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Photofocus Episode 11

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we are starting off with a question about whether there is an inane talent required for landscape photography.

Question One – Shooting Great Landscapes

ohtinsel on Twitter writes: My portraits get yeah’s but my landscapes get blahs even when I read and really try. Is there really an eye that practice can’t fully match?

Rick: Well first of all we’d have to see the pictures to see if they are blahs. Most landscapes look dramatic if the photographs are taken early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the angle of the sun is lower. A lot of people don’t pick a subject in the landscape. Think about the elements in the scene and think about what the main element is.

Scott: There certainly are people who have a gift for seeing but you can use tools to help you get better landscape photographs. I like side lighting as it helps bring out textures in the landscape. Make sure that you tell a story with your photograph. Have a foreground, a mid-ground and a background and make sure your photograph has a subject. If your photographs are blah is likely because you don’t know what you’re photographing. For instance, instead of an entire herd of horses, try photographing just one.

Rick: The closer the foreground element is to the camera, the more depth the scene will have. Also, try not to place the horizon line dead center in the frame.

Question Two – Metering Methods and TTL Flash

Bnewbie: How do the different metering methods affect TTL flash? Which methods are used outdoors vs. indoors?

Rick: It really depends on the camera. Different cameras switch to different metering modes when you switch on your flash.

Scott: Try to override or fool the camera if your subject is backlit and use the spot meter if it will let you.

Question ThreeFailed SD Card

Brad Broter emails us to say “Today I had a sad incident with my SD card. While shooting the great circus parade in Milwaukee, my Canon suddenly received the message that the SD card I had was unreadable and I needed to format it. Unfortunately I was 350 shots into the day and the 16 GB seems to be toast. I tried it in every computer and even tried reformatting it. Any suggestions on what to do and what size cards do you normally recommend? I almost feel as though if I had used 2 MB or 4 MB cards I wouldn’t have lost my entire day of shooting.

Scott: I’ve always been one who has been reticent to put all my eggs in one basket and generally try to stay one step behind the max. For example, 32 GB cards are now widely available so the maximum I would go would be a 16 GB card. I even have some 2 MB and 4 MB cards that I keep in my bag that I’ll use for important shoots. Also, the quality of the card does matter. Lexar cards for example, come with a data recovery program that you could have used to try and recover the images. Image Rescue is another program to take a look at.

Rick: I agree with that. SanDisk has a recovery program too. Try a rescue program first before you format the card because there is a good chance that the pictures could be there. If you’re really serious, look for a pro camera that has two card slots so you can record on both cards at the same time.

Scott: I always worry about SD cards breaking because they are so flimsy compared to the Compact Flash cards. Sharing your card by letting other photographers use it in their cameras could screw the card up as well. Also be sure to format the card in the camera and not in the computer. Sometimes they can just fail due to old age.

Question Four – Photo Archiving Paintings

Monkeybrad on Twitter writes: I want to help a friend photo archive around 100 original paintings. Recommend any methods? D300 and 2 Vivitar flashes and stands. Do you have any rental ideas?

Rick: My brother in law is a painter and he paints with a highly reflective paint. He wanted to photograph the paintings so he was messing around with a bunch of lights and colored gels to overcome the reflections so I went over there, took the painting outside, put it in the shade, tilted it down a bit, and we banged out a bunch of shots in 30 minutes.

Scott: Open shade shooting is the only way I’ve done it. If you’re going to do it inside, try to find some polarized lights from the 1950s or 1960s. Kodak used to make them.

Question Five – Photographing PGA Golfers

hcarp via Twitter writes: I’ll be shooting the PGA golfers at a tournament. I’ll be using my 50D with my servo mode on and Tv mode with the auto focus points. What else should I look for?

Rick: If the golfers are running really fast, then AI Servo mode would work well but because they really aren’t moving, I would use the one shot mode. If you want to freeze the swing, the Tv mode is good. Try for a fast shutter speed like 1/1000 of a second or try slowing it down if you want to get some blur and create a sense of motion. I would use the center AF point and recompose. Try not to decapitate the subject with the horizon line. Just try moving a little up or a little down for a better shot.

Question Six – Error 99 on a Canon 30D

Jason D Black on Twitter says he’s recently received an error 99 on his Canon 30D and can’t fix the problem. Any suggestions?

