Crisp formals?

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by tina___cliff_t, Oct 29, 2009.

  1. Does anyone know why our formals never seem to be very crisp, or crisp at all. Is this a focus issue on our part? Or am I just looking at the image to closely? This seems to be a problem with large groups. If its 5-6 people they seem to be better.
  2. It could be a lot of things. Do you have a specific sample image you can post?
  3. LOL must have been posting at the same time.
  4. whats the lens ur using?
  5. Tameron 17-50mm. This was at 17mm.
  6. Here is another example. Same lens, I don't have the exact info. I can tell you it was not as dark, so lower ISO etc. Its still not super crisp, but better than above. We try to shoot all our group shots at at least f8 or higher, but they always seem to be a little fuzzy.
  7. the 2nd one aint that much sharper either.. maybe its the lens..... have you tried shooting at a wider aperture? like around 5.6?
    any reason you are shooting at f9 at 17mm ? Do you really need that much dof?
  8. The reason we started using f8+ is because when we first started out, anything lower would leave some people in the group out of focus and others were in focus. I'm telling you, group shots seem to be our problem area.
    I've seen the bridesmaids one above printed at an 8x10, and it looks clear on paper. Which is why I worried i was looking to closely at the pictures.
  9. Does anyone else have examples of how crisp a group photo should look at 100%?
  10. What camera? ISO 800 on some camera's is pushing it.
    Could be the lens. I'm not a fan of 3rd party lenses or any non-pro lens.
    Many lenses don't perfrom well at either end of it's zoom capabilities too.
  11. I second Jon C's question: What camera are you using? I doubt it's the camera, but I'm curious.
    It could be the lens alone, but I doubt it. There seems to be more than one Tamron 17-50, but at least one of the models seems to have good reviews, like here. Should be good enough to do a better job. Of course, some lenses just aren't very good, and sometimes a lens is well reviewed, but the copy of the lens you buy is defective (back focuses or whatever).
    As Jon C suggested, ISO 800 is a bit much for some cameras. I don't usually shoot above ISO 400 when I'm using flash - it should not be necessary. But I'm not sure the problem can be explained with a high ISO, either. Here's a link to some group shots I took not too long ago of a school volleyball team. Gym was badly lit. Used 2 flash units, radio triggers, bounced off wall behind camera (if I recall correctly). Not master work, but satisfactory: I've sold prints and coach and parents were happy. First shots were taken at ISO 200. The later few shots in the gallery were - due to a totally dumb mistake on my part - taken at ISO 1100. (I switched to ISO to shoot the baby without flash, and forgot to put it back.) Anyway, I mention it because the ISO 1100 shots are pretty sharp, too - actually very sharp when printed. Good light and proper exposure matter.
    Your example #2 doesn't look too bad to me. Don't get hung up too much on how things look at 100%. The big question is, do the shots look good when printed? You should also be able to get the image to look good on your computer screen at normal resolution but printing is the acid test.
    As for the first shot, which I do think has clear technical weaknesses, my inclination is to think that there's just not enough light - and you're too far away from the subjects. Would like to know more about the flash setup you used here. But if you were standing 30ft or more away from a wide line of people, as you appear to have been, well, it would take some thinking to make that work, especially with the backlighting provided by the sky and with your camera stopped down so dramatically. I agree with others who've said that f/9 seems a bit extreme. Remember that when you're using flash, the aperture controls how effective the flash is. I try to stay at f/5.6 or thereabouts when shooting flash, if I can.
    I wonder what the first shot looked like BEFORE post processing. I'd bet a nickel it was underexposed to start with and you pulled the exposure up on the computer.
    First thing I'd do is work on flash technique, make sure you're getting enough good light on the subjects. Use off-camera flash if you can, and multiple flash units if possible, especially for larger groups. It's all about light!
    Were you using a tripod for these shots?
  12. I always shoot mine at F8 to F11 too but I think this was a issue with the high ISO and the fact that your not in the "Sweet spot" of the lens. When you shoot 4 to 5 people, you zoom into the sweet spot. I bet the same shot with ISO 200 on a tripod would have gotten you a little better result. I too don't use any 3rd party lens. v/r Buffdr
  13. I believe you have missed focus. Here is an image I shot with my 20D and Tamron 17-50mm, full image and 100 percent view. The Tamron, when it misses focus, will tend to front focus--way front. So I'd check for very near objects that are in focus. In the top image, check the grass toward the lower edge.
