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TKE02: How to get the right exposure and focus to create sharp images - The Photography Express

TKE02: How to get the right exposure and focus to create sharp images

Question: How to get the right exposure and focus to create sharp images?

This question comes from Cat and first of all thank you for your question! This is one of THE MOST COMMON questions I get at all the time. Every person behind the camera wants the right exposure and focus to create sharp images but often times the picture came out to be a blurry photograph. What is it that you are missing and why? To answer that, let me break them out into different categories: Getting the right exposure, nail the focus, and getting sharp images.

Before I move on, I highly recommend you first check out my post on the 8 secrets of getting razor sharp photos with your DSLR. This is one of my most popular posts in the TPE blog. As I am writing this more than 11,795 people have already read this post in the past month and I’m sure you can get tons of value from it.

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Getting the right exposure

There is no set formula to get the right exposure and certainly you do not want it to be perfect all the time. Why? In the most basic term, some photographs needs to be overexposed and underexposed. Think about the image below:

Photo Credit: Vin on the move

Photo Credit: Vin on the move

How good would it be if the lighthouse is properly exposed and you can see the details in this image? Not so much because it’ll lose the silhouette effect.

So in textbook term, the right exposure is a photograph that captures the overall tone range that has a balance between light tones and dark tones. But in my opinion, it is a photograph that captured your desired exposure.

After all these theory let me show you a technique I use all the time with my DSLR. Doing this will allow you to get proper exposure in most of your shots.

1) Switch to program mode and press the shutter button half way.

2) Remember the Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. This is the right exposure according your camera settings.

3) Switch to manual mode, set the same setting you remembered to get the proper exposure. In situations where you want to create your desire exposure effect, do the following:

4) If you want to overexposed your photo, either: widen the aperture, increase ISO or decrease shutter speed.

5) If you want to underexposed your photo, either narrow the aperture, decrease ISO or increase shutter speed.

Nail the focus

After getting the right exposure you’ll then need to focus well in order to get sharp images. As you can see this is the 2nd step which means you are 2/3 of your way to a great photograph if you do this properly. So, here are my few suggestions:

1) Determine when to use auto focus and when to use manual focus – Often times we rely heavily on auto focus and neglect the fact that our camera focus system could be wrong. Therefore, if you are taking a picture that requires absolutely flawless focus then trust your eyes and focus manually. Especially in low light situation where the camera’s sensitivity to light could be thrown off you would want to do that as well.

2) Don’t use all focus point – It’s best to avoid using all focus point because usually the camera doesn’t know the exact point you’re focusing on. It is just guessing somewhere between the focus point is where you want to focus. Try using one point focus or focus it manually to achieve best result.

3) Use the correct focus mode – With you DSLR, don’t get confused with other focusing mode like Al-Serve in canon or Continuous Servo in Nikon. Use those when you’re shooting a subject that’s constantly moving. For all other shots use single shot focus mode.

4) If shooting in wide aperture, be careful when you recompose after focus – One of the easiest mistake made is to use a wide aperture, say f1.8, focus on your subject’s eyes, then recompose your image. Remember ever bit of movement matters when you’ve a thin depth of field at wide aperture, so be VERY CAREFUL when you recomposing using wide aperture.

Getting sharp images

I think I’ve covered quite a few items in my previous post here, but in additional to that blog post, try the following:

1) Determine if you really need the widest aperture – If you have a f2.8 lens, you definitely want to use f2.8 to get the best bang out of your bucks right? Although this is true but be mindful that most lenses are sharpest at about 1-2 stops below the widest aperture. So test out your lens, if you have a f2.8 try using f4 and compare the result.

2) Remove lens filter – The transparent filter that most of us use on our lenses is to protect the lens from damaging. However, it added another piece of glass to go through in order to take the picture. If you really want the sharpest photo consider removing it.

3) Invest in a good lens – I saved this to the last because I only want yo to do this after you tried everything but still getting blurry images. And yes it’s time to buy a better lens it really makes a difference. You don’t need to immediately jump to the luxury grade like the Canon L lens, but start off with a decent lens like 85mm f1.8 for sharper pictures.

I apologize it’s a much longer post than I expected but I want to fully answered your question. If anyone of you have any questions please let me know and I’ll be more than happy to help you out in the next TKE section of my blog!

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About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!


  1. Thank you, Gary! That was really helpful!

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