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Thread: Portrait help, please?

  1. #1

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    Portrait help, please?

    My daughter's prom is Thursday night. Last night, we tried on the dress, shoes etc and decided to take some test shots, on the back deck, just as the sun was starting to go down. Camera was the 40D. (Info is under each shot). They were handheld.

    Problem: I can't seem to get a sharp shot. They are so soft. These have ACR noise reduction (ramped up to the max) and CS4 sharpening (300/.3/0). The focus point, I thought, was on her face. ISO was 500. Neither are cropped. These represent about twenty shots- all the same even when some settings were tweaked. Arghh!!! I will be handholding the camera on prom night, so would like to figure out what I am doing wrong. Any advice always appreciated and put into practice ASAP Thank you!

    Myra

    Portrait help, please?


    50mm lens 1/125 f1.8 iso 500 (above)

    Portrait help, please?

    50 mm lens 1/90 f1.8 ISO 500 (above)

  2. #2

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    I'm no expert but the second shot is beautiful as it is. However if you are using the 50mm wide open then your shots will be soft. Stop down to F4 or F5.6 and maybe push the ISO to 600 or even 800. Don't worry about the noise, its overrated. You could also beg, borrow or steal (maybe not) a speedlight if you don't have one, gives a great catch light if set up correctly (See www.ephotozine.com as they are running a whole month on lighting at the moment).

    Good luck,
    Peter

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    I'm no expert either, but the second is indeed good as is. Perhaps the focus is a tad too close (seems to be on the hair, so mouth and chin get softer), on the eye would have been perfect. And stopping down to 5.6-8 (if possible) is in general considered optimal for sharpness (also, you'll get more DoF, so the farther parts of the face and shoulder get a bit sharper)

    Nice shots

    Regards,

    Remco

  4. #4
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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Hi Myra,

    In addition to Peter and Remco's advice on using a smaller aperture I feel I should add...

    Contrary to my earlier advice, I am discovering that ramping the ACR noise reduction to max. will cause a loss of fine detail; e.g. on hair, or in my case, on feathers. Thus I am beginning to use Neat Image more, and ACR's NR less, these last few days, the effect is far less pronounced on some subjects than others, clearly what I shoot has changed a bit.

    The other thing I would check is image size reduction techniques used for display here, as you will need to resharpen after the reduction. Have you read this? My apologies if you have done all this.

    Since these are posed, you could use a tripod and ask your daughter to pause breathing for a moment and use a longish shutter speed like 1/2sec to get a low iso and f5.6.

    They are nice pictures though, here's the second with a little sharpen over eyes and lips, plus 150%, 0.4px and 3 threshold

    Portrait help, please?

    HTH,
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 22nd June 2010 at 06:11 PM.

  5. #5

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    To me, the first image appears to have the fence sharper than her face so it is possible that the camera has auto focused incorrectly. Assuming you used auto focus and it was set correctly.

    Just one thought here, which focusing method did you use? I always prefer to just use the centre focusing point to avoid any accidental wrong focus problems.

    Try again with different focusing lengths. And also try flash; use the basic camera flash if you don't have an external unit and see what happens. You may have to use flash on the night anyway.

    As Peter and Remco said, using the lens fully open can cause softness. You should be able to avoid camera shake with those shutter speeds.

    Show some straight from the camera alternatives at totally different settings so that we can have a better idea of what is going wrong. No need for her to get 'all togged up' for these, just use casual clothes for now.

  6. #6

    Re: Portrait help, please?

    I'm finding when viewing these that the bright areas are attracting my eye first (as it does with any shot). Her face is rather in shadow, compared to the brightly lit upper body areas. I think a flash-gun with diffuser would sort it out - do you have one? Is the prom night indoors?

  7. #7

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Hi, Myra;

    I agree with the other comments: almost no lens will perform well wide open, and I think every lens will be at least a little better a couple of stops closed. Looking at the test data on the 50mm f/1.8, it appears that it's very soft at f/1.8. Also, having only one light source (sunlight) will make the lighting very difficult.

    My only additional comment is that a squared-up pose with full face is likely to be unflattering. As Colin has said, super-models can be photographed that way, because they're unnaturally thin, but for normal humans, it's unlikely to be the best pose. Maybe try some poses with your daughter's face at an angle to the camera, still showing the dress.

