Getting Sharp Photos

I’ve gotten a few questions about how I get sharp photos, so I thought it was worthy of a post.  Want the simple answer: My camera is awesome.  Kidding, totally kidding.   It’s because I’m awesome.  Again, totally kidding.  I only tell my kids I’m awesome, but otherwise I’m not.  I’m your wallflower type.  Shy and quiet and trying to avoid confrontation.  Back to sharp photos…it’s all because of the camera.  No, it’s not.  I rock one of the cheapest, low end DSLR’s out there.  So, if I can get sharp photos….you can get sharp photos.

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First off, I don’t always get sharp photos.  Plain and simple.  I’ll get into that.  I also look at other photographer’s work and wonder how they get such sharp photos.  I’m sure we’ve all wonder that at one time or another.  Even the photographers that only display super sharp photos have their fair sharp of unsharp ones.  They really don’t need to show their unsharp ones.  Most of us dump those ones anyway (some can be saved, so hold on).  Frankly, if you ask, I’m all about showing and telling.  I’ve shown outtakes of myself and my kids with unfocused shots.  My anniversary shots had unfocused photos.  I had so many unsharp photos when I did my kids’ portraits.  And the outtake photos that you see here that I say are “unsharp” have been “sharpened” for the web.  So they’re even sharper than they were when they came out of the camera.  Believe me, they weren’t sharp at all.

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So I’ll share what I’ve learned about sharp photos and you can glean what you want from it.  I’m still learning and practicing.

The Probability of Error

You will fail.  Your camera will fail.  No one can achieve 100% sharp photos 100% of the time.  (If someone can, they must share their secret).  Also, cameras cannot achieve sharp focus 100% of the time even if the human could.  There is a rate of failure.  After one of my few paid sessions, I was lamenting the fact that I had unfocused shots to my husband.  He’s an optical engineer.  He works with light, lenses, glass, sensors, and stuff.  He kindly told me there was no way I could get focused shots 100% of the time.  The camera can’t achieve focus all that time and there will be a certain percentage of unfocused shots no matter what I do.  Okay, that made me feel a little better.  But why is it that the unfocused shots are always my best shots where everyone is looking at the camera? I’m cursed that way, I tell ya.  Anyone else in that boat?

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Aperture Settings

Aperture makes a difference, at least for most of us.  Some photographers can nail focus at F2 with 3 people and that’s awesome for them.  If you’re using a wide open aperture (low F number) and you have more 2 or more people, you need to make sure that they are all on the same plane.  Otherwise, someone is going to be out of focus.  Using a wide open aperture doesn’t work so well when you’re working with wiggly, young kids.  A good rule of thumb is to have your aperture relate to the number of people you’re shooting.  So F2 for 2 people (though I go to F3), F3 for 3 people, F4 for four people, and so on.  It’s just a suggestion.  I use F2.2 or F2.5 for newborns, F3 to F3.5 when I shoot mom and baby or 2 kids.  I use F3.5 to F4 for 3 kids and you get the drift.  I did some aperture experiments in the past and wrote about them.  In those posts you can see what happens when everything is on the same plane at different apertures and you can see what happens when you start to stagger your subjects and put them in different positions.

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Your Lens

Lenses make a difference.  They really do.  There’s a reason some of them cost a lot!  I don’t have any expensive lenses, but I have found that my prime lens (35mm) achieves much sharper photos than the kit lens (18-55mm).  I love that 35mm lens.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment that I purchased.  Less than $200 for a lens that I keep on my camera 85-90% of the time has been worth it.

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Your Body Position

How are you holding the camera?  If you want to achieve a sharp image, you need to have a steady camera.  That means having a steady handy.  You may have to brace your elbows into your sides, use the ground as a tripod, or brace your body into something.  Use a tripod if you find your hands shaking a bit.  At F2 you’re going to need to be way more steady than at F8.  Keep that in mind.

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Post Camera Processing

People will say to “get it in camera.”  And yes, you need to get a sharp image in camera, but there are things you can do to the photo in Photoshop or equivalent editing programs.  No amount of sharpening in a program will save an out of focus photo.  If it’s a precious photo that means something to you, try and sharpen it as best you can.  That’s not a photo you would give to clients, but I think you knew that.  There are plenty of ways to sharpen your photos in Photoshop.  I’ll just quickly share my favorite way (I think I’ve mentioned it many times now).  I like to use MCP Actions free sharpening actions. I use the Web Sharpening action for all the photos that you see on this website and my facebook page.  I use the High Definition Sharpening Action at 50% on photos I save at high resolution for myself or others.  Search “how to sharpen photos” if you’d like to learn about other ways to sharpen photos.  I sometimes use the unsharp mask, but I love the actions for quickness.  I’ll also gently sharpen features such as lips, lash lines, and eyes.  Swoon…squishy baby lips are the best.

