XDrive Photo Lesson 5 – Sharpness

This is my submission for XDrive Photo Lesson 5 – Sharpness. (All photos were taken with Nikon D750.)

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
— Ansel Adams

It’s easy for him to say that, isn’t it? I’m sitting here thinking… do I even have a fuzzy concept?

But, I don’t really have time to worry about concept now. I am still working on taking sharp photos. If you have followed my blog for a while, I am sure you would remember me crying for help several times. Some of you had offered your advice, and I had taken everyone’s suggestion to heart. I also read articles, and watched YouTube videos. I am doing better now.

Thinking back, I have made several changes in taking sharper photos: (1) I hold my camera differently. (2) I switched to back button focusing. (Actually, even though back-button works pretty good, DOF preview button works even better for me 😉 (3) I am using tripod more often now. And I am glad to say that my photos are sharper now. 😉

Raj taught a wonderful lesson on Sharpness. What I like the most of his lesson is that he gave a lot of examples, and I am one of those who would learn better if I see examples. (Thanks, Raj.)

About the milk drop photo… it was shooting at f7.1, 1/1000 sec., ISO 3200, Focal length 85.

I used cornstarch to thicken the milk so it would be easier for me to control the drops. The milk was too thick on my first try; it didn’t flow well. I had to add some water to make it work. It could be sharper, and, maybe, I should try to focus on the drop… I don’t know. I like it, and want to share it with you.

Question: Does focal length has any effect on DOF? I thought at F7.1, both the coffee cup and milk drop would be sharp, but it didn’t happen that way. I have seen two bird photos shooting with same F-stop, but one had blurring leaves next to the bird, and the other not, which I haven’t figured out why.

This morning, I asked my neighbor’s daughter if she could be my model so I could have a couple of photos to submit for this lesson. 😉 We had a lot of fun.

Photo 1 – f / 5.3; 1/400 sec.; ISO-200; Focal Length 100.

Photo 2 – f/5; 1/50 sec.; ISO-320; Focal Length 85.

More questions (of course):
How sharp is enough? Is it necessary to zoom in 100% to check sharpness all the time? Is it possible that sharpness for street photos is not as critical?

Thanks for visiting my blog.


About Helen C

A retired computer programmer who loves writing and photographing, and has managed to publish a YA novel "Jin-Ling’s Two Left".
This entry was posted in photo, photo and thoughts, Photo Question and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to XDrive Photo Lesson 5 – Sharpness

  1. Wonderful pics Helen!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. loisajay says:

    Helen–your neighbor is adorable, but the milk photo…..!! I am speechless. That is an amazing photo. And you thickened the milk. Obviously you are at the finish line and I have not even entered the gate yet! Your photos are wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen C says:

      Thanks, Lois. Remember Ben Rowe at Aperture64? He wrote a post on how he took photos of dropping a strawberry into a glass of milk or something like that more than a year ago. I wanted to give it a try after reading it, but I didn’t know enough to feel comfortable of doing it. It only took me more than a year… ha ha.
      No one can beat your sens of humor. Every time I receive an email announcing your new post, I would rush to your site… and I was never disappointed!!!
      Have a wonderful day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy says:

    The milk shot is brilliant! Beautiful photos of your neighbor’s daughter. You focused on her eyes, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen C says:

      Thanks, Amy. Like I told Lois, the idea of taking that milk shot came from reading one of Ben Rowe’s Aperture64 posts long time ago. I wonder how he is doing now…
      Have a wonderful day.


  4. Raj says:

    Thanks Helen, for the contribution… I always look forward to your submission too.. Always there is something to learn.

