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11-06-2015, 02:03 PM   #1
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Help with Portraits

I love to shoot portraits of my family, but it seems that no matter what I do, the images are always soft. Here's a synopsis of my method:
Using a good tripod and a cable release
Manual Focus
The fastest possible shutter speed for the light source, which is usually natural light.
Handheld camera shake option is turned 'Off'
The only thing I haven't done is purchase a really good Prime Lens. I'm thinking about the 77mm f/1.8.
Anyone have any ideas? Do you think a better lens will help?
Currently use zoom lenses only....Sigma 18-250 or Pentax 18-135.
The first photo of 5 was taken with the Sigma, the second group of 4 with the Pentax 18-135.

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11-06-2015, 02:18 PM   #2
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Your shutter speed need not be faster than 1/60 or 1/125 depending on zoom (handheld), shooting mode can go to continuos to skip blinks and and any other movements. By moving your shutter speed slower you can maybe gain aperture to ideal of f8 or f11 for sharpness unless, of course, you need to go wider/softer to isolate (via DOF).

Last edited by bluespearbone; 11-06-2015 at 02:25 PM. Reason: added zoom comment
11-06-2015, 02:29 PM   #3
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What are the settings for these photos?

Since you're camera is on a tripod, how do you know it is focusing in the correct spot?

Also, if you are not perpendicular to all of the people in the shot (which appears to be the case), some may be slightly further back or forward than others. This can cause some of them to appear soft and maybe only one or a portion of one person being sharp. This will be especially true in natural light on a cloudy day and the aperture is wide open, giving narrower DOF.

It is difficult to tell the nature of the problem with such small images. If you can point to larger or even full-res versions, that would be helpful.
In addition, give the full settings or post with the EXIF data retained within the image files.
11-06-2015, 02:44 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by amoringello Quote
What are the settings for these photos?

Since you're camera is on a tripod, how do you know it is focusing in the correct spot?

Also, if you are not perpendicular to all of the people in the shot (which appears to be the case), some may be slightly further back or forward than others. This can cause some of them to appear soft and maybe only one or a portion of one person being sharp. This will be especially true in natural light on a cloudy day and the aperture is wide open, giving narrower DOF.

It is difficult to tell the nature of the problem with such small images. If you can point to larger or even full-res versions, that would be helpful.
In addition, give the full settings or post with the EXIF data retained within the image files.
+1
It would help a lot to have exif data.

11-06-2015, 02:49 PM   #5
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Is shutter speed fast enough? increase ISO.
Is shake reduction turned off when using tripod?
Are subjects in focus? (use live view and F8) you could have backfocus issue looking at second shot and need to adjust.
For group photos you generally need a wide lens. Something like the inexpensive da35 would probably serve you well for these type of shots if you wanted a prime.
11-06-2015, 03:11 PM   #6
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Because it tries to be everything for every situation, any "Super Zoom" 18- 200+ will give rather poor results because the lens designers have to compromise. You don't need to zoom out to 200mm for portraits. Instead of using a 10X zoom range, choose a moderate 3x zoom. Prime lenses may be a bit less versatile but uncompromising in image quality. Instead of zooming, use walking in and out to compose your image. Primes open up wider as well for a nice bokeh.
11-06-2015, 03:12 PM   #7
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The settings on the first photo were 1/80, f/7.1, ISO 800
The second were 1/160, f/7.1 ISO 200

---------- Post added 11-06-15 at 04:13 PM ----------

Yes, I used a tripod and the shake reduction was off. I also used a cable release. I focused the subjects using the viewfinder.
11-06-2015, 03:19 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by NancyK Quote
The settings on the first photo were 1/80, f/7.1, ISO 800
The second were 1/160, f/7.1 ISO 200

---------- Post added 11-06-15 at 04:13 PM ----------

Yes, I used a tripod and the shake reduction was off. I also used a cable release. I focused the subjects using the viewfinder.
What were the focal lengths ?

