I’m surprised at the number of times I see people shrink their photos down to web size, then post them on a forum and ask for opinions about the focus or the noise.

And I’m even more surprised – appalled, in fact – by how many other people are willing to give an opinion … based on what, I have no idea!

We can’t judge pixels if we can’t see ’em!!!

Focus is one of the holy grails of photography. And noise, for most people, is one of the worst enemies. I’ve already written about what you see when you pixel-peep, and I’d encourage you to read it if you haven’t done so.

When you’re learning your craft, you often like to seek opinions and advice about these matters. So it’s a good idea to post your photo/s on a photography forum.

In order to give you the best possible feedback, other members need to take a good close look at your image. It’s no good just posting a little photo, and wailing about the blur, or whatever, with no further information.

The key is to provide two versions of the image. Here’s my checklist of how to post for best critique on focus and noise …

What to post

1. A 100% crop

I’ve explained this here. Try to select the most relevant portion possible.

2. The whole photo

As well as seeing the pixels at close range, we also need context. So make sure you give us a reduced-size version of the whole photo. Seeing your composition, lighting, etc, will help us advise you.

3. Equipment and settings

Tell us the ISO, shutter speed and aperture of the shot. Also tell us what camera you have, and what lens you used – that can be important. Mention any other factors that might be relevant, such as flash.

4. Editing

Tell us the file format, and how much processing you’ve done. For example:
“This is a SOOC Jpeg”; or
“This is an unedited Raw file, except for Brightness +60”; or
“This was very underexposed, so I brightened with Curves”; etc.

5. Software

Lastly, tell us what program/s you have for your processing.

Other guidelines

1. Don’t sharpen for web!

A lot of people sharpen their photos for web as a matter of course. And in most circumstances, this is a good idea. But NOT if you’re asking for CC about focus or noise. Sharpening will make focus seem better than it is, and make noise seem worse than it is. Don’t sharpen!

2. Save at a good quality

Web files should be saved as Jpegs, of course, but too much Jpeg degradation could make your problems harder to diagnose. So make sure you save at a high enough quality setting to avoid that. At least 70%, but 80% might be safer.

3. Be careful where you host

Further to the previous point about the dangers of Jpeg compression, try not to allow your files to be recompressed on uploading. Most forums are perfectly safe, but Facebook definitely ISN’T. If you’re posting on Facebook for advice about pixel issues, it might be a good idea to host the images elsewhere, and simply link to them.

An example

Let’s say I was a bit worried about noise.

I’d post this 100% crop:

CC1

And this full image:

CC2

And I’d tell you that it was taken with a Canon 5D and a 50mm lens, f/4.0, 1/60, ISO400. It was shot in raw, and I haven’t done any editing yet. I have CS5.

Based on that, you’d easily be able to tell me that this amount of noise is very common at that ISO on that camera, especially with a slightly underexposed shot like this one.

You’d go on to tell me that the noise reduction sliders in CS5 ACR are very powerful, and will have no trouble eliminating this amount of noise.

Etc, etc. You can see how comprehensive information will glean comprehensive answers.