Quick 12 Steps to Sharper Photos

All of us want to reach the point of crystal clear pin sharp photos. Yet there always seems to be something that takes away the final step to perfect clarity and sharpness. How do we eliminate the factors that reduce the sharpness in our images? By applying these simple steps you will see an immediate improvement.

1. Learn how to hold your camera

Support it with your left hand under the camera or if an SLR, under the lens. Grip the camera firmly but not too tightly with your right hand between your thumb and fingers. Leave your index free to operate the shutter release button. Close your left eye and look through your right eye with your nose flush with the back of the camera. Remember firm but not tightly grasped. Tuck your elbows into your sides so that your arms become one with your body. If necessary lean against a tree, wall or another support for extra stability.

2. Use a tripod

The ultimate form of stability is of course the humble tripod. Using a good quality tripod that is strong and stable will give you the most solid support you’ll need. If you’re using an SLR, turn on the mirror lockup. This will reduce internal vibration when the shutter is depressed.

3. Image stabilization

If you have an image stabilization facility on your lens or camera make sure it is turned on. This is also called the vibration reduction facility on some lenses and camera brands. Sometimes it may be necessary to switch this off as it does induce micro vibrations especially when the camera is mounted on a tripod and you are shooting macro.

4. Focusing properly

Don’t always rely on the camera getting the focus perfect. It may not be focusing exactly where you want it to. If possible change the focus point settings so that you can control where it focuses. As a last resort set your camera or lens to manual focus and do it yourself.

5. Depth of field

This is very important. Large apertures give a very narrow depth of field, i.e. small f-stops. (I’ll be dealing with this in a later article) Use a smaller aperture, larger f-stop, to get more of the image in focus before and beyond the subject.

6. Shutter speed

Make sure that you are using a fast enough shutter speed to help freeze any action or subject movement. If your lens is a 100mm then the slowest shutter speed you should be using is 1/100. The larger the lens the faster the shutter speed needs to be unless you use a tripod.

7. ISO

Using as low an ISO setting as possible, 50-200, will help reduce noise and pixelation. Try not to go beyond ISO 400 unless you are using a high quality camera. Remember the lowest ISO setting will give you the sharpest images.

8. Lenses

The higher the quality of the lens build and glass, the sharper the image. That’s why they cost so much. Inside a high quality lens you’ll find more elements and more technology to help correct any imperfections.

9. Clean your lens

Make sure that your lens is clean and free from any dirt, smudges or fingerprints at both ends. Sometimes this isn’t noticeable and regular cleaning with a high quality lens cleaning kit is essential.

10. Check your eyesight

Get your eyes checked if all else fails. On many SLRs you’ll find a diopter wheel on the viewfinder which allows for adjustment in the same way an optician changes settings when testing your eyes for glasses. This will help you if your eye problems aren’t too severe.

11. Filters

Unless a filter is absolutely critical for creating a perfect image, don’t use it. Keep as little glass between your sensor and the subject as possible, and when you do, make sure the quality is equivalent to your lens quality. It’s pointless spending thousands on a lens and a few bucks on a cheap filter. Your image quality will be degraded.

12. Remote and timed shutter release

Use a remote shutter release if your camera has this facility. If not there is another trick. Use your timed shuttered release. This allows a delay between depressing the shutter release button and the picture being taken. It allows for any vibration caused by pressing the button to subside.

By applying these steps to your photography you will eliminate virtually all elements that cause a lack of sharpness in your images.

Chiaroscuro: Creating Depth with Light and Shadow

Chiaroscuro is a term that hails from the Italian Renaissance, literally meaning “light-dark.” It refers to the strong contrast between light and dark areas in a composition, which can create a dramatic, three-dimensional effect. This technique, often associated with the works of artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt, has found a powerful place in photography, where it can add depth, mood, and intrigue to your images.