    Anyway, when you evaluate an image for blurriness, you first look to see if anything is in sharp focus. That will rule out motion blur, in most cases. Do that and let us know.
    What focusing mode are you using? And are you sharpening when converting to RAW? If not, what sharpness setting are you using?
  14. Sorry--forgot the ISO, which was 800.
  15. one more thing...are you using a UV filter?
  16. Unless your lens/camera are out of calibration, it probably isn't the lens ... at f/5.6 or 8, most lenses start getting pretty equal in performance. Stopping down to 11 or beyond can begin introducing defraction ... so, f/16 isn't the best choice unless you really need it for DOF.
    The appearance of "sharpness" has a great deal to do with contrast and quality of light. Your first image is pretty flat lighting exaggerated by subject underexposure at ISO 800. That is pretty tough lighting conditions with a group that large unless you have some mighty powerful strobes to work with. Your second example is shot in brighter, cleaner light and looks to be a done at a lower ISO.
    While Nadine's image is also ISO 800, it looks to be lit camera right by off-camera strobes, which is a more specular light quality as well as being directional.
  17. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    In the top image I think there are three elements. The second two exacerbate the first primary issue:
    1. You missed focus
    2. The image is underexposed on the skin tone and those were pulled up in post production (not enough Flash Fill.
    3. Because ISO was 800 the resultant noise (when the skin tones were brought up) is far worse than it should be.
    Elements #2 and #3 are not the cause, but just exacerbate the effect of the already OoF faces.
    Also, did you have a filter on?
    "Does anyone else have examples of how crisp a group photo should look at 100%?"
    I searched for one of my images that used Flash and was taken at High ISO – I don’t have many - and that point of using an high ISO (and not nailing the exposure) has already been mentioned. Especially important in regards to this mater of ISO. : what is your camera?
    My shot was taken at ISO1250 (because it was just at the time I was moving from working Sans Flash to using a Bounce-Card Bracket & Release Flash as the Key Light - the sun had already set, but I was still at an high ISO from shooting Available Light. Tech Specs: 5D + 24L: F/4 @ 1/60s @ ISO1250.
    Yes, there is residual noise, and there is a little CA (typical of this lens in certain conditions) - but the centre youth is in acceptable sharp focus as is youth at the edge.
    This image was Focused and Recomposed because I know I have about 5ft DoF for a Full Shot Landscape, on a 5D @ F/4 – and for this shot I was at at my safety limit . . .
  18. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Hah! we were writing at the same time about the underexposure and lack of flash fill - - - I love it when little things like that happen . . :)
  19. Several more, for flatter light, not as flash dominated, and for smaller body lenths.
  20. Specs: top image, f6.3, 1/80th, ISO 800, 22mm. Bottom image, f4, 1/60th, ISO 800, 17mm.
    I agree calibration may be off. But I'd explore missed focus first.
  21. I say that it is 100% the camera. Look at it this way. If you shoot a picture of one person there are going to be more pixels in the image making up their face, in contrast, if you shoot a group of say 10 people there will be less pixels making up each person. The result of the group shot is going to be a slightly more pixelated/grainy look when you zoom in to 100% crop.
    A solution to this problem would be to upgrade cameras one with more megapixels, or shoot 2 1/4" film, it can definately handle the people! Or I think the key is to keep your ISO down as low as possible for large groups.
  22. I don't think so, Josh. This is why I chose my first example. The height of the people in it in relation to the height of the frame is about the same as Tina's Sample 2, actually slightly less. In comparison, Tina's sample looks out of focus to me. If it were purely magnification, her sample should look sharper.
    My last sample shows even less body height in relation to frame height, than Tina's Sample 1, yet is sharper.
