Ep 30: Sharp shooter: How to get tack sharp images


Sometimes, you might have what seems like the perfect shot: great location, awesome lighting, fantastic models, everything is just right. But when you look closely at your shots, they’re just not sharp. Or the crucial bits aren’t in focus. You’ve tried auto-focus, you’ve tried manual focus, you’ve worked hard to get the right sharpness – but something doesn’t quite work out. And you’re not sure what’s going wrong. In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss exactly what you need to do to get tack sharp images. They cover different scenarios where your focus could be at risk and share great hacks to ensure that you’re that you’ll never go soft when it really matters. Your pictures, of course.

This week’s theme for #ginachallenge is – you guessed it – “sharp”! Interpret that however you like.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show notes

Thanks to Marko Haka from Finland for educating us on the meaning of “kakka”!

Photographer Mashes Photos Together For Hilarious Results | Bored Panda via @boredpanda

Photo critique
Photo by Michael W Dodge

Michael W Dodge


Michael says: My main influence here was your blog post about photographing comedians. My long-suffering older son, Brennan, frequently serves as my stand-in as I haven’t a mannequin’s head. (His complexion, whilst properly pasty, isn’t quite mid-grey.) After reading your article I directed Chuckles here to do the shot completely straight except for one thing. He chose the pose and I find it rather hilarious. Now if I ever get a chance to photograph Rebel, I’ll know what to do. 🙂

Listen to our feedback in the episode!

Not all blur is created equal

1. The best ways to control motion blur

There is only one way to control motion blur and that’s with shutter speed.
As a general rule when shooting handheld the best shutter speed to avoid motion blur is:

  • Portraits hand held 1/125th or higher
  • Sports/action 1/500th higher and shoot in burst mode

There are also times when motion blur can really add to an image. I often have figures walking through my frames in slow shutter speeds to add life and a sense of movement to my shots.

There is another really good rule to remember and that’s to keep your shutter speed twice as fast as your focal length for static portraits and twice as fast as you think you need for motion shots.

So if you are shooting on a:

  • 50mm shoot at 1/100th sec for a static portrait
  • 100mm 1/200th
  • 200mm 1/400th

and double what you think you need for movement.

2. How to avoid camera shake

The best way to avoid camera shake is to use a sturdy tripod. If you are travelling or don’t want to lug a heavy tripod around then weigh your tripod down with weights.

Other techniques:

a) Brace techniques

  • Elbows in
  • Gently squeeze the shutter
  • Hold your breath when shooting
Elbows in
Keep your elbows in and braced against your body and support the lens with one hand and camera with the other hand.


Brace against something
Use a wall or tree or pole to brace against for added support


tree stump for support
Use tree stumps, bins, fire hydrants for extra support


Elbows in and knees as a brace
Elbows in and knees as a brace.


This looks great on a hipsters instagram feed but the shot will most likely be soft.

b. The String Tripod trick

There are some occasions where there is nothing available to brace yourself against or prop yourself on and tripods are not allowed like certain historic churches, public events, museums That’s when this string tripod comes in really handy. (Thanks to our Google + community for this tip!)

String tripod

String tripod 2

  • 1 x Stick 30cm long ( I’ve used an old metal ruler)
  • 1x string 1.5m long

-Tie one end of the string to the stick and step on it with both feet
-Tie the other end around the camera lens or around the base plate of your camera
-While still stepping on the stick pull the string tought. It becomes a really great brace for your camera keeping you really steady!

3. Focus

With single shot autofocus, you need to select your active autofocus point.

Auto focus soft
In this image my AF point is over the lens instead of the eye that I wanted to be in focus so my portrait is now soft around the eyes
Autofocus sharp
Here I’ve selected an AF point over the eye so the camera will now focus on that point and I get a sharp portrait.
Auto focus Servo
With a moving image, use AF Servo. The AF locks onto the area you want sharp and tracks it.

Once you go back you never look back

The Back Button Focus The Gluten free of the focus buttons
Here, you assign another button on the back of the camera to control focus so that the shutter just becomes shutter release and metering.

Using a Back button allows you to quickly switch between continuous and single focus with the press of a button.

Every camera set up is different. I suggest you check your manual or youtube google instructions specific to your make and model.

4. Depth of Field – Aperture ( F Stop) Choice

Depth of Field describes the range of an image which appears to be in focus

General rule try and avoid shooting wide open or at max aperture

2 -3 stops in either side is the sweet spot

My 70-200 can be soft at 2.8 but really really sharp at 5.6

Group shots are sharper at f11 than f22

85mm is better at 1.8 than 1.2

5. The Auto Focus Caca zone

There are certain light situations where auto focus can’t cope and runs screaming for it’s mama. This is the auto caca zone:

  • Low contrast
  • High contrast
  • Backlit.

Focus hacks to deal with the caca zone:

In these situations you can either switch to manual focus or try these focus hacks:

  • Use an iphone screen to create contrast to lock in focus
  • Shine a torch on the area you need to focus on

#ginachallenge Sharp

4 Responses
  1. Yes definitely prefer Facebook closed group than Google +. Looking forward to the switch! Great podcast it’s one of the best!

How to direct and pose like a pro

About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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