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Photofocus Episode 64

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

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This week we kick things off with a question about photographing special needs children:

Question One – Photographing Special Needs Children

I’m going to photograph special needs children. Do you have any setup suggestions for shooting school children’s portraits, specific lighting equipment and techniques I should use/follow and any other tips you are able to share? I do have some experience with Special Needs Children and will have the help of the teachers I am sure, but any additional thoughts particular to Special Needs Children as a subject would also be most welcome. Brian McLaughlin from Hong Kong.

Tamara: I think it’s great that Brian is planning ahead for this shoot. The term special needs can cover a wide variety of needs so if possible, try to find out as much as you can about the special needs you’ll be working with and then try to do as much research as possible beforehand. Give the session more time and think about being respectful of personal space. I always let the child lead the session which helps with buy-in. Visit which is a great resource. Don’t spend too much time fiddling with your equipment – make sure your connecting with the child.

Question Two – Photographying Osprey

There are osprey in our local area. They wait until they’re sure no one has a camera. Then swoop past giving everyone one a haute look on their way by. Then disappear back into their worm hole. On the rare occasions when I’ve seen one stationary they were atop tall trees in a open area. No way to sneak any where close to these birds. Any suggestions on how to get a shot of these elusive creatures? From Mac

Scott: Osprey are raptors and behave as such. They tend to perch up high and look down for prey so the first thing to do is look for their nests. Do your research and find out where there are large numbers of Osprey such as southern Florida. Second thing would be to look for their nest and then wait for them. Watch for where they go to hunt and look at their patterns. Study their behavior and then it becomes easier to predict where they will go. They generally fly into the wind. Try to shoot with very fast glass and keep your shutter speed at 1/1000 minimum. You can cheat your ISO up there if you need to get a faster shutter speed.

Question Three – Advantages to Using Flash Brackets

I know you’ve said you’ve got a cupboard full of camera flash brackets but, do they offer a real advantage for event photography, when you want the impromptu portrait? There would seem to be an advantage to increasing the height of the flash with a bracket, when it’s not possible to bounce it off the ceiling. Also there are these flip brackets that ingeniously allow you to turn the camera and keep the flash above it, so you get portrait frame with the flash still above it….However with a 21 mega pixel camera one could take all the pictures in landscape frame and just crop as ones heart desires. What do you think please? Brad.

Tamara: I have a few flash brackets as well but I often find them cumbersome. If prefer to just bounce the flash and these days I’m working with more off-camera flash and remote triggers. As for shooting horizontal and cropping vertical – that just seems like a lot more work in post.

Scott: I wouldn’t advise shooting and cropping either. As for the brackets, I have them and use them ocassionally but like you, I prefer to work with off-camera flash and remote triggers like PocketWizards.

Question Four – Autofocus Illuminator

What is an autofocus illuminator? Dale Brandon from Los Angeles

Tamara: Autofocus relies upon contrast to work. In dark situations this can provide a challenge for the camera so it is basically an infrared beam of light that the camera will send out to help with focusing.

Scott: Basically that’s it. In low-light, the autofocus assist lamp will jump in there with a focused beam of light to help the autofocus system see better.

Question Five – Interpolation

What is interpolation and does it effect the quality of my photos? Elisha Kole from Jberg South Africa

Scott: Interpolation is basically a fancy word for guessing. When you try to englarge or reduce a photograph in a program like Photoshop, mathematical formulas are applied to add or remove pixels to make it bigger or smaller. The more you interpolate, the greater the effect it will have on the quality of your image.

Tamara: Pumping up the pixels is how I’d refer to it. There are several 3rd party programs out there to help with this kind of thing right?

Scott: Yes, there are 3 or 4 programs out there that take the guesswork out. Genuine Fractals is one of these popular programs.

Question Six – Repairing a Push-Pull Type Lens

My zoom lens has started to get harder and harder to zoom. It is a push pull type zoom. Do you think it should be repaired by a professional? Adam Marker from New York, NY

Scott: Yes I do think you should have it repaired by a professional. Often these type of lenses get all kinds of gunk in them because there is a gap between the two lens components. This can happen to regular lenses as well. If you’re looking at buying any used lenses and they are hard to focus, walk away from that deal.

