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Photofocus Episode 42

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about exposing for backlit subjects:

Question One – Exposing for Backlit Subjects

I sit in the shade on my front porch, and if I try to take anyone’s picture in the shade with me, they’re so dark because of the bright light in the yard behind them. I try to counter the issue with the built-in flash on my D200, but it’s just not looking right. How do you properly expose for the shadows when your subject’s back-lit? Matt – Chicago, IL

Chase: The meter is getting tricked by the bright light in the background. The easiest approach is to switch to center weighted metering which will meter for their face and you should get a great exposure of the person.

Scott: You could add some exposure compensation or add some flash. Center or spot metering will also do the trick as well.

Question Two – Proper Position for a Polarizing Filter

How can I tell if I have my polarizer filter turned the proper way on my lens? I can never seem to be able to tell if I have it right for best possible effect. James Blackburn

Chase: I tend to use them more when shooting video but the best way to use them is to look at anything with glare on it or look at the sky. When you turn it, then the object should get darker.

Scott: The way to tell is that you’ll see it cut the glare or see the sky get darker. The way they work best is when the polarizer is at a 90 degree angle to the sun.

Question Three – Proper Use of Beanbags

On your podcast you were discussing stabilization issues and mentioned a possible solution of using a bean bag, or a sock filled with beans, but I was unclear as to what to do with the bean bag once you get one. Do you rest the camera on it, or lay it across the lens? Thanks for the clarification and thank you for such an informative show! Sam Montooth

Scott: When shooting birds, often I shoot out of the window of my car so I’ll rest the beanbag on the door sill and then rest my long lens on that but you could rest it on anything. The beanbag gives you a more stable platform to shoot from. The advantage to them is that if you’re traveling you can bring empty bean bags with you and then just fill them up when you get there.

Chase: The general idea with a beanbag is that you’re giving your lens a surface which can cradle it and make it more stable.

Question Four – Genuine Fractals – Does it Really Work?

Jimmy Blackman asks: Do programs like Genuine Fractals really work?

Chase: Yes, it does work. We generally use the 10% rule where we enlarge the image by 10%, save it and then reopen it and enlarge it again by 10%.

Scott: I have found it works best if you’re trying to make an image really big (i.e. for billboards).

Question Five – Digital ISO Ratings Compared to Film

Years ago lots of film came with very low ASA ratings. Kodachorme 25, & both Ilford & Pan-X were also ASA 25. Why is the lowest sensor setting for my Nikon D200 only 200? Richard Rubin from Houston, TX

Chase: I’m not sure but I think it has to do with what is represented by digital sensors.

Scott: It just has to do with light sensitivity. Film just had really low ratings and the modern digital sensors are just more sensitive to light. Some will allow you to go into a Low 1 or Low 2 ISO setting but I’ve found that degrades image quality so I recommend shooting at the native ISO of the camera and use something like an ND filter. The benefit is on the high ISO side where you can shoot at 1600 and 3200 with very little noise.

Question Six – Singh Ray ND Filter – To Polarize or Not

I am going to purchase a vari-ND filter for my Canon 5D Mark II to use for shooting video. Looking at Singh-Ray’s site, I see there are two options: one with a built-in polarizer and one without. My first instinct was to get the polarizing one but are there any negative effects of this that I should be aware of?

Scott: There is no real negative effects. The only reason I don’t have one is that it wasn’t available when I bought mine.

Chase: If you’re buying them, I would buy them as a set.

Question Seven – Magnets and Memory Cards

I have recently taken up driving a motorcycle. I want to be able to carry a camera with me and have looked at various bag options. Many of these bags include magnets to help attach to the tank or other metal parts of the bike. Do I need to worry about my card being erased or otherwise damaged by these magnets? Doug Randlett from Cornwall, Ontario, Canada

Chase: I think we’ve moved past the point where we worry about magnets but I can’t speak specifically about your motorcycle bag magnets.

Scott: I don’t think that the tank bag is going to get you so I wouldn’t worry about it. We don’t have to worry about X-rays at the airport or magnets anymore. I’ve even accidentally washed my CF cards and they seemed to work fine after they dried out.

Question Eight – Tips for Avoiding Lens Flare

For some scenes, I have wanted to include the sun, but I have noticed that lens flare appears in the viewfinder. What is frustrating is that the flare sometimes gets in the way of my scene even with a lens hood. I try to move around, but I either lose the frame I want, or I am stuck with a flare in the way. Is there a certain technique you use for avoiding lens flare? John Pavlish from Seattle, WA

Chase: It’s tough to change the properties of physics. The best thing to do in that situation if you have an assistant is to setup some sort of a flag or a scrim to flag that glare further away from your camera. The lens flare can add some drama to the image so try experimenting with it.

Scott: Sometimes lens flare is exacerbated when using a wide lens or when you stop down so try using a narrower lens or try adjusting your aperture.

Question Nine – Tips for Improving Your Photography

Benjamin Grey asks: I’d say my photographs are on the average end of good. I’d really like to make the move from making ok photos to making great photos. Do you have any suggestions for how to move beyond the land of middling photographs many of us seem to live in?

Chase: Take a lot more pictures. It’s mostly a shift in mentality from putting yourself in one box to another. Experiment with different angles, different focal lengths, etc. You will learn the most from your own work by trying to do different things.

Scott: Looking at lots of great pictures will pull you in a great direction. Spend some time studying other photographer’s portfolios and break their images down to discover why they did certain things.

