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Troubleshooting Digital Photos

Compiled by Wil C. Fry, last updated May 24, 2013

Are your pictures blurry? Out of focus? Too dark? Too light? This web page is intended to help you solve those problems easily, quickly, and without consulting a manual filled with obscure words. Select your problem from the list below and the answer will appear. If you're looking for my Photography FAQ page, then click here.

These troubleshooting tips are intended for beginning users of digital SLR cameras.

Here's the Problem: My Pictures Are...

My Pictures are Blurry

What Went Wrong: Without exception, blurry photos are caused by slow shutter speeds. Sometimes, photographers want something in the photo to be blurred, but not usually.

Solution: Try using a faster shutter speed. This will let in less light though — darkening the image, so you will have to compensate by widening the aperture (more on aperture) or raising the ISO.

Note: If the blur is caused by "hand-shake," you can leave your settings as they are, and instead place the camera on a tripod or other solid object. How do you know if hand-shake is causing the blur? If everything in the photo is slightly blurry, then it's hand-shake. If only moving subjects are blurry, then a tripod won't help.

Note: "Blurry" is not the same as "out of focus." Click here to fix out-of-focus photos.

Other Problems

My Pictures Are Out of Focus

Note: "Out of Focus" is not the same as "blurry." Click here to fix blurry photos.

What Went Wrong: Auto-focus (AF) mechanisms are not perfect. Chances are, the camera focused in the wrong place. It's also possible that you're set on manual focus by mistake.

Solution: Your camera's AF needs your help. First, set the AF to only look at the center point. All major brands of dSLR have this ability. Then, look for areas of high contrast (dark shades near light shades) near the subject you want to be in focus. Point the center AF dot at that spot.

Note: There's a very slim chance that your lens needs calibration. Try a calibration chart to check for front-focus or back-focus issues.

Other Problems

My Pictures Are Too Dark

What Went Wrong: Without exception, dark photos are caused by — you guessed it — not enough light. This can be because of too-fast exposure, too-low ISO, or too-small aperture.

Solution: There are several solutions, each of which could cause its own new problem:

1. Take the picture outside, in the daytime.
      • (problems: harsh shadows, sometimes not possible)
2. Create more light with a flash or other artificial lights.
      • (problems: can be expensive or throw off color balance, sometimes not allowed)
3. Decrease shutter speed (longer exposure).
      • (problems: could cause blurry pictures)
4. Increase ISO.
      • (problems: noise/grain becomes more apparent in photos)
5. Increase aperture (smaller f-number).
      • (problems: large-aperture lenses are expensive, depth-of-field gets narrow)
      • (More about aperture)


Find the solution(s) that you can live with, or use a combination of them to achieve properly exposed photos.

Note: This is a problem that can usually be correctly quickly in post-processing, even with inexpensive/free editing software, though sometimes this correction will cause extra noise/grain.

Other Problems

My Pictures Are Too Bright

What Went Wrong: Too much light hit the sensor. This is either because the exposure time was too long, the aperture too wide, or the ISO too high.

Solution: There are several possible solutions, most of them opposites to the too-dark solutions.

1. Find a shade
2. Increase shutter speed (shorter exposure)
      • (This will also help with blurry pictures)
3. Decrease ISO
      • (This will also decrease noise/grain in your photos)
4. Decrease aperture (larger f-number)
      • (More about aperture)


Note: Unlike dark pictures, it is very difficult to correct washed out photos in post-processing. Whereas detail can be regained from shadowed areas in dark photos, no details can be recovered from completely washed out parts.

Other Problems

My Pictures Are Too Noisy/Grainy

What Went Wrong: It's one of two things, or a combination of these: (1) ISO is set too high, and/or (2) you significantly brightened the photo in post-processing (if it's the latter, see other ways to prevent dark photos).

Solution: Shoot at the lowest ISO setting possible for your lighting situation. In daytime, you can shoot as low as ISO100 or even ISO50 if your camera allows it. Colors will be richer, and grain/noise will be gone or at least less noticeable.

Note: Some lighting situations require higher ISO settings, such as indoors photos (or night sports). Professionals in situations like these invest in one of two remedies: (1) Better lighting/flashes, or (2) noise-reduction software.

Other Problems

My Pictures Are Not Sharp

What Went Wrong: It's possible you bought a very cheap lens that simply can't make sharp images. But that's rare. In almost all cases, non-sharp images are actually due to one of the following causes:

1. Narrow depth-of-field
      • (Solution: use narrower aperture or wider lens)
2. Poor focus
      • (Solution: manually select AF points or use manual focus)
3. Slow Exposure
      • (Solution: faster shutter speed — see Blurry Photos)
4. Too Much Glass
      • (Solution: remove filters, remove teleconverters)
5. Viewing at 100%
      • (Solution: don't view at 100% zoom, commonly known as "pixel peeping")


More: Read a fuller explanation in my blog entry Sharpness, or Lack Thereof

Other Problems

These solutions will fix these problems 99% of the time. It's possible though, that you bought a lemon. If the above fixes don't work, you might try calling your retailer or manufacturer and describing the problem to them. Hopefully, your camera is still under warranty.)
If your problem isn't listed here, send an email to:
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