I have an image, below, that seems "soft" and I'd like to know why. Possibly it was resized from something like 3000 x 3000 and not sharpened. Possibly it's a 500 x 500 image, expanded to 960 x 960. Maybe the camera was out of focus. Maybe it was taken with a mobile phone instead of a $1000 Canon. Is there a way to determine what's wrong with it? Thanks.

enter image description here

  • I'm far from an expert, but it feels like the back of the plate & the glass are sharper than the 'main dish', but i find it hard to tell at that resolution. – Tetsujin Jan 18 '18 at 20:29
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    To what end do you wish to tell? Are you trying to fix an error in your shooting or post techniques? Trying to find reason to fault a job you've paid for? What does it matter? – Hueco Jan 18 '18 at 20:40
  • Maybe maybe possibly possibly ?? Did you take this photo, do you actually know anything about it ? – Alaska Man Jan 18 '18 at 22:23
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    So, the question should really be, "How do I inform my employer that they need all new images for their website because the images that they do have are of insufficient quality?" There's only so much you can do to a bad photo. Generally speaking though, using this image for anything over 300px x 300px is going to really show how bad an image it is. – Hueco Jan 19 '18 at 0:19
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    @Steve I agree with corey , you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still just a pig. Tell the owner if wants to show the restaurant in the best possible light they will need to hire someone competent to take photos. There is reason that advertising is a billion dollar industry. – Alaska Man Jan 19 '18 at 4:24

There are generally certain characteristics that can be attributed to certain factors... for instance a heavy crop will tend to have artifacts more apparent. Massive enlargement/low resolution similarly...

This is a low resolution image at 960x, but when viewed at full size I don't see characteristic artifacts of higher noise, pixelation, banding, moire, etc. etc. So I can't see anything I might attribute the issue to in those terms.

The image is almost certainly downsampled... but that doesn't typically cause an apparent lack of sharpness/detail, actually the opposite.

What is apparent is that the image is sharper towards the back (glass/wall) than it is towards the front (plate/table). So the main issue causing the softness you are concerned with is mis-focus.

  • Hmmm. I'm confused by your comment "The image is almost certainly downsampled... but that doesn't typically cause an apparent lack of sharpness/detail, actually the opposite." I dont know a lot about photography, but my experience has always been that down-sizing an image softens it and applying something like Usharp brings it back. I've never seen an image get sharper when it was down-sized. What am I missing? – Steve Jan 18 '18 at 23:46
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    @Steve I think Steven means either downsampling and sharpening as you describe, or downsampling with a filter which has a sharpening effect. In any case, having done that, you're preventing pixel-peeping at a higher level, so defects in focus or simply from the camera/lens system are hidden – mattdm Jan 18 '18 at 23:57
  • @mattdm Thanks. So we could fix this by sharpening the foreground of the image? – Steve Jan 19 '18 at 0:05
  • If you make an image smaller it appears sharper... That's what DOF is, "apparent sharpness" and it has to do with relative size. Take an image that is of OK sharpness and enlarge it on your monitor...it will appear worse/less sharp. Then move away from the computer so the image appears smaller, and it will seem sharper.... that's how DOF works. Downsampling usually only reduces apparent sharpness if you try to display the image at the same physical size. – Steven Kersting Jan 19 '18 at 4:05
  • @Steve, no. Sharpening would not work in this case... what needs to happen is for the focus to have been in the right place to start with. "Sharpening" is a localized increase of contrast, it cannot make up for a lack of detail actually recorded. – Steven Kersting Jan 19 '18 at 4:08

Is there a way to determine what's wrong with it?

If you're asking whether there's any data in the image file that would tell you how the image was created, the answer is maybe. Digital photos generally include metadata in a format called EXIF. If there's EXIF data attached to your image, you can see it with many image viewers. However, that data may have been removed at some point if the image was edited or otherwise modified. If it's there, the EXIF data can tell you things like the camera and lens make and model, shutter speed, aperture, ISO setting, which focus point was selected, and so on. If it's not there, you're out of luck.

Your best bet is to talk to the person who took the photo. They might be able to provide the original image, which is more likely to have its EXIF data in tact, and they might remember for more than the EXIF data can tell you about how they took the photo.

Ultimately, the problem is that it's just not a great photo. The equipment used might have contributed to that, but it's not the cause. You can take a good shot with a smartphone or a compact camera, and you can take a bad shot with a top-of-the-line DSLR.


I see three things that need improvement:

  1. Subject
    It looks like some kind of glop hiding behind the two halved Brussels sprouts and the mac-'n-cheese glop in the black casserole on the black serviette. Where's the wine in the glass? Someone forgot to fill the glass with the… Where's the wine? Do I eat this with my hands?
  2. Composition
    The subject has no point of focus and the elements are far-flung around the composition. Do I eat this with my hands? Why is the goblet so far away that the top isn't even in the photo? Nice table dressing on that plywood-print Formica sheet table in front of that attractive background of plywood. Very appetizing layout.
  3. Photography
    The exposure is not optimal. The subject is badly flat lit. The focus is off. The white balance isn't and the yellow cast is off-putting.

I'd recommend against using these legacy resources in favour of stock photography. The royalties won't be wasted so much as trying to save these badly conceived attempts portraying inept hospitality.

You eat with your eyes. Food must be prepared properly for the camera. You cannot get a satisfactory result from photographing food prepared for eating with your mouth and nose. BTW, the same is true for supermarket flyers that show uncooked food. It must be prepared for the camera.

Soft is the least of the problems. It's unappetizing and unappealing.

  • Thank you Stan for your professional input. Unfortunatly, I don't think stock photos are going to be possible. It's a restaurant and these are the dishes you can actually order at this restaurant. This one, for example, has a name that you could go in and ask for. If I get the job, though, I will suggest they hire a professional photographer and begin reshooting the plates. – Steve Jan 25 '18 at 15:56
  • @Steve What is the name of the dish pictured? What kind of cuisine is featured? BTW, most photographers cannot photograph plated food well so that it looks attractive. When you review their portfolio, look carefully at simple foods such as macaroni dishes, sausages, and the most challenging of all is raw cuts of meat. – Stan Jan 25 '18 at 21:12
  • Actually I was wrong about it having a name. They describe this "special" as "Open faced brisket topped with goat cheese and mushrooms. Served with a three cheese Mac n Cheese! Price -16$" Other plates do have names, like Artisian Board. It's a wine bar, so wine is the main product. Could you recommend a good source for learning to shoot plated food? This seems to be your area. I've found that $100 will hire a professional photograher for an afternoon to shoot a business's building, products, and people, Would a food photograher be about the same? Thanks for your input. – Steve Jan 26 '18 at 2:18
  • @Steve Look carefully at the portfolio. The food shots should look good enough to eat (duh). Notice that the best food shots have "ambience." The lighting is right, the accessories are awesome. (Some hire an accessoriste to find all the right glassware, flatware, plates, etc. and who set the table.) The view is as if you're ready to dig-in. Search for a "food" specialty photographer. (If you describe the plate generically, I bet you could find a stock shot close enough to what you describe.) Also, don't forget to keep "rights" so you can resell the photography as stock. – Stan Jan 26 '18 at 14:44

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