NOT crisp!


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Mar 6, 2013
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I'm having a hard time lately!
I mainly take nature shots, so this consists of a lot of moving birds, ect. I see SO many of you guys have really sharp photos, and I don't know what I'm doing wrong!
I try different modes like metering, spot, ect... it doesn't matter. I up my ISO... doesn't matter. It's not about how "fast" I'm shooting, which is fast, it's still blurry. I can't zoom in and see much detail at all!
The only really sharp photos are of the animals that AREN'T moving. What am I doing wrong?

Oh, and I also use Aperture Priority mode, if that helps. With a Nikon D5100 55-300mm lens.

Thank you so much!! Here is an example:




PS, not amount of my editing can fix it.
Do you have a tripod?

If you're out at or around 300mm, your shutter speed probably needs to be something like 1/1000 to even have a chance with a moving subject like this, and honestly I have NEVER had much luck handholding at 300mm unless I can seriously brace myself.

Upping the ISO is good. Opening the aperture up may also be a good idea, this shot seems to have a lot of depth of field, so you may be stopped down quite far. Anyways, you need to be getting your ISO and aperture set up to give you Really Fast Shutter Speeds, especially without a tripod.

People normally get sharp photos like this with:

- a long lens at its best aperture (NOT wide open, NOR stopped down all the way)
- a heavy tripod
- a pan head that allows them to swivel to follow the bird in flight
- good panning technique -- shoot as the camera follows the bird to minimize the motion of the bird in the frame
- a lot of practice
- STILL a lot of missed shots
Is that photo cropped at all? If so, how much?
If your shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set accurately for something like birds in flight, and you're using spot metering, then my guesses are:

--You're missing focus. Are you using single point focus? If not, try that. Turn off all the fancy, schmancy 3D, active, dynamic focus options and just choose single point. Then try to focus as close to the eye as possible--obviously, the thing's moving, so you'll miss sometimes (okay, a lot, especially at first) but that's where you're aiming.

--You're shooting from too far away. There's only so much you can do with that lens. The 55-300 is not the sharpest lens out there--it's not a BAD lens by any stretch, but it's not an ideal lens for things like bird in flight photos. The closer you can get to your subjects, the better chance you'll have at sharper pictures.

EDIT: I should say, it really LOOKS to me like your settings may NOT be ideal for birds in flight AND like you're trying to shoot things that are just too far away for that lens. I concur with others that seeing your EXIF data would be really helpful.
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What is your shutter speed?

The way that motion is captured in a photo (blurry or sharp) has to do with the shutter speed. The faster (shorter) the shutter speed, the sharper your photo can be. If it's blurry, it may be a result of a moving subject, but it may also be a result of a moving camera (anytime the camera is in your hands, it's considered to be moving).
So if you're not getting sharp photos, the most likely problem is that you need a faster shutter speed.

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just making your shutter speed faster...because if you do that, the image would get darker (less exposure)...unless you (or the camera in auto) compensates by letting in more exposure with another setting (aperture or ISO).

One of the limitations of your lens, is that the maximum aperture (lowest F number) when at 300mm, is F5.6. So make sure that is what you're using. But understand that a 'better' lens would have a larger maximum aperture, which would let in more light, allowing for a faster shutter speed. So for example, something like a 300mm F2.8 lens. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens 2186 B&H Photo (note the $5800 price tag).

The other option available to you, is raising the ISO. This will give you more exposure (thus allowing for a faster shutter speed), but the trade off is that higher ISO will give you more digital noise.

Lastly, you need to understand that your lens, isn't one of the best ones. It was designed to be small, light and affordable, and thus there are compromises that adversely affect the image quality. It's most likely at it's worst when uses at F5.6 and 300mm....which is precisely where you want to be using it for something like this.

So when you see a really good wildlife photo, it's likely taken with a really good quality lens...and it would be very hard or impossible to get the same shot with a much cheaper lens.
do you have a copy of the original image you can upload? And the EXIF data as well?

A few guesses off the top of my head (without seeing any actual info)
Too slow of shutter speed
Not in focus
Lens needs AF Tuned (If available on your camera)
Cropped in too much

If its the shutter speed, you either need to switch to Manual or at least shutter priority. I would say you would need 1/500th at least to freeze the birds motion, I would try for more along 1/1000th personally.
Also, were you panning with the bird or standing still and snapped it once it got into the frame?
I can get sharp in focus at 1/50th of a second for drifting and drag racing.

