How To Take Soft Focus Photos

By | 26/10/2022

In order to take the sharpest possible photos, you need to use the right camera settings, camera equipment, and technique. This highly detailed landscape photo is one example.
An example of a very abrupt photograph of Zabriskie Point, Decease Valley NP

One of the things that makes photography frustrating is softness and blur in pictures.
Sharp photos
are much more appealing than soft images. It is very disappointing when you have a picture show of a special moment and images come out soft/blurry or out of focus. So, in this article, I will go through the techniques I use to make certain that my images always come out tack sharp.

Let’s start with the reasons why an image might come up out blurry:

  1. A long shutter speed tin capture photographic camera shake, which would produce a blurry image
  2. Your subject area could be moving and causing motion blur, made worse past a long shutter speed
  3. Poor focus acquisition would effect in a soft image
  4. You might have a bad lens or a lens that is not capable of producing abrupt photos
  5. Your ISO could be ready to a very high number, resulting in lots of noise and loss of detail

In order to resolve these bug, you need to address them all at the aforementioned fourth dimension, which will help reach optimal sharpness. At that place are a few other causes of blurry photos, too, which I will cover below.

Best of 2016 - Nasim Mansurov (20)
Sunset at a Lake in Yellowstone

1. Set the Right ISO

Start with setting your camera to the lowest ISO “base” value (in my Nikon camera it is ISO 200). Remember that the photographic camera base of operations ISO will produce the highest quality images with maximum sharpness. The higher the ISO (sensor sensitivity), the more noise you will see in the prototype. I suggest reading my article on understanding ISO.

2. Utilize the Manus-Belongings Rule

If yous take a zoom lens that goes beyond 100mm, I would recommend applying the full general hand-belongings “rule”, which states that the shutter speed should be equivalent to the focal length fix on the lens, or faster. For case, if you have your lens zoomed at 125mm, your shutter speed should exist at least 1/125 of a second.

Go along in heed that this dominion applied to 35mm film and digital cameras, so if yous own an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera with a ingather gene (not full frame), you need to do the math accordingly. For Nikon cameras with a 1.5x crop factor, just multiply the outcome by one.five, whereas for Canon cameras, multiply by one.6. If you have a zoom lens such equally the eighteen-135mm (for Nikon DX sensors), set the “Minimum Shutter Speed” to the longest focal range of the lens (135mm), which is ane/200 of a 2d. Hither are some examples:

  • 50mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/75 (50mm x 1.v)
  • 100mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/150 (100mm x i.5)
  • 150mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/225 (150mm x 1.v)
  • 200mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/300 (200mm x i.5)
  • 300mm on Nikon DX (D3500/D5600/D7500): 1/450 (300mm x i.v)

Remember that this only affects blur fromphotographic camera milk shake. If you are taking pictures of a fast moving subject, you lot very well may need a quicker shutter speed than this in order to become a abrupt picture.

Flower with a bee
NIKON D300 @ 280mm, ISO 200, one/1600, f/4.0

three. Choose Your Photographic camera Manner Wisely

When I’m taking pictures in low light, 99% of the time, I shoot in Discontinuity-Priority mode and set aperture to the widest setting on my lens – the maximum aperture, AKA the smallest f-number. This is usually in the range of f/1.4 to f/5.half dozen depending on the lens. (For example, with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens, I volition set the aperture to its maximum value of f/i.8.) The camera automatically meters the scene and guesses what the shutter speed should be to properly expose the image. You tin easily conform the photographic camera’south guess with exposure compensation. So, set your camera to aperture-priority mode and set up the aperture to the lowest possible f-number.

Set your metering to “Matrix” on Nikon or “Evaluative” on Catechism, so that the whole scene is assessed to gauge the correct shutter speed.

4. Option a Fast Enough Shutter Speed

After y’all set your camera to aperture priority and pick the right metering mode, point it at the subject that you want to photo and half-press the shutter. Doing then should show you the shutter speed on the bottom of the viewfinder.

