I am embarrassed by this photo. What went wrong?

Hello photo folk. Take a look at this for me, will you?

Yes. Yes, I know. Not one of us is in focus. Not a single one. I think I know why, but I’m not completely sure.

Let me rewind a bit: a friendly get together with some friends. “Bring your camera”, said my wife, “and you could get a really nice group shot.”

So I found a nice spot in the garden, and set up a few shots. The first ones were more like this:

And they didn’t work too well, but at least I know why: I’d managed to focus a bit too far away, with a narrow depth of field, so if you look carefully you can see that the fence behind us is more in focus that we are. Schoolboy error. Lesson learned. But then someone suggested “let’s get in height order”. And I added “line up towards the camera”. And before taking the shot, I remembered to drop the aperture as small as I could to throw the depth of focus wide open. Just to make sure, you know.

And the photo up the top was the result. No-one in focus at all. I’d have got a better result just bunging the camera into full auto mode. Or even using my phone.

So… Question for all you photographers out there.

What went wrong?

Here’s the vital statistics:

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon 18-55mm EF-S f3.5-5.6 IS
Focal length: 36mm
ISO: 100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Manual focus, self timer so I could get into shot. 

Photo one: Aperture f/29, speed 1/10

Photo two: Aperture  f/10, speed 1/30 

(PS: do not feel the need to mention they’re also both a bit overexposed. I know.)

 

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10 thoughts on “I am embarrassed by this photo. What went wrong?

  1. Rob

    I don’t think focus is the problem. The guy third from the back seems to be in focus, as does the girl fourth from the front.

    The most likely cause is that shutter speed. At 1/10sec movement of the subjects is going to cause blurring without necessarily causing really obvious motion blur. There could also possibly be slight movement in the camera, even with the IS lens. Both of these are going to affect sharpness.

    Reply
    1. Trevor Post author

      Third guy from the back, eh? Oh, that would be me, then! Well, let’s face it if anyone should be in focus…

      But seriously, I’ve studied the full resolution versions closely: none of us is nearly well enough in focus. Though I agree 1/10 is too slow; maybe I should have upped the ISO.

      Someone on Facebook has noticed the little “IS” on the lens description, and mentioned that Image Stabilisation should be switched off when on a tripod. I didn’t know that.

      Reply
      1. Rob

        I didn’t know either. Well, I vaguely recall hearing that somewhere, but I’ve never done it in practise. I guess as I’ve never had the theory explained to me it’s never something I remember because I don’t understand the reasoning.

        Reply
      2. Rob

        I’ve just come across this link with a handful of tips for getting sharper images, which might be of help.

        It mentions the IS issue, but notes that it can be specific to the lens as to whether IS should be deactivated whilst on a tripod or not.

        Reply
        1. Trevor Post author

          Thanks for that Rob. Yes, I’ve since read a bit which also confirms the IS/tripod issue is very much lens specific.

  2. sarahssurvival

    Well. I am a complete amateur with a camera and if you hadn’t told me they were out of focus I would have just said “what lovely pics of you and the family and friends”

    Reply
  3. Trevor Post author

    In addition to these comments on here, a few people have commented on Facebook:

    ” I suspect that having an exposure as long as 1/10 of a second may be part of the problem. Children of that size are rarely able to stand still and an exposure of that length will often cause blurring of moving subjects. Note how their trousers seem to be more in focus than their heads. Probably because they moved less.”

    ” I am inclined to agree with the above. And the blur may well be at the camera end not the people! 1/30 is really the minimum without a tripod and cable release. 1/125 would be better, or at least 1/60.”

    ” f29 is also a bit OTT for that shot, you probably would have been able to get back and foreground elements in focus without any depth of field issues at f16 giving you a much quicker shutter speed option. f29 is really useful when you are shooting a mountain and foreground or if you are shooting an ultra bright source, but a bit much for portraiture etc etc as you will compromise shutter speed options and get some blur in some shots (which of course is often an excellent effect!)”

    Thanks for all the comments folks. All useful tips.

    In summary – I don’t really know what I’m doing.

    Reply
  4. phisheep

    Dreadfully late here Trevor – just popped by from Bystander’s place (oh, and congrats on getting on that photography course – good luck!).

    You probably know all this stuff by now, but here’s my take:

    Definitely some people movement (that’s why, counting from the front, people 4,6,8 and 11 are more in focus than the rest) – that’s your shutter speed being too long.

    Definitely some camera movement (that’s why *nothing* seems quite in focus) – that’s shutter speed too really. The IS thing is a bit of a red herring, with that lens it works fine on a tripod, and locking the mirror up wouldn’t help any here because of people moving around. So, shutter speed.

    Possibly some diffusion (again affecting focus everywhere). The books suggest about F/16 as smallest aperture before diffusion kicks in, though personally I find F/22 fine (same lens as you, crop sensor). F/29 sounds like you are pushing it too far. Difficult to tell though with so much else going on.

    However, you might find it tricky getting it all in focus with a bigger aperture. I think you have the camera too close. I’d try it with the lens at 50mm rather than 35mm, tripod a bit further back, crank the ISO up to 400 and shoot at about F/20. No, actually I’d probably go shutter priority at 1/200 and fiddle with ISO until the aperture comes out right.

    Reply

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