Q&A: Are your images “Sharp enough” or “Sharp!”

Does it matter if all your images are tack sharp?  Well, that depends on what you want to do with your images.  Or who and how you plan on showing them to others?  For posting on the web and on social media… sharp enough is usually good enough.   Facebook, Instagram, and other social media formats shrink and compress the image files and the images don’t always look great even from a really sharp image… but a good quality image does help it stay looking good when the are done with it.   Also it is important to note, when editing a really sharp image that is properly exposed, over editing them is not always as apparent so the overall image looks much better also when done.

Below are two images taken within the same exact second with a 5D Mark 4, using a Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens using a 2x converter for a total of 600mm.  A 5D Mark 4 takes 6.6 to 7 frames per second, so that is not surprising.  And for a fast moving subject like birds in flight, depending on the angle, they can really challenge the auto focus systems of any camera and photographer, because it takes both to get a sharp image.  Technique being way more important more often than the camera for moving subjects, even with newer cameras are getting better all the time and lenses with image stabilization that recognize panning motions help as well, but good technique will increase your “keeper” image rate drastically.   You don’t need a $10,000 dollar camera to take great photographs of most subjects on a sunny day, but try a moving subject or even a subject sitting still in a snow storm.

Both of the images were 1/2000, ISO 1000, and f/7.1 at 600mm so the technique had to be spot on since the bird was coming at an angle off to my slight right so it was almost coming toward me.  The closer it passes, the faster it will appear to be moving, and the harder it is to keep the focal point on the eye of the subject and the depth of field was getting smaller.   The eagle was coming by for a relatively low close flyby, but thank goodness not too close, and I was handholding the camera, which I usually do when out shooting birds in flight, or birds period unless I’m in a blind type situation.   It was about 25 degrees out and sunny, so the air was clear and free of moisture that can add haze to bird in flight images and why the sky was so blue.   It was a two pair of gloves day with everything covered including my eyes with sunglasses.

The first thing I look at is the “catch light”, which can be in the birds eye or on other reflective parts of the bird.  You would be surprised how often, there is a catchlight on the claws or beak on bright sunny days.  Sometimes, the catch lights are on drops of water near the birds face, but in most cases if you have a small catchlight that doesn’t look like an over exposed blurry square, that is a great sign you have a really sharp well exposed image.

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Sharp eagle closeup!

Sharp enough for most…when not 3x regular size as it is below.

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Dull eagle close up… sort of

After that, Start looking at the feathers and the depth of field to make sure the image is clean.  The longer your lens and the larger your aperture the smaller your Depth of Field (DOF) relative to distance to your subject.  And for the bird you also have to pay attention to the Plane of Focus as well.   If you are using more than the single point of focus, your camera will focus on the closest point to the camera of your subject, like the tip of the wing.  If you have a shallow DOF, which you likely do shooting birds, then you may get a great photo of the wing closest to you and the body of the bird is out of focus.  For most photographers, it takes a lot of practice to keep a single point of focus on the head, eye or a centered focal point of the subject to keep your small moving subject.

When evaluating my images the uniqueness of the behavior gives some breathing room to allow for the images being less sharp.  But that is mostly for images posted to the web, large prints are not as forgiving.

Next, look for the lines around the edge of the head or subject center of focus, is it a really thin line enlarged, or a little wide… thin is good.  Below is the sharp image that the was focused very well .

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Sharp actual image

Below is the image that is sharp enough for the web or Facebook, but cropped a little closer to make it easier to see, it is not as clean as the image above but doesn’t look that bad.

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“Sharp enough” for web or small images

I take photos of what I want, when I want and post what I want all for me.  I use Facebook to look back at previous years to see where I went to take photos, and look back and see where I had fun.    I like taking photos of moving subjects, because of the many challenges associated with moving wildlife and sports.

My photographic journey is for me.   Most days I go out shooting for just for the practice and to be ready when the light, subject, and I are all in sync and can capture something cool.   And if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, you will know, I share shots from every weekend, when I go to a contest or just go for a walk.   I’ve met some great people and made some friends along the way, but in the end,  it comes down to is the image sharp enough for me?

Below are a few more quick edits, mostly eagle shots, from the same morning Jan, 8th in Green Pond, S.C. as we were thawing out from a really odd long cold spell for the area.  I had hoped that the freeze would make all the birds hungry and the fish slow, and I got lucky.  I took over three thousand photos that morning.  I could clean them up, likely a lot, but they are sharp enough from me.   Even after taking photos for over 30 years,  my best photos to me are the ones I will take next time!

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Egret toe drag, was one of the shots I was trying to get that morning because the water was so smooth!
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The ice broke up my of the eagle reflection on this dive, but I was not too broken up about it.
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Again, the ice broke up the reflection and the egret was just glad he was not the fish.
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Snatch and grab.  I had slowed down the shutter to 1/800 of a sec to help show some wing tip motion and it worked out great on the splash of the fish.


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Eagle going for the fish in the ice.   I missed the next shot, I was so close, and they duck their head and lower their wings when they hit the water unlike osprey that go right in, so I missed a few shots at this angle, but I know for next time now.

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