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Photofocus Episode 54

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about back button focus:

Question One – Back Button Focus

I hear a lot about switching the auto focus button to the back of my DSLR as opposed to using the shutter button pressed half way to auto focus Do you have an opinion over which is better? Rob Utley, New York City

Joe: I switch between brands of cameras often and each one seems to have that back button in a different spot so I prefer to just use the standard half-press of the shutter to establish focus. I think ergonomics plays into it as well.

Scott: I did experiment with back-button focus but I prefer the traditional method but I don’t think there is a wrong or a right answer here. Use what suits you best but don’t decide to change and experiment the night before you have a big shoot.

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Mark your calendar and plan to attend PMA 2011 September 6th – 11th. It’s being opened up to the public for the first time and we’re planning to do a live Photofocus during the event.

Question Two – Cleaning a Polarizing Filter

My question is related to properly cleaning a circular polarizing filter. Perhaps I am just a little too anal about care and cleaning my stuff, but it drives me nuts ever time I wipe this CP filter with one of those micro fiber cloths and see smudges all over the thing. I have used lens tissue along with the cleaning solution which initially cleans the smudges, until they begin to reappear as it dissipates. Maybe I shouldn’t even worry about these smudges so much? Danny Garcia

Scott: I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The smudges won’t really show up. I just breathe on it and wipe it with a micro-fibre cloth.

Joe: One thought I have is that because the problem keeps coming back, maybe he has a defective one. Polarizers are sandwiched between two pieces of glass and perhaps if there is some moisture getting inside that sandwich, that could be what’s causing the streaks to come back so he might want to look at getting a new one.

Question Three – Ambient Light Detectors on Monitor Calibration Devices

Scott from Houston asks: Ambient Light Detectors on Monitor Calibration Devices – are they worth it?

Scott: I do use them and I do think they are worth it but wouldn’t not buy one if it didn’t have an ambient light detector. I have some of the higher-end calibration devices that don’t have it and they do a great job. The way I work when I’m doing critical color managed work is that I turn off all the lights and I use a child’s night light behind my monitor and that’s it. Check out Trey Ratcliffe’s book on HDR that has some great information on color theory.

Joe: I use the same method as you do Scott.

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Question Four – Getting Inspired to Take Photos

How does one become inspired to take photos? Dieter Zakas Randolph, NJ

Joe: You never know where inspiration will come from so I take my camera with me everywhere. Movies are also a great source of inspiration. A great book for inspiration is called Discover Yourself Through Photography.

Scott: I get inspired by music. I will often listen to music while I’m shooting and that will change my mood. I will sometimes also write music in my head while I’m shooting and that inspires me. Pick up a book called the Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity which is a step-by-step guide on how artists can get inspired.

Question Five – Saving My Neck

I have a problem in that I want to carry my camera with me all the time. The problem is that it is a beast, the Canon 5D mk II, and I like my 24-70 also. This tends to be tiring, especially as I like it around my neck, and not somewhere in my bag, out of reach. How can I spare my neck? Is there a way, or should I resort to only use my (lovely and lighter) 50 1,4? Fredrik Strom, Sweden

Scott: There are ergonomically designed bags and straps that you should check out. If you’re just walking around, you might want to think about getting a compact camera like the LX5 or G12. They take great images and are much lighter. I’ve been shooting with those cameras and have had some photos taken with those cameras published.

Joe: I have a 5D Mark II and don’t find it too large but another option to think about if you want to still use your 24-70mm lens would be to pick up a smaller body like a Rebel XTi.

Question Six – Polarizing Filters – How Wide is Too Wide

How wide is too wide for a polarizing filter? In my wider angle shots I’ll get a big dark circular area in the sky when using a circular polarizer. (17mm on a crop body maybe even 24mm) Jay Gray, TN

Scott: We are talking about vignetting here and that can be caused by having a thick polarizing filter. The solution is to get an ultra-slim mount polarizer.

Joe: He may also be using a step up ring which allows you to use your filter with different size lenses. That could also be contributing to the vignetting so I would stay away from those.

