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I am a starting photographer and I always have an issue with sharp images. I submited my photos to shutterstock just to see if it sells but they keep on telling me about too much noise or grain or poorly restarized if viewed in full size. Please help me. I think my photos look sharp but is there anything that I might be doing wrong? I mainly use Lightroom for my touch ups. This is the photo that they refused:

Chicago Downtown sharpness?

I'm using a Canon 6D on a tripod with the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L. Shooting parameters were 1/25s, f/14, ISO 100.

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    Could you host a copy of that photo somewhere outside Stack Exchange? Looking at the left hand side, it's not sharp at all, but that could be the JPEG recompression that happens when photos are uploaded here. – Philip Kendall Jan 26 '16 at 6:55
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    The photo looks like taken with a compact camera with a small (1/2.3") sensor, it has few details and a lot of processing. No JPEG out of my dSLR appears this poor. I doubt you can sell pictures taken with compacts, the quality is too low. You need a four thirds camera, 1" camera (Sony RX-100) or better a dSLR (APS-C is fine). – FarO Jan 26 '16 at 10:45
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    Sorry if this is irrelevant, but one thing that stood out to me was the reflection... I'm not sure how much of it was retouched but it absolutely looks like you ran over it with the smudge or liquefy tool... this could also be a factor in the quality? – Cat'r'pillar Jan 26 '16 at 16:32
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    If this was shot on a 6D, I am now doubly curious what lens you used. And settings - this is important. – J... Jan 26 '16 at 17:47
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    I know you asked about sharpness, but the reflection you added is also distracting because the way it bends the verticals on the buildings is out of scale. Across the harbor like that there would not be any left right deflection. That is an across a small pond reflection and not an across the harbor kind of reflection. – Ukko Jan 26 '16 at 19:02

10 Answers 10

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To me, it looks like you have compression artifacts in your image (by zooming in on edges, it seems like there is some ringing). Lower the compression rate to remedy the problem or use a raw image format.

Otherwise, I agree with Caleb that this is a really nice photo! I would love to have a framed version of this hanging in my living room.

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    Seems like you just accepted the answer that said what you wanted to hear. That's not a good way to learn. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 29 '16 at 16:38
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First, this is a really nice photo! Well done. If the folks at Shutterstock don't like this one, print it and hang it on your wall.

I think my photos look sharp but is there anything that I might be doing wrong?

Here are some of the things I can see, and I'm not nearly as eagle-eyed as a photo editor would be:

  • chromatic abberation: CA is most prominent in the vertical lines on the left side of the image, but you can see it all over.

    CA

  • dust: This is probably just a little dust on the sensor and easy enough to remove in post, but if you didn't remove it they'll probably spot it in a second. dust spot

  • blotchy: There are some areas where areas of color are well defined when you wouldn't expect that. For me, the most noticeable one is the yellow area in the reflected sky, which looks a little like a stain. There are also some pinks in the sky that look a little blotchy at full size. yellow area

It's hard to tell about noise since JPEG compression introduces a lot of artifacts, like the halos around buildings and muddiness in areas of fine detail.

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    I see two types of haloing around the buildings: a strong, bright outline that looks like overdone unsharp masking, and normal JPEG-compression ringing. I don't know if those were the fault of the OP, or the result of Imgur's processing. – Mark Jan 26 '16 at 22:39
  • I am personally rather surprised at the chromatic aberration. One would expect that a 24-105 f/4L at f/14 would have done much better. Chromatic aberration isn't something that someone would unconsciously introduce in post processing. – user13451 Jan 27 '16 at 19:45
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    Could it be that the camera has been dropped and there's a small misalignment in the optical elements? It might explain the chromatic aberration... – Floris Jan 30 '16 at 15:45
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Caleb has done a nice analysis in his answer of a number of issues, but the biggest thing to me is that your image has been murdered by JPEG compression in some areas. Looking at this 1:1 crop from the left-hand side:

JPEG compression

You can see that it's not sharp at all. There could be a number of reasons for this:

  • Your original image wasn't sharp in that area.
  • You saved the image with too much JPEG compression which has led to it being trashed.
  • The JPEG recompression which happens when you upload an image to Imgur (which Stack Exchange uses for image hosting) has trashed your image.

You'd need to compare the JPEG uploaded here to your original image (which I'm hoping you shot in RAW) and the JPEG you exported from Lightroom to see where the problem is occurring.

