8 Ways to Turn Blurry Photos into Tack Sharp Images

family taking a picture
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When you are first starting out with photography, all of the knowledge you need to take an amazing picture can be overwhelming.

You might be learning how to shoot in manual mode on your DSLR, find the light and edit your photos.

One major problem most new photographers have is getting blurry photos when they thought they nailed the focus.

Now, I’m not talking about a blurry background. Nailing a portrait where your subject is in focus and the background is blurry can be a great day for a new photographer.

You can find out more about getting a blurry background (bokeh) in this blog post —> 5 Ways to Get A Blurry Background in Your Photos.

I’m talking about taking pictures that don’t have anything in sharp focus.

So today, we are going to troubleshoot your photos and find out what you might be doing to cause blurry pictures. Then we are going to tell you how to fix it next time for tack sharp images you will be proud of.

8 Ways to Turn Blurry Photos into Tack Sharp Images

1. Aperture too low

Aperture is the F-stop number on your lens. This number controls the depth of field (the part of the photo that is in focus) in your photo.

A smaller number means the lens lets in more light, which makes for a brighter picture with less in focus. This is called shooting wide open (usually between a 1.6 to a 5.6 f-stop number) or with a shallow focus. Your focal point will be in focus, but everything in front or behind it will be blurry.

The problem with shooting at a lower aperture number is that it gives very little room for error in your photo because the focal plane is very small.

How to fix it: If you are having a hard time nailing focus while shooting wide open, you might want to stop down (use a larger number aperture) to get more of your picture in focus.

To find out more about aperture, read this blog post –> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.

blurry shot of bikes

2. Shutter speed too slow

Shutter speed is how fast the shutter moves when taking the photo.

The slower the shutter moves, the more light that is able to get in. This makes for a brighter photo. The faster the shutter moves, the better its ability to freeze motion or action in a photo.

When you are shooting a photo of a subject that is moving, you want to make sure your shutter speed is quick enough to catch it. Otherwise your photo will be blurry.

If you want to use a slow shutter speed to blur motion, you want to do it intentionally. To do this, you need a tripod. That way the slow shutter speed will catch the subject in motion (waterfall, person on bike, car passing by) and everything else will be in focus.

How to fix it: So if you are shooting a subject that is moving and you don’t want blur, you need to bump up your shutter speed. I suggest 1/200 for kids, 1/250 (or more) for sports shots and higher for faster moving subjects.

For more information on shutter speed, read this blog post –> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Shutter Speed Basics.

3. Choosing a focus mode

Many times blurry images can come from not setting your focus correctly in your camera.

There are 4 focus modes in your camera that you can choose from, depending on what you are shooting and your lighting conditions. If you choose the wrong one, it may lead to your camera not focusing correctly on your subject.

  1. Auto Focus- In this mode, the camera finds and chooses the focus to use. If you are going thru the work of shooting in manual mode, you don’t want to use this mode. You want to find the focus on your own.
  2. Single Focus- In this mode, the camera focuses when you press half way down on the shutter, and by the time you finish pressing all the way down, the camera takes the picture. This is the mode you want to use when your subject is still because it doesn’t use as much battery.
  3. Continuous Focus- In this mode, the camera continues to find focus all the way up to the instant that you snap the picture. This is good for action pictures when your subject is constantly moving. But the constant refocusing can take up more battery than the single focus option.
  4. Manual Focus- If you use manual focus, you are using your hand to turn the lens to focus your subject. This is how it was done in the “old days” and how many professional photographers still focus. It takes a lot of practice to learn to focus manually, but you can focus things better this way. Especially if you are trying to focus on a subject in the dark (night photography) or on a busy background.

How to fix it: So look thru the settings on your camera and choose the focus mode that best goes with your situation. Try it out for awhile and see if it helps get your photos tack sharp.

For more information on focus, read this blog post –> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Focus Basics.

4. Dirty lens

If you are carrying around your camera a lot, especially on vacation or out and about, you may get it dirty.

Little specs of dust and dirt on your lens can affect your focus and make your photos look blurry.

You want to check your lens every so often, especially before you take important photos, to see if it needs to be cleaned.

How to fix it: If it does need to be cleaned, make sure to use a lens cloth or lens pen to clean it. Otherwise, you could scratch the lens just like if you were wearing glasses.

5. Not the best lens

We all have to start somewhere, so don’t feel bad if you can’t afford top of the line equipment right from the beginning. Lenses are expensive and most of us can only afford an entry level camera and kit lens as our first DSLR.

But there is a reason why these cameras and lenses are cheaper. Several reasons in fact.

But the one we are going to talk about today is lens quality. The kit lens is a great starter lens, but it isn’t always going to give you tack sharp images. It has its limitations.

How to fix it: If you feel like your blurry images have to do with your caliber of lens, there are a couple of things you can do:

  1. Don’t shoot to the edge of the aperture. This means don’t shoot at the very lowest or very highest the aperture can go. The middle ranges are crisper than the apertures on either end.
  2. Don’t shoot to the edge of the zoom. If your kit lens is a zoom (they usually are) don’t shoot at the very lowest or very highest it can go.
  3. Upgrade your lens as soon as possible (a 50 mm 1.8 is a great start).

Knowing the limits of your camera and lens can help you get the most out of them until you are ready to upgrade to the next level.

6. Camera shake

Camera shake is when the mechanisms of the camera itself causes blur at low shutter speeds. Even when you use a tripod.

This can be very frustrating because you would think using a tripod would end blur. But that isn’t always the case. Especially on very low shutter speeds.

How to fix it: Use a timer or remote to take a photo with a very low shutter speed. Put your camera on a tripod and set your settings. Then either set a timer or use a remote to put some time between when your camera is getting ready for the shot and when it is actually taking it. This will reduce camera shake.

couple looking at the back of a camera

7. Not “chimping”

To “chimp” in photography means to look at the back of your camera at the LCD screen after you take a shot.

Many professional photographers will say this is a bad practice because it interrupts the flow of a shoot and makes you look like an amateur.

But when you are an amateur and still trying to make sure you nail focus, chimping is your friend.

How to fix it: So if you want to know if you nailed focus at your shoot (instead of afterwards when it is too late to change), then look at your LCD screen on the back of your camera and zoom in to check for focus.

8. Hand shake

Hand shake is just like it sounds. It is when your hands shake taking a picture, which can cause blur.

The best way to avoid hand shake is to bump up your shutter speed. I don’t shoot under 1/160 hand held, but everyone is different.

How to fix it: When you are shooting hand held, know your limits for hand shake. Do some tests to see what your minimum shutter speed can be for hand held images before you get hand shake. Then don’t go below that number without using a tripod or setting your camera on a flat surface.

The moral of the story. . . There are many reasons why your photos might be blurry. In order to find out what’s going on with your photos, go over each of these reasons one by one to find out the culprit. In fact, it may be more than one that is causing you issues.

Then once you find out what is going on, set some limits in your photography to keep these things from happening again: higher minimum shutter speed, higher minimum aperture, using a tripod, etc.

Knowing the limits of yourself and your equipment can help you get those tack sharp images you are looking for. Then as you get better and you are able to buy better equipment, you can revisit these minimums and see if they can be changed. But first, you need to know what they are.

I hope these tips give you the crystal clear, tack sharp photos you are looking for. You can do this!

Which of these these problems gives you the most trouble? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

man taking a picture with a monopod and DSLR camera

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