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Photofocus Episode 14

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 our first ever audio question from Brian Fisher:

Question One – Reducing Light with Filters

Brian Fisher asks: I need to reduce the amount of light coming into my lens in order to shoot wide open with long shutter speeds in full sun. I’m thinking of stacking a linear polarizer and a circular polarizer on my lens to control the light. The linear polarizer on the front would control the polarization effect and the circular polarizer would control the amount of light let through. I appreciate your thoughts on this plan and love to hear some alternatives.

Scott: I think your idea will definitely reduce the light but my advice would be to just get a 5 stop neutral density filter and throw that in front of it.

Rick: If you’re using a wide angle lens and you stack your filters you’ll get some vignetting. Some point and shoot cameras have built-in neutral density filters but I’m not aware of any DSLRs that have this feature.

Scott: I was hoping by now that we would see this feature in some DSLR cameras but for now I use my Cokin filter holders and a neutral density filter. One tip if you are shooting HDR with moving water is to throw a 5 stop neutral density filter on your lens and then shoot the HDR images. That way the water will look nice and soft like cotton candy and a program like Photomatix will be able to handle merging the images.

Question Two – Strobe Strength

Bryan writes: When buying a strobe, how can you tell how powerful it is at full strength? Is the watts second number what I need to pay attention to and if so, what does that mean?

Scott: The watts second number is simply a way to rate how power a strobe is. For example, a 500 ws strobe is going to be twice as powerful as a 250 ws strobe. Generally you want more power than you’ll think you’ll need particularly if you are shooting in bright sunlight. Watt seconds relate to the amount of power going into the head and also how fast it will recharge so a 1000 ws can be fired at half-power, twice as fast as a 500 ws head can recycle.

Rick: Also, keep in mind the distance the strobes can cover and how big of an area the strobes can light. Also think about what f-stop you want to shoot at and the salesperson should be able to tell you what strobe to get.

Question ThreeDiffusers

Jerry Shankin in Michigan writes: I have diffusers for my flash. I have a Gary Fong diffuser and I’m aware systems like the Hon-L system and others. What’s the best use of the particular diffuser that comes with my Nikon flash?

Scott: The one that comes with the Nikon flash is similar to the one that comes with the Canon flash and I don’t think they are very useful at all but here is where I would use those devices; in the old days we would do an effect we called bare bulb flash. What you can do is put your flash on a stand, aim it straight upwards with the diffuser on it and what you end up with is a softer version of a bare bulb flash. It doesn’t really spread the light so what you need is something bigger to spread the light like bouncing off a wall or perhaps something like the Gary Fong diffuser. Less expensive products from Hon-L will do the same thing.

Rick: Those are all great suggestions. One thing to add is that I do use the little white card that slips out from the flash and it is great for some fill-in flash if you can’t get the flash off the camera.

Question Four – Photographing Animals in Zoos

Jared Hefner sends us a question and he’s been followed by the photo ethics police. There was a web site he found that said: “Note, if you are photographing animals in the zoo, be sure to mention this on the final photograph because the photograph of a captive animal is not the same as one made of the species in the wild.” Jared is concerned about this because his opinion is that a great photograph is a great photograph no matter when and how it was taken and he’s not quite sure he likes that statement.

Scott: It’s all personal choice. I bristle at someone trying to tell me what I can and can’t photograph. For me it’s the end product that matters the most. Unless you are a photojournalist you have no ethical or moral requirement to say anything about the photograph.

Rick: You could expand the word zoo to the word wildlife park or wildlife reserve like those found in places like Africa. Most of the great animal shots you see are taken in wildlife reserves in places like Botswana and Kenya where there are huge fences and the animals can’t get out. In editorial photography though I believe that honesty is the best policy.

Scott: I think the main description you gave there is editorial. If you are photographing for a newspaper, a documentary, or for National Geographic; you should indicate if images were taken under controlled conditions but if it’s a piece of art that is just going to be sold at a gallery or art fair there is no need for this type of disclaimer. Most of that is camera club crap from people who get wrapped up in the technical aspects but somebody buying a photograph doesn’t care about the technical.

Question Five – Lighting Accessories

Jerry Shankin writes: I’m purchasing my second speedlight – an SB-800 and I also want to purchase some pieces of lighting gear for home. I’m thinking possibly an umbrella, a softbox, some stands, and mounts. I don’t know what to start with. I want to shoot portraits, shots of families, and objects to sell on eBay. Can you give me any suggestions on what to purchase?

Rick: A softbox would be a good start. They come in different sizes so you’ll need to buy the size appropriate to your setting. An umbrella would be a good choice to wrap the light around the subject. You can go online to see the differences between softboxes and umbrellas. Reflectors might be cool too but I’d go with a softbox.

Scott: If you can get a softbox that works with a flash head then that would be my first choice. There are devices that make that possible. Westcott makes a product that allows you to attach your SB-900 to a plate called a speed ring and that speed ring will mount to just about any softbox. Softboxes can be intimidating for new users so umbrellas are a good starting place. They are light and cheap but the disadvantage is that you can’t really control the light as well with an umbrella. I like shoot-through umbrellas because you can control the light a bit more. When it comes to stands I’m very picky. I like the air-cushioned stands because I’m a klutz and if I loose control I don’t want the flash head crashing down to the next level. Now they cost twice as much but if they save a $600 flash then I think they are worth it.

