This article assumes your camera is working properly
Pictures are blurry for one of four reasons. With a little study, you can identify the reason an individual photo is blurry. By doing this, you’ll be able to use the technique to correct it.
Reason #1 – Hand shake
Hand shake is when the photographer is not holding the camera steady when taking the photograph.
The signs of hand shake are a blurring that appears to affect the entire image. If there’s a point of light in the photo, it will display as a streak of light.
The camera captures all movement from the time the shutter opens until it closes. If your hand moves during the time the shutter is open, hand shake will blur the image. The longer the shutter is open, the more potential for hand shake. Hand shake is more evident when using longer lenses. If you hold a short object, like a pencil, by one end, the other end will not shake much. If you take a longer object, like a broom handle, the other end will shake.
With a normal lens, 50 mm, the rule of thumb is that the average photographer can take a photo at 1/60th of a second without noticeable hand shake. Slower than that, and you need to use a tripod, monopod, or brace on some object. Get a higher end tripod. Monopods can be less expensive. With a tripod, you may be leaving the camera on it, as a tripod is designed to stand free. With a cheap tripod, you run the risk of having your camera fall over. With a monopod (single leg, you only use it to stabilize the camera, and will always have the camera in your hands, so there’s no risk of it falling over. A large bean bag or small pillow can help stabilize the camera if you have a short wall or other object on which to sit it. SLR cameras have a screw in connection at the bottom for attachment to a tripod or monopod. Longer lenses have a ring attachment that allows connection to monopods and tripods. If the lens has a tripod attachment, use the one on the lens instead of on the camera. This will balance the camera and lens combination better. Higher end tripods and monopods have a “ball head.” The ball head allows the photographer to turn the camera from portrait to landscape mode and back.
Relax when holding the camera. Keep your hands relatively loose. Squeeze the shutter button instead of punching it. People will subconsciously hold their breath when taking a photograph. Try to breathe regularly and slowly. Click on the exhale. Use the fastest shutter speed that is consistent with the amount of light available.
Reason #2 – Motion blur
Motion blur is similar to hand shake, but occurs because the subject is moving, not the photographer. Indications of motion blur are blurring of hands, feet, footballs, or other quickly moving objects, while objects that are relatively motionless are in focus. The quicker an object is moving, the more potential for motion blur, and the more quickly the shutter has to activate to prevent it.
There are several different ways to correct for motion blur. The most obvious is to speed up the shutter. The rule of thumb is for hand held photography with a 50 mm lens, 1/60th of a second for a still object, such as a person posing. 1/200th for a somewhat quickly moving object, 1/400th for quickly moving objects, and after that, the faster the better, as long as there’s enough light. Faster shutter speeds require more light. At 1/8000th of a second, the upper limit of most cameras, the shutter is quick enough to freeze a baseball moving at 100 mph.
Another technique to freeze motion in low light situations where fast shutter speeds aren’t possible is to use the flash. While the flash is used to illuminate a scene, there’s another characteristic of it that helps it in freezing action. If you set the shutter speed of your camera at 1/200th of a second, and synch with your flash, the flash does not activate for the full time that the shutter is open, but only flashes for about 1/1000th of a second. This will vary depending upon the flash. This will often freeze action, but there may be a ghosting effect. In sports photos, there may be a double exposure of hands and feet if they’re moving quickly. This is a more advanced technique, and requires practice to nail down.
The maximum speed at which flashes will synch varies by manufacturer, but is around 1/200th of a second. Above that, the photographer has to use high speed synch. With high speed synch, the flash does not fire once, but gives smaller strobe flashes during the time the shutter is open.
Reason #3 – Out of Focus
Out of focus is self-explanatory. It means the camera was not focused on the desired object when the image was captured. Camera autofocus systems look for contrast. You cannot, for example, focus on a blank wall. The autofocus will hunt, then give up. If your background is complex, the camera may lock onto the background. This is especially true if you’re letting the camera pick the focus point. If you’re using a specific focus point, you may have put your focus point off the desired subject and onto something else.
Reason #4 – Too close to subject
If you hold your thumb up in front of your eyes, then slowly bring it towards you, you will find a point where you can’t get it in focus anymore, no matter how hard you try. Lenses do the same thing, and the longer the lens, the further away you have to be from the subject to get it in focus. On a normal lens, the closest focus may be a foot or so. On long lenses, around 300 mm, the closest you can focus may be up to ten feet.