So Your Shots Are Blurry: 5 Common Problems and How to Fix Them


In nearly all types of photography, controlling movement can be beneficial to telling your photographic story. Often times to tell your story most simply, you must avoid motion blur. One of the most common mistakes beginner photographers make is taking shots that are unintentionally blurry.  Essentially, there are five main reasons why your photos may not be sharp . Below, we’ll focus on the ways to correct the most common causes.

Problem: Subject is Out of Focus – Some of the lenses on your camera are designed to only focus on the elements that are a specific distance away from your lens (like a telephoto lens).  Often times in auto focus, your camera can focus on elements that are the wrong distance away from your lens, making the final photograph blurry.

Solution: The main way to fix this is to switch to manual focus.  This may seem like a daunting endeavor for beginners, but it’s not as hard as it may appear.  Simply alter the focus until your main subject seem s sharp.   Generally, manual focus is controlled by a gear that twists on your lens, and is an option that offers a great deal of control.

If possible, check your handbook for more information as this option may only be available on DSLR models.   If you’re unsure whether your subject is in focus, I recommend just changing the lens to an infinite distance focus (∞) so you can get as much of your scene in focus as possible. This has the same effect as when you try to increase depth of field, which is when you narrow your aperture as much as possible to maximize the range of focus.

Problem: Your Subject is Moving – If you’re looking for sharp images, it is important that everything in your scene is still – especially when taking long exposures.  When your subject is moving, your camera will record their movement, giving your photograph a blurry appearance.

Solution: Simply try to have your subject stay as still as possible to fix the problem.

Problem: Your Camera is Shaking – It’s not advisable to shoot long exposures while hand-holding your camera because it is extremely difficult for anyone to stay perfectly still for an extended period of time.

Solution: To be sure that your camera doesn’t move out of position, use a tripod and shutter release cable/self-timer. Even then, always double check that the camera is stable on your tripod, as factors like wind can mess up your shot.

Problem: Your Exposure is Too Long – While many people prefer the atmosphere that long exposures can create, it’s often times unrealistic to think you can get perfectly sharp images with exposures that are very long.

Solution: By shortening the time your shutter is open, you can almost eliminate some of the aforementioned problems such as visible subject movement or camera movement that effects the final result.  If you want to shorten your exposure while compensating for a lack of light, there are a few things you can do. You can increase your ISO that controls how “impactful“ a certain amount of light can be on the brightness of your final photograph.  You can also use different lighting sources to brighten the scene such as a flash.  In addition, you can widen the aperture or the space that allows light to pass to your sensor, but remember that aperture is written in fraction form, so f8 is wider then f22.

Problem: There’s too Much Image Noise – Unfortunately, even with modern cameras, image noise is still a common problem. Image noise is when your photographs seems pixelated and unclear due to a small photo sensor (this is the metallic looking piece that is exposed when your shutter opens. This is in fact, the way digital cameras record a scene) or high ISO’s (light sensitivity).

Solution: Because the source of noise is ISO and sensor size, you must either lower your ISO or buy a camera with a larger sensor (this is often the less feasible option).

In conclusion, avoiding motion blur can be an effective way to tell your photographic story. By understanding the cause of motion blur, you can be more ready to remedy the problem “in the field.”

Chase Guttman is an award-winning photographer and a regular writer for Light Stalking. Check out his site or visit his photo tips blog.

About Author

Chase Guttman is an award-winning travel photographer, whose love for travel and adventure has allowed him to photograph his experiences in over 40 countries. You can reach him on his website.

Great suff, I’ve caught my self in these few mistakes in this column you’ve mentioned, Thank you for sharing your solutions!!

Another cause can be filters. I recently bought a Nikkor 70-200mm lens which was supposed to be so fab and I just couldn’t get crisp images, when I took it into Nikon the technician suggested I remove the Polarizing Filter and it made a huge difference!

Instead of shifting to manual focus I’ve had great success lately in switching to a specific auto-focus point and keeping that directly over the subject.

This helps me grab both the focus and composition I want.

One other consideration is when you shoot with long focal length telephoto lenses. It is suggested that for hand-held shots that your shutter speed be at least one over your focal length and that is the 35mm equivalent length. So when I am shooting with my crop sensor Canon XSi and a 400mm lens, my 35mm equivalent is 640mm. This means my shutter speed should be at least 1/640 second. However because my lens has image stabilization available I can often get away with a lower shutter speed of maybe 1/360 sec. although that is not always true. I usually try for the faster speed in case I have to pan along with a bird in flight. I hope this helps those shooting wildlife with long lenses or other long focal length situations.

Another tip when shooting wildlife, setting your camera to “center point” focus where it only uses the center focus point really helps get more successful shots as the cameras multiple focus points can get confused about what you are aiming at. The center focus point on most cameras is much more accurate than the other focus points. With cameras that have such high resolution (lots of megapixels) these days, I just center point focus and then compose by cropping at home. This seems to work best for wildlife. I am not saying don’t be aware of what is in the background, but your window of opportunity is usually short with wildlife and getting a good focus image is about the best you can expect from a running deer or an eagle in flight.

Using a single focus point in composing, as Dave suggested, is especially nice on large aperture shots, like f/1.8, since the subject often will get out of focus if you use the center focus spot and then compose your shot, due to the extremely shallow depth-of-field 🙂

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