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Photofocus Episode 7

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we are kicking things off with a question about sharpening.

Question One – Sharpening in Camera or in Post

Sylvain Gagner from Quebec asks if software sharpening does a better job than in-camera sharpening?

Rick: If you are shooting a long exposure I recommend using the in-camera sharpening. You are working with the chroma noise when using in-camera sharpening. When working in Photoshop or Camera Raw your are working with both Chroma and Luminance. In post you can also be more selective about where you apply sharpening.

Scott: You are usually better off using the sharpening that comes with programs like Photoshop rather than the in-camera sharpening. One thing sharpening can’t do is bring an out-of-focus photograph back into focus. Far too often people rely on sharpening rather than making sure they are doing everything they can to get it sharp in the camera.

Rick: Another thing is that if you use a program like Nik Sharpener Pro, you can sharpen for the viewing distance.

Scott: Good point. The medium on which the photograph is going to be printed along with the size are also important factors in determining the type and amount of sharpening to apply to an image. There is no one-size fits all approach. Don’t over-sharpen.

Question TwoUsing a Neutral Density Filter with Slow Shutter Speeds

Gary Later wants to know the proper way to use a neutral density filter when trying to achieve slow shutter speeds.

Scott: It’s pretty hard to do wrong. The best way is to screw it on the front of the lens and meter through the filter to get an appropriate exposure. If you are using a hand-held meter, you have to compensate for the fact that the ND is going to reduce the amount of light. An ND filter is a great tool on bright sunny days and you can do some neat effects with one. The ND filter and a polarizing filter are about the only two filters I ever use.

Rick: Speaking of polarizing filters, try not to stack these filters as you can get vignetting. If he is using a graduated ND filter, the best way is to look through the lens, take the shot and check the display on the back of your camera.

Question Three – Darkening Backgrounds on Outdoor Shoots

Matt on Twitter would like to know when doing outdoors on location shoots with strobes, if you want to darken the sky or the background, what’s the best way of doing this?

Scott: Shutter speed will control the amount of ambient light. If you want the background to be darker, you’ll need to adjust the shutter speed. If you want to control the exposure that will be controlled by the aperture.

Rick: With the new Pocket Wizards, they can sync at 1/8000 of a second so you can use a flash off camera with a fast shutter speed to darken down the background and illuminate your subject by taking advantage of the high-speed sync settings on your flash.

Scott: You need to go into manual mode on your flash if you want to do something more creative. A great resource for reading up on this stuff is the Strobist.

Question Four – Monopod Techniques

David Freed on Twitter asks “What’s the best technique for using a monopod?”

Scott: An old pro sports shooter in the 50’s by the name of David Wilkerson became a mentor of mine and he taught me a little trick. I stick the monopod down inside my shoe to give it more stability.

Rick: The only monopod I have is around 30 years old and it has a flip-out rifle stock that you put on shoulder for extra stability.

Question Five – Underwater Photography

Tyron Jennings says “I want to do some underwater photography and video. Should I buy an underwater case for my Canon G9 or just purchase a dedicated underwater camera?”

Scott: It just so happens that Rick is an expert on this topic with 7 books about underwater photography so I’m going to let him answer this one.

Rick: If you put your camera in a housing, what you want to do is don’t use your in camera flash. The flash is going to illuminate all of the plankton and it will look like it’s snowing. Use the available lighting and then in post you can boost the reds and contrast. If you’re serious about it, get a housing along with a bracket for an off camera flash. When I dive I have a camera with two strobes and they are 2-3 feet away from the camera. You also have to have a backup of everything as eventually it will all flood. Obviously this is the more expensive route so if you are just doing this as a one-off then go ahead and pick up a disposable underwater camera.

Question Six – HTML or Flash for a Photographer’s Website

Wes Gallier is working on developing his web site and portfolio but is struggling with creating either a flash-based web site which looks nicer or an HTML based site which is more search engine friendly. What do Scott and Rick recommend?

Scott: The flash sites look very cool however they don’t score well with the search engines. They can also be slow and if someone is looking for images they may not have the patience to wait for the site to load. Since you are competing with millions of people for search results, my recommendation is to get an HTML web site or use a hybrid site that supports HTML tags. There is some great SEO information for photographers over at Photoshelter.

Rick: It’s important to know your audience. My site is HTML but perhaps if you are a wedding photographer your audience may want something flashier. For me I just want to reach other photographers and make it easy to find content so I stick to the HTML version.

Question Seven – Storing Images in Aperture vs. Referencing

James Bacal from Victoria Australia says “I’ve been using Lightroom for a couple of years but recently switched to Aperture. Do you prefer to store your images in the Aperture library or do you reference them?”

