Making sharper pictures starts in the field – proper field techniques for sharper pictures

I got a question on Facebook today asking me a great question so I thought I’d share it here:

Kristen, I’d like to know how you are getting such incredible detail in your shots please? Is that Photoshopped or is that your camera/lense? I mean it is an interesting effect…or do you just have an incredible camera??? The detail makes it look like a Norman Rockwell painting! I am noticing this in many of your photos, may I ask how you are obtaining that incredible detail/effectl? Are you willing to share your secret?

Thank you Christine for such compliments! To answer your question:

There are several practices that will help a photographer with tack sharp detail.

•The use of a good solid tripod makes a big difference.
—Though many people nowadays will argue that the ability to use high ISOs to gain fast shutter speeds eliminates the need for a tripod.
While in some situations that statement will hold water, to swear by it is like putting your camera in auto or program mode. It’s up to the photographer to figure out what it is that he or she wants and then use the tools to achieve the desired result.
In this situation, with fine edge detail in the snow, house siding, wood in the door, windows, etc I wanted detail! … and thank you, your compliment and question tells me that I achieved that! 🙂
So, back to the tripod … my chosen settings were
ISO: 100
Aperture: 11
Shutter: 1/50
Sure, I could hand hold the 1/50 of a second .. or I could bump the ISO to 200 or more and achieve a faster shutter speed. f/11 was just right for what I wanted to do here.
Back to the tripod … at 1/50 of a second you might not “think” you notice an immediate difference between a hand held shot and one that is carefully composed via tripod, albeit there is a difference. In those details that you notice is where you will very much see them!
Fine edges and detail will do much better with the aid of a tripod!

• The use of a remote shutter release and mirror lock up. I use both in landscape photography.
Locking up the mirror reduces the shake the camera experiences from the mirror slapping up and then down again when the photographer presses the shutter.
Then the remote release reduces the movement that can occur to the camera when the photographer presses the shutter.
Any movement contributes to the unsharp in pictures.

The use of a tripod and the remote shutter release are two huge contributors to help with producing sharp pictures in the field. These things are often foregone by photographers because they take extra effort. But I say take the time to make the extra effort. In no time the set up becomes as second nature as anything … and its then when you need to set up quickly for changing light situations that you’ll be able to utilize your system and do it effectively! But without the practice a photographer can only fumble when they need to be smooth.

Of course there are other factors that can contribute to unsharp pictures even when one is using the tripod and remote shutter release. Windy days still require a faster shutter speed, setting up a tripod on shaky ground, a flimsy tripod, etc … just check the conditions around you and keep in mind how everything might affect your pictures.

At the end, in the digital darkroom, proper sharpening effects should simply compliment your already sharp image. No technique can sharpen edges that aren’t already sharp. That’s a topic for another time .. but the main thing is getting it right from the start with proper and good sound field “etiquette”.

The equipment I’ve used for this image are:
Nikon D3X
Nikkor 85 mm PC f/2.8 tilt shift lens (I used shift to the right and left to create a proper panorama)
Gitzo 1227 Tripod
Vello remote shutter release
Really Right Stuff Ball Head PCL 1B