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Photofocus Episode 55

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about smiling in portraits:

Question One – Smiling in Portraits

David Sousa writes: When you make a portrait, is it mandatory (or important) that the subject always smile? Lots of rock band portraits, sports stars portraits etc don’t contain a smile. Is that okay?

Tamara: I think that’s perfectly fine. Part of creating a portrait is capturing who they are as a person and you don’t see everyone running around all day smiling. It’s good to have some variety in your portraits and different expressions to bring life to your subject.

Scott: My only concern with non-smiling portraits is when people don’t smile because they think they’ll look cool.

Question Two – Noise at In-Between ISOs

I have been reading that in-between ISO settings (rather than the full stop 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc) actually produce more noise or are basically giving the same noise as the next full ISO stop (so, 250 is the same noise levels as 400). Is there any truth to that? Ken Zuk

Tamara: The digital noise will increase as you stop up but I don’t think you’ll see much at those levels.

Scott: The ISO settings on your camera are like the gain knobs on your amplifier. You turn it up you get more sound but you get increased noise. The more ISO you have, the more noise you’ll have. There a couple of exceptions. If you actually turn on the extra low noise ISO on your camera, that can actually generate more noise. There is also native ISO which is where the ISO is perfect and it’s often higher than your lowest ISO. For video we find that the in between ISOs are actually better.

Question Three – Color Correcting When Color Blind

I’m colorblind and like to take photographs in situations where using something like a grey card or expodisc to get a white balance is impossible (like night photography of distant objects, and concerts with rapidly changing lighting). I do the best I can in post to fix the color, but if there is a lot of red or green it can be really difficult to nail the color. Are there any tips for getting the color right when you can’t actually tell the difference between the proper color and the color it looks like to me? Ben Snitkoff from Boston.

Tamara: My first instinct would be to become a great B&W photographer. I would think that if you want to maximize your skill as a color photographer but you can’t tell the differences between colors then that will be a challenge. You could process things with a vintage wash and try to maximize the artistic angle in your work.

Scott: If you can establish true grey, then you’ll get pretty accurate colors. In my book, 88 Secrets to Wildlife Photography, I have a chart which lists each color’s relationship to true grey. For example, yellow is +1.

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Question Four – Normal Lens for a Crop Body Sensor

Is there a so-called normal lens on an APS-C sensor by using a smaller (38mm?) lens on the crop body. Is there NO “normal” lens for crop body digital cameras? Bob Palmieri

Tamara: For my camera the normal lens is the 50mm.

Scott: In the photography business, 50mm lens is called a normal lens because it is supposed to approximate the normal field of vision that we see. On a crop sensor camera however, a 50mm has an effective focal length around 70-90mm so you have to go with a wider lends. Bob is on to something, on an APS-C body, a 38mm lens would be the equivalent to a 50mm but unfortunately nobody makes a 38mm. The closest you’ll get is a 35mm and nobody should notice the difference.

Tamara: I actually prefer the 35mm 1.4 over the 50mm.

Question Five – Tips for Good B&W Photography

Can you recommend any tips for in camera or post B&W photography? Corrigan from San Francisco Bay Area

Tamara: I shoot in color and then apply a Kevin Kubota action when I work in B&W. If I want to tweak it further, then I’ll typically go into the color channels and play around with the yellows and reds.

Scott: I highly recommend Silver Effex Pro from Nik Software. It makes some of the best B&W images I have ever seen.

Question Six – Archiving Transparencies & Negatives

Once you get something scanned, do you keep the original transparencies or negatives, or do you feel comfortable discarding them? On the one hand it seems somewhat foolish to discard the originals, but on the other, once the images are in a digital format, one wonders what value is derived from maintaining them. -Chris

Scott: In the old days, we called this a backup. I never throw mine away. One thing I used to do when I sold a limited edition print, I would sell a final copy and close out the print edition by selling an artists proof where I would frame the actual slide or negative with the final print.

PMA 2011

Mark your calendar and plan to attend PMA 2011 September 6th – 11th in Las Vegas. It’s being opened up to the public for the first time and we’re planning to do a live Photofocus during the event.

Question Seven – Incorporating Styles of Photography without Copying

My question is on how to incorporate your style of photography without being a copy cat? John Pavlish Seattle, WA

Tamara: I believe that your style is you and how you interact with people. I think if you’re going to dig into your style you really need to figure out who you are. Photographic styles evolve and hopefully you evolve. On tip is to try and take everything that you sense about the world and use your unique perspective to tell the story of how you see things and you’ll start to see your style develop.

Scott: Some people think that style is technique and it’s not. Just say, I want to tell this story or convey this thought. Those are the things that really matter. Style is you being you. It’s okay to be influenced by other peoples styles -whether you do it consciously or unconsciously.