Scott: I like the library. If I referenced them I’d have to keep track of them and since I have over 500,000 pictures that would be a lot to keep track of.

Rick: I also prefer to use the library over referencing them.

Question Eight – Making New Versions in Aperture When Making Adjustments

Jame’s 2nd question is also related to Aperture and he would like to know if Scott and Rick toggle the setting in preferences to make new versions when making adjustments?

Scott: I do. That’s a workflow preference thing and I know some photographers and trainers who don’t. It really doesn’t cost anything and you’re not really creating another file, you’re just creating an instruction set as a small XML side file.

Rick: I agree 100%. I wonder how many people realize that you’re not actually creating another 20 MB file – you’re just creating a set of instructions and not another copy.

Scott: If you are using a plug-in like the Tiffen filter however, keep in mind that you will be creating another version when Aperture sends it out and round trips it back in.

Question Nine – Unhappy Upgrader

Chris recently made the leap from a 6.0 Mp Sony Digicam to a Canon XSi but he is disappointed with the apparent lack of difference in image quality. While the Canon does perform better in low-light conditions, he really can’t see a lot of difference between them when the lighting conditions are good. Was he out of line in his expectations?

Scott: One of the first things people tend to notice when they make the switch to a DSLR is that they do perform better in low-light conditions and that is normally enough justification for making the switch.

Rick: Low-light performance is definitely the big advantage that a camera like the XSi will have over a compact camera like the Digicam. As you move up in price, the noise goes down as the ISO goes up. For example, if you shot the same image at ISO 400 on a small point and shoot vs. a DSLR you should see a noticeable difference in the amount of noise in the image. This improved performance in low-light generally makes it worthwhile to upgrade.

Scott: It might also be that he needs to blow these images up and that’s when he’ll probably start to notice the difference. Stick with it, print some images and you should start to see the benefits of moving up to a better camera.

Question Ten – Choosing Lenses

Two similar emails from Matt and Edward Peck. Edward has a D80 with an 18-135mm kit lens and thinks he needs some better glass. He’s been doing streetscapes and landscapes and is wondering what advice we can give him about acquiring a lens. Where should he start? Matt is wondering what he should spend his money on – a better body or better glass?

Rick: You can definitely get by with 3rd party lenses but with lenses you really get what you pay for. My preference would be to stick with the camera if you’re happy with it and spend the money on better glass.

Scott: My advice would be the same. You can never go wrong investing in good quality lenses. Where it makes sense to start upgrading your camera is when you start to specialize in certain kinds of photography. For example if you start to specialize in sports or wildlife photography you’ll want to look for a camera with a large buffer and a high frame rate per second. If you’re doing cityscapes or landscapes where the subject isn’t going anywhere, pretty much any camera you buy today will do an amazing job. I also recommend that people get the fastest lens they can – not necessarily for the low light capabilities but for the sweet spot. For most lenses, the sharpest point on the lens will often be somewhere in the middle. On an f2.8 lens that sweet spot will be somewhere around 5.6 – 8.0 whereas on an f4 lens that sweet spot will be somewhere around f11. That will affect the amount of bokeh that you’ll be able to get in your image.

Special Guest Question/Answerer – Martin Bailey

You’ll recognize our special guest’s voice as you hear him at the beginning and end of every show – it’s Martin Bailey from The Martin Bailey Photography Podcast.

Question Eleven – Paper Weights

Stu Plaister from the UK asks what weight paper do I need to use for framing prints? I have a few prints from the lab that I have framed that have crinkled. The ones I have not framed have not. The prints are in different rooms in the house and not in the kitchen where they are getting steamed all day. I think that maybe the paper is too thin or am I doing something wrong when framing the prints. Do you have any framing tips?

Martin: I do a lot of printing and some is casual and other is to sell. Over the years I’ve come to the determination that it’s not the thickness of the paper – it’s more about the quality of the paper. I have several prints up on the wall and out of all of them only one is crinkled. That one happened to be printed on just standard glossy photo paper whereas all of the others are printed on higher quality fine art papers. I like the Hahnemhle Museum Etching paper which is a very thick paper and I also use their photo rag paper which is only 188 gms which isn’t very thick at all; and neither have crinkled. It’s not about the thickness but it’s about the quality.

Scott: Do you think that there is a chance that the mounting or lack thereof could have caused a problem?

Martin: Of course there are professional matting services and you can get into matting yourself. Stu mentioned that he put them into frames himself. For my own stuff I normally just buy pre-fabricated frames from the store and generally they have a pre-cut mat in them. I will buy acid free archival quality tape and take a few strips of that and tape the photo to the back of the mat. If I’m going to use that method for something I’m going to sell, I’ll use something like goodie which is a double sided tape and put a strip of that all the way around the mat. That ensures that the print isn’t going to move around. The disadvantage of using that kind of tape is if you ever want to reuse the mat you’ll likely ruin the print trying to take it back out.

