105 - Why aren't my DSLR photos sharp?

why-aren't-my-dslr-photos-sharp.jpg

On a photo walk this weekend, I heard what’s probably the most common complaint from photographers.

Why aren’t my photos sharp?

We usually don’t have time to do a complete diagnosis, but it typically boils down to three potential issues.

Three potential issues:

  • Autofocus settings issue.

  • Focusing issue. 


  • Some other technical or performance issue.

 

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1 - Autofocus settings issue

AF Selections on an EOS Rebel T6S. Top — Single-point AF (Manual selection) Select one AF point to focus Middle — Zone AF (Manual selection of zone) The 19 AF points are divided into five zones for focusing. Bottom — 19-point automatic selection AF. All the AF points are used to focus. This mode is set automatically in Basic Zone modes.

AF Selections on an EOS Rebel T6S. Top — Single-point AF (Manual selection) Select one AF point to focus Middle — Zone AF (Manual selection of zone) The 19 AF points are divided into five zones for focusing. Bottom — 19-point automatic selection AF. All the AF points are used to focus. This mode is set automatically in Basic Zone modes.

Your subject isn’t in focus because you aren’t using your autofocus settings properly. Most often, your AF is just missing your subject.

Here’s why. Your camera doesn’t know what you have chosen as your subject. The camera can make an educated guess based on common scenarios or fancy algorithms, but only you know.

If you understand that premise, it makes sense that there are times when your camera might choose to focus on the wrong element, leaving your true subject out of focus. Here are some questions to help you diagnose that situation.

Are you using the Automatic Selection AF? In that option, the camera determines what it should use as a focal point? A Zone AF option will give you a zone with a smaller cluster of AF where the camera still selects the subject. It chooses what looks most prominent in the frame and focuses there. If you decide your focal point is not one of the more obvious elements in the frame, your camera will focus on the wrong thing, and your subject will look blurry.

Are you using the Manual Selection - 1 point AF? Manual selection lets you tell the camera which focal point to use. Then you can make sure the AF point is in the right place.

What if you forget your focal point is in the lower left of your frame, while your new subject is in the upper right? Same problem. You will have the wrong thing in focus. Check to see which focal point is activated.

How to Choose Your AF Selection Point

  • Press the AF Area Selection button. (It looks like a box with a cross made of dots inside.)

  • Choose the correct AF Point Selection. Put the red dot whoever you want to focus.

  • A focus indicator light in the bottom right of your viewfinder lets you know when it is in focus.

How many AF points do you have per DSLR model? This is the difference between entry level and advanced cameras.

  • Before 2015, All Rebel cameras had nine AF points.

  • More recent Rebel models like the Canon EOS Rebel6 T6i have 19 points.

 
AF Points.jpg
 
 

Choosing your AF Operation

You can choose the correct option by using this simple decision tree.

Question — Is your subject moving?

  • If No, choose One Shot. This option is designed to focus on a subject at standstill.

  • If Yes, select AI Servo. This option tracks a moving subject. For instance, if someone is riding a bicycle toward you, AI Servo will allow the camera to continue focusing on your subject as it approaches you.

  • AI Focus. AF is always looking for something in the foreground. Just don’t use it. (It’s the same as the green mode) It always chooses the foreground.

Back Button Focus. This feature lets you customize the camera so that focusing is performed by pressing a rear button with your right thumb. The shutter button still wakes up the camera with a half-press, and fires the shutter with a full press downward.

Auto Focus Cases

 

2 - Focusing issue 


In addition to the Autofocus settings, there are some focusing issues you should check if your subject is blurry:

  • Are you using manual focus by mistake? Some lenses have an AF/M button that you can use to turn off autofocus. The problem? You can easily bump some of them without realizing it.

  • You might be too close. Check the minimum focusing distance for your lens. If you are too near the subject, it might prevent the camera from focusing properly. Try backing away.

  • You are focused on the wrong thing. Sometimes when you see your subject out of focus, check to see if anything else in the frame in focus. That would signal that you just missed your subject with your AF Point.

  • Your subject might not have enough contrast. Your image needs to have some contrast and light for many autofocus systems to work. If you try to photograph a solid sheet of white or any single color, most autofocus systems will struggle. Why? The camera compares adjacent pixels, and when one is different, it uses that point to determine its focus. If it can’t find any contrast, it can’t focus.

  • You might have an extremely shallow depth of field. In this case, your autofocus is working, but the depth of field is so shallow, it is hard to tell that your subject is in focus.

 

3 - Some other technical or performance issue


Finally, there are technical or performance issues you should check.

Your photo is blurry because of camera shake. When you depress the shutter, you move the camera. If the shutter speed is too slow, the camera picks up that movement, and it looks like a blurry photo.

Make sure your shutter speed is faster than the equivalent of your focal length. For instance, if you are zoomed to 100mm, your shutter speed should be 1/100th of a second or faster to avoid camera shake.


Use Image Stabilizer

Is it ever the camera’s fault? Sometimes. To check performance try this:

  • Use a tripod.

  • Set the camera to a large number f/stop

  • Take images with a fast shutter speed using a remote control.

  • If you still have a problem, send it out for repairs

Sign up for the webinar

I’m planning a webinar on this topic, so I can dig in and show visual examples. If you are interested in participating in something like this, you can sign up on my EOS Photographer show notes.