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Photofocus Episode 17

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we are starting off with a question about campfire photography:

Question One Campfire Photos

Tony from St. Paul writes: My question comes from the same trip. I attempted to take some photos while the family was around a small to medium size camp fire. I was using a Rebel XSi w/50mm 1.8 and a 420EX Speedlite (with and without tripod). Unfortunately I was unable to get any decent shots. Without flash they were either under exposed or the shutter speed was too slow, causing blur. With flash (on camera, no diffuser), the speedlite produced way too much light to look natural. Tried several settings in Av, Tv, and full manual with no luck. The only natural light was coming from the fire itself and a few small lights on the cabin several hundred feet away. Any tips on how to get natural looking camp fire photos from such a low light situation?

Rick: The key word is natural light photos. I would boost up the ISO to 400 or 800 which might result in some noise but that’s better than blurry photos. Ask the people to move closer to the fire so that it lights up their faces better.

Scott: I agree with Rick’s points. The 50mm 1.8 is a fast lens so I would open it all the way up. Focus on one person closest to the fire and that will tell the story.

Question Two Exercises for DSLR Newbies

brandonblaine: @ShebaJo how about: what are some good exercises for DSLR newbies?

Scott: Handle your camera every single day. Don’t just stick it in the closet and pull it out once a month when you go on a trip. Also read a page of your manual everyday and then practice with what you learned on that page.

Rick: Play around with the +/- controls to see what effect they have. Also experiment with slow shutter speeds and see what kind of creative effects you can come up with. Play at it, don’t work at it.

Question Three Image Resolutions

Mike Lippeth via email writes: My question to you both is, when saving an image from ACR (from a RAW image) what resolution do you save your image out as? Do you save it out with a resolution that is native to a certain ink-jet printer? Ex. 360 ppi which is the native resolution to an Epson Stylus Pro 9900. I would rather save the image out in the native resolution first so I wouldn’t have to resample the image later. What are your recommendations?

Scott: If you’re using something like Aperture or Lightroom, you don’t have to worry about saving it out in any resolution because you only do that when you export. Then when you do export, the resolution you pick will depend upon how you want to use the image. If you’re going to move it into Photoshop, I would recommend saving it out at the highest resolution that you think you will use.

Rick: If you’re working in Adobe Camera RAW and going to Photoshop, export in the highest resolution that you think you’ll need and then when you save it from Photoshop, play around with the bi cubic settings. If you’re going to downsize the image use Bi cubic Sharpen. If you’re going to upscale an image, use Bi cubic Smoother.

Question Four Sensor Types

Matt Sassamatt asks: When evaluating cameras there is much discussion about a variety of issues. What does not get discussed is sensor type and from what I can see impact the end product. I wonder if you could go through the pros and cons of the various sensors, so when purchasing a camera with a CMOS, CCD, Floveon, or nMOS I could make an informed decision?

Rick: Five years ago I would have said CCD. Today, the CMOS sensors are cheaper to produce and make great images. Foveon is supposed to capture all the information but I’ve yet to see a side by side comparison to tell the difference and I’ve never used a camera with an nMOS sensor.

Scott: CCD which stands for charge couple device, tends to use more power and tends to produce more static electricity so it’s more likely to attract dust to your sensor. CMOS produces a great image with less noise. On paper, Foveon looks like it should do better but in all my tests I don’t understand why we don’t see the difference. nMOS is the next generation of sensor along the lines of CMOS but I don’t have any experience with it. Panasonic has invented it and it may or may not take off.

Rick: Just because you have a larger sensor it doesn’t mean that you’ll have better pictures.

Question Five Book Suggestions

Andy Brunetto writes: My question is: I recently gave my 19 year-old daughter a Canon G9 for her birthday and she is making amazing photographs with it. I’d like to get her a book that covers the basics of digital photography, including subjects like resolution and printing, as well as general photography basics, such as aperture, ISO and DoF. There are thousands of books out there that cover these things, so I am really hoping for a suggestion from two pros like you to narrow it down.

Scott: Rick has some really good books. Which one would you suggest Rick?

Rick: My Complete Guide to Digital Photography would be a great place to start in addition to the blog.

Scott: Our blog is great but there are hundreds of other great blogs out there. Go to and search on Photography and you’ll find lots of great photography related web sites.

