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Photofocus Episode 61

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about how to use a tripod when shooting landscapes:

Question One – Tips for Using a Tripod

Can you please suggest the simplest and most logical steps for using a tripod to shoot landscapes. I consider myself a decent shooter but I’ve realized how difficult it can be to use a tripod to maximum effect out in the field. I end up doing way too much tweaking with tripod height and ball head angles. Is more patience the answer or am I making something that should be simple, complicated? Kirk in Hong Kong

Joe: I prefer the tilt-shift handle system over a ball-head system and I think that’s where his problem lies. Landscapes aren’t going anywhere so take your time and be deliberate.

Scott: I do like ball heads and if you get in the rhythm with them they can be pretty nice. I will say that Induro makes a new type of custom ball head that is also a panning tilt head. It’s called the PHQ3 and you can check out our mini-review I did on it back in May of this year. It has at least 4 bubble levels on it. Manfrotto and Gitzo also make ball head levelers which can make this a bit easier. It could still be that Kirk is making it harder than it needs to be. Also pay attention to the tension knobs. One will let you set the general tension and another one will let you refine it.

Question Two – Average Lifespan of a DSLR

What’s the average lifespan of today’s DSLR’s? As a pro, have you ever exceeded the # of intended actuations? Erno from Folsom, CA

Scott: I have never exceeded and the average lifespan depends 100% on how you use them. There is a prominent photographer called Phillip Bloom who does a lot of time lapse photography and I’ve seen him run his camera continuously for 7 hours so the lifespan for his cameras will be a lot less than someone who only shoots a few times per day or per week. Most people these days will likely replace their cameras to keep up with changes in technology long before their cameras will wear out.

Joe: I have never exceeded any actuations on any DSLR but I have back when we used to shoot film. The difference with a mechanical camera is that there were more parts that could go wrong however I could take them to a camera repair guy and they would fix them and I’d be back to work.

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Question Three – Explanation of Exposing to the Right

Simon, Frank, Ellen and Tina all wanted an explanation of the phrase, expose to the right.

Scott: When you look at the histogram on your camera, you’ll likely have 3 or 4 quadrants that make it up depending upon your camera brand. We generally always used to think that we wanted to keep things in the center. In the real world you’ll have shadows on the left-hand side and hi lites on the right. What we’ve learned is that the farther we can push that histogram to the right without overexposing, the more data we get. If you expose to the left and bring it back, you’ll wind up with noise. If you expose to the right and bring it back, you’ll always end up with a less noisy picture and better result.

Question Four – Tips to Overpower the Sun with a Shallow Depth of Field

Could you offer some advice for overpowering the sun while maintaining some level of shallow depth of field? Josh Tripodi

Joe: ND filters are a great way to control the sun. They cut down the light which allows you to work with different apertures.

Scott: ND filters are the easy answer. The Vari ND filter from Singh Ray would be my choice but they are expensive. I use them a lot when shooting video. You could also do some fancy stuff with off-camera flash.

Question Five – Tips for Shooting in Hazy Conditions

Do you have any tips for shooting in hazy conditions? It’s fun to shoot a scene that is foggy, snowy, rainy, etc. but hazy is not very fun. Any tips would be appreciated. Mike Kennamer

Joe: A haze filter can help and I like the ones from Tiffen but it depends on the type of haze you’re dealing with. In post production you can always increase contrast and play around with that a little bit.

Scott: I occasionally cut haze with a polarizer. The B+W filters are the best and maintain color quality compared with the cheaper filters. Hoya does also make some good filters if you can’t afford the more expensive B+W. Where you’ll notice the biggest difference in these filters is when you compare plastic filters vs. glass.

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Question Six – Favorite Lens for Group Photography

What is you favorite angle lens for a group photo of 20 subjects? I find too wide an angle and too close a distance can create front row subjects that are disproportionately larger comparing to back row subjects. Toh Wong from Sydney, Australia

Joe: 20 isn’t that big of a group. I’d get them in rows of 6 or 7 to keep them fairly close together. Then you want to get to a higher elevation so stand on a ladder or stepstool so that you can shoot down on them. I think how you pose them and how you shoot them makes a bigger difference than lens choice but I typically use the Canon 28-135mm lens for my group shots.

Scott: Just get up on a ladder and a normal 50mm lens will work just fine. Shooting down always works best when shooting groups. Then all the problems with depth of field and distortion go away. It’s also more flattering for everyone in the photograph.

Question Seven – Noise vs. Image Size

On a recent photofocus episode you were talking about higher megapixel count causing more noise in a photo. I’m shooting with a Canon 7D, and have found the noise to be a little much once I get higher than about 3200. Would I have better high ISO performance shooting at Medium-sized RAW (which I believe is around 12 megapixels as opposed to the 7D’s usual 18) than full-size? John from Montville, NJ

Joe: More megapixels don’t cause noise. It’s more megapixels on a small chip that causes the noise. Changing it down to 12 mp is not going to change the pixel count on the chip. Forget medium size RAW. Just watch your exposure as under exposure creates more noise.

Scott: Properly exposed images will help with noise. Expose to the right and try to add light when you can. Even at 3200, you’ll see less noise if you can get some light in there. You can also reduce the noise in post with products like Nik Dfine. I wouldn’t obsess over noise – focus on expression and posing before you start worrying too much about noise.

Question Eight – Photographing Snow without a Blue Cast

I have a question about shooting snow to prevent getting a blue cast. I’m in the habit of compensating the exposure – over-exposing one stop. This helps but I’m not sure what to do about white balance. If I’m shooting raw does it matter? Usually I don’t bother with white balance in camera when I’m shooting raw but have been setting custom white balance in the camera for snow. This can be very fiddly in the cold conditions – can I skip this and do in post?

