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Photofocus Episode 59

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about buying a lens for wildlife photography:

Question One – Lenses for Wildlife Photography

Alvin Williams from Chicago asks: I’m about to buy my first wildlife lens. Is there a big difference between going with a 600mm over 500mm lens?

Andy: The cost is significantly more for a 600 vs a 500 but you have to aks yourself what type of wildlife you are normally photographing. The size and the distance from you to your subject will be the determining factor in what lens to go with. If you frequently do bird photography, I would go with the 600mm. If you shoot mainly large land mammals and can get closer to them, the 500mm might be sufficient. I shoot a lot with a 200-400mm as I like to get the animals surrounded by their natural environment. On a hot day, even with a long lens, the heat rising up from the earth can actually get in the way of you and your subject and impact your ability to get a sharp picture.

Scott: For birds I love the 800mm. If you can afford the 600mm then I would go for it as I don’t think there is such as a thing as too long when you’re doing wildlife photography. My friend Artie Morris is able to get great shots with a 500mm and a teleconverter but I can’t.

Question Two – Recommendations for Getting the Flash Off the Camera

Randy Salyer I am interested in getting my 580ex 2 flash off of my T2i camera and to do some portrait work. Do you recommend something like Pocket Wizards? Since I am a beginner I thought I should stay with TTL.

Scott: Whether you’re dealing with Nikon or Canon, using Pocket Wizards designed for your system is a great idea. They will be more expensive but will work with ITTL or ETTL.

Andy: You’re going to have varying degrees of success depending upon your environment. If you use the built in systems or triggers, they rely on line of sight and light waves to trigger so they work well if you’re indoors. Pocket Wizards use a radio wave to trip the flash. These can work better in situations where you do not have line of sight with your strobes or on a bright sunlit day for example. If you’re doing mostly indoor studio work, then I would recommend the Canon controller to get started as it will be cheaper.

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Question Three – Using Multiple Images for an HDR

Dave from Ontario asks: So, my question is, if the dynamic range is within 4 stops, is there any advantage to using multiple images over a single-image for HDR?

Andy: I think there can be, is that for every stop that is brigher, you have more information in the image to the power of two. So in a series of exposures, you can actually have cleaner information in the shadows than if you just took one photograph. I use the HDR Effex Pro from Nik Software lately.

Scott: I think your answer is spot-on Andy. The more data you have to work with is better and you’ll see far less noise. When you start working with HDR stuff you will have issues with noise. I like the Nik product and I also use Photomatix Pro and software from Topaz Labs when doing HDR photography.

Question Four – Advice on Selling an Older Lens

Fitz writes: I have an older lens that only works with certain camera bodies. I want to upgrade. Would I be better off selling my older lens so I am not limited?

Scott: Fitz is specifically talking about Nikon lenses here. Some of the older lenses are great however some aren’t – in particular the older zooms. I’m starting to find that people are buying lenses that they don’t need so experiment first before going out and buying a bunch of lenses.

Andy: If there is a lens that you’re not going to need then the answer seems to be pretty self-explanatory and he should consider selling it.

Question Five – Tips for Output Sharpening

Razz writes: When I import my images into LR3 the default pre-sharpening is 25. I sharpen to a nice look and it seems to me that 50 looks better, without being over-sharpened. Then, if I use any output sharpening, via LR export settings or Nik Sharpener pro, they are over-sharpened. It makes sense that since an image will be sharpened on output that we need to work on the image at less than full sharpness to leave room for the output sharpening. But how much less? It’s much more comfortable working on a sharp image, but then the output sharpening is much more difficult to get right.

Scott: I think people are sweating this a bit too much and trying to design an image for the screen. My advice is to leave the pre-sharpening at the default level and then focus most of your attention on sharpening for output. When I’m photographing wildlife, I want the eyes sharp and then I’m happy.

Andy: My approach is similar to yours. I think the more useful variable is the masking to determine what gets sharpened. My sharpening is less agressive on capture and more agressive on the output stage. With Lightroom 3’s output printing sharpening of standard I find it works really well.

