how to fix blurry digital photos
(And how to avoid taking them)

Do you want to know how to fix blurry digital photos?  Let's face it. It's the biggest problem photographers face. Don't you just hate it when an important photo you took comes out blurry? Join the club.

This post gives you the 3 simple steps you can take  to avoid blurry pictures to begin with.

You'll also learn how to fix blurry pictures online, or fix them on your own computer. That's not bad, right, but wouldn't it be great if you could avoid blurry pictures to start with? Good news.  Let's look at the two main causes of blurry photos first, and then work on how to improve any blurry photos after that. 

Causes of blurry digital photos

1. motion blur

Motion blur may be blur caused by movement of the subject or by movement of the camera lens or, by what's even more complicated, a combination movement by both. There are a few situations where you may actually want to have a blurry background to create a sense of speed, or blur the background on purpose to bring attention to your subject.

how to avoid motion blur in your photos

Of course the best way to fix blurry photos is to prevent blurriness from happening in the first place. That's the goal to achieve.  Here are the simplest and most effective ways to avoid blurry images caused by motion.

  1. Higher shutter speeds. If you adjust your camera's settings to give you a faster shutter speed, any blur from camera or subject movement will be minimized. The faster you make your shutter speed, the less time your subject or camera can possibly move and create blurriness. 
  2. Use your flash to freeze motion. Your camera's flash only lasts for about 1/500 of a second or less. That's plenty fast enough to "freeze" most of the subjects you are photographing, provided the shutter speed isn't too slow.
  3. Try a tripod. Both tripods and monopods will help you steady your camera.  Using a tripod correctly to get the best stability is by far the most effective way to get sharper photographs.  Image stabilization is likely built into your camera but there's nothing better than having a physical support to hold you camera in place to improve your photos sharpness. Using a tripod or a monopod will not prevent blurry photos that come from your subject movement. Then you need to fix your blurry photo by using either method 1 or 2 above to stop the motion of your subject.

how to steady your picture taking technique

Even the slightest movement of your hands can cause a slight blur in your photo. Any accessory, like a tripod or monopod is great to have along to steady your camera.  But if you don't want to lug around an extra gadget, this technique works really well too. You can help to avoid getting blurry pictures from camera movement during the photo exposure by improving your shooting technique. Here's what you can do: The half exhale technique: 

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

2. focus blur

Focus blur is usually the easiest issue to avoid. 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

  • Dark lighting situations, dark subjects, and subjects that are smooth with little contrast.
  • Focusing on the wrong area of your photo.

For a complete guide to troubleshooting common issues you're experiencing with your camera's focusing system, read this post on camera focusing failures. Now, check out this example below of blur that was caused by me choosing the wrong focus point.

blurry focus exampleFind your focus point first. Re-compose. Then shoot.

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.

how to avoid the focus blur

You can tell when the camera is struggling with focus because there is a long delay when you press the shutter button and you can often hear the lens's focusing mechanism constantly searching. 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.

Here's a great example of a creative way to use focus blur. Check out this engagement photo. 

Intentional background blurExample of intentionally blurring the background by controlling depth of field

This technique to purposely blur the background can make your photos stand out from the crowd. Here's the post showing examples of intentionally blurring part of the background with a narrow depth of field.

If it is moderate or severe focus blurriness, it's much more difficult to fix. I've had lots of success in fixing digital pictures that are just slightly out of focus. If your photos are severly out of focus, you're screwed abd you should just delete them and learn from the experience.

I learned an expert technique from Scott Kelby's book on using Photoshop for sharpening and I use that extensively when I have. It's too lengthy and in-depth for this article, but it's good if you want to invest in professional editing software to fix the blur.

If I miss the focus a little, it is often because I like to use a very shallow depth of field for portraits of individuals. I shoot with a long telephoto len set at a wide open aperture so that the range of things in focus in quite small.  I do this purposely to throw the background out of focus but it makes the placement of exact focus on the eyes critical.

How to fix blurry digital photos with software

Focus magic-software to fix blurry digital photos

Focus Magic is software that tackles both kinds of blur.

In particular its strength seems to be when fixing blur from slight camera movement. Focus Magic can be used as a plug-in in Photoshop as well as with other image editing programs.

You only have to buy the software once. Acclaim software, the company that makes Focus Magic lets you upgrade each time they improve the software. If you get a new computer, you just ask them for the new registration code. The first version was released back in December of 2000. It wasn't very good software at that point. Since that time, Acclaim Software has

  • reduced the "digital noise"
  • reduced the computer memory used
  • reduced the "halo" effect
  • improved its speed
  • lessened the "water color" effect

Their website has useful tutorials on how to repair photos that are blurry from out-of-focus and motion-blur causes.

Blurity-software to repair blurry digital pictures

You can also download software called Blurity to fix blurry digital photos.

It can also remove small amounts of focus blur. Blurity has a FREE download of it's software. The free version puts an "unregistered" watermark on photo, but you can at least "try before you buy." If you like the results, you can pay for a registration key for the standard or for a pro version.

The Blurity web site has several blurry images that you can download and try the software on. On its features page, the site also does a comparison of features between Blurity, Focus Magic and Unsharp Mask in PhotoShop.

Fixing blurry photos with software can give you mixed results because each photo will have individual characteristics that will affect the repair you attempt. These factors include:

  • The amount and type of blur
  • Contrast and color
  • ISO setting used on your digital camera
  • Sensor size
  • Lens
  • Camera or software that was used to process the original image
  • Exposure (aperture and shutter speed)

The Blurity site also has an on-line manual in its support section to help you better understand how to use the software. There is always the chance that the inexperienced user will over-sharpen the blur and get UN-natural results. It will take a bit of experimenting to get used to the software no matter how you are trying to fix blurry digital photos.

If this was valuable information, please share it. Keep shooting, keep learning, keep improving.

Article published by Bruce Lovelace


Bruce is the publisher of Better Digital Photo Tips. Read more on the About Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since he started his location photography business in 1994.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one on one digital photography coaching.

You might like these

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.

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