Question Six Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor Cameras

dim7chord: How big of a difference is a full frame camera to a prosumer photographer? ie Nikon D90 vs. a D300 or something similar?

Rick: If I’m doing wildlife photography I will want to use a crop sensor body as I’ll get more reach with my telephoto lenses. However if I’m going to do landscape or indoor photography then I like a full frame sensor camera to take advantage of the wide angle lenses.

Scott: Another advantage to full-frame cameras is that they have brighter view finders. The full-frame cameras tend to be paired with pro lenses. On the other hand, crop sensor cameras and lenses are cheaper however you can’t use crop sensor lenses on a full frame body.

Question Seven Lighting for a Digital Darkroom

flickrfotog: What lighting do I use to set up a digital darkroom? I hear that fluorescent is like the plague.

Scott: I like to use a small children’s nightlight right behind my monitor and that’s it. The fewer lights the better.

Rick: All I have is just a small light to the left of my monitor. I also have some dark shades that I pull down when I’m working on images. One other thing to keep in mind is that we see colors differently at different times of the day and things like caffeine and alcohol can also impact how we see color.

Question Eight Grayscale vs. Black & White

jparkerboy When making B&W images, why don’t I want to just change the mode to grayscale in Photoshop? It seems straightforward.

Scott: It is straightforward but the problem is when you convert to grayscale, you are throwing away 2/3 of the data.

Rick: When you use the B&W feature, you can control all of the colors and play around with things like tint, saturation, etc. You can convert to grayscale but your pictures will look flat. Go to black and white and then you’ll have much more control over the different tones in the photograph.

Scott: Nik Software also make a great plug-in called Silver Efex Pro which make some great B&W photographs. You can see some examples of my work over on Rick’s plug-in site

Question Nine Book Recommendations on Color

kylew01on Twitter asks: Do you know of any good book recommendations on color? I think that’s one of my weaknesses in photography.

Rick: As a travel photographer, I’m not always looking for accurate color but rather color that has a pleasing affect on the viewer. Eddie Tapp has a fantastic book on color called Practical Color Management. Also visit to learn more about color and light.

Question Ten Capturing Better Audio on the D90

Finchpuppy: Any advice on how to capture better audio on the Nikon D90?

Scott: Get the darn microphone off the camera regardless of what camera you are using. Most of these cameras have a mini or micro audio jack that you can stick an external microphone into. Now if there is no jack then there is no luck.

Rick: You could also buy a little mixer and have multiple mics connected to the camera. I like to use wireless mics which are a little more expensive but they give me some greater flexibility.

Scott: If you want to get advanced, you can use a field recorder. I use a very expensive Sony PCMD1 but there are some made by a company called Zoom such as the H4 which allow you to record the audio separately and then synch it with your video in a program like Final Cut Pro. Beachtek also make great adaptors that let you plug in high quality balanced mics into your camera. I like the DXA-5D XLR Adaptor. This lets you plug in two XLR mics and includes a mixer which lets you control each mic. This one is made specifically for the 5D but I’ve been told that it will work with other cameras.

Question Eleven New DSLR Owner – What to Upgrade First

iamreff on Twitter writes: Just got first DSLR, have no lenses, what should i get first? Zoom for kids sports or upgrade kit lens?

Rick: For kid’s sports I would recommend the 70-200mm or the 24-105mm.

Scott: If you’re just getting started, high quality fast zooms are a safe bet. Anything in the 24mm up to 105mm range would be great to get you started and then you can look at something in the 70-200 or 70-300mm range. If you are using a program like Lightroom or Aperture you can analyze the data to see what focal length you shoot at the most and then base your buying decisions off of your habits.

Question Twelve Photographing Concerts with a Non-Pro Camera

closet_ginger on Twitter asks: Any tips for settings on non-pro cameras, when taking pics at concerts?

Rick: Get as close as you can. The challenge is contrast. With a P&S camera I would try to fill the frame with the subject to reduce that contrast range and avoid using the flash.

Scott: If there are bright colors in the scene then just go with it.

Question Thirteen – Holding a Monopod Steady

ilenesmachine writes: How to hold a monopod steady with a long lens? My D90 is lot heavier than my 6006 and I am having trouble with shake.