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Using Focus Buttons

With many DSLR cameras you have different focus point options.  I prefer to use the single point focus, especially when I am taking portraits.  You also have to select a focus mode.  A focus mode will depend on if you have a moving subject or not.  If you’re using a single-point focus mode and your subject moves…you’re going to lose focus and have an image that isn’t sharp.  I wrote all about using different focal points in this post.  That will may help you visualize what happens when you focus on different people who aren’t in a straight line or on the same plane.

Recomposing

Oh, what a big subject with vast opinions.  You can read a little about it in the post I mentioned in “using focus buttons.”  Basically, if you’re using single-point focus, and especially if you’re using a wide open aperture, don’t recompose.  You’ll end up with subjects out of focus.  Toggle your focus points until you come closest to the area you want to focus on.  I try to use the eye (or skin nearest the eye) that is closest to me.  If you have a family of 5 standing with parents in the back and kids in the front, I’ll usually focus on the kid in the middle front.

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Other Stuff

There’s something called back button focusing that I’ve read about more than one time, but I haven’t tried it yet.  I may have to venture there someday and give it a shot.  Some people swear by it and say it helps them achieve a sharp photo.  Have you tried it?  I’ll try and find a resource to it and will list it below.

One other thing…sometimes it is camera failure.  As in, your camera just isn’t working correctly.  It happened to me.  $250 worth of repairs.  My photos were consistently unsharp and out of focus in areas, with all my lenses.  After getting repaired, it was better.  Sometimes it might be just as easy as a firmware update.  Sometimes it might be something more.  Keep that in mind.

Other Resources

I love to glean info from other sites.  If you want to spend some time learning and reading about photography, I’m here to share what I learn from other places.  You’re going to want to put on your fuzzy jammies, grab a favorite drink, and plunk down in a comfy chair while you clicky the linkies.  Here’s a few of my favorite articles about achieving sharp photos:

Since I’m not the expert and I have given you more than my 2 cents, you can fill in what I left off.  Give your tips or resources for getting sharp images, cause I’m pretty sure you’re all a sharp bunch of photographers and people who love taking photos.

Playing Dress Up with a Mommy Photographer

October is more than half over!  Forget the easy button, someone get me a pause button.  I can’t keep up!  I have loads of things I want to share about photography, but for now they are laying in the depths of my overloaded mind.  Equipment posts…I really need to update how my equipment is holding up.  Plus my favorite piece of equipment.  And oh joy…my husband ordered my Christmas present from last year.  I can hardly wait!!!  A few more exclamation points might cover my excitement.  It’s photography related.  I’m stoked!

So, I photographed 3 families and one baby lately.  One more baby coming up!  I still have 2 families to edit.  Thankfully, those are gifts (photos are my kind of birthday gift) and those lucky ones are just going to have to wait a bit to get their photos.  I took photos of my boy and girl biking at the bike park the other day.  Fun times.  Nothing like standing in the line of kids trying to control bikes on a pump track and jumps.  Zoom lenses are a must, unless you want to be taken out by a bike.

The other day my daughter was dressing up the dog in doggie costumes.  Yep, those Target clearance aisles get me some years.  $1-2 dog costumes?!  Yes, please.  That’s cheaper than a dog toy.  The dog loves to thrash those costumes around like they are vermin.  He lets the girl dress him in the costumes, though I think he’d rather thrash the costumes around.  We did a doggie costume photo shoot.  I even brought out my backdrop stand and my seamless paper.  This was legit.  Here’s the unedited sneak peeks.

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The photos are at least on my hard drive.  That’s an accomplishment.  I haven’t done anything with the photos yet, but at least they are off of my camera and on my hard drive.  Mocking me.  “You haven’t edited us yet.”  “You’re writing a blog post about us and you haven’t edited us yet.”  “Edit us!”  Sorry, doggie costume photos, I have a couple of families to edit first.  Unless you bribe me.  Bacon and chocolate might work.

My kids also decided to dress up.  Hey, if they’re going to let me take photos of them without having to bribe them with a treat…I’ll take it!  Again, I have the unedited versions or sneak peeks.

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I really should come up with a photo for Halloween.  I sometimes do.  But time is ticking away like it’s on fast forward.  Maybe I could just do something quickly.  I’ll have to sleep on it, whenever I get to bed.  Mmmmm, bacon.

So for old times sakes, let’s take a peek at some heavily photoshopped photos of my kids in costumes.  Ignore any tears that may be running down my cheeks or sniffles/snorts emitting from me.  Oh wait…thankfully you can’t see or hear me.  You just get to read my ramblings.  Lucky you.  It’s not pretty here.  So let’s take a look at my pretty babies.

Halloween 2013.  These were edited with PicMonkey.  I wrote a post about how I edited the photo with two kids here.

