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Photo Tips

"The Sharper Image"

Loading...........Coneflower - Copyright D.E. Mac McGuffee.  All Rights Reserved.

     Ready to make sharper images? The degree of sharpness is always relative to what we are striving for in the image. Experiment with the following photo tips. Perhaps one or all of these tips will help make a difference in your photography.  

     1.  If you are hand holding the camera try to brace yourself against a stationary object or use a tri-pod at 2/3rds of it's max height. Make sure the tripod plate is snug. If you still notice camera shake press eye to eyepiece (without injuring yourself) and place free hand on top of lens directly above the tri-pod ball. Breath, relax and (Moose Peterson's suggestion) lightly roll your finger across the shutter button. 

     2. Use a remote cable release. Gently depress the cable release button. 

     3. If your camera has mirror lock-up depress the shutter button once which raises the mirror, wait a couple of seconds and press the button again to capture the image. Note: once the mirror is raised you will not be able to see your subject through the view finder. If your camera does not have mirror lock-up you can set the remote timer from 2 to 10 seconds which will accomplish the same action. Make sure you focus accurately and your focus and exposure stays locked during this action.  

     4.  Depending upon your available light if you are hand holding the camera try to use a shutter speed twice that of the lens focal length rather than one over the lens focal length. In other words if the focal length of your lens is 200mm adjust your aperture and speed for twice the focal length which in this case would be a shutter speed of 400 to 500. If you are using film you may want to try a good 400 speed pro film rather than the 100 or 200 you have been using. If you are shooting with a digital SLR you may want to increase the ISO sensitivity. The following procedure has worked well for hand holding the body pressed against face, and one hand supporting the lens underneath and the elbows resting against your body. Breath, relax and roll your finger over the shutter button. Another alternative for producing sharper images while hand holding is the vibration reduction lens. Most major camera companies market a vibration reduction lens that can be switched on when hand holding the camera...allowing one to get sharper images at slower speeds. 

    5. You will want your subject to be the sharpest part of the image...and this is where focus becomes an big issue. Properly focusing is critical especially when using long focal length lens at wide apertures such as F/2.8 or F/4 due to limited depth of field. For our purposes depth of field is defined as the area or zone of acceptable sharpness in front of and behind your subject. If you are using a short or wide angle lens in the 14 to 35mm range your depth of field will be greater at F/2.8 or F/4 than a longer focal length lens at the same aperture. If you are capturing images of people or animals the image will have a sharper appearance if the eyes are sharp. The eyes are generally the first thing we notice in images of people and animals. If the eyes are not sharp the image just doesn't look sharp. 

     6. In doors or out, depending upon the guide number of your flash and distance to your subject, you can use your flash to help freeze the action, add a catch light to the eyes and open up the shadows. Take time to read your camera manual and what it has to say about your flash unit. Then go out and practice...practice...practice.

     7.  If you are among the many photographers that print their images in-house the following may be of interest to you. Regardless of whether you scan your negatives to an image file on your computer or transfer your digital images to your computer via flashcards the transferred image will more than likely need some sharpening. My stock agencies prefer any images sent to them be unsharpened so I shoot images with my D2X with sharpening turned off. When I want to print out a proof for my files or make a fine art print I will sharpen the image using Adobe Photoshop CS. I have found that the Unsharp Mask filter in Adobe Photoshop will do a professional job. Generally I will set the the Amount of sharpening between 100 to 170, Radius between 1.1  to 1.5 for images up to 11x14 at 300 PPI and if the image is larger than 11 x 14 at 300 PPI I set the Radius to 2.1. The amount of Threshold is dependent on the amount of noise in the image. To much threshold and you soften the image. As stated the setting will depend on the amount of noise and the 2 to 4 setting will normally work well for low noise images. To access the Unsharp Mask filter in Adobe Photoshop CS simply click on Filter from the task menu then Sharpen then Unsharp Mask and make your adjustments. Since every image is unique you may find different settings work best for certain type images. Since you are able to undo any adjustments try different settings to see what works best for your image. We recommend that sharpening be the final image adjustment made prior to printing.  

Interested in Learning More?

     We offer four (4) weekend photography workshops a year. The workshops consists of a total of 16 hours of instruction divided between classroom and field work. Workshops are limited to ten participants. Our next workshop is scheduled for September 2007. For more information on our workshops click on the following hyperlink: or give us a call for schedule and fees.


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Copyright 1999-2009 D. E. Mac McGuffee. All Rights reserved. All images and text are the intellectual property of D. E. Mac McGuffee and are protected by the United States and International copyright laws. Postal address: P. O. Box 2128, Brandon, Mississippi 39043. Central Mississippi Phone 601-955-9416. Fax 601-591-1808. Mississippi Gulf Coast 228-832-2913. Email: