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Camera Troubleshooting: Why are My Photos Blurry? 5 Common Reasons Why

As a local camera store, we have plenty of customers who come in and ask us to recommend them a new camera as it is not producing 'sharp' images. Rather than selling a new camera, we always try to deduce what the problem might be. Here are a few common reasons why your photos might be blurry.

Out of focus photo of a man on a bench.
Looks like the focus point in this photo is in the field behind the subject

1. Your Diopter is off

A diopter is the small wheel next to your viewfinder, sometimes labeled with a ‘+’ and ‘-’, that allows you to adjust the power of what you are seeing. In normal circumstances, your diopter is adjusted for 20/20 vision.

When your diopter is off, what you see in your viewfinder will not be clear. If you manual focus your lenses, you will instantly notice that all of your photos will be out of focus despite the best of your abilities. If you are using automatic focus, you will notice that looking through the viewfinder that it will look blurry, but your photos will be in focus.

Diopters can be accidentally toggled, due to their location. Thankfully it is easy to adjust by simply turning the knob on the diopter until the letters (shutter speed/light meter, aperture indicators) in your viewfinder are clear.

Sony A6000 with an arrow indicating the diopter
Ever notice this tiny wheel? Turn the knob while looking in the viewfinder

Why is a diopter helpful? For those of you who wear glasses or use reading glasses, it may be easier to take a photo without your glasses on. If your vision is within the range of your diopter's adjustment power, you will be able to take crisp photos without needing to wear your glasses! All DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have diopters built in. Recent (late 80s - 90s) SLRs will have diopters attached as well.

2. You are in Manual Focus Mode

Nikon D7500 camera with colorings indicating the AF/MF switches
The Nikon D7500 has two different AF/MF switches on the exterior

Your focus mode can be changed on your lens and camera -- so it is no wonder that it can accidentally switch from AF (Auto Focus) to MF (manual focus). Shown above on the Nikon D7500, you can see that both the lens and the camera body have easily accessible AF/MF switches. Once one is switched to MF mode, the lens will only be able to focus manually -- which can throw many new users off.

When in Manual Focus mode, you will notice that your camera will not allow you to autofocus using your AF button or back button focus. Subjects at a certain distance away may be in focus, or the entire photo may be just barely out of focus (sample below).

A family portrait that is out of focus
Just barely out of focus! A photographer's worst nightmare

Double check that you are not in MF mode by turning your manual focus adjustment ring on your lens. If you are noticing a change in how focused your images are, that may be the culprit! Simply switch back into AF mode and see if that helps!

3. Your Shutter Speed is too Slow

A out of focus and blurry photograph of a woman
Not all out of focus images are 'bad'! Try playing with a slower shutter speed

Motion blur is the most common 'blurring' that customers blame on their gear. As common as this is, the solution is a little more complicated than simply switching a button on and off.

If your subject is in motion, shooting at 1/100th of a second or slower will show movement

The shutter speed guaranteed for ‘still’ images is 1/500th of a second (for moving subjects). When shooting with an SLR, DSLR or mirrorless camera, if you have the ability to shoot in shutter priority or manual mode, shoot at 1/500th of a second the ensure that your moving subject is halted. This may be possible for digital cameras more so than SLRs as your ISO is a factor you can be changed.

Oftentimes in low light situations, cameras will default to shooting at 1/60th of a second or slower (in auto mode), which will cause your images to blur if your subject (or you) move just a little. You have three options: shoot at a faster shutter speed and increase your ISO OR pop your flash and if the subject is still and you are still seeing motion blur in your images, be sure to use a tripod to negate any blur from your own movements.

4. Your AF is not Focusing on the Right Subject / You're Not in the Right Auto Focus Mode

The AF has focused in on the Shoe in the Foreground

Autofocus modes are only as 'smart' as their application. There are several types of Autofocus Modes that you'll have available to you (they may be called several different names across brands, but their function is the same). Each AF mode will have a different way of focusing your lens on the scene before you, prioritizing subjects in movement, subjects that are centered or event subjects that are closest to you.

AF-S (single), AF-C (continuous), Subject Tracking, Center Weighted.. etc. The list goes on and on! The majority of the time, cameras are set up so that the auto focus is center-weighted and will only start to autofocus upon pressing the autofocus/shutter button down half-way.

To ensure the your autofocus is set up correctly for what you need, be sure to look at the differences between the modes. For wildlife and sports photography (action), we recommend AF-C or Subject Tracking autofocus. For still portraits, center-weighted and AF-S are ideal as your subject is mostly still.

5. You are shooting in the Dark

Blurry photo of two people summiting mountain
Low light situations can prove difficult for auto focus

No matter how much money you spend on a camera, if there is little to no lighting in a situation, your camera's autofocus abilities will not have enough data to properly focus on what you see before you. You will notice that your lens will focus in and out several times and still not quite have a focused shot. To get around this, we highly recommend bringing more light into the situation (flash or handheld), or alternatively, manual focusing to guarantee a sharp photo.

Wrap Up

Thank you for reading this article! We hoped that it helped you narrow down what issues you might be having with your camera or lens. As a rule of thumb, remember there are two major blurring effects that you may encounter: Motion blur, due to a moving subject or a shutter speed that is insufficient and Focus blurring, caused by the lens or user not properly focusing on the intended subject.

If you find yourself needing more help, please visit our stores for an in-person visit! We offer in-store 1:1s for those who need more hands-on help. You can book online, in-person, or over-the-phone. Each class is completely customizable to your needs, and they are only $44.99 per hour!

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