How to Fix a Blurry Photo

by Dec 28, 2020Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Fix a Blurry Photo

In this tutorial I want to share how I fix a blurry photo. But before we get into the details there’s something important to understand. Fixing a blurry photo should be a last resort to save an image where there is no alternative. It’s always better to avoid shooting a blurry photo when possible. Despite this, I realise that it’s not always possible to take a pin sharp photo every time. Sometimes you don’t have any option but to just grab a blurry shot and then try to fix it later.

Generally speaking, sharpening a blurry photo isn’t a good idea. It often just makes the problem appear more obvious by enhancing the fine detail in the image. This is a particular issue if the blurring is caused by camera shake. Now photos can be blurry for lots of reasons and it’s worth understanding these.

Poor Focus Causing Blur

You didn’t get the focus in the correct place. This causes the image, or most important part of the image, to be out of focus. When this happens, regular sharpening may work to some degree, depending on the severity of the blur. Another or even better solution may be to downsize the photo. This may be fine if you are starting with a large image and only need to use the shot on the web. But what about when you need a large image for a print.

Here’s an example showing a section of an image magnified to 100%.

Blur caused by insufficient depth of field

Click image to enlarge.

The image appears soft and the distant hills are blurred. This example is caused by insufficient depth of field. Sharpening with Lightroom or Smart Sharpen in Photoshop may improve the problem but generally these tools won’t create more depth of field.

Lens Problem Causing Blur

If there’s a problem with your lens it can cause all kinds of focus issues. Sometimes these will show up when trying to focus on infinity or sometimes when focussing close to the camera. Other times you may find part of the image is soft or defocussed like in this example.

Blur in a photo caused by a lens problem

Click image to enlarge.

Look at the trees in area 1 and compare them to area 2. In area 1 the trees appear soft and blurred whilst in area 2 the trees are sharp and well defined. This was caused by a lens fault and the lens eventually had to be replaced. Unfortunately, by the time I noticed the problem, I had shot several hundred hard to replace images.

With examples like this, down sampling to reduce the size of the image can improve the appearance of the out of focus area. Equally sharpening with tools like Lightroom and Photoshop may help to reduce the blur to some degree. But again, neither of these options is completely satisfactory.

Camera Shake Causing Blur

Where camera shake is the problem, you may find edges are repeated in multiple places when you magnify the image. This is more obvious than a soft image caused by a focus issue. It’s doubtful that you will fix this using sharpening tools which often make the problem more obvious. Here’s an example of a blurry image which is part of a set of images shot for stitching into a panoramic.

Blurry image caused by camera shake

Click image to enlarge.

This section is magnified at 100% but the blur in the foreground is obvious. These images were shot handheld at a slow shutter speed, which has caused the camera shake.

In the past I would have deleted problem images like the above, but now I have a solution. It doesn’t work all the time and it isn’t perfect, but it does save many images which are possibly irreplaceable.

Using Topaz Sharpener AI to Fix a Blurry Photo

Despite these photos being damaged beyond conventional sharpening can repair, I’ve found a workable solution in Topaz Sharpener AI. This can often save an otherwise unusable image as I’ll demonstrate with the problem examples from above.

In this first example you can see a section of the image magnified to 100%. The original image is on the left whilst the sharpened version using Topaz Sharpener AI is on the right.

Fixing blur from depth of field issue

Click image to enlarge.

In this next example we see the before and after image section at 100%. This blur was caused by a lens problem and has again achieved a usable image.

Lens blur problem corrected before and after

Click image to enlarge.

In this final example we see the blurred handheld photo from the panoramic sequence. Again, this is a section of the image magnified at 100%.

Fixed blurry photo with Topaz Sharpener AI

Click image to enlarge.

These examples use the original RAW file without any processing. With a little time to correct contrast and exposure, even better results may be possible.

Tips to Fix a Blurry Photo with Topaz

If you decide to try Topaz Sharpener AI to fix a blurry photo, I have a few tips that may help:

Don’t apply any sharpening or noise reduction as part of your RAW conversion. The software seems to work best (most of the time) when starting with an image that hasn’t been sharpened or had noise reduction applied. Allow Topaz Sharpener AI to handle both tasks for you.

Topaz Sharpen AI Interface

The Topaz Sharpen AI interface has three sharpening options: Sharpen, Stabilize and Focus. There is an “Auto” option which automatically selects the best mode from the three. There is then a second Auto setting which selects the best Sharpness and Noise Suppression settings. Most of the time the Auto settings work well but do check areas of important detail.

The Stabilize option works best where camera shake has blurred the image. But when the image is blurred because it hasn’t been correctly focussed, the Focus option tends to work better. If you don’t see a good result from the Auto option, it’s worth checking these other settings.

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Summary of How to Fix a Blurry Photo

The best way to fix a blurry photo is to avoid taking it in the first place. But if this isn’t an option, consider using Topaz Sharpener AI. Sharpening alone is seldom a solution and can’t really deal with more severe blurring problems like we have discussed. After resisting AI tools for a long time, I now consider Topaz Sharpener AI and Topaz DeNoise AI essential tools for my photography.

If you need to fix a blurry photo with a high degree of quality, I highly recommend trying out Topaz Sharpen AI. You can download a free trial from the Topaz Labs website (affiliate link).

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