Post the EXIF data and an original image and I'm sure you will get some help!
Posting images with Exif data intact allows us to see how you took the shot... and give advice based on that. If you don't include the Exif data, please at least type up a brief summary of how you shot it, what equipment was used, etc...
Thank you so much everyone! I cropped, but just so you guys could focus on the pelican! Here is the EXIF data for the ORIGINAL photo:

Exposure Time
1/800 (0.00125 sec)
Lens ID
Unknown (AC 38 53 8E 34 3C AE 0E)
Lens Spec
55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR
Focal Length
300.0 mm
No Flash
File Size
4.0 MB
File Type
Image Width
Image Height
Encoding Process
Baseline DCT, Huffman coding
Bits Per Sample
Color Components
X Resolution
Y Resolution
YCbCr Sub Sampling
YCbCr4:2:2 (2 1)
YCbCr Positioning
Exposure Program
Aperture-priority AE
Date and Time (Original)
2013:05:28 20:25:14
Max Aperture Value
Metering Mode
Center-weighted average
Light Source
Color Space
Sensing Method
One-chip color area
Custom Rendered
Exposure Mode
White Balance
Digital Zoom Ratio
Focal Length In 35 mm Format
450 mm
Scene Capture Type
Gain Control
Low gain up
Subject Distance Range
F Number
Exposure Compensation
Focus Mode
Flash Mode
Did Not Fire
ISO Setting
JPEG (old-style)
Horizontal (normal)
So, I'm hearing that maybe I should use shutter priority? Because I wasn't controlling as much in Aperture Priority mode. D:
Also, I tried single point focus too. No luck!
So, I'm hearing that maybe I should use shutter priority? Because I wasn't controlling as much in Aperture Priority mode. D:

You had plenty of shutter speed. 1/800 second is fine. However it doesn't appear that you were panning with the bird. When something is moving you HAVE to pan with it or you will always get some amount of motion blur. How much is going to depend on the shutter speed, it may be so minor as to not be noticeable, but if the camera is still and the subject is moving then it is going to change position while the shutter is open. That causes the subject to be blurred. Panning with the subject, or keeping the subject in the same part of the viewfinder, eliminates that problem. It also allows the background to blur more imparting a sense of movement.

With some practice you can learn to pan with the subject using a very slow shutter speed yet still get good, sharp photographs.
Looks like missed focus to me.. since even the water is not sharp. It doesn't look like you were panning. At that distance, 1/800 should be plenty fast to stop the bird and the water...
Scott is correct, sometimes just having a high shutter speed isn't enough with moving objects and you need to pan your camera along with the object. This is common with subject like flying birds, cars and taking pictures while you are on a moving object.
Why are you at exposure + 2/3? It looks plenty exposed, and I don't think you need that. This would give you back 2/3 of a stop more speed.

Was it really dark out when you took these? ISO 800, 1/1800th of a second and f/5.6 is 3 whole stops more light than the sunny 16 rule would suggest on a sunny day (and you're not shooting anything very white or black). Even when you add back your exposure compensation, that's 2.3 stops higher. If it was cloudy or something (I don't see any shadows on the water, but they may have been cropped), then try shooting on a nice bright sunny day, which might give you even more speed.

Add both of those together and you could easily be shooting at 1/4000th of a second instead of 1/800th, which may be enough to stop the blur.

Also, are you panning your camera to track the bird? it doesn't matter if you're shooting at 1/1000th of a second or more, panning your camera so that the subject stays in the middle of the viewfinder as you shoot will make it slow down relative to your shot and make it easier to get crisp images. Takes practice.

Finally, if your lens doesn't have VR, then that will make you more prone to blur. VR won't help much with horizontal movement of a subject, but it would help you to pan better in horizontal stabilization mdoe, which eliminates some of your vertical hand shake while panning.

edit: oh also I read in a couple places about people who mounted red dot rifle scopes on their hot shoes lines up with the center of their viewfinder, to allow them to get the bird in frame in less than a second once noticed. Gives you more time for focusing and more chances to shoot. I don't know if this really helps or not, but it was interesting.

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