    Pic 1: Lovely try. Yes great idea to capture the flowing milk. You have done well to control the things here and I believe good settings have been used. ISO 3200 sometimes adds noise. However I would have chosen the portrait mode here so that I could have shown more of the cups and story better in my opinion. Since you are showing the flow of milk not the drop of milk as your intent (story) I feel you could have lighten the milk still further that way there is a continuous flow. Also a slower shutter speed to enhance it. On the other hand if your intention is to show the drops then more focus should have been on the drop itself.
    Regarding the question on focal length and the dof, yes there is a major impact. A longer the focal length you have, thinner dof on the object at the same distance. In the above shot that 85 mm creates short dof hence edges of cups not very sharp. Manual pre-focus is recommended in this type of shooting.

    Pic 2: Nice portrait of a girl. Liked the composition too. Your model is very comfortable and natural smile you were able to induce. 1/50 sec could produce some camera shake because of focal length 85mm. Only one recommendation here is that, in this situation move the subject to a place where background is further away, further the better. When you do it you will be able to produce a better background blur and hence the subject separation. In this case the background is almost in focus and not contributing to the intention of photo.

    Pic 3: Again a great result. I liked the play of shadows and light on the model’s skin. But this photo begs for the portrait mode. Probably model is slightly bent forward or a camera tilt could be avoided.
    Your question on sharpness is very genuine. But as I said in photography there are no rules to fallow. As long as end result is able to tell the story what you imagined that’s all matters. If you are doing a macro or a close ups I think people look for best possible sharpness. For portraits generally sharpness is not very much appreciated as it would show up each and every blemish and the wrinkles on the skin. But make sure eyes of the subject are pretty sharp as we all get attracted by the sharp eyes. Yes street photographs may not require that much of sharpness. Also intentional unsharp pictures tell the story very differently.. Wait for my next sessions..

    This is my critical review as part of XDrive Photo Learning session. Thanks for the contribution once again. Hope to see more from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen C says:

      Raj, thank you for your wonderful comment!

      Pic 1: The drops (of milk) were what I was after. Photographing the flowing milk is easier (I think) – no need to thicken the milk, just use a slow shutter speed and have a continuous flow (like you said).

      I shot 65 photos for this session. My tripod can only do landscape, so all of them are in landscape mode. I cropped some to portrait mode, and was thinking to post one each (because I liked them both), but I limited myself for 3 photos this time… every time I read your instruction saying submit one or two photos, I felt somewhat guilt (and that’s the truth.) Anyway, after reading your comment, I cropped Pic-1 to portrait mode and like it a lot, too. For some reason, in landscape mode, I see a hand holding the milk jar (whatever that is called), but in portrait mode, I don’t see the hand. A little weird, I know. (I do like the portrait mode even though I don’t see the hand. I like it for different reasons.)

      It was a little challenge, to be honest. I had to click and pour the milk at the same time. I could use a remote shutter release device, but I didn’t like the tiny delay it causes even though I set it as no-delay.

      ISO 3200 does create a lot of noise. I had to work hard to get rid of them. I hate noises and had refused using auto-ISO for a while, but I am reading Steve Simon’s book now and he suggested using auto-ISO, so I thought I would give it another try. (After taking these photos, again, I disabled it.) Do you use auto-ISO?

      Thanks for answering my question about “focal length and the dof”. I need to experience this more, so I would have a better feeling on how they work.

      Pic 2: Excellent recommendation on moving the subject away from the background!!! This was the first time I shot with a model! She was very comfortable; I was very nervous 😉 I thought it would take at least 15 minutes to get to know each other (I talked to her parents a lot, but I seldom talking to her.), but she was ready in 2 minutes, and I wasn’t really ready. 😉

      I had read about working with models before. Knowing what to do doesn’t mean I can do it easily!

      Pic 3: You are right (again) – this looks much better in portrait mode. But why didn’t I hear it begging (for the portrait mode)??? I wonder if it is a good idea to always check both modes, until I am getting better in determining which photo should be what mode…
      Again, thinks for answering my other questions.

      >> For portraits generally sharpness is not very much appreciated as it would show up each and every blemish and the wrinkles on the skin.

