Original article found on Fstoppers.com
If you struggle with getting sharp photos, this is for you, and even if you are experienced, there might be a tip or two to pick up.
Although sharpness is important in any type of photography and something you can optimize, it is also something you, to a certain extent, can compromise if need be. I am not talking about throwing your photos out of focus deliberately, but as you will see in this article, “best” sharpness comes with compromises.
In my latest video, I share a ton of tips on how to get sharp photos and also more than what I can show in this article. However, first and foremost, you need to have your photo in focus or make sure that the parts of the photo you want to show are in focus. Focus is in itself a big topic, and I covered it in last week’s article and video.
All lenses have an aperture or f-stop where they are the sharpest. On full-frame lenses, where maximum aperture is normally around f/22, it is usually around f/8 or f/11; however, from f/5.6-f/16, it can be hard to see the difference. The most important part is that the smallest aperture values (f/18-f/22) usually introduce too much diffraction, which is an optical phenomenon that makes your photos look a little soft or ghostly. On the other end of the spectrum, with a wide-open aperture, you may also experience softness; however, it is usually not as bad as fully closed down.
In many landscape scenes with a foreground close to the camera, you may need to use an aperture of f/16 or beyond. Depending on the scene (if you cannot focus stack) f/22 might be your only option, and therefore, you have to sacrifice some sharpness to get the shot.
The lenses themselves also vary a lot in sharpness. It all comes down to the quality of the glass, how much glass is actually in the lens, and the lens design. Canon has their professional L series of lenses, Sony has their G master series, and other brands have their own names. These lenses are designed with the best optical performance in mind, but within these series of lenses, the quality can differ a lot. Even individual examples of the same lens can vary. Be sure to weigh the optical performance of a lens against other practical priorities (and budget) of yours before choosing a lens.
Handholding the Camera
There can be many reasons for you to handhold your camera and to get the sharpest possible photo, there are many practical tips to consider. On the most basic level, it is about keeping the camera as still as possible (unless you photograph flying birds, car races, or other moving objects). It is a good idea to turn on any kind of image stabilization feature of your camera. The performance of the IS differs from camera to camera, but many modern cameras have good IS. Personally, I also prefer to use the viewfinder to support the camera against my face, and I make sure to use a breathing technique where I get the shot when I am in-between breaths.
Landscape photography often requires a wide range of shutter speeds and often slow shutter speeds. Without a tripod (or something else to rest the camera on), these kinds of photos are nearly impossible to get. The tripod keeps the camera still, and if you combine it with a two-second shutter delay while you are not touching the camera, you greatly optimize the chance of getting a sharp photo. You can also use a remote or a wire trigger to ensure you do not touch the camera.
If I struggle with getting a certain photo sharp, I have found that the mirror lock-up (DSLRs) and the silent shooting mode (mirrorless) works really well. These two modes make sure no mechanical parts of the camera move while you take the photo.