It Looks a Little Soft…

Tara G., in response to some photo feedback she received:

“I don’t understand what you meant by ‘the baby’s eyes look slightly soft’. Second, you said the soft eyes can be caused by focusing too close to the lens in the shot. I don’t know what that means; how do you focus too close to your lens?”

This is a common problem we see with photos submitted for review (especially from our beginner students). Jim has taken the time to explain the concept of “soft eyes”, and we’d like to share it with all of you!

You asked what I meant by ‘soft eyes.’ When I’m shooting, I constantly use the magnifying glass button on the back of my camera to zoom in to the eyes and make sure they are sharp. I took the photo you sent and cropped in to 100% and compared it with one of the photos I recently took. Here is the comparison.


Notice the difference in sharpness between the student’s photo (left) and Jim’s photo (right).

“To answer your second question, each lens has a close focus distance. That is the closest distance that the lens can focus on an object. For example, if you put your finger an inch away from the lens, it won’t be able to focus on it. The problem arises when a lens does find focus, but the focus is just barely on the edge of how close the lens can focus. In these situations, the shutter will fire, but the resulting picture won’t be very sharp because it’s just on the edge of what the lens can focus on. I believe that is the most likely cause of the sharpness problem in the photo you sent.

“A related problem can happen in the situation of focusing close up. Even if your lens does focus sharp at the distance you’re shooting, if you are on your hands and knees or crouching and uncomfortable, you may move a slight amount forward or backward between focusing and firing the shutter, which causes sharpness issues. I don’t think that’s the case in this photo, however, because I didn’t see a different area in the photo (the nose, the ears, etc) that was sharper than the eyes. The whole photo was a little soft.”

So when your professor responds to your photos with the comment “it looks a little soft”, now you know what we mean. There are different causes for this, and of course each photograph is different, but hopefully seeing an example and reading Jim’s explanation will help clear things up a bit.

One last comment about sharpness: over at the Improve Photography website, we have an article that talks all about sharpness and how to avoid those soft, blurry, fuzzy pictures. Check it out!

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