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Photofocus Episode 13

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

Rick is headed to St. Augustine for a workshop on October 12th – 13th to photograph birds so be sure to check it out if you’re interested.

This week we are starting off with a question about photography gear and traveling.

Question One – Photography Gear and Traveling

Stephen via email writes: “I’m happy to say that I’ve signed up for the Maui Photo Festival in September which I know you guys will be teaching at and I was wondering if you gentlemen can talk about what gear the attendees should bring and do you have any tips on traveling through airports and on planes with your gear?”

Scott: My first advice is to bring everything that you can but don’t necessarily carry everything that you bring when you’re out on each expedition. I look at trips in two stages. In the getting there stage I get as much stuff as I can carry to the end destination. Once I arrive then I’ll sub-pack and put together smaller packs for various things I’m going to do. As far as going through the airports, it’s getting harder. Pack your gear so that the TSA can go through things easily. For example, try to pack all of your electronic cords, chargers, etc. together in one bag. Don’t leave them mixed in with your lenses or there will be a great likelihood of things getting pulled out and dropped. For tripods, I pack my tripod in my suitcase wrapped in a towel. Everything else I carry on the plane with me.

Rick: I actually take 3 carry-on’s with me when I travel. My photo vest becomes my 3rd carry-on and I use it to carry filters, batteries, and other small accessories. If you do put an expensive tripod in your bag you can get it insured and if you have time before you arrive you can always ship it ahead of yourself via FedEx. I also pack to get everything there and then pack selective stuff for excursions. I also take backups with me in case something happens to any of my gear. You don’t want to be caught somewhere on a trip without backup.

Scott: Another tip is to really pay attention to where your gear is, particularly in airports. There are lots of thieves out there who pick on people at the airport while their attention is on other matters.

Question Two – I-TTL and Lowering Flash Exposure Compensation

Jerry asks: If I-TTL is as effective as everyone says, why do I keep hearing advice to lower the flash exposure compensation when using my SB-800? Why do we need to keep lowering it to keep the light balanced?

Scott: Well, this applies to all flashes and not just the SB-800. Most people have a bias towards not seeing too much flash in an image. When you use I-TTL or E-TTL, the camera and the flash are working together to give you a balanced exposure. This is where the ambient light shows up in the photograph and the flash just uses enough light to expose the subject however it’s not a perfect science. It gets you darn close but most of us like to bias our flash by as much as 2 stops to get just a kiss of light.

Rick: Look at it this way. Say you buy the best sound system available and it ships with the default settings. You can use the plus and minus controls to tweak the sound to get it to where it sounds good to you. An exposure is very personal. Some people like a lighter image and some prefer a darker image.

Question ThreePhotographic Styles

Matt in St. John Indiana writes: Over the past few months I’ve heard a few styles thrown around in discussions about photography, specifically journalistic or documentary style. What is it that makes it to photograph one of these styles? Is there a certain type of treatment that the image gets in post processing or perhaps the way the photograph was taken. I’d like to learn more to see if I’m missing out on something.

Rick: A photo journalist goes out there and really photographs what is there without moving anything around, etc. The lighting might not be perfect. The background might not be perfect. The composition might not be perfect unless he/she is a skilled journalist. They are documenting what is going on. As a travel photographer, I spend a lot of time making pictures whereas a journalist is taking pictures. I also play a lot in the digital darkroom to make pretty pictures.

Scott: A style is something you can develop. When you hear it used it’s often just an opinion. Your idea of a documentary style might differ from mine and neither one of us is going to be right or wrong. It means there is a consistency applied. When you say something is a documentary or journalistic style, that is not a post-processing situation but in fact just the opposite. Very few journalists or documentary photographers would ever feel comfortable using post-processing techniques on their images. It’s more about being true to what happened and not making the photographer part of the photograph.

Question Four – Ball Heads

Jeremy Pollack via email asks: I’m currently using Manfrotto heads and I’m tired of the camera moving and twisting on the plate. I looked at the Gitzo heads but they are not compatible with the Kirk photo plates that you recommended on a prior show. I’m moving to Gitzo legs and I’m looking for a ball head and eventually a gimbal that’s compatible with the Arca-Swiss style plate system like those that Kirk makes. Can you recommend some brands and quality heads that are compatible with these plates?

