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Photofocus Episode 31

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about photographic style.

Question One – Photographic Style

Ken Zuk writes: What makes up a photographic style? How do you develop a style?

Syl: To come up with a photographic style, you have to discover yourself first. In my own work, the photographs that I am drawn to make are mostly photographs of light. You’ll find over time that something will call to you and you’ll build up a body of work that define your style.

Scott: First I’ll point you to a blog post we put up last year talking about this very topic: In my opinion you have to be yourself which is a scary thing for a lot of people. You also have to recognize that not everybody will like what you do and that’s okay.

Question Two – Ring Flash

Gary Fesenbek wants to know about ring flash. If I purchased a long macro like the 200 or 105 would the ring flash still be useful or with those focal lengths?

Syl: I had to look these up because I’m a Canon shooter. I think those are great focal lengths for macro work. With that really long macro, if you use a ring light that slips around the lens, you’ll have some issue with shadows from the lens. You might want to consider Nikon’s great Macro flash unit – the R1C1. The great thing about this device is that with a light on each side you can setup a ratio.

Scott: I was going to suggest the very same thing. I happen to own the 105 and it’s a great lens and it fits fine inside the Ray Flash.

Question Three – Autofocus Speeds on Sigma Lenses vs. Canon or Nikon

Josh Owens wrote to us at [email protected] to ask: What difference if any have you noticed between your Sigma lens(es) and your Canon or Nikon equivalents? I am specifically interested in autofocus speeds. I’ve got rentals on the way but would like to hear your thoughts.

Scott: I own several Sigma lenses and they are great. I really like their 100-300 f4. That said, their autofocus is a bit slower than the traditional Nikon or Canon lenses. Occasionally their quality control isn’t going to be as good as Canon or Nikon. (e.g. take 10 Canon or Nikon lenses and 10/10 will be great. For the Sigma, you might have 1/10 that isn’t quite up to spec). Any of the high end Sigma lenses are very good. Be sure to test them as soon as you get them.

Syl: I’ve never shot with a Sigma lens but I think you get what you pay for. I think there is a place in the industry for them and I’m sure they make some great lenses. It’s important to buy from a reputable vendor so that way if there is an issue with a lens you can take it back to them and they should make it right for you.

Question Four – Selling Matted Prints

Brian Casey asks: Ive heard you mention on Photo Focus that you have sold some of your images as fine art prints and had someone matt and frame them for you. How do you make any money from selling your prints if you have to hire someone to matt and frame them? Ive received quotes from frame shops and they are always very expensive! Doing the matting and framing myself is not an option for me because I would rather spend that time photographing something beautiful than pouring blood, sweat, and tears into trying to frame my work.

Syl: If you saw the walls of my house you’d know that I’m not qualified to answer this question. One of my best prints is taped to the fridge so that tells you where I’m at when it comes to framing.

Scott: I suck at framing too but I happen to think a wonderful solution to this problem is custom gallery wraps because then you don’t need a frame. I send all my stuff to WHCC and they make gorgeous gallery wraps. There are several other great options besides WHCC (they are a sponsor). These include companies like APC. If you are going to frame your images, either print or matte them to a standard size so that you can buy an off-the-shelf frame and that will save you money over having to get a custom frame made. The other option is just to charge more to cover your costs but in this economy that might not be as easy.

Question Five – Stabilizing Aperture 3

Timothy L Burton writes: I’ve tried installing Aperture 3 but it keeps crashing. Short of waiting for Apple to issue a maintenance release do you have any advice that might help me get it going and stable now?

Scott: My primary advice is to wait for a maintenance release. However, I just did a post on the blog about deleting my pList (Aperture Preferences List) and that might help with the stability. There does seem to be a memory leak and fragmentation issues with libraries so I wish they had released this first as a Beta. I know they’ll be working hard on an update but these issue are frustrating.

Syl: I use Lightroom but I’m glad to see that Aperture 3 is out as that pushes the industry and competition always benefits us as consumers.

Question Six – Model Releases in Foreign Languages

John Hayes asks: I travel a fair bit to South America and Europe and was wondering if you recommend carrying foreign language model releases along with English versions? How do you handle this on your travels?

