The shots above look blurry to me. I looked on flickr for similar shots of the same cityscapes(seattle) and those looked blurry to me too.

For both shots I manually focused in live view and everything looked really good before the shot. Also, using a tripod on concrete.

Canon T3i, Shutter 30 sec, FStop 6.3, Lens Canon efs 18-200, Stabilizer ON, Shooting with 10 sec delay ISO 100

Will the lights on the buildings ever be really crisp, they look like little blobs when viewed in full size, or is a little blur par for the course?

Is it possible that Im getting slight movement from somewhere? Vibrations? Wind? Camera Strap?


Given the advice, I went back and took this


Canon T3i, Shutter 25 sec, FStop 14, Lens Canon efs 18-200, Stabilizer OFF, Shooting with 10 sec delay ISO 100

Much better. I think the difference was the F-Stop, but I cannot rule out wind, because tonight there was none and the other pic was shot when there was wind.

Not sure which answer to mark as the answer. Everyone had the answer. Thanks for all the advice.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! A thought out question, with full size example images, what you have tried already, and EXIF info provided! Here's an upvote kind sir! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 1:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Was the second image captured on a bridge? Could the bridge be vibrating at all due to traffic or something else? \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 1:56

3 Answers 3



Very often when shooting in dark environments with a few very bright lights, such as cityscapes at night, the brightest lights tend to be grossly overexposed. The way digital sensors work regarding how color for each pixel is interpolated from the monochromatic luminance values the sensor outputs for each pixel filtered either for red, green, or blue light means totally saturated areas tend to bleed into the darker pixels around them. Use manual exposure and reduce the exposure value to prevent blowing the highlights.

Lens Performance

To get the most out of your lens, shoot at the aperture that is sharpest. This will vary from lens to lens, but almost every lens is softest at the widest aperture. Many lenses "peak" in terms of sharpness somewhere between f/8 to f/11. Shooting at the narrower aperture (higher f-number) of the sweet spot range will also help by increasing the depth of field. If you are using a zoom lens, shoot in the focal length range at which that lens is sharpest. It can vary quite a bit from lens to lens, but in general the longest and widest focal lengths are the weakest and the focal lengths mid-way between wide and long are usually the best. There are many exceptions, however, so find a good profile for your lens! Just keep in mind that depth of field is somewhat of an illusion: only a single distance can truly be in focus. Things that appear sharp and in focus when viewing a photo displayed at 8x10 from a distance of one foot may not be as sharp when zoomed in to 100% (1:1) on your computer monitor. With a 23" HD monitor (1920x1080), doing that is the equivalent of displaying a 22MP image at 60x40 inches!

You must also accurately focus to take advantage of your lens' ability in terms of absolute sharpness. This probably means manually focusing using the magnified Live View feature if your camera has it.

Camera Stability

And finally, it should almost go without saying that your camera should be mounted on something that is rock solid and won't be affected by environmental conditions. Even a good tripod is no match for strong winds (a rare few exceptional ones are). And of course release the shutter without touching the camera via either a wired release cord, a wireless remote, or using the camera's self-timer. For the ultimate in reducing vibrations that cause blur, use mirror lockup with a wired release.

Regarding the photos you included in your question:

The first appears to suffer from overexposed highlights and the focus is fixed on the water nearer to the camera in the foreground instead of the skyline in the background.

The second appears to be a victim of the same two problems with some camera shake/vibration thrown in as well.


The first looks like the city lights are blown out a bit, so you get halos from the lights. You can try reducing the exposure in post, see if it gets sharper.

The second looks like a focus issue or camera shake. The corners look like a combination of camera shake and mediocre lens.

A few things to try:

  1. Turn stabilization off when on a tripod
  2. up your aperture when shooting cityscapes or you want items in the distance to be in focus. f/6.3 is probably too wide open, try for f/11+. (think about squinting your eyes: when you want something in focus in the distance, you squint, or reduce the aperture.) Too small (f/22) and you will get 'stars', which can be good if you want them.
  3. put some weight on your tripod so wind doesn't upset it. Many offer a hook under the tripod for hanging your camera bag to help reduce movement.
  4. Enable mirror lockup
  5. Consider renting a higher-end lens, which will ensure much sharper corners. Also, shooting at 18mm with your lens will reduce sharpness, as most lenses are less sharp at their extreme ends.

Looks to be unfocused. Rather, looks like the camera has focused on the centre where the frame where ripples in the water surface look like that was the focus spot. (The entire second image looks unfocused but it looks sharper in the lower portion) Stabilizer should be OFF when shooting off a tripod. Also be sure that autofocus switch is in the off position. (You could have focused manually in then accidentally leave the lens in auto mode then when you are taking the shot) Stopped down to f/6.3 may not have been enough to have far features in focus if you've focused on a feature in the foreground. It's always good to have a sturdy tripod for long exposure shots especially when shooting with a telephoto and at telephoto focal lengths. If you were on a bridge or a floating dock, it's possible movement was a contributing factor.


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