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Valentine’s Day 2013.  These were done with Photoshop Elements.  Here’s how I made the boy’s valentine and how I made the girl’s valentine.

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My Son’s Birthday Photos from 2012.  These were also done with Photoshop Elements.  Pinch me…that kid is going to be decade old soon!  How can I have a 10-year-old?  I have a tutorial on how I made the one with the droids here.  He’s got that one on a canvas in his room.

I’m not feeling very inspired for this year’s.  Time is waning.  I need chocolate, maybe that will help.  Or bacon.  Think, think, think…..

Apparently, I wrote a post 2 years ago with tips for taking Halloween photos.  That must have been on my old blogger blog.  I don’t think I’ve had this blog for 2 years.  Honestly, where is that pause button?!

And you, what have you been up to?  Anyone playing dress up?  Or anyone dressing up for you to take photographs of?

 

Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family

Fall sure is a busy time of year!  I’ve heard that October is to photographers what April is to tax accountants.  Yep.  And I’m not even a professional in business.  Busy, busy, busy.  But it’s great.  Especially when I get to take portraits of a beautiful family in a beautiful setting. Fall colors disappear so fast and I’m glad we got to take advantage of the beautiful aspens.  This family was amazing.  Such a joy to work with.  It’s amazing how God happens to work out who I get to photograph. Truly amazing.  I am the one blessed to be able to photograph and capture such loving families.  Take a peek at a few of my favorites:

Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography

Thank you so much to this beautiful family for trusting me with capturing your family portraits.  It was an honor!  Enjoy the fall and have yourself a great weekend!  I hope to be back with some equipment related posts soon!

Portrait Preview: Personality Portraits

Crickets have been chirping here for a couple of weeks.  Busy, busy, busy….like a bee.  You probably are busy too.  I’ve got a little catching up to do here, but let’s be honest….I’ll try, but I probably can’t keep up with all I’ve been doing.  And really, what have I been doing?  It’s already the middle of October.  Where did the beginning of it go?  I’m going to have a kid that is a decade old soon.  Whew, can’t think about that now.  So let me give backtrack a wee bit and see if I can catch up on some things.

Thank you so much to all the families that came out to the three sessions of Personality Portraits!  Every dollar raised was given to a wonderful family for their adoption fund (super news….he’s headed home!).  Thank you so much for your willingness to donate and show love to a local family.  I hope you all are enjoying your photos.  Print them out and send them to relatives.  That’s a good reminder for me, I’ve got to get mine in some envelopes and sent off!

Here’s a peek at some of the amazing kids that showed up.  Each and every child photographed was amazing.  They were all delightful and I’m glad they graced the front of my camera.   (I’m only showing kids who had model releases signed or their parents told me I could display their photos.)

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Thanks again!  I hope everyone has a spectacular week!

Interested in what goes on with Personality Portraits?  Maybe you want to check out:

Canvas Champ Review & Giveaway

If you’ve read my photography journal here and there, you may have noticed that I love canvas prints.  Love them!  When Canvas Champ gave me the opportunity to review one of their canvases, I was thrilled. I was even more excited when they offered to let me giveaway one here.  You’ll find the giveaway at the end of this post.  I was pleasantly surprised when Canvas Champ first contacted me to do a review, I had told my husband previously that it would take a brave person to have me do a review.  I’m honest in my opinions and try to be constructive in my critiques.  Honestly, I’m quite impressed with Canvas Champ.  Much more impressed than I thought I would be.

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I chose to have my photograph of the little praying mantis put on the canvas.  You may ask, “Why not your children?”  When I do a print review, I prefer to put non-human subjects on the canvas.  That way I can gift or donate the canvas at some point in the future.  Plus, I wanted to see how that dark background with blobs of color translated onto the canvas and how the tiny details of the antennae came out.

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I didn’t go through the website to order the canvas, so I can’t comment on that process.  I can say that once I emailed my photo off, I was amazed at how fast the canvas shipped to my home.  Seriously, it was 3 days!  And that was from India.  I don’t even get things I order online and are shipped from my country that fast.  The website says “free and fast shipping.”  Yep, that’s true!

The canvas arrived wrapped in cardboard, plastic wrap, and tape.

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I undid the tape.  Don’t you love how I walk you through this?  I do my best to be thorough.

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I undid the plastic wrap.  That stuff is great for packing things.  I have a roll of it in my garage!  I was left with a canvas taped up in a tight fitting cardboard box.

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After I carefully untapped the box and got it opened, I encountered more plastic wrap on the canvas. They were very thorough in their wrapping job!

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I immediately was struck by how stiff and well constructed the frame was.  I’ll get to that in a minute. Secondly, I marveled at how well wrapped the canvas was.  I have to say that this is the most professional looking wrap job I have on any of the canvases I own.  Whoever wrapped this canvas can wrap all my Christmas gifts.  It is an amazing wrap job. No winkles, no loose canvas, no staples sticking up, and no wonky corners.