  23. Complex analysis, but my guess is ISO followed by distance from the subject. To me none of the images look sharp to me and Tina's images look like ISO noise. If I wanted to know for sure, I would something constant to access focus, put the camera on a tripod and shoot at different Apertures and ISO to see what happens. It could also be you are underexposing even at the higher ISO thus worsening the noise artefact. I find much better IQ by going to a higher ISO, but a bit over exposed then a lower ISO but under exposed. Also depends on the camera performance. ISO 800 on a D3 or D700 is fine, particularly if one pushes the exposure up a bit. Even 1600 is ok, but I know that the images will progressively get softer the higher the ISO.
    So my guess is ISO and sensor performance. You could rent a high end pro prime lens and see if that makes things substantially better, which would address the lens issue.
  24. Thanks everyone for the responses. Sorry I hadn't checked back to answer your questions. We're both using Canon 40D's for the camera. I looked closer at the first image, and then at some more images from the wedding. And when further away from everything the focus did look like it was on the ground (the grass in the first image). Is there a way to prevent this? I'll admit when I'm trying to fit so many people into the shot I've switched to auto focus because I can't tell manually if I'm focused on the people. So the 1st one is probably a miss focus on us. We did have to up the fill in post, which didn't help with the high iso. And we do use a UV filter. :p Sorry trying to answer all the questions.
    On the 2nd on though the girls were definitely the focus. Nadine could I have you elaborate on this?
    "And are you sharpening when converting to RAW? If not, what sharpness setting are you using?"

    I don't believe I'm doing any sharpening? 8-O So I'd like to hear more about this.
    Thank everyone for all the answers and examples.
  25. I agree, it almost has to be missed focus. If you used auto-focus, is it possible that an auto-focus sensor toward the bottom of the frame focused on the ground in front of the subjects? Did you notice which sensor lit up and confirmed focus (which I think at least most cameras do)?
    Also, have you tested the camera-and-lens combination to see whether it front-focuses or back-focuses, and under what conditions (focal length, camera-to-subject distance, focus point, etc.)?
    As to why the extreme wide angle of the lens, well, assuming the fill was a shoe-mount flash, using f/8 and ISO 800, this was probably near the limit of the flash range. If you move the camera back and change the lens from 17mm to 28mm, you'd need about three times as much light. My guess is there wasn't enough flash power to do it here.
    There are indeed two versions of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, the original and the new optical image stabilization one for Nikon and Canon. But the original (which is what I assume this is) has gotten very good reviews.
    Last but not least, I agree, this problem has nothing to do with having too few pixels. One point of a 100% crop is that you are looking at per-pixel sharpness, not sharpness normalized for a given print or display size/resolution.
  26. I would get some remote slaves and place them around the subjects. I've had this problem and it's a lighting issue in my case. Maybe change how you're metering your shot? Your sky is kind of blown out.
  27. On the one you used auto-focus on, it is more definite that it is missed focus, because auto focus will usually guess wrong, as to what you want in focus. It can also use multiple focus points too. And, as I said, when it misfocuses, the Tamron goes way front focus. So it isn't totally the fault of the lens. Both the body and lens work together for focus.
    I still think the second one is missed focus as well. Again, check the image closely (at 100 percent) to find out if there are any sharp parts. Look at the wall behind the girls. If that is in focus, it is due to the wonderful habit that autofocus systems have, of focusing on the contrastiest thing except the subject. Also, if you put the focus point on an edge, or the focus point is put on the face which is small in relation to the frame, thereby snagging an edge, the focus will go behind the subjects. In cropped sensor cameras, the viewfinder is smaller, and the actual focus points are larger than what is marked, which can also cause problems. Where did you put the focus point on the second image?
    You should also be using One Shot focusing, not AI Focus or AI Servo. What mode are you using?
    As for my comment re sharpening, if you are shooting RAW and converting to jpeg, one step usually taken is to sharpen. RAW files are inherently soft-ish. If you are not sharpening, this could be why, but if you are finding places of sharpness in the image, that isn't it.
    If you are shooting JPEG, you normally set sharpness via Pictures Styles.
  28. Also, in lighting like your first sample, it is better to use the focus assist on your flash than use auto focus. It is more accurate. The focus assist (which you don't get with AI Servo) can go out to about 30 feet.
