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Photofocus Episode 10

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we are starting off with a question about Nik software.

Question One – Nik Software

SuzOH I’m considering buying the Nik bundle for Lightroom. It’s much less than the complete set. Do I lose anything?

Scott: You do not lose anything. The folks at Nik have decided to bundle them together for less than the individual products. It is available for both Lightroom and Aperture.

Question Two – Cloudy Day Techniques

BigKage: Are there types of photos that work best on cloudy days? Are there any cloudy day techniques you can recommend?

Rick: When I am photographing people outdoors, I pray for a cloudy day. You get much less contrast and fewer harsh shadows. I also think some landscape pictures can look nice on cloudy days.

Scott: My technique when it’s cloudy is to focus on portraits. If you are shooting landscapes on a cloudy day, try to keep the sky out of the picture as much as possible, particularly when it’s one of those white sky cloudy kind of days.

Question ThreeSmall Apertures

JohnColunkowski on Twitter asks: Can you give an example of when you’d use a small aperture (e.g. f14 or smaller). I don’t often find myself going below f11.

Rick: I would use a small aperture when shooting a landscape scene and I want everything to look the same as it looks in my eyes. Some tips there include using a wide angle lens and focusing 1/3 into the scene. With digital cameras, you’re going to get a sharper image at f14 than you are at f22.

Scott: We use the smaller apertures (eg. larger numbers) when we want to increase the depth of field. The aperture’s primary job is to control the depth of field whereas sharpness has more to do with focus and that is influenced by the camera lens being properly focused. Somewhere in the middle is where you normally get your best images.

Question Four – Keeping Flowers Still for Macro Photography

Prk691 on Twitter writes: When taking a macro shot of a flower, how do you get the flower to stay still?

Scott: You want to purchase the Plamp from Wimberley. It is an articulating arm with two clamps that you can attach to your tripod and use it to hold the stem of the plant in place. It can also be used to hold other items such as reflectors.

Rick: Use a ring light. If you use a small enough aperture and fast enough shutter speed then there shouldn’t be a lot of ambient light and the flash should freeze the subject.

Question Five – Flash Diffusers

mfreesto on Twitter asks: Do you use a diffuser on your external flash and if so what do you recommend and why? I currently have a Nikon SB-600.

Rick: When I’m photographing people, I use a diffuser. Westcott makes one call the mini Apollo. I use that because it diffuses the light and softens the light. If I’m shooting something like butterflies then I would take that off.

Scott: I use a diffuser most of the time. I don’t use the little diffusers that come with the flash because the don’t accomplish the goal of a diffuser which is to make the light bigger. I use something called the HonL system which isn’t actually a diffuser but it’s a snoot that lets you shape and control the direction of light. Another kind of diffuser I will use is the ceiling. Try bouncing off the ceiling as it acts like a giant softbox.

Question Six – Purchasing Camera Packages vs. Purchasing Items Separately

Carl Triolo via email asks: I have been shooting with a high-end point and shoot and am ready to make the jump to a DSLR. Is it better to buy a camera body and lens separately or should I just buy them in a “package”. I’ve heard from some sources that the lens that comes in the package deal is often a lower quality then if you buy the body and lens separately. Do you have any opinion?

Rick: Traditionally, the lenses that came with the cameras weren’t the highest quality lenses. For example, when the first digital Rebel came out from Canon it came with an 18-55 kit lens which was okay for snapshots. If you want to make a high quality print you’ll want to get a better lens. You should check out the cost of the lens first and my recommendation would be to not skimp out on a lens.

Scott: Make sure the focal length of the lens that the camera is going to come with is one you are interested in. If it’s not a focal length that you’re going to use then it’s not a good deal at any price. Some kits lenses are very good and some are not. If the lens is under $200, it’s probably not one that you’re going to shoot with very much if you decide to get serious about your photography later on. There are a few exceptions such as the 50mm f1.8 lens which is under $200 and is a very good lens. Any type of zoom lens under $200 is probably not going to give you the quality you want.

Question Seven – Low ISO & Long Exposure vs. High ISO and Short Exposure

Rex Kersley writes: In a low light situation, a static subject, a tripod, a cable release and a small aperture for depth of field: is it better to use the lowest ISO with the resulting long exposure or increase the ISO and get a shorter exposure? I am not sure of the trade offs in noise between long exposure and high ISO.

Scott: I think that unless you’re getting into very long exposures, you’re always better off using your lowest ISO.

Rick: I posted something like that on my blog today. Always try to use the lowest ISO to get the cleanest shot with the least amount of noise possible. I like to use the in-camera noise reduction which is going to take several seconds before you can take a picture again.

Question Eight – Synching Multiple Computers

Dr. Don Sudy writes: I have a new iMac as well as a MacBook where all my photos reside. What have you found to be the best way to keep Aperture and/or iPhoto in sync between two computers?

Scott: Both iPhoto and Aperture work off of their own individual databases. You have to have a library on one or the other of the machines and then port your information to the other computer. If your MacBook is where your photos reside, then export projects or folders into where your main library resides. The way I work is that I have a main Aperture library that sits on a Drobo in my office. When I’m out on the road I take my MacBook Pro and some smaller USB drives with me. I bring all the images into Aperture on MacBook Pro and then I export those images as a project which I then turn around and import into my main library on the Drobo. Then I use the Vault feature to backup.

Question Nine – Signing Prints

Carl Shortt on Twitter asks: I would be interested to know your thought/opinion about how and where one should sign a matted print. I will be giving matted/framed prints to a few friends I recently traveled with to Paris and want to sign the fruits of my labor appropriately.

