Every photographer is always on a quest for sharper photos, but many only have a vague idea of how to actually create sharper images. The obvious is fairly well known such as high shutter speeds, closed down aperture, keeping ISO low, etc. There are also quite a few other minor techniques that can make a huge difference and are often ignored.
1. Don't Focus Then Recompose
The temptation is always present, especially when what you really want to focus on is in part of the frame that doesn't have any focus points. It's so easy to place the frame so that the focus can easily be achieved then recompose the shot to what you want before hitting the shutter. Unfortunately, this bad habit is also working against you when it comes to achieving critical sharpness, especially when working with a narrow depth of field or with a longer lens. Instead, always compose your frame so that your focus point can stay right on the subject until after the shot is taken. To learn more about why you should not focus and recompose check out this great article.
2. Shoot to Crop Later
It is no secret that most lenses perform best in the center of the frame, which is a problem since the rules of composition often mean keeping your subject away from the center of the frame. I may get some heat for this one, but I would suggest if you are after the absolute sharpest photos take a few steps back to wider the frame and snap the photo with your subject in the dead center. Then, in post, crop to the desire framing.
3. Toss Your UV Filter Out the Window
For decades there has been a myth going around suggesting that UV filters actually are important for keeping your lens protected. There is also a myth that they have no impact on image quality. Both are lies. Even the highest quality UV lens requires light to pass through it in order to reach the lens which ensures there is some loss in detail. If you don't believe me, throw your lens on a tripod and shoot a shot with a UV and without while leaving everything else the same, the file size of the non-UV will be larger because it has recorded slightly more data.
4. Refocus Frequently
There are certainly many merits to back-button focusing, but one major downside I've encountered is that some photographers will back-button focus then keep that focus locked for the next 20 or 30 shots without refocusing. Unless the camera and subject are stationary this will almost always lead to quite a few soft shots. Refocus constantly to ensure that you are always at critical focus.
5. Shoot in Bursts
When pressing the shutter release the pressure from your forefinger will actually create subtle camera movement, especially when shooting handheld. If you set your camera to shoot in short bursts of three or four images, the first photo may suffer from this movement but by the time the second or third shots are firing your finger will no longer be in motion.
6. Hold Your Camera Steady
While holding your camera with one hand and balancing a reflector in the other in some sort of strange battle stance may look impressive, it is a recipe for poor image quality. No matter how stable you think you are, a solid posture can always lead to an improvement in sharpness. I love to lean against walls when I can or even bring a stool or chair onto the set to sit in rather than trying to awkwardly squad. In a pinch you can also adopt a less conventional but more stable stance such as Joe McNally's grip (see video above).
Sharp images don't always require taking out a mortgage to buy the best lenses, tripods, and cameras. Rather, the choices made by the photographer while capturing the image are always the strongest factor when determining the sharpness of the image. If you find that your photos are often a bit soft, adapt your technique before pulling out the credit card, you might be surprised how big of a difference it can make.