  29. We shoot in Raw, but haven't been sharpening when converting to Jpeg. And we are using One Shot focusing.

    Ok, so if I'm understanding correctly, when the tameron doesn't focus correctly it wants to focus the very first part of the image (thus the grass being in focus)? So the best bet would to switch to manual?
  30. I kind of have a problem with regards to shooting outside at ISO 800. I realize this isn't related to the question. ISO 100 will probably do the job a lot better with little or no pixelation for your outside photo shoots. Now to address the question. The D40 cameras are pretty darn good and are the Tamron lenses. Do you have any Canon lenses? If not, take your camera into a local camera store and take a few images. Then look at them at a 100 percent crop. If you still have issues most likely it's your camera, if not than you know it's the lens. This image was taken 2 days ago with the 24-105 Canon L IS lens. I can't remember if I shot it at ISO 50 or 100, but you can surely see how sharp the lens. Hope this helps.
  31. Cropped 100 percent
  32. Instead of pushing ISO and hoping the sensor can eek out as much detail as possible, one also needs to remember that AF accuracy is dependent on a well lit and contrasty subject. So use flash and one which can auto the amount of illumination.
    Next, if you are still wanting more, then you may need to spend some money on a fast prime to give AF all the help it can get. Consider manual focus overide too.
  33. If you haven't been sharpening in RAW conversion, or sharpening in PS after conversion, that is half the problem. But that probably isn't the whole problem. How have you been converting and what do you use?
    Accurate autofocus comes from the lens and body working together. I'm saying when the autofocus has 'difficulty' the focus on the Tamron lens tends to come forward. It will find the contrastiest thing closer to you. With a Canon lens, it will tend to go backward to find the contrastiest thing in the background.
    I'm not saying the best thing to do is to use manual focus, although you can do this too, if you have the time. I personally use focus/recompose most of the time, but with awareness as to the bad habits the autofocus system has, as described above. The center focus point is the most sensitive and in cases where parallax won't cause inaccurate focus, I use the center point and focus/recompose. Always One Shot, and try to give the focus point something contrasty and avoid placing it over edges of subjects. Sometimes with full length groups I focus at people's feet.
    Did you analyze the second image for a sharp place?
  34. Tina and Cliff, I use auto focus pretty much all of the time. I'm not convinced you need to go manual. Go to a park or something and test your system using a tripod to assure no movement. During your testing try different F-stops and distances. Hopefully you will isolate the exact problem. You probably should avoid the sharpening software. The right camera setup should be very sharp.
  35. I use lightroom to convert to Jpeg. I did look at the 2nd image, and had Cliff look at it too. The closest I could find to something else that might be in focus more would be the flowers, but you really couldn't tell I might have just been searching to hard for something else to be in focus. The wall however is not as focused as the girls are.
  36. When in Lightroom play around with the sharpening control. Look at the image at 100 percent and slide the Amount control around to see the difference. I normally set the amount between 40-50. Read up on sharpening for the other controls.
    So as far as you can tell, there isn't a sharp point in the second image? Is there something in the foreground that you can look at? I assume what we see above isn't the whole image.
  37. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Re the Second Image: "The closest I could find to something else that might be in focus more would be the flowers, but you really couldn't tell I might have just been searching to hard for something else to be in focus."

    Please: What were the Tech Specs of the second image?
    Re the first image: "And we do use a UV filter"
    I stand by my first analysis:
    1. You missed focus.
    Then softness and OoF perception was exacerbated by:

    2. underexposed skin tones / pulled up in post production because not enough Flash Fill.
    3. Underexposed at ISO800 then pulled up in post - the noise went up.
    4. I add - possible Veiling Flare exacerbated by using the Filter.
    The light on the Subjects is both soft and underexposed (as discussed previously).
    > There is a lot of sky
    > The lens is a zoom
    > It is at the wide
    > there is a lot sky in shot
    > a UV Filter isn’t going to help matters in conditions where Veiling Flare is already a potential problem.
    Veiling Flare can present as "softness" and lack of contrast.
    Again, I am not saying Veiling Flare is the cause, I am saying it is making the OoF appear worse.
