UPDATE: I added the largest jpeg files I could with the original tone, unedited except for a cropping and the change from RAW to jpeg. Thanks for everyone's advice!! This forum is awesome!

I use a Nikon D90 and had a Sigma 18-200mm lens. The pictures were snapped at 1/200s f4.5 with ISO 1250 (read about poor gym lighting the ISO setting was the tip) and I had a shoe mounted flash as well as two florescent bulb light stands with white umbrellas. I shot in RAW.

I had it on manual focus because I had my tripod set up and tape on the floor and everyone standing in the same place and I didn't trust my auto focus...

I am due to print around 200 8x10's in two weeks and I am in way over my head and very upset. I have lots of experience in traditional darkroom photo but little in digital. I am using Lightroom, and eventually uploading to Zenfolio who use mPix to do my printing for me.

Please please help with any tips I can use for editing these in Lightroom, or if you think I should redo the shoot, or just give parents back their money and just give up.

#23 #12

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "they all seem fuzzy"? I wouldn't describe the samples you posted as "fuzzy". \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    May 17, 2016 at 23:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Nothing can be done for soft photos. Rent a sharp lens, start over. Make sure you nail focus but this looks more like lens softness since its everywhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    May 18, 2016 at 0:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is f/4.5 wide open at the focal length you used? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 18, 2016 at 1:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't give up but yes I would refund any money beyond the print costs until you nail the basics. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    May 18, 2016 at 3:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ ISO 1250 for a D90 is a bit high I think... quite high noise (although try the denoise suggestions here). If you can't reshoot, another option is to convert to black and white --- noise is less disturbing and easily reduced in BW shots. (IMHO) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rmano
    May 19, 2016 at 12:58

6 Answers 6


I do not think your photos are fuzzy,I think they are noisy. You will get the best quality image by shooting as close to the 'native' ISO as possible. For most modern dSLRS that is typically ISO 100 or 200. By shooting at ISO 1250, you will naturally get noise. Reshooting is the only thing that will significantly reduce the noise.

With Lightroom, assuming you are shooting RAW (you are shooting RAW, right?), you can reduce the exposure to 0 to .25 or so, which will cut the noise as best you can. Adjust the white balance to set it such that the 'warning' or red indicator is not present in the photo, and adjust blacks such that there are no blue indicators. Then add noise reduction to what you feel is helpful, likely 25-40 or so. I would add lens corrections for your lens as well. Given these settings, it will likely be about the best you can do with the ISO you shot.

Next time, try a better lens, perhaps even an inexpensive 50mm, adjust zoom with your feet, shoot at f/8 and have the flashes adjust to compensate for ISO 200 if you can.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay great thank you so much for the tips, I will try when I get home from work today. I thought my Sigma was a pretty good lens, I have shot before and had great results. Never at this high an iso however... I am attempting to post a RAW NEF file when I get to my computer - stay tuned please :) \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 11:58

Hopefully, you shot RAW! But even if you didn't, you can still try to fix some of these things in Lightroom.

To my subjective eye (and subjective monitor...), the white jerseys are slightly over exposed, so it draws the eye away from the person's face. Also the first player's face seems slightly over exposed. To me it gives a sense of fuzziness.

Another poster also pointed out your ISO noise. If you adjust ISO noise, you'll probably also want to sharpen.

In Lightroom I would:

  • Adjust the highlights/whites down just a tad
  • Turn up Luminance Noise Reduction and see if that helps.
  • You then might want to sharpen the image slightly. I usually just adjust the Mask and Amount to get results I want.

From what I've read much ISO noise can be taken out by adjusting the luminance (brightness) of the noise -- rather than the color noise. For sharpening, I like to use the mask to restrict the sharpening to edges I care about.

When making adjustments, always slide the adjuster to the extreme value to get an idea of what is changing, then back it off and pick what looks good to your artistic vision.

In the future, if you're using flash and light stands, couldn't you shoot at a lower ISO?


