(Last updated on November 18th, 2021)
How come some photos turn out blurry? What makes them turn out that way, and what can you do to ensure your photos will turn out more clear? Find out in this article detailing the reasons why photographs turn out with more blur than you might think.
There was once a time when taking a photograph was a gamble. You snap the picture, go on the film, and wait to see how it develops. It used to be that you waited until the photos were developed to see if they came out clear, where sometimes they did and sometimes not.
As photography shifted to the digital landscape, seeing your results is practically instantaneous with great detail. Even our phones double as cameras to better capture moments. Snap the shot and take a look at it on the digital display. Doesn’t it look good? Delete the photo and take another.
But there’s only so much that digital technology can correct when it comes to photography. Learning new technology such as digital cameras comes with a whole new world of problems. Blurs are no exception.
We may have a camera in our phone as a convenient way of taking photographs, but it’s still not as simple as just pushing a button. We still grimace whenever we take that shot that doesn’t look right with all the blur streaking across the frame.
So we take another one. Maybe that photo will be right. Before you know it, however, you find that you’ve got a whole library of do-over pictures on your phone or even your digital camera. While you’re deleting them all, a thought may cross your mind: There’s got to be a way to fix this.
As luck would have it, you can use some tricks and tips to ensure that your photos do not turn into a smear. This isn’t all technical stuff either. Some methods are more classic and have been used by photographers long before the digital conveniences of smartphones.
Whether you’re an aspiring photographer who needs a little help or you’re not technical at all and just want an easy solution to your photo problems, read on to learn these common issues for photo blur and how to remove them.
1. Motion Blur
Motion blur is perhaps the most common aspect that will ruin a picture. You try to snap that cute photo of your dog or that adorable moment with your kids, but the subject won’t standstill. Now your precious is moment is a smear of colors where you can barely make out the action.
The key to correcting this problem is shutter speed. You’ll have to adjust it to find just the right one that works for your camera and specific scenes. However, if you anticipate a lot of movement, a good setting would be 1/1000 of a second.
If you’re shooting a subject that you know might fidget or make slight movements that cause blurs, 1/320 of a second should work just fine. If you have enough confidence in your subject holding still for a shot, such as a portrait photo, you can get away with 1/100 of a second.
2. Camera Blur
Sometimes it’s not the subject that moves but the camera. Whether you find yourself moving while snapping a photo or couldn’t quite hold the camera steady, it can be the source of blurry issues. It can happen even when stationary when you tap too hard on the button and wiggle the lens.
Much like motion blur, this aspect can also be an issue of shutter speed. The difference in rates can make a difference between your shaky trigger-finger making a minor error or a blotchy blur of what you wished you had captured. It’s not something to be ashamed of, considering we’re all human and make mistakes.
That being said, there are ways to prevent such issues from arising in your photos. Sure, you could purchase some piece of plastic to hold the camera steady that mounts your device for better stability. For those on a budget, however, there are some cheaper workarounds.
Try to keep your shutter speed at 1/the focal length of whichever lens you’re using. For better stability, seek out either image stabilization or vibration reduction options for the camera to smooth out blurring during the snapping of pictures. These added tools will attempt to move the image correctly for better placement and reduced blur.
3. Improperly Focused
Perhaps the one feature that many assume is the problem with a photo turning blurry, especially if it’s for a stationary or portrait shot. The focus could be just a bit off and create an unintended blur effect over your photos.
Many photographers have found improper focus to be the most common issue when it comes to your photos turning up with blur. The focal point may not appear accurate, where the wrong elements are sharp, or all of the details seem to be blurred.
This issue for classic cameras and the more professional-grade SLRs can be due to the lens’s manual focus. This is perhaps one of the more straightforward issues to resolve for such cameras because it only means a nudge here or a pull there in your circular lens’s depth, either through moving the lens or using the adjusting buttons.
Since not all cameras are the same and digital cameras have their world of tools for focusing, it’s worth exploring how your camera handles zooms and focus. You’ll want to check your camera’s autofocus points to see how it takes images where the focus isn’t as obvious.
