One of the main complains for newbies to photography is that their photographs come out blurred. When I shot my first roll of film with a DSLR, only 2 pictures were sharp. The rest were blurred and it took me some time to learn why photos come out blurred. In this article, I’ll explain some of the top reasons photographs get blurred and how to avoid them.

Motion Blur

When shooting a fast moving object with a slow shutter speed, the object ends up moving while the film or sensor is still being exposed. So light from different positions of the object enters the camera making the object appear blurred. In this case, the static background is probably quite sharp and clear. There are multiple ways to handle this. The first option is to increase the shutter speed which you can do by either increasing the ISO of the sensor, by opening the aperture to a larger opening or by using a flash. Another way to deal with this is to click while panning the camera to track the moving object. This ensures that the object remains static with respect to the camera.

Camera Shake

Another effect of a slow shutter speed is that the camera might shake while the shutter is open. This makes the image blurred. This kind of blur is more pronounced while shooting with telephoto lenses of longer focal length or “higher zoom”. This is because a small deviation at the camera causes a large change in the position of the object as illustrated in the diagram below. When zoomed out or using a wide angle lens, a shake in the camera causes a relatively smaller change in the position of the object. A good rule of thumb is to shoot with a shutter speed of roughly 1/f where f is the focal length. So shooting with a 28mm lens on a DSLR, try to keep the shutter speed above 1/30th of a sec or so. If shooting with a 300mm lens, keep it faster than 1/300th of a sec. The faster shutter speed can be achieved as explained earlier with a flash, a larger aperture of a higher ISO setting. Another way to avoid this kind of blur is by using a tripod. Image stabilization on modern cameras can help to some extent, but they can’t do magic.

Bad Focus and Shallow DoF

The number one cause of blurred photos is probably bad focus. The easiest way to identify this is to look for what parts of the picture are in focus. If the object is blurred but some parts of the photo are still perfectly in focus, it’s probably because the object wasn’t in the focus. Try to focus on the eyes in the case of portraits and wildlife.

Depth of field is explained in another article and I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already done so. Often times, the photographer in trying to get the shutter speed high enough to avoid camera shakes and makes the aperture very large. Unfortunately, this makes the Depth of Field very shallow. As a result, even a slight mistake in focus can lead to a blurred photograph. This is very often the case with Macros and Bird Photography. It’s a delicate balance between controlling the blur due to camera shake and blur due to a shallow depth of field.

Smudged Lenses and Dirty Sensors

Smudges on the lens can cause blurs as well. Sensor dirt will show up as grey blurs on the photography often seen in the sky. If you notice blurs around the same spot in every photograph, it’s probably dirt. You can try to replace the lens to see if it goes away. If it does, it’s the lens that was dirty. If it’s still there, it’s the sensor. In my opinion, if you find that the sensor is dirty, have it cleaned by a professional. Sensors are extremely delicate. If the sensor gets scratched, your camera is ruined.

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