what's the secret to razor sharp images

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by danzel_c, May 25, 2009.

  1. i have had a few canon "L" series lenses and none have produced the high definition razor sharp images straight of the the camera that i see on many photographer websites. i love the high definition look. is this done with unsharp mask or smart sharpen in photoshop? or with some other combination of actions in photoshop?
     
  2. make sure the lens isn't front/back focusing first off.
    all digital images (inc/esp raw) benefit from at least single if not multipass sharpening.
     
  3. If you link to some examples, you'll get some more specific commentary. But in the meantime:

    If you're looking at images on photographers' web sites, you're probably never seeing anything wider than 1000 pixels at the most. Those images have been reduced in resolution to fit gracefully on a computer display, and have then been sharpened in ways appropriate to that format. That's a much different thing that producing images that are intended for large prints, for example.

    Much of what people often perceive as sharpness is actually contrast, or is good planning on the part of the photographer. Good planning with regard to choice of background, use of glancing light to define edges and shapes, and other techniques that register with your brain in way that brings the subject sharply into your attention, optical sharpness or not.

    Light and good technique (appropriate shutter speed to avoid subject/camera movement blur), camera support (a real, not junky tripod) have to be present before anything else will matter. Then some wise choices about composition, especially as it relates to foreground/background relationship. And then good and not over-done work with post production sharpening techniques (including selective sharpening of just the areas that are psychologically important to the image and to your perception of what should jump out at you... like the subject's eyes in a portrait, etc).

    So, are you talking about landscapes? Product shots? Portraits? Sports?
     
  4. in any case, stop using USM..old fitler that cause more problem than the quality you should get.
    Smart Sharpen is by far the better pluging included in Ps, and for me the best of them all. You can also use PK Sharpener that do the sharpening for you base on your original and print size..but many of my test didnt yield to better result vs what I could do with smart sharpen.
    Any images should have a sharpening applied to them, at different stage and for different reason. Heres a summary of what i use;
    1_ Capture Sharpening is applied early in the image-editing process, and just aims to restore any sharpness that was lost in the capture process.
    2_ Creative Sharpening is usually applied locally to accentuate specific features in an image-for example, we often give eyes a little extra sharpness in head shots.
    3_ Output Sharpening is applied to files that have already had capture and creative sharpening applied, after they've been sized to final output resolution, and is tailored to a specific type of output process.
     
  5. You might be reacting more to photographs that were shot in great light. There's no substitute for that; and is much more
    important than overall sharpness.
     
  6. Everything you linked to are portraits. When shooting portraits I really don't concentrate on sharpness but rather lighting. A sharp picture in poor lighting is a poor photo. It also looks like he's smoothed over any facial blemishes or maybe the models are just wearing more makeup than normal.
     
  7. matt, i'm referring to portraits. here's just one link to some amazingly sharp photos.​
    Oh, is that what you mean. The key is is the use of selective depth of focus. It doesn't matter if the lens is L or not. Do use a fast normal or short telephoto prime - a 50mm to 90mm lens capable of f2 or faster.
    In setting up the shot, make sure the subject is relatively close, say just about a meter or two away from the lens. You'll want whatever background in the shot to be as far away as possible. Set the lens aperture to around f2.8 to f4. The smaller aperture works fine if the background can be pushed far back or the subject brought forward more. Place focus on the (nearest) eye.
    USM sharpening in post is not ideal but can work well if applied with discretion. Basically, duplicate the layer, sharpen, and mask in the eyes, eye lashes, and perhaps some hair highlights.
     
  8. Brad is absolutely right. Sharpness is a perceptional phenomenon. Subject contrast, which is directly influenced by texture and lighting, will go much further to create the appearance of sharpness than any amount of post-processing, which is also necessary to compensate losses along the way as Patrick points out above. Start with a rock-solid camera/tripod, if possible lock up your mirror or use a rangefinder to avoid slap, favor shorter focal lengths and exposure times, use fewer filters on your lens, choose the right balance between specularity and softness of lighting, and the rest of the process will be easier. Also be aware that great specs don't guarantee every lens off the line will be sharp - there are rare manufacturing imprecisions, and elements can become misaligned by a jolt even before you buy, so you may want to find a dealer that will let you test several units of the same model until you find one that is as sharp as you want.
     
  9. I agree with Robert. What you're really seeing there is careful control over the use of a wide-open, large aperture lens that's producing good bokeh that helps the foreground subject to really stand out. Obviously, it's very important when working with shallow DoF to be sure you're choosing your focus points well - since you may have only an inch of workable DoF. But if that inch or three includes the eyes and other important facial features, you get the basic material you need to then proceed into post.

    But without the well-chosen and well-shaped light, you lose everything that makes those images feel present.
     