Question Ten – Manual Markings on Lenses

Dane Magnuson asks: Is there any reason why the newer lenses don’t contain all the manual markings and such like the older lenses did? I find this frustrating when I’m trying to achieve hyper focal distance.

Scott: It bothers me too. I used shoot with range finder cameras and it was tough to focus so I relied on those lens markings to focus those cameras. The only reason I can think of is that it saves them money. I just started to use a Marshall field monitor.

Chase: Unfortunately, as so much camera technology moves towards automatic, they’ve taken all of the manual stuff out of them.

Question Eleven – Portrait Lighting Advice

Susan Jones asks: When shooting portraits does it matter which side of the subject’s face I light? Do people really have a good side?

Scott: Yes they do and I can prove it to you. Take a picture of yourself, reasonably full frame. Print it and then make a copy of that photograph. Cut the copy in half and lay one half on top of the other and you’ll see that one side of your face will be bigger than the other. Most people do have a good side. Monty Zucker used to teach facial analysis as part of portraiture so I’d recommend looking him up. One thing I learned from him is to light the problem. If they have a scar for example, turn them so the side with the scar is facing the light and use the light to blow out the scar. If you don’t then it will end up being cross lit which will exemplify the problem.

Question Twelve – Framing Tips

Hi Scott. My fiance and I are ready to start displaying the fruits of my labor in my house. Do you have any tips for framing photographs for display in my home? Specifically, do you have any go to places to buy your frames? Do you recommend single or double matting? Are there any other important considerations we should be thinking about? Dan Perovich from Leesburg, VA

Chase: I outsource my framing along the lines of WHCC for printing. In terms of considerations mostly have to do with the archival quality of your prints and the materials coming in contact with those prints. If you buy a cheap mat then it will have a negative effect on your prints.

Scott: Single or double matting is up to you. I’ve moved a lot of my fine art stuff to canvas but if you’re looking for framing, WHCC does supply some frames. There are a myriad of artisan framers who you can outsource your framing to. If you do get stuff from places like Ikea, they don’t do standard American sizes. For custom image sizes, try to frame up. Get a standard frame and then get a custom mat which will save you some money.

Question Thirteen – Flash Sync Speed vs. Flash Shutter Speed

I have a Nikon D300 and I am confused about the difference between the “Flash Shutter Speed” and the “Flash Sync Speed”. The max speed for Flash Shutter Speed is 1/60s and the max for Flash Sync Speed is 1/320s (Auto FP). Can you please explain the difference between the two settings and what it all means? John Baker-Thomas

Chase: Max sync speed is the speed at which the shutter syncs to the flash. On most pro cameras that is normally around 1/200 or 1/250. The 1/60 is just the default sync speed that most cameras will use if you are shooting in auto or program mode.

Question Fourteen – Thoughts On Super Zoom Lenses

Ben Pearman asks: What do you think about super zoom lenses? From wide to telephoto sorta style. I’m keen on getting one for versatility but I want your opinion on them.

Scott: They are convenient and they cover a large range at an affordable price. You do get what you pay for and I don’t think god intended for us to use 10x zooms because the image quality isn’t great. If you’re just shooting as a hobby then they might be okay but if you’re trying to sell your work, then the image quality isn’t very good.

Chase: You get convenience but you give up speed and quality. The flip-side is that they are generally cheaper and convenient as you only need to carry one lens with you.

Question Fifteen – Shooting Fast Moving Objects in Low Light

Steve in Chicago asks: Do you have any general tips on trying to shoot photos of fast moving things in lower light, I’d love to hear them.

Scott: Go with high ISO or accept the fact that you’re going to have some pan blurs. If you have a camera like a Nikon D3, then you can go with higher ISO and the shots are very clean. Lenses with IS would let you shoot with a lower shutter speed and preserve sharpness.

Chase: Work within the confines of what you’re given. Even if the image is a little blurred or has a very shallow depth of field, sometimes those images can be magical. If it’s a moving subject, a little motion blur can add to the image.

Question Sixteen – Permits to Photograph in New York

Alan writes: I’d like to photograph my sister’s model portfolio in New York. Will I need a permit? I hear they are very strict there.

Scott: Yes, you will. They are very strict in New York. The latest I’ve heard is that it will be up to $300 per event. Lately it seems like if you have a camera in New York City then everyone is out to get you.

Chase: Typically in each city there are rules that apply to photography that require permits so it’s usually best to play by the rules and get the permits.

Question Seventeen – Recommendations for a P&S Camera

Neil Unfreid writes: What point-in-shoot do you use and or recommend? Most do not shoot Raw except the LX3v and Canon G9-G11. Is it that essential? I believe the HD movie mode is really important. I have been looking at either the Canon 3500IS or the Canon 4000 IS. I’d appreciate a little review on the subject of point-in-shoots and your recommendations and what features are really important.

Chase: My main point and shoot is my iPhone. There are lots of great little cameras that can shoot HD video. Optical zoom is nice to have. Raw is also a nice thing to look for.

Scott: I won’t get into specifics but look for 720 HD video, RAW, etc. A viewfinder for me is important, particularly trying to shoot outdoors in the sun. I have used the LX3 and others and I like it but I’m getting tired of their proprietary RAW files and their inability to place nice with others. I like the micro 4/3 format cameras as well.

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.

Chase Jarvis is at

Show notes by Bruce Clarke