Sharp Landscape Photos in 7 simple tips

During photography lessons I’m often asked how to achieve sharp landscape photos or, if really desperate; it’s asked as ‘whhhyyyyyyyy are my photos blurry, oh why!? ‘

Aside from your finger covering the lens!… there are several ways to get perfectly sharp photos, and they’re all quick and easy!

These tips are tried and trusted and have been proven. I’ve been there myself and regularly help others achieve sharper photos.

Take a little time to try each tip and check the improvement it makes. You’ll be surprised!

1. Image Stabilise the right way

Many lenses and cameras have stabilisation to minimise camera shake – a big cause of blurry photos. Turn it on and forget about it, right? Uh. No.

Confused?! For the sharpest landscape photos, you’ll need the right setting at the right time…

Hand-holding your camera

Leave image stabilisation turned on. The image stabilisation switch can be found on the lens, or within the camera’s menu.

Different names are used by different brands; IS, OIS, OS, VC, VCM, VR. From here on I’ll refer to image stabilisation as IS for simplicity.

On a tripod

IS can and will cause blurry images whilst using a tripod! Mad, I know!! The stabilisation expects camera movement and doesn’t always recognise when the camera is on a tripod. Detection has improved on recent lenses but it’s still not perfect. Turn IS off to be sure and don’t forget to turn IS back on again once you’re no longer using a tripod.

The same applies to your camera body built-in IS. I’ve found in-body stabilisation can be left turned on without problems. Compare the photos with IS on and off to be sure for your particular camera.

2. The Lens sweet-spot

Every lens is made with compromises to fit a price point, size, weight, image quality, features, etc.

Work to your lens’ strengths and use an aperture in the sweet spot for sharpness – usually between f/8 or f/11. For compact / bridge cameras capable of a minimum aperture of f/8, stop down by one-third or two-thirds of a stop.

Avoid maximum aperture (smallest f-stop number) unless you need the shallowest depth of field it offers.

e.g. for an f/4 lens use f/5.6 and notice the increase in sharpness, especially around the edges.

Avoid apertures above f/16 to avoid lens diffraction softening your photos. This is common to all lenses.

Longer telephoto lenses (e.g. 100mm or 200mm) are sharpest when not zoomed in fully e.g. Opt for 170mm maximum when using a 200mm lens. The increase in sharpness will be clear to see, especially for entry-level lenses.

3. Always Check the shutter speed

Moving from auto mode brings challenges that will cause blurry photos if not handled correctly. especially if using a trial-and-error approach.

The wrong shutter speed, one that is too slow, will cause camera shake and a trip to blursville in blurstershire.

Use Manual Mode wisely

If you don’t understand how to use the manual modes (including aperture or shutter priority) I’d recommend staying with Auto for now.

Take time to learn and understand manual modes before making the move from auto. To choose a learning option that best suits – hop on over to the how to learn photography guide.

Why does the shutter speed become too slow?

Slightly Techy Content Warning!

Your camera’s shutter speed becomes slow and prone to camera shake for one or all of the following;

  • Aperture is too small (large f-stop)
  • ISO is too low
  • Conditions are dark
  • Subject matter is dark
  • Telephoto lenses worsen camera shake and require a faster shutter speed

What is the right shutter speed?

A ‘fast enough’ shutter speed, in most cases, will be the same as the focal length for a non-IS lens e.g. zooming to 200mm requires a shutter speed of 1/200th second or faster.

IS effectively allows shooting at slower shutter speeds, anywhere from 1/25th of a second at 200mm or even slower for 6-stop IS technology.

End of Slightly Techy Content. Phew.

4. Ditch the cheap Filters

You know that lens that’s capable of really sharp photos? And you know that cheap plastic UV filter you’ve put on the end of it? See where I’m going?

UV filters serve no purpose on a digital camera other than to protect the lens coating from scratches.

They do however degrade image quality, especially cheap ones.

This photographer threw theirs into the undergrowth. Please dispose of your discarded photography gear responsibly.

5. Shoot in RAW mode

Your camera can save each photo as a JPEG or RAW and it’s commonly known the latter always provides slightly higher image quality.

However, there’s another good reason to avoid using JPEG in your camera; noise within your photo is processed out by your camera. You’ll not see the grainy speckles that noise causes but you will see the image has been smoothed over to remove the grain.

The act of smoothing out the grain causes the image to become softer and slightly blurry. The worse the noise the softer the image is processed by your camera. RAW files are unprocessed leaving you to correct grain (if you wish) in post edit.

Want to know about ISO and image noise? Read on…

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6. ISO ISO, Baby

The relationship between ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed is a larger topic to cover if you’re new to photography. So I’ll keep this brief and as simple as possible….

Lower ISO settings will give you the best image quality e.g. ISO 100 is better than ISO 200. Results vary from camera to camera but as a loose rule, it’s best to use ISO 1600 or lower.

If you don’t understand ISO and what it does I recommend leaving it set to auto. Getting the ISO setting wrong can cause blurry photos due to a slow shutter speed…

It’s super important to use the right settings when you venture away from auto mode. ISO will impact the shutter speed which must be fast enough to avoid camera shake / subject blur in your landscape photo.

What shutter speed is fast enough? Generally speaking, if your camera is flashing the shaky hands icon in the display – your shutter speed is too slow! Refer back to Tip 3 for specific advice.

7. Focus like a Pro

Sometimes the most obvious explanation is the correct one. No amount of skill will give you sharp landscape photos if the lens is out of focus.

Use Auto Focus for the best results in most situations

Check Auto focus has locked on by half holding down the shutter button and checking for the beep (if enabled) or flashing lights in the viewfinder to show which area is in focus.

Manual focus in dark conditions

You may need to swap to manual focus when auto focus fails in dark conditions. Achieving accurate manual focus can be tricky depending on the lens and camera in use. It’s easier on mirrorless cameras where advanced focussing aids will guide you.

Inferior auto focus in Live View

When using a DSLR camera and Live View you’ll find the auto focus is, well, rubbish. A different method of focusing is used that results in slow and inaccurate focusing especially in darker conditions.

My advice is – don’t use live view if your lens isn’t reliably auto focussing at the time. Or swap to manual focus. Simple.

Check your photos are sharp by zooming-in to the playback screen before you head home to avoid disappointment!

Sharp Landscape Photos Checklist

To take sharp landscape photos firstly needs a good understanding of the basics or a camera that has a good auto mode. Beyond the basics, one or many of these tips will solve your blurry photos entirely or contribute little by little to make a big step forwards.

  1. Enable IS when hand-holding your camera and turn it off at the lens when using a tripod
  2. Use an appropriate shutter speed and stick to auto until you’re clued up enough to progress
  3. Find your lens’ sweet-spot and stick to it unless necessary
  4. Remember that UV filters, all filters, will impact image sharpness
  5. Shoot RAW and correct noise and sharpness in post edit
  6. Get to know ISO and, if possible, stick to ISO 1600 and below. The lower the better, or use Auto
  7. Nail your focus with Auto focus, avoid Live view on DSLR cameras if it’s doing a bad job focussing

Are you still struggling? Drop me a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

Picture of Matt Goddard

Matt Goddard

Matt is a professional landscape photographer and the sole content author here. Based in Sussex, he centres his work around his home county and surrounding South East England landscape. Matt has taught photography to over 150 students on a one to one and group basis since 2016. Visit Full Biog
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