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Staples are hard to put into wood and sometimes they don’t go all the way in.  Even though one of these staples didn’t make it completely into the wood, it wasn’t left sticking up.  It’s been pushed down smoothly to the frame.

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The canvas seems to have been trimmed to fit around the corners nicely.  Most often, canvases are folded to fit around the corners.  This canvas is folded very smoothly on the backside, but appears to have been trimmed neatly on the sides to wrap the frame without wrinkles.  It’s impressive.  The only minor thing I found was that either the printing on the canvas was rubbed off on one edge or the white part is from when the canvas was trimmed to fit.  Either way, it doesn’t bother me.  If it did bother you, Canvas Champ would replace your canvas to get your 100% satisfaction.

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This canvas is stiffer than others because of a pressed wood backing.  All my other canvases are wrapped around a wood frame with no backing.  This is my first canvas with a wood backing and I like it.  When I first showed the canvas to my husband and asked for his initial reactions he said, “It’s got lots of texture and it’s really sturdy.”  That’s when I pointed out the wood backing to him. He commented that the frame was well built, even though it was cheaper wood.

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You can see the difference between a canvas with a wood backing and one without when you place it in a window.  See how the light shines through the canvas material on the canvas on the right, but not on the Canvas Champ one on the left. Something to think about, if that may make a difference for you.

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The canvas material is a white, natural looking material.  It’s not thin, but it’s also not thick.  My canvas was the 3/4 inch frame and you could go bigger to an inch width.  I especially liked the hanger on this frame.  I have received other canvases with sawtooth hangers on them and another canvas that came without any hanging hardware (though it was included for me to put on).  This is a well-installed hanging hardware that uses a screw in the wall.  I think this is a more secure way to hang your canvas on the wall and I quite like it.  I’m sure you could easily remove the hardware, if that isn’t your kind of thing.

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The color translation on to the canvas seems well done.  It may not be as bright as I thought my original photo was, but I’m not disappointed in it.  I can see the slight color differences in the background and see the antennae of the praying mantis.  The colors look fairly true to life, though not as sharp since that’s probably a little harder to translate on to a small canvas.  There was one spot on my canvas that looked like a piece of dust or dirt was sticking to it.  I brushed at it with my finger and a white spot on the canvas appeared.  It could have been that a piece of dirt or a raised piece of canvas was on there as the canvas was printed.  Or maybe I was just careless and shouldn’t have brushed the canvas.  Either way, I’m not worried about it.  It’s doesn’t distract from my photo or interfere with the subject of the photo.  I could have said something about it, but I chose not to because I’m happy with it.  If that had occurred on a face and I was unhappy about it, I know Canvas Champ would have replaced the canvas and made me happy.

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Overall, I’m very pleased with my Canvas Champ canvas.  I wouldn’t hesitate to order another canvas from them.  Someday I’d like to do a collage of my boy’s favorite toys in his room, I’ll keep Canvas Champ in mind for that.  If you’ve never tried a photo on canvas before, I’d suggest starting with Canvas Champ. Their prices are hard to beat.  If you’ve ordered from other canvas places before and want to try a new place, I’d suggest Canvas Champ.  They guarantee to give you the lowest price and also have a 100% quality guarantee.  Can’t beat that!  If I’ve done your portraits and you order a Canvas Champ canvas, let me know what you think. I always love to hear what others use for printing photos and what they think.  Plus, I’d love to know how a portrait turns out from Canvas Champ.  One more thought to remember with any canvas, the canvas is printed and wrapped around a frame.  That will result in cropping of your photo, so keep in that in mind with what you choose to print.  Also, in my personal opinion, bigger is better for a canvas print of a portrait.  I’d recommend at least the 16″x20″ size.  Or go for a variety of sizes and make a collage!

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I had never heard of Canvas Champ before and I’m pleased to now know about them and pass it on to you.  To sum it up, I’m very happy with my Canvas Champ canvas.  They have fast shipping, a quality canvas for a low price, and wonderful customer service.  Canvas Champ is going to make one of you really happy with a giveaway for a 10″ by 8″ inch canvas for free!  I hope one of you is happy dancing very soon with a new canvas in your hands.

As always, I like easy giveaways.  No liking, tweeting, sharing, dancing, or jumping through hoops to enter.  Just press the enter button below on the widget.  Your email is kept private and only used to contact you if you win.  Dancing is optional. I hope you’re dancing if you win!  This giveaway is open to anyone with a US address only. (Sorry, International folks…maybe another time!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Feel free to check out Canvas Champ for yourself.  Here’s all their social media links:

*Canvas Champ gave me a canvas in return for a review.  All opinions, words written, and meandering thoughts are 100% my own.  Many thanks to Canvas Champ for this opportunity and the giveaway!*

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