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Photofocus Episode 72

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about keeping photography fresh and interesting:

Question One – Keeping Photography Fresh and Interesting

Dave McCarty from Boston writes: I have been what you might call a serious photographer for more than 20 years. At times, I find myself fighting boredom or burnout. How do you keep it fresh and interesting?

Tamara: I’m a big believer in protecting your passion. Ask yourself what you love about photography and which things are boring so that you can revise your photography to make a difference. Give yourself challenges.

Scott: I would suggest changing your subjects. If you’ve been shooting landscapes for 20 years, try switching to portraits for example. Change up the scenery.

Question Two – Good Low-Light Performance at a Price Point

Rich from Philadelphia asks: At what price point do most DSLRs offer good (not perfect) low-light performance?

Tamara: For me I shoot a lot in lower light so low-light performance is important to me. The new Rebel has pretty good low light capabilities and it starts at around $700. Anything coming out today is leaps and bounds ahead of something that was release just a few years ago in terms of low-light performance.

Scott: If you want that perfect low-light performance than you’re looking at something between $3000 – $5000. There are many cameras in the $1200 – $1500 range that provide some great low-light performance as well. However, for those who are religious about low-light photography, I don’t mind if there is a bit of noise or grain in my images.

Question Three – Foveon Chips and Color Capture

Richard Itterman asks: Do Sigma cameras with their foveon chips actually capture color better?

Scott: Foveon chips use a different approach to capturing light. On paper, the theory is that they should drive more color accuracy. In my tests with the Sigma cameras, I don’t see any difference.

Question Four – Dates on Prints

Anthony Marchesano writes: When signing prints or the matt do you put a date? If so do you just put the year you took the photo, printed the photo or sold the photo.

Tamara: I do sign the matt or the canvas but I don’t normally date them on the front. On the back I will usually put the date of the shoot along with my stamp and logo.

Scott: When I do fine art prints, I sign the year I made the image, my name and the edition (e.g. 1 of 100).

Question Five – Criteria for Determining Who is a Professional Photographer

Katie Sutherland from Nashville asks: What is the criteria that you (and your guest speaker) would use to determine who is a professional photographer?

Tamara: This has become a touchy subject in recent years. I know many photographers who have been shooting for several years and selling their work who don’t consider themselves professionals and I know others who just bought their first dSLR at the camera store who are calling themselves a professional. In terms of criteria I would use, I would consider a photographer a professional if you are earning a good portion of your income from photography.

Scott: I honestly don’t think that it matters. Professional can mean that you have perfected your craft. From a business case standpoint a professional is someone who charges money.

Question Six – Lens Suggestions for a Trip to the Galapagos Islands

Sameer Mehta: I was just wondering if you had some simple insight on the best lenses to rent/purchase for a trip to Galapagos.

Tamara: The Galapagos are amazing and one of the unique things will be the ability to get really close to the animals there. That means you’ll be able to shoot with primes like a 35mm 1.4. A 70-200mm is also a great lens. You may also want to bring some underwater gear.

Scott: I would even head down to a super-wide angle lens, a medium telephoto, and a longer lens like a 400mm.

Question Seven – Dust Behind the Front Lens Element

Scott Couch asks: Hopefully just a simple question. Since my last factory service of my Canon 100-400L, I have noticed some very light/fine dust behind the front lens element however I have not noticed any dust or specs in my pictures. Is this something that requires immediate attention or can it wait until I do my yearly Canon service on the lens?

Tamara: If it’s not affecting your shooting or the quality of the images you are producing then I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Scott: Those are fairly old lenses that are getting a little long in the tooth. If you are looking at buying any older lenses and you see any dust in them, run away. It’s usually a sign that mold will follow. If you plan on keeping it for awhile, then I would address it during your annual service.

Question Eight – Getting Subjects to Relax

Jim Mason from Davenport IA asks: How do you get portrait subjects to relax and calm down before a shoot. I notice that when I shoot formal portraits people seem much more nervous than when I shoot candids.

Tamara: Is there any chance that the shooters attitude has changed when shooting those things? Subjects take those queues from us so we have to make sure that we are calm and relaxed.