Scott: Another possibility would be to get your prints dry mounted and you do have to pay attention to the humidity.

Question Twelve – Expose for the Shadows?

John Mark Wiltchild was talking to some photographers the other day and one of them suggested that in this new digital age you should expose for the shadows as you can’t bring back the shadows. Isn’t this backwards?

Martin: By everything that I’ve learned over the years is that you should expose for the hilites.

Scott: If you blow out the detail beyond 255 then it’s history.

Martin: The new 14-bit Raw files to hold bit more detail and you can get more back but it never the same. As a little side tip, many people talk about exposing for the hilites but if you’re using the normal white histogram it represents an average of the red, blue, and green channels. If you’re shooting a field full of red flowers, you could actually be blowing out just the red channel. If you are looking at your histogram, you should switch to the RGB channel.

Question Thirteen – What Makes a DSLR a Professional DSLR

Charlie Brown wants to know what constitutes the difference between a consumer DSLR, a semi-pro DSLR and a professional DSLR?

Martin: It’s really about the tools for the craftsman. When choosing a tool you choose a tool for a specific job. I have the 1DS Mark III and the 5D Mark II. The reason I bought the 1DS Mark III is because I need to take it into extreme conditions such as cold weather. Accessibility to features is another consideration. For example, one the 1DS Mark III, if I want to apply exposure bracketing I can hit 2 buttons on the dial and I’ve got bracketing. If I’m doing the same thing on the 5D I have to dive into the menus. The build of the camera and whether or not you need certain features really determines whether you go with something that is marketed as a semi-pro versus professional. If the sensor sizes are the same then both are going to give you the same quality images.

Scott: The designation of a pro-body is more of a marketing slang that has come to describe the high end cameras that are typically weather sealed, full-frame, have a fast frame rate and a large buffer. A pro camera is one that is the hands of a pro. I have over 800 photos in print that I shot with a 3.3 Mp Canon D30.

Thanks for joining us today Martin. Where can people find out more about you?

Check out The Martin Bailey Photography podcast. We’re are also running some workshops in Hokkaido Japan so visit for more information.

Question Fourteen – Getting Sharper Images

Bill Kubiak wrote in. He is having trouble making sharp photographs. They’re not really out of focus but just not tack sharp.

Rick: Having a good lens helps. Having a clean lens helps. Having a little bit of lens flare could cause the images to look soft so using a lens hood can help. Having them focus on the right point and using a fast enough shutter speed to reduce blur will all help get sharper images.

Scott: Using a tripod is always a good thing. Remember that camera or subject movement can create a slightly soft image. Try to use some sort of camera stabilizer such as a tripod, gorilla pod or bean bag. VR or IS lenses can really help. Also make sure that you’re focusing on a contrasty part of the scene. Autofocus looks for something contrasty to achieve focus. If you’re looking at a scene that lacks contrast, sometimes I’ll put something in the scene that is very high contrast to achieve focus, switch to manual focus so that it doesn’t change and then remove the object from the scene and shoot it.

Question Sixteen – Large Outdoor Group Shots

Derrick Jensen checks in from Twitter and he has some outdoor group shots coming up and he’s looking for some advice and tips on large outdoor groups.

Scott: I hate the bleacher shots so what I do is get high up on a ladder or a cherry picker, gather everyone in a circle and shoot down. This method eliminates double-chins, it gets everyone’s face in the shot and hides the problems (e.g. short vs tall, fat vs.skinny, etc.).

Rick: Also try to take about 30 – 40 shots of the same scene so that if someone is blinking you can lift their head from another image in Photoshop where they aren’t blinking.Also remember that the camera looks both ways so your attitude is going to be reflected in those subjects.

The Blog

Just a reminder that you can visit the blog at for the show notes and plenty of other photography related articles. Please email us your questions at [email protected] or you can follow us on Twitter and leave questions with the hashtag #photoqa. If you can tell us where you’re from and how to pronounce your name that would be great too. Also be sure to check out Rick’s site devoted to plug-ins at

Wrap Up

Rick and Scott will also be teaching together on the final leg of the Aperture Nature Photography Workshop so head on over to for more details.We want themes and questions from you. Be sure to visit the blog at for articles, how-to’s, videos and more. You can also subscribe to the blog on a Kindle. Email us at [email protected] follow us on Twitter. Don’t just take pictures – make pictures.

Show notes by Bruce Clarke