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Thread: What is wrong with this picture?

  1. #1
    Alis's Avatar
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    What is wrong with this picture?

    I want to ask the experts on the forum to help me understand why I can not take sharp lively bright perfect pictures no matter what equipment I use. I had a compact Powershot digital camera and I thought the equipment is not right for this kind of pictures. I switched to Digital Rebel XTi with a couple of L series Canon lenses and a nice external flash. Yet I look at simple portraits other people take and I see a big difference between them and mine no matter wha the setting is. They just seem sharper and brighter and sort of perfect. I have attached an example to show you what I mean. The picture without watermark is mine and the other one I have saved from a commercial website. I am not sure how much of this difference is post-processessing. Please let me know what you would do to make the picutre I took look better.

    Thanks,

    Sedali
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  2. #2
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hello sedali,

    I don't know anything about the cameras you mention as I'm a Nikon user, so I don't know anything about the settings. But what I do know (as learned from this site!) is that all digital photographs can benefit from sharpening in post processing. For portraits my preference is selective sharpening around the eyes, mouth & hair, being careful as to the depth of field. Don't forget the benefits of fill in flash! What software are you using?

    Mark

  3. #3
    Alis's Avatar
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi,

    Thanks for the reply. My previous camera was a point and shoot but Digital Rebel is a SLR. L lens series are high end lenses of Canon.

    The picture I posted is not edited but I use Photoshop CS3 usually when I edit pictures.

    Sedali

  4. #4
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi Sedali,
    First, cute kid! congrats!
    I'm no expert, but here are my 2 cents.

    Photography is an art. There’s no right or wrong. Having said that, I don't think there's anything wrong with your pictures.

    Lens choice:
    The sample you posted looks like a shot with longer lens and smaller aperture. The smaller aperture explains the sharpness but at the same time, I prefer your shot with butter smooth bokeh.

    Lighting:
    My guess is the sample picture posted was done around mid-day with thin cloud cover. The light is soft but directly above.
    Your shot was back lit, possibly sunset. Did you have a small fill light? A small flash?

    In camera setting:
    Do you shot jpeg or RAW? Most DSLRs have options to change sharpness, colour temperature, contrast, saturation etc etc…

    Finally, post production. I’m guessing there’s some PP done to the sample pic. And here’s my attempt.

    PS, I like your post. This is fun.
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    Last edited by McQ; 25th September 2008 at 08:15 PM.

  5. #5
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Nice one Raycer, you have made a difference to that picture.

    Looking at the pro version, that is also a closer crop, which this would benefit from too, removing the distracting head in the foreground.

    It just shows how much a bit of post production can do to lift a photo to another level.

    Keep these shots coming, as Raycer says, the challenge can be good fun!

  6. #6
    Alis's Avatar
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Thanks everyone for your posts and for the compliment! This is actually fun.

    First, nice job on editing. If you don't mind, I need to know what you have done to it!

    Also, as one of you guessed, my picture was taken at around sunset. Also, I use a Canon 70-200 4.0 L IS lens for this one and it was taken from a distance (~3-4 m). I did not use an external flash for this one, so it is the built-in camera flash, which I guess is not enough to fill against the background light coming from the setting sun!

    I usually shoot in RAW and JPEG but then I end up deleting the larger sized RAW images because I am not sure what I can do with them when I am not happy with the image itself for the reasons I mentioned in my first post. When I edit the images, in Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, they look un-natural and artificial, which I do not like. I think I edit them too much... I need some help here, so practical tips that you guys actually do everyday yourself. I know it is not easy to summarize them here. Also any website or books that I can look at to master this would be appreciated.

    I am going to attach another one that is taken with the same Rebel XTi, but indoor with External flash and a Canon L 2.8 24-70mm lens. To me, it has the same problems in terms of colors and sharpness overall or does it?

    Thanks again,

    Sedali
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  7. #7
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Sedali,

    There are hundreds of books out there on techniques and Photoshop, but I would point you as a first option to look at:

    Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book (Make Your Photos Look Like Pros) Vol 1 & 2
    ISBN 0 321 47404 X & ISBN 0 321 52476 4

    Lots of good practical advice (once you get used to his quirky style of writing) that includes PS but also picture taking techniques, which I think was part of your original question.

    Regards the picture itself, it is one of those joyous 'off the peg' moments that I think stems from happy kids. You can't plan it with out it looking staged, really.

    If you are talking about sharpness here, you have captured the eyes well which are the primary focus point on a portrait, and whilst the background is distracting, it is out of focus, which is no bad thing as it concentrates attention back on the subject.

    With a shot like this, enjoy it for the happy moment it is!
    Last edited by shreds; 24th September 2008 at 05:31 AM.

  8. #8
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    I'd agree with all of the above but would add Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers by Martin Evening. You can also download alot of Scott Kelby stuff from Lynda.com.