  38. I'm sorry I don't have the info on the 2nd image. It's the final image that I took off my external harddrive to upload, it doesn't show me the info anymore. :/
    We will play with the focus options, since that seems to be the big issue, hopefully I'll have some better images to update with. And I'll read up on adjusting the sharpness.
    Thanks everyone! :)
  39. To improve sharpness, use a larger aperture (f/5.6), lower ISO, a larger format (i.e. 24x36 or medium format), flash, tripod, and live view focusing.
  40. I believe you might have an issue with the lens. I recently purchased this lens and ran into the same problem. Try live view mode on your 40D. Use magnification of 10x to see what your results are in good light. If it is in good focus, I think you have some really good suggestions above. If it is not, switch to manual focus and see if you can make the image crisp. If so, you may just need to send this in for calibration. It takes about 3 weeks to get your lens back, but it is worth it. When you manual focus and it is still not crisp, then I think you might have received a bad copy of the lens. I shoot with an XSi and had this same issue and these are the steps I used. Once I received my lens back from Tamron USA, it works perfectly. Just my two cents.
  41. If you are getting sharp images on other subjects besides groups, calibration is probably not it. But I would test it anyway. When you are dealing with focus issues, you need to systematically eliminate possible issues to rule out. Could be calibration, could be your focus technique--the two likely causes. I doubt that it is the quality of the lens itself (other than calibration) or the camera itself, or ISO by itself, or filter by itself, or f stop by itself, or magnification by itself, or use of wide angle by itself. The Tamron 17-50 is pretty sharp, all the way to wide open. At f2.8 you may have an extremely slight bit of softness on the long end, but the difference is pretty small. And--sharpening your RAW file before conversion (or after if you prefer) is going to definitely help, but not if the subjects are OOF anyway.
    Look up how to ruler test your lens for front and rear focus on this forum. I believe the article was written by Bob Atkins.
  42. Looks like alot of basic things missed. Do some testing. Play with different lighting on location and see everything that affects it. Thats the great thing about digital TEST TEST TEST. It seems that alot of people forget how important exposure and lighting ratio are for an image. The digital age has hurt this a little. I still shoot digital just like a did chromes. The less I need to fix later the better the image looks.
    Curtis Wallis
  43. Tripod -- under ISO 400 -- tripod -- manual focus --tripod - cable release - tripod - & focus manually one more time ....
  44. In the big photo, the couples on the extreme right are in focus more than those on the extreme left, so you can see the missed focus plane there. There is also fill flash ghosting, probably because of the high ISO, I would just shoot at 200 to give some balance to everything, the light looks dim so 100 might be pushing it, and of course, shoot all your big groups and formals with a well tested very sharp lens and a tripod, the tripod is essential to checking careful "manual" focus, why use auto focu for formals, and you should liminate half the problems. There are some very good suggestions on this thread, but this is th danger of easy ISO on the digital. I hate to always bring up old-school, but when we were limited to a Hasselblad on a tripod and ISO 160 film shot at 100, we wee much more careful and detailed about this stuff therefore way bettr results. So having just started using digital myself, I find myself shooting mostly at 200 with all the care I used before, but I do like the ISO 800 for indoor exsisting light, it's pretty nice. (Disclaimer, my lap top is messed up I spilled some coffee and some of my leters on't work, any suggestions welcome)
  45. I still make it a practice to shoot beyond 5.6 ~with a 2.8 zoom lens ...but manual focus and a tripod will help with the sharpness problems....proper exposure helps, too.
  46. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Buy an new laptop.
    Give up coffee.
  47. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    (I was joking with the second suggestion)
  48. OOF and camera shake.
    Really, the Tamron I had worked wonderfully with the 30D but not the 40D or 20D ?? I also noted that at the wide end it almost always front focused, and it was exponetial to as you subject distance increased. This and the 5D/5d2's AF were ultimately the reasons I gave up on Canon.
    I hear things are better with the 7D, though I have not tested this cam myself.
  49. How many of you remember :: only a manually focusing lens -- all fixed focal /zooms were only manual --- how did we ever get by ?? Really dark finders --- iso barely to 400 --- you had to zoom and focus simuli :: must be a method that can be applied here :)
  50. C focus? That's how I worked with manual focus/dark viewfinder, in the dead of night. Unfortunately that meant a somewhat smaller aperture for margin of error, and with lower ISO films, more flash. I like it better now, but gotta master autofocusing technique as well as determine the gear is working as it should.