  • If the shutter speed is showing 1/100 or faster, you should be good to become, unless anything in your photo is moving quickly (or if yous’re using a long telephoto lens; retrieve the hand-property rule). Snap an image or two and run across if you are getting any mistiness in your image. I typically review my images on the back of the photographic camera at 100% and make sure that nothing is blurry. If anything in your photo is blurry – the entire epitome, or just one fast-moving subject field – use a quicker shutter speed like 1/200 or i/500 second.
  • On the other hand, if the shutter speed is beneath 1/100, information technology might mean you simply do not have enough light. If you lot are indoors, opening up windows to allow some calorie-free in or turning the lights on will help to increment your shutter speed. It is still possible to capture abrupt photos faster than 1/100 second handheld, just it becomes increasingly more difficult the longer your shutter speed is.

five. Apply High ISO in Night Environments

If you are notwithstanding getting blurry images, try to hold the camera steady without shaking information technology as well much and have another moving-picture show. If that doesn’t assist, set a fast enough shutter speed to capture sharp photos, and enhance your ISO instead. You lot can do this via Auto ISO (described in the next section) or manually increasing ISO. In dark environments, it is not unusual to apply quite a loftier ISO in order to get a fast enough shutter speed. Although this adds more noise/grain to a photo, that is usually improve than capturing a blurry image.

High ISO Cityscape
Canon EOS Rebel T7i + EF-S18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM @ 18mm, ISO 1600, ane/10, f/4.0

half-dozen. Enable Machine ISO

Many cameras today have an “Auto ISO” feature that is very useful for capturing abrupt pictures. And then, set it to “On.” Set your Maximum Sensitivity to ISO 1600.

If y’all have the option to select a minimum shutter speed, set up it to “Auto” as well, which automatically applies the mitt-property dominion! If you don’t have this selection, set “Minimum shutter speed” to 1/100 second.

This is a useful feature because, if the amount of light inbound the lens decreases and the shutter speed goes below one/100 of a second, the camera automatically increases ISO to keep the shutter speed in a higher place 1/100 of a second, or above the paw-holding rule.

If you take shaky easily, I would recommend bumping upwardly the “Minimum shutter speed” to something similar 1/200-1/250. Or if y’all have the “Auto” minimum shutter speed option, prioritize it toward “faster” just to be on the safety side. Also encounter our separate article on how to hand-hold a camera as stable as possible.

Some cameras don’t have an Motorcar ISO feature. In that case, yous will have to adapt ISO manually to do the same thing. But raise your ISO in darker environments to go on your shutter speed at a reasonable level. I don’t recommend raising the ISO above ISO 1600 or perhaps ISO 3200. Why not? Quite just, annihilation higher than that in an entry-level DSLRs produces too much noise, which has a negative impact on overall image quality. On older-generation DSLRs such as Nikon D90/D200/D3000/D5000, you might desire to keep the maximum ISO to 800.

7. Concur Your Camera Steady

While paw-belongings your photographic camera, in that location is a directly correlation betwixt the camera shutter speed and blurry images. The longer the shutter speed (particularly below 1/100 of a 2d), the higher the hazard for blurrier images. Why? Because while hand-holding a camera, factors such every bit your stance, breathing, photographic camera hand-property technique all play a huge role in stabilizing the photographic camera and producing milk shake-free images.

Recall of it as holding a rifle on your paw. You wouldn’t want to movement effectually while trying to shoot – you demand to stand as steady and stable as possible, pull the stock tightly into the shoulder, exhale, and then shoot. The same technique works great for your photography, especially when y’all have to deal with slow shutter speeds.

I recommend holding the camera just like you would hold a burglarize (except your right paw goes on the shutter instead of the trigger), with ane of your legs on the front end and your body balance spread across both legs. I personally exhale when I shoot long shutter speeds handheld, like 1/10 second, and it does help me to get sharper images. Try it and see how it works for you. The difference between shooting a camera versus a rifle, is that yous can at to the lowest degree adjust the shutter speed to a higher number and avoid camera shake, whereas you lot cannot do the same on a gun.

Great Horned Owl
NIKON D300 @ 200mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/5.0

8. Focus Carefully on Your Bailiwick

Larn how to focus correctly and deal with focusing issues. This one is very of import, as your photographic camera focus direct impacts prototype sharpness. The offset thing you need to larn is how to differentiate between a camera milkshake/movement blur and a focus problem.