Tamara: I always take my lenses in and don’t take chances trying to fix things myself.

Question Seven – Photographing Through Glass

I heard you say that you touch the front of your lens to the glass at a hockey rink or aquarium. Does the front element actually touch the glass? How do you turn your camera left and right if it’s flat against the glass? Chris in Chicago

Tamara: It’s actually not the front element that touches but the rim of the lens that touches and I use this technique a lot when I have to shoot through glass. Try to clean the glass you’re shooting through if you can. If you do turn it left or right then there is a chance of getting some reflections.

Scott: I try to set myself up at an angle and use a wide enough lens so that I don’t have to tip my lens left or right and introduce reflections.

Question Eight – Sharpening Techniques

After reading different things on the Internet and trying different sharpening methods on my own, I wanted to ask which method you use on what kind of pictures and why. Nimar Blume

Tamara: I add a little sharpening in camera but do most of my sharpening in Photoshop. I find it’s better to find a few good actions and apply them according to the situation rather than doing a mass unsharp. I use Kevin Kubota’s sharpening actions on most of my photographs.

Scott: Kevin makes some great actions. I really like Nik Software’s program Sharpener Pro because it allows you to apply the sharpening based on the size of the image and the viewing distance. Another method I use is to duplicate my main layer. Then I choose Filter -Other -High Pass and set the radius somewhere between 5 -10. Then I click ok which then turns the photograph grey. Then you go to the Layer Styles and click hard light or soft light depending upon how much sharpening you want and then you can erase the areas where you don’t want sharpening applied.

Question Nine – Workflow Suggestions for Making Selections

When I shoot I tend to shoot many compostion options of the same subject/shot. When I get back and import my pics into lightroom I face the very difficult and often frustrating task of choosing the best one. What methods can you suggest to speed up this process and make it simpler. Martin Drake from Bristol, UK

Tamara: I think a big part of photography is how you view composition. Some photographers will look at something in the field and see a composition that works or can arrange things in such a way to get the image they want. If you don’t have a vision for the composition and just shoot a bunch of frames in the field, it’s similar to the argument of whether you get it right in the camera or fix it in post. I would suggest thinking about why you’re composing the image the way you are before you click the shutter. What do you want the viewer to get out of the image when you take it. When it comes down to selecting the best image, you need to explore what it is about the photograph. Is is the composition? The mood?

Scott: I still struggle with this as well. My workflow is basically a two-tier rating method. My first pass I quickly reject the images that I know I don’t want. Then I go through them again give them a 4 star rating for the images I really like. Then I recommend taking some time away from the images for awhile and when I come back, I go though them again and promote my favourites by giving them a 5 star rating. Try to step away from your images and come back with fresh eyes.

Question Ten – Travelling Tips

I am a learning photographer and I will be taking my first trip out of the country with my camera. I’ve been to China before, but never with the intent to make pictures. I would greatly appreciate any tips you can give me for my trip. It will be two weeks and we will be visiting Shanghai, Xi’an, Beijing, and Changchun. Tye Hill from Fairfax, VA

Tamara: Make sure you understand the customs and know what is considered rude before you go over there and that will hopefully help you avoid any unpleasant situations.

Scott: Study as much as you can about the culture. Take memory cards with you. Buying them in China is likely not a good idea. Line up all your batteries and chargers ahead of time. If you see someone with a gun, do not point a camera at them. In China in particular, there are sensitive areas where the Chinese people get sensitive about photography. There are a lot of religious places in China that you may not understand if you’re not Chinese, where there are no photo signs and you need to take them seriously. Having a little local currency can also help grease the wheels in certain situations no matter where you’re travelling. If you’re going to Tibet, don’t bother taking a camera with you. Also smile a lot. If you can swing it, try bringing one of those small portable printers with you and if you’re shooting in one of the remote villages, try taking some photographs and giving them a picture.

Question Eleven – Model Releases for Street Photography

I just heard you discussing how you approach someone in the street for a model release signature which would obviously result in the subject conciously “posing” for a photo. If you first take a candid shot of the person and then approach them AFTERWARDS, how do you choose the right words to explain that you already took the shot without their knowledge without sounding like a stalker?!! If I asked ” do you mind giving your permission for me to use the picture?” I would expect a response something like “what do you want to use it for?”. So where would I go from there without getting into a long-winded explanation to the subject?!!! Simon. Swansea from Wales U.K.