Understanding Chiaroscuro

At its core, chiaroscuro is about the interplay of light and shadow. It’s not just about having bright highlights and dark shadows; it’s about how these elements work together to shape and define the subject. In photography, chiaroscuro can be used to:

  • Emphasize Form: Light and shadow can highlight the contours and textures of the subject, giving it a sculptural quality.
  • Create Mood: The contrast between light and dark can evoke emotions ranging from mystery and suspense to intimacy and warmth.
  • Direct Attention: By manipulating light and shadow, you can guide the viewer’s eye to the most important parts of the image.

Historical Context

Chiaroscuro has its roots in painting, particularly in the Baroque period, where artists used it to enhance the dramatic impact of their works. In photography, this technique became popular with the advent of film noir, where the play of light and shadow was used to create a sense of tension and drama.

Applying Chiaroscuro in Photography

To effectively use chiaroscuro in your photography, follow these steps:

1. Control Your Lighting

The most crucial element of chiaroscuro is lighting. You need a light source that creates a stark contrast between the illuminated parts of your subject and the shadows. This could be:

  • Natural Light: Use window light or a single lamp to cast shadows and highlights on your subject.
  • Artificial Light: A studio light with a snoot or grid can help direct the light exactly where you want it.

2. Understand Your Shadows

Shadows are just as important as light in chiaroscuro. The shadows should be deep and dark, creating a sense of depth and dimension. Position your light source so that it casts shadows that enhance the contours of your subject.

3. Use Negative Space

Negative space, or the area around and between the subject, plays a significant role in chiaroscuro. It helps to frame the subject and emphasizes the contrast between light and dark. Make sure to leave enough dark space around your subject to create a dramatic effect.

4. Focus on Composition

The placement of your subject within the frame is crucial. Typically, the subject is placed off-center, with the light hitting one side more prominently than the other. This asymmetry can create a more dynamic and engaging composition.

5. Post-Processing Techniques

In post-processing, you can enhance the chiaroscuro effect by adjusting the contrast and shadows. Tools like dodging and burning can help you refine the light and shadow areas to achieve the desired effect.

  • Increase Contrast: Boost the contrast to accentuate the difference between light and dark areas.
  • Selective Lighting: Use tools to brighten or darken specific parts of the image, guiding the viewer’s eye and emphasizing the subject’s form.

Examples of Chiaroscuro in Photography

To better understand chiaroscuro, let’s look at some examples:

  • Portraits: A face partially lit from the side, with the other half falling into shadow, creates a dramatic and intense portrait. The light accentuates the subject’s features, adding depth and character.
  • Still Life: A single light source illuminating a still life setup, such as a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers, can create a classic and timeless image. The shadows add a sense of volume and texture to the objects.
  • Architecture: Chiaroscuro can be used to highlight the architectural details of a building. The interplay of light and shadow on the structure’s surfaces can create a striking and powerful image.

Practical Tips for Beginners

  • Experiment with Light Sources: Try different light sources and angles to see how they affect your subject. Move the light around to find the most dramatic effect.
  • Practice with Simple Subjects: Start with simple subjects like a single object or a face. This will help you focus on the light and shadow without the distraction of a complex scene.
  • Study Classic Works: Look at the works of artists known for their use of chiaroscuro. Pay attention to how they use light and shadow to create depth and emotion.

Conclusion

Chiaroscuro is a timeless technique that can add a powerful visual impact to your photography. By mastering the interplay of light and shadow, you can create images that are not only visually striking but also rich in mood and emotion. So, grab your camera, experiment with lighting, and see how chiaroscuro can transform your photography.

Decoding Megapixels: Why Digital Camera Sensors Use Them

In the world of digital photography, the term “megapixels” is one you’re likely to encounter frequently. Whether you’re shopping for a new camera, reading photography blogs, or even just browsing through camera specs online, megapixels are often highlighted as a key feature. But what exactly are megapixels, and why are digital camera sensors measured in them? Let’s delve into this topic to understand the significance of megapixels in digital photography.

Understanding Megapixels

A megapixel is a unit of graphic resolution equivalent to one million pixels. In the context of digital cameras, a pixel is the smallest unit of a digital image or display, often thought of as a tiny dot that makes up part of an image. The term “megapixel” comes from “mega,” meaning million, and “pixel,” which is a blend of “picture” and “element.”

