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12-20-2011, 05:00 AM   #1
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need help with taking sharp foreground and background photos

Hi everyone. I'd bought my Pentax KR early this year and managed to find time during holidays and day-offs to play around with the camera. It's my first DSLR camera.

I understand most aspects of DSLR photography, like ISO, shutter speed, aperture, EV compensation etc. but I'm still a newbie and would like some help with one particular problem I've been trying to solve.

In my previous point-and-shoot cameras, you could take a picture of someone in front of a background and it will turn out sharp (foreground and background), because from what I've read is that normal point-and-shoot cameras don't have DOF ability.

Believe it or not, I've been trying to replicate this sharp all around picture recently and have failed.

My scenario: inside a shopping centre, my wife is standing in front of a huge Xmas tree. I'm trying to get both my wife and the tree into sharp focus, but everything I've tried to do, the tree is slightly blurred. I understand that this is a shallow DOF effect. I've switched the camera from [P] to aperture priority, then put aperture at F8. I take a quick photo and the background is sharp at last, but the whole picture is now very dark. I've tried upping the ISO, then EV, but it is still rather dark, and not at all natural or balanced. I've also tried turning up the aperture to F6.3 or F7.1, but the results not very satisfactory.

I'm not using a tripod or big flash. The pop-up flash only illuminates my wife's face. If I don't use the pop-up flash, it is even darker.

Can anyone help me with this problem? My wife is not particularly thrilled that this more expensive camera can't take sharper pictures than our old point and shooter.

12-20-2011, 05:26 AM   #2
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If you shot the same scene without flash or with a more powerful flash, and at F8, you'd probably get the result you wanted. Upping the exposure compensation would probably also work, as it would force the camera to use a shutter speed slower than the sync speed.

Because DSLR lenses are bigger than point-and-shoot lenses, you'll get less DOF at the same F-stop, meaning you'll need to stop down more on the DSLR to get the same DOF. This in turn reduces the amount of light that comes through the lens, as you probably know Thus you need more light: and a slower shutter speed or a more powerful flash are what's needed.

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12-20-2011, 05:39 AM   #3
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Read up on depth of field (DOF) and hyperfocal distance. A lens with a focal length of 35mm, set to 4 meters focus distance and f/16 will have everything in focus from 2 meters to infinity (on an APSc camera).

Numbers calculated with Online Depth of Field Calculator
12-20-2011, 05:51 AM   #4
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okay I understand now. So I either need a tripod to keep the camera rock steady because of the lower shutter speeds, or I need a bigger flash.
Many thanks.

12-20-2011, 05:58 AM   #5
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Sometimes yes, but not necessarily: you can hand-hold all the way down to 1/4-10s, and with a high iso, you'd rarely need a tripod even at F11 indoors.

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12-20-2011, 06:20 AM   #6
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or you can hang to the old point and shoot for this kind of shots
12-20-2011, 07:03 AM   #7
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Just bump up the ISO on your camera. Also, if you stand close and focus to something near you, you will get much less DOF than if you stood back and took a longer shot at the same focal length. You're wife would appear smaller in the frame, but you'd get more of the shot in focus.
12-20-2011, 08:38 AM   #8
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Here are the basic rules of DOF:
For thicker DOF, use: tighter aperture, and/or shorter focal length, and/or further camera-subject distance

For thinner DOF, use: wider aperture, and/or longer focal length, and/or closer camera-subject distance
You'll have much thicker DOF with, for instance, the kit lens set to 24/8 than to 50/5.6.

sterretje suggested hyperfocus, which is zone focus where one end of the zone is at infinity. Alas, modern lenses don't have DOF scales marked on them, and online hyperfocus-DOF calculators aren't always handy in the field. That's one reason I always carry an old 24mm or 28mm manual-focus lens (and a 50mm and 100mm also), so I can take shots with carefully controlled DOF as needed.

12-20-2011, 10:52 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Mike_in_HK Quote
Hi everyone. I'd bought my Pentax KR early this year and managed to find time during holidays and day-offs to play around with the camera. It's my first DSLR camera.

I understand most aspects of DSLR photography, like ISO, shutter speed, aperture, EV compensation etc. but I'm still a newbie and would like some help with one particular problem I've been trying to solve.

In my previous point-and-shoot cameras, you could take a picture of someone in front of a background and it will turn out sharp (foreground and background), because from what I've read is that normal point-and-shoot cameras don't have DOF ability.

