I think my photos are not clear enough

Hello to everyone
This is my first post here and I would like to thank you for accepting me as a member.

I am shooting with a Nikon DSLR camera, D3100 and the AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm VR.
Pretty level entry and quite old as well. But I think there is something wrong with the clarity of the photos. At first I was shooting with quite large shutter speeds and this produced blurry images.
But It’s been a while since I noticed it and I’m trying to mitigate all possible reasons that would produce such images. I’m also shooting in RAW as well.

I would like to share with you an image, that I took a few days ago to tell me your opinion.

This is the jpg produced by my camera:

And this is an edit of mine, using Darktable

(I could also provide the raw file as well, but I don’t know if there is space allowed here for such big files.)
Would you consider this photo as clear?
I shot it using 1/160 shutter speed, at f/5.6 and 55mm, 400 ISO

Is my shutter speed still low?
Is it a problem with the clarity of the lens?
Is it a very low-spec camera?

I’m dissapointed each time that I’ll take some photos and discover that they look so bad.
Thank you for your time.

Upload the raw file so we can check it out. May be an obvoius question but check lens is clean. Also lenses are usually sharper when closed down a little. F5.6 would be wide open and therefore not ultra sharp. Try f11 at 55mm or f5.6 or f8 at 18mm. Increase iso if needed. Shutter speed 1/125 would prevent most camera shake

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This is the raw file:
_DSC0731.NEF (12.5 MB)

Shared under the licence: Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0

Hello @zerone, and welcome!

There are about half a million ways to “develop” a photo
— just follow some threads on this forum. And there
simply is not one, and only one, way which is “correct”.
It is very much a personal taste.

Speaking about personal taste: on my monitor it looks like
you have “over-cooked” your image in darktable.
Suggestion: start with darktable’s default settings.
Then bring up one module: the contrast equalizer.
Grab the curve in the middle and drag it slowly upwards.
Watch what happens…

Also: the Web is full of darktable tutorials…

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

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Thank you Claes for your reply. Indeed, I easily overcook my photos and I’m trying to become better at processing them and hitting sweet spot of balance.
This is why I posted the raw and camera jpeg, in order for anyone interested to look at the unprocessed photo and hear different opinions. Unless it’s not the camera, or my shooting skills, but it is processed-related. But then, the jpeg of the camera would be much more different, wouldn’t it?

Indeed, I easily overcook my photos

:slight_smile: And I easily make mine too contrasty :slight_smile:

Here is a swifty from your .NEF:

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

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Here’s my version

Download our jpegs, duplicate your image in dt, than load the jpegs as sidecar files


and you will see what we are doing.


@zerone Er… When you say that your photos are
not clear enough — could you please describe
that using other words, because I am not certain that I
understand. Clear can mean so many things:
fog, haze, lack of contrast, lack of sharpness, out-of-focus,
movement, wind in the leaves, &c, &c, &c.

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


You may want to look up your lens here:

I believe it’s this one:

Check the distortion chart, and find the sweet spot for your chosen focal length. For example, at 18mm, f/8 and f/11 look like the best, but even f/5.6 is a dramatic improvement over the wide-open setting of f/3.5. At 55mm, f/8 is the best.


Welcome to the forum! I’m glad the membership committee accepted your application… :laughing:

I’ve compared your image with other D3100 images, and I think it’s well-within the expectations for this camera. It’s a 14MP camera with the kit 18-35 lens, which are probably well-matched with respect to their combined resolution. You’ll find that camera-lens performance is kind of a see-saw relationship; lenses that look fine on a “smaller” camera will show their hindside when you upgrade the camera, and vice versa. I have one of those lenses, came with my D50 in 2006, but I don’t use it anymore. At the time, I wanted a decently large wide-tele for travel, so I got the Nikkor 18-200mm, worked like a treat on a 6MP camera…

I still have my D7000, the second camera in my progression, and it has the Nikkor 18-140mm welded to it. That’s a 16MP sensor, in the ball park with yours, and I found that lens to be a fine match for the sensor resolution. We recently procured one as a Christmas gift to my grandson with his D3500, and he’s quite pleased.

I write all this because I had the same experience starting out with the D50. Some of my best compositions were with that camera, but when I pixel-peep I see the sort of things you’re experiencing - limits to the sensor-lens resolution. What I found back then was paying careful attention to processing helped to mitigate that. Particularly, I’d try for good contrast in the overall image, which tends to look less-soft. Then, I would produce web-sized JPEGs with somewhat aggressive post-resize sharpening, which increases the acutance, or ‘illusion of sharpness’. Here’s such treatment of your image, 800x600 dimensions, a 1.5 value fed to the convolution sharpen tool in my software:

In low light, you’ll need a decent denoise algorithm; IIRC all the tools discussed here have such.

