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Photofocus Episode 47

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

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

Question One – What to Keep in a Photography Journal

Mary from Illinois writes: I have been shooting seriously for about 18 months now and have heard a lot about keeping a journal of my photography. However, I have, thus far, not been able to find any information on what I should be keeping in the journal. Date, time of day, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation seem obvious, but all that is contained in my EXIF data so my question is twofold. First, should I keep a journal if the EXIF data contains that info already? Second, if I should keep journal, what other shot (or other) information should I document and why?

Tamara: The meta data is certainly going to be there but perhaps she is thinking about using a journal to capture her journey through photography. It’s also a great way to hone in what you love and what you just do for a paycheque.

Scott: The meta data is the meta data so what you might want to think about writing down would be things like how you were feeling, your goals for the session, goals for the year, etc. Another thing is to think about and put in a journal might be potential shots.

Question Two – Tripod Recommendations

I have been using an “el cheapo” tripod that my wife got when she bought her SLR about 15 years ago. I am ready to upgrade to something good and I would love to hear your advice on what to look for in a tripod. My current tripod has a 3 way pan/tilt lock head, but I think that I want to go with a ball head. How about the different camera mounting systems? Patrick Alessi from Woolwich, NJ

Tamara: I have a tripod but for the type of photography I do, I almost never use it.

Scott: I shoot with a tripod almost all the time for my bird and wildlife photography. You want to find a tripod that is the best you can afford, is sturdy, and that you’ll carry. Carbon-fibre tripods are the recommended material because they are very sturdy but also light weight. The downside is that they are also expensive. Look at the suggested weight and then halve that amount. The Arca-Swiss style tongue and grove system is great and is what I use. I happen to favor the Induro stuff.

Question Three – Brightness Levels

Robert says – My problem is brightness. Sometimes pictures look too bright on one LCD and too dark on another. I know this may depend on the monitor settings which I have no control over. I could use monitor calibration hardware to match colors between printers and monitors. But am I stuck when it comes to brightness levels between PC’s?

Tamara: Using a monitor calibration system is excellent for your own monitor but sadly you cannot control other people’s monitors.

Scott: It’s almost impossible to say how your images are going to look on someone else’s’ monitor. Just accept that they will look different but you still have prints.

Question Four – Tips for Maternity Shoots

Do you have any tips, ideas, or suggestions for doing maternity or pregnancy photoshoots? My wife is due by the end of the year, and we’re planning to do a shoot soon. We have also been asked by a couple of friends who are also expecting to do their shoots. Manning Aalsma and Amy Yuen of Alameda, CA

Tamara: All the normal considerations you would take into account for a normal portrait shoot would come into play but you’ll want to pay particular attention to the elements that will bring out the beauty of a pregnant woman. Try to get the best angles and use your depth of field liberally. I see a lot of photojournalistic coverage which sometimes exacerbates some of things that women are conscious of when they are pregnant. Pay attention to the rules of posing to create flattering angles. Try not overemphasize the belly and make them look larger than they really are.

Question Five – The Need for Medium Format

I hear a lot of podcast talk about how we have more megapixels than we already need and 12mp is more than enough. On the other hand, then why do many architectural photographers insist on large or medium format cameras? Ken Dahlin from Atlanta.

Scott: It has to do with perspective control. Large format cameras have swings and tilts so you can correct distortions. Often these images are also blown up quite large so they do need the high quality image to begin with.

Question Six – Getting Tack Sharp Eyes

Adam from Las Vegas writes: I am having trouble getting that glass look in peoples eyes. I am shooting with a Canon 5d mark ii, 24-70L 2.8, and 70-200L 2.8. Even when I shoot on a tripod with a remote release and keep the focus point on the eyes, it never looks really sharp. What advice would you give me to get that tack sharp look in the eyes or is this something that is done in post?

Tamara: Lighting plays a big role in getting sharp photos. How wide open is he shooting and how close is he to the subject.

Scott: Most lenses are not at their sharpest wide open. Using a tripod and a faster shutter speed can also help. If you’re using autofocus and doing portraits then you should leave it set to one shot mode. Don’t shoot through a cheap filter and use the camera’s ability to adjust the micro focus if there are back focusing issues.

Question Seven – Tips on Sending Your Camera in for Factory Cleaning

You have frequently mentioned on the podcast that it is a good idea to send your camera in every year (or so) for a factory cleaning. I am interested in doing this but I am not a professional so I do not get priority service. When I google Nikon Factory Cleaning to learn about others’ experiences I am seeing a lot of horror stories: mostly being charged hundreds of dollars for problems their cameras didn’t have. Can you cut through the internet firestorm and tell me your experience with these cleanings… how long does it take? how much does it cost? Do they have a reputation for finding little things you didn’t think were broken? Do approved Nikon service centers like the one in Morton Grove have the same level of quality service? Marc Escobosa from San Francisco, CA

Scott: I send my gear in regularly for repairs. I am a member of both NPS and CPS but I think Nikon’s service is sub-par to Canon’s. I think they do take longer to get gear back to you than Canon. I believe that if they do find issues, they are telling the truth. As for local Nikon service centers, I can’t speak for quality but you should get your gear back faster.

Tamara: I just sent my gear in recently and discovered several issues with six pieces of equipment. I am seeing dramatic improvements with some pairings and lenses since I got them back.