  • I am shooting only in raw. What do you mean by JPG compression? If i do edit the photo with light room and made a reflection using photoshop which means that I saved it first in lightroom and than photoshop, could that be an issue? – Dawid Jakubski Jan 26 '16 at 13:53
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    If you saved it as a JPEG from Lightroom, then it could be what's making the difference. You should only ever export to JPEG as the very last step in a workflow - until then, stay in an uncompressed format like TIFF. As for JPEG compression itself, we don't seem to have a good question on that, but Wikipedia is a good place to start. – Philip Kendall Jan 26 '16 at 14:08
  • It's not just the left side, but the foliage in the center of the frame, too. This makes me think it's more likely to be an atmospheric effect, possibly from temperature differences between the air and the water. It would help if OP can confirm the shutter speed (and other settings). – Hao Ye Jan 26 '16 at 18:54
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    @PhilipKendall This question seems relevant: What are jpeg artifacts and what can be done about them? and could probably be retitled to "How does Jpeg compression affect image quality?" – Lilienthal Jan 28 '16 at 15:54
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I don't think it's a sharpening issue so much as an image quality issue (and possibly image compression). There is a large amount of lateral chromatic aberration in the skyline. If you're shooting RAW, Lightroom can help you fix most of this. In Lightroom 5+, you can find a check-box in the develop module under Lens Corrections → Color.

For any stock submission, it's important to follow their guidelines with respect to file sizing and compression. Their site isn't too specific on what they want other than saying your images must be at least 4 megapixels, but you may want to check that the compression % in the export dialog is on the higher side. JPEG artifacts can cause problems especially in smooth gradients like the sky.

  • "compression % in the export dialog is on the higher side." - I think you mean the "quality %"? Higher quality; lower compression. – MrWhite Jan 26 '16 at 11:17
  • I shoot raw, If I edit my photos in light room and photoshop how should I save them in order to lessen the compression? – Dawid Jakubski Jan 26 '16 at 20:51
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    @DawidJakubski You want to lessen the artifacts, not the compression :P But your best bet is simply using some loss-less format - PNG or TIFF should work fine for print-quality. JPG can also be fine, but you need to tweak the parameters to get the best compromise between quality and size. – Luaan Jan 26 '16 at 23:59
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Since you've updated that you shot this with a 6D on a tripod, I can definitely say that I see what looks like a lot of ISO noise that was desperately covered up with way too much noise reduction. Really a lot - on both counts. I had actually originally thought this might have come from a compact camera the quality was so poor - it feels like the kind of in-camera processing a cheap compact does to try to hide the fact that it has a noisy, crummy sensor and a soft unsharp-y lens.

I would be very interested to know what ISO you shot this at - even in low light of the evening there should have been no reason to go much higher than ISO 400, even less if you had any sort of reasonably fast lens (...to go with that nice full-frame camera!). This looks like it was maybe shot at ISO-25600, then creamed to death with noise reduction. The whole image has an unnatural silky-smoothness that feels like the telltale of the noise-reduction slider pinned as far right as it will go.

As an aside, in addition to the chromatic aberration (noted by others), there is also some distortion from the lens (curving horizon, leaning verticals, etc). A professional shot would probably correct this, either in post with something like the lens profile correction in Lightroom or, even better, by shooting it with a tilt-shift lens in the first place.

The photo itself is otherwise great - maybe a bit oversaturated for my taste, but it's an image you should be proud of. IQ technicals can be hard to master.

  • I shoot the photo on 100 iso f/14, 1/25 s, on a 24- 105 mm lens Canon – Dawid Jakubski Jan 26 '16 at 19:43
  • @DawidJakubski All that + tripod? Either you have problem with your lens, or processing.This camera at this settings should gave you significantly better results. – Mołot Jan 26 '16 at 21:25
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    @DawidJakubski If that's true then the image you supplied must have been butchered in post - either that or you had grease smeared on the front element of your lens. An L-lens on a 6D should definitely produce sharper results. The 24-105 starts to lose sharpness at about F/11 and up - this would probably have been better shot at F/8, that would sharpen up the edges a bit. Still, the image quality should have been better than what you have shown. My only guess at this point is too much (unnecessary) noise reduction or softening in post and bad JPG conversion (as others have suggested). – J... Jan 26 '16 at 21:56
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    Leaning verticals is not "distortion from the lens": they happen whenever any lens is not horizontal and is purely a matter of perspective. More generally, whenever you have parallel lines in some plane that is not parallel to the focal plane, those lines will appear to converge in the resulting image. – David Richerby Jan 28 '16 at 2:34
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    @J... Perspective also makes verticals at the edge of the frame lean more that those in the centre! But perspective maps straight lines to straight lines so if lines that should be straight are curved, then that is lens distortion. – David Richerby Jan 28 '16 at 15:08
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When I am trying to absolutely maximize the sharpness, the premise that I start from is that I am not trying so much to increase the sharpness, but to minimize everything that reduces the sharpness. Beyond the basics of lens & body, shooting raw, cleaning lenses, filters, sensors, optimizing F-stop / ISO, etc. :

