Why are my Photos Blurry!

I get asked about blurry photos quite a bit. It seems to be a fairly common problem so I decided to write a really short tutorial on blurry photos. So what causes your photos to be blurry? Of course there are many reasons but I’ll just touch on the most common. They would be “Out of Focus”, “Motion Blur”, “Camera Shake”, and “Noise”.

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Out of Focus:
This is a fairly simple explanation. If the lens is not focusing properly using auto focus, or the photographer is not focusing properly using manual focus you will probably see some out of focus blur. Although the explanation is simple it may not always be that simple. If your lens is in good working order it should focus properly but sometimes the lens is either broken or in need of service so it just wont produce a good photo. If you are using manual focus and you’re getting blurry photos its more than likely that you need to practice your technique. Getting sharp photos using manual focus is a skill that will take time to master. If you are using an auto focus lens that is in good repair then you may have some other issues you need to address. For example, your lens/camera combination may need some adjusting. some cameras let you fine tune a lens to the camera with micro lens adjustments. Another example would be if you are shooting with too shallow a depth of field (aperture setting) your subject may be partly or totally out of focus. If you see some parts of your photo in focus but not the part you want then this may be your issue. Another cause may be if you are using a camera with more than one focus point active, the camera may not be selecting what you want in focus.
If parts of your photo are in focus but not the part you want, then you’re more than likely just in need of some better technique. If nothing is in focus then perhaps you need to have your lens checked by a repair service

Motion Blur/Camera Shake:
These two are similar so I’ll address them both at the same time. Your camera captures a light in a slice of time (the shutter speed). When the shutter is open, light is entering the camera and making an image on your sensor. If the camera is moving during this time or your subject is moving, then you will have a blurry photo.

Fan blades are blurry because they are in motion.  Notice the non moving parts of the photo are still in sharp focus

Fan blades are blurry because they are in motion. Notice the non moving parts of the photo are still in sharp focus

Motion Blur is caused by your subject moving during your photo. Blur from Camera shake is caused by the camera moving while the shutter is open. The cause of both is too long a shutter speed. As a general rule for hand held photos of objects not moving, you should have your shutter speed set to the inverse of your lens’ focal length. as an example, if you are using a 100mm lens (or zoom lens set to 100mm) your shutter speed should be 1/100 sec or faster. If you are using a 200mm lens it should be set to 1/200 sec or faster. This will make sure that any camera shake will not be noticeable in your photos. As a beginner, you should never use a shutter speed less than 1/60 second unless the camera is supported in some way like by using a tripod. If your subject is in motion and you want them sharp in the photo you will have to use an even faster shutter speed to stop the action of the subject.

Using too slow a shutter will cause blur due to camera shake.  Notice the entire photo is out of focus.

Using too slow a shutter will cause blur due to camera shake. Notice the entire photo is out of focus.

The shutter speed will have to be determined by trial and error depending on the speed your subject is moving. A good starting point for most things would be 1/500 second. So, if you are taking photos of moving subjects and you’re getting blurry photos, you are probably experiencing motion blur and you need to use a faster shutter speed. If you are getting blurry photos of static (not moving) objects you may be experiencing camera shake and you need to use a faster shutter speed or you need to use a tripod.

Noise:
the last thing on the list is Noise. Digital noise is caused by using too high an ISO value. Most cameras have a base ISO of 100. At ISO 100 you should get the best photos from your camera with little to no noticeable noise. As the available light decreases or you are in a dark environment, the ISO needs to be raised to make the camera’s sensor more sensitive to light. as you raise the ISO you increase the chance of getting unwanted noise in your photos. Each camera is different in what ISO produces unacceptable noise.

This photo was taken at ISO 51200.  The digital noise makes the photo look blurry

This photo was taken at ISO 51200. The digital noise makes the photo look blurry

This is usually determined by the quality of your camera. This is why professional cameras cost so much. They can use higher ISO values with little to no noticeable noise. Some cameras will produce unacceptable noise at 400 ISO. Some will shoot useable photos at 12800 ISO. It’s really dependent on the sensor the manufacturer used when making your camera. The only way to solve this problem is to use ISO values that don’t produce too much noise. If your photos are too dark at the necessary ISO setting then you will have to add more light. Most people do this by using a speed light (flash). The only other solution is an expensive one, you’ll need to buy a better camera.

Of course there are other things that could cause your photos to be blurry. I just touched on the main reasons. I hope this helps someone.  You can always leave a message or ask a question below

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