No photographer likes to see that their photos are blurred. Wondering ‘why are my pictures blurry’ is the cause of much frustration. The good thing is that there’s always a reason an image turns out blurry.
In this article, I’ll teach what causes blurry photos and what you can do to avoid taking fuzzy-looking photos. It’s very important to learn because you cannot effectively sharpen a blurred image once you have taken it.
Table of Contents
- Why Are My DSLR Photos Blurry?
- Blurry Images Caused By Poor Focus
- Understanding Blur and Depth of Field (DOF)
- Managing Your Focus to Avoid Unsharp Photos
- Blurry Photos Caused By Subject Movement
- Blurry Images Caused By Camera Movement
- Other Reasons Your Photos May Be Blurry
- How To Fix Blurry Images
To fix blurry photos you must learn to control your camera. You cannot expect to fix unsharp photos in Photoshop or with any other image editing software. You cannot learn how to unblur an image because it is not (yet) possible.
Image editing software can marginally fix soft-looking photos. But you will not see a significant improvement if your image is very blurry.
Why Are My DSLR Photos Blurry?
Photos from your DSLR or any other camera can be blurry for a few reasons.
The most common problems that cause photos to be blurred are:
- Poor focus
- Subject movement
- Camera movement
Less common, but relevant reasons you would ask why are my photos blurry are:
- ISO is too high
- Photo enlarged too much
- Poor lens quality
- Auto-focus problems
- Lens scratched or unclean
Knowing why your photos are blurred is one thing. Knowing what to do to fix blurry photos is something else. In most cases, it’s not as easy as many new photographers think. You cannot really fix a blurred image.
No matter what has caused your photo to blur, you cannot fix it with Photoshop or any other app or program. The way to fix blurry photos is by learning to take them without blur.
With every problem there is a solution. So please keep reading as I explain the reasons why your photos are blurry and how you can learn to take lovely sharp photos.
Blurry Images Caused By Poor Focus
Out of focus photos are probably the most common type of blurry photo. Poor focus can happen for several reasons:
- You press the shutter release before the lens has auto-focused
- You have not focused on the main subject of your composition
- Your subject moved after you focused
- You moved after focusing
Don’t be in so much of a hurry when you’re taking photos. Taking your time will improve many aspects of your photography. Pressing down on the shutter release too quickly and too hard can cause blurry pictures.
As you press the shutter button, pause partway. This action auto-focuses your lens. Trying to work too quickly may mean the lens does not focus, or it focuses on the wrong place.
Take your time and make sure your lens focuses before you press the shutter button all the way down. This is the first step in learning how to take an image that is not blurry.
When you focus your lens the whole of your composition may not be sharp. Sometimes most of what’s in your frame will be blurry and your subject will be sharp. At other times, your subject, and most of what surrounds it will be in sharp focus.
How much of your photo is acceptably sharp is known as the Depth of Field (DOF). This is a common term in photography jargon and an important one to understand.
The factors that influence DOF are:
- Aperture setting
- Lens choice
- Camera to subject distance
- Subject to background distance
- Camera sensor size
Understanding Blur and Depth of Field (DOF)
When you focus your lens, manually or automatically, whatever is in your frame and the same distance from your camera will be sharp. Things in your frame that are closer to or further away from your camera may not be sharp. This depends on the DOF.
Using a wide-angle lens with a narrow aperture (high f/stop number) and focusing on a subject that’s far away, the DOF is deep. Most, if not all, of the image will be in focus.
Choosing a long lens and using a wide aperture (low f/stop number) and focusing on a subject close to you results in a shallow depth of field. Your subject will be sharp, but most of the image will be blurred.
The amount of blur depends on these variables. The closer you focus, the shallower the DOF is. The further your subject is from the background, the more blurred the background appears. Longer lenses cause more blur because the DOF is shallower. The wider your aperture setting (on any lens) the more blur occurs.
If you’ve been used to taking photos with your phone, you won’t have had many problems with focus. The sensor in a phone is very small. This means that the photos you take will be mostly in focus.
The smaller the sensor in a phone or camera is, the greater the depth of field is. This is why some phones have a special ‘Portrait’ setting to blur the background of an image. The physical size of the sensor in a phone means it’s very difficult to get a blurred background otherwise. The portrait setting mimics how a camera with a larger sensor makes a blurred background.
Managing Your Focus to Avoid Unsharp Photos
Be precise about what part of your composition you focus on. When you focus on an element in your composition, anything else that’s the same distance from your camera will also be in focus. This is more apparent when you have a shallow DOF and you need to be more precise with where you focus.
You must choose the most important part of what you are photographing and focus on it. Not in front and not behind that point.
