5 Tips For Clearer, More Vivid Photographs: updated

PinExt 5 Tips For Clearer, More Vivid Photographs: updated

By Gavin Seim. Updated 06/09: How do they always get super clear vivid images? Most of us have looked at images and thought this. I’ve been there too and thought I would tell you a bit about the secrets behind it. Also check out the companion PPS podcast on getting clear images.

hdr seattle loan collection 5 Tips For Clearer, More Vivid Photographs: updatedNo matter what camera you shoot with, the question comes out the same. What do photographers do to get tack sharp, vivid, beautiful images? There’s not one magic formula. It’s more of a lifestyle, and how intense and vivid you want to make your images will vary. Either way you should understand the principles, so here’s some good tips to get you rolling. At the end you can post your own tips, and you’ll even find a link to a free Photoshop action that will help you out.

  • #5. Depth of field Thoughts:

This can be easily overlooked, and is crucial. Let’s say you have a lens that goes down to 1.4 or 2.8, or perhaps a long zoom. Depth of field (similar to focus) can be very shallow. You can certainly get great shots, even without a pod and on the go. It just takes some practice. Don’t get discouraged when some eyes are blurry. If you focus on a person 6 feet away who is slowly moving towards you, those eyes might be soft in the time it takes you to press the shutter.

One solution is to raise that aperture setting higher (smaller opening and more depth of field) 5.6, 8.0, etc. That will help give you more focus depth, but will also require a slower shutter speed and sometimes that shallow effect is beautiful. So to help you nail it, take lots of shots and then pick the best ones. When you can, use a tripod help keep that camera still, and remember the focus will be shallow at lower (larger opening and less depth of field) aperture settings. Also try setting the focus point right on their eye (or other desired focus spot) and nowhere else, to get your focus dead on. Practice makes perfect.

  • #4. Shutter Speeding:

Another big factor is shutter speed. A rule of thumb is that if your shutter speed is less than the length of your lens, then it’s too slow. IE. 100mm lens = 1/100 sec or faster. Faster than that is good, and slower is also possible. You have to know your camera, and get a feel for what you can do. I’ve gotten clear shots of moving race cars at 100mm or more with 1/30 sec or less, by simply following the movement. That doesn’t happen every shot and can be tricky. But again practice practice practice.

Watch that shutter speed, and learn to hold that camera solid against your face, especially when in low light without a support. If you can use a flash in low light, do it first to nail the shot you need and then then try without it, for some more creative work. This way you have the success shot to fall back on if the creative shots don’t work out like you planned.

  • #3. Movement at it’s best

Movement of the camera can have a huge effect on your images. Holding the camera solid does not mean it should not move when you want it to. If your subject is moving, then try following it’s path with your lens (panning). Even at 1/500th of a sec, a shot of someone running past might not be clear if you hold the camera still, yet when you hold that camera firm and pan along with the motion, that same person can be tack sharp at 1/60th. Play around with motion and learn how it behaves. Sometimes you may even want a blur on a certain area, like the wheat in the HDR portrait below. With practice comes control.

alone on harvst moon 5 Tips For Clearer, More Vivid Photographs: updated

  • #2. Eyes Of Glass:

There is truth to the saying “You get what you pay for” That 18-55 lens that came in your kit might get you some great shots, but when it comes to lenses you usually lose image quality by saving $. This is especially true at longer focal lengths. I’m not saying you should automatically buy the most expensive lens you find. It pays to read reviews and see what others are saying before you buy. You may find a great value. Just remember that it’s not really the body, it’s the eye in front of it. A $500 Digital Rebel can take pretty much the same shot that a $10k  1D can if it has a great lens.

Lets look at an example. It was a few years ago that I discovered the true value of great glass. People kept telling me “it’s was all in the glass” and I don’t think I really believed it until I tested for myself. I had a Tokina 24-200 zoom lens that I really liked. It served me well, and I got some great shots from it. But I kept thinking… “Why aren’t my images VIVID?” I finally broke down and spent some real money on lenses. Below are the results from the sample shots I took with each lens.

a good lens1 5 Tips For Clearer, More Vivid Photographs: updated

a good lens2.thumbnail 5 Tips For Clearer, More Vivid Photographs: updated

Amazing huh? Bear in mind that I’m not bashing Tokina. I got some good shots from it, and it was only a $300 lens. vs the $1700 Canon lens. Also the Tokina was a few years old and the Canon’s were brand new. Owning an OEM lens won’t help if it’s still a cruddy lens. I got what I paid for. A top of the line lens is worth the money, if you want the best image you can get. And though it doesn’t sound as exciting as that new camera body that just came out, it will give you much more.

In the end it’s always more about experinace than gear, but great lenses just may be your key to getting that tack sharp image your looking for. Start by browing some reviews on Fred Miranda and finding a lens you can afford that has rave reviews. One popular lens for us Canon shooters is the 50MM 1.4. While not an L lens, it has amazing clarity at a good price.

  • #1. Sharpening. Make Life POP

Last but not least is the post production work. Sharpening can really transform your images POP, and usually when you see a shot that makes you say. “WOW THAT’S SO CLEAR”, sharpening had a hand in it.