Joe: You could use a skylight filter or you could set it to the shade WB in your camera and you’ll find that blue should go away. You can also use a post production plug-in called iCorrect Edit Lab from

Scott: You could also use something like the Xrite Color Checker Passport by getting it into the scene. In terms of exposure you may want to push it 1 1/2 or 2 stops over to get that snow looking really white instead of grey.

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Question Nine – Holiday Photography Tips

My family and I celebrate Christmas. I understand the show airs that day so I wonder if you have any tips for capturing the special day. Todd Olsen from St Paul, MN

Joe: The one thing that I try to make sure I do, is to use flash and take pictures of each other opening gifts. We also try to make sure they’re not backlit so they’re not underexposed.

Scott: Try to get that flash off the camera and don’t forget that the photographer needs to be in the picture once and awhile. Take a few moments to do your hair as often those photos wind up being next year’s Christmas card. Also a tripod like the Gorillapod will let you setup a camera and use the self timer to get some great shots of everyone.

Question Ten – Tips for Photographing Hockey Games Through the Glass

I shoot a lot of kids hockey games and some of the rinks have glass all the way around including the penalty box area- i hate to shoot thru the glass because it seems the pictures all ways end up lacking that pop and contrast-any advice on shooting thru glass? John from Madison Heights Michigan

Scott: I used to shoot for the Tacoma Sabrecats. Take the lens hood off and just put the lens right on the glass. The close focusing distance is beyond the glass itself so you won’t see anything like scratches. If you’re worried about contrast you can always bump that up in post if you really want to.

Joe: I haven’t photographed any hockey but I use that same technique if I’m at a place like the aquarium.

Question Eleven – Copyright Question

I have a Copyright question. Can I use someone else’s photo on my website if I am not charging for access and giving them a link back to their site from mine? Mike Manson, New York

Joe: You may not. The easiest way is to just ask for permission and if they say yes then you can.

Scott: If you’re serious about this, read title 17 of the copyright act and secondly consult a lawyer. Giving credit has nothing to do with copyright. Beyond the legal aspects, isn’t it just polite to ask for permission?

Question Twelve – Stroboscopic Photography

Robert Murch asks: I hear flashes frequently referred to as “Strobes” but my 580 EXII has a “multi stroboscopic mode”. I think that means it can make multiple flashes in one photo (i.e. so I can have multiple exposures of one subject. Swinging a baseball bat etc) Any tips on this type of photography?

Scott: Stroboscopic does allow you to take multiple images such as someone swinging a baseball bat however the power of your flash is going to be extremely reduced for each burst. Be sure that you’re close enough and have enough illumination going on because you won’t get that big pop you’ll normally get. Also don’t overuse the test mode or you can ruin your flash by overheating it.

Question Thirteen – Fading Prints

Adam Allison from Chicago says he made a print but it is fading. Is this normal he asks or is there something potentially wrong with the printer.

Joe: Look at the type of ink and paper that you’re using. If you’re using refill inks and cheap paper then it will likely fade. If you use archival paper and inks that your printer were designed for, then they should last longer. Check out Heny Wilhelm’s site to download his research on the longevity of photographic materials. Also where you hang it can play a big part in how long it lasts before it starts to fade. Fluorescent lights can cause it to fade too.

Scott: If you’re using a super archival paper, there is less likelihood of it fading but if you’re using a cheap Walmart paper or something not designed for your printer, then there is a good chance of it fading over time. The biggest culprit is direct light. Also watch out for heat, cold, and humidity.

Question Fourteen – Lens Hoods

My question is about lens hoods, and how they improve your photographs. I see many types such as round, tulip, chopped tulip and rectangular. Are they all for different situations or is one best for all types of photography. Rick Stuve from Huntley, IL

Scott: I think you should always shoot with a lens hood. They cut down on lens flare that can enter from the side. This is called lens refraction which reduces contrast. Lens hoods are also great protection for lenses. The different sizes and shapes of lens hoods have to do with the different focal lengths. Where you see cutaways, that is where the lens would have vignetted.

Joe: In addition to a lens hood, I will often put a B+W skylight filter on my bigger lenses too for extra protection.

Scott: I’m not a big fan of the skylight filters myself as I don’t believe in putting a $100 filter over a $14,000 piece of glass. Often the front element of the lens is the cheapest part of the lens to replace if it ever does get scratched or broken.

Question Fifteen – Learning from the Photography Masters

I keep hearing people encourage us to look at the work of the old master photographers to get inspiration and to learn things. I’m finding it hard to know what I’m supposed to pay attention to with this information. I mean, with Ansel Adams, I like his work, but I find it hard to identify with shooting at F/64 and using zone systems for metering and setting up photos based on these things. What about Bresson and Avedon? How do I get the most of out of these old photography masters? -Al

Joe: I have a lot of photography books and I get inspiration from the way he’s captured his subject. I look at the lighting and the composition and how the subject was posed. I think looking at their vision is the most important thing. I also read a lot of biographies on these guys to get inside their heads and see how they think.

Scott: Ask yourself some serious questions about the photograph. Where was the light? What was the subject of the photograph? What was the photographer trying to tell us? How were they trying to make us feel? What kind of lens do we think that he or she used? Trying to dissect the photograph will subconsciously educate you. I’ve gotten so much better by looking at other people’s work that I think it’s the best thing you can do as a photographer.

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.

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