    Cheers,
    Rick

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Myra

    Why are you shooting at 1/125 and 1/90 resulting in the need for f1.8?

    What's wrong with taking the shutter down to, say, 1/60, or slower if you have image stabilisation, so that you can wind down the aperture and get a greater depth of field. Because I don't think there's anything wrong with the kit. It's what you're asking it to do and where your focusing that seems to be the issue. You've got very sharp focus in both of these. It's just centred on the wrong place and because the DoF is so narrow, you're not giving yourself a chance..

  9. #9

    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Hi Myra

    It is my daughters prom next Thursday so I will be experimenting shortly. As others have said if you have a external flash use it. Camera set in Av mode and adjust your flash control settings in camera so that you can use hi-speed sync. You will lose some power doing this but in these conditions it should be ok since you are just giving enough flash to fill the shadows. You can always play with FEC until the exposure is correct (enable blinkies for this as well as checking the histogram). Oh and keep your ISO well down (100) if you intend to use that 50mm anywhere wide open.

    PS; if you do not have an external flash with ETTL try it with the onboard flash. I do not think there is much point in diffusing outdoors but if you find the flash harsh try holding a single sheet of paper hankerchief over the flash

    Steve

  10. #10

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    You are all great! Thank you for all the advice.

    Quick recap: I do have and external flash, but I'm not even on that chapter yet... I will try it out and see what happens. No one I know has reflectors, flash guns etc and our camera store does not lend/lease. The reflector, in particular, is on my "to get soon" list. Rob, the lighting was an outdoor light attached to the wall of the house. (How low tech is that?) The prom pics will be taken outside in our neighbour's lovely gardens.

    Ah Ha moment for the 1.8. I have to stop doing that. I try to use available light, hand held, and end up going to 1.8 for a faster shutter speed. As mentioned, I will go the higher iso route, instead.

    Tripod. I will use one on Thursday night for as many shots as I can (with a remote).

    I'll go easier on the noise reduction, too.



    I used centre focus and then moved the blinking thing (Sorry, it's been a long day and terms escape me) set to the left so that when I turned the camera, I could get the top part of the photo in focus. Guess that didn't work too well

    Donald, I love my new to me camera! I know the mistakes are all pilot errors, so I still get a tiny bit frustrated with myself. I think what I will do is find the setting that makes a little red light blink over the actual focus point and see what on earth I am doing.

    Again, thanks so much. Rest assured that I will be re-reading these posts and trying to put your advice into practice. Steve, enjoy photographing your daughter. I hope she has a wonderful time!

    Myra

  11. #11
    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maritimer1 View Post
    Ah Ha moment for the 1.8. I have to stop doing that.
    Write that out 100 times and submit it to the forum for inspection at the start of school tomorrow morning!

  12. #12

    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maritimer1 View Post
    ... the lighting was an outdoor light attached to the wall of the house. (How low tech is that?)
    I don't think it matters. The thing with light is not how much it costs or how low/high tech it is, but how effective it is. Natural light probably is the best, but it's very difficult to direct in the right places. Artificial light is great because it's normally controllable, and it can be done on the cheap. All you need to do is possibly adjust the WB to suit. You probably could have just pointed an angle-poise lamp at your daughter and got an improved result. You can't really do that at a prom ball though!

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Quote Originally Posted by carregwen View Post
    I don't think it matters. The thing with light is not how much it costs or how low/high tech it is, but how effective it is. Natural light probably is the best, but it's very difficult to direct in the right places. Artificial light is great because it's normally controllable, and it can be done on the cheap. All you need to do is possibly adjust the WB to suit. You probably could have just pointed an angle-poise lamp at your daughter and got an improved result. You can't really do that at a prom ball though!
    Artificial light works great, but since you mentioned that you'll be pulling out your strobe, you should watch for getting mixed light. If you have tungsten light on one side, and flash on the other, it will be hard to get color right. It's good to use the same kind of lights throughout, unless you're intentionally doing something for effect.

    Cheers,
    Rick

  14. #14

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Colin, you and the other portrait specialists make this look so easy!