The thing to remember is that sharpening is not an excuse to be lazy. While it might make a poor picture acceptable, it will never make it great. A great image starts out great, and is made better by post production tools. Try taking your photo into Photoshop, or some other editor and just start playing with the sharpen tools. Don’t overdue it. Add some smart sharpen, or un-sharp mask. Just enough to make it POP a bit. You can play with “high pass” as well.

You can also get actions for sharpening. I make Photoshop actions & Lightroom preset collections over at Seim Effects, but below is also a link to a freebie pack I made, that includes an effect called Visual Razor. It will give your images POP by using sharpening and a few other tricks.

Now get out there and make some great images. Then go share em over on the forums

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  • http://www.ihc-bwn.net Steven Goh

    Good tips mate. Love this article.

    Hope you dont mind if I feature this article in a forum.

  • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

    Thanks Steven, and ya, go for it. Just don’t take the whole thing. Toss a link back to this original… Gav

  • FJ Rod

    Dear Gavin,

    I have been following you for almost a year and your work has positively evolved.
    I truly appreciate all your efforts of getting helpful and relevant material for all of us who are passionate about photography. Keep up the good work.

    FJ Rod

    PS: Do you happen to have any recommendations (websites / books) about TIlt & Shift photography? I am looking for tips/tricks good advice on how to properly use these lenses.

    Many thanks again,


    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      Thanks FJ. As for tilt ship I don;t off hand. I would just search around. The closest Ive come to tilt shift is the Lensbaby.

  • http://www.tomsapp.com Nikon Samurai

    I have a serious stress attack when i see some of my competitors images they put on their blogs. I use to be ahead of the game with all the best equipment but now I feel light years behind. Having the best equipment doesn’t cut it anymore. At first I thought it was a cannon thing but then I found out one of the photographers who is getting this clarity is a female. The images I speak of I know are taken mostly with prime lenses which I have, most of nikons primes below 200mm. Then I got thrown a bone and was told using an B+w UV/IR filter would help … which it did but it’s still now “there” yet. I got into lightroom because of this issue. LR does help a great deal but i’m still not getting the pure white light effect with skin that looks almost. I’ve always used Kalvin temps to get decent color with a seconic light meter. It’s close but still no dice. I have a expo disk which also gets close but it’s still not the super white light look these other shooters are banking with. It really got me recently because a bride sent me the link to one of my competitors blog pages as an example of what she wanted. I did my thing and she was happy but the images all look like they have a cast compared to the “samples” …. Any advice? It’s driving me crazy!!!

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      First I have to say that the best gear has never cut it. They’re just tools. Good ones are great to have, but a tool is only is good as it’s user.

      Not saying you don’t know ho to use you tools. Can’t say that from here. But the latest trends aren’t always the best approach. Many of the skin effects are done with effects, action etc. Again not a bad thing if used well. But it seems your not taking charge of your work. If someone hires me they hire me for my work. If they like someone else better they should go to them. I’m not in the business of being told by the client how to make a photograph.

      Not that I don’t listen to clients. It just sounds like your giving yourself grief that could be avoided if you dialed in “your look” and stuck with it. But again, I don’t have enough info to speak in absolutes. Just musing. If you have a specific image your analyzing though feel free to shoot me an email.

      And on a quality note, here’s an article where I broke down all the elements (in order) that seem to effects sharpness and image quality… http://f164.com/six-keys-to-better-photo-image-quality/02/2011/


  • http://www.tomsapp.com Nikon Samurai

    I have no problem getting tack sharp images. It’s the color clarity i’m having trouble with. I graduated from Hallmark with a solid foundation. It’s the trends I have to keep up with to stay ahead of my competitors. I deal with tourists in a destination vacation area. Here you’re a line on google and an online portfolio. If they don’t see what they want you don’t get a call. I use to have the mentality “create my own style and stick with it” but that only works if you’re doing something others are not. I was the baddest car in my town when i first moved here after graduation. The first year out I was known for winning the most awards at the PPA competitions for a person my age and i got creative photographer of the state of CT that year. You are right having the best equipment doesn’t cut it but these days being good, highly educated, highly experienced and having the best equipment doesn’t cut it either. I can “make it” but if I want to raise eyebrows I have to constantly learn what’s new. This one thing people are doing i’ve been seeing it for about a year. The images are so clear with perfect white light and pasty looking skin … it’s beautiful. Here the ones who know keep it a secret. I saw one of the shooters last night who told me a name to look up. I had to shoot right after she told me and didn’t write it down but she said a guy named Jose something is who started it, make a book on the technique and is now traveling around giving lectures. I messaged her to get the name again but it might have been a one time shot. Shooters here are cut throat brother. When a client asks me if i can do something i want to be able to do it. Now i’m getting asked often about this “look” and being sent samples. My lab, millers, said “the photographers are doing it, we don’t know” …. so i turned to you when I saw this in hopes. I would have emailed but I don’t see an email addy on here… sorry

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      Well vivid clear images and good clarity go hand in hand. That said, there is a tend of using a final sharp that makes images really POP on the web. But if they don’t have true detail it wont matter much in print. The Jose you’re talking about could be Jose Villa.

      If you have more thoughts feel free to get it touch. Email is right on the about page (prophotoshow@gmail.com).