  51. Not that drastic Nadine :) Just the fact that : many of us were able to get images focused , without the advanced technology > available today. I admit I do not fully understand all the techniques with auto focusing . With the Canon > I use the “back-button AF” on the rear of the body for focus....
  52. I doubt focusing is the issue. 17 mm f/9 has huge dof. You could get a half-length portrait with background at infinity all in focus. Your statement that "with 5-6 they seem to be better" confirms that. Smaller groups, closer focusing distance, less dof, more sensitivity to focus.
    1/250 s is pretty fast, and I doubt you'd get many misses at 17 mm due to shake.
    I have a T17-50 and optically the sweet spot of the lens is around f/4 to f/5.6 for the center, a stop higher for the borders. My lens is stupidly sharp at 17 mm f/5.6 unless you pixel-peep in the extreme corners. I'm usually skeptical of pointing the finger at "copy variation" but it may be worthwhile doing a bit of testing to make sure the optics and/or AF aren't faulty. Rare, but it does happen.
  53. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    17mm at F/9 sure does have an huge DoF for a Full Length Shot. . . but there are these three points to consider:
    > DoF is not Depth of Sharp Focus.
    > If a lens Front Focuses badly; if the camera's peripheral AF point was set to, or nabbed a focus point in front of the main subject, the DoF will be reduced.
    > we are looking at 100%
  54. Arie, I understand what you're saying, but I don't agree with your point on the focus, it's off across the plane, not just OOF. The couple on the right is better in focus than the rest of the group, so is the girls face that's leaning foward, also study the grass carefully, the focus plane actually goes out of the frame on the center and left, this pretty much indicates the camera is at a slight back angle on the left side. Therefore we can more or less conclude that the plane of focus was foward of the subject on the left, then it converges(?) to the right. The group then goes back at a slight angle as you move left. This makes the left even more out of focus. Then consider William's point about the DOF being ahead of the main subject, which I also agree, and even more diminished, then it gets worse as you go left. So I guess if you think of this as shooting on a piece of graph paper the blocks on the left would be smaller than those on the right (I think, ha, ha). Focus on your freezer door and move the camera away from plane on the left only and you'll se what I'm getting at. OK, over and out.
  55. Bob Bernardo wrote:
    "... You probably should avoid the sharpening software. The right camera setup should be very sharp."​
    Be careful when you say that, because digital cameras use a filter right in front of the sensor to "blur" the image a little bit, in order to avoid the Moire effect. So, this way, every digital picture must be "re-sharpened" back, as a way to achieve what should have been the "real" sharpness.
    When you shoot JPG, this sharpening is done in camera.
    When you shoot Raw, it should be done in post processing by software.
    Now, answering Tina on this, Lightroom standard for Raw is set to sharpen by 25% (radius 1.0). This is their standard for the sake of bringing back sharpness taken away by anti-moire filter. Of course, it's also a matter of taste, as Nadine says she usually stays between 40-50%. I've been tinkering more with this lately, as I used to stay on the 25% before. Also, on every export option at LR (export itself, and 'print to file' on Print module, and Slideshow module), there is a second sharpening that may be done, somehow like an output sharpening. (this is since LR 2.3, I guess)
    So, in other words, if you are using Lightroom, then post processing sharpness isn't probably missing. You may still go further on sharpening in LR, but your issue isn't there.
    I also have been disappointed with sharpness on my wedding photos. So I'll try to take a look at all the other suggestions offered here.
  56. Ok, we've check over A LOT of photos, and also took some experimental photos. We still need to try some more of the solutions offered on here, but right now it really looks like distance from the subject makes a difference. If we are right in the persons face (5ft or less) they seem to be sharper, but if we are further away and using a wider angle its just all downhill from there. But even portraits taken from further away and zoomed in seem to be less crisp. :( Also low light, if the photo is properly exposed or on the verge of being overexposed they are sharper. Even if they are just a little under exposed the focus is off. *sigh* Its frustrating.

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