    Mark

  9. #9
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Thanks Shreds. And I do think Shreds make a good point. As Einstein says, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."

    Sedali, what do you think I did? For now, I'll just say that what I did can all be done using dodge and burn with curve and masking layer in PS.
    take a guess first then I'll tell ya!

    The book that got me started is "How to Wow Photoshop for Photography" by Jack
    Davis and Ben Willmore.

    The second posted picture is a lovely picture that froze the moment forever. When you want to give it more pop in PS, first think about what do you want to remember. And what's important. Highlight that

    cheers
    Ray
    Last edited by Raycer; 25th September 2008 at 06:10 AM.

  10. #10
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for the tips. I sort of know how to use those tools on PS but I guess, you guys use it selectively, something I learned from this discussion. I guess, as you mentioned before, I have to try it and learn not to overdo it...

    Sedali

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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Sedali,

    Can you post your settings for shutter speed, aperature, ISO, in-camera sharpening and whether the photo was cropped or downsized? These will be useful to diagnose the cause of your difficulty getting a sharp photo.

    The first photo (of the girl that is backlit with some fill flash) looks to me like a mild case of front focus with a very narrow depth of field. You'll notice that the hair on closest part of her head is more in focus than the rest of her head. You might get a better result if you put the focus point on her eye, and to use a smaller aperture to get more depth of field, i.e., the so focus does not have to be so precise. Give it a shot and see how it goes.

    The second photo is a tough call. The focus looks right, but as you say its not as sharp as it should be. As already mentioned, the lack of sharpness may partyly be due to the lighting. However there is something else at play here too. It looks like the photo has been reduced in size without sharpening, but that's just a guess on my part. Did you reduce it in size, and what software/method did you use?

    The third picture looks like motion blur or camera shake to me. Even though you used flash, it appears that the flash was only fill. Therefore the majority of your exposure is from ambient light, and you can get some blur from the subject moving or from camera shake. What was your shutter speed and focal length?

    You can, of course, try to fix your sharpness issues by increasing your camera sharpness setting or by sharpening in Photoshop, but it will be much better to get it right straight from the camera.

    People, especially children, are diffucult subjects when it comes to focus. To see if your camera/lens is capable of taking a sharp photo, try photographing a flat, textured surface at a 45 degree angle in contrasty lighting (the lawn being lit by afternoon sun from the side would work nicely) at f/11. Then view the result on your monitor at 100%. Some part of the photo should be in sharp focus, and you should see if it looks as sharp as it should.

    Regards,
    Mike

  12. #12
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi Mike,
    Here is the Exif data for the first picture (little girl):

    Exposure time 1/60 s
    F-number f/4
    Exposure program Normal Program
    ISO speed ratings ISO 400
    Shutter speed value 1/60 s
    Aperture value f/4
    Exposure bias value 0.00 eV
    Metering mode Pattern
    Flash Flash fired, auto mode, red-eye reduction mode
    Focal length 160 mm
    Exposure mode Auto exposure
    White balance Auto white balance
    Scene capture type Standard
    Focus mode AI Focus
    Contrast Normal
    Saturation Normal
    Sharpness Unknown
    ISO Unknown
    Metering mode Evaluative
    AF point selected Unknown
    White balance Auto

    And here is the data for the second one (the little chocolate boy):

    Exposure time 1/60 s
    F-number f/4
    ISO speed ratings ISO 400
    Shutter speed value 1/60 s
    Aperture value f/4
    Focal length 70 mm
    Exposure mode Auto exposure
    White balance Auto white balance
    Focus mode AI Focus
    Contrast Normal
    Saturation Normal
    Sharpness Unknown
    Metering mode Evaluative
    AF point selected Unknown


    They are both resized (33%) using ACDSee (I am guessing not a good thing to do?). They are not sharpened.

    I am not sure what you mean by in-camera sharpenning, so please briefly explain what it is exactly.

    I have heard a lot about this focus error in Canon lenses. Someone told me that the problem is that the lens front-focuses and it needs to be sent to Canon for re-calibration. Not sure how credible it is.

    I bought this Rebel XTi as a transition to a more pro camera. I am waiting for the new version of Canon 5D to come. It would be a big waste of money if I can not take sharp ("Tack sharp", I learned this from Scott Kelby!) pictures...

    Sedali

  13. #13

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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Sedali,

    Thanks for posting the EXIF info. Your shutter speeds caught my attention as a probable cause for blur in the first photo. There is a very popular guideline for shutter speed with available light. It says that the inverse of your shutter speed should be equal to or greater than your focal length times your camera's crop factor. I believe your camera has a crop factor of 1.6. So your first photo, which was shot at 160mm should have been taken at least as fast as 1/250. (I.e., 160 x 1.6 = 256, and the inverse is 1/256). You could have accomplished this shutter speed by increasing the ISO 1600. I know that ISO 1600 has much more noise than ISO 400, but it's nuch better to have a sharp noisy photo than a blurry photo with less noise. Of course image stabilization can help (where you using IS?), but even if it gave you 3-4 stops improvement you would still be right on the edge of the minimum.

