13 Unlucky Reasons Why You Get Blurry Photos

13 Unlucky Reasons Why You Get Blurry Photos

Here are 13 essential things to know about why your photos are not sharp and what you can do about it. Included are some that are often overlooked.

1. Standing Incorrectly When Taking Photos Causes Camera Shake

Although I have never been interested in boxing, I used to tell clients to stand like Mohammed Ali when taking photos. Even I knew how he stood in the ring. But then a client asked me, "Who?" That made me feel old.

Most people face forward when they use their cameras. But this is an inherently unstable position.

Consider standing inside a moving train, you intuitively know it is far steadier if you turn diagonally on to the direction of travel. When you face forward your body will rock back and forth at the ankles and even changes in the vehicle's velocity will make you fall.

Standing facing forward is not ideal because it is unstable.

But standing diagonally, your legs form an isosceles triangle with the ground that is in line with the acceleration and braking of the vehicle, and with the sideways forces that occur when the vehicle turns. A triangle is a strong, stable shape. So, stand with your feet apart so what you intend to photograph is diagonal in front of you. Move your front foot forward so you are pointing your hip bone toward the subject.

Unlocking your knees will also help. If you think of the opening stance used in any martial art, invariably the knees are unlocked because of the shock absorber effect of the leg muscles that help stop you from swaying.

Standing with at least one knee unlocked increases stability.

There are other things you can do to improve your stability when standing.

People will often talk about resting a camera on something sturdy like a fence post or a wall to gain stability. But resting your body against something will also help you keep the camera steady.

2. Not Sitting or Crouching Down When It Would Improve Your Photos

By sitting, we are also aiding stability by taking the leg and foot joints out of the system and lowering our center of gravity. Moreover, we are putting the camera in a less-than-ordinary position that can make the shot more interesting. Shooting from a lower height gives a more intimate and personal feel to an image, and it also brings the foreground closer to the lens. The horizon becomes closer too, and the angles of converging horizontal lines become more obtuse.

Lying on the ground is even more stable.

Shooting from low down increases stability and gives a completely different view of the world.

3. Why Failing to Relax When Taking Photos Is Problematic

Another common mistake we make is getting tense when about to release the shutter. If your muscles are tight, they may twitch or shake. This is especially so if you suffer from stress or anxiety, but it happens to anybody. Try holding a heavy weight out in front of you for any period of time, and you will see that movement. With a relaxed posture, your movements will be less prone to shaking and will be slower and smoother.

Also, don’t hold the camera too tight in your hands either. Your grip should be just firm enough so you don’t drop it. An attachment like the Peak Design Micro Clutch can help.

4. Breathing In and Holding It Before Releasing the Shutter Causes Blur

Related to not relaxing is breathing in and holding your breath. That puts your diaphragm and chest muscles under tension. Again, that can lead to uncontrolled movements. Instead, try taking a few deep breaths before shooting. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is a common relaxation exercise that will help. Pressing the shutter release button just after the exhalation is when your body is most relaxed.

Being relaxed and having a firm but not too tight a grip on the camera decreases camera shake.

5. Jabbing the Shutter Button Moves Your Camera

I’ve had a few people come to me to get to the bottom of why their photos have been unsharp. On close inspection, it’s evident that the issue is camera movement. When I check how they take the photo, they are jabbing at the shutter button and not gently squeezing it. Consequently, the camera moves as they are taking the shot, and that movement becomes apparent in their photos. By carefully depressing the button, you minimize the risk of camera movement.

6. Using the Live View Screen and Not the Viewfinder Leads to Failure

I see a lot of photographers holding their cameras out in front of them and looking at the live view screen as they would when using their smartphones. Again, this is unstable, and it makes it difficult to frame the shot. Holding the camera’s viewfinder up to your eye and tucking the elbows in creates a stable triangle on both sides between your top and lower arms and the camera.

Furthermore, in bright daylight, the live view screen is difficult to see, whereas holding the viewfinder to your eye allows for a close examination of the scene. Nevertheless, live view is useful, especially when working on a tripod. But whenever you can, use the viewfinder.

Use the viewfinder when you are handholding the camera.