  10. Maybe you need a good, sturdy tripod?
     
  11. There is no one "secret" - but a whole series of things that you must attend to. Even using "L" lenses is not guarantee - and it is quite possible to end up with very sharp images when non-L lenses are used. While equipment plays a part in all of this, technique and aesthetic sense are generally far more important.
    In no particular order, here are some thoughts about what makes for a sharp print.
    • contrasts in color, luminosity, form, and so forth often do more to create a subject sense of sharpness than does actual objective sharpness.
    • Sometimes too much sharpness can reduce the subjective sense of sharpness and careful use of blur can increase it. This was alluded to above, but using a wide aperture that blurs the background details (even at the expense of ultimate sharpness in the main subject) can create a subjectively sharper image of the main subject that one in which the background is also in focus.
    • Similar effects can be created by isolating the subject against simple or even plain backgrounds or by isolating it via differences in light/dark tones or by color differences, etc.
    • Good lenses are not unimportant, but more lenses are good than you might think. I use a bunch of L lenses but my "sharpest" lenses are non-L primes. But I don't always choose to use the primes since the sharpest lens may not always create the sharpest image (even if sharpness is your main goal - and it isn't always). If I have to crop a prime shot to get the right composition, I'll lose some or all of its resolution advantage. (Sharpness is not generally the most important reason to choose a prime._
    • Larger formats are capable of higher resolution in your photograph. (The fact that resolution at the sensor in crop is higher is irrelevant to that point.)
    • Careful focus is absolutely critical. There are a number of issues that affect this ranging from how quickly you shoot through adjustment issues with your equipment to how and when you manually focus and even the good/bad effects of aperture choices.
    • Camera stability is critical. If you want the sharpest images that your gear is capable of you must use a tripod, MLU, a remote release - even then you need to pay attention to things like the breeze, to waiting a moment after MLU to make the exposure, etc. It is not impossible to hand hold the camera and get a sharp image, but it is not easy - it requires great care and some real practice. Your success rate will be lower, and the larger you print the more likely you'll see the problems.
    • Post-processing techniques are critical - and I don't just mean sharpening. What you do with curves, contrast, color adjustments, etc. - often done to separate areas of the image using masks - is incredibly significant in creating that sense of subjective sharpness I described above. There are too many things to cover in that regard to try to list them all, much less describe them.
    • Sharpening techniques are critical. There are a number of approaches to sharpening and I'm convinced that one can get good results from different processes. But you do need to learn a post-process sharpening workflow that gets you the results you want, and you need to customize it for different photographic situations. To offer a generalized view, I think that there are three sorts of sharpening that are useful if you are really critical about this:
    1. Fine edge sharpening wiht a small radius and larger amount to produce fine details. CS4 smart sharpening is powerful here - though it isn't necessarily the only or the whole answer. For starting points you could try the old Canon recommendation of amount: 300 and radius .3 or you could start with amount 150 and radius 1. In either case you'll need to adjust and fine tune.
    2. Local edge contrast enhancement with larger radius and lower amount using Unsharp Mask (USM). A good starting point could be to use 12, 50, 1 in CS4 USM. Again, variations are possible and desireable for different images.
    3. Print sharpening, or alternative "screen sharpening" for reduced-size jpg images. The object of print sharpening is to compensate in advance for the fact that the ink will spread when it hits the paper. I work on a flattened version of the file at 100% and slightly over-sharpen - differently for different types of paper. (For downsized screen display jpgs I don't "over-sharper" but I do a final post-downsize USM at something in the general range of 30, 1, 1
    Whew. I'll stop there...
    Dan
     
  12. By the way, I find it unnecessary to use any third-party sharpening tools. I can accomplish everything in my workflow for printing or screen using the powerful tools built in to ACR and CS4. Mainly you just need to learn how to use them.
    Dan
     
  13. G Dan, What a list you have made!
    I'll print it out and have it beside me next time the NAS (Nikon Aquisition Syndrome) strikes again. Thanks.
     
  14. One thing I noticed with the link you gave is that guy shoots with a lot of prime lenses. 85 1.2 is a great portrait lens and is very sharp.
     
  15. Matt Laur said:
    What you're really seeing there is careful control over the use of a wide-open, large aperture lens that's producing good bokeh that helps the foreground subject to really stand out.​
    At least to me, "wide open" seems unlikely, at least in most of these shots. Many are taken with the 85/1.2L, which has almost no depth of field at all wide open. These shots are sharp from the tip of her nose back to at least her ears. At least to me, that says somewhere around f/4 or so.
    For comparison, I've enclosed a shot at f/1.4. With the focus on his near eye, his far eye shows virtually no detail at all.
    00TSpN-137763684.jpg
     
  16. The above portrait is a good example of the effect of shallow DOF, but it might have been better shot at 1.8. Then both eyes would be in focus.
    With Canon, some ordinary lenses perform better than L lenses...same with Nikon. You have to know the lens and understand where in the aperture range the lens is sharpest. Its usually not wide open. There are lots of good sites that will tell you.
     
  17. I am a total ignoramous when it comes to photo editing, but I've seen countless fantastic shots that were clearly edited in some form and that were not particularly sharp. I think there's a certain look that can be found in different forms in a lot of great images, and that's really what you're after when you're shooting and then editing.
    I can't begin to count the number of times on some photo sharing sites that I've seen a great shot listed as being taken with what I know to be a kit or consumer-level lens and DSLR.
     
  18. I agree with everything said above. G Dan Mitchell covered it pretty well. Learned some things.
    Recently, feeling disadvantaged because I didn't have Leica optics, plopped my old FE on a tripod, and shot my 35 mm and 85 mm wide-open at f/2 on Kodachrome 25. And at f/4. Used the self-timer to lockup the mirror. I don't feel so bad about not having Leica optics anymore.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mix-plate/3472987104/in/set-72157617196105735/
    35 mm f/2 @ f/2
    At this point, for my pictures, if my images are not "sharp", I look beyond the hardware.
     