Using a narrower aperture, a higher f/stop number, gives you a greater DOF. This is more forgiving because your photos are more likely to be in focus. Even if your focus is not precisely on your subject, with a higher f/stop setting it still may be acceptable sharp.
Choosing How To Focus Your Lens
Digital cameras have very advanced focus systems. These are designed to make focusing easy and fast. There are various settings options you need to use to get consistently sharp photos.
There are two main auto-focus settings that have different functions. There’s the AF Mode and the AF Area Mode.
The AF Mode controls how the lens will focus and the AF Area Mode determines where the lens will focus.
AF Mode has two common settings on most cameras. Single Servo and Continuous Servo.
With your camera’s AF Mode set to Single Servo when you press the focus button halfway, the lens will focus. So long as your finger keeps steady on the button, the lens will not refocus. Even if you recompose your photo or your subject moves, the focus will remain on the same point. When you lift your finger up and press it down again, the lens will refocus. This setting is good for static subjects.
In Continuous Servo AF Mode when you press down on the focus button the camera will continually focus. If your subject is moving, or if you move your camera, the lens will adjust the focus. This setting is good for photographing moving subjects.
AF Area Mode
AF Area Modes vary more from camera to camera. Most commonly there are single-point and multi-point areas.
In single-point AF Mode, your camera will focus on a predetermined point. This is displayed by a highlighted rectangle in the viewfinder or on the monitor when using live view. On most cameras you can move the focus point around using a rocker control on the camera back.
Using Multi-point AF Mode, the camera will select where it focuses from a grid of focus points. Some cameras allow you to choose how many points there are in the grid and where they are in the frame.
For precise information on how to adjust these settings, do an online search of your camera model and “AF Modes”. This is usually a more efficient way of figuring out how to manage changes than consulting the camera manual.
I don’t often use multi-point AF Mode. I prefer to use single point because I can place it precisely where I want my focus to be. Using multi-point mode the camera will decide what it focuses on.
Using single-point AF takes more time because you have to move the position of the focus point. When you are not used to doing this it may seem to be an unnecessary slowing down of the process of taking photos. As you practice you will become more proficient and can find you’ll get less blurry images because your focus point is exactly where you want it.
Can I Manually Focus My Camera Lens?
Yes, you can manually focus your lens. Sometimes auto-focus does not function fast enough or may not be precise. This often happens when you’re taking photos at night or in situations where the light is low.
Manual focus is achieved by turning part of the lens barrel. Turn the focusing ring one way for focus further away and the other way to focus in closer. The direction you turn the ring varies with the type of camera you use.
This is another aspect of focus that you may think will slow you down. It is a good idea to practice and learn how to manually focus your lens because auto-focus is not perfect and will let you down sometimes. You also might like to use an older manual focus lens on your camera at times. Vintage manual lenses are fun to use and often cheaper. I have a number of old lenses that I love.
Focusing Using The Viewfinder or Monitor
It can be easier sometimes to use the camera’s monitor when you are focusing. Now many cameras have touch screen focusing which makes managing focusing very easy.
When your camera is mounted on a tripod using the monitor to focus is very easy. You can zoom in to the point you want to focus on and make sure it’s sharp.
Focusing using the monitor can be helpful at night and other times when there’s not much light. You can brighten up your monitor so you can see your subject more clearly.
I don’t follow many rules when I’m taking photos. But one rule I usually stick to is: If your subject has eyes, focus on them.
It’s very odd to see a photo of a person’s face, a pet, or anything else with eyes that are out of focus.
Blurry Photos Caused By Subject Movement
The next two reasons you might be getting blurry images have nothing to do with focus. Making a poor choice of shutter speed can also result in blurry photos. There are two main reasons for this.
If your subject is moving and your shutter speed is too slow, the subject will appear blurred in the photo. The longer your shutter remains open, the greater the risk that a moving subject will blur. This type of blur is called Motion Blur.
To avoid motion blur when photographing a moving subject you need to choose a faster shutter speed. The speed your subject is moving determines what shutter speed you must use so that it appears sharp.
When you’re photographing a person walking you can use a slower speed than when you photograph a sprinter. The sprinter will move more quickly and therefore require a faster shutter speed to freeze their action. A racing car or a bird in flight will need even faster shutter speeds to have them appear sharp in your images.
Purposefully using a slow shutter speed to photograph a moving subject is also an option for creative photographers. Allowing your subject to blur conveys a sense of movement. This should be intentional and not left to chance. It’s best to use a tripod or place your camera on a firm surface when you are using this technique.
How Do You Know if Photos are Blurry from Subject Movement?
If only your subject is blurred, then it’s most likely that your shutter speed is too slow to stop the action. Look at other elements in your composition. Are they nice and sharp? If so, then you have identified the source of the blurring problem.
