UPDATED: July 2020
We’ve all been there before: Something cool is happening and you want to take a picture of it. You whip out your phone, take the picture only to realise that the photo is blurry and unclear. You try to take another shot but that moment has passed, never to be captured again.
I’ve personally been in that situation before, so I know full well how frustrating that can be. The big question is…
What causes blurry photos?
There are a number of reasons why a picture can turn out blurry. It could be something simple to solve like a dirty lens or sometimes the problem may be more deep-rooted and require professional assistance.
Here are eight possible reasons why your smartphone photos look blurry, and what you can do to solve the problem.
1. Malfunctioning software
There’s a chance that your mobile photo blur is caused by malfunctioning software. This could be either your camera app or your smartphone’s operating system.
It’s good practice to make sure that these are up-to-date because updates provide patches for bugs that could cause issues with processing photos.
If your phone’s native camera app is the one that’s giving you issues, try downloading and installing a third-party app. If this doesn’t solve the problem, then the cause of the blur might be one of the other issues outlined below.
2. Glass issues
Smartphone cameras are like no other camera because of the way they’re positioned and handled. Ordinary cameras usually have a lens cap that protects the lens from getting dirty when not in use.
Smartphone cameras and their lenses, on the other hand, are more exposed. While the phone is being handled and placed on various surfaces, the only thing protecting the lens is the protective glass (or plastic, depending on the price and design of the phone) cover that sits right on top of the camera.
As much as this piece of glass or plastic is protective, it is not without its issues.
Dirty cover glass
Fingerprints are the most common reason for blurry photos, but often this is overlooked. Our fingers are never 100% clean and dry. Therefore, chances are, when you put your phone in your pocket or pull it out from your handbag, your fingerprints will end up on the glass.
Also, after being on a call, the make-up, oils, or sweat on your face can transfer onto your mobile camera, resulting in hazy photos.
Fingerprints on the glass of the rear camera
No matter how good your smartphone’s camera is, something as simple as a dirty lens can result in undesirable photos.
So, before taking photos with your phone, have a look at the camera and see if it has any stains or smudges. If you notice any prints, then you should clean the lens. This can be done by gently rubbing a clean, soft cloth on the glass.
Damaged cover glass
Smartphones serve multiple purposes and therefore suffer constant use that may result in accelerated wear and tear. Placing an unprotected phone on rough surfaces, putting it in the same pocket with all your coins or car keys can contribute to scratches developing on your camera’s lens.
However, damage to the camera’s protective glass can extend further than just a few scratches from unruly house keys. Constantly dropping your phone can result in cracks on the glass, which will likely cause blur in your photos.
Cracks on the camera's protective glass can cause blur
The biggest problem with cracks is that they make it possible for even a dust-proof smartphone to be vulnerable to specks of dust and dirt gathering behind the glass that protects the lens.
Minor scratches are not that complicated to fix. Some have suggested that you can use toothpaste and a soft cloth to get rid of the scratches. However, there is a chance that doing this may remove some protective layers (anti-glare coating) on the glass. So, do it at your own risk.
When it comes to cracked or broken glass, there’s really not much you can do to fix the problem yourself. Unless you know what you’re doing or are totally comfortable with taking the risk of taking your phone apart to clean the camera, you’re better off taking your phone to an accredited repair shop.
Something obscuring the lens
This may seem obvious but sometimes the reason your photos are blurry is that there’s something right in front of the lens. It can literally be anything from your finger to an ill-fitting phone case, or even that little piece of plastic film that comes attached to your phone when you get it brand new from the box.
In most cases, smartphone cameras use auto-focus to focus on things that are closest to them, unless you’re using the mobile camera in manual mode. So, having things dangling in front of the lens or obscuring the camera, even slightly, can throw the camera’s focusing mechanisms off track.
To determine if your phone cover could be interfering with your camera, simply take the phone out from the cover and see if that changes anything. If there’s a notable difference, then you’ll have to consider getting a better fitting phone cover.
Otherwise, remove any plastic film that might still be on your phone or anything else that might still be in the way. Also, be sure to hold the phone correctly so as to avoid your own fingers causing issues.
3. Camera movement
When trying to take a picture with your smartphone, it is very easy to move the camera, especially when trying to tap the shutter button. This is not usually a problem when there’s enough light.
However, even small movements can cause blur in low-light conditions. The cause of this is slow shutter speed, which we’ll look at later.
It’s also worth noting that HDR can also cause some blur in your photos. HDR works by taking a couple of pictures at varying exposures in quick succession and then blending them together to create an image that has enhanced detail in the shadows and highlights of the picture.
If the camera is not held steady during this process, the pictures that are blended together will not line up correctly. That will result in the final picture appearing blurry, as shown below.
Keep in mind that zooming in can also affect the quality of your mobile photos. The more you zoom in to something, the shakier the camera gets, no matter how steady your hands usually are. The picture quality is further compromised if your smartphone camera uses digital zoom instead of optical zoom.
You can counteract camera movement by enabling image stabilisation on your mobile camera. But sometimes this is not enough. The best way to keep the camera steady, especially when zoomed in, is to use a smartphone camera support system such as a tripod.