Elizabeth provided me with a few NEF's and I adjusted them according to my eye:

  • "Noise Reduction/Luminence" up to 20 and it definitely improves the skin texture. 40 might be ok, depending on artistic vision/
  • "Sharpening/Amount" mask, I upped the mask to 70. If you hold down ALT (or the Mac equivalent) while moving this, you'll see the mask apply (it will turn b&w) -- basically I'm setting it high enough so that it shows me the outlines I want sharpened.
  • Sharpening/Amount" to 60. Slide it to the extreme and note how it can negatively affect the picture -- it can sharpen textures instead of borders, which you don't want.
  • Your white balance looks ok.
  • In the tone section I dropped "Blacks" down to -7 and "Whites" to +21 just to fill up/stretch the tonal range in the histogram.
  • "Contrast" -- I tried +20.
  • A touch of "Presence/Clarity", +5 to give a little bit more definition/contrast.
  • I took the adjustment brush and added +23 sharpness to the eyes.

Image Image

..They might not be significantly better than Elizabeth's own edits.


Also, you have shown a crop -- the actual picture is pretty wide:

full image

...so some of your quality issue is with cropping the image .. essentially digitally zooming it. I think if you did a test print of the full photo at 8x10 you'd find it's not so bad.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes I can definitely shoot with a lower ISO, not happy I chose to use such a high one. The over exposure was done with an Auto Tone in Lightroom, and I have already reset that so its back to the original which is not as bright. Attempting to crop and post a PNG for you guys but not at home computer right now... I did shoot RAW, so hopefully I can make something happen. \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you'd like to send me a sample RAW I could also try it firsthand. You can send it using my stack exchange username at gmail. \$\endgroup\$
    – rrauenza
    May 19, 2016 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's amazing, thank you!! I will send it asap! :) \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 14:47

Couple questions that might help narrowing it down:

  1. Can you rule out the lens (mounted on this camera) as a source of the problem? Do you have any good pictures shot with it at the same aperture and focal length?
  2. What was your setting in LR for noise reduction? Isn't the NR overdone?
  3. What is the LR settings for sharpening? Can you crank up the sharpening a bit more?
  4. Did you shoot it as raw?

I tried to load the image to ACR and it looks like the sharpening tool combined with noise reduction can make it look ok, I think reasonably good for 8x10. I had to do it on the jpeg, but if you have raw, the chances are that the result will be better than what I can accomplish here.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes I've had good shots with this lens, never used it at this ISO though... The only change I made in lightroom was auto tone but I think that made the exposure too extreme. So didn't set NR or sharpening. Was worried if I sharpened it too much it would make it grainy? I did shoot as RAW, tried to upload a NEF file but of course it wont work. Will try to crop and post as PNG as someone suggested above... \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 12:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Jpeg will be harder to process, but try playing with the sharpening and noise reduction sliders to find some compromise. The sharpening tool has sliders like details and mask that help concentrating the effect to the edges and avoid excessive noise. You can use the noise reduction to tame the existing noise and if the images stat looking like a wax museum, you can actually dial in some additional artificial noise. The point is that the artificial one looks nicer than the original one processed by the camera... \$\endgroup\$
    – MirekE
    May 19, 2016 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm shooting in RAW \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 13:11

Due to the excessive amount of noise, I think you have two options.

1) Try using a denoise tool (such as Topaz DeNoise, there are others as well). This may give you acceptable results, if not...

2) Reshoot with better lighting. (BTW - you don't need to shoot at 1/200s for a portrait, there is very little motion, so slow down your shutter and lower your ISO)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I will look into the denoise tools thank you! I think I do need to reshoot, I ordered dual bulb holders for my light stands... \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should figure out why the images look so weird then. Reshooting without understanding the original problem may not help... I suspect that the lens needs to be stopped down a bit (also for depth of field) and that the main problem is in camera JPEG processing. \$\endgroup\$
    – MirekE
    May 19, 2016 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I'm shooting in RAW. I'm pretty sure its the high ISO I used, and the lack of surrounding light. \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 13:11

I don't think these are salvageable in post to be honest. At least not at a level I'd be comfortable charging a decent enough price to make it worth the timeSeveral folks have talked about the main issue these show... the noise. I have a couple other ideas that I don't think are helping any at all. Consider them more food for thought for next time.

First off the lens. That's a pretty huge range of zoom, any lens with that much zoom is going to have more elements than a simple prime, and more elements means more chances for things to get micro misaligned, which means no where on it will be as sharp as the corresponding prime. With a tripod and a marked spot on the floor, there's no reason to use a zoom, let alone a zoom with that much range. You can rent a 50mm prime Nikon lens for $15 for a 4 day rental. You're charging parents greater than cost of goods for these pictures? That $15 is cost of doing business. Amortized across an entire team and you're talking a couple coins per athlete....

