Improve my photographs? Post processing?
November 4, 2017 2:10 PM   Subscribe

We're trying to get photographs for a holiday card. We took some, and I think I had the settings... not exactly right. I have two questions. Could you please help me with the settings on our dSLR so that the subject, not the background, is what's in focus? And what's the best way to get a few of the photos post-processed -- is it easy enough to do myself? is there a way to pay someone?

Question 1: Taking better photos to start with

We just went to a local nature park (at noon, on a cloudy day) and many of the photos taken on the Auto setting ("iAuto") came back with the background in focus and the subject of the photo (usually a child) blurry, even when the subject was standing fairly still. Similarly, the lighting seems optimized for the forest, even though the child is in the center of the frame. We're using an Olympus OM-D. Ideally, the child would be in focus even while moving. It's fine if that means that the background has to be blurry.

I have a photography 101 understanding that I can still have a fast aperture speed to have a moving subject in focus even in moderate-light conditions with a shorter depth of field. What I don't know is what actual settings to put on the camera. Could someone please explain what settings to use and how to make sure the camera knows that it's the toddler, not the tree, that I'm trying to capture?

Question 2: Improving the photos that we did take

There are a few photos that are decently in focus, but the colors are still not right -- you see more detail in the trees. I think with a little bit of post processing, they could probably be good? Is post-processing something I could learn myself fairly easily? I saw a couple of online services where you pay per photo for retouching -- are these worthwhile? We do have the photos in JPG and ORF (Olympus's version of RAW) formats, if that helps.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by slidell to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What camera are you shooting with? A lot of switchology will be specific to brand and model, even if the concepts are universal.

Do you want shallow depth-of-field (subject in focus, background blurry)? That's an effect that shooters aim for, but you can push the depth of field shallower (wider aperture) or deeper (narrower aperture).

On my older Nikon DSLR, depressing the shutter halfway will turn on the meter and autofocus. You get a "[-]" indicator of where the auto-focus is focusing -- my camera is old enough that it lets me positon that indicator in one of 11-ish locations manually (default center of viewfinder); some newer cameras will try to pick a position automatically. Do that, make sure the focus is on the right thing, THEN press the shutter. If your subject is not centered in the frame, it's easy enough to do the half-press with the subject centered to get the focus, then hold it down, reframe, and trip the shutter.

"The colors are not right" could mean your camera is metering in a way you don't want. Check if you're spot metering (again, usually the center of the viewfinder) and exposing for that, or maybe scene metering (which accounts for more of the view, but if there's extreme variations in brightness or light level, could do things you don't want).

Also: check your camera's white balance. It should have presets for several options (sunny, cloudy, indoor, florescent, etc), and you want the correct one. You might get even better results with a white card and manual WB, but that's probably more work than you want to fuss with.
posted by Alterscape at 2:26 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm using an Olympus OM-D. I didn't see anything when I pushed the shutter down halfway, but maybe I was moving too quickly to notice.
posted by slidell at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2017

Definitely give it a good second or so at "half-press" to let it decide what to focus on.

A quick google finds this link on the OM-D system autofocus. I don't have any experience with Olympus bodies newer than an old 35mm OM-1, so I can't offer anything specific, but from reading that link it looks like you have options to get what you want!
posted by Alterscape at 2:48 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

On the Olympuses, there is an option buried deep in the menu settings called “Keep Warm Colors”. You want to set that to “Off”.

However, if you have the ORF file, you can download the Olympus Viewer 3 software and you can turn off the warm colors in post.

Note that Olympus Viewer 3, is a shitty piece of software, and difficult to figure out, but it will give you the best results from your Olympus camera.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2017

I believe Olympu has auto face detect - change you focus mode to that (olympus menus can be a little confusing, but give it a crack). This will lock onto any faces automatically.

The reason everything is exposed wrongly is because once your olympus locks onto the trees, it's adjusting the exposure for the trees, not the person. I would guess this is leaving the person too bright as trees are usually a lot dark than people.

When you push the shutter half down you should hear a beep - that means focus has been acquired.

Post processing can be as complicated - or as uncomplicated - as you like Don't be intimidated, and don't pay someone for basic tweaking.

