BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: What's Wrong With My Photographic Technique? : Problems with Images

Photography Question 
Shannon Whit
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2011


I would really like to go wherever I'm shooting and have 95%, if not 100%, of my pictures be sharp and crispy clear. I am not! All my gear is less than a year and I've been seriously shooting for a year so I'm certain it's me. I'm working with a Canon 7d, 24-70mm 2.8L USM, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L USM and an 85mm. I also own a mono and tripod which I dont use everytime.I know what I'm using is decent glass. I enjoy shooting action, portraits, flowers and kids. Without seeing a sample of photos can someone tell me why I might have so many "soft" "hazy" non razor sharp pictures? Just yesterday I shot a matial arts event and many of my pics were hit & miss. My settings were TV, between 200 & 250 speed. It was indoors with all sorts of lighting -- fluorescent, mirrors reflecting my flash, lots of outside light coming in on one side of the room (north of the boxers), south of them the room was quite dim. I drove myself nuts constantly changing the ISO and speed based on where in the room I actually shot them. I was all over the place with my shooting performance. This happens too often. A week ago I was in St. Martin shooting carnival. This time outdoors at high noon until 5 PM. I wanted the eyes to be my sharpest in all the photos. Some had, most were too soft. Other event was my daughter's 8th grade dance -- some outside at 530 in the evening, the rest at night indoors. Eyes are just not as sharp as they need to be. Potentially pretty but hazy photos. Am I just moving too much? HELP!!! Thanks a million!!!

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5/24/2012 9:24:49 PM

Shannon Whit
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2011
  I should've read my post before pressing send. I apologize for my spelling and grammar errors!!

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5/24/2012 9:43:24 PM

Usman M. Bajwa
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/11/2006
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  Shannon, you have got some impressive gear (camera & lenses).

From your description above, I *see* that you shoot in quite challenging lighting conditions and on top of it your subjects are moving i.e you are trying to not only freeze motion but also be able to focus on the eyes of a moving subject so they are tack sharp. IT IS NOT EASY TO ACCOMPLISH SO YOU ARE NOT ALONE !!!

Here is what I'll do:

1. Find the sweet spot (aperture) of all your lenses, its usually between F/7.1 to F/11 for many of the lenses) and try shooting with this f/stop. This will mostly work for outdoor events with reasonable daylight and will not work if you are shooting in low lighting conditions, such as interior.

2. Raise your ISO as much as you reasonably can, specially for inside shots, this will help you give a faster shutter speed for freezing action.

3. Add a battery grip to your camera body, which will give you more frames/second on your 7D, this will increase your chances of getting a decent action shot.

4. Focusing on the eyes of a moving subject is the most difficult of the above and requires a lot of practice, practice, and practice.

5. And shoot hundreds of frame when shooting sports or other action, its what the pros do too.

Getting 95% of the low-light action shots sharp and crispy clear is well beyond the capability of the current camera gear available in the market, IMHO.

My 02 cents :)


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5/24/2012 10:19:37 PM

Christopher Budny
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/3/2005
  I seldom photograph people or action, so I'm sure I'm not the best to chime in---however, you said your shots were between 1/200th and 1/250th... but you didn't say what lens. Those speeds may not be fast enough to reliably eliminate camera movement handheld, if say, you were using the zoom at 300 or 400mm. And for martial arts, you may want something to really freese motion, say, 1/500th or faster? Generally, 1-over-the-focal-length is a rule of thumb to eliminate camera motion blur (assuming you're a steady shooter.) But if you're in TV mode, and you dial in say, 1/400, I thought the camera will adjust ISO for you (or adjust aperture)? Not sure why you'd have to constantly change the ISO yourself?

You may also be having trouble hitting the exact focus mark you want or need---what autofocus setting are you using on the camera? If you're on the teensy precision-spot focus mode, you may want to select one of the broader modes, or the zone option instead and give that a try?

And of course, as you no doubt know, every photo has to be further sharpened in post-processing! ;)

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5/25/2012 7:03:54 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Given your list of equipment, I too would have to default your dilemma to "human error"...sorry.

A fast shutter, and a critically focused subject, are the requisite ingredients for success with action sequences.
Perhaps stepping up the ISO (manually), then trusting your own reflexes to trip the shutter while your auto-focus takes control might help.
Personally though, I'd flip off the auto focus, use manual focus, concentrate critical focus on my primary point of reference...then fire a burst of shots at 1/500 second or faster when the action ensues.

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5/25/2012 2:52:50 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  It's better to help a studying baker if they let you taste the cake. Otherwise you'll get a long list of possible explanations.
Lenses do have the spots where things are sharpest, but they may not necessarily apply to what you find wrong with your pictures. It may not even be something that if you did use the "sweet spot" aperture, that you would tell right away. Which it seems you're looking at your pictures, and it's immediate that you feel "that's not right".
One thing when people complain about lack of sharpness is they may mean not sharp as is not in focus, or not sharp as in blurred. If it's focus, the first thing I'd suggest is go back to your pictures and see if there is any spot that seems to be sharp. Any picture from the carnival where you look at the eyes, they're not sharp enough, but maybe the ear is. Or the hair is a good place to look. Think about what people were doing at the time you took the picture, including you. If you were using auto focus, maybe you were using focus lock, and somebody moved afterwards. Or the al servo was hunting. If you weren't using auto focus, your technique and/or timing could need some work.
Depending on focal length and f/stop, even I've got pictures that can show you how you can have one eye is clearly the point of focus and the other isn't.
If the martial arts are from motion blur, look at the photos and compare the background to the fighters. If the background is okay but the fighters a blurry, then you might just need a faster shutter speed. If the background or anything that wasn't moving is blurry, you're not steady enough + a faster shutter speed. Look to see if in any of the pictures, the body looks okay, but the hands, feet, maybe the head are too blurry. Better timing and technique can help that.
Anything you call haze, maybe that's coming from some back lighting. Glare from the flash in the mirror. Or if the windows were really big, too much wrap around light.
And like Chris said, you do need to add some sharpening because of the high pass filter thing that covers the sensor. That's something that comes with digital.

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5/25/2012 2:57:18 PM

Shannon Whit
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2011
  Hi all!!

Thank you soooo much for your valuable responses! I sure do appreciate it!!! I'm reading, rereading, making notes and will be practicing this weekend. Now, my follow up question: taking action shots out of the equation... Making regular portrait shots, let's say outdoors... Getting them focused as well... Your input please. Thanks again!!

P.S. I did not know that photos needed to be further sharpened in post processing. I have not learned nor purchased editing software just yet because I really wanna learn what I need to learn and practice as much as I need to practice before moving on to that aspect...

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5/25/2012 8:28:24 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Didn't your camera come with something, like a basic version of Photoshop? What's on the Digital solutions disk that's listed as coming with the camera?
Doing regular portraits, the same fundamentals apply. If you're using auto focus, you have to be aware if your focusing points are reading the right area, depending on the narrowness of the depth of field. If you're using manual focus, you have to be aware if you're actually focused on the right spot and not maybe just a little off. That can take some time to get the hang off if you've switched to a better lens. Or to a camera with a brighter viewfinder. What may in the moment look to be on point is actually just slightly off but looking thru better optics in the viewfinder. Until you look at the pictures on screen and find the focus point is a little ahead or behind what you were initially aiming for.
You can practice manually focusing by trying to focus on things around the house Switching between things far away to close, and mixing in things that are slight differences in distances. All while trying to do quickly. You can practice follow focusing on traffic going by.
If you use auto focus, try experimenting with a different number focusing points.

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5/26/2012 8:53:11 AM

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