Question Seven – Sharpness Issues with Previews

I used My D90 and 70-200mm f/2.8 (with and without a 2x teleconverter) to shoot the Blue Angels show in San Francisco. With such fast-moving objects, I was very concerned about focus and image sharpness. I was shooting in RAW. I kept checking the sharpness by zooming into the captured images on the rear LCD, but no matter how I shot, the images were always soft. I tried every combination of shutter speed, aperture and manual and automatic focus. Nothing helped. But when I got home and uploaded photos to Lightroom, they were fine — most were ‘tack sharp.’ Are the previews on the camera’s LCD something like low-rez JPEGs? Are they not valid for checking image sharpness? If so, I wonder why Nikon allows you to zoom in farther than is useful? Doug Kaye

Joe: To answer the last question, yes, they are low-res JPEGs. They should be valid for checking image sharpness. The D90 has been around for a few years so it is a bit old in terms of technology but having said that, it is possible to zoom into an image even on a computer screen and not have them look sharp. One thing he might look at is updating his firmware. I had the Canon 50D and the preview images looked like crap. 6 months later they did a firmware update and the previews look really good.

Scott: My feeling is that the JPEGs are not reliable for much. They are there to give you an idea but I don’t trust them for color or sharpness necessarily. It’s possible that some cameras do a better job than others of rendering the JPEGs. Rent or borrow another body and see if the problem persists.

Question Eight – Capturing Movement in Portraits

Dean from the UK asks. I’m starting to experiment a little bit more with my portraits, more specifically capturing movement, I was wondering if you could share some tips on keeping the focus on the eyes Sharp. More often than not the focus shifts to some other point like the hair or shirt, I’m using continuous servo with single shot and shutter priority.

Joe: What I do is to manually place the focusing point at the eyes and I don’t move it.

Scott: If you have face detection turned on, I would turn that off. If you’re shooting with a really fast lens at apertures like f2.8, you have a razor thin depth of field so you have to be careful.

Question Nine – Photography Book Recommendations

As you know there are a multitude of publications dealing with photography. If you were to pick one or two, which ones would you recommend to your audience. Jay Boivin

Joe: I really like the English magazines. They are quite large and many of them are weekly magazines. If you’re a Canon shooter there is one called EOS which is great. Most of the large book retailers carry a great selection of foreign magazines.

Scott: Shutterbug, which Joe writes for ,is a great publication. I like the English magazines over the US ones as well. A lot of the US magazines are either selling out or there is no wall between the editorial and the advertising department so often the content of the magazines is driven by who is taking out ads in the magazine. One thing about the foreign publications is that they are expensive but you can save some money if you subscribe. I also find myself spending more time on the content rather than on the gear because some of the gear they advertise isn’t available over here.

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Question Ten – Tips For Approaching People to Take Their Photograph

I was wondering if you could elaborate on how you approach people when you want to take their picture. It’s easy to say just go talk to them but what do you say. When I see someone that looks interesting, I want to capture that genuine/ candid moment. I don’t want a posed photo. Also for someone who is more introverted it seems a bit awkward to go up to someone and say, “Hey, you look interesting, can I take your photo?” I really want to do more people photography. Jeremy Lbeck from Germany

Scott: I’ve never had anyone turn me down that I’ve asked to take a photo of . I don’t see anything wrong with telling someone they look interesting. There are a lot of photojournalists who will just shoot the shot without asking which some people find rude and can get you into some trouble in certain countries. Whenever I’ve been in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language I would just hold up my camera and smile and everything was good. If you’re really introverted, you might go to something like Toastmasters to improve your people skills and get more comfortable.

Joe: I was shy when I started out so I didn’t photograph people. One of my teachers gave me an assignment to shoot five people I knew and five people I didn’t know and then write an essay about them. That forced me to go out and take photographs of people and now I photograph people a lot. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Question Eleven – Using Auto ISO

I have been shooting Nikon DSLR for about 4 years now (D40 then D90). When I started shooting DSLR’s I thought the Auto ISO was a great thing, since it will ramp the ISO to help me get shots in lower light. However, now I am starting to think that it is actually constraining my growth in photography. I wanted to get your opinion on the use of Auto ISO. Should I continue to let the camera increase the ISO as needed to get a proper exposure, or should I turn it off and manually select the ISO as the situation dictates? Thanks, Andy Howard Upstate, South Carolina

Joe: I never use Auto ISO. For a long time, I found cameras would pick an outrageous ISO and I’d get a bunch of noise. The other reason I don’t like to use it is because you are losing control. ISO controls a lot about contrast, color, and noise. I think cameras have gotten too complicated with too many settings so I’m not a big fan of Auto ISO.

