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Photofocus Episode 46

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about step down rings:

Question One – Step Down Rings and Lens Hoods

I’ve heard you mention on the Photofocus podcast that to save money on filters, you can buy one filter that matches the filter size of the largest lens you have, and then use step rings to apply the filter to your lenses which have smaller thread sizes. My question is, will using a step ring interfere with the lens hoods, or even make it impossible to put the lens hood on? If so, is there any workaround to this problem which you can suggest? Marc Konowitz from Staten Island, New York

Joe: Step down or step up rings are very inexpensive but often you won’t be able to get the factory lens hood to fit back on the lens. There are some rubber lens hoods that might work in this situation.

Scott: Another option is to look at a matte box. They are heavy and they are expensive but they can do the same thing as the lens hood. If you’re trying to block light from entering from the side, you could also get someone to stand and block the light.

Question Two – Soft Images with a Teleconverter

When I use TC 17 on 70-200mm 2.8 handheld with my Nikon 300 , I am getting soft image, your thoughts? Ravinder Takrar from Cary, NC

Scott: When you use a teleconverter you will always get softer images. Keep in mind that if you’re using a 70-200mm lens on a crop sensor body with a teleconverter that lens will be like a 500mm lens so you have to make sure that your shutter speed is around 1/500th of a second or greater if you are hand holding it.

Joe: There will always be a sweet spot aperture with any lens combination so try some brick wall testing by shooting a brick wall at different apertures to see which one is the sharpest. Using a long lens, my other thought would be whether or not Ravinder is using a tripod.

Question Three – Focusing on Moving Subjects

When you are photographing birds do you rely on your cameras auto-focus or do you pre-focus to a certain distance and wait until the bird gets close to that area before you start shooting? I have a Canon Rebel XSi with the kit lenses and the camera struggles at times to focus quickly on a stationary subject much less a moving subject. I know you shoot Nikon but do you set your focus mode to Servo Mode (Canon’s term for continual focus) and then set your auto-focus points to all? I just keep wondering how people get crisp shots of moving subjects when my camera has some difficulties with stationary subjects. Chris Chastine from Lawrenceville, GA

Scott: Shooting flying birds is one of the most difficult forms of photography and one of the reasons I chose it. This sounds like a case of not bringing enough stick to the fight. The Rebel cameras don’t have the same auto-sensors that the higher end cameras like the 1D Mark IV have in them and it just has one cross point auto focus sensor in the center. It’s tough to focus with consumer brand bodies so you might try renting a higher end camera and if that solves the problem then you know it was the camera. It could also be technique.

Joe: I don’t photograph birds but I do photograph cars. I’ll use one of two techniques. I’ll either pick a spot and focus on the point and wait for the car to come into place if they are driving towards me. If they are moving across me then I’ll put it in continuous mode and just bang it like crazy as they go past me.

Question Four – Tips for a First Paid Shoot

I am going to be doing a shoot for a man running for state representative in NC. This will be my first paid photo shoot. Do you have any tips for me? Specifically, I would like tips on where to look for inspiration for poses, lighting, etc. Tyler Puckett from Charlotte, NC

Joe: Make sure you get paid first and then sit down and talk with them to find out their hot button issues. Once you find that out, then you can decide on where to shoot them. For example, I once photographed a politician who was very interested in environmental issues so I shot her in a variety of environments.

Scott: Study photographs of politicians make by seasoned professionals and try to figure out what is going on in those photographs. When I was starting out I would put together a book of tear sheets that I would look at just before I did the shoot to help me with posing, lighting, etc. Politicians are also very busy and won’t typically have much time so make sure all of your lighting and settings are ready before they come in. That will make the shoot go faster.

Question Five – Press Passes for Pro Sporting Events

Adam Silversmith from Las Vegas, NV asks: How can I get a press pass that would allow me to photograph pro sporting events?

Joe: Pro makes it more difficult. The PR person for the venue is the first place to start. Have some stuff on the web to show them what you can do and tell them what you plan to do with them. If you have to deal with the sanctioning body then it goes up a level. You have to make sure you can do something for them.

Scott: Start with high school or college games to build up a portfolio. Try building up a relationship with existing pro photographers and offer to help them. Over time those relationships can help you get your foot in the door. You can also try working with local weekly newspapers and see if you can get your foot in the door that way. If you offer to give someone photographs, make sure it’s one of the first things you do and make sure that you do it quickly.

Question Six – Importing JPEGS and RAWS

Sven Igawa asks: Until I started using the latest version of Aperture, I never realized I have been importing both JPEG and RAW files from my D700. Is there a benefit to filling my hard drive with both or would it be better to just go with RAW?

Joe: I shoot a mixture of RAW, JPEG and RAW + JPEG and often it has to do with the final purpose of the photographs. If they are going to be big pictures then I’ll shoot RAW. The RAW + JPEG is important when I want to shoot with picture styles. When I shoot in B&W I think it’s great to see it in B&W.

Scott: I don’t think it matters which program you are using. My advice would be to pay attention to what Joe said – it depends upon what you’re shooting. I normally shoot RAW but if I was shooting something like motor sports then I would probably shoot JPEG.

Question Seven – ISO As a Third Exposure Control

Dana Kaplan from Henderson Ky writes: Is it possible to consider ISO a third exposure control after shutter speed and aperture?

Joe: It always has been ever since the film days.

