Out of focus

Punky1030

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I am having trouble with my camera focus. I shoot with a Nikon D3200 and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. Not all of my photos are out of focus, but many of them are (Or at least the wrong area is in focus). These are all photos of people. I've tried to isolate the problem and found that if I stand closer, (around 10 feet away) the face is in focus. When I stand back farther, it's out of focus. Is this because of the lens? I believe I want to buy a 50mm f/1.8 and I'm hoping this will help, but I'm not sure. I use auto focus and trust the camera to focus properly (I have tried specific focus points), but I can't see at that distance to tell if it's in focus or not. Then, when I zoom in on the photo later I get very disappointed when I see that it's not sharp. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
 

D-B-J

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Can you post an example? That's the first step in getting the best help!
 
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Punky1030

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Can you post an example? That's the first step in getting the best help!

Here is a good example of my problem.
 

Derrel

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The above shot is NOT a focus problem: that is CAMERA SHAKE. She is in excellent focus, but the camera is moving ever-so-slightly over the duration of the exposure time. Trust me on that.
 

480sparky

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Ay-yeppers. Too slow a shutter speed for the focal length combined with poor technique.
 
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Punky1030

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The above shot is NOT a focus problem: that is CAMERA SHAKE. She is in excellent focus, but the camera is moving ever-so-slightly over the duration of the exposure time. Trust me on that.
So, to correct this I need faster shutter speed or a tripod?
 

Derrel

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Yes, either of those things would be helpful. A LOT of otherwise fine photos are spoiled when the shutter speed gets too slow to stop camera vibration, or camera motion, or subject motion. Quite often, spontaneous, free-flowing, relaxed photography of a person is impossible until the shutter speed gets to be pretty FAST, actually, like into the 1/500 second or faster range. There's a speed range where the slower and moderate speeds like 1/60 to 1/200 second and even 1/250 and 1/400 second do not really, truly FREEZE camera movement, or subject movement, and the entire photography process has to be done deliberately, and in a very static, planned way.

In places like this one, in open shade, with an f/3.5~5.6 lens, at lower ISO values, you can easily find yourself at say f/6.3 at 1/50 second or slower...and the chances of camera movement are VERY high. Same with the chances of the subject turning her head a bit and blurring the shot...also fairly high. So yeah...a tripod will stop most camera movement. Camera vibration is usually fairly minimal these days on speeds in the 1/30 second and up range. Subject movement doesn't look like too big a danger in a pose like this, except on head-turning; it's not like she's walking, or on a swing set, or riding a bike and actually in motion.

With today's high-resolution d-slrs with 24 to 36 million pixels, we can now SEE a lot of image flaws that used to be sort of hidden, or sublimated, by low resolution.
 

480sparky

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Learning how to hold your camera steady when you press the shutter button will go a long way as well. There's just no substitute for good technique.

Your stance, your arms, your hands, your breathing, your heart rate, your finger pushing on the button....... all can be mastered to increase image sharpness.
 

snowbear

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The above shot is NOT a focus problem: that is CAMERA SHAKE. She is in excellent focus, but the camera is moving ever-so-slightly over the duration of the exposure time. Trust me on that.
So, to correct this I need faster shutter speed or a tripod?

Also, learn to hold the camera with your left hand under the lens, elbows tucked in close to your body. This will help stabilize the camera. You will want a tripod, eventually, so start saving for a good one. Learn the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) so you know what you can adjust in various situations.
 
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Punky1030

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Thanks for the tips everyone. I have some techniques to practice! I appreciate the advice.
 

Stradawhovious

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In some instances it's just not feasible to handhold, whether it's a situational shortcoming or limitation with gear.

Since I've suffered from both (shooting a longer lens in places that don't allow tripods) I bought a handy dandy monopod. Works great for a rock solid photo taking platform, and is really quite manuverable.
 

wfooshee

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I'm going out on a limb here to go another direction with the problem, and say I think it IS a focus issue, not a motion issue. Look at her leg, the one extended out front. The shoe is a little blurry, and her hands are a bit blurred, but the seam in the cloth is sharp as it can be, and you have some texture in the cloth. With camera shake it would not be.

So given the possibility that the picture is actually front-focused, what do we do about it?

You mentioned that your focus is better when close, but standing back gives you more issues. This leads me to wonder if the lens is focusing where you think it's focusing. Also, while the manual doesn't say so, some of the modes (such as Portrait or Child) may affect the focus mode, even forcing the camera to focus on the closest object it finds in any of its AF sensors. Also, the different focus modes behave differently.

In AF-S, a half-press on the shutter focuses, and holds as long as you hold the half-press. You also need to make sure the intended sensor is the one in use, as it's not always the center; any of the sensors can be selected as the focus point for AF-S. (I may be mistaken about that with the 3200, but I know it was the case on my D5000 and is so on my D7000. The selected focus point illuminates on the initial half-press to let me know.) So say the bottom center sensor was live instead of the center or one of the uppers. This photo would then be "correctly" focused by the sensor that was over her leg.

In AF-C the camera probably uses the center focus sensor, but it may have an option of deciding for itself after comparing all the sensors. But the focus can change before exposure, which is what the C means, after all. Continuous. So you half-press, get a focus, then move the camera to compose your frame and the camera then re-focuses on whatever fall under that sensor.

So for a portrait like this, and still subjects in general, make sure AF mode is AF-S, make sure the sensor in use is the one you expect, and put that sensor over the primary point of interest, half-press, compose your frame while holding the half-press, and trip when ready.
 

Mr.Photo

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Some great advise from everyone. Something else to consider is body movement (slight lean forward or backwards after acquiring focus). I discovered this flaw in my own shooting when I thought that my lenses were back focusing. I actually found that I had a very slight tendency to lean in as I was squeezing the shutter which would then cause my focus to shift to the rear slightly.
 

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