When you see a camera advertised as having 20 megapixels, this means that the camera sensor has 20 million pixels to capture an image. The more pixels a sensor has, the more detailed the image can potentially be, because the image can contain more information.

The Role of Megapixels in Image Quality

The primary reason digital camera sensors are measured in megapixels is due to the direct relationship between megapixels and image resolution. Higher megapixel counts allow for larger image sizes and more detailed photos. Here’s why this is important:

  • Detail and Clarity: More megapixels mean more detail. This is particularly beneficial for printing large photos without losing quality. Higher resolution images can also be cropped more extensively without noticeable loss of detail, giving photographers more flexibility in post-processing.
  • Print Size: If you plan to print your photos, higher megapixels will allow you to produce larger prints. For instance, a 20-megapixel camera can produce high-quality prints up to 16×20 inches or larger.
  • Cropping: With more megapixels, you can crop your images more aggressively while retaining enough detail for a clear and sharp image. This is particularly useful in wildlife and sports photography where you may not always be able to get close to your subject.

The Limitations of Megapixels

While more megapixels can mean better image quality, it’s essential to understand that they are not the sole determinant of a camera’s performance. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Sensor Size: The physical size of the sensor plays a crucial role in image quality. Larger sensors can capture more light, which is essential for performance in low-light conditions and achieving a shallow depth of field. This is why a 12-megapixel full-frame camera can often produce better images than a 20-megapixel smartphone camera.
  2. Lens Quality: The quality of the lens affects the sharpness and clarity of the image. A high-megapixel sensor with a poor lens will not produce sharp images. Conversely, a lower-megapixel sensor paired with a high-quality lens can produce excellent images.
  3. Processing Power: The camera’s image processor also impacts image quality. Better processors can handle noise reduction, color accuracy, and detail rendering more effectively.

Beyond Megapixels

As technology advances, manufacturers are finding ways to enhance image quality that go beyond simply increasing megapixel counts. Innovations in sensor technology, image processing algorithms, and optical design continue to push the boundaries of what digital cameras can achieve.

For instance, many modern cameras feature advanced technologies such as backside-illuminated (BSI) sensors, which improve low-light performance, and dual-pixel autofocus, which enhances focus speed and accuracy. These advancements contribute significantly to image quality, sometimes even more so than just increasing the number of megapixels.

Summary

Megapixels are an essential aspect of digital camera sensors because they directly influence the resolution and detail of the images captured. However, they are only one part of the equation when it comes to overall image quality. Understanding the interplay between megapixels, sensor size, lens quality, and image processing can help you make more informed decisions when selecting a camera that best suits your needs.

In the end, while a higher megapixel count can offer advantages in certain scenarios, it’s crucial to consider the camera as a whole and how all its components work together to produce the images you envision.

Creating Depth of Field in your photos

One the most fundamental techniques necessary to really to master creative photography is depth of field. It was always a bit of a mystery to me because of the link to aperture and understanding all those back to front f-numbers. I think it was more of a mental block, though, because it’s actually quite easy to grasp.

Creatively you are able to do more with your photography and as you learn digital photography you will find using depth of field key to great images. You can use it to blur out backgrounds while the subject remains pin sharp or to create an image perfectly in focus from front to back, as in great landscape photos.

1. What is depth of field?

It’s quite simple. It’s the amount of a scene that is in focus in front of your point of focus or behind it. Depth of field is more simply understood as depth of focus: how much of the image is in focus. A lens can only focus at one point which is the sharpest, most in focus point in the photo. But what you can do by using depth of field is to control the perceived zone of focus. This will differ when shooting different subjects or scenes.

Now, there are three main factors that affect depth of field. Firstly, the aperture you are using, secondly the focal length of the lens, and thirdly the focusing distance. All of these will impact the depth of field. Each of these will affect depth of field, so in order to control it effectively it’s necessary to master each one of them.

2. Focal length

When shooting an image using a 28mm wide angle lens at, say, f/5.6 you will see a much greater depth of field as compared to a 400mm at the same aperture. When using different lenses understand what the impact will be so that you can creatively use the resulting depth of field.