After all that camera talk above, don’t be too quick to get rid of your present kit. It’ll make decent images, and you’ll learn a lot about its capabilities and limitations that will make future upgrades more well-informed.

Oh, and so you help all of us who downloaded your raw not go to prison, you need to post an appropriate license for use with the link to the NEF; I use this one: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, but you might want to choose one of their alternatives that doesn’t allow commercial reuse.


As others have said, I think it might be a combination of the lens and F-stop. Generally speaking, kit lenses are made to be as cheap as possible, which means poorer image-quality (how this shows up can be “soft” images, poorly controlled TCA and/or distortion.) Shooting wide-open will exaggerate any issues the lens has.

My advice to you is to make friends with Nikon cameras in your area (photo clubs, both formal and casual, are a good way to do this.) Shooting with other people provides many benefits - two that might aid you is getting insight on technique, and if they have compatible gear, they might let you try a different lens while you’re out together. (Even if it’s the same lens model, there are variances in manufacturing.)

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Hello @zerone, welcome here! For many years I used a Nikon D40 and the same kit lens as yours, except for the VR. The photos always looked fine, except those who didn’t but that was my fault. :wink:

I suppose you mean with not clear that they are not tad sharp? Don’t forget you took the above shot at 55mm, which is the ‘far end’ of that lens. Kit lenses tend to be softer or show more artefacts (lens faults) at the long end (the short end - 17mm - was always OK with my lens). Perhaps there was some wind causing the leaves to move? Did you use auto focus and if yes, what kind of AF? I ask this because I’ve the impression that the focus points to the leaves on the top left. In the exif info I saw that VR was activated.

I suggest to do the following to test if your lens is bad quality (that can always happen but I’ve never seen that with a Nikkor till now).

Put your camera on a tripod or table, choose a static scene (so without leaves moving in the wind), use the 17mm position, set self timer to 5 or 10 seconds, use the A position (Aperture priority), set aperture to 8 and take the photo. Any better or you’re still dissatisfied?

As others suggested, clean your lens on a regular base.

PS. Perhaps you can lend the Nikkor 1.8/35 from someone (or search for an occasion), it’s one of the cheapest Nikkors and a very fine and sharp lens imo. I used it a lot on my D40, and since many years on my D7000.


Thank you for all of your comments.
Indeed clear is not a very good defined term and excuse me because my English is not my mother language and probably I’m not that efficient in using it.
But what I really mean by “clear” is the kind of messy appearance of distinct objects like foliage or perhaps far objects. I also mean kind of blurry image, especially if I zoom on to the image, and I’m talking about the raw file. Of course treating it with sharpness or local contrast perhaps reduces the level of the problem, but I’m asking for the raw image.

Regarding this specific image, I’ll try to explain it with images that were cut from 3 points, A, B &C:

Point A
The top of the fir tree. The appearance is blurry, probably because of the wind. In fact it should of have being moving quite fast, since the top vertical branch has been recorded twice. Also the two horizontal left and right small branches do the same. So this should be the cause of the wind. I think the same theme applies to all the foliage at the right part of the image, which is kind of blurry (I think)

Point B
The three tops of the little trees are much clearer, despite the fact that they are at the same distance from the camera. They shouldn’t be moving much.

Point C
This is much clearer or less blurry than the top of the tree at point A. However it is not as clear as I would expect.

Probably in this photo my shutter speed was not as fast? I was watching it and I thought that I’m safe having 1/160. But it seems that this is safe ONLY for camera shake, and not for objects movement. Additionally, I think I remember focusing on the trees in the middle section of the image. I’m using Single Servo AF and Single Point AF mode. But in combination with the wide aperture, my depth of field could have been shallow.

I have repeatedly seen photos like that are not clear or that are blurry. I think distortion of the lens is an issue of course, but it would not provide blur on the edges of the leaves but perhaps haziness or distortion of the shape of the leaves, which is not a significant matter in my case.

