100% Crop Sharpness Example

When it comes to making a quality photograph, focus is near the top of the list for requirements. Like any rule, there are always exceptions but the general reaction for the human mind when looking at an out of focus image is that something is not right and it feels uncomfortable.

In stock photography, sharp focus is even more important and is an absolute necessity. While a portrait can get by being a bit “soft”, in the ultra-competitive world of stock images this just won’t fliy.

With this being said, I have to say that I have been blown away at the sharpness results I am receiving with my current camera/lens combo. The 5D Mark II paired with the 24-105 f/4L IS lens have proved to be a great duo. I was pleased with the focus I was able to achieve with the lens on the original 5D, but the results I get now are even better.

I have read on the Internet and heard from some photographers that the 24-105 is not a great lens as far as sharpness is concerned. No less than the self-proclaimed “World’s Top Selling Microstock Photographer” Yuri Arcurs stated recently on his blog that this lens is not sharp enough below f/9 for stock photography. This has not been my experience.

Today’s sample image is from a recent stock shoot I did in my studio. The enlarged portion of the shot is a 100% crop of Emily’s right eye. Since I needed a narrow depth-of-field to sufficiently blur the text on the book, I used a near wide-open aperture of 4.5. Note the detail in the eyelashes and the skin below the eye. Also notice that this was not an extreme close-up image, but a fairly wide head/shoulders capture. This eye is definitely sharp enough for my needs.

One more thing to add is the technique I use to achieve focus. Since the majority of my photography involves pre-set models and not rapid-fire shooting, I don’t need an ultra-fast focus system. I have my 5D bodies set for a “center only” focus point. When shooting, I put this point on the line between color and white on the model’s near eye and lock in focus. Once I have this focus, I recompose and release the shutter. I have also taken to using a monopod in nearly all my shooting to further minimize the effect of camera-shake on the image.

The combination of this technique, a 5D Mark II and the 24-105 f/4L serve me well. What about you? What techniques/equipment do you find works best?