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Question Six – Minimum Requirements for Aperture 3

What are the mimimum requirements for using Aperture 3? I returned to Aperture 2, because my Macbook (2.0 Ghz with 2Gb intern memory) shows very often a spinning ball. Is this Macbook too slow for this version of Aperture or is it a brand issue for regards to internal memory. Have you suggestions. Thanks Marc

Scott: Aperture is very resource hungry when it comes to the GPU. In the old days we worried about the CPU but now it’s the graphics processor. Recently they did release an update to Aperture 3 to help it run better on older machines but I’m afraid to say that if you’re going to run Aperture you need to upgrade to a model that has a more powerful GPU in it.

Andy: In my experience, Aperture will take as much hardware as you can throw at it. The benefit is that it’s a very capable program.

Question Seven – Reducing Noise in an HDR Image

I recently started making HDR photos using the open-source tools on Linux (UFRaw, enfuse, PFSTools). My main problem is noise in the tone-mapped images. The source images are low-noise, and so is the composite of all the source images (before it’s turned into HDR). However, the tone-mapped images often are VERY noisy. Is there any generic (non-tool specific) advice on keeping noise down, or do you think it’s all due to the HDR tools I use? Robert from Macau, China

Scott: My first guess is that the open source tools may not be able to handle the noise as well as some of the commercial products but that is just a guess so I haven’t used any of those open source tools. I can tell you that everytime you sandwich more and more pictures together then noise will become an issue. You could look at a product like Nik Dfine to take care of the noise afterward.

Andy: Whenever I do tone mapping, I’m not often looking to create that HDR look image. I’m usually just trying to eke out another stop or two of dynamic range. In this case it may be the tools he is using. You could try downloading trials of some of the commercial products that are available and see what results you get.

Question Eight – Lens Buying Advice for a Sports Photographer

I own a Canon 7D and shoot primarily sports. I’m considering one of two lenses. The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM or the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. How much of a performance difference is there between these lenses? Is it worth spending the extra money to go with the L lens. Keith Martinson

Andy: The 70-200mm f2.8 is one of the three holy-trinity lenses that all photographers should own. You’ll get excellent quality shooting wide open at f2.8 whereas with the 70-300 you’ll have to stop down to somewhere between f8-f11 to get the best quality so if you’re shooting sports that might mean that you’re shooting in low light conditions. Being able to shoot at f2.8 would be a benefit and will also result in faster autofocusing since more light is getting to the sensor.

Scott: I agree on points. The only devil’s advocate point is that you’re going to spend a lot of money. The 70-300 will get you more focal length which can help when shooting sports but my choice would be to get the 70-200 f2.8 L lens and then pick up the 300mm f4 lens which is another fantastic lens.

PMA 2011
Mark your calendar and plan to attend PMA 2011 September 6th – 11th in Las Vegas. 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 Nine – Tips for Cold Weather Shooting

I will be shooting my first winter wedding in January with some outdoor formals and couples shots planned. Looking for outdoor cold weather tips to apply. Steve Vansak from Gary, Indiana

Scott: Make sure that you have your stuff together and well planned out to minimize the time you’ll need to have your bride outside in the cold. Have lots of batteries charged up since they’ll go dead a lot faster in the cold. Make sure you know what’s happening with the light and have a place where people can go inside to keep warm because everyone is going to be miserable if they have to be outside in the cold for very long.

Andy: Keep your batteries warm by keeping them next to your body. If you have a big temperature difference between indoors and outdoors, you may find that your lenses will fog up when you go outside so if possible, try to keep a lens that you’re going to shoot with outside so that it can get acclimated to the cold otherwise you could be waiting 10-15 minutes for your lenses to clear up before you can start shooting.

Question Ten – Flash Duration

I am very confused about what exactly flash duration is and how to use it. If my max sync speed is 1/200 of a second and I am trying to freeze say a running dog with my Elinchrom Quadras they still come out with motion blur. The Quadras have a max flash duration on 1/6000. How does this work? What does this mean? Please help! Todd from Syracuse

Andy: On your flash you can use hi-speed sync which means it will pop multiple times but the problem will be that the power output will be less.