    My "model" was at her part time job tonight, so no opportunity to practice. We'll try tomorrow. Rob, my deck light came on when the light really started to fade. That was when I switched from 1/125 to 1/90, too. I did notice that the light picked up the red highlights in her hair. (Noticeable in the second photo.)

    If anyone is reading and is in the same boat as I, here's what I am going to try next based on the above advice.

    What will I do differently for composition: Pose daughter 3/4 view

    Camera changes: Enable all the blinkies, for starters! Check test shots to see where focus really is happening
    Plan A) I am going to stick with a 1/60 -1/90 shutter speed, stop down to 4 or so and push the ISO up to 600 or 800. Focus on eye or use centre point if standing back.

    Plan B) Tri-pod, shutter speed 1/2, low ISO Tell her to hold her breath for a moment

    Plan C) If the light goes (we'll be outside in a garden or in our front room by the piano if it rains), try the speedlite with tripod. Guess I had better practice with that tonight and see where the piano lamp works best. Here, Kitty, Kitty...

    Post processing - easy on the ACR noise reduction, try 150/.4/3 USM

    and- Write out a hundred lines that I will not keep shooting at 1.8!

    OK, it's only 10 PM. I'm off to practice now.

    Myra

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maritimer1 View Post
    Colin, you and the other portrait specialists make this look so easy!
    Hi Myra,

    In all honesty, I sustept that portraiture would do better in the monthly competitions if people new just how many things you need to do right to get good shot. It's not easy - but with practice and having the right equipment, it's definately easier than trying to do it with no experience and not having the right equipment. Some of my "easy" portraits use around $50,000 (or more) worth of equipment to come up with a "casual" looking portrait!

    I've only had a quick read through most of the above, so my "quick" notes will probably duplicate a lot of what's already been written ...

    1. If you don't have a flash that you can use then you're stuck with natural light - but - a 50mm lens, wide open, is still quite a wide-angle lens, even on a crop-factor camera - so - if you're trying for head and shoulders type shots your going to have to get quite close - and that means that your depth of field is going to be minimal at wide-open apertures. Bottom line is you're going to NEED to be shooting at F5.6 (or even narrower) - and you're going to NEED reasonable shutter speeds (1/60th minimum, preferably 1/100th or more) -- and I think that with these competing requirements, you're going to be caught between a rock and a hard place. What I would do is use Aperture Priority - dial in F5.6 - because if you don't stop-down the aperture enough then every shot WILL be depth-of-field limited. So the other choise really is "do you use a high ISO and have more noise" or "do you use a low ISO - have less noise - but risk camera shake and/or motion blur". Bottom line is - especially with prints or web display - the noise will be a LOT less objectionable than motion blur and/or camera shake. So bottom line is I would max out the ISO as high as it will go.

    2. In terms of composition, avoid having the nose break the cheek line, and avoid having the nose obscure the far eye - and don't have the head turned so far as the far eye "hangs" out the side of the face". Normally position the eyes so that there is some white showing either side. Keep the shoulders at an angle to the camera, and it often helps to rotate the camera around 20 degrees with portraiture to give the shot a bit more "energy".

    3. In terms of ISO, stick to full multiples (100, 200, 400, 800 etc - odd steps give more noise eg 800 will give you less noise than 600, and a higher shutter-speed to boot!

    4. Noise reduction in post-processing is basically a fancy word or "blur" (as you've discovered" ) - if the shot is exposed correctly then you won't need much -- it'll look horrible on the screen at 100% (just like your freshly vacuumed carpet will look horrible under a microscope) -- thank goodness in the real world we neither look at carpets with a microscope or photographs at 100%

    5. In terms of focusing, focus on the eyes (end of story). Also, it's better to select an AF point that's close to the eye - focus and recompose is a PITA, and not as accurate.

    6. If you're game to use a speedlite then things change dramatically if you can get it off camera ...

    ... but that's a whole new post

    Hope this helps

  16. #16
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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    What was the time of day when you took the photograph? if it was in the evening wouldn't the light be softer at that time of day?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maritimer1 View Post
    My daughter's prom is Thursday night. Last night, we tried on the dress, shoes etc and decided to take some test shots, on the back deck, just as the sun was starting to go down. Camera was the 40D. (Info is under each shot). They were handheld.

