Tuesday, November 3, 2009
10 Tips For Top Sharpness
Getting your sharpest photographs today is as much about processing as it is about shooting technique. We’ll show you some pro tips for making your best pictures.
Nature photographers are always on the quest for sharp pictures. I know I am. I want to be sure that when something should be sharp in a photograph, it’s indeed sharp. I sometimes get mad at myself when I look at photographs on the computer and find a picture that I really like, but it isn’t quite sharp.
1. Choose The Right Aperture
If your scene needs a lot of depth of field, stop your lens down to one of the smaller ƒ-stops such as ƒ/16. If that results in too slow a shutter speed for the scene, you’ll have to change either your ƒ-stop or your ISO.
But there are occasions when having everything sharp makes the picture look confusing. In addition, scenes can look less than sharp because there’s nothing in the image that gives the viewer a clear sense of sharpness. In these cases, you may be better off shooting with a wider ƒ-stop such as ƒ/5.6 to limit your depth of field to a narrow plane. This will create a contrast in your photo between sharp and unsharp areas, making the sharp areas look sharper.
Recently, I was shooting fall scenes in the chaparral outside of Los Angeles. California buckwheat has a rich red-brown color in the fall, and I wanted a landscape that showed the buckwheat in the foreground with the rest of the background sharp behind it. I needed a small ƒ-stop, but I also needed a fast enough shutter speed to stop the movement of the plants in the wind. I even had to change my ISO setting in order to get a faster shutter speed.
If you’re shooting handheld, be sure to use a fast shutter speed, as well. Few photographers can match tripod sharpness with a shutter speed of less than 1⁄60 sec. for wide angles, 1⁄125 sec. for standard focal lengths or 1⁄500 sec. for telephoto focal lengths. Image stabilization can help you go slower. If you’re convinced you can do better, test it. Shoot a scene with your camera locked on a tripod and then with the camera in your hand as you change shutter speeds and see what shutter speed you need after you enlarge the photos to see critical detail.
Most OP readers are familiar with our mantra about using a tripod. That’s why I didn’t put this tip first. Still, it’s important that you have a good tripod and head—and use them! One of the best investments I ever made photographically was buying an expensive carbon-fiber tripod and a solid, but lightweight head. I spent a little under $1,000 for the combination, which is both light and sturdy. You can find excellent tripods and heads for less money, but don’t go the cheap route.
The point is, make the investment. I find it hard to believe when I see photographers with expensive gear using a cheap tripod. I can guarantee that I’ll get sharper images from a less expensive camera and lens combined with a top-level tripod and head than I will from an expensive camera and a cheap tripod.
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