There are no magic bullets on getting a knife’s edge sharp picture.
Here are some steps that you need to get you 50% there, the rest you’ll have to do…
- Use a tripod, monopod, or anything else.
Before you even ask — YES, you need one. The best one that you’ll actually carry with you.
- Be it, a $450 carbon-fiber Manfrotto, or a $12 Walmart special. Having it and using it better than having it and not using it.
- This includes a ziplock full of rice that you can slap down and use as a bed to place your camera on, to using the side of a building to push your camera against.
- A proper stance is the last part of this. Left hand underneath against your chest, cradling the camera on your palm, your fingers spread out being parted by the lens.
- Use a fast shutter speed.
The general rule of thumb is that if you at 100mm focal length, you can hand hold up to 1/100th of a second or faster. I would not tell anyone to hand hold anything below 1/80th — as your blood pressure, heart beat, and simple act of breathing can introduce movement in the image. This goes double for longer focal length.
- Use good glass.
You have to do your research before buying your glass. Almost all main lens manufacturers have your “regular” or “consumer” lenses, and also a “professional” series. The main difference is the construction and optics that are used in the lens. Canon has the “L” series, Sigma has the “EX” series, Tamron well they don’t but they claim all of their lenses are professional.
- Use the proper depth of field — good focus
A whole lot of images are in fact very sharp — you just don’t like where the sharpness is. This is because of poor focus, because the subject moved, you moved or you just mis-focus. This plus, a small depth of field puts all or some of your subject out of focus, and not very sharp. Using manual focus is obviously idle, if possible. Using a larger depth of field (smaller aperture) would also help. If you camera has a “auto-keep-focus” such as the Canon AI Servo that will lock and keep focus will also help if the subject is moving.
- Use a short focal length
Now this one is my personal note, I think most people try to zoom too much. Most your feet and get closer to your subject and fill the frame. Use the shortest focal length you have (without going into the wide range [< 50mm]).
- Proper post-processing
Unlike film, almost all digital images need some post processing. Specially USM (UnSharpen mark) — opposite to it’s name it’s actually a tool that sharpens your images. It is not a tool to sharpen a blurry image, but if you have done everything else this last step will give you that extra pop of sharpness.
As always, there are dozen different answers to every question, but I am hoping that these small points help someone get a sharper image.