Rick: It could be the lens isn’t mounted properly. Try taking the lens off and put it back on. Also try cleaning the contacts with a lint less cloth. If that doesn’t work, pop the battery and memory card out, wait 30 seconds and then put it all back together. Usually that fixes it.

Scott: I’d make the same three suggestions. If that doesn’t work you may have to become intimately familiar with the Canon service center.

Question Seven – 1.4X Teleconverters

hokeyperogy via Twitter asks: What is your opinion on lens extenders. I’m thinking of getting a 1.4x tele-extender for my 70-200mm L IS USM for a bit more length.

Scott: The latest Canon teleconverter 1.4x – the Mark II version is very good. You’ll lose some light and you will loose some optical quality however. You will be able to retain your Auto focus as long as you don’t go past f5.6.

Rick: 1.4x tele-extenders are traditionally sharper than the 2.0x one’s so that’s a good choice. Also I recommend going with the camera manufacturer’s product rather than a cheaper off-brand version.

Question Eight – Building a Portfolio

Matlin via Twitter says: I need some tips for building a portfolio for landscape and portrait photography. Any certain looks or pictures? Separate portfolios or together?

Scott: In my opinion, portraits and landscapes don’t belong in the same portfolio. You want to make a portfolio that’s concise and that represents a body of work that shows a unique and consistent style. You’re either going to sell someone a portrait or a landscape – it’s rare that you’re going to sell them both so you want to target your audience. As for looks or pictures – only your very very very very best images should be selected and try to keep it to around 10 – 15 photographs.

Rick: Pick your best shots and put your best picture first because first impressions are important.

Scott: Show that you have a pattern you are following and that you can produce consistent results. A landscape portfolio is good. A landscape portfolio featuring images only from the southwest is better. Better still would be a portfolio featuring images just from Monument Valley. Target the portfolio at the audience.

Question Nine – RAW Files in iPhoto vs. Aperture or Lightroom

Eric Vote writes: How will working with RAW images in Aperture or Lightroom differ from working with them in iPhoto?

Scott: In iPhoto, when you make adjustments to the images you will actually be creating duplicate copies of the images for each change you make whereas in programs like Aperture or Lightroom, your changes are just a set of instructions that are written to an XML sidecar file.

Rick: I don’t use iPhoto by my guess is that Aperture and Lightroom are a lot faster programs. Also the way the RAW file is processed will make a difference to the image quality. iPhoto and other programs will process it differently so the resulting image quality will be different. Can you notice it? Likely not unless you really blow the image up and dig into it.

Question Ten – Control Hilite Warning

Kenny Lee from Middletown NJ says: On several episodes, Rick has talked about being able to turn on a feature on your camera that will enable the photographer to look at the Live View and see overexposed areas blinking. I’ve tried to find this feature on my Nikon D90 and haven’t been able to find it. I’m hoping it’s just because I don’t recognize the feature in Nikon-speak. Here are my questions. Do you know what Nikon calls the feature and do you know offhand if the D90 has it? I’m tired off getting blown out images that I have to fix in Lightroom.

Scott: The feature is called control hilite warning and yes the D90 does have this feature. All you have to do is set it in your menu to be operable. If you get consistently overexposed images, you may have to get your meter tuned and use some of the exposure compensation methods.

Rick: Live View is different from the display so what Kenny is likely referring to is the actual display. Also, before scrubbing these photos, if you are shooting in RAW you can use recovery to try and rescue those blown out hilites.

Question Eleven – Metering Modes

Chad from Wisconsin writes: I’m trying to get a better understanding of which metering mode I should use. I understand the spot metering mode and use it when I’m metering the background and using flash but should I be using a different mode for regular photos without flash? Should I be using center weighted, average, or evaluative metering? Do you find that you use one mode more frequently or are you constantly changing modes based on your shooting situation?

Rick: When I’m outside I use the evaluative mode. Somebody a long time ago told me to learn how to see the light so after years of shooting I’ve learned how to see the light and know when to stop down or increase my exposure to compensate when there are bright or dark objects in the scene that might confuse the meter.

Scott: I generally leave it on the evaluative mode because they are so good these days. In almost every case they will get the job done. If you left your camera in spot metering mode and spot the wrong thing then everything is going to be off.

