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12 Tips for Sharper Images | Day 29

1. Proper Exposure & Good Lighting

Under exposure sets you up for noise and distortion, over-exposure blows out pixel information. You will not get tack sharp images in poor lighting situations.

2. Hold the Camera Steady

So this may elicit some “duuuhhhhhh”s – but… Are you guilty of an over-grip on your camera? Tsk, tsk, my friend! If you’re hand-holding the shot, dig your elbow in securely to your body, hold the camera under the body with your palm up – thumb pointing toward the lens, and your pinky toward you. Take a deep breath and hold your breath while you shoot. If your rib cage moves, so does your camera.

Better yet – use a tripod! As steady as you may be, a tripod will nearly always be more steady than you.

3. Don’t shake the camera by pressing the shutter.

On a tripod, turn off VR or image stabiliziation and use a timer or cable release. Even the smallest amount of vibration can be seen in your photo, especially in long exposure images.

4. Focus by moving the focus point, don’t focus and recompose.

This is especially critical at wide-open apertures like f/1.8 or greater where your depth of field may be tiny. Less important at small apertures like f/11 or smaller where you have more wiggle room with your depth of field. The Canon 5d Mark II has 9 focus points and 6 assist points. The Nikon d700 has 51 focus points. Make the most of yours.

5. Always focus on your subject’s eye.

Where is your focal point? It should be on the best-lit eye. If you have a large group, focus on the prime subject – the matriarch, the bride or whoever’s milestone is being celebrated.

6. Avoid high ISO.

High ISO = noise and noise does not = sharp.

7. Shoot with prime lenses.

Prime lenses are sharp! Zoom lenses, as a rule, are not as sharp as prime lenses. Prime lenses are also called “fixed lenses” because they shoot at only one focal length rather than sliding the lens barrel to move focal lengths (or “zoom”). If you shoot with a zoom, see #9.

8. Don’t shoot at full open aperture.

My 85mm f/1.8 is super sharp right about at f/2.2. My 70-200 f/2.8 makes magic at f/3.2. Your lens has a sweet spot, too, and it’s usually a stop or two above maximum aperture. Your lens may not be as sharp all the way open.

9. Shoot fast.

Duh, right? If you’re showing motion blur, you’ll never be sharp. Never shoot kids and pets below 1/125s. 1/250s is better. Some pros shoot kids above 1/500s. You have to be fast enough to freeze motion if you want sharp images. This is especially true for zoom – the longer the focal length, as a general rule, the faster you’ll need to shoot to compensate for camera shake. See #2!

10. Invest in better gear.

I know someone’s going to moan about this, but this much is true: Having better gear will definitely not make you a better photographer, but having a better sensor and a camera that can handle noise paired a fast lens will yield sharper images. Period. Carpenters show up for the job with the right tools. There’s a reason why lumber jacks don’t use two-person crosscut saws anymore.

11. Make an eye appointment.

Your focus will only be as good as your vision. If you suspect you’re not seeing well through your view finder, check. If you wear glasses, contact lenses or need to compensate, research what and where the diopter is. A diopter adjusts focus for individual vision differences. Like glasses – for your Nikon. On my camera it’s just to the right of the viewfinder and can help you compensate for vision issues. (Oh, okay. Your Canon. Your Olympus. Your Fuji. Your Sony. Your Kodak… your whatever you use!)

12. Keep your gear clean.

Dust on your sensor will not a pretty picture make.


  1. I love the holding your breath tip, I am way too shaky. Thanks for more great tips!

  2. Darcy, Awesome as always! I have read every post and then gone out and practiced. My photography has improved so much in just the past 29 days, more than I can tell you. Thank you so much for doing this series.

    • I totally agree with you! This has been exactly what I needed! Not too much and not too little. I used to leave my camera on auto because I was too chicken to move the dial but after the metering lesson, something clicked and I actually “got it”! Since then, my camera has basically stayed on manual and I pulled out my manual (again) to read through it and see what other bells and whistles my camera has!

  3. Darcy do you have any tips on cleaning the sensor. I actually am not even sure where the sensor is. Also forgive me if I missed it, but did you talk about metering? That one still stumps me. Thanks.

    • Susan,

      If you have never been trained on how to clean the sensor, DO NOT! The sensor is such a delicate piece of the camera and a very expensive piece as well. Doing one thing wrong while cleaning can completely ruin the sensor.

      I highly recommend having your local camera store clean your sensor or if they have a repair person they recommend that cleans cameras.

      Good luck!

    • The sensor is behind the mirror. The mirror is what you see when you change lenses on your camera. I’ve cleaned the sensor on my camera based on a tutorial I found online. It’s doable. Obviously, there’s some risk involved but if you have steady hands you can probably handle it.

      Along those lines, be careful when changing your lens and don’t change at all in windy/dirty conditions.

    • I take my camera in to my local camera store. They are experienced and trustworthy. I don’t trust my hand to clean it myself. Since my livelihood depends on my gear, I make sure its done properly.

      Rachel’s advice about changing lenses is good advice.

  4. Once again – awesome!


  5. You have shared very nice tips but most of the time , when I take picture I shake camera . I am trying my best to make my hand still while taking snaps and hope one day I can be pro .

    I want to ask that – how we can avoid red eyes images . I have noticed that most pictures taken by me are displaying red color in eyes .

    • Try moving the flash away from the lens. To start out, rent a basic flash unit that attaches to your hot-shoe and use it to bounce light off the ceiling. If that seems like gibberish to you, get a book about flash photography from your local library. I’ve learned a lot from photography books, whether they were written last year or twenty years ago.

  6. Darcy – can you help me with this?

    my husband’s company wants me to shoot this years catalog for them.

    i will be using my tripod. what cable release should i get for my canon rebel t1i? my next body will be the 7D

    does that work to set off the speedlight 580 flash {first time I’ll be using one} as well or do i need another cable for that?

    thanks a bunch!

  7. Hi! I absolutely love this blog and this exercise. I am so upset that I discovered it on the 29th day. However, I will start my 31 days over with this as soon as my new camera comes in! Thanks so much for taking the time to help others get better with their photography.

  8. I have so enjoyed your “classes” in photography! I hate to see the 31 days come to an end. I have also been blessed by your blogging tips. Love seeing all your pics and reading what is going on in your world. I have an easyshare Kodak that has been great for a beginner camera. I am still exploring all its possibilities but am thinking that soon I would like to take a step up. What would you recommend? I love to take photos. It was something I didn’t really have a lot of access to before the past 6 years so I am still a beginner. Thinking of taking some classes to improve.

    • I have such a hard time recommending cameras.

      I say – buy the most you can easily afford.

      If you can afford something like a Nikon d40 or d60 that’s an amazing entry-level dSLR. Canon makes an inexpensive Rebel as a start up. If that’s still too much camera, I would buy whatever you’re mostly likely to use and bring with you. 🙂

  9. Thanks Darcy!! Your 31 Days were awesome. Thanks for sharing!


  10. I just discovered your blog!! I love it! You are fabulous!! I am very excited about Tuesdays!!! Thank you for all the great info.

  11. very useful tips. especially holding the breath while shooting handheld. and i was wondering what that tiny screw for (diopter) all these days 🙂 thank you


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