1. Use a tripod
Even the slightest movement can throw off your images sharpness (focus). Often times, you will not notice it until you are back home, uploading the pictures to your computer, and by then it is too late!
When I first started out with photography I was a student so shooting in a studio with others and with the assistance of a trained Professor, I felt that using a tripod was a stinking awesome, especially to get those tack sharp eyes in my portraiture class. We used Manfrotto tripods and I loved the quality and stability they give.
When you get more experienced with how to control the camera settings in manual mode, you can begin to shoot hand-held, even in low light. But when you are starting out a tripod can be your best friend!
I still use a tripod when I photograph people, simply because I like the freedom to move around and it talk to my clients and it helps them relax more so I am able to get a more authentic expression. It's also great for food and videography.
2. Use a remote or self-timer
Using a remote for your camera remove all chances of shake as you don´t have to touch the camera. Using the remote together with the tripod will help you get the sharpest photos possible. It´s also great to use the remote if you want to take self-portraits. Many cell phones have apps available that make the phone a remote trigger. there is a self-portrait of me SOMEWHERE on this site that I took with my phone and camera just because I wanted to see how they worked together. Yes, I was able to download the camera image to my phone and upload it to this site. (more on that later).
3. Shoot with a prime lens
Prime lenses (not zoom) are known to be faster and create tack sharp photos. For beginners, one of 2 lenses I often recommend are the 50 or the 35 mm. Both are good value lenses – the price is fair and the quality is excellent! These lenses are fast and works well in low light situations. You can also create the most amazing out of focus effects by shooting on a low f-stop.
They are lightweight and therefore great for everyday use. If you are on a budget you can buy the 50 mm f 1/8. It´s not as good, but it will still do the job.
4. Use a faster shutter speed
A good rule of thumb is to always make sure that your shutter speed is set higher than the number of your focal lens. For example, if you shoot with a 50 mm lens, set your shutter speed at 1/60 or above. If you shoot with 85 mm lens, set your shutter speed at 1/100 or above and so on. If you are taking photos of kids, make sure you have a fast shutter speed because they move a lot and very quickly. Personally, I like to have my shutter speed set on 1/100 (as a starting point) when I shoot handheld and I will then adjust the ISO and Aperture to match the conditions. But of course, it depends on the lighting situation – if I shoot outside in harsh sunlight I have to adjust my shutter speed to another level or else my pictures will be blown out. But 1/100 is often my starting point to make sure I get sharp images.
5. Control your F-stop
If you increase the number of your f-stop, more things will be in focus. This gives you a better chance to get sharper photos. When I shoot portraits and food, I mostly set my aperture at f/2.8 – sometimes at f/2.0 or f/3.2. I rarely shoot at a higher aperture because I love to leave some part of my images a little out of focus. But that is just my preferred shooting style. If you do have more than one person in the frame or if you photograph children, you might have to take your f-stop much higher to get everyone in focus. So remember when you want a small area to be in focus, go for low f-stop and increase the f-stop when you want larger areas to be in focus.
Most DSLR cameras have a button (see above image) to tell the camera how and where to focus (note: you might have to check your manual for this, as the button can be located elsewhere than shown in the picture above). If you look into the viewfinder of your camera and press the button in the right corner (no. 1) you´ll see this function is activated. Now use the knob (no. 2) to set your focus point. You can move it up and down or the sides to set your focus. If you, for example, wish to focus on your subject’s eyes, place your selected focus point over the eye and tap your AF-on button (no.3) to set the focus.
I have my setting set on single point AF most of the time. It takes time to get used to this technique, but it's worth learning will make your focus wil. I use this technic EVERY time I take pictures!
7. Choose AI Servo (Thanks, Matthew Hall)
You have the ability to choose between the camera settings called AI servo, One-shot, and AI-focus. I have my settings on AI servo (most of the time). Here’s a short explanation to each one of them: This one was explained to me by my good Friend Matthew Hall and ever since I've used this technique.
One Shot – You can use this option to shoot for things that do not move. To be honest, I never use this setting, even when I am shooting still life.
AI Focus – An option for shooting things that are not moving but MIGHT move when you try to take their pictures. A good example is young children. The camera senses movement of the subject and then acts like it is in servo mode. I also never use this setting as I don´t think it works very well.
AI Servo – An option to shoot things that are constantly moving. AI Servo is for continuous tracking of subjects that are moving closer to or farther away from you. I always use this setting. My personal opinion is that it gives the best sharpness to my images.
***Please note: I shoot with Canon. If you shoot with Nikon, AI servo might be called something else. Try to look for continuous focus or focus tracking or continuous servo AF, to find a similar function.
8. Make sure there is enough light
It gets more difficult to achieve a tack sharp focus in low light situation. Make sure you shoot in good lighting conditions and raise your ISO if you need to – or use exposure compensation.
By taking exposure compensation to +1, +2 or +3 you´ll get brighter images. Just be aware that this function does not work in manual mode, but works great in for example aperture mode.
9. Portrait tip – focus between the eyes
The golden rule of portrait photography is having the leading eye in focus (the eye that is closest to the camera). It won’t take much of a head tilt to get at least one eye out of focus and that will ruin an image. If your subject is aligned straight in front of you, you’ll need to pick a spot in between the eyes to focus on. I often choose the bridge of the nose as the focus point, but I also make sure to include a little area of each eyebrow in the focus area to make it easier for the camera to set the focus. (The theory behind this tip: sometimes it can be difficult for the camera to focus if there is no contrast – in this case, there are light skin and a dark eyebrow to help the camera sets the focus on).
10. Add extra sharpening in Photoshop.
The best thing about shooting in RAW is that you get a lot more of the natural unprocessed image. Upload to Lightroom or Photoshop RAW converter and adjust clarity and sharpening. To make your focus stand out even more, only sharpen the focus point and let the rest of the image untouched. That way the area in focus will pop out even more.