Scott: When I first saw the Acra-Swiss style plate system I was blown away. Arca-Swiss is a brand but there are other brands like Really Right Stuff and Kirk Photo that employ the same kind of system. The reason that it’s so good is that your camera cannot twist off of the plates like it can with some of the more traditional heads. The plates are form-fitted to your camera body and secured with an allen wrench. I use the Acrotek ball heads and Kirk plates. The disadvantage to these is that they are more expensive but they are lighter. On the safe side the Kirk head is cheaper and quite sturdy. Gimbal heads are designed to hold much longer lenses in the 300-800 range and provide you with precise control over their position. I highly recommend the Wimberley 2 or the Mongoose.

Question Five Cases for Cameras

Ken Lateman writes: Rick you mentioned in one podcast that you carry the Canon G10. What do you carry it in? I have the G9 and while I love it, its not truly a pocket camera so I still need to use some sort of a bag. On a side note, Im not sure if youre familiar with Lensmate. They make a series of accessories for the G7, G8, G9, and G10.

Rick: I don’t normally carry my DSLR in a bag when Im walking around shooting. When I got into photography my father had this beautiful case that clipped onto the camera but if you wanted to take a shot it actually took you a few seconds to get it ready and by then you could have missed the shot. I just carry it over my shoulder or in my photo vest.

Scott: I use the LX3 but Canon just announced the new G11 so I might have to take a look at that camera. When I travel I pack everything to get to my destination but once I get there I normally just carry the camera around my neck most of the time. You never know when a situation might present itself where you want to take an image quickly and if you have to dig it out of a bag you might miss the shot. All my friends who are true photo journalists never keep their stuff in bags. They walk around without lens caps on and their cameras are beat up a little bit but they are always ready to shoot.

Question Six Blown Out Red Channel

George Wanant writes: Im having the hardest time photographing red flowers. My photos are coming out with over saturated blown out reds. Im looking at the brightness and RGB histograms on the camera but I can’t seem to keep the red from clipping without highly underexposing. Do I just underexpose and adjust the levels in post or is there a good way to do this in camera? Is there an easy way to recover already blown out channels in post?

Scott: First off, the red channel is the culprit most of the times. On most cameras except for the higher end pro cameras its hard to get a true RGB histogram. Most of the time youre getting a composite histogram so its not going to show you separately. On the higher end cameras you can look at the red channel separately and see that its way out there to the right. My first thought is; are you in too harsh of light for the subject youre photographing?

Rick: The light could be very harsh. I was recently at the Hearst Castle in California and I was taking a scene with bright yellow flowers in the foreground and the same thing would have happened to me however this brings me to a question for George and that is are you shooting in RAW? If you shoot JPEGS, the picture is going to come out a bit saturated, the sharpness is going to be increased and the contrast is going to be increased. Try to photograph the subject in both RAW and JPEG and my guess is that you’ll have more control over the saturation. Vibrancy is a great control which will allow you to control certain colors.

Scott: If you shoot RAW, that answers the second part of Georges question and you have a little more wiggle room as opposed to JPEGs where the information is already baked into the image.

Question Seven Tools for Creating Websites and Galleries

Jerry Shankin from Michigan writes: Id like to start a website and a blog. My image library is growing and Id like to start showcasing my work online as well as advertise for myself. I use Lightroom and Aperture and can use those galleries but theyre not really for blogging. I also have a Mac and use iWeb. Is iWeb professional looking enough? Can you suggest how I get this started?

Rick: I love iWeb and use it along with eBlogger for a lot for my site. The question no matter what it is should be who is the audience? My site is all in HTML so its fast and easy to browse on a multitude of platforms even the iPhone. I know a lot wedding photographers who have very fancy flash based websites with music and pictures flowing, etc. For clients who want that thing thats perfect. I on the other hand just want to reach people quickly who want to learn about photography so iWeb and eBlogger are great for me. Now your audience.