4. Image Sharpening Failure
Sometimes a photo just doesn’t turn out the way it looks in the preview window of your camera. You stabilize the camera, make sure all your settings are optimal and snap your picture. But it still seems a little blurry. Why is that?
The problem is that the imaging sensor in your camera will not consistently deliver the crispest of results, even if you’re shooting in the detailed RAW format. If your camera can add extra sharpening to your photos, push those up higher. If the issue persists, seek post-production software for different sharpening methods.
5. Poor Lens
Sometimes your lens can make all the difference in the world for getting that perfect shot. The problem is that lenses are relatively expensive, and the more professional ones that deliver the best results may be out of your price range. This doesn’t just apply to consumers but professional photographers as well.
Check your lens regularly to make sure it looks nice and clear. If you know you take many photos in nature or on the go, be sure to look for any cracks or chips. If you don’t see any issue, check the other methods mentioned, as lens replacement should be a last resort.
6. Depth of Field
Depth of Field can be one of the trickiest aspects to consider for your photos, and it often gets overlooked. As a combination of aperture and focal length, the depth of field can ultimately determine the spread of sharpness in a photo.
This aspect becomes more apparent in films and television, where a shot will often change the depth of field to shift focus. Have you ever noticed how when a character is saying something important in the background, the foreground will look blurry? That’s the depth of field at work.
How a photo will determine what to blur comes down to how your aperture is set. A good rule of thumb is that a more comprehensive gap will mean a shallower range. Wider may be suitable for taking something like a portrait where you want some background blur but not suitable for a wide location shoot where you want overall crispness.
It’s generally good to start with an aperture of f/8 and then gauge from there. The smaller the number, the shallower the depth. The larger the number will bring about the opposite effect. Be aware, however, that apertures of over f/16 can lead to a degradation of sharpness known as the diffraction effect.
The other thing to keep in mind when making this shifting of aperture and focus is your lens and shutter speed. Your lens should be checked anytime you make a change in gap, and your shutter speed lowered at a similar rate to how you reduce the aperture number.
7. Diopter Adjustment
If you own a DSLR camera, you’ll notice the diopter is that tiny wheel on the side of your viewfinder. This wheel is used for making the most minor yet crucial changes to your focus view of the photograph you’re snapping.
The diopter adjustment isn’t for the benefit of the photo, though. It’s meant for the photographer, narrowing the view to have the clearest vision possible of how the picture will turn out. The last thing you want is a viewfinder that delivers results different than your rendered image.
Be sure to check the diopter settings to ensure you’re getting the best view when shooting. These options are a bit more limited on smartphones, but it’s still crucial to note when using your eyes to determine the perfect shot.
If you find yourself with a shaky hand or shooting in environments not built for firmer photography, the obvious solution is to hold your camera still. If you know your hand is moving too much, or you can’t quite get a good fitting for that great shot, you’ll want to grab something for stability.
The most classic choice for stabilizing a camera is a tripod. They’re the most common and popular devices for keeping your camera steady to avoid the issues of a blur. It is an absolute must-have device if you’re a photographer who shoots on location and requires a high level of camera control.
If you’re using your smartphone for photos, there are plenty of options for tripods as well. Search around online, and you can find plenty of make-shift tripods that can position your camera in any spot. Another solution for this issue is the “selfie stick” that can make holding your camera less of a hassle for photography.
9. Minimize Vibration
With the bulkier cameras, taking a picture means flipping the mirror, and that can cause a camera to vibrate or shake. No matter how much you stabilize your camera, it’ll still have this issue as it’s more of an internal problem than external.
Consider locking your camera’s mirrors with the mirror lock-up function found on most DSLR cameras. This method will flip the mirror in advance instead of during the photo, reducing the movements within the camera that can cause blurs and drops in sharpness.
10. Use a Remote or Timer
Sometimes the best way to ensure the perfect shots is not to touch the camera at all. It’s not just a technique for getting yourself in the camera but also for taking landscape photography for the most precise possible picture.