When you have a very shallow DOF and the background is out of focus, it’s more challenging to see if there’s anything else in your photo that’s sharp.
Blurry Images Caused By Camera Movement
Holding your camera steady and using a fast enough shutter speed will help you avoid blurry images. If your camera moves, even a little, as you press the shutter button your picture might turn out blurry. This is commonly called ‘camera shake’.
How fast your shutter speed needs to be depends on how steady you can hold your camera. The weight of your camera and lens can influence this. A light camera with a short focal length lens is much easier to hold still than a big camera with a monster of a lens attached to it.
Most people can hold a camera with a standard lens still enough at around 1/125th of a second. If your hands tend to be a bit shaky, you may have to use 1/250th or 1/500th of a second, regardless of your lens focal length.
As a guide, it’s good to keep your shutter speed the same or faster than the focal length of the lens you’re using. So if you are using a 100mm lens, you’re best to have your shutter speed set no slower than 1/100th of a second.
Turning on image stabilization in your camera or on your lens will also help.
How Do You Know if Photos are Blurry from Camera Movement?
Camera shake blur looks different than focus or subject movement blur. If every part of your photo is blurred, it’s either because of camera shake or poor focus.
Camera shake blur looks a bit like everything in the photo is moving slightly. Blur caused by poor focus usually has a softer look to it.
Other Reasons Your Photos May Be Blurry
There are other reasons your photos might not be sharp. These are less common and the amount of blur can be more subtle.
Your ISO is Too High
Using a very high ISO can result in photos that don’t look sharp. How high this might be varies from camera to camera. Pushing the ISO to the outer limits you run the risk of poor quality photos.
Digital noise becomes more apparent in photos you take using a high ISO. This can affect how sharp the photos look. This type of noise adds pixelated distortion that can blur details in a photo. Even if you reduce the noise during post production, the photos may still look blurred.
High ISO settings can also cause photos to have lower contrast and dull colors. These two things can make a photo look less sharp too.
The Photo is Enlarged More Than 100%
When you zoom in to look at detail in your photo, be careful not to enlarge the image more than 100% or 1:1 magnification. This over enlarging causes photos to appear blurred when they are actually not.
Zooming to over 100% can happen on any monitor or camera screen. Most computer programs and apps will indicate the level of zoom. Many cameras do not. When you zoom to look at a photo close up on your camera monitor you usually have to guess how much you have enlarged it.
Some Nikon cameras can be preset to zoom an image viewed on the monitor to 100%. To do this you can follow the steps outlined in this article.
Poor Lens Quality Can Cause Blurry Pictures
Some zoom lenses and cheap fixed lenses do not always take sharp photos, even when you do focus them well.
Long zooms are more likely to have this problem. At some positions in the zoom range a long zoom lens may be sharper than at others. They may also be sharper at some f/stops than others. Many lenses can be sharper at f/8 or f/11 than they are when the aperture is wide open or closed down to the smallest f-stop.
Malfunctioning Auto-Focus is Sometimes a Cause of Blurred Photos
If you never seem to get photos in focus when using a particular lens, it may be a problem with the auto-focus.
When you prepare to take a photo and carefully focus, the indicators may let you know the lens has focused. Sometimes your lens might focus slightly in front or behind the point you focused on.
If this is happening you’ll need to take your lens in to be serviced. Before you do so, set up some tests. Photograph some text, in a book or on a sign. If you have the problem with a zoom lens, take photos at different focal lengths in the zoom range. Check to see if the focus is sharp where you intended it to be.
Your Lens Might Be Scratched or Unclean
Scratches or dirt on the front or rear elements of a lens may be difficult to see, but they will result in blurred photos. Always keep both the front and rear caps on lenses to help avoid damage.
Fungus can grow on and inside lenses. If there’s not much growth you may not notice any influence from it in your photos. But fungus grows. It will eventually have a negative impact on your pictures. If it’s not properly cleaned, fungus can destroy a lens to a point where it’s not practical for it to be repaired.
Fungus on a lens eats into the glass. Advanced fungus can be removed, but the lens will remain damaged because the fungus causes etching in the glass.
Check your lenses regularly for fungus, especially if you live in a humid climate.
How To Fix Blurry Images
The best way to fix blurry photos is by not taking them. Practice focusing carefully and use a fast enough shutter speed. These two things will help you take sharp photos.
When a photo is blurry you cannot effectively sharpen it. There is currently no software or photo app that makes a significant improvement to a blurry picture. If your photo is only a little soft, you can use an unsharp mask in Photoshop and there are other tools available. Their effectiveness is very limited.
Avoid poor focus and camera shake. Don’t let your subject blur, unless you want it to. Taking these step will mean you will take more sharp photos.
Please let us know in the comments below if you found this article helpful or if you have any questions about how not to take blurry images.