Believe it or not, I've been trying to replicate this sharp all around picture recently and have failed.

My scenario: inside a shopping centre, my wife is standing in front of a huge Xmas tree. I'm trying to get both my wife and the tree into sharp focus, but everything I've tried to do, the tree is slightly blurred. I understand that this is a shallow DOF effect. I've switched the camera from [P] to aperture priority, then put aperture at F8. I take a quick photo and the background is sharp at last, but the whole picture is now very dark. I've tried upping the ISO, then EV, but it is still rather dark, and not at all natural or balanced. I've also tried turning up the aperture to F6.3 or F7.1, but the results not very satisfactory.

I'm not using a tripod or big flash. The pop-up flash only illuminates my wife's face. If I don't use the pop-up flash, it is even darker.

Can anyone help me with this problem? My wife is not particularly thrilled that this more expensive camera can't take sharper pictures than our old point and shooter.
First of all, you have to ask yourself (and your wife) why do you want both your wife and the Christmas tree (which likely is a few feet away) to be equally sharp in the photo? By putting the object behind slightly softer (or less sharp) makes the photo more pleasing and 3D look (or do you want picture to look flat). If you still prefer the everything in the picture to be sharp, then as someone suggest, you are better off using the P&S.

As many have suggested, you can change to a smaller aperture (like f8 or even f10) and use a longer or wider lens (the key is to stand back a lot further away) so that the subjects are at least in the hyper-focal length distance away to achieve the effect that you want. Both would be challenging as you will need high iso without flash and also there would be so many people in the mall and likely block your view - P&S would be much easier.

Last edited by aleonx3; 12-20-2011 at 11:09 AM.
12-20-2011, 11:55 AM   #10
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Or just have her stand at the same distance as the tree. Then those two items would be sharp, and the reat of the background would be soft.
12-21-2011, 10:28 PM   #11
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the tree is quite big so the tree is further back in the background. She's actually not on ground level, but a couple of levels up. Anyway, having a blurry background is good for some portraits, but she likes to have the background sharp so that she can actually see what's in the background. It's a bit like having someone stand in front of the Eiffel Tower - you'd want the tower to be sharp so you can see it instead of being blurry.

I don't want to go back to using a P&S as I like DSLR photography, so I'll keep experimenting.

I'll see if I can upload a photo for you guys to see.

Many thanks.
12-21-2011, 10:45 PM   #12
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EXIF data: f3.5 1/20 iso 100 18mm flash enabled using program mode

As you can see with the photo, the background is blurry. My wife wants it to be sharp.

I had to black out my wife's face because she said she didn't want her face online. Thanks for understanding.
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12-21-2011, 11:13 PM   #13
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... well, everyone has a different taste, but for sure the foto your wife expects most people would consider a much worse foto. But ok, why don't you than take the point & shoot camera for that? But probably, at a closer look, you would find that the P&S shot is not "equally sharp" but more "equally unsharp" and noisy at all distances under these conditions.
12-21-2011, 11:59 PM   #14
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Crank up the ISO so you can use f/16 or so at the same shutter speed and (manual) focus a bit behind your wife. Live view might help as you can judge the DOF (or use DOF preview if the K-r has that option).
12-22-2011, 02:49 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Mike_in_HK Quote
the tree is quite big so the tree is further back in the background. She's actually not on ground level, but a couple of levels up. Anyway, having a blurry background is good for some portraits, but she likes to have the background sharp so that she can actually see what's in the background. It's a bit like having someone stand in front of the Eiffel Tower - you'd want the tower to be sharp so you can see it instead of being blurry.

I don't want to go back to using a P&S as I like DSLR photography, so I'll keep experimenting.

I'll see if I can upload a photo for you guys to see.

Many thanks.
This is what dSLR gains over P&S; thinner depth of focus for out of focus backgrounds. To get the background in focus requires smaller aperture (larger f/#) than P&S does. So with dSLR, to get reasonable shutter speed at the smaller aperture, increase the ISO, or reduce shutter speed and use a tripod, or just shine more light on the subject.

For subject some distance from the tower, move farther away and use a longer focal length. For subject closer to the tower, move closer and use a shorter focal length. Both cases the object is to use perspective to adjust the relative sizes of the subject and the tower in the background within the frame.

Tutorial on Depth of Field: Understanding Depth of Field in Photography -- if you like that, the other tutorials are also quite good: Digital Photography Tutorials
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