In a previous post, I explained a quick way you can get sharper photos by adjusting the “picture style” on your DSLR (if you’re shooting in JPEG). Well, another small way you can make your closeup photos appear sharper is by photographing your subject in front of a contrasting background.
The photo above is a good example. The dragonfly is pretty bright, but the background is much darker. This strong contrast of brightness helps emphasize the edges, making the outline of the dragonfly appear much sharper.
This is actually how most sharpening algorithms work in post-processing software: by increasing the contrast of brightness between edges it makes those edges stand out more and appear sharper. That’s why oversharpened images have those ugly halos.
Of course, you won’t always be able to do this, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re photographing more common or controllable subjects (like plants or common insects), where you’ll probably find a lot of different backgrounds available.
But, remember: the sharpest photo isn’t always the best photo. Your creative vision always comes first!
P.S. You may remember me talking about the dragonfly pictured above in a previous post.. Last year I tried to get a shot of a female Variegated Meadowhawk, but failed because of a poor background. I had better luck this year though 🙂
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.