arches national park

How to Avoid Blurry Photos

If a photo is out of focus, delete it immediately – unless you purposely took it that way. There is not much you can do. Turning it black and white, adding film grain or other presets will not help much with a blurry photo; it’s not worth your time. The main reason why your photos are blurry is that your shutter speed was too low and the slightest camera or subject movement was magnified.

Here are a few things you can do to avoid blurry pictures.

Always watch your shutter speed. The rule of thumb is: your shutter speed should not be lower than 1/focal length. For example, if your focal length is set to 100 mm, your shutter speed should not be lower than 1/100 sec. One caveat: if you don’t have a full frame camera, you have to multiply the focal length by your crop factor. As an example, for a Canon camera with an ASP-C sensor (1.6x crop factor), your minimum shutter speed should be: 1/100×1.6, which is 1/160.

Most lenses have Image Stabilization (IS), which allows for shooting up to 4 stops lower speed (like Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS Lens). While I consider IS a great feature and worth paying the extra bucks, I don’t rely on it all that much. I know it’s there, I make sure it’s on, but I like to consider it just a safety net. My suggestion is to aim for a minimum speed as close as possible to the focal length, even with image stabilization.


Let’s say that you’re dealing with low light, you are shooting at the largest aperture possible (low f number) and the shutter speed is still too low. You have a few options:

Increase your ISO. Some cameras perform extremely well in low light conditions. The sensor on my Canon 5D Mark II is great even at 3200 ISO. Be very careful though, a higher ISO will introduce more noise, no matter what (see one of my older blogs about ISO). Hold the camera steady. I sometimes hold my breath while gently pressing the shutter button. Practice this and it will pay off. Not sure how to hold the camera properly? Check this out: How to Hold a DSLR.

Use a flash. I don’t mean the flash built in your camera. This is only useful outdoors in the daylight as a fill light, and that’s about it. Buy a real flash that can be used off camera, such as Canon Speedlite 430EX II.

Use a tripod. I know, who wants to carry a tripod? I am the same way, even though I am pretty happy with my Slik Pro 340-BH AMT Tripod. I very seldom bring it with me on trips. I did, however, bring it on trip to the Utah national parks and I was happy I did. A tripod is highly recommended when shooting landscapes. Ideally, you use a small aperture (large f number) so you can get everything in focus. You will notice that as you lower your aperture, your speed drops; especially if you shoot in low light. If you have a lens with Image Stabilization, remember to turn it off because it will do more harm than good in this case. You can find the why here.

White Audi Q7 in motion, blurry photos

Are there any exceptions? Of course. For example, if you want to caption motion, you do want to have some blur in your pictures. Panning is a good example here. Check out one of my older posts on capturing motion here.

In some cases, using the camera’s auto focus improperly can cause your subject to be out of focus. This is particularly important when shooting people, birds or animals. The eyes must always be in focus. In these situations I like to use the central AF focus point as opposed to the camera’s auto-select focus points. I focus on the eyes, I recompose and then shoot.

Red macaw

I hope these tips were helpful and they will help you take less unwanted blurry photos. Remember, always watch your shutter speed.

For more photography tips and ideas, check out my latest photography book, Picture (Im)perfect Photographynow available at Amazon.

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