Question Six – Fisheye Lenses

Bob Jagendorf writes: I have a question regarding lenses. I’m trying to get a really wide-angle shot doing a landscape. Why would I use a Fisheye lens as opposed to a very wide lens like the Sigma 10mm – 20mm. Of course I’m not considering the quality of lens in this question.

Rick: First off we’d need to know if Bob is using a full-frame camera or not. The lenses will produce a different type of image depending upon the size of the sensor. As for the fisheye lens there are many different kinds of fisheye lenses. There are some which are rectilinear which you can use outside and you won’t see that curvature of the horizon. Others will give you that curved effect if you tilt it up or down. If you want to get a really wide shot without distortion you’d need to get a rectilinear corrected lens.

Scott: I haven’t used either of those lenses myself but likely if you want less distortion you’ll want to stick with the 10-20mm as you’ll likely get less distortion than you would with the fisheye lens. Don’t be that guy that takes ever single shot with the fisheye.

Question Seven – Polarizing Filters

Joe writes: I’m interested in buying a polarizing filter for my Nikon D200. My largest lens is 77mm so I figure I’ll buy that size along with step down rings so that narrows down the choices but there are still an overwhelming number of brands and choices. Can you shed some light on the different options and make a recommendation on which way to go? There are significant differences in price. Can you make a comment on bang for the buck?

Scott: I strongly urge you to avoid buying a plastic filter. You want to buy filters that are made of glass. You spend thousands of dollars on your lenses and then you are going to stick a piece of plastic over it? I buy the B+W filters but they are made by Schneider Optics and they know how to make great glass. There is another company called Hoya who also make great filters and they are a little less than the B+W filters. The price of the filter impacts how well things are made.

Rick: I use the same ones. Usually you get what you pay for so don’t skimp on this. The polarizing filter is the only filter I use in the field. Here is a tip on polarizing filters. A lot of people are outside and want to get that nice blue sky and tend to overuse the polarizing filter. You can actually wind up making the center of the image too dark if you over polarize so what I like to do is dial it in all the way and then I just dial it back about an 1/8th of a turn.

Question Eight – Selling Used Camera Gear

Adam Shewitt emailed us to ask: Do you have any suggestions on how I should go about selling my used camera gear?

Rick: eBay is one choice and I think you do better on that than you would trying to turn it into a camera store.

Scott: I like eBay because it’s safe. If you put it on Craigslist then you’re basically advertising that you have a nice camera sitting in your house and open yourself up to the possibility of someone coming over to steal it. I find it’s easier to sell to people in my own nation. It’s easy for people outside of the country you are living in to conduct fraud and then it’s harder for you to go after them. Also deal with people who have good feedback and don’t ever take a cashiers cheque and assume it’s cash. The way I work is that I get US Postal money orders and the reason is when you take them to the post office they will tell you right there if they are legit, they’ll cash them for you and then there is no recourse against you. Of course the best thing to do is sell it to your buddies or trade with someone.

Question Nine – RGB vs. sRGB

Michael from the Check Republic says: Is it better to set your camera for sRGB or Adobe RGB and then covert it into sRGB for posting on the Internet?

Rick: Not that difficult. Shoot in RGB and get the right color space.

Scott: You can always down sample into sRGB which is a narrower color space. I will say that a lot of people these days are getting their images printed by places like WHCC and they have proven to me that working in the sRGB space for the prints that they produce is just fine. If there is any chance that I’m going to print it myself or do anything with the image that will require the full color gamut then I will be sure to shoot in RGB.

Question Ten Copyrighting Images

Jeremy Pickens from Melpidus California writes: I’m trying to capture a scene where there are only three stops of information that the photographer cares about and he’s trying to make the image low-key. What’s the best strategy for exposing the scene given that he’s shooting RAW? He wants to capture the image as he wants to see it and he wants his luminance histogram to fill the lower three stops.

Scott: If you want to capture it as you see it then you have to underexpose. I see no reason to feel compelled to capture it as you see it. When you’re trying to capture a special effect there’s no real reason to feel compelled to get it right in camera. Shoot it right in camera and then play with it in post to get the effect you want. Some of the plug ins you might use could be things like Color Efex Pro from Nik Software.

Rick: onOne Software has some great plug ins that you could use to get this effect but my advice would be to shoot it straight on. What you may want today may be different from what you want when you wake up tomorrow so if you shoot it straight on then you can always manipulate it later.

Question Eleven – Becoming a Semi-Pro Photographer

Steve Stearns says he’s an amateur photographer and he’s slowly improving his skills but doesn’t see himself becoming a full-time pro. He might be interested in becoming a semi-pro but he’s not sure if he’s at the level yet and thinks it might be a mental block but he wants to know how you know when you’re ready for the big leagues?

