Getting tack sharp images is important for both professional and amateur photographers. Outside of intentional creative uses for blur, such as panning or shutter drags, photographers rely on creating sharp, crisp images. We prioritize the focusing system in our camera and lens purchases, we crank up the sharpen function in camera, we wield that sharpen Photoshop action to almost razor-like proportions, and more! When I first started in photography though, I was finding that the images weren’t as sharp as the ones I’d seen online and some of them were downright blurry and unusable (even if I tried to salvage it by making the image black & white). It is one of the worst things to come home from a shoot and find that all your images are not sharp.

In one of my very first portrait shoots, my go-to lens, the Canon 24-105mm f/4 was acting up and so all I had was my Canon 50mm f/1.4. I did the entire session on that 50mm, went home and was shocked and dismayed to find that 50% of the images were blurry. Turns out, I had forgotten to change the aperture and shot the entire session at f/1.4! Thankfully, the other 50% of the images were pretty good and the client was happy to have them. So, why are your photos blurry? Every photographer has taken a blurry photo. It happens to all of us, especially in the beginning when we are first trying to figure out our camera.

8 Reasons Why Your Photos Are Blurry

1. Camera Shake – Camera shake occurs when the photographer doesn’t hold still enough when the shutter is open and/or doesn’t use a high enough shutter speed for the focal length. In short, if the photographer moves when taking a picture, especially at lower shutter speeds, your images could come out blurry.

2. Motion Blur – Motion blur happens when elements in the scene are moving while the picture is being taken. This can be intentional, as in showing the movement in water or traffic. Or it can be unintentional, when the shutter speed is too low and you see movement in your subject.

creative techniques shutter drag to show motion

Creative use of slow shutter3. Shallow Depth of Field – Parts of a photo can be blurry with a shallow depth of field. This effect is typically intentional, with the subject of the photo in focus and the background or foreground out of focus.

Couple in Focus and Background/ Foreground Out of Focus

4. Missed Focus – Sometimes a photographer misses focus. This happens more often in scenes with moving subjects. Some cameras and lenses simply have bad autofocus performance. With each improvement in camera and lens technology, missed focus is less and less of a problem. However, a photographer still needs to train his or her instincts and use the right techniques to prevent the issue.

5. Air Quality – On a foggy day, a polluted day, or a humid day, particles in the air can affect the sharpness of a photo.  This can lead to an artistic, dreamy effect if used intentionally.

6. Subject Too Far Away – In general, the further the subject is from the camera, the higher your chance of getting blurry photos. Chances of air particles interfering, camera shake, missed focus all go up.’

7. Light Quality – The quality of light can also affect the sharpness of the photo.

8. Misaligned Focusing System – Sometimes your camera or your lens needs to be recalibrated.

Watch ‘Blurry Pictures–What Causes Them and How to Get Sharp Photos!’

Here’s a great video by Tony and Chelsea Northrup that break down these 8 common reasons why your photos are blurry and also gives ways to fix each.

Tips to Avoid Blurry Photos

  1. Use the appropriate shutter speed – Though many factors go into this decision, a good rule of thumb is to stick to the reciprocal of your focal length.  So if you’re shooting at 200mm, keep your shutter speed at 1/200th or up.
  2. Use a Tripod – If you need to drop to lower shutter speeds, use a tripod or monopod.
  3. Take Multiple Photos – Take multiple photos of the same scene or moment so that you can choose the sharpest photo later in post production.
  4. Use Blur/Focus Correction Software – If you don’t have a sharp photo of critical moment, try fixing it in post production.  There are tools in Lightroom and Photoshop that can help, like the sharpen tool.  However, you may also want to explore software dedicated to fixing blurry photos.  Click here for more information on how to unblur a picture.
  5. Upgrade your camera – New camera and lens technology will generally result in better image quality and better auto focus.  If blurry photos is consistency a problem, consider upgrading.

If you’ve been a photographer for very long, you’ve probably experienced every single one of these reasons and have learned the fixes the hard way. I know I did. Pass this video along to a new photographer and say ‘You’re welcome.’

Original article by Hanssie Trainor. Modified 10.10.2020 to add more detail and updated images.