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3 reasons why your photos are blurry (and how to fix them)

AUTHOR:
Brian Matiash
Published:
August 9, 2021
Time to read:
9 Minutes

How to fix blurry photos

The truth is that there are all sorts of reasons why your photos end up looking blurry. Or maybe they’re not outright blurry, but they don’t have that razor sharpness that you thought they should. How many times have you reviewed a photo you just took on your camera’s rear LCD, telling yourself that you nailed focus only to realize that it’s actually a bit soft when zooming in on it while at your larger computer screen? Don’t worry... we’ve all been there. Trust me.

Without exaggerating, I could spend hours coming up with an exhaustive list of why some of your photos end up lacking that crisp sharpness we all strive for. To keep things focused (get it?), I’m going to highlight three of the most common reasons why your photos are blurry by using my own experiences with missing critical focus. They are:

  1. Using a wider aperture than needed.
  2. Not using a fast enough shutter speed.
  3. Camera stability issues, even when using a tripod.

I’ll provide examples for each of these three reasons, as well as include video tutorials showing you how I use Sharpen AI to recover sharp focus even with blurry photos. Sound good? Great! Let’s get started.

1. Using a wider aperture than needed.

If you’re like me, when you buy a shiny new lens with a max wide aperture of f/1.8 or f/1.4, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time at that widest end of the spectrum. After all, who doesn’t love that shallow depth of field with that smooth bokeh? However, the risk you run into when shooting at such wide apertures is that you can quite easily miss critical sharpness because of how narrow your plane of focus is.

For example, let’s say you’re photographing a person at f/1.8 and their head is slightly turned towards you. Because your plane of focus is so narrow at f/1.8, when you review your photo, you may see that the portion of the face that’s closer to the camera is in focus while the area just behind is lacking sharpness. The image below effectively illustrates what I mean.

© Hillary Fox

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever photograph at very wide aperture values. In some cases, being able to open up to f/1.8 or wider is a benefit. Specifically, I’m thinking about astral photography. The more light you can let in, the less likely you’ll introduce minute star trail motion. In fact, in the image below, I wish I could have opened up my lens wider than f/2.8.

© Brian Matiash

Fortunately, we have a solution to help you recover that critical sharpness even if you used a wider aperture than would be ideal. In this video, I’ll walk you through how I use Sharpen AI to recover the details of a photo that were rendered soft because I used too wide of an aperture.

2. Not using a fast enough shutter speed.

It’s not unreasonable to say that the shutter speed you choose is one of the most critical settings for your composition. Not only does it define how much light you’ll allow to hit your camera sensor, it also can materially impact the overall qualities of your subject. For example, let’s say you want to photograph a person as they’re turning and you want to capture just a bit of motion as their hair whips around.

Choosing the right shutter speed in this example is delicate because you have to balance capturing motion in the hair while also getting the face to be sharp. And if you’re handholding your camera while taking the photo, you have to factor in being extra steady so as to not introduce camera shake. This isn’t as big of a deal when your shutter speed is 1/250 sec or faster. However, when you’re hovering between 1/20 - 1/100 sec., this can be a real concern as illustrated in the following photo.

© Hillary Fox

In my experience, when I’m handholding my camera and I really need nail the focus, I’ll sacrifice the amount of light I can let in and drop my shutter speed to 1/250 sec. or faster. I do this because I know that, in most cases, I can easily recover shadows and highlights in post thanks to the uncompressed nature of my camera's RAW files.

However, if you already have photos that are soft because you didn’t use a fast enough shutter speed, you should definitely try Sharpen AI. In this next video, I’ll walk you through how I use Sharpen AI to recover sharpness from a handheld shot I took at 1/50th sec. It’s pretty sweet.

3. Camera stability issues, even when using a tripod.

I don’t want to admit just how much money I’ve invested in tripods over the years. But, I also believe that next to your camera and lens, the tripod is the most important gear investment you can make. A great tripod marries reliable stability with functional usability. With some tripods, you can further fortify stability by using accessories like spiked and rock claw feet. I’ve used both extensively and what I’ve learned is that despite going to these lengths to ensure stability, it is not always guaranteed.

In some cases, I’ve had my tripod legs extended too far during very windy conditions and the heightened center of gravity coupled with those gusts introduced just enough movement and vibration to negatively impact the sharpness of my photo. Take this photo I took one evening in Norway’s Lofoten Islands as an example.

© Brian Matiash

Even though my camera was on a tripod and my shutter speed was set to 1/400 sec., the wind was gusting so strongly that it negatively affected the critical sharpness of the shot, as illustrated in this zoomed-in crop.

© Brian Matiash

Another example where tripod stability was impacted despite my best efforts was when I was photographing on the coast of Bandon, OR. As I explain in this next video, I had attached spiked feet on my tripod to anchor each leg deep into the sand. Even with all that extra effort, my photos still suffered from motion introduced by the waves and moving sand. Fortunately, I was able to recover A LOT of detail and sharpness that I thought would be impossible thanks to Sharpen AI.

Sharper images are possible.

If there’s a common theme in this article, it’s that how you choose your camera settings and use your camera gear plays a major role in the output of your photos. I know that sounds overly simplistic and self-evident, but it’s worth stating nonetheless. The better you can get at identifying what the optimal exposure settings are for your particular subject and environment, the more likely you’ll get a sharp photo. However, in those instances when you really want to recover a photo that suffers from a lack of critical sharpness, I highly recommend giving Sharpen AI a shot. You can download a free trial by filling out the form below to see for yourself.

Try Sharpen AI for free today!

Visit the product page for Sharpen AI and click the "Try for Free" button to being your free trial.

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AUTHOR:
Brian Matiash

Brian Matiash serves as Product Marketing Manager for Topaz Labs and manages the Topaz Labs Learning Center. He is also a photo educator and author, with his work being featured in dozens of international publications.