7. Poor Quality Tripods Can Cause Issues

A good-quality tripod is one of those things that makes a surprising difference to your photography.

A long time ago, I used a cheap, aluminum tripod. It had an extending center column that would wind up by means of a crank handle and the legs had struts that added stability but prevented the legs from opening wide so I could not get those low-angle shots I love.

I thought it was okay, until one windy day, it toppled. Luckily, I was able to dive and catch it before my camera and lens crashed to the ground.

It was about that time my wife spotted a tripod in a charity shop window. She phoned me and asked me if Manfrotto was a good brand. I said it was, and she came home with an old but very sturdy metal tripod that allowed the legs to open to their full width. Furthermore, it was possible to remove the center column, so I could get the camera very close to the ground. There would be no issues with it blowing over in the wind.

It was relatively heavy, but not too much so that I wouldn’t use it. But, as time passed, my needs changed. My shooting style is to now travel as lightly as possible. So, I subsequently bought a great little Benro travel tripod that I could carry on my bike. Then, after borrowing a Benro Tortoise tripod for writing an Fstoppers review, I was blown away by the quality, functionality, and ease of use. Consequently, I bought it.

There is an old saying that with tripods you must choose between any two of three factors: stability, weight, and price. I found that to be generally true, and it’s much easier for me to get better images by spending more on a good-quality tripod.

One of the images I took when testing the Benro Tortoise tripod.

8 Using the Lens Hood in a Strong Wind Causes Flagging

The lens hood is a fantastic addition to a lens, but it can catch the wind and move the camera. This is known as flagging and is particularly problematic with long lenses mounted on tripods. I’ve seen a poorly designed lens hood on a client’s camera vibrating enough to audibly buzz in a strong wind.

Removing the hood is the obvious solution. Of course, it means there is more chance of direct sunlight falling onto the objective lens, which the hood is meant to prevent. Moreover, you’ve lost the physical protection of the hood if the camera falls, although that is not what hoods are designed for.

9. Lens Image Stabilization and Tripod Don't Like Each Other

Image stabilization is something that catches people out all the time. Image stabilization works against the unmoving tripod and can cause blurry images. Admittedly, although the manual for my camera says to do it, I have never had to turn off the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) on my Olympus/OM System cameras because the auto setting detects that the camera is still and stops it from working. However, I have had dozens of clients with other system cameras who have faced that issue and ended up with blurry images.

I usually leave the camera's in-body image stabilization on because it switches off automatically. However, it also helps if there are slight movements on the tripod, like shifting sand, water moving around the tripod legs, or wind blowing it.

10. Moving Near Your Tripod During a Long Exposure Can Upset Your Camera

I am regularly wading into the sea with my tripod to get photos. However, while shooting, the movement of the sand can move the entire rig during an exposure. But, even above the strandline, the sand can move if you do, resulting in unintentional camera movement and a blurred image. Stand still!

Using a remote trigger is useful for long-exposure photography using a tripod, especially when shooting on an unstable surface like sand. The action of pressing the shutter can be enough to cause the camera to move.

I have an app that connects to the camera wirelessly and displays the live view scene on my phone or tablet. I can then remotely change the exposure settings to trigger the shutter without touching the camera. I also invariably have the camera switched to silent mode, thus eliminating any mechanical movement too.

With a 268-second exposure like this, it is essential to eliminate all camera movement. So, I shot it in silent mode, using my smartphone app to trigger the shutter.

Many cameras have a socket for attaching a wired trigger, whereas some use an infrared (IR) detector. However, the IR detector is often at the front of the camera, which isn’t necessarily where you want to be standing to take the shot. If you have no remote-triggering options, then the self-timer is another way to release the shutter without touching the camera.

Standing still on the sand next to your tripod is essential, especially for long exposures. I sometimes push the tripod into the ground, and mine is supplies with spikes for doing that.

11. Using the Wrong Autofocus Method and Your Subject

Single Autofocus (S-AF or AF-S on most cameras) locks the focus on an unmoving subject when you half-press the shutter button and is great for still subjects. Meanwhile, continuous autofocus (C-AF or AF-C) changes the focusing when as the subject moves closer and farther away. It’s great for moving subjects. However, if you try to use continuous autofocus on a still subject, the lens will hunt and you will end up with imprecise focusing. Switching between the two modes is essential.

