Special guest host – Syl Arena.

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Photofocus Episode 21

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we are starting things off with a request for some portrait tips for photographing a CEO.

Question One – Portrait Tips

Albert in Halifax writes: I have to make a portrait of our CEO next month. Can you give me one quick tip on how I might approach this? I realize that whole books are written on the subject but was hoping for just one thing I could hang my hat on that might help.

Syl: Be confident in what you’re doing, even if you don’t know what you are doing. With a CEO you really don’t want to waste any of his or her time. Be prepared and find out how large the CEO is. One you know their size, find someone to stand in as a model and then pre-light the scene so that when they show up you aren’t wasting time messing around with lighting.

Scott: In other words, fake it until you make it. If the CEO is not an overly large fellow, shoot up on him which makes them look powerful. If it’s a lady, try to shoot eye-to-eye which makes a personal connection. If it’s someone who is large, get up on a ladder or chair and shoot down on them.

Question Two – Dandruff on the Lens

Doug Weber from St. Louis asks: There are several particles inside my D90’s kit lens, a Nikon DX 18-105 f/3.5-5.6. While several are small dust particles, the largest one appears to be tiny piece of dandruff. This is noticeable in some images, depending on the lighting and aperture. Are variable aperture lenses more susceptible to dust inside the housing vs fixed aperture zooms? Aside from using Head & Shoulders, do you have any tips to minimize debris inside the lens?

Syl: A variable aperture lens is generally a less expensive lens so if it’s more susceptible to dust it’s because it’s not built as well as the more expensive lenses that have things like inner seals and inner baffles. Having said that, I once worked with Canon’s 100-400mm lens which uses a pump action rather than a ring and what I found was that when you were zooming in and out with that lens you were pumping a ton of air through the lens and that contributed to a significant amount of dust being caught up in the lens.

Scott: I think the questions is really about the zoom in general and whether it’s the kind of zoom that will pull dust in. That lens you are describing Syl is an expensive lens but it still has the problem of pulling the dust in. Even zoom lenses with the ring can bring dust in. The tip would be to buy the best quality lenses and avoid push-pull lenses if possible. The good news is that most lenses can be professionally cleaned for a reasonable amount by Nikon or Canon professional services.

Question Three – sRGB and Lightroom

mikewren on Twitter writes: Why doesn’t Lightroom let me to work natively in sRGB color space if I’m printing and exporting to web as sRGB?

Syl: Color spaces are like boxes of crayons. The larger the spaces, the more shades of color are available. sRGB is the color space of the web and the color space of most monitors. When I’m not sure where my images are going to go, I like to save them in 16 bit Pro photo to maximize my options. Lightroom uses a modified version of Pro Photo that has a slight gamut variation so I wouldn’t sweat it.

Scott: You can also select sRGB on export.

Question Four – Lighting Kit Suggestions

killjoykarl from Twitter asks: I’m looking to start a studio in my home. What lighting kits do you like? I have a Nikon D80 an SB600 and I mainly use a 50mm f1.8.

Scott: There is a lot of really good stuff out there but you could stick with your SB-600 and perhaps add a couple of of SB-900s and use the Nikon Creative Lighting System. The low priced stuff is much better than it used to be. Alien Bees are a good choice however they are not the most robust lights on the market. My personal choice is Elinchrom but they are expensive.

Syl: If you don’t know how your light works, buy an inexpensive continuous light source (preferably fluorescent) and a couple of light modifiers and play with that. Flashes whether they are studio lights or packs, go off really fast and they are hard to see. When I’m showing someone how to light, I use the modeling lights on the studio packs since they are a continuous light source and allow me to demonstrate how the light affects the subject.

Scott: Another option to look at are LED lights.

Question Five – Recommended Method for Copying Files from Memory Cards

Photobby on Twitter writes: Moving photos from a CF card, is drag n drop ok, or is a file transfer program a must? Exif data etc.

Syl: I routinely drag and drop but I always go back under the file info and compare the amount of bytes on the source material compared to the destination. Both Image Adjuster and Photo Mechanic are very robust programs if you’re not using a program light Lightroom or Aperture. Many of these programs have an in jest module that lets you apply metadata and other information to the image while you are importing.

Scott: I think the best workflow is to mount your CF card and then drag the whole mirror image onto your desktop or somewhere on your hard drive and then separately import those images to wherever you store your images. While Lightroom or Aperture can read directly from the card, I’ve spoken with some engineers who believe that process can cause problems and are better suited to read off the hard disk.

Syl: I drag my images from my CF cards to my hard drive and then import images using Lightroom. I also create a separate catalog in Lightroom for each job that I’m working on.

Question Six – What Makes a Good B&W Subject

michaelturcotte sent us a question via Twitter: What makes a good BW subject, not photo? Even harder still – in a cookie cutter suburban wasteland. Big bag o’ Tri-X 120

Syl: I grew up in a B&W world meaning that the way I learned photography was through B&W but I really love color and try to work in color as much as possible. I don’t know that there are any particular subjects that look better in B&W but if you’re not familiar with Edward Weston’s photographs of peppers, go and look up his work.

