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Some Words About Focus

I have had several people email me with questions about how I get crisp, sharp images, so I thought I would make a post about it. First of all, let me say that it can be very challenging! It has taken me lots of practice and lots of patience to learn how to get my images in sharp focus. I am still learning new techniques and tricks, but here are some of the things that I have learned.

1 • Keep your shutter speed high enough for your given situation. For a long time, I wanted to believe that my hands were steady enough to use shutter speeds of 1/4oth or 1/60th of a second, but I have since learned that my hands are just not that steady, so I either need to use a tripod (which still won't help very much with a moving subject), or set the shutter speed to a higher number.

Both of the images above were hand held, and were taken with a 50mm 1.8 lens. The first image was taken at 1/60th of a second, and the child was moving. Note that it is not in sharp focus. The focus on the second image is much better - it was taken at 1/80th of a second. It may not be true for everyone, but I am always amazed at how much sharper my images are when I boost the shutter speed just a little bit.


2 • If you normally focus and recompose and you're not getting the clarity that you'd like, try abandoning that practice. I have found that I do not get sharp focus when I focus and recompose. Instead, I use the individual focus points on my camera and I select them for each image. I always try to place the little dot right between the subject's eyes.

Then, I press the shutter halfway down to focus, and immediately when I hear the little beep, I press the shutter the rest of the way down. If I wait in between the time I hear the beep and actually take the picture, it gives my subject (or myself!) the opportunity to move just a little bit, causing my image not to have the clarity that I like.


3 • Use an appropriate aperture for your situation. If you are taking pictures of a landscape, make sure that you choose an aperture that will allow the foreground and the background to be in focus.

When I am taking a full-body portrait, I try to keep my f/stop at 3.5 or higher. If my lens has a wider opening, I will often struggle to get crisp focus on the individual's face. I know that there are some wonderful photographers who are able to shoot at f/1.8 for a full body portrait and still get crisp focus on the face, but I am not one of them (at least yet!)

This image was taken at f/16. I chose a high number because I wanted to make sure that the old fence in the foreground, as well as the barn in the background were both in focus.

The photo of the trumpet was taken at f/5.0, but it has a blurry background and foreground because the camera was so close to it when the photo was taken. The camera was as close as possible to the trumpet while still being able to focus. __________________________________________________________

4 • Find the "sweet spot" on your lens. I have found that most of my lenses tend to produce sharper images when I use apertures that are somewhere in the middle of the range for that particular lens. So, to find the sweet spot for your lenses, try this experiment. Set your camera in aperture priority, and photograph the same subject at the same focal length at each aperture. Then, review the images and you will likely find that the ones that have the best clarity are those that were taken with apertures in the middle of the range for that lens.


will and tiff said...

i just have to say - you are great! you are so generous with your time and talents! thank YOU. i used your ABC book template and i am so exicted. it will be a perfect christmas gift for my you know if you will be doing a girlie themed one :>

anyways just wanted to say thanks for sharing your knowledge and talents. cause i love them!

Eileen said...

Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to experiment. Thanks again for your generosity and kindness.

Staci said...

Great info. I had NO idea how to find the sweet spot! I will have to try that. Thanks again.

Mia's Mama said...

incredibly informative post! Thanks for sharing :)

Jeannine said...

Love your blog and thanks for the lessons. Wish there was a site that would have you practice as a group and not just for professional photographers.
Any good tips on shooting pictures at Christmastime?