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Old Jan 17, 2004, 12:23 PM   #1
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Default How do you get those really sharp details in portrait shots?

Like the photos of people where the lines in their faces are very very sharp and clear and well defined, making the person look almost like a statue.. Is there any trick or general idea behind capturnig those types of images? Like for instance, what sort of lens would you use?
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Old Jan 17, 2004, 3:47 PM   #2
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What have you tried to do? To get the most sharpness you need good lighting (not to the eye, but to the camera) so you can use F8 or so. You also want a reasonable shutter speed.

The prefered lens is 80mm for portrates, although I'm not sure why. Is it the distance to the subject that makes it work well? Is it that lenses in that length have good sharpness but are still light enough to move/work around quickly? Don't know. (don't forget the 1.6x crop of your camera. So that sharp 50mm f1.8 you've got produes pictures framed like an 80mm!)

And you need a very, very sharp lens. Canon makes a few macro lenses (including a 80mm, I think) and they are amazingly sharp. But with your budget that is out.

It should be pointed out that most people don't like really sharp portrates. It shows every flaw in someones face. Could you show me an example on the web somewhere of what you like? Maybe it's done artificially.

Don't forget sharpening in Photoshop or your favorite editor. You can do some really amazing things with that.

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Old Jan 17, 2004, 4:10 PM   #3
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Thanks eric, here are a bunch of examples (the one called "blessings" for example). That is what I am talking about. I know it probably takes lots of practice, etc, but what is the basic setup you would use?


p.s. Those are barbados' photos, BTW, they are awesome!, thanks Barbados.
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Old Jan 17, 2004, 5:03 PM   #4
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Critical focus is paramount. You must also be meticulous with your exposure settings. Some lenses are sharper or softer depending on the lens. IMO, a tripod does wonders for sharp pictures!
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Old Jan 17, 2004, 11:31 PM   #5
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Why didn't I remember a tripod? I only own two of them! Yes, ohenry is right, a tripod is a huge help. Its usually refered to as the single purchase that will improve your photography the most. I would have to agree.

The best person here is probably Kalypso (look at his work in the People Photos section, he does great things with lighting.) Also, I believe that NHL does studio work, so he might have some ideas. You might want to send a private message to one/both of them and ask them to add ideas to this thread.

There are several things about that gallery that strike me.

They don't look very setup. A few use a flash (I believe) but many don't seem to. Like ohenry said, exposure is really important and those are generally well exposed. They are sharp. The expressions seem to fit with the face.. they don't look artificial (well, a few do, but most don't.) The backgrounds are rarely distracting and where the background is complex the subject is separated from it well.

The most important thing I'd start with is a tripod. Then it would be a tossup between a really good hand light meter and a macro lens. The 50mm f2.8 macro ($239.95) is amazingly sharp, but has slow AF. An alternative is the 100 f2.8 USM macro ($469.95) which is even sharper (but 100 x 1.6x crop isn't great.) But that is money you don't have.

It should be said that I don't know how to use a good light meter properly, but I'd learn.

If this were in studio stuff, I'd definitely spend money on a really good lighting setup, but it isn't. It's good quality stuff (in my eyes) done outdoors on location. Humm, I wonder if he used relflectors?

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Old Jan 18, 2004, 3:39 PM   #6
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I looked at the "Blessings" shot, and yes, it is very sharp. The camera/lens shooting data (EXIF) was not available, which would give a good idea of how the image was made; my guesses are:

1) The lens seems, from the perspective, to be fairly close to the subject, and is probably a wide angle lens, maybe a 20mm lens on a camera like the D60 or 10D. The fact that the whole head seems to be in sharp focus suggests wide angle, also. The background, which seems to be some moderate distance behind the subject (6-10 feet, perhaps) and is only slightly blurred, suggests a wide angle lens, also.

2) The lens was probably stopped down to at least f/5.6 to about f/8, to keep the background as sharp as it is. These factors (wide angle, using not the widest aperture) results in a wide enough depth of field so that much of the image will appear to be in sharp focus.