Tamara: I assume the need for the model release if you are intending to use the photograph for commerical purposes. You can still do street photography without needing a model release if you’re not going to use it for commercial purposes. If the intention is to use it commercially, then I would approach them, let them know I’m a professional photographer, and tell them that there is something about them that struck me and ask them to sign a model release. There are many smart phone applications that are available now. If you’re dreadfully uncomfortable with it, then I just wouldn’t do it unless it’s the most incredible photograph you’ve ever taken.

Scott: I’ve never had anyone refuse to sign a model release and never had anyone ask about how or where I’d be using the photographs. I try to get a copy of the model release in the language of the country I’m visiting. I also make sure to get their address and offer to send them a print.

Question Twelve – Possibility of a Nikon App Store

I’m continuously amazed by what can be done with the photo apps for my iPhone. The bottleneck for all of them is the tiny little camera sensor and lens. I can’t help daydreaming about what it might be like to have a Nikon App Store and run the equivalent of some of these iPhone Apps through my D700 and 24-70 f/2.8 lens. What say you? Paul Bilodeau from St. Johnsbury, VT

Scott: I say that would be a great idea. I’d love to see a Canon app store, a Nikon app store, and many others. There is some great work being done out there with iPhones. When digital came along I envisioned a lot of changes to form factors but I’ve been surprised at how little actually has happened.

Tamara: I really get excited by all the options that are out there for smart phones. I read about some interesting patents that different companies have such as Apple and one patent they had for magnetic lenses that could attach to the iPhone. I’d love to see more innovation like this on the other side with dSLR cameras.

Question Thirteen – Equipment Trends

What is your take on what the current status is for the equipment being used in most studios for environmental/studio photography, and possibly weddings. i.e. cameras, lenses, lighting, etc.? Glen Clark CA

Scott: This question makes me a little nervous because it might imply that if you buy the same gear as Tamara Lackey, that you’ll be the same photographer. Generally once you get a couple of stands, some backdrops, and lights, just about any combination of camera and lenses will work. Worry more about going out to get some buisness and being able to articulate your vision with your camera.

Tamara: I think it’s about the individual, what they see and how they draw people out. The two cameras I use the most is the 1D Mark II which is about 5 years old now but I like using it because it pushes me to not rely on just the equipment. There are lots of kits we could recommend but what are you working on and what are you trying to gain from your experience. Everyone’s basic kit will differ depending upon what they are shooting. For me I have to have a reflector but that might not be the case for someone else.

Question Fourteen – Memory Cards and the iPad 2

Do you think the new iPad will work with CF or SD cards directly? Bill, Mary, Tom

Scott: I will try to predict what Apple will do but there have been many reports that the new iPad will have an SD card slot. I would be shocked if it included a CF card slot however.

Tamara: I would love to see a built-in card slot as I hate having to drag along additional cables and dongles.

Question Fifteen – Automatic Sensor Cleaning – Best Practices

I recently went from a Nikon D40-X to a Nikon D3100 and I noticed it has “automatic sensor cleaning,” something the D40 didn’t have. It has three settings: Clean now Clean at start-up Clean at shutdown Clean at start-up AND shut-down Not only does Nikon not give the user an INDICATION on the top-level menu of one’s choice having been selected (just two hyphens appear), Nikon makes NO RECOMMENDATION as to what’s best, i.e, what do they advise? Nothing in the manual or in the reference PDF, just the options listed. Jeff Revell’s 3100 book (“From Snapshots to Great Shots”) advises at start-up AND shut-down. What do YOU advise? Larry Gauper from Fargo, North Dakota.

Tamara: I advise is to have it at shutdown. Primarily because there are times when I grab my camera and want to get a shot so I don’t want to wait for the 2 seconds for the sensor to be cleaned.

Scott: I don’t think there is a wrong or right answer to this question. I operate the same way as Tamara with my camera set to clean at shutdown. Clean now is used if you have an immediate problem and need to deal with it.

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.

Tamara Lackey is at

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