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Why are my shots not coming out crisp?


Hey all. Was wondering what you thought about this:


I got a fairly modest setup to start doing some fashion photography, mainly for Instagram.


I'm using a Canon M50 primarily with a nifty fifty (the STM one) with the adapter. I shoot almost exclusively at f1.8 on Av mode, doing minor adjustments with exposure but little else, as I've found that setup just takes the most amazing shots I've seen possible on this camera. I've tried smaller apertures, I've rented $2K+ Canon lenses for a day to try, I've used the kit lens plenty, etc. etc.... nothing has produced better images thus far. Basically, nothing touches 50, f1.8, Av from what I've seen.


Anyway, all that said, I keep seeing fashion accounts on IG that just seem to have these razor-sharp, super-crisp shots. These accounts are good examples:


This shot shows it well:


(Note that on desktop these may very well not come out as they do on the phone, not least of which is however Instagram decides to display them.)


I have some theories as to why I'm not achieving this, but I don't know...


- Sensor size. This is my leading candidate. Going back to my background in computer graphics and imaging, this one is a prime suspect. Resolution is resolution. Maybe my source shots (taken at 5000x4000) just aren't sharp enough (?) But then for various reasons that doesn't make sense. Maybe there's something else at play with the higher-end cameras that my modest little M50 doesn't have? I just don't know.


- Stability. I suppose a tripod would improve things, but even with super fast shutter speeds I've noticed the problem isn't really solved. And I know plenty of fashion photographers shoot handheld so I can't imagine it's this (?)


- Aperture size. I've heard both ways that aperture size does and does not affect image sharpness. In any case, I do shoot on 1.8 almost exclusively, but when I've shot with the kit lens, which has a much smaller aperture, or with various rental lenses at various apertures, no improvement was observed.


- Downsampling. You might think the final image is suffering along the way as it gets ferried over to the digital badlands of Instagram and their image formats. But I've checked all the settings in Lightroom for what people recommend. The images are being exported at the appropriate, native resolution. Plus, to be honest, even in the M50's preview the images don't look as crisp as what I'm seeing out there.


- Post-processing. Perhaps these photographers are running major sharpening ex post snapo, but I don't know, I feel some cameras/setups are capable of this. Right?


Anyway, would love to get your help with all this. Thanks!


I, too, would not let the camera have auto control over two parts of a photo.  But I think your biggest problem was over thinking a simple shot. Actually leaving the camera in P mode would likely do very well. M mode is mostly for shots that are very difficult to make.  You don't have that!  Setting it to P mode and ISO 200 is a good starting point. Face detection is good if the face is the main most important thing. Is it?  If not don't use it.

Best advice is to not over think it because sometimes the camera is smarter than you are. Reset your camera to defaults and try the P mode settings.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

Right, this is basically why I mentioned that it seems like Manual mode is the one for me from now on. I guess what I don’t understand is, if I’m shooting in Av mode with a set shutter speed and obviously a set aperture, and auto ISO, at that point what difference is it then just Manual? Thanks!


Well, the problem has been solved and now I'm going through answering any threads I started if anyone cares about the answer and to share the small war story. Note that the below applies mostly to a much longer thread on dpreview, but somewhat applicable here:


The bad: the answer was a lot simpler than a lot of the suggestions I received. It was literally just sharpening in post. Yes, some suggested this but many insisted I was shooting wrong. I shot and shot and shot and shot and shot and even the most perfect shots with plenty of light and perfect focus and fast shutter etc. etc. etc. never produced what I was aspiring to match. I felt there was *some* limitation in my gear (ended up being a limitation in the workflow) and that all the photography basics in the world wouldn't produce it, so I was convinced it was a hard limit, like the sensor size of my relatively modest little camera. No shot got it. Well, just recently, an owner of a local art repro studio heard it and in one second, when looking at the aspirational shots, said, "oh, that's unsharp mask." Sure enough, gave it a shot and pow- there were all the little fibers and eye lash details and fine stitching, etc. that the "pro" shots had. So no, it wasn't a $6K setup... but it also wasn't the shots themselves. Even my less-than-ideal shots could pop as I needed.


The good: but it sure as hell improved my fundamentals! 🙂 Aperture, shutter speed, comfort shooting in manual, and, most importantly, knowing which focal mode to use (I naively thought face tracking was the way to go when I needed single point on the eyes) all improved as a result.


So I do wish I could've saved weeks of frustration by being told this unequivocally rather than having to defend some of my choices that I knew weren't the issue, BUT, I'm a better photographer for it and the raw images being produced are now better as a result. And to be fair, some certainly did say it was post/sharpening.


Anyway, thanks so much, all! Chapter closed, next level of quality here we come...

"I received. It was literally just sharpening in post."


You know the camera applies sharpening as it saves a jpg.  You can control how much in the menu set up. Of course it does not apply anything with Raw.  But the same camera settings are used do define how your computer displays the image.


One other tip. Unless you use unsharp mask like what is found in Photoshop, most editors just define the edge of objects and darkens them. Over the entire frame. There is no actual sharpening going on. My normal procedure is to apply a preset in Lightroom that does lens correction upon import and then I look to see if sharpening is needed. You can mask out the areas that don't need or want sharpening, too. I always shoot Raw.


"I do wish I could've saved weeks of frustration ... my less-than-ideal shots could pop as I needed."


So glad to hear you got what you were after. That's all that is important.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!
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