Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday's News and Tips Picture lacks sharpness

Photographs are a large part of Etsy sales. In fact, if it weren't for photographs our products might be impossible to sell. We live in a very visual society where more than half of the population is affected more by what it sees rather than what it hears or touches. According to the Visual Teachers Alliance, 65 percent of people in the United States are visual learners. The same web site also claims that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Keeping this in mind, we can see why our photographs are very important.

Remember last week in our Wednesday's News and Tips I asked what was wrong with this picture?


What did you think?

At first glance, it looked all right to me but when I checked it again I realized that the lines in the photo are "soft." This means that my image is not sharp, its lines are not distinct. Softness is different from blurriness. Blurry pictures do not have definition. In soft pictures, one can still tell what is in the photograph. The problem in this case is that I have a very shallow depth of field (we'll talk about this in a minute), and the camera is actually focused on some stitching behind the rosette. Look at the top of the photo, between the dark upper edge of the rosette, and the edge of the photo. Can you see where the focus really was in this shot? This would have been a good shot had I simply been paying more attention to what I was seeing in the viewfinder.

Here is another:


Softness in a photograph is fine for certain situations. For instance, if I wanted to make my flower into an artsy picture I might soften the lines for a nice visual effect. In portraits, especially of a woman, that softness can actually complement her complexion. Certain types of lenses have quality called 'bokeh' that can be very useful. However, in an Etsy product photograph in which I want people to see what my work looks like, I want sharp, clear, distinct detail.. Here's another picture from my shop to show you the difference:

 See? The stitches are distinct. They're not smudged like in the picture directly above.

So, what causes this softness that I think is undesirable for my shop?


First of all, I cropped the pictures with the blurry red and black stitches, from a larger picture like this one. Also, note the background. It is "soft" but that is all right; that is a function of that bokeh mentioned earlier. I did this for visual effect. My subject is Tayler, who is wearing my product:


There is nothing wrong with the picture from this distance, but when you enlarge it (like you can with Irfanview or Photoshop), a close up of the scarf and hat looks blurry and soft. This is because the focus on my camera is set on my subject's face rather than the scarf or the hat. It also would have turned out better if I had used a tripod, but I was stubborn about it back then. I don't know why. What I should have done in this instance was stand as close as possible to my subject, use a tripod, and take the picture. How close you can stand depends on the camera you are using and the types of lenses you have.All lenses have a minimum distance for focusing. You have to know what that is for your lens, because anything inside that distance will not be sharp.

When I took the picture of the purple shawl (shown up close in the purple stitch picture), I used a macro lens on a Canon 30D for my product photos. Then I got really close to the shawl and focused exclusively on the stitches. This made for a much clearer picture.

The technical name for what I am manipulating is "Depth of Field". Etsy has a fantastic article on Depth of Field (DOF) here. DOF is "the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image," writes Marlo, the author of the article. This article explains how to use DOF in point and shoot cameras and DSLR cameras.Understanding DOF is essential to taking good photos.

TIP: Auto focus points

If you have a camera that focuses automatically, be sure to set your auto focus points to the center, if possible. If you have multiple focus points set on your camera, something may steal your focus and will result in a very soft subject.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I read this. I know just enough about my camera to make me dangerous, but you got me thinking about my auto focus. You can run into similar problems with the auto light detector (or whatever it's called.)You end up with underexposed or overexposed pictures and don't know why. Great article.