#23. "RE: How do I get sharper, in-focus pictures? Want to learn!" In response to In response to 0
Hi Bruce, I do not doubt that you will have received good advice from members having already posted to your questions, so I am purposefully going to supply some thoughts to your questions without reading their responses. On occasion it may seem I am overstating the obvious.
Hand-held shooting will always introduce the potential for soft or blurry images due to micro-movements, which of course, will be more pronounced with longer exposures due to smaller apertures. Your concern regarding the 'foot print' of tripods can be handled by buying a mono-pod, but even this has potential for induced micro-movement.
Hand-held shots can be helped to some degree with better holding techniques; ensure elbows are tucked in down by the body, take a deep breath, exhale a little and hold, and take the shot. If you can, find something to rest against. When you press the shutter, do not move until the camera has finished taking the shot. Many people move as soon as they press the shutter, and find that the shot is ruined, so slow down, take your time, be aware of your movements.
Here are some base settings that may help? Ensure white balance is set to 'auto'. In 'ISO Sensitivity Settings', ensure your camera's ISO is set to base level, for Nikon digital cameras it is ISO 200. Set your camera's 'maximum sensitivity' to either 800 or 1600. Set your camera's 'minimum shutter speed' to the focal length of the lens you are using: for instance, if you are using your 24-120mm lens, set your minimum shutter speed to the maximum focal length of your lens (or as close as you can set it), in this case it would be 1/125th, or if using your 70-300mm lens it would be 1/320th.
Use 'aperture priority' mode on your camera. In this mode you control the size of aperture, whilst your camera will set the according shutter speed. I would advise always shooting in 'RAW' format, as this retains the greater dynamic range for manipulation in post-processing. I would advise against using in-camera filters and effects, shoot in colour always, even if the end result is going to be a B&W image.
I currently use the D5000, and know that I should try to avoid using apertures smaller than f11, due to diffraction issues, which soften the image. I try not to use larger apertures beyond f5.6, but if I do, I am always mindful of the 'depth-of-field', so placement of the focus point becomes critical.
When shooting hand-held, have your lens set to auto-focus and its 'VR' set to 'on'; but when using a tripod, I would set the lens auto-focus off, and set the VR to 'off' as well, as the VR induces vibrations. If you have it, use a remote shutter release.
On the focussing side of things, obviously this is hyper-critical. It doesn't matter what camera one is using, if focus is not correct for the shot you are taking, then it will be ruined from the start, and no amount of post-processing will fix it.
If you are taking shots of static subjects, such as museum pieces, you probably don't need to be using small apertures, as the depth-of-field does not need to be too wide, so f4 or f5.6 will probably suffice, but it depends on what lens you are using?
Suppose you were taking a shot of a bust of some historical person set upon a pedestal, where would you focus using a large aperture? In such a situation it might help if you treat it as a portrait shot. Ensure the nearest eye of the subject is in sharp focus, and take a shot. Depending on the aperture you have used, depth-of-field may too much, or too inadequate, so take 2 more shots with the next larger and smaller aperture. Check the images on your camera's monitor, if they are showing signs of softness or blur, think about your holding technique, and what movements you are doing that induce camera shake, and try to eliminate them. Ensure your dioptre setting is right for your eyesight without wearing glasses, or use 'live view' on your camera's monitor (with glasses).
You have a really good camera in the D800, and I envy you, as I am wanting to acquire the D800E eventually. I hope my thoughts help you out. Best wishes.