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Photofocus Episode 44

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about macro photography:

Question One – Sharpening Techniques in Photoshop

I’d love to know what technique you use to sharpen your photos in Photoshop. Some use Unsharpen mask, others High pass, etc. I’m sure there are other ways. What is the best? I shoot mainly people. Suman, Surrey, UK

Kevin: I use various methods depending on the size of the final image. Unsharp mask is a great tool but one of my favorites is to use Smart Sharp. The problem with it is that it doesn’t have a threshold setting so I make an edge mask to isolate the edges and then use the smart sharp so that it only sharpens the edges.

Scott: I tend to use high pass on a layer and then tune it to where I want it. If it’s going to go big then I’ll use Nik Sharpener Pro.

Question Two – Increasing Working Distance for Macro Photography

I’m going to do some macro photography. 1) If I want more *working distance* should I go for extension tubes, a teleconverter or a longer lens? Mike Bauer

Scott: The easy choice if you have the budget is to go with a longer lens. I really like the 180mm macro which gives you more working distance and it can also be used as a great portrait lens.

Kevin: I don’t do a lot of macro photography but I do agree with your recommendation Scott.

Question Three – Protecting Lenses from Humidity

Adam from Tamba, Japan writes: Rainy season in Japan has just begun, and the humidity is incredible. I’m worried this warm muggy weather might effect my camera gear. I know mold has been a problem for some local photographers. How can I avoid turning my lenses into petrie dishes?

Kevin: My initial thought would be to store your gear in an area that is more humidity controlled and try to use some of those packets that absorb moisture.

Scott: The bigger problem I see in humid environments occurs when moving in and out of air conditioned rooms. That is where you can store your lenses in a plastic bag and let the moisture form on the bag rather than on the lens. Another option would be to leave your gear outside if possible and avoid subjecting it to the changing air conditions.

Question Four – Magnifiers for Viewfinders

I am a mid-to-late 50s enthusiast shooting a variety of genres with a Nikon D700 and lenses ranging from prime to wide angle to telephoto. I almost always use auto focus because I have a lot of trouble seeing my subjects clearly in the viewfinder, even when I adjust the diopter for the glasses I wear. This is because the viewfinder image is too small and/or too dark for me to tell whether I have a tack-sharp focus. I also don’t find the live view feature very helpful for several reasons, including that fact that it can cause a lot of camera shake. Does anyone makes a good viewfinder magnifier or is there another solution that you are aware of? Polewee from Orlando, FL

Scott: I can recommend a few items. Check out the Zacuto Z-Finder, the Hoodman Loupe, or if you can afford it – a Marshall Field Monitor.

Kevin: I don’t have any experience with these but I’ve heard you can get custom viewfinders made or even get one specially made to match your prescription.

Question Five – Using Genuine Fractals to Increase Sharpness

Theoretically, if you used an uprez program such as Genuine Fractals on a photo but kept the photo in a smaller ratio like 5×7, would it give you the illusion of sharpness? Dave Johnson Mobile, AL

Kevin: I think Dave is trying to use the program for something that it’s not intended. Going down to a 5×7 wouldn’t involve uprezing but rather making the image smaller. I recommend using the 10% down sampling technique where you reduce the image size by 10% repeatedly until you get to the size you want rather than taking big jumps from one size to another. Programs like Genuine Fractals help to make smaller images larger while preserving image quality.

Scott: I’m not sure I understand exactly what Dave is asking but the ratio won’t really have anything to do with it.

Question Six – Laptop Recommendations for Photo Editing

Kah Meel writes: Do you have any recommendations on a laptop that would be ideal for photo editing. I’m a PC person but would love to hear your suggestions for both Pc and Mac. I like my computers powerful but I hate the idea of carrying around a heavy laptop, so something light-weight and portable with long battery life would be ideal.

Kevin: I use a 15″ MacBook Pro with the new i7 processor and a solid state drive and it’s great for photo editing. You’ll spend a bit more to get a Mac but my experience has been that people tend to have less problems with a Mac so that time saving is worth the extra cost in my opinion. Another option is to connect your camera to an iPad for some quick editing on the fly. They are light and have great battery life.

Scott: I’m a Mac guy so I can’t recommend any particular PCs. I use the 17″ MacBook Pro and love it.

Question Seven – Auto focus Issue

Tony Matteo writes: I just purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon d5000 with the kit 18-55VR lens. Sometimes the focusing takes a long time, sometimes it never takes the photo. I’ve mostly been playing with the camera and getting use to it so I haven’t missed anything amazing but obviously wonder if I ever would. Is this a problem I should be concerned about or is it expected from the kit lens? it seems like it is an issue with the auto focus to me.

