I’m referring to photos which are taken by photographers and which are almost certainly intended to be sharp but aren’t. I’m not referring to photos which have an intentional lack of sharpness or to photographs taken by those who would not claim to be photographers.
The following two photos were both shot at the same time with exactly the same settings. At this size they look very similar where sharpness is concerned.
But… the devil is in the detail! Here they are again but this time with only a section of each image at full size. (Click to enlarge.)
As you can see the image on the right is much sharper.
I can think of a variety of reasons why some photos lack sharpness.
Lack of photographic technique
There are many ways to achieve unsharp photos. Here are just a few:
- holding the camera incorrectly
- being unsteady while the shot is taken
- using shutter speeds that are too slow to hand hold especially where there is subject movement
- forgetting that you switched off image stabilisation
- inaccurate focusing
- using apertures that are too large to ensure the desired area is in focus
- too much noise reduction when a photo is taken with high ISO settings
One of the flowers in the next pair of images is an example of poor technique – but which is it?
When we look at a section at full size, it’s very easy to tell! (Click to enlarge.)
Google searches will offer screeds of good advice on technique. The solutions for all of these issues are very easy to find even though they may be less easy to implement consistently.
I think this is unlikely given the quality of today’s cameras and lenses. Having said that, I have a relatively cheap ultra-wide lens which has manual focussing and no image stabilisation. As I’ve discovered, it’s very easy to take unsharp photos with this lens.
I know that I can be lazy sometimes. I might be well aware that the subject and the available light really require a tripod but somehow it remains firmly in its bag. I’ve lost a great many photos due to lack of sharpness because of this!
Lack of awareness that photographs are unsharp
Some photos are so fuzzy that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be unaware of this. Yet there they are posted publicly for all to see. I know some people are obviously aware as some photos have been horrendously over-sharpened in an attempt to compensate.
A belief that it’s acceptable for photographs to be less than sharp.
A number of people have said to me, “It’ll only ever be seen in a small format on a screen so it doesn’t matter.” I will admit to having had similar thoughts on occasion. While the first part may be perfectly true, I think it DOES matter. Are we really OK with photography being dumbed down simply because sites like Facebook and Flickr don’t let us see images at full resolution? If we are, then why do we spend thousands of pounds on cutting edge technology which is capable of taking near-perfect technical photographs?
I know I always strive to do better and I get satisfaction from taking photographs which are focused accurately and are sharp where they are intended to be. Equally I am often disappointed when this is not the case. This is particularly true when it’s a decent composition of a good subject.
I am often guilty of poor technique and sometimes of laziness and both of these have contributed to my many failures. But I have an excellent camera and some great lenses so I can’t blame that. I am NEVER guilty of a lack of awareness that a photograph isn’t sharp or of finding unsharp photos acceptable!