Question Twelve – Catch Lights

Peter Donnely writes: I listen to your show religiously. Many times you’ve used the terms catch lights. Can you explain this a little bit more? Are you just referring to multiple sources of light that fall on a subject? What are you striving for?

Scott: Catch lights are just the little pinpoints of light that show up in your subject’s eyes when doing a portrait. Without catch lights you look like you’re photographing someone at the wax museum or someone who is possessed. They help make the eyes come alive. If you use a strobe, that is going to create a pattern on the eye that will match the shape of the strobe. Catch lights are supposed to mirror the light from the sun and last time I checked we only have one sun in our planetary system so my pet peeve is when there is more than one catch light in the eyes.

Rick: When I’m working outside, I’ll use a reflector to not only open up the shadows but also to provide a catch light in the eyes. I may also get the subject to move into the light and have them look up to create the catch light and produce the sparkle in their eyes.

Question Thirteen – Image Stabilization on Wide Angle Lenses

Jack Label on Twitter writes: I was listening to Photofocus Episode 5 and someone asked about a wide angle lens. I’ve noticed that there are some wide angle lenses with image stabilization or vibration reduction where the manufacturer claims you’ll get up to 3 stops difference however it doesn’t seem to work that way on wide angle lenses. Wouldn’t you be better off saving your money and just using a good tripod?

Scott: I tend to think that IS is not nearly as important on wide angle lenses as it is on telephoto lenses. I don’t think it’s a case of it not working – you may just not notice it as much.

Rick: The first time I heard about IS on a wide angle lens I thought it was silly too but if you’re shooting indoors in low light conditions, having that extra three stops might allow you to shoot hand-held at a lower shutter speed.

Question Fourteen – U/V Filters

Robert Sherman writes in via email about creative filters. His question really boils down to the famous U/V filters that camera stores try to get you to buy. What are your thoughts on them?

Rick: The only filter I have is a polarizing filter that I use when shooting landscapes or seascapes and the sun is at a 90 degree angle. I don’t have U/V filters. I walk around with my lens cap on. If you have a U/V filter on and you’re shooting into the sun or into the moon, you’re going to get a ghost image.

Scott: I don’t believe in using them either. I protect my glass with a lens hood and in all my years of doing photography I’ve never damaged the front lens element. Even if I did it’s actually the cheapest part of the lens to repair.

Question Fifteen – Softboxes and Speedlights

Erron from Wisconsin writes: What’s your opinion on the maximum size soft box for a speedlight?

Scott: If’ it’s just going to be something on a speedlight, I would say something in the 60 inch category would be the maximum size I’d feel comfortable going with.

Rick: I’ve been using a 60 inch Westcott Apollo but they also have other sizes. It has a lot to do with your subject matter. For example, if you were just shooting a single person you could get away with something smaller but if you were shooting more people or shooting in a larger environment you may want something larger. You can also join speedlights together, put them in a larger softbox and use something like a Pocket Wizard to trigger the flashes.

Question Sixteen – Improving Your Photography

Jordan from Manchester writes: I browse photo web sites such as Flickr to try and improve my photography. I see a lot of photographs taken using the same gear as I have but they seem to have much more punch in terms of colors and contrast. I realize that lighting plays a key role but I feel like I’m missing some points in my own photography when it comes to post-processing. Any tips for workflow?

Scott: We won’t talk about workflow but we can talk about photography in general. First off, I can buy the same golf clubs as Tiger Woods but I’m not hitting the ball 350 yards down the middle so having the identical gear is not going to guarantee identical results. What you need is vision and light does play a very key role. If you see somebody who has made a photograph right at sunrise, those colors are going to be punchier than someone who makes a photograph in the middle of the day. Sometimes just changing your shooting techniques – the times you shoot, the subjects you shoot, the way you shoot – that will cause your images to have more pop. If you want to do it in post processing, Aperture, Lightroom and Photoshop all have this great tool called Vibrance which will help you get more punch. If you really want to get more sophisticated then you can start to experiment with curves.

Rick: Sharpness also makes a picture look better because essentially what you are doing is increasing the contrast. Also adjusting the individual colors can make a difference. No matter what the picture is however, don’t compare what you are taking with something you see in a magazine because you don’t know everything that went into making that shot.

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

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

Show notes by Bruce Clarke