  19. OK, so not wide open. But if you're working at a decent distance with a short tele lens, you can definitely get a puddle of in-focus working area that's just about as deep as the subject's face (nose to partway-through-the-hair), and still keep the aperture at or under f/2.
     
  20. You might set you camera to sharpen more have you tryed this?
     
  21. You may want to set you camera to sharpen more
     
  22. can you show some examples of the images you like?
     
  23. Stephen Aspry said:
    The above portrait is a good example of the effect of shallow DOF, but it might have been better shot at 1.8. Then both eyes would be in focus.​
    Matt Laur said:
    OK, so not wide open. But if you're working at a decent distance with a short tele lens, you can definitely get a puddle of in-focus working area that's just about as deep as the subject's face (nose to partway-through-the-hair), and still keep the aperture at or under f/2.​
    I've cropped it to keep the size more reasonable, but I've enclosed a crop from an otherwise reasonably similar shot, but at f/2. In this case, "reasonably similar", means he's moved/re-posed some, but you can't hope for a 7 year-old to stay still for long -- it was only under the influence of his currently-favorite video game that he stayed in one place long enough to get both of these!
    f/1.8 clearly wouldn't have been enough. f/2 can be enough if the subject faces almost directly toward the camera and you shoot from farther away than I was. I still suspect that the pictures linked by the OP were taken closer to f/4 (or taken from farther away and rather heavily cropped). Of course, there is the fact that they were taken with a Canon, which has a crop factor of 1.6, where my camera has a crop factor of 1.5, so my working distance (to fill the frame to the same degree) is slightly closer. While a FF sensor gives noticeably shallower DoF, I'd be a bit more surprised if there was much difference between 1.5 and 1.6.
    00TSso-137785784.jpg
     
  24. I think lighting is the big thing missing in your image there.
    If I may point to some images that I think are spectacular, or at least very well done, I'd like to see what people have to say about them. A local photographer and student in my area has done some great work, and can be seen here: http://www.davidblakeman.com/blog/
    I can break down most (but not all) of how he's doing it, but the missing bit is how much editing is going into his photos. He posts some unedited photos on one of the pages, and that's helpful in itself: http://www.blakemanphoto.com/blog/?paged=3
    Most of his work is done in the afternoon/golden hour, which obviously helps a lot.
     
  25. Lighting... and color balance. The image is very heavy on the blue tones. I just did a quick color adjustment using two curves layers - one using the white eyedropped to get a decent (but not perfect, I admit) white point and the other using the gray eyedropper to alter the color balance of the mid-tones. I also applied a very slight luminosity curve to increase mid-tone contrast just a bit.
    [​IMG]
    Your lens sharpness is fine - a great example of why sharpness is not always about sharpness. The sharpness of the skin texture of the subjects face (assuming this is a 100% crop) is quite good. But notice that the DOF is so narrow that the right eye is not in perfect focus - and that is our focal point when viewing the image - and the left ey quickly recedes into blur.
    The largest aperture and the narrowest DOF are not always the optimum choices for portraits.
    Dan
     
  26. Danzel, if you could post one of your own pictures (or a portion of it) that you are not satisfied with, it might be easier to narrow down precisely what you are doing wrong--assuming that you really are doing something wrong.
    Without that, it is impossible to know for sure if the problems involve what you are doing (1) when shooting or (2) after shooting, in the post-processing phase.
    If the problem is in the shooting phase, you might post a section of a file that shows what you captured before you subjected it to post-processing of any kind. If there appears to be no problem with the file (or portion thereof) that you got out of the camera, then and only then could we say with absolute certainty what might be required to get the best out of that file in post-processing.
    As has been said already, if you shoot with a tripod and the right exposure settings in good light, you really do not need exotic software tools or plug-ins to get an acceptably sharp finished product.

    --Lannie
     
  27. You may want to set you camera to sharpen more. --Dennis Fox​
    I would avoid that. I would much prefer to have a RAW file to work with, so that I could have total control over post-processing.
    --Lannie
     
  28. David Blakeman's studio shots off the first link in Josh's post were taken with a Canon 5D Mark II full frame DSLR stopping down an f/1.2 lens to f/4 and upping the ISO to 500. That's how he gets the extended DOF at 50mm on some of those studio shots on top of having adequate studio lighting.
    I wonder on Jerry's 85mm lens shot posted above if stepping farther back from the subject and stopping down to around f/4 and upping the ISO would get the same DOF results as David's shots.
     
  29. Fascinating analysis, Tim. Thank you for that. Did you happen to look through a few pages of David's work? I ask because his work is a bit varied, and some of his outdoor stuff is the most interesting to me (the studio stuff clearly uses flash/strobe lighting, and so that's less interesting by itself).
    Some of his shots have extremely limited depth of field, but are very well lit.
     
