When I first started studying photography, I admired how great photographers took tack sharp photos. I read and practiced and studied (and studied some more) until I too mastered this skill. From experience, I know that sharpness can be one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects to grasp when learning how to use your dSLR.

So, what exactly does a tack sharp photograph mean? A tack sharp photo has clean lines and clear definition. (Remember: Sharpness is affected by two elements, focus and contrast). Now, let’s dive in further!

Here are seven ways to increase your chances of achieving tack sharp photos. Just follow along. I got you covered!

How to Get Tack Sharp Photos

how to get tack sharp photos

1. Remember the hand held rule of thumb. The reciprocal rule in photography determines the slowest shutter speed you can safely use while using your camera held and prevent camera shake. The shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens. I normally shoot with my 35mm lens so the reciprocal would be 1/35. The slowest shutter speed I should be using is 1/35 seconds.

2. Turn on Vibration Reduction (VR) or Image Stabilization (IS). We talked about turning on your vibration reduction last week when discussing taking photos at night. Once you turn this feature on, you basically never want to turn it off! When you have IS on, you can use a slower shutter speed. Depending on your lens, you may be able to shoot at speeds 2-4 stops down from the hand held rule of thumb. If you are using a tripod, you don’t need to turn IS on. In fact, you want to make sure it is turned off! When IS is on, the camera looks for shake and moves inside which can cause movement in your photograph.

how to get tack sharp photos

3. Brace yourself. Any type of camera shake will take away from a sharp image. If you aren’t using a tripod, brace your arms against your sides to steady your camera. If you are near a wall or a tree, lean against it to keep yourself and the camera steady. Another tip that I use all the time is hooking your camera strap under your elbow and wrapping the rest around your forearm. This will help stabilize your camera and hold it steady in your hands.

4. Use burst or continuous shooting mode. This mode allows you to take several shots at once. This increases your chances that one of the photos will be in sharp focus. If you take a burst of 9 photos, one of them has to be in sharp focus right? I always shoot in continuous mode (especially when photographing children).

how to get tack sharp photos

5. Use mirror lock-up. This locks your camera’s mirrors in the up position. When you take a picture, the mirror will not move until after the picture is taken. This limits the movement inside the camera. When using mirror lock-up, you will have to press the shutter release button twice. The first will lift the mirror and the second will take the picture.

6. Use the proper shutter speed. So which shutter speed should use to achieve sharp images? Well, that depends on what you are shooting. If your subject is moving or still is going to determine your shutter speed. Keep in mind, the closer you are to a moving object, the faster that object will be to you and your camera. You will have to use a faster shutter speed in order to stop the action.

example shutter speeds

7. Zoom in…but not with your lens! When examining your photos on your LCD screen, zoom in your focus point and make sure it is in focus. Since the LCD screen is so small, your photo may appear to be in focus when it really isn’t. When photographing people, I always zoom in on the eyes to make sure they are in focus.

how to get tack sharp photos

Your challenge this week is work on achieving tack sharp photos! Make sure you post them on the Facebook page.

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