A question that often comes up in my Private Facebook Group ; How to get beautiful sharp photos. Today I'll go over my best tips on doing exactly that. I'll go over gear, optimal camera settings, how I edit and export so you can start getting tack sharp photos every time!
Of course, it's possible to get sharp photos with all kinds of cameras and lenses, but I have found that shooting with specific lenses outperforms others. It's one of the reasons my favorite lens to shoot with is the Canon 35mm 1.4. It's tack sharp, every time and I would say is the sharpest lens I've shot with so far. Another lens that gives good results is my 100mm 2.8 Macro lens.
The first Canon lens I shot with was the 50mm 1.4 and when you compare it to the sharpness of the 50mm 1.2 it never even comes close. So when it comes to gear, realize that it might not have anything to do with your camera or settings if you're not getting sharp images, it might just be that you're not shooting on a lens that is as sharp as you want it to be.
The number one thing people typically ask me is what f stop I am shooting on to get such sharp results, and the truth is that you'll find me shooting wide open 98% of the time. When I'm shooting on the 35mm it's typically set to 1.4, with a quick shutter speed that is over 180. One setting that is overlooked so often that has a lot to do with how sharp you're image can look like (this also ties into editing a little) is ISO.
When I first started, I never really understood what ISO was and quickly raised it without thinking much of it, only to end up with a lot of very dull, grainy images.
ISO is the sensitivity of light. Think back to shooting with film, using a higher ISO meant you were using a film that was more sensitive to light, making it possible to shoot in lower light condition. However, this also means that you would get the added grain and noise that comes with shooting with a higher ISO. When you raise your ISO from 200 to 500, to 800, you are making your camera more sensitive to light, BUT you will end up with more and more grain and noise every time you raise it so keep this in mind.
When it comes to my settings, I always try to keep my ISO as low as possible. Next time you're shooting, try to keep your ISO as low as possible as well as this also ties right into my next point; Editing your images to make them even sharper.
I'm known for raising my sharpness a lot. I love tack-sharp portraits, so raising the sharpness slider in Lightroom is one of the first editing steps I take. Now, this is where I often see other photographers struggle and tell me that they can't seem to get sharp portraits no matter what they do with their editing. And this might not have to do with editing, but it might have everything to do with your camera settings when you took the image. 99% of the time, the people who can't seem to get their images sharp in post-processing, also shot with a higher ISO. (this will add grain and noise)
Now think about what happens when you sharpen details on an image that was shot on an ISO of 100 (no noise or grain) vs one that was shot on an image with the ISO of 800 (with noise and grain). When you sharpen your image details, it will sharpen everything, including the grain you have in your image making it difficult to get nice results.
When you're working in Lightroom or Photoshop, keep this in mind. If your ISO was nice and low, you'll have a much easier time sharpening your images.
Now if you want to go a little crazy and get super-duper sharp images, then another thing you can do is once you've exported your photo, drag it into photoshop and go on sharpening brush, and at 30% brush over the important details. This is usually the eyes, lashes, and whatever in focus in the portrait.
EXPORTING & POSTING
There are always lots of questions on exporting and posting. There are a TON of 'tips' online on how to resize your images to get them to be sharp on social media. To keep this really simple; I do NOT resize my images. I export at the highest quality and upload those to social media and have always found this works the absolute best. Plus it's less work on me so it's a win-win.
And a quick Q&A from questions from the online community.
Q: How do you handle; when you’re changing your settings within the camera (making sure everything is up to par to get that perfect sharp image), and you feel rushed because your client(s) are just oddly standing their waiting for you? (It makes me nervous and just click the shutter button because I don’t want to look stupid 🙄. I often neglect some setttings I could’ve adjusted but didn’t, I don’t want them waiting on my constantly).
A: Such a great questions because I think MOST photographers can 100% relate to this feeling of hitting the button simply because we don't want to look like we're taking forever. I know I was guilty of this and felt the exact same way but here's the thing; you're at your session to create because work, and this requires you to adjust your camera settings and actually focus on the images you are creating. Sometimes this means slowing down, adjusting, taking a shot, then re-adjusting your settings until you have it how you like it. It's silly to allow yourself to think that it looks like you don't know what you're doing, when you're just taking the time to do what's most important.
Something I like to do is when we get to a new location where my light is different I let them know "Ok before we start shooting I'm just going to get my settings perfect" This allows me to take a few shots (my clients usually just casually stand there waiting), I'll get my settings exactly how I want it and then let them know "Ok everything is perfect! Lets...(and then go into my first posing prompt)".
This way they know what I am doing, and I don't feel rushed in getting my settings perfect. PLUS these few shots of them just standing there not posing are always some I love to include in their final gallery.
Q: Focus points, how do you adjust during busy times of a wedding such as first dance, ceremony and reception dancing?
A: As for focusing, I always have my focus set to spot focus this way my camera isn't deciding what I should focus on, and it's easy to switch to different areas on the image to focus.
Q: I’m finding lately I’m having trouble getting really sharp images with larger groups.
A: When it comes to photographing larger groups during sessions or weddings, I always typically try to avoid having a lot of rows, and aim to line up my clients' feet. This way, they are all on the same focal plane, making it really easy to get everyone in the photo in focus.
For smaller groups of 2-4 people, I typically have my aperture set to f/2.8. If it's a larger group of about 8-10 people, if I'm able to get them all on the same focal plane, I'll have my aperture set to f/4.0. If there is a second row, I'll go to f/5.6.
Q: How can I get good focus when the sun is behind my subject?
A: Backlighting is one of my favorites, and during the golden hour, it can be challenging to get your focus on your clients to be perfect. Your camera sees a ton of light coming in, which makes it harder to focus. Depending on how far away I am from my client, I often like to switch over to manual focus this way, I can ensure that my focus is landing on my clients. Shooting with a lens hood can also help a lot as it will remove some of the bright light coming directly into the lens.
I hope these tips help you get beautiful sharp photos, as always, if you have any additional questions just post them below and I'll add them to the Q&A section!