You could start by uploading test pic into google photos and giving it a whirl in the editing options there.

Alternately, try pixlr, it's more powerful than google photos, though less automated, and you can do it all in your browser. Just have a play and see what you can do.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 3:08 PM on November 4, 2017

Were it me, I would just send it off to someone at Fiverr. I've sent loads of photos out to various sellers there and my favourite seller for pro-level corrections is this seller. The sales material isn't great but what I've gotten back from him or her is worth the $5 or $10.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:47 PM on November 4, 2017

I posted a link to two of the photos in my profile, if that makes it easier to give suggestions on what to do next time and what kind of touch-up (if any) would help at this point. Thanks!
posted by slidell at 3:51 PM on November 4, 2017

The first photo can be tweaked and look great. That would be easily accomplished in photoshop (or Photoshop Elements if you want to give it a try yourself). Throw that on Fiverr or MeFi Jobs.

I don't think the focus on the boy in the 2nd photo could be fixed enough to look good. Or if you're happy with the blurriness of the boy, then you can keep that as is, and have someone soften the focus on the trees behind him. But that will essentially make the whole image a bit blurry or soft. If you're ok with that, it wouldn't be the worst picture I've seen.
posted by hydra77 at 5:02 PM on November 4, 2017

Photo 1 can be color corrected. Either try the 100+ filters for the free version of Polarr or hire someone on Fiverr.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on November 4, 2017

I'm on my third OM-D body. Answering your focus question depends in part on which OM-D you have. There are 3 models: EM1, EM5 and EM10. There have been 2 versions of the 1 and 5, 3 versions of the 10.

This forum is the best source of help for all things OM-D. BTW, the OM-D is a mirrorless micro four thirds (m43) camera, not a DSLR. I mention that only because the first response to your first post will probably point it out.
posted by Homer42 at 5:38 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Turn on auto focus, so you can push the shutter release button half down, and get the area focused you want. You can even move the camera a little one way or the other, after as long as you leave the shutter release halfway down, and don't accidentally refocus elsewhere.

You can see if you have a choice between grid focus, many points, or a single focus point. Single point is better for putting a subject out front.

You can lower the number of the f-stop to less than eight, whatever you have there in that camera. The lower the f-stop, the more narrow plane of focus.

The ISO is how fast you expose the image. So if you want to routinely take out your camera, and shoot, then set the ISO at 200. You may have to not use automatic to do all this. I recommend that you go manual. So with the depth of field more narrow, and the single point focus aimed at your subject, then you will have your kids in focus and the rest maybe in focus, but the kid will be in focus. If you get late in the day, you might have to raise your ISO to 300 or 400. OK, but you have to remember to go back to regular settings when you are finished with evening coming down.

If you want landscapes then go up a few f-stops to 8-11 or more if you want. The higher the f-stop the more of your image with be in focus, but less light comes in the camera, so you have to hold still for landscape. Remember if you are posing your kids, or anyone in fact, make sure the light source, (sun) is not directly in front of them, or else they will be squinting. If they are in ball caps, then get them into shade, so their facial features are lit by general light, and side light. Side light is much better for portraits, squinting people are not pretty people, even if they are.
posted by Oyéah at 7:14 PM on November 4, 2017

Hey there, you don't need to pay anyone. The second pic is write off - you can't bring something that out of focus into focus, but I had a little go on your first pic.

I am by no means a professional, and doing this to a jpeg is always a little iffy. Apologies if you find it a bit overcooked. To give you an idea of what I did:

- cropped image to centre kid
- applied a vignette to draw focus to him
- added a bit of warmth to the pic (warmer colour)
- darkened the hair a little
- lightened the face
- removed a bit of green from foreground that was a little distracting
- overall sharpening applied

The biggest challenge is the shadowed face - m43 doesn't have the latitude that larger sensors do, and shadows can desaturate a little, meaning when you bring them up they can go a little grey. If you save in RAW you will have more scope. I did this with on1 Photo Raw, but virtually any photo program would work.
posted by smoke at 8:16 PM on November 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh also a pro tip when photographing kids: Get on their level so your camera is parallel to their faces, or even looking slightly up at it. Gives you more face and less head, and you can consider a little fill flash to light them up.
posted by smoke at 12:25 AM on November 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

It looks to me like the problem is more motion blur than the child being out of focus, although it may be a combination of the two. Certainly the second photo where the child is jumping and even the first where the hands seem to be moving. You can't really do much about that in post processing. You need to have a faster shutter speed in those circumstances, either by using "S" (shutter) on the mode dial and choosing a faster shutter manually (maybe at least 1/500th sec. or so?) or by choosing Sport from the Scene mode on the dial which will choose a higher speed automatically.