Syl: The good news is that you can get the standard Getty Model Release in a variety of languages online.

Scott: My solution is to not travel internationally but I think your advice is great Syl.

Question Seven – Achieving Good Tonal Range

Jonathan P. Nelson from Brighton, MI wrote to say: I’m curious about how you approach achieving good tonal range, especially in black and white photography. By this, I specifically mean getting an image with good tones throughout the entire broad range from black to white. Do you have any suggestions for lighting, exposing, subject matter and developing the digital image that help achieve an image with exceptional tonality. I know HDR is a possibility, but that option isn’t always available, so I’d like to know what other ideas you have.

Syl: I think in your question you asked a really important question and that is how do you get a really good digital capture regardless of whether you are producing a color or B&W image. Even the best technology of today can only capture a fraction of what the human eye is capable of. That means images the camera captures will typically be more contrasty than what you see. I always strive to capture a good digital capture. I use the histogram as my guide and expose to the right without clipping. If I notice that the image is piling up to the left of the histogram then I know that I have too much contrast in my scene and that there isn’t enough light. Then I try to add light into those shadow areas until I don’t have any clipping on either side of my histogram.

Scott: Photography has always been about compromise. If you can’t play with light and you can’t do HDR, then sometimes you are not going to get the full tonal range. If you must compromise, you have to pick what is most important. For example, I was photographing some black eagles the other day and wanted to keep detail in the shadow areas so I had to make that decision to expose more to the left.

Question Eight – Model Releases for Weddings

Heather Joy asks: I’ve been invited to practice at a wedding – it’s my first! -Which lens? I want to avoid using a flash…thinking of renting a 50mm 1.4 for my Nikon D3000 (DX format). -Should I get a model release? I have a site where I have photos for sale, not that I sell much….But I am shooting this for free. Is it too much of a stretch to ask for a release in case I’d like to include any winning shots in a future portfolio?

Scott: A fast 50mm is a good choice but if you’re only going to bring one lens, I would recommend a fast zoom. That way you’ll have a better chance of being able to shoot a variety of situations. If you can only shoot with a 50mm then you’ll have to use your feet to zoom. As for the model release, people at a wedding don’t want people coming up to them asking them to sign model releases so I would say that is a stretch. If you just want to show them in a portfolio then you don’t need a model release

Syl: Try to get an IS or a VR lens since a 2.8 lens is 2 stops less than a 50 1.4 so having an image stabilizer will really help.

Question Nine – Setting WB in Post vs. In the Field

J. Neal Goggins wonders: I shoot RAW on a Canon 50D and run post through Photoshop CS4. Is there any reason to set the white balance with a card prior to taking a pic, if I can adjust everything in post?

Syl: I don’t often use a custom color profile but I’m a big fan of the WhiBal Card.I carry one with me and I think it’s helpful to have a good starting point for your neutrality so that you can do a quick adjustment in Lightroom.

Scott: I like to get it right in camera as much as possible. I have a two minute rule – I will not work on an image for more than 2 minutes in post so I will use any combination of products to get it right in camera.

Question Ten – Canon 5D vs. 7D

Matthew Staniford from Adelaide, Australia asks: I am considering a Canon 5D (second hand) or a new canon 7D. I shoot some weddings, portraits and travel photography, however it is only a hobby, not a profession. How does low light sensitivity compare between the 5D and 7D (ie full frame vs crop sensor with newer technology)? How does image quality compare?

Syl: I have used the 7D and I like it a lot. The 5D is relatively old sensor technology so I would strongly encourage you to spend the money on newer technology. You’ll also get the benefit being able to shoot video. It it was the 5D Mark II then that would be the preferred choice.

Scott: The 7D is the finest sub $1700 DSLR that you can buy.

Question Eleven – Infrared Photography

Steve Lavelle from Bucks UK has a question about infrared photography. Infrared : what are the advantages of converting the camera compared to using an IR filter?

Syl: It’s a lot of fun and I’d recommended getting an older camera converted which basically involves replacing the glass that’s over the sensor. Check out The conversion provides a distinct difference in terms of shutter speed over using an IR filter placed over the lens. That IR filter is very dark and hard to shoot through.

