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Thread: Keeping in focus with group shots

  1. #1
    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Keeping in focus with group shots

    I know this is bordering on basic, but it seems to be something I'm having a problem with. When I am only photographing one person, I tend to use a lower f/stop around f/2.2 or f/3.2 because I like to blow the background out of focus. On the last couple of shoots I've done, I've only been able to walk away with a few keepers, and even then one of the two people in the image aren't quite sharp enough. For the shoot I was going up to f/5.6, but it seems that in most cases it wasn't quite enough, so a couple of images were closer to f/8.0. The problem then becomes that I seem to almost never be in enough light to get proper exposure, without dropping down to too slow a shutter speed, which then causes me to have camera shake. I honestly don't use a tripod (Even though I have one) for portraits, because it feels so restricting and that I can't move around quick enough to easily get a more interesting angle. Maybe I just need to bite the bullet and use the tripod to help me get more keepers. But then you hear about the people who use ridiculously low shutter speeds and they're still getting tac sharp images, which I know just comes from a lot of practice...and how will I ever get better and be able to do that if I'm always tied to a tripod. Dilemma!

    As far as what lens I use, I tend to like my results with my 85mm better than my 40mm. For whatever reason it seems to get sharper images and just be an overall better piece of glass. Problem being of course that I need a faster shutter to hand hold an 85mm than a 40mm, and I seem to lack the light most of the time to do that.

    Just in case you ask, my gear is below.

    Nikon D7000
    Nikkor 85mm 1.8G
    Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro
    SB 700

  2. #2

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    I think a bit more information about your shooting conditions would be helpful.
    I'd guess that you do most of your shoots indoors with ambient light (only?).
    And what ISO setting do you use?

    One thing that might help is a monopod: it'll allow different angles (though height
    will be rather fixed), and allows you to gain a few stops (but it only helps against
    camera shake, if the target moves, you're out of luck).

  3. #3

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    I second the monopod idea. I got one very recently and have found it very useful, indeed. The 'innovation' I can claim is that I scavenged a particularly tall and clumsy ball head from a tripod and mounted it on the mono. Now, I can extend the bottom two sections fully and allow the top section to reach the ground and lock it there. This way, the viewfinder is at eye level and, having eliminated stooping from the stance, things are much more stable.
    There is one other thing to try, though.
    I second your decision to use the 85. I shoot a lot in dark interiors and I have found the two most critical things are to shoot so no cropping is necessary and to shoot so that no exposure boost in post is necessary. If this means raising the iso out of your comfort zone, so be it. For most uses, short of billboard display for A-list corporations, the resulting file will be entirely adequate. I routinely shoot the D300 and D90 at 3200 and have no problems.
    Best, Hendrik

  4. #4
    rawill's Avatar
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    None of the replies have mentioned altering the EC. Is there a reason for this, would this be bad practice.

    Just asking.

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    I'm also interested in the ISO settings that you're using, Joshua, though I really do think I have two solutions to your problem (not that there are not others). I use your camera model and a Nikon 85/1.8 AF-D and a Nikon 35/2 AF-D regularly and have no problem achieving sharpness at whatever depth of field that I want.

    Try this combination of settings when NOT using your flash:

    Aperture priority exposure mode
    ISO 100
    Auto ISO configuration
    Maximum ISO: 3200 or 6400 (I use 6400, as the noise is not unreasonable and can be dealt with during post-processing). Your camera will use ISO 100 if there is enough light and will automatically use a higher ISO if needed.

    Minimum shutter: 1/500 (not because you need it to handhold a 40mm or 85mm focal length; because you might need it that fast to stop the action). Your camera will use at least that shutter speed and will use even faster shutter speeds if the lighting conditions require them.