Scott: I try to look at things that would have caused Ansel Adams to pick up Wratten #90 filter which is a harsh yellow filter that takes all of the hue out of a scene and lets you look at tonal relationships. He used to use that to help him make decisions on where to put his zone system to work. If you find a scene rich in hues, it may be a difficult subject in B&W.

Syl: Since he has a big bag of Tri-X 120, Michael should try to go out and pick up a camera like a Diana or a Holga that shoots 120 and explore your vision through an inexpensive plastic lens. You could also donate that film to a children’s art program.

Question Seven – Converting Photos to B&W in Photoshop

jimharmer asks: I don’t have Silver Effects Pro. What is the proper method of B&W conversion in Photoshop? I’ve seen COUNTLESS methods suggested.

Scott: Photoshop’s native B&W conversion is pretty good now in CS4. As long as you don’t use the image mode grayscale command, then any of these other methods should be fine.

Syl: I had to make some B&W photographs recently for my book. I used the same process you described. You go to Image – File – Adjustments – Black and White and it worked really well and is much better than it used to be.

Question Eight – Recommendations for a DSLR Shoulder Mount

haentz sent us a question via Twitter using the hashtag #photoqa. Any recommendation for DSLR shoulder mounts to shoot video? Is there an alternative to Redrockmicro?

Syl: I am acquainted with a professional cinematography named Shane Hurlbut and you should check out and look at Shane’s commercial work He was the director of photography on Terminator 4 Salvation and one of the leading people putting the 5D Mark II into use on Hollywood shoots and you’ll see that he uses the RedRock Micro rigs. Beyond Red Rock Micro and Zacuto, if you visit, they have a good review of shoulder mounts on their site.

Scott: I like the Red Rock Micro and Zacuto products however there are many more great products coming out all the time. However, sometimes it pays to spend a little bit extra and to get good quality gear. I spent a lot of money on tripods before I finally ended up with a Gitzo so I actually would have saved myself a ton of money if I had just held out and purchased the more expensive Gitzo to begin with so the same thinking could be applied to DSLR rigs.

Question Nine – 100mm Macro Lens for Portrait Photography

Mike Turner asks: I frequently hear that the 100mm 2.8 macro lens makes a great portrait lens. Would the “macro-ness” of this lens improve portraits over what my 70-200mm 2.8 is already capturing?

Syl: That is a fabulous lens and the 70-200 is also a great lens. It depends on what you want in your portraits. The 100mm macro is very sharp and nice to use because it’s light. You can move in and out with a closer range to the subject and the relationship between the photographer and the subject plays a big part in the quality of images you can produce. If you can’t get in close with the 70-200mm that might affect the image in non-optical ways.

Scott: I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation shooting a portrait where I’ve needed a macro lens unless someone wants a portrait of their mole. My favorite portrait lens is the Nikon 105mm lens. If I had the 24-70mm lens then I wouldn’t buy a 100mm macro lens.

Syl: I love that we can capture the texture of a person’s skin with a macro lens. That being said, my go to lens is a 24-70mm.

Question Ten – Modifiers on Off-Camera Flash

Another question on Twitter, this time from CMontemurro: When shooting wedding receptions, do you put a modifier on your off camera flash?

Syl: I’ve shot exactly 1 1/2 weddings in my life but the one wedding a did shoot became the subject of one of my most popular posts on Pixsylated called the Long Arm and Metalhead where I talk about a device I constructed to get my flash to an elevated position.

Scott: I have that pole and that post is actually how I discovered you. I always shoot with a light modifier. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as you use something to make the light larger.

Question Eleven – Large Capacity Memory Cards – Are they Safe?

Dave Hillenbrand – Denver I noticed that Lexar and others have released some super fast 32GIG CF cards. How stable or safe is it to use these new cards? Is there increased danger they will corrupt easily due to their increased size and speed?

Scott: Yes there is but I don’t think there is very much of a danger. I used to be much more worried about this but now with my new Nikon cameras with dual card slots I’m not as worried about it. If you want to play it safe you could go by the old rule that I used have which was use the second largest card that you can buy.

Syl: I think that’s great advice. You also have to ask if it’s worth paying the price to always be on the leading edge. Now my standard card size is all 8 GB because they are really cheap.

Scott: If you are shooting video, these high-speed high-capacity cards are definitely needed so now that I’m getting into shooting more video I’ve definitely been looking at the 32GB cards.

Question Twelve – Removing Dust From a Lens

Phil Morris Jr writes: My beloved Canon 50mm f1.8 lens got some rather noticeable dust on the inside of the rear optic. I suspect it traveled in by way of the focus mechanism and then jumped onto the glass. I’m pretty good at taking things apart and getting them back together without too many extra pieces lying around. But I can’t figure out how to dismantle this lens to get this log out of my field of view. Is there any hope of clearing this up without it costing me more than the price of a new lens?