Scott: Be aware of flash sites. I know that when I visit a site if it takes a long time to load then I don’t stick around. If youre going to do flash at least make it optional and offer an HTML version of your site. Smugmug has lots of ways to publish your photographs and monetize them. Another place that a lot of photographers use is Flickr and I happen to think that the Aperture web libraries are very nice but they don’t have an eCommerce piece if you need that. Another one to look at is PhotoShelter.

Rick: I would also stay away from using music on your site and if you are going to use music make sure that you have a license to use it.

Scott: I agree. As photographers we get worked up when someone uses our images without permission but then I see even well-known photographers using popular music on their sites that they don’t have permission to use.

Question Eight Using Reflectors

Alain Ho asks: I want to improve my model and portrait photography and Im wondering what advise you can give with regards to using reflectors and if you could recommend one that has worked for you? I have considered adding a 40 inch Westcott or Optek reflector to my gear.

Scott: I like the Rick Sammon tote. Its not a 40 inch but it does have a nice reflector and diffuser in it. It may not be as big as a 40 inch reflector and certainly size does help but there is a way to get around that by getting closer to the subject with a smaller reflector.

Rick: I use just about all of them but it depends on the subject. If Im just doing a headshot then I may just use a small reflector like the one in my kit. If Im going to do a full-length shot then I might use a 6 foot reflector. When using a reflector its important to tell the subject not to look at the reflector because if youre photographing on a sunny day the reflector can be blinding not to mention hot. Also the reflectors come with a gold side which bounces a nice warm light into the subject and a silver side which bounces a cooler light which is often used for fashion photography. If youre using a small reflector and bouncing light into the face, the face will often be quite a bit brighter so you’ll need to set your meter reading for the face while youre using the reflector.

Question Nine Sharpness Issues

Chris Day writes: Should my images appear crisp when viewing them at 100%? Currently when I look at them they do not. I shoot waterfalls so I always shoot with a tripod and think that they should come out very crisp. I shoot with a Rebel XSi and Im not sure if my its my method, the lens, a filter, or viewing them at 100% that makes them appear un-sharp.

Rick: A lot of things could be happening. It could be a dirty filter or the lens could have a fingerprint on it. If you have a sharp picture, viewing it at 100% is actually a good idea. We talked earlier about RAW vs. JPEG. Jpeg files come out of your camera already sharpened. All RAW files need sharpening so perhaps youre shooting RAW files and it needs sharpening. If youre shooting waterfalls then it should look a little soft. You don’t want to use a 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second to freeze the action. I view all my pictures at way more than 100% to look for dust spots and other things in the scene that I don’t like.

Scott: Its difficult to answer this question without knowing more about what Chris is viewing the photos on. Is it at 100% on the LCD or are you talking about at 100% on your computer monitor. If it looks soft when looking through the viewfinder it could be something simple like not having the diopter set right. When we talk about getting a sharp image we talk about the basics. Shoot with a tripod, don’t drop below the 1/8th zone without using the mirror lock up. In that zone sometimes the mirror shake can be just enough to blur the image.

Rick: It could also be the lens if its a cheaper kit lens. It could also be the aperture. Most lenses are sharpest at around f8 so if Chris is shooting wide open that could contribute to the images coming out a little soft.

Question Ten Copyrighting Images

Brian Deckert writes: When you submit your photos for copyright, what are your preferences? Electronic or paper? How often do you submit new collections? How big are your collections? How many do you submit and how do you choose which ones to submit?

Scott: I do all my submissions electronically. Its easy and pretty soon they are not even going to accept paper registrations. You can go to the copyright website and there is a lot of information there about the process. has a great tutorial on this and show you how to do it step by step. I submit new collections every time I go out on a paying job and every time I go out on a job that I will publish. As far as size, I usually submit collections that are the size of a particular gallery or website that Ive created for each job. You can submit thousands at a time though. You can do it via a CD or electronically by linking to the website or gallery. The most important thing to do is to register because if you don’t register your copyright then you can’t go after any financial compensation if someone infringes upon your intellectual property. You can get people to stop infringing but its close to impossible to go after any monetary damages if you haven’t registered them. When it comes to putting pictures on a website then I just register the website every week or two.

