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How to fix your blurry pictures

Hayley Salyer
July 27, 2020
Time to read:
7 Minutes

Using AI to fix blurry pictures

As a photographer, you invest in a great camera, a tripod, and lenses with optical stabilization. You invest time in learning techniques, tips, and tools for shooting sharp photos, like setting proper shutter speed, learning about depths of field, proper focus, and so on and so forth.

But even with the best equipment and expert techniques, we still have to deal with blurry pictures. In fact, one of the most common questions that photographers search for is: "Why is my picture blurry?" That is why almost every photo editing software provides some sort of sharpening filter.

Photo sharpening software: Apples to apples?

If you've asked yourself, "Why are my pictures blurry?," one of the reasons could have to do with your camera and lens configurations. You may also think that applying a sharpening filter will mitigate soft images, such as blurry portraits (as illustrated by the example below). Sharpening filters don't restore details that weren't recorded by the camera to begin with. So, most sharpening filters work by increasing the contrast around the edge of objects, creating an illusion of sharpness.

Here's an example of industry-leader Adobe Photoshop's Smart Sharpen versus Topaz Sharpen AI.

The two results are surprisingly different.

Photoshop’s Smart Sharpen can detect edges, so it adds edge contrast and provides controls for adjusting it in both the highlights and the shadows, so your image appears sharper. It also adds thin halos around edges as well (noticeable around the edge of the eyebrow), although not as frequently as some of its other filters.

Even though the image sharpened through Photoshop's Smart Sharpen certainly looks better than the original with its increased edge sharpness, the same image sharpened with Topaz Sharpen AI provides a much more refined result in terms of restoring original image details and it actually adds some fine details. How does Topaz Sharpen AI outperform Adobe?

Topaz Sharpen AI approaches the problem of image blur very differently. Instead of increasing edge contrast or adding halos, Sharpen AI enhances original details and is the only tool that can add new details. This is what makes Topaz Sharpen AI unique – it actually produces convincing details through the power of AI, even when the blurred image does not have many details. Apples to oranges.

Let's look at a few more toe-to-toe challenges on some blurry pictures.

Fix out-of-focus images

No matter how careful or how experienced you are, occasionally you can get the wrong focus point. And we've all experienced times where the auto-focus falls short. It can be a real crusher when you can’t repeat the shot!

Even though you can get decent results in post-processing when you're just trying to sharpen up a soft shot, focus correction is a nearly impossible problem to solve.

Lots of programs will claim they can correct a missed focus, but only at the expense of adding chunky artifacts around your subject and not truly restoring what you intended to capture.

If you read articles on programs to fix out-of-focus images, Movavi's hat in usually in the ring. Here's a comparison between Movavi's sharpening tool and Topaz Sharpen AI.

To zoom in on the images to inspect the details, you can use CTRL and + on Windows, or CMD and + on Mac.

While Movavi's photo editor can make a lot of great adjustments, its sharpening filter adds a lot of artifacts to compensate for the lack of technology in real focus correction.

At a smaller size, it looks like Movavi did a better job sharpening. But at 100% magnification, you can see the blocks of artifacts (particularly in the blue sky background), rendering it not very usable for a print or even at a larger size on the web.

Winner: Topaz Sharpen AI’s Focus module excels at correcting blur without adding unwanted artifacts.

At a smaller size, the results from Topaz Sharpen AI may look more subtle, but at 100%, you can see the fine details have been restored to the penguin's eyes, beak, and feathers without adding any chunky artifacts.

Reverse motion blur or camera shake

Most cameras on the market now have some sort of image-stabilization or anti-shake feature. The camera lens will make small movements to offset handheld movements. But even with great in-camera technology, you can still end up with the shot that's slightly blurred.

Photoshop offers the most competitive shake reduction filter on the market. It attempts to correct slight motion blur by detecting the angle of the blur. Let's take a look at this blurry photo of a dragonfly on a branch corrected with Photoshop's Shake Reduction filter versus Topaz Sharpen AI's Stabilize mode.

To zoom in on the images to inspect the details, you can use CTRL and + on Windows, or CMD and + on Mac.

The result in Photoshop is a big improvement from where it started. While the filter didn't entirely resolve the blur on the dragonfly, it is definitely usable now. But, unfortunately, there are a few problems with the process as well as the result. For one, it takes quite a bit of time and tuning to get Photoshop's Shake Reduction filter to work properly. You can let Photoshop try to detect the blur trace settings automatically, but most people would agree it typically requires a bit of manually tuning.

And secondly, Photoshop's shake reduction filter will also be applied to the whole image, so it can add unwanted sharpening and artifacts to other areas. In this image, it added some noise to the green background and added quite a few artifacts to the tree branch.

To work around full-image sharpening, you would need to create a layer mask to remove the effect where it’s not wanted, adding to the time it takes to get the best results.

Winner: Topaz Sharpen AI's Stabilize mode corrects the blur in the dragonfly fully without adding artifacts to the branch or the background.

And from the time you upload the image, you can get the result in just a couple of seconds. Topaz Sharpen AI can automatically select the processing mode and settings, as well as the object for sharpening.

Sharpen an image in just a few clicks

Since most images come out of the camera a little soft, sharpening is likely a part of your everyday workflow. And while it's true most editors can handle non-problematic sharpening, you have to ask yourself which program will give you the best results with the least amount of work (and yet still be there to rely on when you need to save a hard-to-rescue shot). So, when you're looking for the best program to fix blurry photos, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I batch process images?
  • Does the software automatically select the best processing mode for my image (lens blur, motion blur, etc.) or do I need to manually?
  • Can the software automatically detect the subject of images for selective sharpening or do I need to create multiple layers?

Give Topaz Sharpen AI a try for free

Like most things, you have to try Topaz Sharpen AI to really believe it. Try Sharpen AI for free today to see how easy it is to get clear, sharp images when your pictures are blurry. And while it may not be a direct answer to "Why are my photos blurry?", Sharpen AI is one of the most effective solutions.

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Hayley Salyer