I have a Canon 70d that is about 6 months old. I mostly use the standard 18-55 that came with it or my 50mm 1.8. This problem seems to occur no matter which one I use!!! I hope it is simply a setting, but I'm not sure which setting. Plus, the image are just not as sharp as I'd like. Both of these pictures are shot in RAW with an ISO 100 on a semi-overcast day. Please help!
I agree about the depth of field and blurred backgrounds and foregrounds.
Both your shots are done with the lenses at their widest aperture (f1.8 on the 50mm and f4 at 29mm on the zoom). Few lenses are at their sharpest wide open. Try stopping down to f2.8 or smaller with the 50mm, and to f5.6 or f8 with the zoom. This also will increase depth of field, which will better insure that everyone in a group shot is in focus. You might need to set a higher ISO in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to handhold the camera, as well as prevent any subject motion blur. .
Your shots don't look bad to me, though. A little sharpening in post-processing would likely help.
Also, they could benefit from some fill light, opening up the shadows (notice their eyes and under their chins, for example). This fill could be done either with a flash or with a reflector of some sort to bounce available light. Particularly the shot of the young lady by herself, appears slightly underexposed, making for even darker shadows around her eyes and under her chin, than the people in the group shot. You could adjust the shots in post-processing software, but it would be better to "get it right" in the camera to begin with.
I notice you are using Manual (M) exposure setting. That's fine, but when doing that, if you use the flash it will want to fire "full", as if it were the primary light source. (In cotrast, if using any of the auto exposure settings... Av, Tv or P... the camera will automatically treat flash as "fill", so long as the flash is set to ETTL). Since all you need is a little fill to open up the shadows, shooting with the camera set to M you would probably want to dial down the flash using Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC). I'd suggest minus 1-2/3 stops FEC, but you should experiment with a little more or a little less (maybe take some extra shots with slighlty different settings).
You also are seeing some reflection of the overcast sky. This is probably why you think the shots look "burnt". A circular polarizing filter would help a lot with that. All the colors in the image would be more saturated, too. Otherwise, an overcast sky typically makes for pretty good lighting for portraits.... better than shooting in full, midday sun, which is very contrasty.
I am not sure what pixellation you are seeing... maybe it's yoru computer monitor. Both shots look pretty good to me, on my graphics quality computer montor.
By the way, that's another thing that can fool you. Most consumer grade computer monitors are way too bright for photo editing (making you adjust the images too dark and end up with dark prints). It is possible to calibrate a computer monitor, to be sure it's showing you accurate brightness and reasonably good color gamut. Three of the most popular monitor calibration devices are Pantone Huey, Datacolor Spyder and X-Rite Color Munki. If you do a lot of portraits, especially, where skin tones are really sensitive to misadjustments, you might want to look into monitor calibration.
Hope this helps!
I hope you don't mind but I did a tiny amount of editing in LR. I guess you do the same as you said you shoot RAW.
You photo is very good right off. It just needs a slight tweaking. What a georgous family and the color is fantastic.
I cropped a bit and added LR lens correction. That is it. I hope your monitor shows it as good as it is.
I might add, for pictures like this you don't need any additional add-ons. No spiders or monkeys, filters, etc, just do some post in your favorite editor. You do need to get your monitor close to right. But it has all the adjustments already built in. Set the brightness/contrats to a normal level. Most people set it too bright. Get the grey-scale right. That's it.
On a Windows machine, it has the controls for you monitor from MS. I guess Mac's do also.
Great photos a re 1/2 camera/lens, 1/2 post and 1/2 you. Not necessarily in that order and, yes, it does add up!
When I checked the EXIF data, I noticed that the data indicates that the group/family photo was taken with a 70D and kit lens, but the image of the individual young lady was taken with a T2i and 50mm f/1.8 -- the two photos were not taken with the same camera.
Also, both cameras appear to have been set to use automotic focus point selection.
It's important to know that when automatic AF point selection is used, the camera will search for the AF point which is able to lock focus at the nearest focusing distance to the camera -- which may not be the point you really wanted it to use (especially when using a focal ratio with a very shallow depth-of-field.)
For example, in the the image of the young lady, the camera used an AF point located at her closer shoulder. Unfortunately that spot would be closer to the camera then her eyes and at such a shallow depth of field, that will cause her eyes to be just a tiny bit out of focus.
You can force the camera to use a specific AF point to lock focus and then place that point at your subjects "dominant" eye (the eye you can see best from the camera's point of view) to lock focus.
Using focal ratios at or below f/2 (especially if the subject is close) is risky because the depth of field will be very shallow and it's especially easy to miss focus. Even focus & recomposing is risky due to the "plane" of focus shifting when you recompose the shot.
To achieve a softly blurred background, I prefer to use a long focal length lens (e.g. my 70-200mm f/2.8 is one of my favorites) and then set a low-ish focal ratio (somewhere around f/4 if the subject is close and f/2.8 if the subject is a bit farther away.) This means I do have to stand farther away to get the composition I want... but the shots sure do look great this way.
"For example, in the the image of the young lady, the camera used an AF point located at her closer shoulder. Unfortunately that spot would be closer to the camera then her eyes and at such a shallow depth of field, that will cause her eyes to be just a tiny bit out of focus."
That is why I did not attempt to see if LR lens correction would help. One thing that is beyond most, if not all, post editors is fixing OOF pictures. I know there are some feeble attempts but it is better to get the main most part in focus.