stop taking blurry pictures
(avoid motion and focus problems)

Are you tired of getting blurry pictures? Have you had too many photos that look like they are out of focus?

As mentioned on the Photo Mistakes page, the three factors that can cause blurry photos are: 1) movement, 2) focus and 3) lens condition.

In this article you're going to learn how easy it is to fix the first the first two causes of getting blurry photos. To fix the third cause, just keep your lens clean.

blur from movement

Motion blur can be cause by either camera movement, subject movement or even worse both at the same time. Many cameras have a "sports" or "action" setting that will tell the camera to use a faster shutter speed. The shorter the time that the shutter is open means less time for any camera or subject movement to be recorded during your photo's exposure.

Generally if you have a steady hand, the average person can get fairly sharp pictures with 1/60 second or faster shutter speed. This is true if your subject is not moving. Setting your camera's ISO setting higher will also get a higher shutter speed for you.

In the photo below, the camera was placed high above the billiards table on a tall tripod-so there was no camera movement. The pool rack of balls was struck by the cue ball coming into the frame from the right side of the photo.

Motion Blur - example using blurry billiard balls

With sports photography, it's really a different "ballgame' (Ha Ha, no pun intended,) For instance, with the professional and high school soccer games I've covered, 1/500 second is the slowest shutter speed I use and I prefer to be in the 1/750 second and faster range to really freeze the action.

Avoic blurry photo with high shutter spped

This high school basketball action shot was taken indoor with no flash. I used the highest ISO camera setting possible and it got the right exposure at 1/400 of a second. Notice this is not a blurry photo and the ball appears to be frozen.

I set the camera to Aperture Priority at the widest opening possible (the smallest f-stop number) and the camera chose the shutter speed.

Another way to stop motion blur is to have more light on your subject. If it's possible, move your subject closer to the light source.

If the light is brighter on your subject, the shutter does not have to stay open as long to get the right photo exposure. The shorter the amount of time that the camera shutter is open, the less chance there is for your pictures to come out blurry. 

Aboic blur by using a high shutter speed

This photo of the fighting felines was shot at 1/1000 of a second. There was a lot of light from the bright sun, so it was easy to avoid a blurry photo.

Another obvious way to get more light on your subject is to use flash. Not knowing when to use flash is a very common photo mistake.

Flash duration is usually 1/400 of a second or faster. Use the built in flash for your camera or, if you can, attach an external flash. If you have a slow shutter speed and your subject is not moving, blur can be cause by moving the camera during the exposure.

Even the smallest, unnoticed camera movement will cause some degree of blurry pictures. When you are shooting with a telephoto lens or you are zoomed closer to your subject, blur from camera movement is magnified.

simple trick to avoid blurry picture

The half exhale technique: 

Any accessory, like a tripod or monopod is great to have along to steady your camera.  But if you don't this technique works really well to avoid getting blurry pictures from camera movement during the photo exposure. Here's what you can do:

  1. Hold the camera firmly
  2. take a deep relaxing breath in
  3. Exhale half of your air.
  4. Squeeze the shutter button gently.
  5. Hesitate after the click, before you move your hands

The next tip I call the "human tripod." If you don't have an actual tripod, try the next best thing. Use your body, your arms or head as if it's a tripod.

Can you lean you head or shoulder against a wall, a nearby tree or perhaps a doorway? Using the half exhale technique combined with leaning against a solid base can help you avoid taking blurry pictures too.

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A third digital camera tip involves taking advantage of the technology built into your camera. Image stabilization "IS" first appeared as a high end feature in lenses for digital slr cameras.

Now it is becoming a very common feature even in point and shoot camera. It's a complicated technology, but it allows you to get sharp photos instead of blurry photos at slower shutter speeds.

It does have limitations. It is not meant to use with a tripod and it is not for action photography.

One of the easiest (but rarely used by average photographers) techniques to avoid taking blurry pictures is to use a monopod to steady your camera at slower shutter speeds. Monopods are small, easy to carry and can really help you steady your camera.

There are a series of articles on how to use monopods, monopod reviews and other tips on the best ways to get the most out of your monopod: Monopod Reviews.

Monopods take the weight of the camera off your arms also and you can avoid getting blurry pictures from muscle fatigue. This is more true with larger cameras with larger lenses.

blurry pictures from bad focusing

This is another big source of frustration for photographers. Your camera's auto-focus works well most of the time, but sometimes it falls short.

There are two situations when auto-focus falls short: (1) darkness and dark subjects, and (2) focusing on the wrong part of your subject.

Digital camera lenses need to see at least some light or small area of contrast for the auto-focus system to work. In low light situations, there may not be enough contrast for your camera to use to find a spot to focus on.

You can tell when this is happening because there is a long delay when you press the shutter button and you can often hear the lens's focusing mechanism constantly adjusting. Using manual focus is the best solution to fix blurry pictures resulting from auto-focusing failure.

If your camera is making the mistake of focusing on the wrong part of your subject, use pre-focusing.  Pre-focusing is aiming the exact center of your camera's viewfinder at the part of your subject you want in perfect focus, then pressing your shutter button half-way down to pre-focus, and finally re-composing the photo and pressing the shutter button the rest on the way down to make the exposure.

blurry Picture from Bad Selection of Focus Point

(Side by side comparison of blur.  Find your focus point first. Re-compose. Then shoot.)

I do this often when my main subject is not composed in the middle of my photo. The Santa Claus in the picture on the right is blurry because the camera focused on the background in the middle of the photo.

The Santa on the left is not blurry because I pre-focused on him first, then re-composed the picture in my camera's viewfinder and made my exposure.

Be observant of any objects in the foreground of your picture that might trick your camera. Take responsibility for pre-focusing or re-composing to avoid the blurriness mistake from inaccurate camera auto-focusing.

Improvements in auto-focusing mechanisms in cameras have helped dramatically, but understanding that the camera can't "think" as well as you can will help you avoid or overcome the situations that cause blurry pictures.

Fix Blurry Digital Photos. Although it can't repair severe blurriness, editing software help is available to fix blur in some situations.

Blur the Background. Although we want to avoid taking blurry pictures, sometimes it is desirable to intentionally blur the background. Here are two ways to do this.

Photo Exposure Tips. Understanding the exposure triangle will really help you avoid common photo mistakes. If you want to get a better understanding of how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are related to getting the right photo exposure, read this article.

Cellular Phone Camera Tips. If you only have a cell phone camera, you are a little limited on what you can do but you can get some cell phone photography tips here.

Realize too that a high quality lens that is clean and free of defects is necessary for the light to travel into your camera as clearly and precisely as possible.

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