Scott: There is an old trick that I use. I stick the monopod leg in my shoe so my foot helps to steady it. I can work a 400mm f2.8 lens on a monopod with that trick.

Rick: She didn’t mention what length of lens she was using but if for example she’s shooting with a 600mm lens, you want to make sure that the monopod is attached to the lens and not the camera body.

Question Fourteen Testing Lens Sharpness

me100finn on Twitter asks: What is the best “test” to determine a lens sweet spot in sharpness? My Canon 24-70L2.8 seems soft yet the 1.8 85mm is sharp.

Scott: Chances are the photographer is soft but there is always a chance. The 24-70 is renowned as being very sharp so it could be a technique issue.

Rick: Go out and photograph someone in subdued light where there is not a lot of contrast and see if you can pick out every hair and eyelash. Another thing you can try using is something called the LensAlign which can help you calibrate your lenses.

Scott: The sweet spot is generally two stops from wide-open.

Question Fifteen Getting the Most Out of a Workshop

NatLightPhoto asks: I’m going to a couple of workshops in October. What can I do to get the most out of them?

Rick: Stick like glue to the instructor. Ask questions. Don’t be shy.

Scott: When I pay hard earned money for something I make sure I get it so I ask questions when I’m on a workshop. The instructor isn’t a mind reader so if you leave a workshop without your questions answered the only person to blame for that is yourself.

Question Sixteen – Photo Vest Recommendation

Churros4u asks: Can you recommend a good photo vest that’s waterproof & can accommodate a Canon EF100 400mm lens?

Scott: Vested Interest make the only waterproof vest that I’m aware of.

Rick: I use the Ex Officio jacket. I also like their pants with the zip off legs which are handy if you are going into a tropical climate where it might get quite hot.

Question Seventeen – Shadows from Glasses

Darrell Nevers Daejeon, South Korea writes: When I take pictures of a subject with glasses, I’m getting the shadow from the glasses splayed across their face. How can I eliminate (or at least reduce) the appearance of this shadow? Would a simple umbrella solve this problem, or should I look into reflectors/additional lights?

Rick: This is actually a very tricky thing. Sometimes just having the subject move their face a 1/4 of an inch can help to reduce that shadow. You might want to get a reflector and bounce light from the opposite side back into the face t reduce that shadow. If you don’t have a reflector, head down to your local hobby store and get a piece of white poster board and use that to bounce the light into the shadows.

Scott: I have a much more technical method – ask him to take the glasses off. You can also pull them down on the nose a little bit.

Question Eighteen – Clarification on Exposing to the Right or Left

I read a post on explaining the advantages of exposing to the right when shooting RAW and adjusting the exposure in post to get more detail in the shot In Episode 15 of the Photofocus podcast a tip was given for landscape shooting “Under expose to over saturate” (Expose to the left). My question is which is best? I’m guessing the answer is that it depends. Can you give some examples of when to expose left, right and Centrex please. Keep up the great work, Gareth Edwards Bridgend, South Wales, United Kingdom

Scott: You are right Gareth. There are always variables. Remember that for everything that you do in photography you give up something else.

Rick: Everything is a trade off. I generally expose for the hilites because I don’t want them washed out so if I’m underexposing an image I’m doing so to avoid blowing out the hilites.

Scott: Use common sense and ask yourself what is the trade off you are willing to make to get the shot you want.

Question Nineteen – Hotlights vs. Strobes

About 18 months ago I got into studio photography, using a “Strobist” setup (two Canon 580EXII’s, ST-E2, lightstands, umbrellas, backdrop). I’d like to take this equipment to the next level and invest into a more professional lighting system. Here’s my question: should I go for a strobe based system (e.g. around Alienbees), or a permanent light system (e.g. around Spiderlite TD5’s)? Pricewise, they would more or less come out the same for me (Spiderlites are more expensive, but with strobes I would also have to buy some wireless trigger system like Pocketwizards). If not by price, which criteria should I use to drive that decision? Hubert Kay Hebron, KY

Rick: Spiderlights are a constant light source and are easier to use because you can see how the light affects everything. If you’re using two Spiderlights you can also see the ratio. If you’re using 2 speedlights you might want to look at the Westcott Apollo softboxes.

