If your image is not correctly focused, it’s pretty much garbage. I’d say that it is the number one reason that I get rid of an image, and that’s likely the same for you. The first thing I’ll check when I look at the back of my camera while magnifying in all the way is if my subject is tack sharp, if it’s not, it’s back to shooting my subject again. Because there’s no coming back from a blurry image, you need to learn your focusing system for your camera and what can make an image blurry. Here are the reasons why your focus is not sharp.
Depth of Field
Your depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farther subjects in a frame that appear sharp. It is determined by your aperture setting, your focal length and the distance from your subject. If you choose the wrong aperture for your setting the subject that you want to see will be soft and you’ll either need to move your camera, have the subject move or find a lens that is more appropriate for what you want to capture.
Your subject is moving too quickly and your shutter speed wasn’t fast enough
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Blurred action can be intentional and artistic, but blur when you don’t intend for it will look incorrect. Make sure your exposure is good and that your shutter speed is fast enough to capture your moving subject. Under 1/60th of a second you’re going to start getting blur with modestly fast moving subjects like a person walking depending on how fast the subject is moving. For faster moving subjects like a bird in flight you’ll need you’ll need a shutter speed in the 1/1000 range. This can get difficult when shooting wildlife, so you’ll need the right equipment for the job as well as a good idea on how your camera operates.
You shook the camera
A simple bump, or even minor movement can take an image from being perfectly in focus to giving it enough blur that it needs to be tossed. Keep your camera steady by using a tripod or steady surface whenever you can. You can even reduce your movement by leaning up against a wall, sitting down or bracing yourself against a railing.
You’re not using autofocus when you should be
The autofocus system on most cameras is set to a wide field and will chose to focus on whatever is closet to you. If you’d like to be precise about what you want in focus you should choose a small single point for the autofocus to work with. Most all cameras will offer a few options between a small single point, a medium sized group of points, or a very large area covering most of what you see. For erratically moving subjects the wide field might be best, but for precise accuracy the pin-point system is what the pros use for the ultimate in accuracy.
Remember to magnify your images on the back of your camera (or in the eye level viewfinder on a mirrorless camera) to check the focus while you’re in the field. If you don’t get it right on the first shot, try again. One of the secrets of photography is how many images of one subject are taken at a time in order to get “the shot.” Here’s the insider tip, It’s a lot.
Learn more about focus in my Fundamentals of Photography class and take what you learn into the field. Keep shooting and correcting your images as you go and before you know it, your trash bin won’t be filled with blurry images.