11-06-2015, 03:28 PM   #9
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Suggest DA 70MM prime or 50mm also 2 flasher for sides.
11-06-2015, 03:58 PM   #10
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I think the issue is the diopter on your camera. You won't get correct manual focus if the diopter is off.

I'd recommend doing a simple test: focus on something using live view, them look through the eyepiece to see if it looks in focus to you. Or, better yet, focus on something by eye, then switch to live view to see if it is sharp when zoomed in.

Your lenses aren't the problem here.
11-06-2015, 04:02 PM   #11
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I recommend the DA*55/1.8, plus center-point auto-focus using Live View until you're sure you've got manual-focus mastered.

How are you saving your images? Are you shooting RAW files, or are you saving JPG files from the camera? Are you doing any post-processing of your images that results in file size reduction such as resizing or compressing? The original RAW file is going to have the most information.
11-06-2015, 04:11 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by fuent104 Quote
I think the issue is the diopter on your camera. You won't get correct manual focus if the diopter is off.

I'd recommend doing a simple test: focus on something using live view, them look through the eyepiece to see if it looks in focus to you. Or, better yet, focus on something by eye, then switch to live view to see if it is sharp when zoomed in.

Your lenses aren't the problem here.
Good idea. It's also possible to make a test shot with liveview in face detection mode. If the portraits are sharp with this mode and not with manual focus, it makes it clear that the problem is related to manual focusing.
11-07-2015, 06:04 AM - 1 Like   #13
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First of all, a prime lens is likely to give better results, all else being equal. Having said that, it's quite possible to get more than acceptable results even from the kit lenses. Before you invest in lenses it would be good to refine your technique until your getting the best possible results from the equipment you have. I'm not a portrait (or any other genre') expert but this is the approach I would take:


You're already using a tripod, cable release and disabling SR so continue that.
Your shutter speed doesn't need to be blinding fast; 1/125 + or - a stop or stop and a half should be perfectly adequate. You can go even lower as long as your subject can remain still.
Depending on your lens, you'll want to stop down at least 1 or 2 stops from wide open but don't go smaller than f11 unless you just have to or diffraction will begin to muddy the details and reduce the contrast.


Keep your ISO as low as possible to minimize sensor noise. For portraits I wouldn't go more than iso 400 and preferably 200 or less. If you can't get your shot in that range then you just don't have enough light and you will need to look for ways to supplement it.


All of this is a balancing act but when you get it right it will be worth the trouble.


Focus is a complex and often difficult subject and it just takes planning and experience to get the best result.


It's already been mentioned that you want the line of sight to be perpendicular to the arrangement of your subjects. Even then if it's a sizable group the ones out on the ends can be out of focus while the ones closest to the camera are sharp. The focal plane of any lens is curved so if you can, arrange your subjects so that they are all equidistant from the camera. Again, a smaller aperture, f8 or f11 will help here as it increases the depth of field and makes the lens more forgiving when it comes to focus.


Someone mentioned the capture format and this is important. You should be shooting in raw format and processing your images using a good post processing program. Everyone has their personal preference and in general they all are very capable of doing what you need. In post processing you can adjust the brightness, contrast, color balance and saturation as well as add or remove noise and adjust any of a number of other factors that affect image quality.
11-07-2015, 04:55 PM   #14
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Thank you for your ideas, I'll try the RAW...I've just recently started shooting in this format, but did not shoot these portraits with RAW.

---------- Post added 11-07-15 at 05:59 PM ----------

Thank you ALL for your great suggestions! I'm definitely going to check out the diopter and also the face detection mode. I think I'll also start shooting more in RAW. I do subscribe to PS and LR CC, so I should have what I need there, if I ever learn how to use it all. Again THANKS!
11-08-2015, 12:08 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by AquaDome Quote
I recommend the DA*55/1.8, plus center-point auto-focus using Live View until you're sure you've got manual-focus mastered.

How are you saving your images? Are you shooting RAW files, or are you saving JPG files from the camera? Are you doing any post-processing of your images that results in file size reduction such as resizing or compressing? The original RAW file is going to have the most information.
+1 ^ Have you tried autofocus?
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