What’s the most important “ingredient” for awe-inspiring photos?

Photos can have a variety of aspects; composition, color, style, topic, you name it. And there are many ingredients; exposure, lighting, focal point, etc., but with very few exceptions, the main ingredient to a quality, awe-inspiring photo starts with a tack-sharp subject.

Scott Kelby, the author of many digital photography books and owner of Kelby Training says, “If your photos aren’t sharp then the rest really doesn’t matter.”

Below are some simple steps to creating “tack-sharp” photos:

Use a tripod

Using a tripod may not always be possible, but you should always try to use one in every situation. Even when walking around a new city or touring the countryside (a lightweight portable tripod, or even a monopod will produce better results than hand-held).

photo credit: Mike Hornblade via photopin cc

photo credit: Mike Hornblade via photopin cc

Use a Cable Release or wireless remote

As hard as you may try to press the shutter button with no camera movement, there will always be some movement, even if it is slight. By using a cable release or wireless remote, you won’t transfer any movement from your hand to the camera.


If you don’t have, or have forgotten your Cable Release or Wireless Remote, using the self-timer with a delay of 2 seconds or more will allow the camera shake (from pressing the shutter button) to subside before the shutter is activated.

Use the lens’s sharpest aperture

Find your lens’s sharpest aperture. This may take some experimenting, but generally you’ll find it somewhere around 2 stops below fully opened.

photo credit: christianmeichtry via photopin cc

photo credit: christianmeichtry via photopin cc

Keep the ISO as low as possible

Try to avoid increasing your ISO. Increased ISO will add noise which can degrade the sharpness. When using a tripod and cable release, you will be able to slow the shutter speed down in order to get the optimal exposure.

Turn off Image Stabilization

If using a tripod, turn off the Image Stabilization feature of the lens (or on the camera if it has IS). Tiny motors inside the lens can contribute to tiny vibrations and reduce the sharpness. If you are shooting hand-held, by all means, use the IS feature; especially when zooming and in low light conditions.

Use the Mirror Lock-up

This is a bit more advanced, but is easily doable – just read your user’s manual to learn this technique. When the shutter is depressed, a mirror pops up to allow light to hit the sensor. This micro-movement can affect the final image. Most manufacturers have added a “mirror lock-up” feature. It takes a little more practice, but it will definitely add to the sharpness of your image.


Any one of these tips will help increase the sharpness of your photos, but combining as many as possible or all of these tips will produce truly “tack-sharp” photos that will be the envy of the neighborhood.

3 thoughts on “What’s the most important “ingredient” for awe-inspiring photos?

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