Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

When it comes to taking photos for any form of marketing, many small businesses that I meet dread the task because it means unknown territory for them. ‘Yes I have a great camera but no one has ever taught me how to use it!’ is a phrase I often hear.

The whole process becomes a stressful rush for them to get something half decent to add to their latest marketing campaign, and tight deadlines often mean poor photography that lets the whole thing down. Many small business owners struggle to get their camera to ‘see’ exactly what they can see.

Over the next few weeks I will share with you a few tips in photography, lighting and styling skills, including some quick fixes to instantly improve your photography for your marketing emails.

First let’s take a look at how you can improve the sharpness of your photos which will instantly make them look more professional.

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1. Invest in a tripod

Using a tripod will instantly improve the sharpness of your photos and help in low light situations where you don’t want to use a camera flash.

Cameras have a tiny digital sensor in them that captures the image. The slightest movement is amplified for the sensor. So using a tripod will greatly improve the picture quality. And if you can, use one with extendable legs so you can use your camera at various heights and angles.

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2. Don’t press the shutter release!

Pressing the shutter button with your finger can also cause camera movement. I always use a remote control for still life photography but you can simply use the self-timer function instead to the same effect.

This isn’t very handy for every shot, so snap away as usual until you are happy with the set up then take one final shot using the self-timer. This way your camera will stay perfectly still during the exposure.

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3. Adjust the viewfinder

If you use a camera with a viewfinder, you might find it has the option to adjust the focus of it using a small wheel as shown in the photo below. This will ensure the viewfinder is focussed to your own vision, and any photos taken in manual focus will then be sharper as a result. If all of your photos seem fuzzy, it could simply be that you own eyesight is affecting your focussing!

Before adjusting this small wheel, lock your camera focus onto a subject using Autofocus, then turn the wheel until the subject looks pin sharp to your eye.

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4. Use a low ISO setting

If your camera is set to use Auto ISO it may take grainy looking photos.

To reduce this grainy effect, manually set your ISO to a lower number such as 100 or 200. This will likely result in slower exposures but remember, using a tripod will help you out by keeping the camera still. With a low ISO you will notice your photos are less fuzzy and see an improvement in colour clarity too.

The change will not be visible on the screen of your camera when viewing the photo in full, but zoom in on a small area of the photo as in the example and you will see the difference. The photo on the left was shot on a high ISO of 6400 and the right on a low ISO of 100.

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5. Use Mirror lock up if you have it

If you are using an SLR camera and shooting a slow exposure on a tripod, some models offer a mirror lock function which locks the camera’s mirror up into place while you take the shot.You will find the function in your camera’s menu if you have it. Much like using the self timer it is another way to avoid any slight camera movement, in this case caused by the internal mirror flipping upwards when the photo is taken.

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6. Use the optimum aperture for your lens

The aperture of your lens is the circular hole through which the light travels. If you have the ability to change the aperture on your camera, selecting an aperture that is 2 to 3 stops smaller in hole size than the largest available aperture will generally produce an optically sharper result.

For example, if your widest aperture is f5.6, using somewhere between f11-16 will produce a sharper result.  This is known as the ‘sweet spot’ of your lens.

Using a smaller aperture in a lens is just like squinting your eyes to read text that is too close to your face, it appears more in focus. So, changing your aperture from a larger hole to a smaller hole will also make more of the scene appear in focus the smaller and smaller you go. However, regardless of how much of the scene appears in focus, it is the quality of that focus that will be improved when using the sweet spot of your lens.

The widest aperture is usually shown on your lens as a ratio such as 1:5.6, if your lens is a zoom lens it will show the widest aperture for both ends of the zoom range.

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7. Use continuous shutter

If light is low and you don’t have a tripod,  using the continuous shutter mode might help you. Holding your finger down on your shutter release button to take a series of several consecutive frames will more likely result in one of the middle frames in the series being sharper, than if you take one shot at a time.

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I hope you find these tricks useful for sharpening your shots. Every tip you can put into practice will make a huge difference to your photos.

Lyndsey James is a commercial photographer specialising in Food and Product photography and the owner of Photocraft®, a photography school for small creative businesses.