How to take sharp photos

Like a lot of photographers I aspired to take amazing photos which is the result of composition and technique, but alas, tack sharp images was one aspect of technique that eluded me. It didn't seem to matter what I did with my camera settings or the way I took the photos, I simply wasn't getting the results I wanted. So after a lot of searching on the internet reading various articles and watching tutorial videos, I started getting the sharp photos I had been looking for.....I had found the secret sauce which nobody seemed to be spelling out.

So, in the spirit of giving back to the photographic community who helped me, I decided to create a "How to Take Sharp Photos.pdf" sheet that puts all the steps in one place in incremental order, ie. each step will help produce sharper images but generally with each step comes additional cost.

Please note though that upgrading the camera body is the last step and this is quite deliberate. If you don't have the previous steps in place, the best camera body in the world will NOT give you sharp photos. Put simply, if you don't keep the camera still and don't focus a sharp image on the sensor, your camera cannot make it sharp simply because it has lots of megapixels. Assuming you have progressed to wanting to buy a new lens, I would strongly recommend you read this and then use the DxOMark website to evaluate your desired camera/lens combination. From personal experience I owned a Canon 650D which has an 18Mpix sensor. When I researched the very popular 70-200mm focal range, it became obvious that those lenses, while producing fantastic results on a full frame body for which they were designed, would actually perform quite poorly on the 650D, eg. the highly regarded Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM would only be able to resolve the equivalent detail of 10Mpix..!! A good choice? NO, not at all. The Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD would give me 15Mpix and when I upgraded to the Canon EOS 6D full frame body with a 20Mpix sensor would give me 18Mpix. A much better choice and cheaper to boot.

But taking a sharp photo with your camera is certainly not the end of it. Oh no no no! Your journey has a bit to go yet, so once you've taken that sharp photo, keep reading the the next step below, "I took a sharp photo - now what?" Trust me, it's worth the effort because you'll never look back and it will add very little to your workflow to get amazing results.

Download "How to Take Sharp Photos.pdf"

I took a sharp photo - now what?

OK, you put into practice the advice in "How to take sharp photos" and now you've taken some photos that should be the sharpest images you and your camera can produce. What more do I need to do I hear you ask? If you're anything like myself, and most beginners for that matter, you shot your images in the highest resolution JPG format your camera is capable of and they look pretty good. That's a good start but I'm sorry to inform you that you've already lost a lot of the image information your camera sensor produces. You see, JPG is a lossy compressed format which means your camera analyses the image and decides what pixel information it can throw away but still maintain a "good enough" quality image for the viewer. On a positive note and depending on the cameras settings, your camera will also apply some image processing such as boosting the greens in landscapes or skin tones in portraits as well as apply some sharpening & noise reduction.

Shooting in RAW on the other hand, keeps every bit of image information your camera sensor can produce and typically does not apply any in camera image processing as described above. Now, this WILL produce a flatter image that will NOT look as good as a JPG straight out of the camera, but don't despair, that's where software like Lightroom, Capture One Pro, DxO Optics Pro etc. comes to the rescue and ultimately you have the ability to produce a final image that is way better than what your camera will produce by itself. The first video below demonstrates this beyond any doubt. For reference I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC (a.k.a Lightroom) as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photographers bundle. It costs around $10/month which to my mind is very good value. Don't be fooled by the name, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC and Adobe Photoshop CC are 2 different products designed for very different tasks but as a bundle they compliment each other very well with Lightroom taking care of all your cataloging along with non-destructive adjustments to exposure, contrast and a host of other "colour & light" adjustments and Photoshop taking care of editing functions like cutting things out or adding things in.

In addition to the standard Lightroom capabilities, I downloaded a free and very well regarded plug-in called the Google Nik Collection to enhance the capabilities of Lightroom. Two of the Nik Collection plug-ins I find especially useful, Dfine for noise reduction and Sharpener Pro for image sharpening. Note that Lightroom has noise reduction and sharpening tools built in so the Nik Collection is not strictly necessary, however I find Nik works better, its designed to work directly from within Lightroom and it's free, so why wouldn't you use it.

If you find yourself needing to apply sharpening in Photoshop, the Google Nik Collection will be available also. Alternatively, I've been using the free High Definition Sharpening Photoshop Action from MCP Actions which works extremely well and doesn't suffer from those halo effects some sharpening processes produce. You'll have to register to download the action from their website as their actions are copyrighted.

Here are some great beginner tutorials from Anthony Morganti to help get you started.

Lightroom 6/CC Introduction

Nik Collection - Dfine 2

Nik Collection - Sharpener Pro

Astrophotography – Phil Hart
Phil Hart describes himself as someone who "has been enjoying and photographing the night sky for nearly twenty years. His award winning photos have been published in books, magazines and popular websites around the world." I myself have a copy of his eBook "Shooting Stars" which covers everything for the complete beginner through to the more advanced photographer and at $15 is great value for those interested in photographing the night sky.

Reviews & Tech Tips – Tony & Chelsea Northrup
Tony & Chelsea are a great source for photography education and regularly publish on their YouTube channel. They also publish eBooks such as Stunning Digital Photography and Photography Buyers Guide for which you pay once and receive all updates for free.
Some of their videos I'd recommend:
- ISO - The Ultimate Guide
- Aperture & f/stop Tutorial
- Crop Factor with ISO & Aperture
- How to Use DxOMark: Lens Sharpness & Sensor Quality
- Should you use Full Frame Lenses on Crop Bodies? Yes and No...
- Pixel Density vs Noise
- Optimal Image Quality

In Camera Artistry – Using any Light Source
Jerry Ghionis is known in the photographic world as the "MacGyver" of photography, seemingly creating stunning images out of nothing. This video of a presentation he gave at the B&H store in New York really inspired me to look at the world of light and not just location.

This is not a short video so if you have a short attention span, this might not be the video for you. If however you are serious about learning photography, then I highly recommend this presentation as Jerry talks about many different situations he found himself in and how he captured the images in his presentation.

Magic Lantern on the Canon 6D
As you've likely noticed, I shoot with the Canon EOS 6D full frame camera having upgraded from the Canon EOS 650D crop sensor in mid 2016. As with the 650D and most Canon EOS cameras out there, except for the very latest models, they lack intervalometer functionality to allow timelapse photography. Why Canon don't include such basic capabilities is beyond me but thankfully the Magic Lantern firmware easily solved this and adds a plethora of other features as well.....and it's absolutely free.

The above link will take you to the Canon 6D specific pages on the Magic Lantern site but if you want to try the firmware on a different Canon EOS model, just follow the links to find the Magic Lantern pages specific to your model. One thing that they don't provide on the Magic Lantern site is the Canon 6D firmware version 1.1.6 which, as at January 2017 is the MUST HAVE version to be compatible. Older 6D's will likely have 1.1.3 or similar and brand new 6D's will have 1.1.7. For people with 6D firmware other than 1.1.6, it is necessary to download it and upgrade/downgrade as necessary before Magic Lantern can be installed on the 6D via the SD card.

You can download version 1.1.6 for the Canon EOS 6D here and then get the Magic Lantern files from their site using the above links.