If we are shooting food and product photography we can get away with some slower shutter speeds like 1/50sec because our subject is not moving. If however, you are taking a handheld portrait of a subject that is also moving 1/50sec might be too slow. If you are using slower shutter having steady hands is key to getting sharp images. With too slow of a shutter speed you will get motion blur from the camera moving.

Looking though the camera on a tripod at this color card you can see our shutter speed is 1/125

Looking though the camera on a tripod at this color card you can see our shutter speed is 1/125

Use Live View

3. Live View Focus- If you are doing still life photography then live view focus is perfect. Instead of looking through the small diopter of a 35mm digital camera and trying to focus you can use the back of the camera with its larger screen to focus the camera. Switch over to manual focus and then decide where you want to focus. Most cameras will allow you to zoom in on the focus point that you want to ensure that it is tack sharp. I use live view focus in combination with a studio stand or tripod to get sharp photos.

Flash!

4. Use strobes. Using studio strobes will help ensure that your photos are sharp considering that they are properly focused. Studio strobes help to freeze the motion in the scene. When using only flash for your image you can sync at up to 1/125 on 35mm or up to 1/500 on a leaf shutter lens with out going into high speed sync.

The camera is on a tripod and the flash is to camera left. We actually flipped camera position to the other side of the table for the resulting images from this shoot so that we would have more direction from the flash. We are using a super simple 1 light set up here for some awesome results.

The camera is on a tripod and the flash is to camera left. We actually flipped camera position to the other side of the table for the resulting images from this shoot so that we would have more direction from the flash. We are using a super simple 1 light set up here for some awesome results.

Set up here at Jack Brown’s diner in Murfreesboro. This would eventually become a 4 light set up.

Set up here at Jack Brown’s diner in Murfreesboro. This would eventually become a 4 light set up.

Depth Of Field

5. F-stop- If you are having problems with focus your f-stop and lens may be part of the problem. If you are shooting at f1.4 you just don't have a deep focus area. Stopping down will help you get the photo more in focus. You may lose the creamy bokeh, but the photos will be sharper. I find for photographing food for the majority of me shots photographing into the subject I like to be at f5.6 and that for most of my overheads I like to be at f8. These f-stops will give you just enough of the subject to be in focus. For shooting products, I tend to like to have a deeper area of focus and tend to shoot at f16.

This image is shot at f1.4 and has a really shallow depth of field. If you miss focus at f1.4 the image is lost.

This image is shot at f1.4 and has a really shallow depth of field. If you miss focus at f1.4 the image is lost.

This image is shot at f32 and has a really deep depth of field. The cost of the deep depth of field here is diffraction so the whole image is not as sharp as possible because the lens is stopped down so much.

This image is shot at f32 and has a really deep depth of field. The cost of the deep depth of field here is diffraction so the whole image is not as sharp as possible because the lens is stopped down so much.

Wrapping It Up!

To wrap it up to take sharper photos you can do the following: put the camera on a tripod, increase your shutter speed to a minimum of 1/focal length, use live view focus to really see that focal point, use strobes to help freeze motion, and stop down the f-stop so more of the subject is in focus. Let me know if these tips help you out in the comments. Also if you have any of your own tips drop them in the comments.

Nick uses the Really Right Stuff BH55 to see his review of it click here. Really Right Stuff BH55.

Nick Bumgardner is a food and product photographer as well as an educator based out of Nashville, TN.