Rick: I think if you put your photos up on a web site and ask people to buy them or rate them then you know you’re doing okay. If you get jobs and sell prints then that’s a pretty good indication that you’re ready. If people don’t buy prints or don’t hire you for a job then maybe you aren’t quite ready. There are many talented amateur photographers out there.

Scott: People rarely buy photographs. They more often buy a relationship with the photographer so sometimes the best photograph doesn’t get purchased. Sometimes the one that gets sold is sold because the photographer was a better businessman than he was a photographer. I encourage you to consider not whether your photo skills are there but are you a good business person because that is 80% of the job.

Rick: Today you have to be involved with the marketing and you have to keep your name out there.

Question Twelve – Image Sizes for Online Sharing

Simone asks: What’s the ideal size and dimension to resize a photograph to be used online that would be good enough to see but small enough so that it couldn’t be used for actual prints?

Scott: I put my images up at 96 PPI and 400 pixels on the widest side. It’s good enough that people can see the detail but stealing it for making a print just doesn’t make sense. Somewhere between 72-90 PPI and between 400-640 on the longest side is my recommendation.

Question Thirteen – Bracketing

Erron Makin says: In “Digital Photography Secrets” by Rick Sammon, you say if you shoot JPEG files you should bracket your exposures. If I’m exposing for the hilites, should I still be doing bracketed shots? Is this done after the proper exposure is obtained? If you have the book, I’m referring to page 11.

Rick: The part that is left out is that you really should be shooting RAW files because RAW files have a larger exposure latitude. However, if you are just shooting JPEGS you really should bracket your exposures. You may take a shot and look at the monitor and think it looks okay but the hilites might be blown out and that is what we try to avoid doing. Check the histogram and the overexposure warning to see if any of the hilites are blown-out or if the shadows are blocked up. Meters in cameras go off but since RAW files are so forgiving I never bracket my shots except when I’m shooting HDR images.

Question Fourteen – Auto focus Points vs. Center Point Focus

Andrew Bitons says: I was having a photography conversation with my buddy and we were talking about auto-focus points. His thing is to use the grouping feature of his Canon 1Ds to make sure the area he wants will be in focus. My thing is to use the center point followed by a half-press to engage the focus meter and then I recompose the shot. Is there a difference using either method? Would using auto focus points affect how the meter works?

Rick: I used to use the centre-focus point and recompose but if you’re shooting something like a portrait with a telephoto lens, lock the focus on the eyes and shoot on a wide aperture, the eyes might actually wind up out of focus. I now use the different focus points to set the focus in the frame for where I want it to be.

Scott: I use the auto focus grouping feature because I photograph fast moving birds and I find that it works better for me. Generally the center auto-focus point is the sharpest on most cameras and many people prefer to use that and I find it’s okay to use that for static objects. For moving subjects, that grouping function is worth it in my experience.

Rick: A lot of people are moving up to DSLRs from point and shoot cameras and a lot of people have commented that they used to get sharper pictures with their P&S. The thing is that with the smaller sensors you are going to get more in focus at smaller f-stops than you will with a larger sensor on a DSLR with a telephoto lens.

Question Fifteen – Order of Adjustments in Aperture

Toby in Birmingham England writes: Using Aperture when editing a photo, in what order should we do the edits and apply the adjustments? ie. Boost, sharpening, exposure, levels, etc.

Scott: In Aperture, Apple has designed the interface in the Adjustments pane to be done in the order in which the items appear. It’s not required but it is the best practice. In Photoshop when you make a change and you flatten the image, you’re done. You’ve make the change and it is there. In Aperture you only have to worry about those changes to the image happening once you export the images and bake your changes into the final file. Until you export the image, everything you do is just saved in an XML sidecar file. If you’re using Photoshop there is one thing that matters and that is sharpening. What is your process for sharpening Rick?

Rick: You want to sharpen last. While you sharpen you want to sharpen selectively. For example if you have a photograph of a bald eagle against a blue sky and some dark trees, you’re going to want to sharpen the eagle separately from the sky and the dark trees where the noise will show up and be magnified. The other thing is that you want to sharpen for the viewing distance. If you have an image on your desk then you might want to sharpen it 100%. If you have an image up on the wall that you can’t get close to you, then you might want to sharpen it 200%.

Scott: Something to think about is to save an unsharpened version of your photograph. That way if you get an order for a large sized print, you can go in and sharpen it more than you would for a smaller print.

Question Sixteen – SanDisk H3 Cards

Mark Fleecer writes: I shoot with a D90 which takes SD cards. I use Classic’s Regular HDSC cards but I’ve heard a lot about the SanDisk H3 cards and would like to know if they are really worth the extra investment? Do they make any difference when shooting in burst mode?

Scott: I’m pretty sure that the D90 is UDMA capable and if it is then it will make a difference. My personal preference is Lexar cards especially if you are shooting Nikon because there is apparently some sort of mo jo between Nikon and Lexar. UDMA cards are faster and I have noticed the difference.

Rick: I use the Lexar cards too and would recommend them.

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Show notes by Bruce Clarke