Scott: If we are talking about a studio setup then I would keep the speedlites to use as a portable system and look at the Spiderlites for use in the studio. You should also consider the type of photography that you are going to be doing. If you need to freeze the action then the Spiderlites won’t be able to freeze the action like the speedlites will. I personally don’t have any experience with the Alienbees. They are at the lower end so they are not as robust in terms of traveling with them.

Question Twenty – Lens Choice when Traveling

Dr. Kirit Vora writes: I have been a listener from the very first show. I have Canon 1Ds Mark III and all the usual Canon lenses. I am going to China with a group and I will take all my stuff, But on day to day basis there may be situations where I may not be able to take a back pack with all the different lenses. So if I had to choose one lens on Camera, which I should have all the time, slung on my shoulder, which will it be? 70-200 f2,8 or 17-40 or 24-105 or 50 prime f1.2 Certainly I will have g 10 in my pocket all the time, but above question was if I did take DSLR and one lens.

Rick: I would go with the 24-105mm.

Scott: If you pick the 70-200mm then you won’t be able to the do the wide shots so I’d go with the 24-105mm which is going to cover you for the wide angle shots as well as some good portrait shots.

Rick: Another tip would be to get a lens pouch that you can hook on your belt and use that to carry the 70-200mm.

Question Twenty One – Second Shooter Rights

Beatrice asks: I am relativity new to the photography profession and do not know the rules of second shooting. I shoot for a studio that has several associate photographers. I have been a second shooter to all of them. Although I have not signed any contracts giving over all my rights to the photographs I have taken, I do understand that they are for all intents and purposes the studios photos. My question is this: Do the photos I have taken belong to the photographer that was the primary shooter on the wedding, i.e. Is it normal for said photographer to use the photos I have taken in their portfolio? I really appreciate any guidance you could give me in this.

Scott: It is fairly normal for a wedding studio to display all the images shot under by all photographers working for them and fly them under the banner of the studio. If you haven’t signed anything however then technically you could still make a case that you own the copyrights. However, if you want to work for them then you may have to accept that this is a work for hire and it’s a trade off between getting paid and retaining the rights to the images.

Question Twenty Two – Software Packages

Edward Allen from Edmonton, Alberta writes: As a relatively new photographer (quite happy using an Xsi with a Tamron 18-200) I am getting to the stage where I’d like to get some more control of the images after shooting and would really like to hear you talk about the pros & cons of the main software packages out there please? (I currently seem to rotate between Picasa, Corel Paintshop Pro & Canon Digital Photo Professional dependent on my needs, but would like to get to a single “comprehensive” solution if possible).

Scott: I know nothing about any of those three.

Rick: I think if you want to have a lot of fun, Canon Digital Photo Professional is designed for professionals whereas I think you’d have more fun with Photoshop Elements.

Scott: Picasa is primarily a web based system and their terms of service leave me feeling a little nervous. Lightroom or Aperture might be another choice to look at. If you are talking about just tweaking the images then I would go with Rick’s suggestion of Photoshop Elements.

Question Twenty Three – Ball Heads

Larry Borreson writes: I am looking for a fast and convenient way to go from landscape to portrait orientation with my DSLR on a tripod. The subject matter will be nature and people. I hear a lot of talk about ball heads, and have started some research into reallyrightstuff and kirkphoto. It looks like by the time I add up the ball head, the clamp and the camera plate that I’m already looking at over $500. This doesn’t even consider the tripod yet. Am I correct to assume that, if I go this way, I need the 4 components? Tripod, ball head, clamp, and, camera plate What would be a good semipro solution without spending a thousand dollars?

Scott: You definitely need a tripod, a plate, and a ball head. Not sure what you mean by the clamp. I use the Kirk Photo system with the tongue and groove system. What do you use Rick?

Rick: The longest lens I shoot with is a 400 so I don’t need the same stuff you use. If you’re really serious about the same type of photography as Scott then you definitely should consider investing in similar gear that Scott uses.

Scott: You can also get an L-Plate which allows you to switch between vertical and horizontal. The arca-swiss style plates don’t twist because they have a plate designed for a specific camera so that’s the downside if you buy a new camera body.

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Wrap Up

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Show notes by Bruce Clarke