Tom Langford is an event and commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
photographer friend recently asked for my advice - his pictures never
seemed to be sharp enough. Was there a problem with the camera, or with
his technique, or both?
He uses an older Nikon digital SLR with an
18-200 VR zoom lens. I tested both the lens and camera separately, and
found that each gave slightly blurred, fuzzy results.
zoom lenses lengthen or shorten during use. Air is sucked in or pumped
out, and dust can accumulate in the lens and camera degrading the image.
The plastic construction of amateur zoom lenses is also susceptible to
knocks and bumps, and if the optical alignment is disturbed the image
quality will suffer.
I advised him to have the lens overhauled and the camera sensor cleaned – work I would only entrust to authorized technicians.
His technique needed a little attention too, because he often used the
longest end of his zoom lens. Although it has a sophisticated Vibration
Reduction feature it still has to be held very steady to ensure sharp
At longer focal lengths the tiny movements of your body are magnified
enormously and cause blurred pictures. To increase stability it’s best
to stand upright and bend your knees slightly. Hold your breath briefly
as you take the shot, and press the shutter button gently with the pad
of your finger. These techniques will help to produce sharper pictures.
It’s best if you can support the camera on a convenient surface.
These tips are not only for SLRs; use them with your compact camera when
you “zoom in” from a distance to ensure crisper results.
Trying to react to, and shoot, fast moving events can easily result in
blurred pictures. Experienced photographers anticipate good photo
opportunities before they happen and are ready to capture events moments
before they occur. They are more likely to take sharper shots because
they are prepared.
Flora and fauna
Professional photographers go to great lengths, inconvenience and
expense to take sharp pictures. They use tripods, monopods and beanbags
to support the camera. They use costly macro lenses to take extremely
sharp close-up pictures of flowers. They use very heavy, expensive
wide-aperture, non-zoom, long telephoto lenses to shoot wildlife. You
simply can’t get the same results with general-purpose amateur
My advice is to enjoy your photography and use my tips to take the
sharpest shots your equipment will allow. It’s more important to take
interesting, well-composed pictures that tell a story than worry about
lens resolution and pixel density. The most important piece of
photographic equipment you will ever use is a set of sharp eyes. Have
fun using them!
I took these pictures with my cellphone camera. Not the sharpest shots in the world, but none the worse for that.
Send me your picture
you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture
and I will publish one at the end of my next article with some
Send one picture only, at a reduced size to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mention “cellphone picture."
Langford is a commercial photographer, website designer, and
professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and
advanced. Details of his courses and field trips at: www.langford.co.il/courses
Thanks to Matthew Hemingway for sending this romantic sunset he took with his iPhone.
Lots of romantic interest: sunset, silhouettes, palm trees and boat.
What does not work?
The sunset is behind the palm trees and emphasizes them, but I feel the
boat should be the center of our attention. The square crop feels
constricting. The right palm tree and vertical leaf are not too
Could it be improved, and how?
I mentioned earlier that it’s best if you can anticipate good photo
opportunities before they happen. You can then make whatever
preparations are necessary and be in position, ready to shoot.
Having spotted this great shot I would suggest trying to find a position
with the sunset behind the boat and where it was framed on both sides
by photogenic trees.
Pictures should always tell a story and this one is about the beauty of a
perfect evening, sailing quietly on a calm sea. The square crop hides
what’s important - the sea, but shows too much of what’s secondary - the
Here’s a roughly retouched version I prepared to show you the story I would like to have told.