Scott: The inexpensive cameras and lenses do tend to have slower auto focus That is one of the tradeoffs. It might have to do with the subjects you are photographing. Auto focus works best when you have good light so if you’re shooting in low light conditions then the lens may hunt. If you take it into better light and it still has issue then it could be the lens.

Kevin: You get what you pay for. The D5000 is a great camera but there is a big difference between that and something like the D3. The body will make a big difference so I could take that lens and put it on a D3 and get much better performance out of it. Also look at what you’re focusing on – look for something with contrast.

Question Eight – Thoughts on the Big Stopper ND Grad Filter

I’m thinking about getting my first ND Grad filer. Saw the Big Stopper from Lee. Have you tried it. Would you recommend it? 10 stops seems perfect to me because you can always add a little ISO or open up the Aperture to get more light if 10 stops is too much. Any thoughts? Clif from London

Kevin: I’m not familiar with this particular filter but I heard you talking about the Singh Ray Vari ND filter Scott. Wouldn’t this be a more flexible option?

Scott: Yes, I like the Singh Ray and it’s great. Lee filters are also good but 10 stops seems like a bit much.

Skip’s Summer School

Be sure to check out Skip Cohen’s Summer school from August 8th – 11th in Las Vegas. It’s only $239. Kevin will be there along with Scott and 13 other great speakers from the photography industry. Check out for more information and to register.

Question Nine – Tripod Dolly vs. Handheld Rig for Video

In shooting video, how does a tripod dolly compare to a handheld rig? Would you use a tripod with a dolly whenever the terrain made this possible? Or do you think it would be limiting and impractical in most situations, such as an indoor wedding ceremony? John Lilburne, Melbourne, Australia.

Scott: A dolly in a wedding ceremony isn’t going to work as most officiants barely let you bring in a pop up flash. There is nothing as steady as a dolly but they aren’t that practical. I’ve gotten pretty steady with the handheld rigs. A solid tripod with a fluid head.

Kevin: I think it comes down to the look you’re trying to achieve. I like the look of handheld compared to having it on a dolly but there is certainly a place for each.

Question Ten – Favorite New Features in Lightroom 3

What are your favorite new features in Lightroom 3? Sam Ellison, New York

Kevin: My favorite new features include: the speed increase when using a 16-bit capable systems, customizable watermarks, improved vignetting, and multi-photo page layouts in the print module.

Scott: I haven’t spent as much time in LR3 as I have in Aperture 3 but I do really like the noise reduction.

Question Eleven – Lighting for Photographing Large Scale Objects

John Evans writes: My question for you is what lights would you suggest for something large scale, like the elephants, as well as small scale like full body portraiture? I am looking for something on the cheaper side or maybe I have enough equipment that I just need to better understand how to use it.

Kevin: A couple of systems I use include the SB900s for Nikon and if you have a couple of them you have a lot of light for a lot of different situations. If you really want to light a big scene then you’ll want mono lights. I like the Alien Bees with some large scrims to go between the light.

Scott: I use the ProPhoto Monolights but if I wanted to get a lot of light somewhere, I would use good old fashioned umbrellas. For more refined work, then you might want to look at strip lights. Look at 500 watt seconds or better if you have a really large subject.

Question Twelve – Using the Depth of Field Preview Button

Can you kindly explain how to take full advantage of the Depth of Field Preview button? I have pressed the button several times and I seem to be having trouble separating what’s in focus from what’s out of focus. Thank you in advance. Sergio Burani

Kevin: I’ve reprogrammed it to change my metering mode because I don’t use the DOF button to preview it. Most of my portrait work I shoot wide open anyway.

Scott: Try squinting when using the DOF preview button. You’ll have a much better chance of seeing the area that is in focus.

Question Thirteen – Suggestions for Light Meters

Im looking to buying my first flash light meter. The choice is large and diverse, and I was wondering if you could distinguish between vital and less relevant capabilities. Im interested in models like the Kenko KFM1100 and the Sekonic L-358, but am open to your opinion on these and similar models. I intend to use it primarily in a indoor environment for portraits and small group settings. That said, I would not be surprised if I would use it outdoors as well, once I learn to use it properly. Anton from the Netherlands

Kevin: I can offer Anton my Sekonic light meter as I haven’t used mine in about 10 years. I think our cameras have really good meters and I normally measure with my eye.

Scott: I do still use a light meter in the studio and I like the Sekonic’s very much. If you’re considering one, try to get one that works with flash triggers such as Pocket Wizards.

Question Fourteen – Preventing Clipping in the Histogram

I use the histogram for metering and meter from the right to prevent any clipping. The question I have is how important is it to prevent clipping the top part in the middle of the histogram? And if so how can I correct this? Thank you Brad Johnson Vancouver B.C.

Scott: Good news – that’s not clipping. Clipping can only occur on the right or the left.

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.

Kevin Kubota is at

Show notes by Bruce Clarke