    I still think there is more at play than just the shutter speed issue (i.e., what I discussed in my previous post), but since the shutter speed is such as obvious problem, I suggest that you take some test photos at an appropriate shutter speed to see how much of a difference it makes. Depending on your result, you can move on to testing your focus.

    I'm not personally familiar with ACDSee. Maybe someone else can comment. But in general, you must sharpen when you down-size a photo, even if it was sharp before you downsized.

    You asked about in-camera sharpening. This is a setting in your camera menu that affects how your camera creates the JPG files from the sensor data. Generally, the default setting in Canon is more than sufficient for most people's taste, so I wouldn't worry about it unless you changed it.

    Mike
    Last edited by Mike R; 29th September 2008 at 04:20 PM.

  14. #14
    Alis's Avatar
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Thanks, Mike. These are very helpful. And yes, I was using IS.

    Now the question is, which one is easier: taking a picutre with a low ISO and then try to sharpen it later or take a sharp but noisy image using a high ISO and then try to get rid of that noise later?

    Ali

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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Quote Originally Posted by sedali View Post
    Thanks, Mike. These are very helpful. And yes, I was using IS.

    Now the question is, which one is easier: taking a picutre with a low ISO and then try to sharpen it later or take a sharp but noisy image using a high ISO and then try to get rid of that noise later?

    Ali
    The latter is definitely easier, and gives better results. But don't believe me... give it a try for yourself and see how it compares to your previous results.

  16. #16

    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi Sedali.

    Just a brief comment. Really nice shots but they sort of prove why good amateur portraiture is more difficult than good amateur landscape photography.

    As you are shooting kids - notorious for being incapable of staying still for more than a nanosecond, if you must have pin-sharp images, you need to get the shutter speed up to 1/250th as a minimum as the earlier post suggests.

    That said, there are some gorgeous, if slightly soft, images around that I've preferred to 'noisy' sharp ones - so that's a taste issue.

    All the best, Paul.

  17. #17
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Quote Originally Posted by sedali View Post
    I want to ask the experts on the forum to help me understand why I can not take sharp lively bright perfect pictures no matter what equipment I use. i
    Sedali,
    When it comes to taking better pictures of kids, I would say capturing the moments are more important in my opinion. If you dwell over the technical too much, you'll miss their spontaneity.

    Increase your odds of success by having the camera around all the time and keep shooting. It's not a waste after all not like film.

    Being ready even before you hold the camera up to your face is important. Most of the time, you can set your exposure beforehand. The mere act of doing that first allows you to concentrate on the focus and the moment instead of trying to juggle exposure as well.

    If you use the manual setting like I do, it means the camera assumes you know what you're doing with exposure, so it also will react faster since it only needs to focus for you.

  18. #18

    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi Sedali

    I ahve not read all the suggestons of sll the experts but from my initial undestanding , I see u use ISO 400 which adds more noise in case of a digital camera and in normal or bringt natural light settings, this might effet the true tone and sharpness of the image.

    you can consider using ISO 100 or 200 for such photos. I am sure you will notice the difference

  19. #19
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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    the pic of the small boy is cute and has the one ingredient that no amount of technique will make up for - he is enjoying himself and therefore nice alert expression.

    The other are right, with DSLR never go below 1/160 sec with a lightweight lens nor 1/200 with heavy IS ones unless you have a tripod. The latter too much of a liability with kids who move fast and get bored fast.

    Am learning myself on my grandchildren. Focus on the eyes. You can get away with most of the face slightly soft, ie very low sharpness setting on original (in camera or adjust back in RAW) , but then do a soft-edged selection around the eyes and sharpen that (and maybe increase saturation) there only. Work on the skin tones to get warmth but not exaggeration - study raycers version of your original.

  20. #20

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    Re: What is wrong with this picture?

    Hi Sedali,

    Like you, i also was wondering why my pictures lacked the finishing touch.
    I was not (and am still not) familiar with post-processing methods.
    I am not interested in photo-editing anyway, but my pictures sometimes need some improvement.
    For optimizing purposes the software wich come with your camera, Digital Photo Professional (DPP),
    will do a very good job. For me it was the missing link to reach the finishing touch.
    For reasons unknown to me DPP shows significant better results then other photo-editing software like for example Lightzone and the Gimp.
    I have never worked with Adobe photoshop software so i can not compare it.
    But in case you have never tryed DPP you could be very surprised and satisfied with it.

    Kind regards,

    D3debian

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