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Why are my pictures blurry?
Why are my pictures blurry?

Dave Fiala - October 15, 2020

Is it time to phone a friend?
Why are my pictures blurry is a frequent question.

There are a few answers to this question so let me go through those one at a time.
If you get blurry pictures there are a few things to check.

1. Is your lens or filter dirty or covered with smudges or fingerprints. If they are the first thing is to clean the lens and or filter.

2. Is your autofocus turned on? Note that the autofocus on and off can be controlled by a switch on the lens and a switch on the camera. The on/off could also be controlled in the menu of the camera. Check to see if you can focus the lens manually to make sure the focus mechanism is not jammed. Also, check to see if the lens has a focus limiting switch. Some macro lenses and some of the longer zoom lenses have a switch that limits the range of focus. If the limit switch is set for close range the lens will not focus on greater distances. If the lens has been set to limit the focus to longer distances it will not move to the closer distance. Set the limit switch to FULL. Check and make sure that you did not turn on the back button focus and have forgotten that you did that. Make sure you check all of these options. OK so we have checked all of that and we know the AF is turned on. When you press the shutter button do you see the lens moving the focus? If the lens still does not seem to be trying to focus try another lens on your camera. If you try another lens and it is focusing correctly then you may have a mechanical/electrical problem with the lens that is not focusing. If the second lens is not focusing there could be a problem with the camera. Time to phone a friend who hopefully works at a camera store.

OK! You have checked off all of these questions and the lens seems to be focusing but it still looks out of focus in the viewfinder. Take a picture and review it. If it looked out of focus when you looked through the viewfinder but the picture is in fact in focus your diopter is likely misadjusted. This is simple to fix because all you need to do is readjust the diopter for your vision. If you don’t know where the diopter is on your camera you could check the camera manual. Or, you could phone that friend who works at a camera store.

Now let’s assume that the camera and lens are focusing but some of your pictures are still turning out to be out of focus.

If you are shooting subjects that are moving and they appear out of focus it may not be a focus issue at all. It could be that your shutter speed is too slow to freeze the motion. Check this by photographing a stationary object at the same distance. If the picture is sharp the camera and lens are focusing properly. So the solution is to select a faster shutter speed. There is a complicated formula for calculating how fast of a shutter speed you need to stop a moving object traveling at a specific speed at a specific distance. But to keep it simple, let’s look at it this way. If you are standing in the parking lot of The Camera Company watching cars go down East Washington Avenue they do not look like they are going very fast. If you are standing in the middle of East Washington and the cars are going past a few feet away from your knees they look like they are going very fast. Don’t test this; just take my word for it. A person 10 feet away and walking should be stopped at 1/125th of a second. If you are shooting a bicycle race and standing close to the action you probably want to start at a 1/500th of a second.

If you are shooting in a lower light situation and your pictures are coming out blurry it is probably motion again. If your shutter speed is too slow and you are hand-holding your camera the likely problem is camera shake. These pictures at first glance look out of focus but a little closer look will often reveal double or multiple images. Or you may see what looks like a smear effect. The solution to this problem is again to increase the shutter speed. The general rule is that you want to shoot at a shutter speed that is equal to or greater than the focal length of your lens. 50mm lens would be a 50th of a second or faster, 300mm lens 300th of a second or faster. OK, you get the idea. The image stabilization systems that are built into cameras and lens today will help when shooting slower shutter speeds of stationary subjects but do not provide a benefit if the subject is moving. The motion of moving subjects can only be arrested by using a fast shutter speed.

Whenever we increase our shutter speed we need to compensate by opening the aperture to a lower number f-stop to let in more light. If you have a lens that is already opened all of the way you will need to raise your ISO. If applicable to the situation, you could use a flash.

If you cannot use a flash and if you do not want to increase your ISO you are left with only one option and that is to get a faster lens that will let in more light.

It is time to phone your friend who works at a camera store.

If you don’t have a friend that works at a camera store and you need more help with any of these problems or questions. The best thing to do is call one of The Camera Company stores and tell the person who answers the phone that Dave said “I need a friend at a camera store.” And suddenly, like magic, you will have a new friend. And they will be working at a camera store!