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Are your smartphone photos blurred? Here’s why

A blurred photo of a woman and a dog.
Harry Guinness

Sometimes you can take what you think is a good photo with your smartphone, only to see afterwards everything is blurred. If it happens to you a lot, let̵

7;s take a look at what can cause it.

You take pictures in low light

Picture of a dog sitting on a bar with ISO blur.
Harry Guinness

Smartphone cameras have very small image sensors, which means that they need quite a lot of light to take good pictures. At night, in the evening or even just indoors on a cloudy day, the amount of light available is not enough for your smartphone to easily take a decent photo. So your phone starts to compromise.

The first thing it does is increase the ISO (basically how sensitive the sensor is) so that it needs less light to get a photo. The trade-off, however, is that this also increases the amount of digital noise. If your photos look grainy (like the picture above) instead of blurred, this is probably what happens.

Another compromise that your smartphone will make is to use a lower shutter speed. This means that it takes longer to take the photo so that more light reaches the sensor.

Unfortunately, a slower shutter speed also means that other things can happen.

Your hand touched

A blurred image of a woman and a dog caused by hand movement.
Harry Guinness

A long shutter speed, such as 1/4 second, means that the camera takes the photo long enough to also record all the movements that your hand makes – even if it is just a small shake.

You can see a rather dramatic example of this in the picture above. For the most part, however, this type of blur is much more subtle. However, it is one of the most common causes of blurred photos if you are shooting indoors or in low light. Even if you just press the shutter button, you can shake your smartphone enough to blur the image.

This type of blur does not happen much when it is nice and bright outside because your smartphone uses a shutter speed that is fast enough to prevent it.

Something moves when you shoot

A blurred image caused by the movement of a man in a bar.
Harry Guinness

Even if you keep your hands completely still, if something (or someone) moves when you take your photo, it will be blurred. For example, the guy in the picture above only touched a little when this picture was taken, but it was still enough to ruin the photo.

Although this is also common when shooting in low light, it can happen at any time if the subject is moving fast enough. For example, if you try to shoot a passing car, no matter how good the light is, it will probably be blurred.

You zoomed in too far

An image of a dog with zoom sharpness.
Harry Guinness

There are two types of zoom:

  • Optical: The lens magnifies physical objects that are far away. This is what a telephoto lens on smartphones does.
  • Digital: Instead of zooming in on distant objects, your smartphone (or other tricks) crop the photo narrower. It makes it look like you’m zoomed in, but it’s really just a waste of image data.

For example, an iPhone Xs has a 2x optical zoom with the telephoto lens. But it also has a 10x digital zoom, for which it takes a photo from the telephoto lens and cuts it really close.

The problem is that because there is no additional image data to draw on, it reduces the image quality. It also creates other problems, such as making the blur from your shaking hand even clearer.

There is a stain on the lens

A blurred image of a man caused by water on the lens.
Harry Guinness

Sometimes the problem is not how the photo was taken, but rather that it was taken with a dirty lens. If there is water, oil from the skin, dirt, sweat or anything else on your smartphone’s camera lens, it will affect your photos.

In the picture above, some water came from the fog on the lens, which is why it is blurred.

Your camera was out of focus

A close-up of a blurred filled unicorn with the fireplace behind in focus instead.
Harry Guinness

Although not a very common problem due to the design of smartphone cameras, your photos may be blurred as they are out of focus.

Smartphone cameras are set so that most pictures will be in focus. This is why everyone looks good in a group photo, but it is impossible to take a portrait with a blurred background without resorting to software chips.

But smartphone cameras still need to focus on the lens, even if they do not normally need to adjust it too much. For example, if you previously focused on something close and tried to shoot a little further away before the camera has a chance to refocus, it will be a bit out of focus.

Your smartphone camera may also out of focus if it accidentally focuses on the wrong thing. For example, suppose you try to take a close-up of a unicorn, but the camera continues to focus on the background, as shown above.

You saved a photo from social media

Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, crush the quality of the photos you upload to save bandwidth and upload time. Unfortunately, this means that if you download a photo that you previously published on social media, it can look awful.

This will happen even if the original looked good on your phone.

How to avoid blurred smartphone photos

Regardless of the reason why your photos are blurred, there are some practical steps you can take to avoid them in the future.

Here’s what to do:

  • Photograph in the best possible lighting: Taking pictures in low light introduces lots of problems. The best way to avoid them is to avoid poor lighting when you can. Shoot outdoors or only in the best light you can find indoors.
  • Keep your hands steady: If your hands move, you get a blurred photo. Keep your arms close to your body and keep your smartphone as still as possible. If you have a smartphone stand, use it whenever you can, or just support your phone against something.
  • Cue your topics: If you are taking a photo of a group of people, ask them all to stay as still as possible.
  • Avoid quick motives: Even in the best of circumstances, these will almost always be blurred.
  • Use burst mode: If you take more than one photo in quick succession, you increase the chance that everything will line up at least one of them. It also prevents you from shaking the phone by pressing the shutter button.
  • Do not zoom in too much: A little digital zoom is likely to go unnoticed, but if you zoom in too far, it’s obvious.
  • Tap your topic to focus on it: Your smartphone’s autofocus can sometimes think that the wrong thing is the subject.
  • Clean the lens: A microfiber lens cloth is best, but a little tissue does.
  • Take manual control of your phone: If you are in a really tricky situation, you can set the shutter speed and ISO you need to get the best photo possible. How to do it on an iPhone or Samsung phone.
  • Be realistic: Smartphone cameras have come a long way, but they are still limited compared to dedicated cameras. This is due to the size of the sensors, the fixed apertures of the lenses and the more limited design. With this in mind, you can not expect to capture the perfect image every time.

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