  30. I wonder on Jerry's 85mm lens shot posted above if stepping farther back from the subject and stopping down to around f/4 and upping the ISO would get the same DOF results as David's shots.​
    Yup. That's why I wrote:
    The largest aperture and the narrowest DOF are not always the optimum choices for portraits.​
     
  31. Interestingly, one of the impediments to sharpening, it seems to me, is exposure. A wrongly exposed image needs more work in post processing to get it right and my observation is that these edits can negatively affect sharpness - especially if the image is under exposed and there is a lot of noise that has to be removed. Getting rid of noise always reduces sharpness to some extent even if its moderate incidentally - so BTW you should try to shoot at the lowest ISO value possible (where there is less noise) without introducing movement blur. (trade offs, trade offs, trade offs!) .
    So getting exposure just right is best other things being equal.
    Often times getting the right contrast in a photo helps too. Micro contrast / local contrast / clarity / clarify filtration or whetever you call it, particularly helps apparent sharpness. I am glad that more image editors have some kind of clarity / clarify / local contrast filter.
    Finally another non-obvious factor is saturation. A slightly over saturated image will, other things being equal help apparent image sharpness. (Which is after all, what sharpness is all about - being apparent.)
    PS Incidentally, it is often recommended that you sharpen an image last for really critical sharpness - the reason I am told is that many other filters apparently degrade sharpness slightly (noise reduction filtration is merely a severe example of this) so its best to do the sharpening last (Although this then runs the risk of increasing the appearance of any residual image noise - What did I say about trade offs?)
     
  32. Tim Lookingbill said:
    I wonder on Jerry's 85mm lens shot posted above if stepping farther back from the subject and stopping down to around f/4 and upping the ISO would get the same DOF results as David's shots.​
    They undoubtedly would. If you look back through my posts in this thread, I've been saying since the beginning that the shots in the OP's link looked to me like they were shot around f/4. It's certainly nice to have that guess confirmed.
    Likewise, there's no real question that at f/4 and the same distance, my lens would give roughly the same DoF as his -- it's basic to optics, not something that varies between lenses. I'm sure you're already aware of that, but assuming the original poster hasn't gotten bored and moved on, it's something worth keeping in mind.
    Despite people frequently pushing the idea that you need really expensive glass to do X kind of photographs well, the reality is usually rather different. Admittedly there are a few subjects (e.g. birds) where particular types of lenses are really helpful, and those can tend to be fairly expensive. There are still a whole lot of types of photographs that don't require expensive, fast lenses though. For that matter, I've taken a fair number of shots of birds that I think are pretty fair with nothing longer than a 70-210mm...
    [Hmmm...in case my wife ever sees this: by some strange chance, the pictures I take are mostly in those categories that do require expensive lenses! In fact, my current bird pictures are really all pretty lousy -- I honestly need that 70-400, I swear!]
     
  33. I dunno... I just go out and shoot, looking for nice light and interesting subjects. And everything seems to work OK; using a Rebel dcam and 3rd party f/2.8 zoom that's not particularly super sharp. I never put much thought or analysis into it. It really is about the light and largish apertures...
    [​IMG]
     
  34. I wonder if Danzel is expecting sharpness across the frame, ie. ignoring depth-of-field.
    Or perhaps he expects depth-of-field is dependant only on aperature, and unaware of the relationship to distance.

    I wonder if his camera has a Depth-of-Field preview.
     
  35. This thread is a keeper! What great information and thank you all.
    I've been consumed with the optical (lens) aspect of "sharp" for so long. Only during my recent fiddling with PS over the past week or so am I beginning to understand the importance of contrast and saturation.
    I'll only add to "avoid" the global saturation commands and to work with individual, predominant colors; it doesn't take much to make a world of difference.
    If you have a PS version that supports it (do they all?) the sharpen tool in the toolbar with its "luminance" "lighten" "saturation," etc. components also, sometimes, takes care of edges very nicely without affecting the entire image--for instance, a must for water droplets on flora.
     
  36. Some of these have probably already been mentioned, I haven't read the whole thread, but:
    Use a good sturdy tripod
    Use mirror lock-up if your camera has that feature. Wait about 5 seconds after locking the mirror to make the exposure. I use mirror lock-up on every shot, I don't try to figure out whether the shutter speed is in the "danger zone" or not. It's simple to lock up the mirror on my Canon 5D so I do it every time.
    If depth of field isn't a concern, use the aperture at which the lens is the sharpest. As a general rule, that's one to two stops from wide open. But if that won't produce the desired depth of field then use the aperture that will. It's more important to have the depth of field you need than to use the lens' theoretical optimum aperture. If even the smallest aperture won't produce the required depth of field then make sure the foreground is sharp. It's usually less disturbing if the background is a little soft than if the foreground is (assuming, of course, that you want everything from front to back to appear sharp, which isn't always the case).
    Use a cable release.
    Learn how to sharpen. Among other things, many images work better if you don't sharpen everything by the same amount. I sharpen areas of detail more than areas in which there is little detail or in which detail isn't important. Some areas - e.g. the sky - are never sharpened. It takes some time and effort to learn how to sharpen well. A good program such as PK Sharpen might help. I didn't care for that program myself but a lot of people find it useful. I don't use Smart Sharpen because I've been doing this for many years and I have a system that works for me and I'm not anxious to change. But if Patrick says it works better than the unsharpen filter then it's certainly worth a try.
    Don't judge sharpness by how the image looks on the monitor. The image will look sharper on paper than it will on your monitor.
     