I know it might seem like overkill to some to buy a tripod but, honestly, it's worth it. It'll change your photography for the better. If you're unsure about investing in a tripod, I recommend you check out these 8 really good reasons why you should.
Also, make sure you use a reliable, good-quality smartphone mount that will keep your phone safely secured to your tripod and last you a long time.
4. Slow shutter speed
Subject movement can also cause what is known as motion blur. If you’re in control of the situation, you can fix this by asking your subject to remain still until the picture has been taken. Otherwise, you need to adjust your shutter speed.
The camera’s shutter is only active for a short period to capture an image. The longer the shutter remains activated, the longer it captures the scene. However, anything that moves during that time becomes blurry.
The slower the shutter speed, the blurrier the subject movement becomes
In order to capture fast motion without motion blur, you need to use a fast shutter speed. A shutter speed of 1/30 means that the image will be captured for 1 thirtieth of a second. A shutter speed of 1/3200s is even quicker and ideal for fast-moving subjects.
You can manually adjust your camera phone’s shutter speed in the manual mode of your native camera app. Alternatively, there are many great third-party camera apps that give you manual control of your camera including shutter speed.
5. Problems with focus
Auto-focus works really well on smartphones these days. But sometimes smartphone cameras can get a bit confused and focus on the wrong area of the scene. Depending on the autofocus method your phone uses, this is not always an issue during the day but can become a problem in darker situations.
If your mobile camera focuses in the wrong area, you can fix this simply by tapping on the screen to an area where you’d like the camera to focus within the frame. Take care not to press the shutter button too soon, though. If your device uses contrast-detection autofocus, it may take a little longer for your picture to come into focus.
There’s also an option to focus manually. As with the shutter speed, this option is available in the manual mode of your camera app or pro-level third-party camera apps.
6. Poor lighting
This has already been mentioned a couple of times as a possible cause of blurry photos. Due to the small size of their sensors, smartphone cameras do not perform too well under low-light conditions compared to dedicated digital cameras.
Poor lighting can cause blurry photos because it makes it difficult for the camera to focus. The two most popular auto-focus technologies found on today’s smartphones rely heavily on available lighting. If there’s little to none, the camera algorithm will find it difficult to get the focus right.
In order to capture bright mobile photos in low light, the camera needs to expose the sensor to more light for an extended period. This may solve the auto-focus problem but it creates another. If during this extended exposure the camera or subject moves even just a little, the resulting picture will be blurry.
But that’s not to say that it’s impossible to take great pictures at night that are well-exposed and not blurry. One of the important things you need to learn when it comes to exposure is the Exposure Triangle.
It may work differently on smartphones (because of fixed aperture), but understanding how it works and getting the right balance between ISO and shutter speed can help you improve the exposure of your pictures.
The easiest solution to poor lighting is to shoot in well-lit areas when doing night photography or use alternative sources of light that can be attached to your phone or placed elsewhere.
7. Faulty mechanics
A smartphone camera consists of a number of movable parts. One of these movable parts is the lens element that moves back and forth in relation to the image sensor as the focus is adjusted.
After falling or being knocked about several times, it is possible that the motor and mechanics of this system can get stuck.
Smartphone cameras have many tiny movable parts that can get stuck
If that’s the case, there is a simple solution you can try. Believe it or not, shaking the phone and giving it a gentle tap with your finger or against the palm of your hand has been known to fix this issue for some people. If this is a one-time issue, this quick fix should work without a problem.
However, smartphones that have suffered some considerable physical damage may require inspection by a professional. So, if the blur in your photos happened after you dropped your phone or it came into contact with water, consult an expert or visit your local accredited repair shop.
8. Camera specs
I feel like this goes without saying but the specifications of your smartphone camera play a big part in how well your mobile photos turn out. Just like you can’t expect the performance of a race car from an ordinary household car, you can expect a bad mobile camera to give you sharp mobile photos. The two just aren’t built the same.
You need to know and understand all the specs of your phone’s camera in order to know what quality of photo you can expect. A phone with a very tiny sensor or very few megapixels (or a combination of both) will not take pictures that are bright and crisp in quality. With that, coupled with poor lens quality, you are almost certain to experience blurry photos more often than not.
The only way to get around this is to upgrade to a phone that has a camera with much better camera specifications.
Tip: Use ‘Burst’ mode
When activated, burst mode enables you to take multiple shots at a go. Depending on your device and the camera app you use, burst mode can be activated by tapping and holding the shutter button to take several pictures instead of having to press the shutter button each time.
From the many photos captured in burst mode, you can choose to keep the ones with little to no blur and discard the rest.
Evidently, blur can be caused by a number of things. Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to fix blurry photos after they’ve been captured. But that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid blurry photos.
As outlined above, there are some steps you can take to prevent your mobile photos from tuning out blurry. Don’t let it ruin your potentially great smartphone photos. You can get the most out of your smartphone camera by learning how to use it properly.
If you are a novice at taking photos with a smartphone camera and would like to improve the quality of your mobile photos, I recommend you download my free 22-page ebook that will teach you five ways in which you can do so. It is simple and easy to understand, yet very informative. Get YOUR FREE copy here.