One of the biggest complaints that I often hear from photographers is that they are unhappy with the sharpness of their photos. Clear, crisp photos are often what set the good photographers apart from the bad. Below are a few things to address to help you get sharper images.
Cheap or Free Solutions
If you’ve ever complained about unsharp images, do yourself a favor and take a look at your lens. How dirty is it? I’m often amazed how poorly people take care of their cameras. A good microfiber lens cloth and a dust blower can go a long way towards sharper photos.
Try and shoot during golden hour to achieve sharper images. If you can, use a bounce reflector or find good reflective light off of a white building. This fill light drastically increases the sharpness of your images.
Nearly all cameras these days are autofocus but they are hardly perfect. The quickest adjustment you can make for more in focus shots is to set your focus mode to a 1-spot focus. Use the focus point that’s going to be the shortest distance between your subject’s eyes and where you’ll need to move the camera back to for reframing. Another thing you can try for better focused photos is to use manual focus. I’m seeing more and more cameras that have a Focus Peaking feature that highlights the area in focus as you manually focusing the camera. This helps a lot and you don’t have to have 20/20 vision to get the camera manually focused properly.
Lenses have Aperture Ranges at which they produce their sharpest images. For my Leica’s that is generally at the lowest aperture settings. On another lens I have it has the same sharpness from 2.0 to 5.6. On my Canon 50 1.2L I found that 1.8-2.2 was the sweet spot for what I was trying to achieve. The fastest way to find out about your lens is to set your camera on a tripod and shoot a bunch of test images at different apertures, using Aperture priority. Just like an eye test, your subject could be a piece of printed paper with varying sizes of text printed on it. Then analyze these images by zooming in to the same distance across all of the images. As long as your camera was still enough, you should see a noticeable difference in the image sharpness.
Subtle movements at slow shutter speeds can cause your photos to be less sharp. I generally try to shoot faster than 1/60 shutter speeds to prevent shake. If your lens or camera has image stabilization make sure that’s turned on. Most image stabilization lenses or cameras offer around 3 stops of protection, that’s like shooting at a shutter speed of 1/15 and getting the same amount of camera shake as 1/125.
While I’m no expert in photo editing I do know how to get a little increase in image sharpness in Lightroom. It’s as simple as adjusting the Sharpness in the Detail panel. I’ve found Clarity and Contrast to also impact the perceived image sharpness.
More Expensive Solution
Upgrade Your Equipment
If you’ve tried the above steps and still aren’t seeing any improvements, I’d suggest upgrading your camera equipment, starting with a new sharper lens. There are tons of resources that you can use to find the sharpness of a lens. Sometimes, the most expensive lens isn’t always the sharpest, so do your research. Cameras with higher resolutions will also lead to sharper images as these capture higher levels of detail. Another cool thing that Sony has done is add image stabilization into the body of the camera rather than the lens. This can significantly reduce camera shake in lower light situations.