How can I get razor-sharp photos every time?

Far and away, the Number One solution: Use a tripod. But there’s more.

Of course, the starting point in getting a sharp image is to focus carefully. (If your camera focuses automatically, so much the better.) But this is only part of the story, and that’s where the tripod comes in. The sharpness of your images depends upon two factors, not one: 1) Sharp focus; and 2) Absence of any camera shake. So, after you focus your image, you have to make sure you avoid any camera shake during the exposure. In other words, the camera must be rock-steady during the instant that the shutter is open.

Pigeons on a ledge at the Golden City Jaisalmer
You should use a tripod if you want to get razor-sharp photos when using long lens like in this picture. Photo: Devasrita Dash

A tripod should give you this rock steadiness.

But, what if you don’t have a tripod available? What if you have to handhold the camera? Realize this: If you’re hand-holding the camera, there’s some camera shake in every image. But you can avoid the appearance of camera shake in your print or slide if you shoot at a very fast shutter speed. After all, the shutter isn’t open very long at, say, 1/1000th of a second, so there isn’t much time for the film to record any shake of the hand-held camera. But at slower speeds, there’s plenty of time…and the camera will record camera shake as a blurry – or at least, less-than-sharp – image.

So how fast is fast enough to avoid camera shake when you handhold? While we cover this in detail in another Tip on this Web Site, here’s a rule-of-thumb we recommend: The speed required to avoid camera-shake depends upon the focal-length of the lens – the longer the lens, the faster the shutter-speed required. Specifically, your shutter speed should be (in fractions of a second) twice the focal length of your lens. For example, if you handhold using a 50mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/100th or faster. If you handhold using a 125mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/250th or faster. If you handhold using a 250mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/500th or faster. And so on.

Dog and Trainer
You do not need a tripod for taking a dog and trainer photo like this one. In fact, a tripod may get in your way! Photo: Devasrita Dash

So now we come to the question: What should you do if you have to use a shutter speed slower than that recommended by this rule-of-thumb? How can you minimize camera shake? Easy. Use a tripod. If the tripod is solid and you use it correctly, you don’t have to worry about camera shake at any shutter speed! The trick is to use the tripod “correctly,” and that’s another subject we cover separately.