Scott: No. It’s a $100 lens so I’d say that it’s not worth it plus there are at least a bigillion parts inside of these things.

Syl: I would never touch a lens even if it was inexpensive. If it’s a lens I’m making money with, I would take it down to Canon professional services and let them handle it.

Question Thirteen – Copyright Question

Ryan Aiken asks: I am thinking of copyrighting some of my photos and was wondering something. The photos I am considering for copyright – do they have to be fully edited and “sale” ready before I send them to get copyrighted – or – can I send them down anyway since the photos will be unique to me (i.e. composition, subject, etc)/

Syl: Your copyright is created the moment you push the shutter button. Go to and look at their tutorials and read up on copyrights. Go to the web site of the American Society of Media Photographers at and visit the business section of their web site where you will find a tutorial on copyright.

Scott: There are lots of great resources out there including some tutorials over at If you do not register your copyrights and someone uses your images then you are out of luck and you’re not going to get any money. If you have registered them then you have a lot of power under Article 17.

Question Fourteen – Color Efex Pro vs. OnOne’s PhotoTools 2

Bill Booz wrote to us to ask the following question. I know you guys have talked a lot about how much you like the Nik Software tools. I am torn between purchasing Nik’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 or OnOne Software’s PhotoTools2 Professional Edition to use with Photoshop CS3 and Aperture 2.x. Although my primary interest is in having easier work flows for processing people images, I also do a lot of traveling and would want to fix up some of my landscape captures from trips. I have given both quick tests and seem to find the PhotoTools 2 tools easier to work with, but just wonder if I am missing something. I read one review where the guy panned PhotoTools2, preferring Color Efex Pro, but I didn’t see all he was describing. Any recommendations on this one? Thanks in advance.

Scott: I love anything from Nik. They are not a sponsor and haven’t been one but should be (wink wink). I’ve never been a big fan of the interface of the onOne stuff however the effects are cool. It’s really like chocolate vs. strawberry and it comes down to preference. I personally think the Nik software tools are easier to work with.

Question Fifteen – Suggestions for Photographing Miniatures

wfortune asks: With a D90 and SB-900 flash – what is the best way to get a 4 X 8 ft table of miniatures completely in focus and well lit?

Scott: Just bring Joe McNally with you ;)

Sly: Here is a case where even though the SB-900 is a great flash, it may not be the best tool for the job. I think what he’s talking about is getting a great depth of field. First, see if you can round up a great tilt-shift lens. As for lighting, I would get a shop light and blast it into the ceiling and until you get a nice soft light with the shadows where you want them to be and then leave it on and shoot away.

Scott: I’d treat this like a product shot and I like to shoot products from back to front. I might do something similar but if I had to shoot with the flash, I would prefer to have 2 flashes and I would flat light this. What I might do is build a little tent above the table and point the flashes straight up into the tent and let the tent kick the light back down into the table.

Syl: Another option is to get a piece of foam core and use it as a bounce card.

Question Sixteen – Benefits and Risks of Buying Used

Leslie Holmes – What are the benefits/risks of buying a used camera?

Scott: Benefits are that you’ll spend less money but the risks are that it won’t work.

Syl: I have bought and sold a bunch of gear off of eBay. I’m assuming that you’re looking at buying a new camera rather than a vintage model. When I’m buying used gear, if someone is selling an expensive piece of gear and they’ve kept the box and all the original packaging, there is a pretty good chance that they have kept good care of that piece of equipment. Look at what they’ve sold and try to find out as much information as you can about the seller. You can also look at other places like KEH, Adorama and B+H.

Scott: There are some great deals out there right now. The risks are if it’s not what it’s purported to be then you’ll wind up paying a lot more for it in the long run. If there is dust and mold in the lens you should walk away. You should also try to shoot with the gear you’re going to buy first. Places like KEH have been around for decades and are a good place to shop for used gear however you may pay a bit more when you buy from them but they are generally a safe bet. Whatever you end up doing, just be careful when buying used gear.

Question Seventeen – Getting a Star Effect when Photographing the Sun

Patrick Shipstad asks: My question is this. Sometimes when I’m hiking on a path with many trees, I look up and the sun’s are rays shooting through the trees. To my eye and through my lens I see an almost star effect from the sun, poking through the branches, but when I try and capture that, it often loses that star like effect and it just looks blown out in that area. Without using a star filter, is there a way to capture what I’m seeing instead of the camera interpreting it as just a wash of light?

Scott: Just stop down. You’re shooting too wide open.

Syl: Our eyes are marvelous machines when combined with our brains. We can see so much and our cameras can only see a fraction of that. In this case, stopping down is the solution.

The Blog

Wrap Up

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Show notes by Bruce Clarke