This has become another classic camera technique that even non-photographers have gotten used to. You set a timer, place the camera down, and wait for the photo to snap. And, voila, no more worries about your shaky hand bumping the camera.
The remote function isn’t as common, but the timer function has become standard on just about every camera and is relatively easy to use. Be sure to check all your settings and the shot itself before setting the timer or triggering a remote shot.
11. Shoot in Burst Mode
Do you ever notice why some photographers have cameras that seem to chatter a lot during press conferences? Did you ever wonder how photographers can get that one winning picture of a racecar or sprinting athlete in action?
These cameras are most likely using burst mode, a camera mode that takes many photos in a short amount of time. The simple method of taking safety photos accepts this mode gives you more than a few safety pictures. It’ll provide you with plenty to choose from.
When using burst mode, you’ll find that your first and last photos of this process will turn out the most blurry as the camera adjusts during the process. This is an essential technique for those who find themselves shooting a subject where they won’t get chances for reshoots.
The benefit of burst mode, aside from safety pictures, is that it can stabilize as much of the frame as possible to deliver a sharper image. You’ll want to use this for sporting events or even capturing wildlife.
12. Clean Your Lens Glass
This may seem the most unlikely, but you just never know until everything is checked. You could check your shutter speed, stabilize the camera, narrow the depth of field, and keep the focus in check. But you may still be baffled why you’re getting blur.
Well, sometimes, the most straightforward solutions are the best. You may feel stupid for not noticing it but take a good look at your lens. Does it look a little dusty or filthy? Give it a gentle cleaning. Make this a regular part of your picture-taking process so that this issue won’t be as expected.
13. Software Solutions
While it’s best to fix issues with your camera to avoid blurriness, sometimes post-production software can help better tailor your photographs for better quality. You can use several types of software to either sharpen up an image or blur parts that didn’t quite fit in with your depth of field.
There are many choices, but one of the strongest and easiest applications for this aspect is Adobe Lightroom CC. The application (available on desktop and mobile) can sharpen your photo or certain blue elements of the background or foreground for improved subject focus.
Many applications can perform similar functions, but Lightroom is more advisable given the simplicity of its interface. There’s no hassle of creating an album or hunting for tools. Simply import your photo and utilize the sliders and brushes in easy-to-read panels.
Be aware, though, that Lightroom shouldn’t be used as a one-fix solution for all issues. The software can spruce photos that have minor problems of a blur here or brightness there. Think of Lightroom as a bit of backup while better retooling your camera for the perfect shot.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s not uncommon for your iPhone photos to upload onto the iCloud to look blurry. Aside from the technical issues with the camera, the blur could also be a case of the iPhone Storage Optimization tool. It’s designed to optimize your photos to be smaller but will, unfortunately, reduce the quality. Check your iPhone’s storage and camera settings to fix this issue.
There are numerous ways to ensure that your pictures will turn out more precise and with less blur. This can range from checking the shutter speed to something as simple as a firmer grip on the camera. All of this depends on just how you’re shooting and what your subject matter includes. If the photo is already taken, try to use software such as Lightroom and Photoshop to patch up these blur issues.
The cause of blurred photos all lies in how your image is processed. If a portrait photo looks blurry, the chances are that it’s a problem with your focus, either manual or automatic. If a landscape photo is blurry, check your depth of field. If your subject is moving too much, you’ll want to try to tweak your shutter speed to catch up with your moving target.
Both SLR cameras and smartphones have several options to fix blurry photos. With SLR cameras, you can do a lot of physical stuff, from changing the lens focus to stabilizing the camera with a tripod. Smartphones have plenty of specs to configure that you can get around your camera’s issues that may be causing blurs. No matter the camera, it is possible to fix blurring as the days of just accepting simple snaps without control are over.
Mark McPherson has been working as a video editor and content writer for over ten years. His background started in animation and video editing before shifting into the realm of web development. He also branched out into content writing for various online publications. Mark is an expert in video editing, content writing, and 2D/3D animation.