      Aren’t we supposed clone those out? Just kidding… somewhat…

      Thanks, Raj.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Raj says:

        Pic 1: If your intention is to show the milk drops.. Then I think the portrait mode is a must. And also just part of the source and destination are enough. That way will get better close up view of the drop action. Even though the milk on the top (source) looks focused but the free drop looks out of focus. Yes the 85 mm focal length might be the culprit. It’s very difficult to pour and take a shot you need to have another helping hand to pour the milk. Auto ISO is ok, as long as you can limit the ISO in the setting (check the camera settings). That is when I set auto ISO I can also set the maximum permissible ISO camera can offer. I do set ISO 1600 as maximum ISO whenever I go for auto ISO. I set auto ISO in only situations where I am shooting fast action shots.

        Pic 3: Why it begs for portrait? See, you are showing more of the model’s bust here. Also there is lot of empty area which is not required. I always try to fill about 60 to 70 percent of the frame with my subject if the subject is important. On the other hand when environment also important I add more space.

        Thank you once again Helen for the participation..

        Liked by 2 people

        • Helen C says:

          I bow my head to you, teacher Raj. Thank you very much for patiently answering all my questions. I finally got it, and I am so happy. 😉
          Good night.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Raj says:

            Thanks Helen for your kind words.. but it is been a great exercise to me too… different takes from different people always a learning for me.. it clears lot of things for me too.. thank you for being with me.. 👏 🙏 🤝 👍

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Learn Photography – 5 – Sharpness – XDrive

  6. Dalo 2013 says:

    Helen, these are some fantastic shots and I can see such a much more refined shot & detail, and also an evolution of sorts in terms of your photographic eye. These shots (and others in your posts) are a joy to see and ponder, and for me that is the one defining item about a photographer ~ if the shot holds the viewer’s eyes and makes them wonder 🙂 Wishing you and your family a great summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen C says:

      Hello, Randall, what a nice surprise!!! I am so glad that you are back!!! Hope everything goes well for you, and look forward to reading your new posts!
      For a few years, I didn’t understand why a lot of photographers suggested us to use manual mode. I finally gave a try early this year and suddenly a lot of settings really made sense now. I still often use Aperture or shutter speed mode, but I make sure I use manual mode once in a while so I will be more and more familiar with it. Anyway, ever since I started using M mode, I am more confident taking photos.
      Wishing you and your family a great summer, too. And can’t wait to read your new post (read once already.)
      Have a wonderful evening.


      • Dalo 2013 says:

        Once you’ve shot manual mode and understand the concepts, then it makes it so much easier to get creative with aperture and shutter-speed. I shoot the majority of time in aperture, as it is perhaps most important when it comes to “story telling” for me ~ and in low light, along with ISO, I shoot with aperture and adjust to get the shutter speed I wish for certain effects (blur or motion, panning). Always fun to experiment…even if I just end up wasting pixels 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Helen C says:

          Thank you, Randall. You don’t mean that while using aperture mode, we can still adjusting shutter speed, do you?
          There are so many things to learn… Good thing that I really enjoy learning 😉
          Have a wonderful day.


          • Dalo 2013 says:

            Good question…yes and no. Shooting with aperture priority on your camera, your shutter speed is automatically adjusted ~ so if you want to be creative, you can shoot at a smaller aperture (stopping down) and thus slow your shutter speed. If I am shooting action, and I want to pan and create some blur I will often do this. 🙂 Yes ~ so much to learn, fortunately, it is fun too 🙂


  7. Pingback: Photography Learning – Review – August – XDrive

  8. shutterbug says:

    Helen, this great! May I borrow your idea of thickening the milk? My photography club’s theme this month is ‘one object from every angle’ and I was really dreaming of a hot, steaming cup of coffee (Raj made it look too easy on one of his posts. I am about 65 pictures in and not satisfied yet.) I think the pouring of milk would add nicely to the story. I really like the second photo of the model too. I love the play on light and shadow. Thanks for all of your contributions. I am really learning alot from you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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