Question Eight – Selecting the Right Tool for the Job

Most photo editing applications offer multiple tools for “apparently” doing the same thing — adjusting the exposure or brightness of an image — most of which can be brushed in locally: exposure slider, brightness slider, curves, highlights & shadows, levels, dodge and burn. Are these merely different approaches to the same end? Are some of these tools preferable over the others? If so, when and why? Bill Campbell from Springfield, Missouri

Tamara: I do think that some tools are preferable over others but for me, I do most of my tonal work in curves.

Scott: I think that the curves tool is the most powerful tool in all of this software but I think it boils down to preference. If you can figure out curves, you will have a large degree of control and do localized adjustments.

Question Nine- Size & Resolution for the iPad

Hope asks: What is the ideal size and resolution for a photo for the iPad?

Scott: The ideal size is 1024×768 @132ppi. You can also try cropping every image square and then they’ll look good in any orientation.

Question Ten – Considerations for Making Large Prints

What would I need to consider (camera settings,etc.) if I wanted to make prints that are very large? Let’s say 3 to 4 feet tall? Judi Graff from Middletown, IL

Tamara: If I knew I would be shooting for that size, I would definitely be shooting in RAW.

Scott: If you do end up with a file that is too small, I would recommend Genuine Fractals in post.

Question Eleven – Lens Suggestions

I’m an amateur photographer who is just getting started with a nice but couple year old camera who shoots once a week and am looking to buy into zoom lenses only having prime at the mo, but will I see any difference in quality and feel from something like the Nikon 24-70 2.8 ED and the Sigma equivalent, I know you could probably pick the two apart. Price is tempting at a grand cheaper but should I just save up and go Nikon the way. Cheers Dean from the UK

Tamara: I shoot mainly Canon bodies and lenses and don’t use 3rd party lenses unless there is something specific that I can’t find in Canon brand. I also try to stick with the same brand for camera batteries.

Scott: I really get the argument for saving money with 3rd party lenses since the first party lenses have gotten quite expensive. I have found the high end Sigma stuff to be very good. The one thing you’ll note is that the Nikon and Canon have better quality control so it’s far less likely that you’ll get a bad copy. If you’re an amateur and shooting once a week, then I don’t think you’re going to see the difference.

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 Twelve – Lens Creep

I have a Canon EF-S 18-200 f/3.5 – 5.6 IS lens. It has significant lens creep when I shoot off of horizontal. This isn’t a real problem when I hand hold the camera, but is a big problem when I use a tripod. Is there some way to eliminate the lens creep? Do I need to send it in for tightening? Curt Meverden from White Bear Lake, MN

Scott: All zoom lenses are subject to lens creep. It sounds to me like it needs to be tightened. I don’t have experience with this specific lens but if it’s becoming a problem I’d be sure to send it in. You can also check out the forums.

Question Thirteen – Photographing from Inside of a Bus

I’ll be going to Europe for vacation this summer. My past experience going on package vacations, consist of traveling from one location to another inside a plane, train or bus. Mostly by bus. Buses are generally comfortable and air conditioned. The problem arises, that the windows are sealed and there is much reflection from the other side. What can I do to minimize the glare, reflection and the blur do to motion. Also, what lens range should I travel with for most types of pictures. Jack Gee

Scott: Make sure you and your partner are wearing black. Put your lens right up against the glass when the bus is still. If you really wanted to stick out from the group, you could have a friend stand behind you with a big black cloth.

Tamara: See if you can clean the glass that you’re shooting out of on both sides.

Question Fourteen – Lens Hood Help

Could you please advise me when to use a lens hood or should I keep it on all the time, at least as a kind of protection for the lens? Ps I use mostly zoom lens and “try ” to take pics in available light for instance on mediaeval fairs with dim light or smaller music events. Raeisch

Tamara: I don’t use it all the time but I think you should. It helps protect the lens and elements and cut down glare. It can also keep dogs and kids from licking the lens.

Scott: I think you leave the lens hood on all the time. Never take it off, ever.

Question Fifteen – Monopod Differences

My name is James Greene and I live in Townsend, Delaware. I understand the importance of a real good tripod that cost a few dollars. I do not understand the difference in a $30.00 Monopod and a $200.00 monopod. Don’t both the tripod and mono hold your camera? Would you tell me the differences? James Greene

Scott: The difference is probably weight, the quality of the leg extensions and the latches that hold them. I think a $100 is probably fine. I would stay away from the $30 one and if you have the money for a $200 one then go for it. One trick when using a monopod is to stick it into your shoe for more stabilization.

Tamara: If you shoot a lot with it, you’ll be glad if you buy a lightweight one.

Question Sixteen – Online Resources for Viewing Photographs

Ren from New-Brunswick, Canada. You say we should look at 5000 photos if we want to improve. Can you point me towards some high quality online resources for viewing my 5000 photographs? I am concerned that I may be studying bad or low quality photos by browsing random websites. Also, what questions should I ask myself when viewing these pictures?

Tamara: I would go to places that you’re trying to trend toward. I actually wrote a blog post for Photofocus about this very topic and I think one of the best ways to be inspired is by looking at work that you find uninspiring. One question to ask is what is this image doing for me. Am I responding to this image or not. Why or why not? You can find your style by eliminating what isn’t your style.

Scott: You want to find the kind of photos that you want to take.

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.

Tamara Lackey is at

Show notes by Bruce Clarke