This is my first DSLR camera. Before that I had a compact point and shoot Sony DSC-S40, and the images that the camera took were far more “clear” and frozen, with good lighting conditions, fully sharp etc. (of course edited by the software camera in jpeg). And the sensor was only 3.1 mega pixels, if I remember correctly. My phone also takes pretty sharp and frozen pictures, without blur, but soooooooo much edited, overcooked etc.
So comparing these experiences is what fired my concern, trying to find what is going wrong and pinpoint the problem in order to improve it, if possible. For sure my skills are not the best and need improvement! Discussing with others these issues, helps a long way along. I will try to find other photographers in my area.

Oh, and excuse me for overusing the term “clear” :slight_smile:

Oh, gee, I never thought to check the shutter speed; the metadata says 10 seconds. ??

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Looking at the exifdata, I see you used autofocus. Try to find out the hyperfocal distance at 55mm. Use that in manual mode and try the “sweet spot” aperture of F/8 as @kofa pointed out. Shoot the scene again and compare. Good luck!

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Rent or borrow a prime lens.


I just opened your image in DT and it is really soft in sharpness. I feel it would be worth investing in a better lens. A good prime lens is always sharper than a zoom, but zoom lenses are more convenient. Which lens to buy depends upon your budget. I bought an 18-300mm Nikon zoom and loved the lens for travelling and general photography.

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Remove the UV filter if you have one fitted (you dont need one unless you are in dusty, sandy places really), check your shooting technique (elbows into the body, breath control, prop up against something etc etc), control where the camera is focusing (no auto focus).


Like others have said, it is a bit of a budget lens. Nothing against that, but knowing it weaknesses can help you get better shots (like knowing when to stop down more, or when to zoom in lens but take a few steps forward if possible, etc…). Shot at f 5.6 you say. It’s not wide open - I’m guessing - but it is close to it. Maybe closing down a bit more and raising ISO would’ve been a better compromise. But that’s hard to tell after the shot is taken, this is what ‘learning your gear’ is all about :). Maybe you don’t like the noise at higher ISO’s, and you rather have a softer look from your lens, maybe not. I can’t make that decision for you.

There is (was?) a rule of thumb that if you shot something at 55mm, you should not go slower with your shutter speed than 1/55th. But if you have lens or sensor stabilizing, you could go slower. But if the wind is blowing, leaves are moving and you’ll get motion blur from that. And that rule comes from a time when we weren’t pixel peeping images. So I take some margin in my mind always. In other words, your 1/160 sounds fine to me. Depends if there was really strong wind :).

Also, although not always fun if you are a ‘walking and brining my camera with me’ kind of shooter, but a tripod always helps more with shots like this than people imagine when they are just starting out :slight_smile: .

Also, make sure lens correction is applied, specially for Darktable. It can help with ‘chromatic aberrations’, minute color misalignment in the lens, specially at distant edges it can help clean things up some times.

Also, Darktable doesn’t really apply sharpening by default (at least mine doesn’t out of the box :stuck_out_tongue: ). And a bit of sharpening is always welcome, but do not overdo it.
Programs like Adobe Lightroom / Adobe Camera Raw always apply a bit of sharpening, even when the sharpening slider is at 0% so to speak. It’s in their camera handling for specific sensors.

Also, if you have an image that looks pretty good when viewing at 100% in Darktable, exporting it and resizing it down for the web can take away that sharp feeling. That’s normal, that is why sometimes an ‘output sharpening’ step is done → sharpen after resizing down, depending on expected viewing distance / method. (If you’re really picky out these things, you apply different sharpening after sizing if it’s for the web, for a small print, or a big print, or even different kind of printing methods, etc…).

And then I want to exit with saying that sharpness and contrast go hand in hand. If you have more difference between blacks and whites, they stand out more. If things stand out more, you see them as sharper / more detailed. Sometimes lowering the blacks or raising the whites (global contrast increase / local contrast increase) and do quite a bit for your perceived sharpness of a shot.

So, TL;DR: There are tricks to get more out of your shot, and a bit of careful processing is always needed. This is not that different to the first shots I have taken by simply ‘aiming the camera and clicking’ with the kit lens that came on it. Slowly you learn a few things that you need to keep reminding yourself about, things that can make a simple shot better. Or mistakes you learned from. And slowly they become automatic in your mind :slight_smile: .


I took the shot, without having any goals in my mind. And I think it is a recurring theme there.

I think I chose the wide aperture, because it was cloudy and I wanted light coming in, in order to be able to raise my shutter speed.
But when opening the photo in the computer, I was expecting to be clear and sharp but without setting that goal in the first place, when I took the shot.

Thanks again for all your great comments.