    Problem: I can't seem to get a sharp shot. They are so soft. These have ACR noise reduction (ramped up to the max) and CS4 sharpening (300/.3/0). The focus point, I thought, was on her face. ISO was 500. Neither are cropped. These represent about twenty shots- all the same even when some settings were tweaked. Arghh!!! I will be handholding the camera on prom night, so would like to figure out what I am doing wrong. Any advice always appreciated and put into practice ASAP Thank you!

    Myra

    Portrait help, please?


    50mm lens 1/125 f1.8 iso 500 (above)

    Portrait help, please?

    50 mm lens 1/90 f1.8 ISO 500 (above)

  17. #17

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    That is so very helpful, thank you! I broke both the nose and eye rule and didn't even know it I have a 430EXII speedlite that I hardly ever use. Last night, I stuck it on and followed the cat and dog around to see what would happen with the flash angled up, down and sideways. If we have to take the pictures inside, I will definitely have to use it as by 6:00 pm our inside natural light has gone. (Our living room is rather dark.) If it's nice out, we'll be outside. Sunset is around 9pm this week.

    With nine focus points, I find it hard to get a shot that's close to the eye and still get the composition I want. I guess I'll have to go for the eye and crop a bit later. That would make sense.

    I've been using either shutter speed mode or manual to be able to hand hold. I'll get out the tripod and dial in the 5.6 and up.

    Hmmm...maybe I can practice tonight. The junior high (grades 6-9) where I teach is holding their grad dance tonight. Bet I can convince some of my students to pose for me if I run off some photos for them. One of the other teachers will be taking "official" photos, so I'll just stay out of her way. It will be inside, so good chance to try the speedlite.

  18. #18

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Hi Myra,

    OK - if you have a flash, lets confuse you a bit more

    If you can only mount it on the camera then you'll get the best results pointing it sideways at a light coloured wall or something else reflective to bounce the light back in a diffused form, and give the subject something (anything) other than straight-on "rabbit in the headlights" look. Ideally get someone to hold a reflector, if possible. With a flash you'll probably need an ISO of 400 or 800, and probably a good idea if you get familiar with the HSS function so that you won't restrict the camera to a max of 1/200th (insurance!)

    Also ideally, you'll want to have a mix of ambient and flash light -- but that can also create issues if the lighting is different types; unfortunately, there are so many variables

    Do you know what types of lighting you'll be shooting in?

  19. #19

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    Re: Portrait help, please?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maritimer1 View Post

    With nine focus points, I find it hard to get a shot that's close to the eye and still get the composition I want. I guess I'll have to go for the eye and crop a bit later. That would make sense.
    Hi, Myra;

    I almost always keep my auto-focus set to the single point in the center: when I use auto-focus, I want to focus on something specific, then hold halfway and move to get the frame where I want it. I distrust multiple auto-focus points, but maybe that's just me.


    Hmmm...maybe I can practice tonight. The junior high (grades 6-9) where I teach is holding their grad dance tonight. Bet I can convince some of my students to pose for me if I run off some photos for them. One of the other teachers will be taking "official" photos, so I'll just stay out of her way. It will be inside, so good chance to try the speedlite.
    This would be great: it will give you an idea of how well your flash and the indoor lights will combine.

    Good luck!
    Rick

  20. #20

    Re: Portrait help, please?

    With nine focus points, I find it hard to get a shot that's close to the eye and still get the composition I want. I guess I'll have to go for the eye and crop a bit later. That would make sense.
    As Rick says and you can always use the single point of focus to focus on the eye, keep the shutter half depressed, recompose then shoot.

    Some of my "easy" portraits use around $50,000 (or more) worth of equipment to come up with a "casual" looking portrait!
    Arrrg...that means I am $49,751.01 off becoming a half decent photographer. And to get all 4804 members registered to this forum taking "easy", "casual" portraits would require an investment of $240,250,000. Thats scary because to recoup the cost of equipment for 1 member would mean selling 200 portraits at $250 each. To recoup the cost to all the members would mean selling 961,000 portraits. I suspect though, that Myra will get personally priceless results to treasure for the cost of a humble speedlite and a sheet of bog roll

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