2. Focus, Focus, Focus
There are enough settings on your camera that have an impact on sharpness that if they’re not all set to optimal settings, sharpness is in jeopardy. From focus to aperture to ISO and shutter speed, each plays enough of a role.
The more technology has integrated into cameras, the more options you seem to have. The trick is knowing which option is best for each circumstance. When it comes to focusing, there are several options from manual to automatic. Whether you’re photographing a mountain or a person, where you focus will be different.
Distance: The range in which a camera or lens can focus can be limited to a foot or less of the lens. The minimum distance of lenses may vary, so check your manual to ensure you are within its limits. Landscape photographers take images with a large field of view, so these types of photos often give the illusion of less sharpness, whereas a portrait or fine art will be close up, making its subject pop.
Hold on a Second: Most Point and Shoot cameras show you where they are focusing with a box on the LCD screen. Sometimes (particularly with smart phones), you can set the focus point by touching the screen).
DSLRs are equipped with high-tech auto focusing that involves a few steps. There’s usually a number of rectangles on the display and one will glow green and your camera will beep when the framed subject is in focus. It will flash red if it can’t focus (see below). What some beginning photographers don’t know is that you can move that rectangle around the frame and center it on the subject you want in focus. The default tends to be in the center, which defeats the rule of thirds! There are two ways around this. You can either move the rectangular box left or right or up or down until it’s hovering over your subject then let it focus (check your manual on how to do this). Or, you can use the two step shutter trick. The first option takes a few more seconds, but it is the better option in case your subject moves while you’re re-positioning the entire camera.
In the Works: DSLRs use an auto focus system that compares the contrast of lines in the subject area. It moves the lens slightly back and forth, which is what seems to take too long at times, as it compares the edges of the lines until the blurring disappears. Where this gets tricky is when the lines aren’t defined or sharp to begin with. For example try photographing a cotton ball versus a Q-tip. The camera will have more difficulty focusing on a cotton ball with soft edges versus a Q-tip with a straight line. Finding an edge can be difficult, so in these cases it might work out better if you change to manual focus.