    Try this combination of settings when using your flash to stop the action:

    Camera settings
    Manual exposure mode
    Shutter: 1/60
    Aperture: whatever setting you want to use
    Exposure compensation: 0 (You can set it to anything that you want, but be aware that when using the flash's exposure compensation as recommended below, the system adds the flash compensation value to the camera's compensation value.)
    Auto ISO: disabled
    ISO 100 (If you feel that that setting requires so much flash power that your batteries are draining too fast, increase the ISO perhaps to 800.)

    Flash settings
    TTL
    Adjust the flash's exposure compensation to generate the desired histogram
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 26th January 2013 at 06:57 PM.

  6. #6

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    Quote Originally Posted by rawill View Post
    None of the replies have mentioned altering the EC. would this be bad practice.
    Adjusting the exposure compensation will affect exposure and only indirectly improves sharpness and only when reduced exposure compensation allows a faster shutter speed. So, in all but the rarest cases, use exposure compensation to adjust exposure (its intended purpose), not shutter speed.

  7. #7
    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    It would be nice to see examples of where you are having problems Joshua. Otherwise we are just speculating. A "group" shot could be just about anything from full-body shots to a head shots and the approaches to both would be completely different. If you are not getting enough light; add light or increase your ISO; you should be fine at anything up to ISO 800. You have a SB700; get yourself a stand, umbrella and clamp and shoot with off-camera flash using Commander mode. I spent around $100 for the hardware and already had a SB600. I tend to be someone that shoots wide open as well, but will be a bit more conservative with group shots.

    I personlly would not use an 85mm lens on a DX sensor for that type of shot; you are getting to a 127.5mm equiv. focal length; that would work for me on an FX camera (I shoot both a D90 and a D800). You would have to have lots of room to shot with that lens. I suspect your 40mm (60mm equiv) would be more suitable. I don't have either lens, so I can't comment on them, but I do understand that the f/1.8 85mm lens is really quite sharp.

    I generally do not use a tripod for shooting people. I tend to move around a fair bit and one can't do that with a tripod or a monopod.

    This shot was taken a couple of years ago at a small flash workshop, using the off-camera setup I mentioned before, positioned camera left. Black seamless background was used. Shot with a D90 at ISO 200 at 1/60 sec with a f/1.8 35mm Nikkor at f/16.

    Keeping in focus with group shots

  8. #8
    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    I try to keep my ISO at 100 just for quality, but will sometimes take it up to 350. When I go higher it seems there's just too much noise. I may not have a good enough understanding of noise reduction because it seems like to reduce noise you end up softening the image, which is the last thing I want if I want clarity.

    Here is a classic example.

    While the person on the left is completely in focus, the gentleman on the right is too soft.

    ISO 320
    1/100
    f/5.6

    Keeping in focus with group shots

  9. #9

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    I'm no help, Joshua, as at least at this small size the two people appear equally sharp to my eyes.

    Even so, people and clothes move even when standing relatively still. They move fast enough that you will sometimes get motion blur when using a shutter of 1/100 as you did here. As an example, when I examine the zippers on the two men, the zippers on the man on the right aren't as sharp as the other man's zippers. I think that's motion blur. I think that because other parts of the image that are farther away from the camera are sharper.

    When you determine there is too much noise, what viewing size are you using? The reason I ask is that I got good advice a long time ago that when viewing a full-size image at about 35% or less, if I can't detect the noise there is no need to be concerned about it. That's at least until such time as I am making a really large print.

  10. #10
    pnodrog's Avatar
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    It looks as if you at f5.6 you ran out of depth of field. Shooting f8 at ISO 600 or 640 would have probably done it. The zips are fine but the right hand guy's face is just a bit further away.
    The EXIF data does not give how far away you were but if you know go to http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html and check what DOF you have to play with.. Noise is a secondary consideration to focus.

  11. #11

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    Joshua,

    I forgot to mention that using a shutter at 1/100 when using an 85mm lens mounted on a camera with a 1.5 crop factor is dangerously slow just in terms of hand holding the camera unless the lens has image stabilization. I don't think yours does, though I could be wrong. If yours doesn't, the standard guideline is to use a shutter speed of no less than 1/125 in that situation. Once I realized that my hand holding technique doesn't meet that standard and decided to shoot at no less than 1/160, my images suddenly, miraculously became sharp.

