Photographers have a term for photos that are sharp and in focus - tack sharp. Tack sharp photos are incredibly important to pro photographers. It is the make or break point for a great photography.
To get that "tack sharp" photo you will have to invest in the equipment that the pros have. No, I am not talking about a $6500 Nikon D5. I'm talking about a tripod. A tripod keeps your camera still. Quality does matter when it comes to getting a tripod. Investing in a good quality tripod is a must.
When you invest in a good quality tripod you will have to purchase the head separately. Typically a cheap tripod will come with a head attached (and fixed to the tripod so you can't change it). There are some great travel tripods that come with a head attached, but for a good sturdy tripod you will have to purchase a separate head. I prefer a ballhead because of the ease of having just one knob to quickly aim my camera.
The next thing you need to invest in is a good cable release. A cable release attaches to your camera and has a button on the other end to press for the shutter release. The important thing here is that you do not touch your camera to release the shutter. Even the slightest movement can result in a less than tack sharp image. The cable release prevents any camera movement.
When you shoot on a tripod you must take some precautions with your lens. Turn your lens image stabilizer (Canon) or Vibration Reduction (Nikon) to off. If you are shooting with a Micro Four Thirds Olympus system that has the 5-axis image stabilization then turn this off in the menu. Any image stabilization or vibration reduction in your camera or lens looks for vibration and compensates for it. Since you are on a tripod you do not need the camera to look for movement and leaving these features on will result in a less than tack sharp image.
The next thing to do to get a tack sharp image is to shoot at your lens' sharpest aperture. Experiment with your lens to find the sharpest aperture, usually about 2 stops down from wide open. In other words, if you have a f2.8 lens then f5.6 or f8. If you have a f4 lens then f8 or f11. Look at images you have taken with your lens and look for the sharpest images, then see what aperture you were shooting at.
Keep your ISO low when shooting on a tripod. By keeping with a low ISO you will have cleaner and sharper images. Once you take the shot then "chimp" (look at your LCD on the back of your camera - "chimp" comes from photographers oohing and aahing over their images like a chimpanzee) and zoom in on your photo to check for sharpness.
Sometimes you just can't use a tripod and must hand hold your camera. If you must hand hold then get the most stable position possible, even if you have to lean on something. Do all you can to keep yourself as steady as possible.
The last step for getting tack sharp images is to sharpen in post processing. If you use Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or other post processing software you must sharpen in post production. If you resize your image you must go back and sharpen again.
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