Scott: It is very true that the lens looks both ways. Walk around the camera and try to interact with your subject. Try to get them on common ground and talking about something they are interested in.

Question Nine – Help with a Lens Purchase Decision

Baagi from Mongolia writes: I shoot a lot of dim lighted indoor events and party’s, portraits, lately interior shots for realty and occasionally landscape and city scapes. I can’t decide between Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 or 24-70mm f2.8 and yes I’m aware of its crop factor and their weight. I spent a lot of time online reading reviews and forums but still can’t decide. I have a D300s, Nikkor 18-200mm, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 with no plan to buy a full frame body. Thought about just getting 35mm f1.8 which is 3 times cheaper but I need some flexibility. I have a budget only for one of them (don’t tell my wife, shhhhh…). Other than renting them what else would you suggest?

Tamara: If the focus is on indoor events and can only pick one, I would probably go with the 24-70mm.

Scott: For low-light work and the work you’re doing, that would be my suggestion as well. It’s heavy and expensive but it’s also very versatile.

Question Ten – Wide Angle Look with a Crop Sensor Camera

Matthew Magbee from Memphis says: I am shooting with a crop sensor camera but trying to get a wide angle look. Do I need to go super wide to get wide results?

Scott: Yes you do.When you’re dealing with a 1.5 crop factor you’ll get a longer focal length so to get the width that you want you’ll need to go wider than you think.

Tamara: You can also step backwards.

Question Eleven – When to Use a Circular Polarizer

Mike McPhaden from Toronto, Canada. Should I always have a circular polarizer on my lens, or is it the kind of gear I only need under certain conditions?

Scott: You do not need one on at all times. It reduces the amount of light passing through the lens by 1-3 stops and provides potential for light refraction.

Tamara: It’s helpful to have one at times but definitely not all the time.

Question Twelve – Improving Sharpness & Focus

Dan Alba from Denver, CO asks: Can you give some tips for improving sharpness/focus?

Tamara: Don’t bump up the sharpening in camera but rather invest in better glass. Move your subject around and consider your background to try and get that nice bokeh. Don’t be in a rush to pull your camera away. Take your time and try to slow down.

Scott: Sharpness and focus are two different things. For sharpness, it never hurts to use a tripod. Make sure you are using shutter speeds that equal to or greater than the effective focal length of your lens. Keep your elbows into your body and not away. If you have to work at slow shutter speeds you can try to ask your subject not to move. In terms of focus, most lenses have their sweet spot somewhere in the middle (eg. f5 – f8).

Question Thirteen – Battery Grips Effect on Camera Lifespan

Tom Johnson from New York City writes: Does using a battery grip increase, decrease or have no effect on the life of my DSLR?

Scott: I don’t think the grip in and of itself could affect the life of a dSLR that I know of.

Question Fourteen – Preferred Backgrounds for Portraits

Doug Smith from Phoenix AZ asks: Is there any particular color or type of background you prefer when making portraits?

Tamara: I don’t like a particular color. I love a variety of colors. We have an automated roller system in our studio and the colors we have on it right now are black, white, blue, and a modern grey. We also have some portable backdrops that we like to use with other colors like crimson red, etc. If we are doing some commercial work then we might shoot on a white back drop so you can change the background. In the regular portrait market, white is less preferred. Modern grey’s or something with a vintage purple seem to be really big at the moment.

Scott: My favorite color background is white because I can make it black or grey by using my exposure and then with lights and gels I can make it any color I’d like. I also like simple backgrounds.

Question Fifteen – Macro Photography of Flowers

Anna Couples from San Francisco, CA asks: I want to start making macro shots of flowers. Is it cheating to buy flowers, bring them into my studio and light them?

Scott: I don’t think that it’s cheating unless you tell people that you photographed them in the wild. I’ve done tons of still life’s that are beautiful and fun to do.

Tamara: I don’t think that it’s cheating but cheating is a bit of a bizarre word. It comes up a lot when I hear people say that it’s cheating if you use models or photographs from your workshops for your portfolio.

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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