If at least part of the problem is focus, the suggestion above to use single point focus with the point spotted on your primary subject should help.
posted by ClingClang at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2017

To be perfectly honest, at the size a holiday card would print those images will probably look just fine and they have more useful detail than most people get with a phone camera even in a well-exposed shot. Even the blurred shot of the puddle jump would get the point across (and arguably the motion blur in that gets the point across more than a perfect frame would).

Since you have the raw files still you can use Olympus Viewer or the image editing program of your choice to adjust exposure and sharpening. Simply starting from the .ORF with a compatible program (I use Apple's Photos app instead of Olympus Viewer) should give you some leeway to adjust the color balance and edge enhancement, which will help you dial back the distraction coming from the trees. In my experience Olympus raw files can usually be adjusted by a full stop without looking manipulated.

Olympus JPEGs are just a bit more sharpened by default than I like, and also by default they aren't the highest quality (the default is "LN" [Large Normal], not "LSF" [Large Super Fine]). Whenever I set up a new body (or have my settings reset by a firmware update) I always go through the menus and make sure everything is set up the way I want it. In my case that includes changing the JPEG settings to enable superfine quality (section G in settings on my OM-D E-M1), and adjusting sharpness and saturation to my taste.

There are a few things you can do to improve your chances for future kid photos, though: turn on face priority (which is in the AF/MF section of the settings menu, or is in the Super Control Panel if you turn that on, and you should); shoot in shutter priority mode instead of iAuto (it's the S in PASM on the dial) and use a faster* shutter speed; buy and use a prime lens with larger† maximum aperture (or invest in one of Olympus' pro zooms like the 12-40mm ƒ/2.8) so you can use those faster shutter speeds without having to use too high of an ISO setting.

You can also use the touchscreen to focus and shoot (which doesn't seem to be a menu setting, but instead just a control on the touchscreen itself): on the left edge of the screen, about ¾ down from the top, is a control that cycles between off, focus and shoot, or focus only. This is documented under "using the touch screen" in the manual. Using it in focus and shoot mode is basically like using an iPhone, and whenever I hand my camera to my wife I make sure it's in that mode.

* For shutter speed: you should experiment a little to figure out the slowest speed you can get away with for your kid. My starting point would be to start with the formula 1 / (focal length * 2). If you have the 14-42 EZ lens you should probably start with a minimum shutter speed of 1/80 of a second (displayed just as 80) and you may need to go up to 1/200 or even faster to freeze your own kid. I personally doubt you need to get to 1/500 at the focal lengths you'll be working with, but I guess if your kid only ever moves at warp speed, that might happen. The slower the speed you can handle, the better you will be able to shoot in low light.

† For aperture: the 14-42 EZ lens Olympus ships in a kit with many of its bodies doesn't have a very wide maximum aperture. They sell a number of affordable prime lenses like the 25mm ƒ/1.8 that allow you to select higher shutter speeds while maintaining a lower ISO setting and getting better results. When you use a wider aperture you also get more separation between subject and background, so for your sample photos you'd end up with less distracting detail in the trees. The pro zoom lens line has a maximum ƒ/2.8 aperture that isn't quite as wide as the primes, but it would still give you the same sort of zoom range you're probably more comfortable shooting with along with better separation.
posted by fedward at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2017

Thanks to all of you! I found myself marking every answer a best answer, because each pointed me in the right direction in different, specific ways. But then I had to give special shout outs to fedward's detailed recommendations and to smoke's specific step-by-step guide. Homer42, I'll try to figure out which specific model we have when I'm back home later. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by slidell at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2017

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