  37. Josh,
    Been out looking for better zoom lenses under $200 since I can't afford an expensive ones for my $500 Pentax K100D. Finally got a nice Pentax AF 35-105 f/4-5.6 macro from KEH, but it doesn't work well with my 2X Quantaray teleconverter for sharpness. Produces tons of flair over what I get with an old heavy Vivitar 28-135 f/3.5 A MF macro that was given to me by my brother who had it rolling around in a junk drawer for years. The Quantaray cost me $6 at a thrift store.
    I did look through David's blog and gallery of images and found them quite good with very interesting compositions. I like his outdoor shots because he allows happy accidents to occur with light, color temperature and contrast and doesn't try to polish them out in post. He definitely has a good eye for producing some unique looking images.
    I can tell you a lot can be done in post in making a very bad lens give nice sharp results shooting Raw. Below is a before and after post processing test shot viewed at 100% in ACR off my Pentax K100D, Vivitar/Quantaray combo shot at full zoom, f/8, 1/200th, ISO 800. All I did was hit Auto in ACR and reduce Exposure from +1.35 to +1.00 and clean and sharpen using noise reduction and a bit of blue fringing correction. Didn't take but a couple of minutes. The camera was braced against the corner of my front porch brick wall.
    00TT4V-137885584.jpg
     
  38. A few days back I posted ' Is 24-105 L really a sharp lens ?' Because I found my EF 24-85 more sharp to the' L' one. Prime lenses are always a good choice in geting sharp images. Image sharpning in PS or other software is different from real optical sharpness.
     
  39. Jerry regarding your example at 1.4 mm on an 85mm lens. If you check a working distance of 4 meters you will have a total focal distance of 11.7cm. If you look at your example you have the shoulder of the shirt on the front of the focal pane and the first eye on the back edge. If you move your focal distance forwards you would get both eyes and if you backed off a bit so you included the elbow of the boy and a touch over his head you would have all you needed in focus even with 1.4 I am sure. If you moved out futher you could increase the total focus range again and then crop in to take advantage of 1.4 for what ever reason you wanted to use it. If you look at the examples Matt commeted on the working distance is much greater than 4 meters.
     
  40. Rashed, I think you should read the thread you're posting in. Lots of good info about perceived sharpness here.
    Also, all digital files *require* sharpening no matter what lens you have, it's the nature of sensor and filter technology used in most digital cameras.
     
  41. Wow you guys, this thread is better than an entire shelf of photography books, that from a rookie prospective...
    thanks.
     
  42. PS Incidentally, it is often recommended that you sharpen an image last for really critical sharpness - the reason I am told is that many other filters apparently degrade sharpness slightly (noise reduction filtration is merely a severe example of this) so its best to do the sharpening last (Although this then runs the risk of increasing the appearance of any residual image noise - What did I say about trade offs?)​
    That used to be the word on sharpening, but it isn't that simple any more. There are two ways to sharpen earlier than "last" that can make a lot of sense.
    Depending upon the photograph, the sharpening (and noise reduction, and dust removal) features in ACR can be very powerful - and they are applied during RAW conversion. The noise/sharpening are especially useful in a photograph with a bit of excessive noise in dark areas of uniform luminosity/color. Here I would generally do the minimum amount of adjustment, with further (and different) sharpening in CS4. I would also bring the converted image into CS4 in 16-bit and as a smart layer - the latter allows me to return to ACR to make adjustments later. This is extremely powerful.
    I apply my primary sharpening (described generally in an earlier post in this thread) to the background layer using smart filters. I use a smart sharpen filter and a USM filter. Although I rarely need to do this, the smart filters allow me to return to the sharpening settings later in the workflow and made further adjustments if necessary.
    The only sharpening that I delay until the rest of the image processing is complete is the last state, also describe in my earlier post, where I sharpen specifically for the paper/printer I use in order to compensate for ink spread. This is done to a flattened version of the file as the final step before printing. (I do an alterntive sort of sharpening at this stage for jpgs.)
    Dan
     
  43. I dunno... I just go out and shoot, looking for nice light and interesting subjects. And everything seems to work OK; using a Rebel dcam and 3rd party f/2.8 zoom that's not particularly super sharp. I never put much thought or analysis into it. It really is about the light and largish apertures...​
    Sometimes, in certain types of photography and with certain compelling subjects (such as yours) this can work perfectly. In many other cases it is not so simple. Sorry.
     
  44. Get a good lens. Very rarely do I do any kind of sharpening whatsoever when using something like Leica or Zeiss optics.
     
  45. Get a good lens. Very rarely do I do any kind of sharpening whatsoever when using something like Leica or Zeiss optics.​
    Good lenses are fine, but if you shoot RAW it doesn't matter how good your lens is - you still need to sharpen in order to get the best your lens is capable of.
     
