If you have learned the photography basics for better pictures, but are still disappointed with your image quality, then it’s time to learn what your camera is capable of, and the settings you need to change to get the best image quality.
All cameras have a “sweet spot”. These are settings whereby the camera will produce the highest quality image, regardless of the make, model, or specification. Here are some helpful tips that can help you to squeeze every last drop of quality out of your camera.
1. Reduce Your ISO
ISO is a measure of how sensitive to light your camera is. Increasing the ISO lets more light into the sensor, but it comes at the expense of noise or digital artifacts.
As a general rule, the lower the ISO, the better the image quality. Digital noise appears once the ISO creeps up into higher levels, which appears to reduce sharpness, as lots of grain is visible in the photo.
It also helps to know the largest ISO you’re prepared to use for your camera. When shooting with my Canon 5D Mark IV, I’m prepared to shoot up to ISO 6400. Any higher and I’m not happy with the results. This can be a personal thing and varies between cameras, so take a series of test shots to figure out what works best for you.
Our guide to camera ISO settings covers more ISO details in greater depth.
2. Increase Your Aperture (But Not Too Much)
Due to the mechanical design of lenses, physical imperfections can appear at the extreme ends of the aperture.
Shooting with a “fast” lens at f/1.4 lets lots of light in, which is great for reducing the ISO. Using such a wide aperture reduces the sharpness. Stopping down to f/2.8 or f/3.5 will yield a noticeable improvement in sharpness.
You might think that using the smallest possible aperture will produce the best image, but that’s not the case either. Once you get into tiny apertures such as f/16, or f/22, then diffraction becomes an issue.
This again is due to physics and means that the light entering through such a small aperture starts to interfere with itself, and reduces the sharpness.
Loss of sharpness and diffraction impacts lenses from all manufacturers and price ranges. While premium lenses are able to render sharper images at the extreme apertures, they still experience the same problems as cheaper lenses.
If possible, shoot at a good midrange aperture, somewhere between f/3.5 to f/8. This will produce the best image, with your lens operating in its sweet spot, where it will be the sharpest.
Don’t feel like this is an unbreakable rule. Taking photos wide open is great fun, but be aware that you may be losing sharpness.
This detailed video from Fstoppers explains lens diffraction in greater detail:
3. Increase Your Shutter Speed/Use a Tripod
If you use a long shutter speed and handhold your camera, the shutter is open for a long period of time, which means there’s more time for you to move the camera, and introduce blur into the shot. Even with the steadiest hand in the world, our bodies can’t help but introduce tiny shakes. This could be due to your heartbeat or your breathing.
If you increase your shutter speed, there’s less time for movements to disrupt the photo. The shorter the better.
If you must have a long shutter speed, then use a tripod. If you don’t want the cost or weight of a large tripod, then take a look mini tripods such as the Manfrotto Pixi, which folds up small enough to fit in your pocket.
4. Perfect Your Focus
Nobody likes a blurry photo. Once you’ve eliminated one source of blur from the shutter speed, then nailing your focus should be your next priority.
You don’t have to shoot with manual focus, but it once again comes down to knowing your camera. How well does your camera focus in low light? Does it struggle if a foreign object comes into the frame? Is it excellent at autofocusing, but hopeless at any kind of focus in a video?
The best way to learn what your camera is capable of is going out and shooting. Sports photography is one area that can stress-test an autofocus system. With fast-paced action, regular changes in composition, and even people or objects blocking your line of sight, it’s an excellent place to start.
Brushing up on how autofocus works may help as well.
5. Correct Your White Balance
This final tip is a simple one and you can do it in-camera, or after the fact in your choice of editing software.
Setting the correct white balance is essential for producing nice looking images. Ever noticed how interior shots come out looking yellow, or snow photos have a blue tint? This is due to white balance, and it can be one of the toughest areas for a camera to figure out when shooting in auto.
This video tutorial from YouTube Channel Professional Photography Tips covers everything you need to know about setting or correcting your white balance:
Improving Photo Quality Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
These five simple tips show how easy it is to improve your image quality, and the best part is they are achievable with any camera, without splashing out on the latest model.
- Reduce your ISO: Increasing ISO adds more noise to your images. Keep it low for the best quality.
- Increase your aperture: Lenses have a sweet spot. Shooting at the extreme ends of the aperture introduces imperfections.
- Increase Your Shutter Speed: Low shutter speeds may add unwanted blur. Keep them high for perfect photos.
- Perfect your focus: Nobody likes a blurry image, so learn how to get perfect autofocus.
- Correct your white balance: White balance is the difference between horrible colors and beautiful natural looking images.
If you’re worried that all these tips have sucked all the light out of your camera, then our guide to taking photos in the dark should help you out.