Some makes have a hybrid mode that automatically switches between the two modes. It isn’t perfect, and the miss rate is far higher than selecting the correct mode for the subject.

If those terms are unfamiliar to you, you probably are using a Canon and will have to learn its weird nomenclature. It calls S-AF “One-Shot”, a term that would be better suited to single-frame shooting. Meanwhile, C-AF is “AI Servo”, which describes its design, not its function.

I would usually go for single autofocus for seascapes. However, this was shot nearly two hours before sunrise in March and it was darker than this photo suggests. So, I used manual focus using the distance scale on the lens to select the hyperfocal distance.

12. Incorrect Shutter Speed and Aperture Adjustments Are Key to Bad Photos

A lot of unsharp images are caused by having too slow a shutter. It’s worth practicing and finding out how slow a shutter you can hold your camera with different focal lengths. The rule of thumb used to be the reciprocal of the focal length was the slowest shutter speed you could handhold a 35mm SLR. For example, you would need 1/50th second to handhold a 50mm lens. However, things have changed. Crop sensors should mean that you would need a faster shutter, but this is more than outweighed by image stabilization; I’ve handheld a 45mm lens on an OM System Micro Four Thirds camera for more than a second and come away with a sharp image.

There are some occasions like this when I use f/22, but usually, I avoid it.

Similarly, there is a temptation to shoot with the aperture wide open, especially if you own a fast lens. However, this can result in too little of the subject being in focus. Likewise, having too small an aperture will cause the light that bends around the edges of the iris blades to be accentuated. This is known as diffraction.

13. Poor Filters Mean Soft Images

I have tried lots of different filters over the years and you should get what you pay for. However, I have found even some expensive filters significantly degrade the image. This includes UV filters that many photographers use to add some protection to the lens' front element. One I have found that has no discernable detrimental effect is the Urth (Plus+) filter, which is also both environmentally friendly and affordable.

Have Blurred Photos Ever Happened to You?

Do you use any of those methods above to help avoid blurry images? Are there other causes of blur that I haven't mentioned here that have affected your photos. Do you have other tricks up your sleeve that are worth sharing with our readers? It would be great to hear your comments below.

Ivor Rackham's picture

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

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I'm glad you enjoyed the article, John.

I think a lot of writers mention the cameras they use, as I do. That's because we write about what we know. It's possible that when I mention the OM System it stands out because it's different from the brands the majority of articles here and many other sites show. Unlike you, I always found it refreshing to read about other brands other than Canikony which dominate most magazine and online articles.

I was including it in my articles long before I was given the ambassadorship because it is what I am most familiar with the OM System. If I were, for example, a Fujifilm user, I would write about that instead.

There's another reason I mention it and it isn't a sales pitch. For OM System users who read the article, the information would be useful; I have a following of OM System users.

Also, I don't know if whichever camera you use switches the IBIS off when you use a tripod. So it would be an omission not to clarify the point. I would not generalize that sort of point because, for example, another brand's users might start switching the IBIS on when using a tripod and it doesn't necessarily work in the same way. It's about pointing out what might be different, not what is best.

I also mention other good brands in my articles, including in this: Peak Design, Benro, Urth, and Canon, but I avoided mentioning the low-quality tripod's make.

I hope that explains why. Sorry if it annoys you. I guess I cannot please every one of the thousands of readers.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

A much talked about topic brought to life by Mr Rackham. Thank you.


I've just experienced another problem like this (again). I took my camera from an air-conditioned room outside into the hot and humid front yard to take a quick photo of a group of waiting friends. Lens immediately fogged up and made me wait.

Yes, that's a very good point and potentially problematic if your camera isn't weather-sealed as the condensation will form on the cold metal parts and electronic circuitry inside your camera. I've often mentioned it when people come in from the cold of winter into a warm, humid house, but you are right, the issue is the same in the reverse direction. Placing the camera in a sealed plastic bag and allowing it to acclimatize to the different environment is a good idea. Adding a silica gel sachet to the bag will also help.