  46. Razor sharp & portraits do not really go well together,I don't want to see every blemish on a persons face,IMHO
     
  47. >>> Sometimes, in certain types of photography and with certain compelling subjects (such as yours) this can work perfectly. In many other cases it is not so simple. Sorry.
    It is simple. Really. Compelling subjects are not a requirement. The above could have been of two bums and it still would have looked nice. For almost every subject whether it's a street shot, puppy dogs, landscapes, sports, nightclubs, cars, buildings, etc, great looking photographs come from shooting in nice light.
    And it's certainly not about the "best" camera bodies or lenses. I use a beginner's dSLR and 3rd party consumer lens that's hardly the sharpest. In fact wide open, where I shoot most of the time, it isn't very sharp. Yes, some disciplines require more specialized equipment; sports is a good example (needing great AF, fast and long lenses, high FPS)...
    From photographs I see posted, the biggest issues by far come from not exploiting nice/great light. Shooting in flat light yields flat photos with no life. The only thing worse that that is shooting in harsh mid-day light; you might as well not even trip the shutter. No amount of post-processing can resurrect either and make a good photo.
    A snap from last week's Bay to Breakers in SF:
    [​IMG]
     
  48. If I'm not mistaken the question was about how to make pics razor sharp, not whether or not you think it's an important issue. Yes, light and contrast has a lot to do with the appearance of sharpness, but images shot in good light can still be lacking sharpness of the razor variety.
    That's a decent pic, shall we expect to see it 14 more times as one of your examples?
     
  49. >>> If I'm not mistaken the question was about how to make pics razor sharp, not whether or not you think it's an important issue.
    As I and many others here have pointed out, the *perception* of sharpness comes from a variety of factors; many not having anything to do with lens sharpness at all. Read the thread, including looking at the portrait photos linked by the OP.
    >>> That's a decent pic, shall we expect to see it 14 more times as one of your examples?
    I post photos to go along with issues under discussion as examples; as others do similarly.
    From Sunday, SF Carnaval: [​IMG]
     
  50. Glass, technique, subject, light, and post processing skills (in ascending order of difficulty).
     
  51. Brad, you seem to have an ax to grind here.
    First, I'm very impressed with the photographs you posted, especially if they simply came from the camera with no cropping and post work whatsoever. That is definitely a valid approach to photography with a long and rich heritage. Far be it from me to denigrate your work or your approach.
    I'd simply ask that you acknowledge that there are some pretty significant threads in photographic art containing quite wonderful work by great photographers who work in an entirely different way. If you had to dismiss all photographs that were not the result of simply snapping the subject at the right moment and then printing the result you would have to dismiss a number of photographers that most would regard as among the very best there are.
    Take care,
    Dan
     
  52. >>> Brad, you seem to have an ax to grind here.

    Where is the ax? There's no ax to grind at all.

    The OP asked about portraits and supplied a link to some. After looking at them, the point that I and many *others* are making here
    is that sharpness many times is a perception that many react to when absolute sharpness is not there; or is simply relative to
    an area that is less sharp. Rather than the result of expensive cameras, lenses, a ton of skill, and secret knowledge. Anybody can do it.

    What I'm trying to convey is that for less than $1,000 you can get a cam with a lens that will make really nice portraits. And just
    about any brand. It really is that simple. Seriously, it is not complicated. Again, it's about the light. The above pix were candids
    shot in a split second in nice light. Point the camera, press the shutter half-way, wait for AF confirmation, press further, and that's it.
    Process in LR; nothing special there.

    Flat or harsh light with an expensive camera and a very sharp and expensive lens will still yield a poor photograph. A beginner camera and lens with
    great light will move; almost independent of the subject matter...

    >>> I'd simply ask that you acknowledge that there are some pretty significant threads in photographic art containing quite wonderful
    work by great photographers who work in an entirely different way.

    Of course there are - I can list dozens. But we're not talking about them; nor did I dismiss anything with respect to the work of others. Rather, we're
    specifically talking about perceived sharpness and portraits.
     
  53. This isn't complicated. For really sharp pictures, assuming you care about that, you need just a few things:
    1. An excellent lens.
    2. EITHER a very fast shutter speed, OR flash, OR a tripod with a subject which doesn't move
    3. EITHER excellent film (Velvia or Provia 100F are examples) OR digital sensor with no AA filter OR post-capture sharpening.
    The picture below (click for larger sizes) has all three: a Leica 50/1.4 Summilux Asph (very sharp), flash (freezes action despite a fairly slow shutter speed of 1/90), Leica M8 (digital sensor, no AA filter)
    You can, as observed above, get the appearance of higher sharpness from a photo which is not extremely sharp at the instant of capture by increasing contrast or by sharpening either in a wet darkroom or digitally.
    [​IMG]
     
  54. BTW lest anyone think I'm arguing with Brad here, you definitely don't need to spend a fortune to get a lens capable of excellent sharpness. An Olympus Stylus Epic (about $80 new when it was still made) had a fantastic lens; many sub-$500 digital cameras have very sharp lenses today, as do LOTS of used film cameras under $100. You just have to care and pay attention to what you're buying.
     
  55. I really appreciate all the contributions to this thread! many beginners and photo enthusiast including my self sometimes would like to think that the key to great photographs is expensive equipment but that's not totally true. i'm sure there are many pros who could pick up a digital rebel w/18-55 lens and smoke a beginner with a 5D MKII and 85/1.2. i learned a lot here and will be printing this out for future reference. proper exposure, good light, contrast, choice of background for example are key factors to sharp images from what i read above and i totally agree. i agree that raw images take sharpening better in photoshop. now i can look at pictures i like and have a better understanding of "why" i like them. great advice from everyone! thanks! here's one that i shot yesterday. i applied more contrast, color saturation, and sharpened a bit. equipment was canon 40D, 70-200 2.8 IS, no flash. camera settings were iso200, 1/200, f2.8
    00TTc3-138121584.jpg
     
  56. That's a really nice photo, Danzel...
     
  57. thanks brad! by the way, i meant later afternoon, not late evening. it was pretty much overcast all day. considering the comments above more background blur could have been created by moving closer or zooming more. the original was a 3/4 length shot of the couple at 70mm focal length and i ended up cropping the final image to what you have here.
     
