I am looking to buy a new lens and want something that will produce sharp images of people from a distance. I currently have a 50mm prime lens and my close-up portraits are great - crisp and clear - exactly how I want them. However, when I step back to get a photo of a person from a distance so I can include a lot of the scenery, they aren't as sharp and clear as I would like. What kind of lens would be best for this? Or is there something different I should try? The first photo is a portrait that is sharp enough to my liking. The second one was from a great distance and it is not very sharp at all - this is what I want to fix. I want my subjects to be just as sharp when having (or wanting) to pull back from them a great deal (either to incorporate a lot of people or to incorporate more scenery) This is a close up portrait This is one from a great distance to get everyone in and although it is focused in the right places, it is still grainy and not sharp - I want to fix this problem

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please add some sample photos which show the problems your having. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ What exposure settings are you using? What are the distances to the subject and background? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasen
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would consider the second image, the one you noted as not very sharp at all, to have better sharpness than the first image, the one that you consider sharp enough. I appreciate that you posted images, but also giving us the technical information such as camera, lens, and aperture used for each shot will be immensely helpful to provide an accurate answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have the feeling that becouse of the big sky on the middle the image is not focused correctly on the faces. For an acurate test you need to define a same spot as the focus point in simmilar shooting conditions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Second photo looks sharp to me too. Can you describe what about it you perceive to be "not sharp"? Which part are you looking at? If you need to zoom into full resolution to see the problem, could you post the full resolution (or a crop of it)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 2:53

4 Answers 4


There could be any number of factors coming into play here. Lack of sharpness is many times due to how you captured the image and not what lens you are using. It is not impossible for the lens to be at fault, but if you have a 50mm prime lens already - I would be willing to bet you can achieve very sharp images with it if it is used properly.

Some of the possible culprits include:

  1. Capturing your subject at the edges of the frame(such as in the second image) vs the center(such as in the first image)
  2. Selecting too wide of an aperture for the number of subjects(and their varying distances from the camera)
  3. Using the widest aperture that your lens is capable of (i.e f/1.4 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens is going to produce the least sharp results typically compared to f/5.6 or so)
  4. Poor autofocus technique, such as the "focus and recompose" technique with the center AF point only.
  5. Selecting an aperture beyond the diffraction limit such as f/16 on most modern DSLRs.
  6. Too slow of shutter speed to remove handshake
  7. One of your lenses may need microadjustment to accurately focus.

Without more information such as the aperture, camera, lens, and full size images - I can't be more precise. But those are some of the things to look into and consider at a high level.

For more information, see:


Obvious points, but shutter speed and stability contribute to sharpness as much as (or more than) the type of lens -- especially at long focal lengths.

You absolutely must use a tripod, and a relatively fast shutter speed, and longest possible depth of field (meaning smaller aperature), which means the best lighting too, to ensure sharpness relative to other factors.


Assuming these pictures are using the full frame of your camera, or are a similar crop of it, and the same aperture, both pictures are sharp.


the single kid frame may be 0.6 m wide, you could easily manage her pose. In short, it is a headshot.

and that flagpole, which makes the composition so nice, might be 6 m high. The lighting looks more diffuse. Looks like there was quite a breeze, so you needed to shout to get everybody ready for the shot. Depending on the shuttertime, a tripod and using the selftimer might be helpful here. In short it is a landscape with a group in it. And, if you want to see the people in more detail, you need to forget about the flag, get closer and get the same shot landscape wise.

regards Boudewijn van der Drift

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the Photography Stack Exchange. Your answer doesn't really seem to answer the question. You don't seem to have made any reference to lenses at all, but focussed on composition. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 12:01

I prefer telephoto lens with 2.8 aperture. For Canon, I'v found that their 70-200L f2.8 works well for me. With a telephoto you can get the narrow depth of field and maximize it with the 2.8 aperture open. That'll give you the best quality for a portrait. The 70-200L is also very sharp.

P.S. You can get a narrow DOF with a telephoto end, but only if you get as close as possible to the subject.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an opinion based answer with no explanation. Can you elaborate a little ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Olivier
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ With the tele end you can get the narrow depth of field and maximize it with the 2.8 aperture open. That'll give you the best quality for an potrait. And also if we take the 200L, it has great amount of sharpness. So that you can get the best quality for a potrait. \$\endgroup\$
    – AVIE
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ps- you can get the narrow DOF with a tele end only if you get as closest as posible to the object. \$\endgroup\$
    – AVIE
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, I'm not sure it addresses the particular question, which is looking for portraits at a distance with context, rather than zoomed in. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Extremely sorry. I'm new here. \$\endgroup\$
    – AVIE
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:17

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