Have you taken the perfect photo, only to get home and realise that it’s not in focus. It’s so frustrating. There are a few reasons why your images are not sharp, let’s take a look at how you can fix them.

1. Missed Focus

When you take an image, your camera focuses on part of the image and makes that part sharp. The rest of the image may not be as sharp. Your camera is not a mind reader, it can’t tell what part of the image you want to be sharp, so you need to tell it.

Make sure your focus is set to single point focus, that way YOU choose which part of the image to focus on, not the camera.

Read my guide on Focusing for more information

When focusing, try to have your focal point over your subjects’ eye, the eye closest to the camera. The eyes are the most important part of a portrait so they need to be in focus. If you can’t see your subjects eyes, make sure the area you choose has high contrast, because many cameras use contrast to help them focus.

How to tell if missed focus is your problem

If part of your image is out of focus, and the rest is sharp and in focus, then it means you’ve missed focus.

In the image below, the background is in focus but the girl is out of focus.

Missed Focus

Canon 5d mkii | 50mm | F4.5 | 1/320 | ISO 1250

2. Motion Blur

Motion blur happens when your subjects are moving, and the camera captures some of that movement. Motion blur usually happens when you’re photographing something that is moving fast (and nothing moves faster than a toddler, am I right?). But it’s not just fast moving toddlers that can cause motion blur. Sometimes it can happen simply because your camera moves slightly when you’re taking the photo.

How to prevent motion blur

Make sure your shutter speed is high enough

Your shutter speed controls for how long your shutter is open when you take the photo. Usually it’s only open for a tiny fraction of a second. If it stays open too long, you may get motion blur. To change your shutter speed, you need to set your camera to manual or shutter priority (S or TV). Shutter speed is recorded as a fraction of a second, so 1/200 means your shutter stays open for 200th of a second.

Here’s a quick guide to set your shutter speed. Start with these settings, and increase your shutter speed if you still have blurry images

shutter Speed

Hold your camera properly

Make sure to hold your camera steady to get sharp images. When you’re holding your camera, keep your elbows in to steady your hands and use your left hand (or your least dominant hand) to support your lens, this is especially important if you have a big, heavy lens.

Camera shake is more likely to happen when there is less light (because your shutter needs to stay open longer to gather the available light) so be extra vigilent of how you hold your camera when it’s darker.

Also, if your camera has image stabilisation, make sure it is turned on as this can help prevent camera shake.

3. Shallow Depth of Field

How to tell – If you have more than one person in your photo, and they are not all in focus, it could be due to shallow depth of field.

Depth of field

The depth of field tells us how how much of an image is in focus. If you have a shallow depth of field, there will only be a small plane in focus and anything outside this plane will be out of focus. This can be a problem when you are photographing more than one person and they are not all the same distance to the camera, i.e. one is standing behind another.

How to prevent this

If not all the people in your image are in focus, you need to widen the depth of field. One way to do this is to decrease your aperture. The aperture is the hole in your lens that lets in light, and the smaller the hole, the bigger the depth of field.

Aperture is measured by F numbers. Bigger F numbers mean smaller apertures. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the F number is larger than the number of people you a photographing, so if you are photographing 5 people your aperture should be 5.6 or higher. However, this is just guide, if everyone is standing in a row or very close together you can try a larger aperture like F4, whereas if everyone is far apart, you’ll need a smaller aperture.

To change your aperture, set your camera to manual mode or aperture priority, marked with an A or Av.

Aperture Priority Mode

4. Noise

When you’re taking photos in low light, your camera my try to ‘boost’ the light available by increasing ISO. ISO increases your cameras sensitivity to light, but the higher the ISO, the noisier your images will be. This means that your images look grainy or pixilated. If your images are noisy, they will not look sharp, even if they are in focus.

The image below was taking in low light with a very high ISO, the light level of noise makes the image look soft.

Low Light Noise

How to prevent grainy images

You can use post processing software such as Photoshop and Lightroom or reduce noise in your images, but the best way to avoid noise is to make sure there is enough light for your images. Indoors, make sure you are close to a window or door to get natural light. Outdoors, make sure you are shooting at a time where there is enough light, and avoid heavy shadows. If you regularly use your camera after dark, it’s worth investing in artificial lighting like a speedlight to get more light in your images.

If you are unable to get more light when photographing, make sure your shutter speed is not too high. It should be just high enough to avoid motion blur, but not so high that your images are dark and noisy. The same with aperture. You want it high enough to get the right depth of field, but not too high.

5. Camera Care

Make sure you take good care of your equipment. Keep your camera and lenses in a dust free environment and make sure to clean your lens regularly. If there is dust or dirt on your lens it could effect the quality of your images.

5 Reasons Your Images are Not Sharp