Scott: I think the basis of this question is the fact that you can change ISO from shot to shot as opposed to the film days where you were stuck with the same ISO until you changed your film.

Question Eight – Cleaner Fluids for Lenses and Filters

Jay Boivin writes: My question is what cleaner fluid would you recommend I use to clean my lenses and filters?

Scott: I breathe on it. Condensation works great. The products from companies like Visible Dust are great too but they are expensive.

Joe: Purosol is the best stuff out there to use along with a nice micofibre cloth. Only clean it when it’s dirty.

Question Nine – Setting White Balance

I’d like a professional opinion about setting a white balance when shooting. I find my Canon DSLR’s auto white balance works for me most of the time. I’ve only had to resort to a manual custom colour balance a couple of times, when shooting under some tungsten studio lights. If I’m happy letting the camera work it all out for me, what would be the value of setting a custom balance whenever I go out on a photo expedition if I find AWB works most of the time? Heather Kavanagh from Chatham, Kent, UK

Joe: I normally leave it on auto white balance. If I’m shooting cars often what I will do is look for a white car and photograph that first and if the color doesn’t look right then I will adjust and sometimes use a custom WB but I find most of the time the auto white balance works quite well.

Scott: I use AWB quite often as well but using things like the Xrite Color Checker are great if you know you are going to be shooting a lot of photographs under certain lighting conditions that are problematic and want to speed up your workflow. All of this assumes that you’re shooting RAW.

Question Ten – Manual Light Metering vs. TTL

Jake French writes: Many of the forums/clubs/etc discussions regarding lighting stress that if you’re not manually metering, you’re not shooting flash photography. Joe McNally expresses the sentiment in his book however, that if you paid for a Lamborghini, why drive it like a Honda. Meaning of course, that today’s cameras are capable of such great light metering, why not use it…make adjustments as necessary. I understand that situations may call for different things and that gear can be a hindrance (I’m a Canon shooter for instance, and reading about how easy it is for Mr. McNally to adjust on the fly with CLS makes me jealous…but I am excited about PW’s new zone commander…I digress), but I wonder… What are your thoughts on manual light metering vs. TTL? Are the “purists” full of you-know-what or are the “newbies” taking the cop out?

Scott: My experience is to stay away from the purists. I have no problem using auto functions where they make sense. The people who get involved in process typically don’t take very good photographs.

Joe: I think there are two big things here. Speedlights have really changed the face of lighting on location and the best way to use them is the way they were intended. The other thing is that we need to start building a mental toolbox and build up different techniques that we apply to different situations. How you use it is more important than not using it.

Question Eleven – Photo Stitching Plug-in for Aperture 3

Roberta Surra writes: I have a MacBook Pro and use Aperture 3 for photo editing. I am looking for a good plug-in or stand alone software to do some photo stitching. I shoot with a Canon 7d, and found that the software included with the camera does not give me enough options to stitch together two halves of a group photo (it couldn’t rotate the one image, which made for everyone in the middle looking rather fuzzy). If I find a good product, I’m sure it would become a valuable tool for many different photo subjects. You seem to have a good handle on what products are available and what works and what doesn’t. Thanks for any advice or recommendations.

Scott: I am unaware of any plugins for Aperture 3 that will do a good job of photo stitching. The best tool available at the moment is Photoshop.

Joe: Photoshop does a great job of creating panos and the content aware scaling works great.

Question Twelve – Back Button Focusing

Kevin Baksa writes: I own a Canon 7D and have started using the AF On button to engage the Auto Focus instead of half pressing the shutter button. What do you think?

Scott: I think it’s a lot of extra work but I do know people who swear by it. Whatever you do, don’t change your method before a big shoot.

Joe: That button is programmable and you can program it to do a variety of functions.

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. Scott will be there along with 14 other great speakers from the photography industry. Check out for more information and to register.

Question Thirteen – Laptop Screen vs. a Dedicated Display

I have invested in a Macbook Pro but have heard you say that a laptop screen resolution is not good enough for photo editing, co lour correcting etc. Is the most cost effective solution (mac wise) for me just to buy an Apple cinema display and hook it up to the Macbook Pro? I have all the LaCie external drives for storing my libraries and back ups off line but don’t want to buy another desk top machine just for the photo processing. What say you and the guys over there in the sunny US of A? Bob from the UK.

Scott: For me it’s not good enough and I’d prefer to use a color managed system. I think the better choice is to do it a 24-inch LED cinema display.

Joe: I also use the 24-inch cinema display and love it.

Question Fourteen – Ansel Adams Zone System

Scott asks: What is the Zone system with regards to Ansel Adams. Do you use this ? What are some basics to the zone system?

Joe: My favorite piece on this is Fred Picker’s book called the Zone 6 Workshop. It will tell you a lot about basic exposure.

Scott: It was invented by Fred Archer. Ansel wanted to be able to control how black the blacks were, how white the whites were and everything in between. He wasn’t satisfied with the camera making trying to make everything 18% grey. Ansel worked with Fred and created a process to affect the image through the exposure and through processing to create those values in the image. A lot of it boiled down to pre-visualization. The Zone system had 10 zones between black and white. It’s less applicable to digital today because we have curves but if you’re still shooting B&W film then you will want to learn about this.

Wrap Up

We want themes and questions from you. Be sure to visit the blog at for articles, how-to’s, videos and more. Email us at [email protected] follow us on Twitter. Don’t just take pictures – make pictures.

Joe Farace is at

Show notes by Bruce Clarke