Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How To Get The Sharpest Image Possible

What follows pertains getting sharp images in landscape photography not sports or action photography. These steps will apply any time you are shooting on a tripod, and from my view that applies to almost every time you are shooting a landscape.

Coulter Bay, Jackson Lake                  

Use a Tripod

The first guideline is to use a tripod. Not just any tripod, but one that is sturdy enough to hold your camera steady in whatever conditions you plan to shoot. If you will have the legs of your tripod in moving water, or if it is windy, the sturdiness of the tripod becomes very important. Also, if you are using a long lens (powerful magnification) the need for a steady tripod increases. To test this out, put your camera with a long lens in live view and zoom in as far as you can and watch the screen. Now reach up and press the shutter release button.  Watch to see if there is movement. I was amazed at how sensitive my 400mm lens was to the slightest disturbance. With a sturdy tripod you minimize the shake but you may also want to use a cable release or your camera's timer to take shots.

Mormon Row

Turn Off Image Stabilization

I used to wonder why my fairly expensive wide angle lenses didn’t have image stabilization (IS) built in. Then one afternoon I tested my lenses that did have image stabilization by taking shots with IS active and with it inactive. I used a tripod and and took a series of comparative shots, the only difference was IS on and IS off. Sure enough, the images without IS active were sharper. After discovering this it finally made sense to me why my wide angle lenses don’t have IS. It is because they are mostly intended for use with a tripod and in that case the image stabilization does not improve the sharpness of the image.

Use Mirror Lock-Up

In the same way that IS causes vibration so does the mirror. When you press the shutter the mirror flips up and out of the way so your sensor can take the shot. That movement is the culprit. To avoid this motion, your camera should have a menu setting that allows you to use mirror lock-up. When activated the first time you press the shutter release the mirror is moved up and the second time you press it the shot is taken. A way to get around this, and I prefer this method, is to shoot in live view. In this case the mirror is already out of the way so that when the shutter is released no shake is introduced, allowing for a steady shot.

Grand Tetons

Use the Optimum Aperture Setting for Your Lens

The aperture setting will affect sharpness.  For my canon lenses f/8 to f/11 are my sharpest settings.  But this will vary between lenses and if you want really sharp images find out (google it) what the sharpest setting is for your specific lens.  Sometimes you will have to sacrifice sharpness to get the depth of field you want or to get the shutter speed you need.

Use a Cable Release

Pressing the shutter button raises the likelihood of moving the camera. One of the reasons for using a tripod is to get away from manually pressing the shutter release. This is why we have remote shutter releases as they will release the shutter without moving the camera. Another method is to use the timer on your camera. The 2-second timer is especially handy in this regard. Just set the timer and when you press the shutter release the camera will have 2 seconds to settle down before taking the shot.

Ox Bow

Keep Your Hands Off the Tripod and Camera

I had gotten into the habit of placing my hand on my camera as I was taking images. It didn’t occur to me that I could be inadvertently moving the camera. I thought I was steadying it. But without realizing it every once in a while I would shift my body or arm and the camera moved, even though very slightly. I paid the price in the shot above which is a landscape made of five images stitched together. Each of the five images was bracketed with seven shots. All was fine until I got to the last frame on the right when inadvertently I moved the camera. It is not particularly obvious from this small rendition, but if I were to enlarge it for print it would be unacceptable.

Use Your Hands - Strong Winds


The one time I recommend placing you hands on the equipment is when you are shooting in strong wind. When I was in Iceland we had some days that were quite windy and the only way to get a decent shot was to grab the tripod legs with both hands and press down firmly. Other than conditions like that I am monitoring myself to keep my hands to myself.

Pay Attention to Depth of Field

Depth of field relates to the amount of your scene, from the closest object to the most distant that is in focus. Small apertures and short focal lengths increase depth of field. With any given focal length, combined with a chosen aperture size there will be a formula that lets you know where to place your focus point in the scene in order to maximize you depth of field. That focus point is called the hyperfocal distance and there are charts and calculators on line that you can use to figure out where the optimal focus point is. It can get a bit complicated but is worth the trouble of figuring it out if you want really sharp images from front to back or within a particular range.  The image of Coulter Bay above was taken by maximizing depth of field with a small aperture setting, 16mm focal length on a  full frame camera, 2 sec. timer, live view, hyper focal focusing, and using a tripod.

To see more of Bob's fine art landscape photography visit his web page by clicking

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