Scott: I have one caveat. On the new Nikon P7000 there is an auto-ISO 100-200 and 100-400 and I use both. That will set the best ISO for the situation within a limited range. Then I think that it is a very helpful feature. For example, when photographing birds, shutter speed is critical. You need a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000 to freeze the wings. Let’s say you have great light but the bird flies into the lower light but there is still a great background. You don’t have time to jump into the menu and change your ISO so if you lose your shutter speed you’ll lose the shot.

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Question Twelve – Freezing Subjects & Motion Blur

From Liana in Orange County I often see images of an athlete, let’s say a cyclist, who is captured in an image and is completely in focus and frozen. Everything around the cyclist seems to be motion blurred. It’s not just static depth of field, if that makes sense. Is it possible to make that image in camera? Or, is that something I would have to apply in post? I don’t like post. Like many people don’t like scary movies and brussell sprouts? That’s how much I don’t like post. Please tell me I can make this image in camera. I often shoot cyclists in competition in triathlon while be driven on a motorcycle and using a 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted on a Canon 7D. I shoot in burst mode. Based on the general starting time of triathlon and its distance, I am shooting cyclists anywhere between 7:30 am – 5:00 pm light.

Joe: The first method is called panning where you move the camera with the subject and shoot at a lower shutter speed. That will give you that motion blur. If you are in a vehicle, then the trick is to shoot at really slow shutter speeds such as 1/15th and then drive past your subject and they will look like they are flying down the road. A lot of the photos you see in ads of cars are often going at 30 mphs and then the other vehicle drives past them and the photographing is shooting at slow shutter speeds.

Question Thirteen – DSLR Video Quality vs. High End Video Cameras

So how does a person with a 7D or a 5D compete in the marketplace against video shot with a $40,000 or $50,000 lens? Is the quality of DSLR video even in the same ballpark? Or is it more like trying to play Tchaikovsky on a plastic toy piano? Thanks R Swearinger

Scott: I shoot a lot of video with these cameras and I think it does compete. I don’t think $50,000 lenses. Shows like House and Dollhouse have been shot with a 5D Mark II. I think a better eye and composition is more important than gear. Also check out Vincent Laforet and the video work he’s doing with DSLRs.

Joe: Check out the video on YouTube. It was shot with a Pentax K7 using Pentax lenses and is a great example of what can be done with a DSLR.

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Question Fourteen – HDR in Camera vs. HDR in Post

What is the advantage or disadvantage of HDR done in camera or in post? Angie Melton, Los Angeles

Joe: Lately I’ve been doing more using Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. I know that some cameras have this capability built-in to them but I haven’t had any experience with them. The advantage of doing it in post is that you have control over the number of exposures you’ll use in the shot. I think the magic number is around 9 shots for a great HDR photo.

Scott: I think it goes back to our shared thoughts on digital zoom and general Auto ISO. It might be convenient for people using P&S cameras or things like the iPhone. The advantage of doing it in camera is that it’s easy. The advantage of doing it in post is that it is good. I haven’t seen too many in-camera HDRs that were really good. I would rather use Photomatix Pro or the new HDR Efex Pro from Nik.

Question Fifteen – In Camera Noise Reduction

Under what conditions or types of photography is it the best time to activate the in-camera noise reduction or is it strictly based on high ISO situations. I like to take portraits and wildlife photography. My current Nikon D80, soon to be D7000, has settings for “High ISO NR”: Normal, Low, High and Off. Dave Kile

Joe: I would recommend shooting some tests. There are some differences between the low, high, and off settings. Then use your noise reduction software and see which one works best. Just go out one night and take some shots and see what works best for your camera.

Scott: Back in the day, we had to make test prints to figure out what we were doing before we went out to do a big shoot. Now with digital people have moved away from that and figure they can just fix things in post so I would also recommend going out and doing your own tests.

Wrap Up

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

Joe Farace is at

Show notes by Bruce Clarke