  1. Tripod: beyond using a tripod, the quality and setup of the tripod makes a difference. E.g. I have a light-weight Manfroto tripod that I use for walking around and traveling, but when I want to create a maximally sharp image I pull out my heavy steel and aluminum Gitzo tripod with a large diameter / heavy ball-socket head, make sure it is on the most solid footing I can find and hang additional weight off the center pole to make it as steady as possible.
  2. Shutter Release: timer or remote
  3. Mirror Lockup: (if your camera has it) to avoid vibration from "mirror slap".
  4. live-view: (if your camera has it) on the LCD at maximum magnification on the focal point of the image for final focusing (manual rather than auto) to ensure maximally sharp focus. (Note: viewing the image at maximum magnification is also a good way to see any difference in stability that different tripods give you because it will magnify any minor vibrations in the camera.)
  5. Image Stabilization: follow your system's manufacturer's recommendation regarding whether or not to turn off image-stabilization when the camera is mounted to a tripod.
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I am a starting photographer and I always have an issue with sharp images.

If you always have an image with sharpness then you have a problem that you need to address. Until you do you are wasting your time trying to sell images, IMO.

This could be technique, not just equipment. Certainly that image, while a nice composition, is a disaster for detail as we see it here. I cannot imagine any stock company accepting it. The explanations of this have already been gone into by other posters.

Now in some circumstances a less than sharp image is worth money, and in some circumstances a very sharp image is actually undesirable ( think a facial portrait clearly showing every line, blemish and wrinkle is precise detail ). However stock companies expect as close to perfect images as is possible, with few exceptions. If you are shooting for stock you need to adopt a very strict discipline and take steps to produce the kind of image they want.

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    I'm not sure why this answer has upvotes, you just repeated "You need sharp photos for stock images" for three paragraphs, which OP clearly already knows, without giving any actual tips on how to do that. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 26 '16 at 18:11
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Exactly what post processing was done here? Can you post the image "as shot" without any processing at all? HDR and pulling shadows increases noise then too much of subsequent sharpening and then noise reduction can produce edge artifacts that look like jpeg artifact. Cranking up saturation selectively can result in blotching between colour gradients and rings, etc. I think the post processing is a bit too heavy but i also think it works in this image. If they don't like it screw them...
You could try bracketing then process sky, middle ground and foreground separately and mask in photoshop.

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As pointed out in the other answers, the main issue here is the way the noise reduction has been handled. When taking landscape pictures you can use image stacking methods to greatly reduce the noise. The first thing you want to do is expose to the right, i.e. expose just below the limit where you would get overexposed images. If you can expose for 3 times longer then that alone reduces the signal to noise ratio by a factor of 3. Then if you take 25 images like that, you can align them and average out the noise. You'll then reduce the noise by an additional factor of sqrt(25) = 5. So, exposing to the right and image stacking will have reduced the noise by a massive factor of 15.

You should take these pictures with the in camera noise reduction shut off or set to the lowest level. When processing the raw files on your computer, you should also choose the lowest possible setting. Even the best possible noise reduction algorithms will not be able to recover details hidden deep below the noise floor, at best they can recover details that are slightly below the noise floor. When you apply noise reduction algorithms, what is bound to happen is that with the noise thrown away, you'll also throw away the details that were hidden deep below the noise floor. If you then have details that you could have recovered by averaging over the 25 pictures, they are no longer there to be recovered.

Only after you have processed the image stack should you apply noise reduction algorithms.

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You made a nice photo, so always zoom in and see yourself if the details are also nice.

On the photo here, I see a lot of JPEG artifacts which result from low JPEG quality. Save JPEGs of your photo in quality 3, 6 and 12 and compare the details. Compare with a TIFF (all in unchanged resolution). JPEG 12 should show none of these artifacts; TIFF doesn't for sure.

Others mentioned high chromatic aberration resulting from the low quality standard zoom. You can correct it, like someone else said, in lens corrections. Look at the vertical edges with high contrast and correct until red and green fringes disappear completely and the houses have the colours they appeared in.

As a professional, consider using prime lenses or high quality zooms for better image quality.

Remove dust like someone mentioned. You can use a special tool or the stamp in photoshop for that.

Consider resolution: For printing, the photo should have 300 dpi. So calculate yourself which sizes shutterstock offers and which resolution is necessary. For 20 inch you would need 6000 pixel. If the resolution is lower, enlarge the image size. Try out the different methods for calculating the image in the dialogue: image size, and look if there's a difference in the details.

Try one image without sharpening, only correction of chromatic aberration, dust, any other mistakes you find or necessary corrections of overall colour, lightness, contrast etc., resolution, save as TIFF. Look if you like the details in the way that they fit the expression of the photo. Print the whole 1:1 in large size, or first in small details if you have a small printer. Look at them, see if you like them. Sharpening is not always necessary and can make photos look more artificial.

You made many things right like ISO 100, tripod, using a DSLR and above all making a nice photo of this scene.

Good luck.

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