Question Eight – Bag Recommendations for Travelling

I will make a trip to Florida in about a month (from Sweden) and I have some concerns regarding carry on baggage. I have my gear in a Lowepro Vertex 300AW. I will fly with Continental and Lufthansa. As far as I can see on their webpages my bag will “fit” as a carry on bag. I suppose that you are a frequent flyer so I want to hear your experience. Should I expect any problems making a trip with such a large bag as a carry on (except from braking my back…)? Are there any other regulations on domestic flights (I will fly domestic from Newark to Tampa) Niclas

Scott: I haven’t flown from Sweden so I can’t speak to their rules but if you do fly through Heathrow then you might run into some issues. If it will fit in the overhead and you get it to the US then you should be okay on most domestic flights but if you arrive late or if they are short on space, you may run into some blowback. Rules seem to change daily so you just never know.

Tamara: I mainly travelled by train when I was in Europe so I don’t have any direct experience flying from Sweden to the US.

Question Nine – Wireless TTL with SB-800’s

I have two SB-800s that I use on location for lighting. Typically, I use them with a TTL remote cord to utilize TTL capabilities, but often I am running into the situation where the cord cannot reach or some issue of that sort. I would like to be able to then use the units wirelessly in manual mode, or ideally in TTL. Even to meter, however, would require two people, one to fire the flash and another to hold the flash meter. What I am wondering is:what products are available.

Scott: The new Pocket Wizards for Nikon are in Beta at the moment but should be hitting the market very soon.

Question Ten – Cross Points

What are the cross points in the AF systems and why are they important? John Shell

Tamara: I normally shoot with the centre focus point and just recompose.

Scott: Cross focus points mean they work on both the horizontal and vertical plane and the number of cross points will vary from camera to camera. More and more of these cameras are creating auto focus points that are accurate across the field of view.

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Question Eleven – Working with Unfamiliar Equipment

I am sure that you get lots of request to review gear, do you ever get concerned that you may ever be shooting and “the shot of a life time” comes up and you gear is sub-par or you are not familiar enough with it to get the shot? The reason I ask is that I am always interested in trying new gear, usually offered by a friend, but I am fearful to use it in a critical situation because I will miss the shot. Cecil Jones

Scott: I don’t worry about it too much. This question stems from the fact that I was in a situation a few weeks ago trying out the Nikon P7000 while I was in the Grand Canyon and Cecil asked this question. I still managed to get some great photographs. I wouldn’t recommend testing out new equipment before shooting a big job for a paid client.

Tamara: I would experiment with equipment on a paid job only after I knew I got the shots I came for.

Question Twelve – Watermarking Prints

When you sell a print to someone do you watermark the print or do you simply hand sign it? Chris Kotlewski

Tamara: I will normally sign the mat.

Scott: If I sell a digital file, I will rarely watermark them because usually they are paying a very high price for a digital file from me so that’s okay. As for prints, I sign the mats. I think you should also put an acid free sticker on the back of the mat so people know how to get in touch with you.

Question Thirteen – Using Flash When Photographing Birds

I was recently told that use of flash can harm the birds we are photographing. What is your opinion on this? Is fill flash during the day a different consideration than at dusk or night? There seems to be many opinions on the Internet. Terry Doner from Toronto, Ontario.

Scott: There are many opinions on the Internet about many things. I have used flash with birds and spoken with wildlife biologists and my friend Artie Morris, and we all agree there is no harm to the birds. They are looking for worms. The only people who think flash will harm the birds are bird watchers.

Question Fourteen – Options for Monitor Calibration

I’m out of school and no longer have a Spyder at hand to calibrate my monitor. Whats a good program or way to calibrate my monitor besides using the system preference software for calibrating? Mike

Scott: I’m not aware of anything but perhaps Tamara knows of a solution?

Tamara: Without a colorimeter, if he’s using a Mac he could possibly take it into a Genius Bar and get them to configure the color for him.

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Question Fifteen – Stacking Filters vs. a VariND Filter

Rich Meade has a question about VariND filters and stacking filters. If I were to stack two polarizing filters onto a lens, would I get the same effect as the Vari ND filter? Obviously it would have to be a longer focal length lens to avoid vignetting, but is the theory solid?

Scott: No, this would not be the same. The first thing is that an ND filter is not the same thing as a polarizing filter. Yes, it will cut the light but it will introduce polarizing as well as other issues when you stack them. A Vari ND filter is expensive but very useful when shooting video as it allows you to dial-in different stops of light.

Question Sixteen – Erasing Memory Cards

I heard recently that erasing the cards images only erases the index and not the images, if I format the card does this fully remove any images and if it does not how is it done. Keith Killigrew.

Tamara: I format my cards in the camera but have been surprised what I’ve been able to recover from cards that were formatted.

Scott: When you format a card, that just marks that space on the card as safe for the computer to write to. So even if you format a card, if you haven’t written new data to it, you can often recover the images using software. Make sure you format in the camera and not in the computer.

Wrap Up

We want themes and questions from you. Be sure to visit the blog at for articles, how-to’s, videos and more. E-mail us at [email protected] follow us on Twitter. Don’t just take pictures – make pictures.

Tamara Lackey is at

Show notes by Bruce Clarke