If the subject in your image is blurry, but something closer to the camera or further away is perfectly in focus and precipitous, it is most probable a focus issue. If the whole epitome is blurry and nothing is precipitous, it is generally due to using too long of a shutter speed handheld. And lastly, if a fast-moving object in your photograph is blurry/streaky in the direction of travel, then your shutter speed is not fast enough to eliminate subject field motility. That isn’t a focus problem; use a faster shutter speed.

If you are having problems acquiring a skillful focus, here are some things that I recommend for y’all:

  • Lack of light tin can cause auto-focus malfunction, resulting in inaccurate focus acquisition by the camera. Make sure at that place is plenty of lite for your photographic camera to properly focus.
  • The middle focus betoken is generally the nearly accurate in cameras. If y’all are having problems acquiring focus considering your focus point is elsewhere, I recommend moving it back to the center, focusing, and recomposing.
  • Many cameras let you select a separate push for focusing, without touching the shutter release button. I gear up my camera this way, focusing exclusively with my pollex, while pushing the shutter trigger with my index finger. This is known as back-push focusing. It takes some time to get used to dorsum-push focusing if you’re familiar with half pressing the shutter button instead. However, you may find it useful once you try it out.
  • The camera autofocus arrangement works by looking at the contrast around the focus surface area. For example, if yous endeavor to focus your photographic camera on a clean white wall, it will never be able to acquire focus, because the camera will not encounter whatsoever areas of dissimilarity. On the other hand, if you have a white wall with a dark object on it and you lot put your focus point in between the wall and the object, your camera will instantly acquire correct focus. My recommendation is to place the rectangular focus bespeak on an area with the most contrast. Examples are: edges of objects, lines separating different colors, numbers and letters printed on objects, etc.
  • Focus multiple times until you lot tin clearly run into in the viewfinder that the object is in focus. For this i, you need to have a good viewfinder and a good vision. Some entry-level DSLRs have a very small viewfinder, making it hard or sometimes even impossible to come across if you are getting correct focus. Unfortunately, there is not much you lot can do if you cannot tell if the subject is in focus past looking into the viewfinder, and then just take multiple pictures while constantly re-adjusting the focus and review images on the camera LCD.

nine. Reduce Motion Blur in Your Discipline

If yous are photographing a person, tell them to freeze and not motion while you accept their picture. When you work with slow shutter speeds, fifty-fifty if you practice everything right, your images might still come out blurry just because your subject moved while the shutter was open. This is called
motility blur. Sometimes people like the issue of the move blur, peculiarly for high-speed objects like cars. To reproduce this effect on your camera, set your camera to Shutter-Priority mode, so set up your shutter to 1/100 of a 2nd or less. Ask your subject to move his/her hand quickly, while not moving the trunk. The consequence should be a abrupt picture of the person’due south body, while having a motion blur on his/her manus.

An example of motion blur

As you can see from the in a higher place image, everything in the image is precipitous, while the fan is blurred through motion mistiness, which I specifically created by shooting the image in depression shutter speed of 1/20 of a second (the image was shot hand-held).

Hither is another example of motion blur that I shot at night on a tripod (shutter speed is two seconds):

Another example of motion blur
NIKON D700 @ 70mm, ISO 200, 2 seconds, f/8.0

So, if you want movement blur, utilize a long shutter speed like 1/10 2nd or even several seconds (if you’re using a tripod). Only you’ll commonly want to avert motion blur when taking pictures of people or action, so brand sure to use a fast plenty shutter speed. The hand-holding rule doesn’t apply if your subject is moving very quickly, because it is all about eliminating photographic camera milkshake blur, not motion blur from your field of study. For photos of hummingbirds, for instance, I might ready i/one thousand second or 1/2000 second and still become some blur in the wings!

ten. Turn On Vibration Reduction

Make sure that your vibration reduction (VR on Nikon) or image stabilization (IS on Canon) is set to “On” on your lens, if you lot have information technology. Many of the consumer zoom lenses accept some sort of anti-milk shake/vibration reduction engineering science in them, allowing one to shoot at lower shutter speeds and notwithstanding get precipitous images. If you have one of those lenses, become ahead and try lowering your shutter speed to a lower value. Yous tin can even lower downwards the “minimum shutter speed” in your Auto ISO settings to something like i/50 of a 2nd and however get sharp images.

eleven. Use a Faster Lens

Go a skillful fast prime lens such as the Nikon 35mm f/1.viii DX or 50mm f/i.four / f/i.8 lenses. These prime number lenses are relatively cheap, ranging between $200 to $400 for the f/1.4 model.