Scott: Try using high speed shutter synch which will allow you to shoot at high shutter speeds but their output will definitely be reduced. The problem is that not all cameras and flashes have this. I’ve been using hot lights a lot lately with high ISOs.

Question Eleven – Focal Length and Circular Polarizers

Does the focal length of a lens have an effect on the efficiency of a circular (or linear) polarizer? Sascha from Vienna, Austria

Andy: The question is really will the quality of the polarizer be affected by the polarizing and the answer is yes. The more wide angle you get, the more you’re going to see the difference between polarized and non-polarized light. For example, a 20mm lens, you’ll be photographing a blue sky, you’ll get less polarization and more polarization in the same scene. The longer the lens, the less you’re going to see that polarization. I generally stop using a polarizer over 35mm.

Scott: The answer to this question is partially dependent upon how you’re using. It will be different if you are trying to use it to darken down a sky versus using it to cut reflections on leaves on rocks, etc.

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Question Twelve – Getting Consistent Color When Shooting With Flash

My question pertains to having consistent colour between the subject and background when using a flash. While shooting the return of our CFL championship-winning team at the airport yesterday, the colour of my subjects was correct but the distant background was yellowish due to the ambient fluorescent lighting. I set my white balance to “flash” and tweaked it slightly in Lightroom but the background remained yellow while my subjects looked right. How can I prevent this from happening in-camera or is there a secret trick to correcting it in post? Robert Di Cesare from Montreal, Canada

Andy: There are two differnt light sources and that is why we have CTO filters so we can affect the color light of our flash to match the color light of our surroundings. The hardest part is learning to use the proper one. Another question is when to use flash. Flash as your main light, flash as a fill light, and flash as a catch light.

Scott: These gels or filters that you can put on your flash will solve this problem everytime. These CTO filters actually come with the Nikon flash systems. Head on over to and search for CTO to learn more about this topic. The other way to do it would be to put another flash in the distance with a remote trigger so that it matches the light from your main flash.

Question Thirteen – HDR Without Tone Mapping

David wants to know if it’s possible to have HDR without tone mapping.

Scott: It’s possible to have HDR without tone mapping but who would want to? If you look at the first versions of Photoshop that had HDR, they didn’t have tone mapping but the results were often very ugly.

Andy: When people talk about HDR, what they are really talking about is tone mapping.

Question Fourteen – Tips for Photographing Buildings

Can you please give some basic tips for photographing buildings, interior and exterior. What to look for, what’s the best gear to have, angles, lighting, shutter speeds etc… Ewan from Melbourne, Australia.

Scott: Bring you own lights, particularly if you’re shooting indoors. In terms of the best lens to have – you should have a 14mm rectilinear lens or a tilt-shift lens.

Andy: The goal is for you to have lines that are vertical. Photographing architecture is an exercise in photographing angles. Using a tilt-shift lens will help. I think it’s either bring a ton of lights or bring none. I think it’s okay to use your ambient light and use HDR tools.

Question Fifteen – Exposure Compensation

Do you have any tips for safe operation of the camera while out in very cold conditions? The manual for my D700 says the minimum operating temperature is 32deg., however, here in Vermont, as in all Northern areas of the country, from now to about mid-March, it will be below, and often far below, 32deg. Paul Bilodeau from St. Johnsbury, Vermont

Andy: A lot of the same tips apply as the wedding photographer. Keep your batteries warm and try to avoid condensation from getting onto your lens. If he’s shooting landscapes, a good pair of windproof gloves with good tactile abilities would be good to have.

Scott: Batteries are the thing that will kill. If you’re working in really cold weather you’ll be shocked at how quickly they run out of juice. If you get down way below zero, your camera actually can be damaged since the solvents and the lubricants inside your camera could freeze. Then if you press the shutter button, you could wind up breaking something inside the camera. In super high heat those same things can melt and goop up things inside your camera.

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.

Andy Biggs is at

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