Rick: I actually sign most of my prints in my dining room ;). I sign them within the print but I know a lot of people who sign on the mat.

Scott: I don’t there is a right or wrong way to do it. When I sign on the mat, I sign on the bottom right with my name and the edition number. Sometimes I put the year, sometimes I don’t. Most of my work now goes out as gallery wrapped canvases and I sign on the bottom right edge which you can see when you look on the bottom edge.

Question Ten – Fisheye Lenses

Shaun McGregor writes: My question has to do with a fisheye lens, I was wondering if either of you had tips or tricks on how to best approach a fisheye picture. Grand vistas? or a crowded farmer’s market? What makes a good fisheye shot in your opinion. I have the Canon Rebel XT and a the canon fisheye if that matters.

Rick: I love fisheye lenses but just like anything else, if you overuse a technique your shots will start to look boring. On a non-full frame camera, you may not get the same fisheye effect as you would on a full-frame camera such as the Canon 5d Mark II. Another tip is to look at the bottom of the frame and make sure that your feet aren’t in the bottom of the picture.

Scott: Don’t overuse it. Make sure that if you’re going to use it, try to look for a nice big sky. Don’t use it for portraits unless you’re a big fan of our friend Mr. Ed (a horse for the younger people in our audience).

Question Eleven – Canon 430 EX II vs. Canon 580 EX II

Frank asks: I am a Canon Rebel user, and am buying my first flash soon. I know I want to use it off camera, but as I have never owned one, not sure of what cables, or other things I might need. And I am not sure which flash to buy, I will stay Canon, so either the 430 EX II (about 240), or the 580 EX II (about 370). Besides power, what more does the 580 offer?

Rick: The main difference between the 430 and 580 is variable flash control and high speed synch. If you get the 430 you’ll be kind of happy with it but if you get the 580 you won’t regret it so you’re better off in the long run spending a little bit extra and getting the better flash unit. As far as accessories, if you are shooting indoors the Canon ST-22 works really well but it’s not great outdoors. If you’re shooting outdoors you’ll want to use the Pocket Wizards.

Question Twelve – Old Lens Seems Better. Am I Crazy?

Justin from Canada asks: I shoot with a D300 and for just under a year my main lens was the 70-200mm 2.8. i loved and still love this lens, but in November I picked up a used 300mm ed af 2.8 which is so old it came with a beige hard case. It has been replacing my 70-200 in some situations and I have noticed that the image quality, at least to my eye, is far superior to the 70-200. Is this because it is older, longer, I’m crazy, or something else?

Scott: The old glass has the opportunity to be just as good as the new glass. I’m not a big fan of the 70-200mm f2.8 because it vignettes quite a bit on my D3. It could just be that the sweet spot your hitting when you’re shooting with the 300mm lens is a little bit better than the sweet spot on the 70-200mm. It could be a technique thing or it could be that you have a bad copy of the 70-200mm lens.

Question Thirteen – Bouncing vs. Getting the Flash Off Camera

Josh emails us to ask: You talk often about “getting the d*** flash off the camera”. My question is this: If I leave the flash on the camera, but pivot the flash head to bounce the light off a nearby wall or ceiling (a white one, of course), will this accomplish the same result, or is moving the flash off the camera still the better option?

Scott: It starts putting you more in control once you start to get the flash off the camera but you can still bounce it even once you get it off the camera. If you can’t get it off camera then bouncing is the second best thing that you can do.

Rick: If the subject is wearing a hat or has long hair then you’ll need to get the flash off camera. A wireless transmitter or a cable will let you get the flash off the camera.

Question Fourteen – Lens Choice for Shooting Newborns

Justin Petrovich asks: Which lens would you pick for a D90 to take pictures of a new born (at the hospital and at home)? If money wasn’t an object or if you’re on a tight budget.

Scott: I like something in the 50mm – 100mm range. Something like the 50mm f1.4 is an affordable lens. If you have the big bucks then you can get the f1.2.

Rick: I really like a fast lens because I don’t want to use a flash. I’m thinking an 85mm 1.8 lens.

Question Fifteen – Tips for Approaching Wildlife

Jim Clark from Seattle writes in to say: I always seem to have problems in getting close enough to birds. I see other pictures and look at the exif info and see they are using the same range I have (100-400) and wonder how they do it. Can you give some tips for approaching wildlife? Is it the color of clothes? Some sort of Ninja technique? I can’t afford the 600mm lens so I have to make do with the Canon 40d and the 100-400L IS I have.

Scott: A lot of the answer to your question really revolves around knowing your subject regardless of whether you’re shooting birds, sports, weddings, etc.

Rick: When I’m photographing birds I choose not to use my full-frame image sensor camera so I can get a better magnification from my lenses (e.g. 1.6x factor).

Scott: If you want shoot tame birds, find newborns. They don’t know to be afraid of you and you can get pretty close. Another tip is to go to a bird sanctuary where the birds are a bit more habituated. The rest boils down to technique. Camouflage can help. Don’t walk around with your tripod legs all extended out. Move slowly and in small increments. Also consider investing in a blind. You can get a bag blind for around $100.

The Blog

Just a reminder that you can visit the blog at for the show notes and plenty of other photography related articles. We are here on the 5th, 15th and 25th of each month. Please email us your questions at [email protected] or you can follow us on Twitter and leave questions with the hashtag #photoqa. If you can tell us where you’re from and how to pronounce your name that would be great too. Also be sure to check out Rick’s site devoted to plug-ins at

Wrap Up

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Show notes by Bruce Clarke