Very few zoom lenses can achieve the aforementioned optical quality as the prime number lenses, because prime number lenses have simpler pattern and are optimized to perform for just one focal range. Although you lot lose the ability to zoom in and out, prime lenses are much faster than well-nigh zoom lenses and are excellent choices for low-light and portrait photography.

Because of the shallow depth of field, prime number lenses are besides capable of producing pictures with beautiful bokeh (nicely blurred backgrounds). When I got my easily on my starting time prime lens, I just could not believe how much of a difference information technology made in terms of sharpness. If you have never used a prime lens before, give it a endeavor and yous will not regret it.

12. Use Depth of Field Strategically

When photographing people or animals, always focus on the closest heart to you. This is very important, peculiarly when dealing with big apertures betwixt f/i.4 and f/2.8, because your depth of field volition be very shallow. As long as the eye of the subject is sharp, the epitome will most likely be acceptable. Have a wait at this photograph of my son Ozzy:

Bad focus example

Normally, I delete images like this, but I’grand glad I kept it for this article. As you tin run across from the above image, I failed to larn right focus on Ozzy’s eye and somehow focused on his hair instead. Now, compare it to this epitome:

Good focus example
NIKON D700 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/320, f/2.0

Such a big difference between the two. The second prototype looks much sharper, although I was using the aforementioned camera settings.

13. Pick a Sharp Aperture

Aperture also plays a office in achieving optimal sharpness. For landscape photography, I mostly use apertures between f/viii and f/11, while for portraits, I use apertures of f/1.iv to f/eight, depending on what I want to practice with the groundwork. Most lenses are sharpest between f/5.6 and f/eight, so if you are shooting during a vivid sunny day, try setting your discontinuity to a number between f/4 and f/8 and run into if it makes a difference. Just keep in mind that playing with aperture changes the depth of field and volition have an touch on on the lens bokeh, which are unremarkably more than important than the sharpness effects.

fourteen. Clean Your Lenses!

An amateur photographer approached me once and asked for advice on what he could do to bring more dissimilarity and sharpness to his images. When I saw the front element of his lens, I immediately made a proffer to make clean his lens. It was so dirty that I couldn’t believe he was still able to have pictures. A dirty and a greasy front element of the lens is a guarantee to inaccurate camera focusing and poor image contrast. If you don’t know how to do it properly, check out my article on how to clean DSLR lenses.

xv. Utilize a Tripod in Low Low-cal

Get a tripod for low-lite situations (see my article on how to choose a tripod). For shooting lightning storms, fireworks, city lights, and other cool stuff at dark, a sturdy tripod is a must! Don’t buy a cheap tripod designed for point and shoot cameras, but rather invest in a heavy duty, sturdy tripod that tin handle your DSLR or advanced mirrorless camera. Having a self-timer mode or a cable/wireless shutter release is also very helpful to minimize camera shake. The below paradigm would not exist possible to capture without a tripod, since I took information technology at a shutter speed of five seconds:

Waterfall, shot with a tripod
NIKON D700 @ 40mm, ISO 100, 5 seconds, f/sixteen.0

sixteen. Shoot a Burst of Photos

Set your camera to a “continuous shooting” mode (also known as burst mode), then photograph your subject area in bursts by but holding the shutter push. Specially if you lot are photographing a moving subject area similar children, burst mode helps meliorate the odds that y’all’ll become a shot that is spot-on. With most cameras today, you lot can fire off at least 3 photos per 2nd, and oftentimes more like 4 or five. With a bit of panning to follow along with your subject field, you lot can get sharp photos even when your subject doesn’t stay still!

Sometimes, you’ll become just enough of the face (of say a happily-running kid) in focus then everything else gets blurred because of the motion, leaving you with a nice isolation that highlights the emotion of that moment. This valuable tip was provided by our reader Eric.

I hope you liked this article on
how to take abrupt photographs
with your DSLR or mirrorless photographic camera. Please permit me know if you take any questions in the comments section beneath.