Scott: We get a lot of questions about whether we should do it in camera v.s in post and I always fall on the side of getting it right in camera. In this case, being able to see in infrared is a huge benefit.

Question Twelve – Direct Sunlight and Sensors

Ed Vannoy asks: Can direct sunlight damage the sensor in my DSLR? I am not too worried about capturing the setting sun so suppose a fairly extreme case, like the noonday sun in the center of the frame. That would not be an interesting picture unless I could capture sunspots or an eclipse, but if I know how safe or dangerous the extreme is then I know how close to the edge I can play in composing a picture. I do know enough not to look at the sun through the viewfinder. You might want to warn people about that in your answer though.

Scott: I spoke to a couple of engineers and they did say that it is possible to damage your sensor but you have to shoot a fairly long exposure of the sun. Maybe if you put it on bulb sensor and let it bake but I can’t think of scenario where you’d want to do that.

Syl: Just be careful when pointing your eye or your camera to the sun but I don’t think you’d have anything to worry about.

Question Thirteen – sRGB Color Space

Sam Wiedermann from Jerusalem, Israel writes: Since most computer monitors (apart from the high-end $1,500 and above models) cannot display anything beyond the sRBG gamut, and most if not all home printers cannot print the colors beyond the sRGB gamut, why would anyone work in any color space other than sRGB on his/her photo editing software?

Scott: Just one correction to your point – many printers can work within the Adobe RGB space.

Syl: Color management is one thing that I take very seriously. I have always converted my photos into the ProPhoto Color gamut because I want to keep my options open and use the biggest crayon box. Even though your monitor or printer might not be cable of doing all those colors today, who knows what they’ll be capable of a few years from now. Head over to my blog to read a post about color management for photographers.

Question Fourteen – Setting Up a Digital Darkroom

Scott Keyes writes: Here is my question: I am in the midst of building a new home office that will also be the same room that I will use to do all my photo editing. I have heard you discuss how it (a digital darkroom) should be set up. I was wondering if you could offer some suggestions as to how I should set this room up so it will be a great place to do my photo editing.

Scott: A couple of things I do. I like to control the ambient light in the room. I have a single small nigh light behind the monitor and no other lights in the room. You also don’t want bright colored items around the monitor.

Syl: There are several things to have on the list. You have to be able to control the ambient light regardless of the time of day. The ability to dim the lights is another and the color you paint the walls is important.

Question Fifteen – Photography Backdrops

Kevin Falk asks: I’m shopping for a photo backdrop & there are SO many different materials. What’s best for what? What’s crap? How to make one on the cheap maybe? Colored backdrops?

Syl: I don’t work with a lot of backdrops per se but I do have a duffle bag full of fabric that I’ve collected over the years. I’ll pull out some fabric if I’m doing a head shot. If you are professional studio then you might want to invest in some hand painted backdrops but if you’re not that concerned, just about anything will. If you know someone who is painter, ask them for some drop cloths that they might be retiring.

Scott: Buy a white backdrop and you have three different backdrops. You can make it photograph as black, gray, or white by controlling the light. I also like paper backgrounds but you can grab just about anything to use as a backdrop. If you are running a portrait studio, having a nice painted backdrop would be a wise investment. You can also pick up some inexpensive fabric at the fabric store.

Question Sixteen – Third Party Lenses

Eric Heasley writes: I would like to know what your opinion is of third party lenses. I am currently shooting with a Nikon D90 and the Nikon 18-105mm and 50mm 1.8. I am considering purchasing Sigma’s 18-50mm 2.8, though I would prefer the Nikon 17-55mm 2.8 it is currently out of my reach financially. I am not a professional but would like to work my way into the event/ portrait business.

Scott: Syl, do you think people would perceive the photographer as less professional if they are shooting with a 3rd party lens?

Syl: I don’t think the person in front of the lens would care. I would encourage Eric to buy the best gear he can afford at the time and then learn how to buy and sell that equipment as he moves up the ladder.

Scott: I’m starting to come to the firm conclusion, for a lot of people, owning a lens isn’t going to make sense. For those who only shoot once and awhile, you might want to go to a lens rental house and rent some lenses.

The Blog

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.

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Show notes by Bruce Clarke