4 reasons your photos are blurry
here is why your images are blurry and some simple fixes
reason #1 – focus
The most common reason for images that are ‘un-sharp’ is simply that they are out of focus. This might be a result of focussing on the wrong part of the image, being too close to your subject for the camera to focus, selecting an aperture that generates a very narrow depth of field or taking an image too quickly without checking it is in focus.
If you use Auto focus you can’t assume that the camera will always get it right. Always consider which part of the image should be in focus before hitting the shutter. If your focus point (usually a small red square) is not in the right place move your focus point. If your camera allows you to move focus points from the centre (default) then make sure your focus point is where it needs to be (the eyes in a portrait of your kids). Check your camera manual if you’re nor sure how to move focus points.
The other alternative is the focus and recompose method. This method involves focusing the centre focus point on the eye, holding the shutter down to maintain focus and recomposing/repositioning the camera.
Both take a bit of practice but it is well worth mastering one, or both, techniques to avoid blurry photos.
You probably already know that your aperture setting has a direct impact on what’s in focus. Shallow depth of field (large aperture/small number – e.g. f2.8) , creates more blur behind or in front of your subject. Shallow depth of field is desirable in a portrait to ensure that your subject stands out from the background. But if you use a very low aperture such as f/2.8 (especially when you use a long lens and stand close to the subject) then your depth of field will be very narrow and you may end up with the eyes in focus and the nose blurry. Be aware of this and practice with different aperture settings until you are comfortable with the amount of your image that is in focus.
reason #2 – camera shake/camera blur
Camera blur simply means that the camera moved while the image was being taken, resulting in a blurry photo. Pushing the shutter button too forcefully moves the camera and can cause blur. Another common cause of camera blur is when the photographer uses a shutter speed that is too slow, so that the natural shaking of one’s hands causes blur in the photo. The bigger the lens (and the heavier) the more difficulty you will have hand holding the camera steady.
One thing that can make a big difference but is often overlooked when it comes to sharpness is your lens’ focal length. To fix blur caused by camera shake, try to keep your shutter speed at 1/the focal length of the lens. So if you’re using a 100mm lens, then your shutter speed should be at least 1/100, 200mm lens = minimum 1/200th etc. Try it and see if it helps!
tricks for hand holding
The best way to tackle camera shake if your shutter speed is slower than recommended above is to use a tripod. But this is nearly always impractical, if not impossible, when you are photographing your kids and you’ll need to shoot while holding your camera. Some simple tricks: use both hands, keep the camera close to your body, hold your breath when you press the shutter and if possible support yourself with a wall, tree or some other solid object.
Image Stabilisation (IS) Lenses
If your have a DSLR camera, it’s may be worth investing in a good IS lens. This is especially true if you use a heavy telephoto lens because the weight alone can make a difference. If it’s affordable to you, the extra outlay of cash for an IS lens will ensure sharper images.
reason #3 – motion blur
Another type of blur in shots is the result of your subject moving (called motion blur). As with camera shake, this is generally caused by the shutter speed being too slow.
You most likely know that the faster the shutter speed, the less amount of time the shutter is open. The less amount of time the shutter is open, the more likely you’ll get a sharp image. Motion blur is simple. It means that you used a shutter speed that was too slow for the movement in a scene.
- For portraits, you’ll want a shutter speed of at least 1/100
- For slow movement (a walking child for example), a shutter speed of 1/320 will usually work.
- For fast movement like sports, 1/1000 is usually enough to freeze motion.
Play around with your shutter speeds until you get a feel for what works for you in each situation.
reason #4 – ISO
Noise – ‘noisy’ shots are ones that are pixelated and look like they have lots of little dots over them.
We have discussed Aperture and Shutter Speed. The third element of the exposure triangle is ISO which has a direct impact upon the noisiness of your shots. A noisy shot will appear blurry.
Choose a larger ISO and you’ll be able to use faster shutter speed and smaller aperture (which as we’ve seen help with sharpness) but you’ll suffer by increasing the noise of your shots. Depending upon your camera (and how large you want to enlarge your images) you can probably get away with using ISO of up to 400 (or even 800 on some cameras) without too much noise but for pin sharp images keep your ISO as low as possible).
It’s all a bit of a balancing act.
Practice, practice, practice!
If you’d like some more help with photographing your kids, consider a workshop (if you’re in Sydney) or sign up for the upcoming online . course. Also keep an eye on the Facebook page where there are new tips and tricks and inspiration daily.
I’ll occasionally show you some of my ‘not so successful shots’ to demonstrate the topic. This image was shot in late afternoon on a dull day. The shutter speed was 1/200 (could have been faster to reduce the motion blur on the hands and feet). The aperture was f8. The ISO was 800 and so there was quite a lot of noise (note: this is an old image and was shot on an older camera – newer cameras are pretty good at ISO 800). The high ISO allowed me a shutter speed fast enough to (mostly) stop the action but the noise makes the image look un-sharp. This one went in the ‘just for fun but not for printing’ pile!