Tips for Sharper Images: Part 1

The following post is by Andrea Thomas of Speechless Photography

Tips for Sharper Images: Part 1

Recently I received a great question from Rebecca regarding her Canon 5D Mark II. Rebecca says, “I have a Canon 5D MKII which I have owned for about a year and a half now.  I have always had difficulty getting sharp images with it, even though I own several L lenses.  I have read on a couple of photography forums that there are issues with this camera regarding sharpness and am wondering if that’s true?

There are a number of tips that I can give you to help you get sharper images with the Canon 5D Mark II (which I’ll refer to as just the 5D for the rest of this post) or any other brand and model of camera. In fact, since there are so many tips, I’m going to be breaking them down over a couple of blog posts. This will give you time to make these changes and gradually see an increase in the number of sharp images you are able capture, without overwhelming you with a ton of information at once.

So, let me start with information that is specific to the 5D. Sadly, the rumors are (somewhat) true. The auto-focus on the 5D will sometimes struggle when the shooting conditions aren’t ideal. However, the huge number of pro photographers using this camera and getting great results should convince us that there is hope for those of us determined to make this camera work. Obviously, Canon knew there was room for improvement and majorly stepped up the focusing system on the new 5D Mark III. I’ve read some really positive reviews on the Mark III from photographers who had previously been disappointed by the Mark II. However, I know an upgrade is not in the budget for me right now (or anytime in the near future) so I’m back to making the most of the camera I have.

My biggest 5D specific tip is to use the center focus point whenever possible, especially when the shooting conditions are challenging (low light, low contrast, backlit or reflective subjects). This is the only cross-type point of the 9 total focus points on this camera. What this means is that the center focus point will pick up both vertical and horizontal lines of contrast in your photo. The remaining 8 focus points are each either vertical or horizontal, but not both, and will only pick up perpendicular lines of contrast.

Locking focus using the center focal point

Here I locked the focus using the center focal point

Recompose after locking focus

Then I shifted the camera slightly to get the composition that I wanted (without refocusing).

In order to use the center focus point, you will need to manually select it, instead of letting the camera automatically choose what focus point(s) to use. This tip applies to all cameras, don’t let the camera automatically choose your focal point. The camera doesn’t know what part of the photo you want to be in focus, it just picks whatever part is the closest to the camera outside the minimum focusing distance. If you want that one flower in the background to be in focus instead of all the grass and other stuff in front of it, manually select a focal point and make sure you are placing it over the flower before locking your focus.

Here’s a video showing you how to change your focal points on the 5D:

Using the center focus point means you will also need to focus and then recompose your shot. However, there are some times that you will find that focusing and recomposing will actually cause your subject to be out of focus because recomposing may change the plane of focus enough that your subject in no longer in it. You will find this is primarily only a problem when shooting at very wide apertures (small f numbers) or when you are close to you subject, such as in newborn photography.

Locked focus using the center point

Again, I locked focus using the center point

Recomposing fail

Then I shifted the camera to get the composition I wanted, but this time you can see that my subject is now out of focus.

If you notice this happening, you will need to change to whatever focus point is the closest to the area that you want to be in focus. Since you’ll be using one of the “weaker” focus points, I recommend taking a moment to zoom in on the camera and make sure your subject is in focus. If you’re shooting in one of those challenging situations I mentioned and you find that the outer focus points just aren’t able to grab focus, then you might be forced to use the center point instead. This will mean that you will either need to back away from your subject or narrow your aperture (larger f number) so that you have a larger amount of the photo in focus.

Lock Focus Using Outer Point

This time, I toggled to the focal point closest to my subject, locked focus with the outer focal point and then shifted the camera slightly to get the composition I wanted. The red square shows the focal point that I used (but it was over the eye in the green glasses when I locked focus).

Are you overwhelmed yet? I hope not! Just remember to break it down and work on one change at a time. Take control of your focal points and get out there to put these tips into practice! Please let me know if you have any questions and don’t forget to come back and tell me if this information helped you out.

Part 2 in this series, with even more tips for getting sharper images, will be coming soon!

Note: All photos used as examples were taken with a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.6. Video was filmed using a Canon S100 Point & Shoot.


About Andrea Thomas

I'm Andrea. I'm a Canon-shooting mom to a little boy who runs from my camera and a baby girl born on Halloween. I'm also a wife to a husband who usually obliges me when I yell at him to pull over so I can take a picture! I love learning about photography and editing and am passionate about sharing what I've learned with others.


  1. Great post, Andrea!

  2. Thank you for explaining the complicated subject of focus, especially for Canons! It’s a meaty topic and I’m so glad this is here for those who need it.

  3. Nicely explained. I am playing with toggling my focal points more and more. Usually only with still life. 🙂

  4. This is great information! Thank you for sharing!!

  5. Thank you! Great post! I struggle getting sharp images and I’m always looking for ways to improve.

  6. Great tips!! I don’t have the 5D, but I think these tips would be helpful when using any DSLR camera! Thanks for sharing!

  7. I don’t have a 5D but found this very helpful. My major problem is with a brand new Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. It worked beautifully the first time I used it but next session with it….all sorts of problems getting it to focus at all. Any suggestions???

    • Hi Sue, if your 50mm lens isn’t focusing at all, then something may have been damaged. It might be a good idea to have it checked out at a local camera store or look into returning it for a new one.

  8. After spending several hours online at last We have located an individual that seriously does know what theyre preaching about appreciate it a whole lot fantastic posting.

  9. Meredith Guess says:

    Looking forward to the second part of this series!!! Hope it’s coming soon. 🙂 great post!

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