  58. >>> thanks brad!

    You're welcome. BTW, what makes it extra nice is the eye contact; letting viewers connect with the subject and want to
    know more about them. I think the famous saying is: Eyes are the gateway to ones soul. Or something like that...
     
  59. I'm not arguing with you either, Ray (and I agree that the Stylus Epic lens is soft around the edges, but only at wide aperture; past f/4 it's sharp across the frame in my experience). Hasselblads are great and Zeiss lenses are scary sharp; the Contax G2's Zeiss lenses as sharp as almost any I've used on 35mm. But there are lots of much cheaper cameras with very sharp lenses too; Olympus made a lot of relatively cheap, fast, tiny, and very sharp lenses for the OM series. The Fujifilm DL Super Mini has a great lens (and it's a zoom!); it sold for about $130 new more than 10 years ago.
    My point is that if you want sharpness, you can find it at almost any price point IF you look for it. It's hard NOT to find it in medium format gear that's not got a plastic lens or a heritage of communist labor :)
     
  60. That model's eyes look very unnatural--in fact, rather creepy. The iris size is unusually small, the sclera are bluish-white and very flat, and there is a strangely abrupt transition from the plica semilunaris ("third eyelid") to the sclera, which again is atypical.
    Altogether, the effect is not unlike the use of "special effect" contact lenses.
     
  61. The OP asked about portraits and supplied a link to some.​
    That's is not quite the whole story. The OP's post was:
    "what's the secret to razor sharp images?"
    "i have had a few canon "L" series lenses and none have produced the high definition razor sharp images straight of the the camera that i see on many photographer websites. i love the high definition look. is this done with unsharp mask or smart sharpen in photoshop? or with some other combination of actions in photoshop?"​
    Answering this question by referring to the contribution of lens selection and post-processing work is exactly what the OP requested.
    I sure as heck did not say that one needs to buy expensive lenses to get sharp images, nor do I believe that to be the case. I often shoot with inexpensive primes. Nor did I dismiss the act of "capturing" the image as being unimportant in comparison to equipment considerations or post-processing techniques.
    Again, not to deny that the things you speak of are important in achieving "sharpness" or the more important things that differentiate mediocre and fine photographs - but there are indeed things that the OP's specific question leads to that include post processing.
    Dan
     
  62. >>> I sure as heck did not say that one needs to buy expensive lenses to get sharp images, nor do I believe that to be the
    case. I often shoot with inexpensive primes. Nor did I dismiss the act of "capturing" the image as being unimportant in
    comparison to equipment considerations or post-processing techniques.

    Dan, I'm still not following you - I didn't reference you as saying anything of the kind. And my first post was not in response to yours - rather it was about MY personal and very valid, relevant experiences.

    I did respond to your one comment saying, "... it's not so simple. Sorry." To which I strongly disagreed with (and still do) and responded
    accordingly. You disagree and that's fine - certainly no need to frame it as having an ax to grind....
     
  63. Years ago I used to target shoot. We had a saying - "Beware the man who only owns one rifle." The idea was that this man knew it and its limitations inside out and would usually outshoot any of us who like me kept buying kit to play with but who never really mastered any of it. I have often wondered if something similar is at play with photography. Like most kit freaks I am constantly searching for that special lens when probably I would do much better by learning to use the ones I have.
    Speaking personally I find getting really sharp images to be difficult to achieve. Often the focus is just that little bit off either because of me or the camera. Or the shutter speed is just that little bit too slow. Or I have used an aperture which compromises sharpness (like shooting wide open for the out of focus background.) So mostly I am disappointed in this respect. I have occasionally fluked it and got it just right with just the right lens - recently I was trying a new acquisition - a Nikkor AIS 105mm f4 micro lens that I was testing at long distances and when I got a couple of shots back they just jumped out and bopped me in my eyeballs - I have never before or since seen anything quite so sharp. But that is obviously an exception.
    When I have shot an image by hand and re-shot it with the same settings from a tripod I have usually been able to notice a difference. Even if the original hand shot photo looks OK - the tripod one will almost invariably look a little sharper at least. Believe me I have tried it and its rare that this is not true - the tiny movements as you shoot - even at quite high shutter speeds can make the difference between an image that is OK sharp and one that is holy cow sharp.
    Sharpness is just about impossible to really correct well in post processing if you get it wrong in camera by more than a miniscule amount! OK you can twiddle that dial with your various smart filters - but if there is any untoward movement of camera or subject at the time of shooting its really not going to be possible to fix that - I have found. Because of course that seems not to be what sharpening filters do. (One possible exception - I have seen but not properly had a chance to try some plugins that purport o be able to make allowances for camera movement at the time of shooting - you tell the software the direction fo the image blur and by how many pixels and it then reverses that effect. Maybe this helps I am not sure - I would be surprisedd if it really produces super sharp images.) But in general while you may improve a shot in post processing I have never seen any really come up tops and I suspect the result is eldom going to be a knock out in terms of sharpness.
    When that happens I just give in to the inevitable and go the other way - use an artistic interpretation that takes the emphasis "off sharp" or "not sharp"as an issue. At the end of the day thats what matters - getting a good interpretation not on whether the image is really really sharp.
     