3) The light was bright enough so that if the camera was handheld, a high enough shutterspeed was used to prevent camera shake. Also, the light brought out the details of the lines on the face, increasing the sense of sharpness. The camera was steady enough to suggest that a tripod was used.

4) The lens was an extremely sharp lens at the aperture and focal length used.

5) While these portraits are excellent character studies, I would suggest that your friends and relatives would much prefer a softer look, because every line, zit and pore would be evident.

6) While I am sure the image in full 1:1 resolution was quite sharp, the downsizing of the image to the small size on the web makes it look even sharper.

To summarize, though, iIf you want to maximize your sharpness, with the equipment you have now:

1) Shoot from a tripod.
2) Use a fairly wide angle, stopped down to about f/5.6., which will give some blur on the background but be wide enough to keep the whole face in focus.
3) Put a simple background behind your subject.
4) Shoot from about 4 feet from the subject.
5) Get a remote release for the camera and use that, or else use the self-timer. There is much less vibration, compared to a finger-press of the shutter button.
6) Avoid harsh direct light that will produce deep shadows and too-bright highlights.

Don't use too wide an angle from too close or you will exaggerate the subject's nose!

After you use the setup I described, change focal lengths and distances, as well as f/stops. Jot down what settings you use for each picture so that when you look at the results you can find your own style.

Good luck, and please post the results.
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Old Jan 18, 2004, 8:55 PM   #7
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Default How strange...

Thanks for the props Eric (kinda strange to see myself mentioned though).

Due to being a horrid hand holder (Mtn. bike wrecks, age, etc.), I use a good (Bogen) heavy tripod & a heavy duty ball head. And I even lug it around for those outdoor shots too. I also lucked out on my Canon 28-105mm lens, which is surprisingly sharp (used below). I also have a very sharp 50mm/f1.8 that I use some too. I always focus on one eye...seems to have worked so far.
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Old Jan 20, 2004, 5:51 PM   #8
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Take a look at of one of the three pictures, 3 different lenses were used, the flowers (nature): with Sigma 70-200 HSM EX F/2.8 (shot at f/5.6 with the 550 flash fill in), the snow:, the Canon EF 28-135mm (scenery), shot at F/11, over 2 stops , but I used the Canon EF 100mm F/2.8 marco the casual portrait of the dog.


then click on the name of the photo for larger size of the picture...

As you can see, the Canon EF 100mm F/2.8 marco lens is very good for portrait shooting also... , very sharp and the detail is absolutely better than good...There are lenses for any application, just pick the one that fits your budget, Canon brand would be the best choice, Sigma HSM EX is also hard to beat, only second to Canon USM, Tamron SP brand is also good but AF is kinda slow, Tokina ATX is also good lens but AF is about the same as the Tamron.

For better sharpness, use tripod if you can when shutter speed is slower than the focal of the selected lens. Selection of the aperture is also contributing a lot of weight for the final result too, generally I use F/5.6 to F 6.3 for the portrait shot, except for tight close-up head shot, I use smaller aperture for greater dept of field, ex: kiki picture was shot at close position, about 1 1/2 feet, at F/11 with the built in flash... All pictures here were shot handheld without a tripod, I wish I can use tripod but I didn't have on e that that time
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Old Jan 21, 2004, 9:12 AM   #9
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For some photo tips check out
WebPhotoSchool from PhotoFlex, click on the free lessons tab, they have 15 free sample lessons there. I think full access to all their lessons is not very expensive.

Also for portraits I'm not sure you really want ultra sharpness for all images. (a steady camera yes). Lot of time a softar(difusion) filter is bolted to the camera, it helps fix peoples skin problems.
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Old Jan 21, 2004, 9:31 AM   #10
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Back in the Canon FD days, my favorite was the 85mm 1.8! But I got a really GREAT pix on Monday (1/19) with my 28-135 IS Hand-held at ISO 400. Needs some work, but I will fix it.
If you are on a budget, then go for the 50mm 1.8 @ $69.00 from B&H.
Hey Kalypso - I see you are from North AL - same here - more or less - 95 miles SW of Florence.
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