Quick Tips: Sharpness and how to get it

I was speaking to an acquaintance yesterday – a keen photographer and a man possessed with quite possibly the lowest pulse rate I’ve ever met, who wanted to know how to get really sharp images. Initially I thought ‘Pah’ that’s easy – you just kinda take the shot don’t you – it’s easy. But then I thought about it. I had exactly the same concerns years ago and now I routinely take shots like the one ones above. Blisteringly sharp, focussed and bursting with non-fuzzed detail. It’s not a skill thing, hence I find it easy to say that – it’s a technique and a learning thing. Anyone can do it – some of it might be about kit, most of it is about understanding your kit and making that understanding second nature. Here’s what I think I did, all those years ago.
1) Ensure it’s not camera shake. Use the usual metric of 1 second/ focal length . So, 200mm at 200mm lens = 1/200sec shutter speed. If using a cropped sensor camera, go for 1.5 so 50mm = 1/75sec.
2) Clean your lens – don’t use UV filters unless they are the absolute best and/or you’re shooting a speedway race. You don’t need them. A lens hood gives great protection and makes you look cool anyway.
3) Understand your lens sweet spot in terms of aperture. Even kit lenses have a great sweet spot – f5.6. I’ve got a cheapo 50mm that’s rubbish at anything other than f4.0. I know that, so work with it.
4) The point above means taking loads of test shots. Once you’ve spent the time though, you won’t forget.
5) Expensive lenses are often said to be sharper…Perhaps so, but usually they are sharper over a wider sweet spot so you have more latitude with aperture.
6) Use your centre focus point only and recompose the shot quickly. This stops the subject from moving and again makes you look cool.
7) Is your lens back focusing or front focusing? Really boring this, so Google it. Try shooting a ruler laid out in front of you. Focus on 5cm or whatever, where has the focus landed?
8) Shoot RAW and sharpen outside of camera – or, turn off all jpeg sharpening in the camera and do it externally. In camera sharpening can be a bit dodgy – Canon sharpening is known to be soft.
9) There is no cheating about sharpening. The only time it is, is when you’ve got a truly blurred photo and try and make it sharp. Google Anti-Alias filter and you’ll understand why.
10) Lightroom – go for around a factor of no more than 80 when sharpening – otherwise artefacts get introduced.
11) OK, buy an L-Lens! It makes you look even cooler. Especially a white one. I’ve got a white one and yes, I am shallow.
12) Primes are sharper.Usually.
13) Don’t use a barking mad aperture like F22 – this will only cause diffraction softness. Again find the sweet spot for your lens.
14) Hyperfocal distance. Very boring. Narrow aperture, try focusing 2/3 into the scene – not on infinity.
15) Press the shutter quickly! Really! Don’t ponce about. Fire! Again, good for cool rating.
16) Destroy all your un-sharp photo’s. Keep the best only. Really. Not a joke. This is the mark of a very good photographer – editing and what not to use.
17) Sports…different subject all together. Fast shutter speeds, predictive focussing and all that jazz.
Er…I can’t think of anything else at the moment!

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