  12. #12

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    Quote Originally Posted by pnodrog View Post
    Noise is a secondary consideration to focus.
    That's a really important point. It doesn't matter how little noise the image has if it doesn't meet your criteria for sharpness.

  13. #13
    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    You definitely ran out of DoF; f/5.6 is just too shallow based on where your subjects were standing. The person on the right is definitely a bit soft, and there might be a bit of softness all round, so I wonder if the slow shutter speed might be part of the problem (or it could from the downsampling in reducing the image size). Stopping down another stop or so to f/8 might be all that the shot required. Unfortunately, if you don't want to shoot at a faster ISO, you are going to have to add more light to the shot. I thought that the D7000 is pretty good right noise wise up to around ISO 800.

  14. #14
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    I have to agree with Manfred. You should be pushing your ISO higher. You may not need to go as high as 800 (although that camera will handle it as he points out), but you would be well within acceptable limits at 640 as Paul mentioned.

    As a primary fix though (and you'll have to excuse me if this has already been brought up, as I've just quickly read the posts), why aren't you adding light? You own a flash, and that would solve the problem.

    Add light, and close up the aperture. That makes sense to me.

  15. #15

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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    Joshua: I have the D7000 and do not have any problems, that sensor is very very good, you do not have to worry about noise until pass ISO 1600 or more in my experense. Set you ISO between 400 and 800 and you f-stop around f/8 to f/11. Remember you can help with sharpness in post production. Shooting in RAW you can adjust the clarity to help somewhat and also by applying a unsharp mask or even a high pass filter. Again that sensor is the fore runner of the ones on the D800, D600 and D4 cameras, much better that what came before.

    Cheers:

    Allan

  16. #16
    William W's Avatar
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    Re: Keeping in focus with group shots

    In regard to the sample image appearing soft, any one, or a combination of many of the following may apply. Ceratinly on the face of it, the DoF is inadequate:

    • Depth of Field
      If the sample image is a full frame crop, from your camera:
      You only have about 12” DoF at F/5.6 for a Tight Half Shot in Landscape Orientation.
      The man at Camera Right is standing behind the man at Camera Left. For a ‘stacked’ Tight Half Shot in Landscape Orientation using an APS-C Camera (i.e. one person behind the other) you need about F/11 to be ‘safe’. F/11 will give you around 24 inches DoF – but the two people need to be squeezed tight together.
      For two men posed, as in the example, F/16 would have been a better choice for adequate DoF – F/16 will give you about 36inches DoF for that FRAMING.
    • Shutter Speed
      Tv = 1/100s (Shutter Speed) is not ‘safe’ for hand holding there could be CAMERA MOVEMENT recorded. With an 85mm/APS-C combination, Tv= 1/200s would be my suggested slowest limit.
    • Shutter Speed
      Tv = 1/100s is not ‘safe’ for People Standing, there could be SUBJECT MOVEMENT recorded. for Adults Standing still in a comfortable position, Tv = 1/125s would be my suggested slowest limit.
    • Lighting
      The lighting is SOFT, which leads to the appearance of ‘general softness’. This can be addressed to some extent by increasing the mid tone contrast in post production.
    • Post
      Post Production Sharpening might not adequate.



    Below is an A/B (original on the top). The enhanced image has the Mid Tone Contrast boosted slightly and also (after upsizing) had a two stage sharpening applied (the downsized to post on the web. On a Studio Monitor the is improvement though it might not be as obvious here posted in line - but you can view it large by clicking on it.

    However, no post production technique will really address inadequate DoF – which has to be addressed at source.

    Keeping in focus with group shots


    WW
    Last edited by William W; 28th January 2013 at 05:34 PM.

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