3. Aperture

On a lens you have possible apertures ranging from f/1.2 all the way up to f/32, and each of these lens openings will have an effect on depth of field. If shooting on the extremes, like f/32, you’ll find that it results in quite a considerable difference than when you shoot at f/2.8. Then when shooting using the mid-range numbers the depth of field will again be different. An aperture of f/2.8 will have a very shallow depth of field while f/32 will show sharp focus throughout the whole image.

4. Focusing distance

How far you are to the point of focus is another factor to consider. When using any lens, the depth of field will increase the further the focusing distance. If you focus on an object three meters away, and if you focus on something 300 meters in the distance, the depth of field will be greater. So in other words, when the subject is far away from the camera there will be a greater depth of field and more of the image will be in focus.

5. When to use depth of field

Most of us have taken landscape images where most of the scene is in focus. This is true when you’re shooting scenes of fields and trees and boats on the sea. The way in which this is achieved is by setting your aperture to a higher number, e.g. f/11 and above, which means a smaller aperture opening. Virtually the whole scene from foreground to background is in focus. But this changes when choosing a wider aperture opening or a small f-number on the lens. Here you would only use this setting to shoot something you want to isolate such as a face in a portrait. The background gets blurred out and the face is in crisp focus. You would also use this when shooting close-ups of flowers or animals in a zoo where you don’t want to see the background or the bars or fence in the foreground.

So, as you can see, depth of field is really quite simple. Blurred out backgrounds use a large aperture and landscapes that need to be in focus from foreground all the way through to the background use a small aperture. The key as you learn digital photography is to experiment with all settings and then practice, practice, practice!

The Golden Ratio Applied to Photographic Composition

If you have been using The Rule of Thirds in your photographic compositions, you may have discovered an inherent shortcoming. Composing for the Rule of Thirds involves lining up a subject with one of the recommended intersections or lines. This can sometimes result in the subject being crowded too close to the edge of the frame.

The problem can be minimized, if not eliminated using the Golden Ratio Grid, rather than the standard equally spaced Rule of Thirds grid.

What is the Golden Ratio?

It is worth while taking a look at what the Golden Ratio is before applying it. The concept was discussed as far back as 300BC as being mathematically interesting, and in addition to being called the Golden Ratio it is also referred to as the Golden Mean or Divine Proportion.

In simple terms, it refers to two measurements where the ratio of the sum of both measurements and the largest measurement is the same as the ratio of the largest and the smallest. In other words a + b / a is the same as a / b. This ratio is 1 to 1.618 and is often quoted to be found in nature, architecture, art and music amongst other things.

The mathematics of the Golden Ratio was further explored by a man called Fibonacci to deliver the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers. Start with 0 and 1 then progressively add the previous two numbers together to obtain the next. The sequence would progress as 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so on. The interesting thing is that the further the progression advances, the closer to the golden ratio becomes the result of dividing the next to the last number in sequence by the last number in sequence. For example, 55/34 is 1.617647…, and the result of 233/144 is 1.618055…

This sequence is used to generate another composition variation called the Golden Spiral. There are opinions that this spiral can be seen in a Nautilus shell, the seeds on a pine cone, and even the arms of the milky way. Such is the interest in the Golden Ratio that many regard it as the universal constant that all things in life relate to in one way or another.

How Do You Apply the Golden Ratio to Your Photos?

One simple way to apply the Golden Ratio is to apply it to a rule of thirds grid. But, instead of the three columns and rows being of equal width and height, the center column and row is 0.618 the measurement of the other two. If you place a subject at a row/column intersection now, you effectively move the subject further from the edge of the image frame, giving the subject more space.

You can also employ the Golden Spiral to place the main point of interest within the inside of the spiral. The spiral is created from the Fibonacci sequence, which when plotted as a series of Golden Rectangles with a series of arcs drawn within the rectangles, results in the spiral overlay. You can see this graphically represented on my website.  Adobe Lightroom provides composition overlays for the Golden Ratio grid and for the Golden Spiral.