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I am using a Nikon D3100 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G.

I am currently taking class photos for the school magazine and I am curious about the best setting possible. It is all indoors with fluorescent lightings and of course natural.

I reviewed the photo that I have taken so far, but the 3rd row of students are always blurred. The first row is the most clearest but the third row is blur. Is there any way to fix this? Is there any settings to make every row clear or is it just like that?

  • You have to use closer aperture value, e.g. f8 or f11. The problem then will be there might not be enough light indoor, so you might need to use a flash. To have a better understanding of depth of field, have a look at here and here – Pouya Feb 21 '14 at 8:58
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The number one thing you need to do here is bring your own light. The institutional-quality fluorescents have a number of strikes against them:

  • It's going to be ugly, low-CRI light which does not cover the whole color spectrum and probably tends towards green. This is not flattering to humans.
  • They'll flicker, making it hard to set white balance to even partially compensate.
  • It will be relatively dim, requiring slow shutter speed (blur from moving subjects), wide aperture (impossible to get multiple rows in focus), or cranked-up ISO (noise).
  • They might not be placed well for nice lighting. (Or maybe they are, but depending on the room and layout, that might be part of the problem.)

If you are shooting for an image that will end up in a relatively small print or in an online magazine, don't worry at all about raising the ISO to a level where you can get both a fast shutter speed (¹⁄₁₀₀th or faster) and stop down to f/8 or f/11 for depth of field — that is, more in focus from back to front.

And, if you have three rows, try focusing on the middle row rather than the front. As a rule of thumb, the area of acceptable focus is spread out about ¹⁄₃ in front and ²⁄₃ behind the point where you focused, so if you focus just on the front row, you're wasting some of that on the area in front of those people where there's nothing.

As Michael notes in the comments, if you are going for black and white results, the color rendition and spectrum problems are less of a problem. But, in any case, you'll still need to worry about the overall dimness.

If your school has a little bit of budget, an interesting choice might be the Godox V850, which is a relatively powerful manual flash with radio control which you can set from the camera, and which will work with any camera with a hotshoe. Combine this, or a pair of them, with some big umbrellas and budget flash stands, and you can control your own destiny (both making for better photos, and making a better educational experience — hopefully with the two of those combined, you can convince the school to spend a bit.) You can get this flash from eBay, or the identical thing branded as "Neewer TT850" from Amazon, or for a higher price but with better customer service and one-day repair turnaround from Cheetah Lighting. (Or some other model of budget flash will do; this just happens to have the radio trigger at a nice price; of course, specific models and technology will change quickly, so this is just an example of something that might be useful.)

  • Many school publications, such as school newspapers and the vast majority of pages in yearbooks, are published in B&W. The fluorescent lights are a non-factor. Also, the fluorescent lights at a school I shoot at often are fuller spectrum than traditional institutional low CRI-lights. – Michael C Feb 21 '14 at 15:21
  • @MichaelClark However, "magazine" implies to me that it's probably in color. And, you're right, the quality of the lights used will vary, but I think "not very good" is the likely default. – mattdm Feb 21 '14 at 15:26
  • Most of the school magazines I see here are about 80% B&W and the other 20% of the pages are color. When I do work for the local schools they almost always want a grayscale version of the image(s) unless they specify color. I'm sure there are upscale private academies that print everything in color, but the public schools in my area don't. – Michael C Feb 21 '14 at 22:20
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The blur you are getting is natural and is a result of the depth of field of the camera. In order to increase the depth of field, you can move further away from the subject, use a wider focal length and/or use a smaller (larger number) aperture.

Aperture is the measure of how large of an opening the light gets focused through and the bigger the f/ number, the smaller the aperture opening is. Smaller aperture is the easiest way to get more depth of field, but it also means less light gets in to the camera, so you'll need more light or a slower shutter speed (or higher ISO) to take the same photo.

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From my point of view:

  • To get all sharp use a aperture around 8 - 11 (you may need a tripod and higher ISO) ...
  • ... but pay attention to your shutter speed - pupil do not tend to stand still ;-)
  • Do not use wide angel focal lenght (18mm to ~ 20mm) to avoid distortion on people up to the image borders. Use more "naturla" looking focal lengh about 35mm
  • Think about a Flash not only if shutter speed is to low. A unleashed flash with a flah-tripod and a umbrella can cause a nice improve to picture quality (not technically more in terms of composition).
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you are getting the blur because you using a higher aperture,

1) keep it between f/5 - f/10 increase the ISO to 400 - 800

2) reduce the shutter speed to 1/60 to 1/100 depending upon the lighting

3) use a tripod first click a photo when the class is empty and check for the lighting if it is coming proper and all focus points are okay

4) also keep the focus matrix 3D if you want to capture multiple people at the same time.

If you are doing all four things properly you will get a nice photo with proper lighting and good focus.

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Instead of focusing on the front row, focus on the middle row. When you focus on the front row a large portion of your depth of field is wasted on the air in front of the first row. If that doesn't work then increase the f-number (smaller aperture). If that causes the shutter speed to be too slow then increase ISO or add light.

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To get the whole scene in focus, you need to use a small aperture. The higher the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture. This will make the exposure time get longer. Use a tripod. It would be ideal to use studio lighting.

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