Why are my Smartphone Photos not Sharp? Clear Solutions from a Pro
Imagine spending three hours on the beach to get the best sunset picture imaginable, and they turn out unsharp or blurry. You must be disappointed. It happened to me in my early days as a photographer.
You don’t want to miss other once-in-a-lifetime shots because you can’t get a crystal clear picture. But, even if you have the best smartphone on the market, you still need to make sure you choose the right gear and settings to create super-sharp photographs.
I will help you create tag-sharp images with your phone in this guide. Let’s dive in.
The gear I used for writing this blog can be found on my favorite gear page.
Why are your phone photos not sharp but blurry?
There are three main reasons why your smartphone images are blurry. You don’t use the proper equipment, the environment or weather are working against you, and you do not have adequate knowledge yet. So let’s see how you can solve unsharp pictures.
Using a cheap camera phone
Although you won’t need a flagship smartphone to create sharp images, not all mobile phones will make the same results. So I asked other smartphone photographers what they think is essential in buying a smartphone for photography and added over 30 hours of research to develop a buyer’s guide. You can find the free downloadable sheet in this blog post.
Not using a tripod and remote shutter
You won’t get tag-sharp pictures when you take images with your phone without using a tripod and remote shutter. However, you can prevent this by using one of my favorite tripods and a remote shutter that can pair with your device.
Forgetting to clean the lens with a microfiber cloth
The lens or lenses from a smartphone camera tend to get dirty pretty quickly. Grease, moisture, sand, and other dirt will harm the sharpness of your images. However, you can use a cheap microfiber cloth to clean the lenses before taking pictures. I have been using these cloths from Amazon for years. You can put them in the washing machine.
No manual mode is available
You will need a manual mode to adjust shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and manual focus to take the best possible images. It would be best to have a manual mode with RAW options. Your smartphone needs to be camera2api ready to use manual mode. You can download one from the AppStore if it does not come with a manual mode in your native camera app.
Not enough knowledge
Don’t crop your image on your phone. Instead, shoot in RAW format for maximum flexibility in post-processing and make crops on your computer. Try to take full-frame shots as much as possible. This way, you won’t have to compromise with cropping.
Using digital zoom
Digital zoom is nothing more than a crop of the image your phone takes. It is best to zoom with your feet and do the cropping afterward in post-processing. Some smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, have optical zoom, which you can use!
The shutter speed is too slow
You will need a faster shutter speed if you want to freeze a shot and not show any motion. You will need a slower or faster shutter speed depending on the amount of light in a scene and the ISO you use. Try different settings to see what works for you.
➽If you would like to know more about basic photography skills like choosing shutter speed, read this blog post.
ISO is too high
The higher the ISO value, the more noise you will find in your images. Use the minimum shutter speed that’s fast enough to freeze action. You can use this while shooting marathon runners, flying eagles, or streaming rivers. When an ISO of 400 is enough to get well-exposed images, don’t use ISO 800 or more. Stick to the lowest number possible. It is a matter of trying and checking on your laptop or computer and seeing which ISO gives the best result in the case of sharpness.
➽If you want to know more about basic photography skills, like choosing ISO, read this blog post.
Images are underexposed
You can’t fix underexposed images in Lightroom or Photoshop. The darker parts lack detail when underexposed. When bringing up the brightness in post-processing, the shadowy areas will have more noise and less sharpness. So instead of aiming for the most accurate exposure, it would be best to expose to wildlife, bird, and landscape photography.
Exposure to the right or ETTR means you expose a scene as bright as possible without blowing out the highlights and losing all light and color data from those areas. The histogram looks like this:
When roads warm up from the sun, and the temperature differs from the surrounding heat, you will see a haze. It will affect the sharpness of your images. You can minimize this effect by shooting during dusk and dawn when the sun is not up yet or taking many photos and hoping that one comes out sharp.
Rain and wind
Rain and wind can make for stunning images, but you must clean your smartphone lenses regularly; otherwise, you will get unsharp pictures. Buy a pack of these very reliable microfiber cloths I use and keep cleaning.
Too far from the subject
Make sure you get as close to the subject as possible so you won’t have to crop the image. Please be careful while shooting wildlife; it might be sensible to keep your distance.
How to define a super sharp phone photo?
When you zoom in on your photo at 200%, the point of focus should be sharp with all details there. This should be the eyes in a human or animal portrait. In a macro image of a flower, the point of focus might be the stamp, or in a landscape image, the entire photo.
I still take unsharp smartphone images
There could be other factors that make for unsharp images. I covered them in these blog posts:
My smartphone camera doesn’t focus—a quick fix.
How to clean your smartphone camera lens for super sharp photos
My smartphone camera is not working. A clear list of solutions