Second item, I could be mis-interpreting what you said in the question, but it feels like you locked in a focal length before hand and didn't re-focus from player to player. If that's not what you did, then a lot of what I'm about to write isn't relevant.

Just from these two images you can see a difference in where they were standing, one has the balls of her feet on the line, the other almost the heels are on the line. And how were they standing? leaning in? leaning back? that could easily account for almost a foot of difference between the two extremes. You were shooting at f4.5... but at what distance? and what focal length? Did you do the depth of field calculations to see how much wiggle room you had?

I haven't shot with a D90, so I'm not sure if you have the ability to do a rear screen live preview with a digital zoom, but if you do, in this scenario, it's worth it to use that to do fine tuning on each person you're shooting. OR, do the math and figure out a way to get foot or so of DOF either with a longer lens and more floor, or a tighter aperture.

Related to that... it's not going to directly alter the sharpness of the subject, but it will alter the perception of it if you can get the background far enough away to have it go out of focus. Again some time with a tape measure and DoF calculator will help get that figured out ahead of time. But the backside practically on the wall like these shots have is never going to get there without also risking having enough DoF to cover various depths needed for various people.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I do have a good 50mm lens, but from reading other posts on Team Pictures, everyone seemed to recommend using a wider lens... I didn't lock in the focal length, but I did keep my tripod in the same position each time and when I go through the metadata for each picture it is essentially averaging to about 36mm focal length. I definitely refocused on each player, but I did it manually which maybe wasn't the best choice. I was shooting f4.5 which was the widest I could get, and I was about 10-12 feet away from the player. \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ How far would you recommend standing, and at what focal length? I can use my 50mm instead if you think that would yield better results? I'm sure my DOF was small due to my wide aperature, but no I didn't do any calculations. Moving the subject further away from the back is a great idea, and would you have any tips or articles for further reading I could access to understand how to do the math to figure out the DOF? I do have a lens focus calibration card, not sure if that would help... \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for live screen previews, I did look at each shot I took on the back LCD, and even zoomed in all the way to their faces, but as far as I could tell they looked sharp and well exposed... Overall I really don't totally trust the LCD on the back, I feel like it is misleading. \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @cabbey Do you have any references on DOF being a sphere? I was taught it is a plane. photo.stackexchange.com/questions/40683/… \$\endgroup\$
    – rrauenza
    May 20, 2016 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ElizabethHolden there are free DOF calculators for android and iPhone. I would just use spot focus on the eye, but that is hard on a tripod. Oh even better use live view spot focus on the eye. \$\endgroup\$
    – rrauenza
    May 20, 2016 at 1:44

In my opinion, the lens is good enough. The fuzzynes is the smallest problem.

1) The noise. If you are using the built in flash, you really do not need to push the iso to 1250. 200-400 is ok.

2) The built in flash. I supose you want the prints because you want the photos to last, and be apreciated... That lighting is the worst light you can get. Sure, you have the photo taken but it is not flattering.

3) The background. A flat wall... just makes the photo... flat. You are on a gym! Take a look at a google search: https://www.google.com/search?q=gym+portrait No flat wall, no built in flash.

Yes this two points will have an impact on how you take the photos, you need to push the iso again, use a tripod, use the built in flash as a fill light (reduce its power to -1 or -2 ev).

4) Stand further away and use a longer focal length. You have space... you are on a Gym.

5) Please, change the resolution settings of the camera. You are taking Just a 6 Megapixel photo, instead of the 12 Mpx.

6) Fuzzyness? oh, true... reduce the noise with https://ni.neatvideo.com free in some cases. Read the licence agreement.

Sharpen a bit more.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your tips! I'm going to try these changes next time I shoot. I didn't use the built in flash I used a shoe-mounted flash, but perhaps it wasn't strong enough for what I needed. And I shot against a wall because there were practices going on in the background and I didnt think that would have made a good backdrop. The resolution settings are higher in the original format which was a RAW NEF file. \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2016 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ On the contrary, the photos are overexposed. Bounce the flash on a big sheet of paper. Have one student holding it on one side of the student you are photographing. A practice on the background? Probably it is more interesting than a flat wall: google.com/search?q=portrait+slow+shutter+speed \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    May 19, 2016 at 16:33

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