Question Eleven Camera Suggestions

Nikolas Lambert from the UK writes: Ive been into digital photography for several years and Im currently using a Samsung point and shoot camera and iPhoto for storage, organizing and editing images. I enjoy shooting outside and my favourite things to take photos are of flowers, etc and I love doing it as a hobby. Im planning on stepping up to a DSLR and a more professional digital editing suite such as Aperture. Just wondering if you have a suggestion on a good camera and lens Im stumped on where to start.

Scott: We get this question a lot but Im going to try to answer this in the following way. When it comes to pick a camera is to remember that most of the cameras out today are better than the cameras we had 20 years ago. There are no bad cameras. The thing is to buy one that you can enjoy and heres how you can enjoy one. If everyone around you is like Rick Sammon and is a Canon explorer of light, then you should go with Canon. Then you can borrow lenses and get advice from friends who are shooting with the same gear as you. If your friends shoot Nikon, consider going with Nikon for the same reasons. Also look at a system that you can upgrade. If you plan on going pro someday I would recommend going with a full frame sensor. If not then a crop frame sensor should be fine. As far as lenses, there are full-frame and crop sensor lenses. If you buy a crop sensor lens and then decide to upgrade to a full-frame sensor camera that crop sensor lens won’t be compatible so if you can afford it, its always better to go with the full-frame lens in the long run. Your up front costs will be greater but you’ll save money in the long run.

Rick: The other thing thats been thrown into the mix lately is HD video so you may want to consider looking at a camera that has video.

Question Twelve Manual Focusing Tips

Andrew Ditson has a Nikon camera without a motor in it and hes having trouble using the auto-focus lenses because they are not AFS lenses. Can you give me tips on manual focusing skills.

Scott: I use a tape measure like the movie guys. Everything in film is measured from the film plane to the mark. My eyes aren’t as good as they once were so I try to measure the distance from the film plane to the mark. I also will stop down a little to give myself a little more wiggle room and what that does is expands the area from front to back that is in focus.

Question Thirteen Recommendations for Portfolios

The next question is from Maximillion VonStiblitz from Germany. You guys having seen gazillions of portfolios, what do you look for and whats the best image in your opinion?

Rick: Never underestimate the power of a good subject. A big part of being a photographer is getting into places and getting images that others can’t so I look for a good subject. Another thing that I look for is good lighting, composition, etc. If its an HDR photo try not to overdue it but for me its really about the subject. Also, put your best image first because first impressions are so important.

Scott: I agree with a lot of Ricks points but what I look for in a portfolio is consistency. I want to see a recognizable style, approach, theme where the first image and the last image are tied together somehow. They don’t have to be related but I need to see a style and something youve developed. The best example I can give of this is Ansel Adams. If you look at a bunch of B+W photographs, chances are good you’ll be able to pick out Ansels because there is a style and an approach that is recognizable and consistent with his work.

Rick: If you have your portfolio reviewed, try to choose a reviewer carefully. Its all subjective so take it with a grain of salt and follow your heart.

Question Fourteen Cutting Out the Haze

John in Modesto California asks: Is there a way to cut through the haze when taking pictures at mid-day in the summer? Will neutral density filters and long exposures be any help or can I use Photoshop Elements to get rid of the haze somehow?

Scott: First question is why do you want to take photos during mid-day in the sun? Its not the best time in the day to photograph so if you can shoot at a different time that would help. Neutral density filters aren’t going to help with the haze issue because they reduce exposure. One of the best ways to cut through haze is with a polarizing filter. You can do some things with contrast in post but basically my best advice is to avoid it.

Rick: My advice would also be to avoid shooting at that time but if you have to, a polarizing filter can help reduce the reflection of the sun off of the atmospheric moisture in the sky. If youre going to be in Modesto Im having a couple of workshops in Modesto and Sarasota in September when Scott and I get back from Maui so you should come out and see me there. Head over to the events page on Rick Sammon and check it out.

The Blog

Maui Photo Festival

There are a still spots left in the Maui Photo Festival so be sure to check that site out if you’re interested. Both Rick and Scott will be teaching at this wonderful workshop on the beautiful island of Maui in Hawaii.

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