Why Are My Pictures Blurry? Take Control of Auto Focus

There are a few tricks to get good, in focus pictures with digital cameras. Read about one here.

A friend of mine was showing me pictures she had taken while on vacation in Hawaii and I couldn't help but notice that so many were out of focus. When I commented on that, she confessed puzzlement especially since this digital camera included "auto focus." You do not want to travel to such a photo-worthy place as Hawaii and return with blurry pictures. What had gone wrong?

The auto focus feature on new cameras is a wonderful thing, especially for my failing eyesight. It has become so advanced that it can recognize faces and even know when those faces are smiling. But does the camera truly know what you intend to photograph? While I have no problem with the Auto Focus setting on your camera, it does not read your mind. That is the time to take positive control over the machine.

Going back to my friend's blurred pictures, there are two simple things that have a great effect on focus.

First, point and shoot cameras are so light that merely pushing the shutter release can easily move the camera, especially when holding it at arm's length, which you need to do in order to see your subject in the LCD screen. You might not realize this is happening and it may be the cause of some blurred pictures. Don't push that button so hard. At least think about it. There is a lot more to say about stabilization which will fill another blog post.

Second, and this was more important to my friend, push the shutter release only half way down and wait before taking the picture. My friend had not realized what happens in that moment. When you hold the shutter release half way down (that's the button that takes the picture), auto focus kicks in and attempts to decide what exactly you are taking a picture of by starting a motor and moving the internal gears of the lens until that subject is in focus. It also evaluates the available light and then adjusts the aperture, shutter speed and ISO to compensate. It might even decide to add flash. This can take a couple of seconds.

You see, my friend had previously used instamatic and disposable cameras that had fixed focus lenses. Push the button and it takes the picture -- no focusing needed. Today's digital marvels do so much more, if you let them. She was happily snapping away too quickly without letting the camera automatically make the adjustments she expected.

I am not innocent. I take pictures every day and am sometimes guilty of this. I might rush to get a shot before a moment is gone, neglecting to allow the camera to focus properly and getting a disappointing blurred mess.

The moral is to slow down. Think about and compose your shot. Push that picture taking button down halfway and wait a second for the camera to focus. Finally, gently squeeze the release trying not to move the camera. Once you understand (and practice) that skill, you can then trick the camera into focusing on what you want instead of what it thinks you want. Sharp pictures make all the difference.

Want to know more about basic digital photography? I teach a class at the Half Moon Bay Recreation Center on most Thursday nights at 6 p.m., three easy classes on the three basic things to think about when taking pictures. Sign up here.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Matt Anderson June 15, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Good tips Stuart. I recently bought a new pocket digital camera and as a personal preference set the focusing options in the menu to use just a single area (red box) to compute the focus. I found it much easier to compose the photos when I knew what was going to be in focus. One other rookie mistake I made with it was setting the camera in closeup mode (usually indicated by a tulip icon). The results were not good. Thanks for the tips. Keep them coming.
Stuart Nafey June 17, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Thanks Matt. More often then not, I use spot focus. It is essential when you are trying to get that owl's eye in focus, 75 feet away through moving branches.


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