  64. OK, Brad. You are welcome to your opinion - and I'll continue express mine and share my experience with shooting, post-processing, and printing. I'll let that stand as my answer to you for now.
    For those who are interested in how to also optimize image quality in the post-processing and printing stage I'll stand by my first in this thread - and I'd be happy to offer additional information to anyone who is interested in any of the issues that I addressed.
    Enjoy.
    Dan
     
  65. OK, Brad. You are welcome to your opinion - and I'll continue express mine and share my experience with shooting, post-processing, and printing. I'll let that stand as my answer to you for now.
    For those who are also interested in the important question of how to optimize image quality in all phases of photography including the post-processing and printing stage I'll stand by my first post in this thread - and I'd be happy to offer additional information to anyone who is interested in any of the issues that I addressed.
    Enjoy.
    Dan
     
  66. For closeup portraits; do not focus and then recompose.
     
  67. For closeup portraits; do not focus and then recompose.​
    Especially if you shoot wide open! :)
     
  68. Stupid question from an amateur here, but, here goes...
    Everyone says use a tripod. But in outdoor shots, you often can use a very high shutter speed, versus a lower speed and tripod.
    So my question is...is there any theoretical difference? Do higher shutter speeds produce less quality?
    Likewise, there was a comment made about being 1-2 f-stops above wide open for optimum quality. With the newer lens', is there really a sweet spot there for quality?
    Thanks!
     
  69. Do higher shutter speeds produce less quality?​
    A higher shutter speed is generally preferable to tripod (or otherwise stabilized camera.) A tripod won't stop subject motion.
    ... comment made about being 1-2 f-stops above wide open for optimum quality. ... is there really a sweet spot there for quality?​
    This is the case with every camera lens I've come across. For 135 format film or "full frame" digital, the highest sharpness range is about 2 stops down from wide open but no smaller aperture than f8.
     
  70. In terms of pure optical quality the shutter speed essentially doesn't matter - but the stability of the camera may. A high shutter speed reduces that amount of blur from camera motion and a very high shutter speed may make in inconsequential, especially if you are not making a giant print and/or other factors in the image make absolute sharpeness not so important.
    If you are making a photograph in which absolute sharpness is more important - for example many landscapes or architectural photographs - then using a tripod will virtually eliminate camera motion as a source of blur.
    What we know about "sweet spots" for resolution could be described in several different ways:
    1. The overall resolution from a lens will diminish for one set of reasons as you approach the largest aperture. (In some lenses it diminishes a lot, in others less - but it always diminishes.) Whether or not this matters in a given shot "depends."
    2. The overall resolution from a lens will also diminish as you stop down due to diffraction blur. There is a point at which this might become significant to you depending upon what format you shoot and what you do with the photographs and other factors. On crop it is safest to be cautious about over-using apertures smaller than f/8 and on full frame smaller than about f/16, though these are certainly not absolute values.
    3. There is some aperture between these limits at which a lens can generally produce its "best" resolution. Where that is also depend on a bunch of factors, but somewhere in the f/5.6-f/8 range is pretty common.
    4. Making things a bit more complex is the fact that the various factors that lead to a sharp image are affected differently at different apertures. For example a lens might produce its best center sharpness at f/5.6 but better corner sharpness at f/8.
    Crazy, no?
    Dan
     
  71. what's the secret to razor sharp images
    it starts with someone else shooting them rather than me...
     
  72. Remove lens from camera. Install Leica lens. Enjoy sharp photos.
     
  73. This is another example of a PN member who "talks" photography but keeps others from looking at it.
    Like swimming, walking, driving a bike etc - you need to "do" rather than "talk" it is my feeling that you need to upload some work of yours in order to get other PN members to try and help you by examining the images, see what may be wrong and sugest ways to improve the results
    Kindly email me after you upload your photos and I'll try to provide any advise I can.
     
  74. So not sure if anyone is still reading here, but historically, I've done all my studio shots at a shutter speed of 200 and f-stop at 10 or 12. This is becuase my studio is small, and I didn't think it made sense to have DoF in a small studio.
    So, is this a bad shooting practice? i.e., should I be dropping down my lights and going to f 5.6 or so? I can do that, but it means changing my shooting style a bit (distance from subject).
    I'm amateur, but I want to understand this, so that I know what to do to optimize theoretical quality, and leave the idiot quality to my own incompetence!
    Thx.
     
  75. I think you run into diffraction problems at that F-stop range, but I could be wrong, and it depends on the lens regardless. Photozone's reviews can help you identify the optimal apertures for the rather wide range of glass they have reviewed. The Nikon 17-55's optimal aperture is actually rather large, at about F4 to F5.6. So, it's not always a high number.
     
  76. That photozone site was a great suggestion. It made me think twice about the 85mm 1.4 I was about to buy. Basically it says it's not worth it, and the 1.8 is quite ok. Also, it pretty much says the widest f-stop is the worst, and in some lens' (not all) the smallest is as well. Thanks very much.
     

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