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Photofocus Episode 76

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about a trend towards not having subjects smile in portraits:

Question One – Disturbing Trend in Portrait Photography

As someone who is 50, I am disturbed by the trend I see in people making portraits where the subject not only doesn’t smile but looks downright mad. Am I missing something? Clair Macintosh from Lexington, KY

Tamara: There is a huge trend towards this in editorial and advertising which influences portraiture. I think some of it is to show an attempt to show a range of emotions.

Scott: I’ve noticed it too. This tends to be cyclical. If you study photography history, you will have seen this trend back in the Civil War times. Then we had a time where people were smiling. I don’t mind serious but I’m not a big fan of portraiture where people look angry.

Question Two – Advice for Night Photography

I was wondering what advice you could give to a new photographer concerning night shooting. Randy Arthur

Tamara: Consider whether or not you want to use lights. If you’re not going to use lights, then you will need a fast lens, a tripod, and a camera with high ISO. If you don’t want to use a tripod then learn some good techniques to hold you camera and keep it steady.

Scott: If you’ll be shooting at night and doing long exposures, enable your long exposure noise reduction on your digital camera.

Question Three – Sharpness Tips

Camus from Columbia wants some sharpness tips.

Tamara: I do like to see sharpness in the eyes but I also like to see some softness in areas to create contrast. If I’m photographing an older subject, I might not want it overly sharp as that will show off imperfections.

Scott: I posted an article on sharpness recently that you can check out. An image doesn’t have to be sharp the whole way through. When I photograph birds for example, I generally want the bird sharp but generally I don’t want the background sharp. Also consider subject movement vs camera movement. Mirror bounce can also cause some camera movement so if you’re doing long exposures you can use the mirror lock-up feature.

Question Four – Lens Advice for Photographing Motor sports

I am going to the Grand Prix in Montreal in June. I shoot with a D7000. I was wondering if you could recommend some lenses for me to rent to take some photos of the race and of architecture in Montreal. For the race my seats are about 50m from the track. Jacob Janzen from Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Scott: If you have pit access you’ll want a super wide and a super long lens. Try to rent the longest lens you can and that you will feel comfortable bringing into the stadium with you. Most of the time I’m shooting motor sports I’ll be shooting with a 400, 500, or 800mm lens. If you’re going to shoot architecture, a super-wide rectilinear corrected lens would be your best choice.

Tamara: For photographing architecture, you can also use the lens correction features of Photoshop or Lightroom to help with any distortion.

Question Five – Macro Lens or New Tripod?

I have two items on my wish list: a macro lens and a carbon-fiber tripod with a ball head. I can buy only one this summer. Which should I buy first? My current tripod is worn out and no longer trustworthy (no surprise since my dad bought it in the 1970s before I was born). I’d like to get started with macro photography, but can I shoot macro effectively without a tripod? Kim Wolfinbarger from Norman, OK

Scott: For me, everything starts with a tripod. You can do macro photography without it but it’s much more difficult.

Tamara: I don’t use a tripod very often but I think it’s a huge advantage. I don’t think you could do macro photography without a macro lens.

Question Six – Etiquette When Photographing a Wedding as a Guest

I recently took up an interest in photography, and purchased my first DSLR a few months ago. I will be a guest at a friends wedding and wanted to know if there are any proper etiquette on how to shoot or conduct myself while in close proximity to the main professional photographer. I do not want to ruin or disturb their shots. Do you have any tips? …and has someone unknowing ever ruined your shots? Wayne Osborne

Tamara: First off, thanks for your consideration. Consider that the couple has spent a lot of money on a professional photographer so try not to get between them and their shots.

Scott: When I first started doing weddings, I fought with the Uncle Bobs and realized that wasn’t gaining me any favors with the bride and groom. I changed my tactics and would allow guests to shoot first and turn it into a game. As a person showing up with a camera, try not to get in the way and stay out of their line of sight.

Question Seven – Best Weather Conditions for Sunrise & Sunsets

What are the best weather conditions for a spectacular sunset/sunrise? Or what are weather conditions to avoid? I ask as I did a hike and was just disappointed for the sunset and the time it took to get there. I just want to maximize my time for a trip. John Pavlish from Seattle, WA

Scott: Clouds are very important. You won’t get a great sunrise or sunset against an empty blue sky. I hate to say it but forest fires will also create some interesting conditions for photographing sunrises and sunsets.

Tamara: Clouds will give you some great effects. Also things like fog or being out in the desert with the sand rising up can give you some great effects.

Question Eight – Portrait Length Lenses

I know 80-100mm lenses used to be recommended as studio portrait lenses. What lenses do you and your guest consider portrait length? Sam Santos from Los Angeles

Tamara: I love the 85mm f1.2 but I also love shooting with the 70-200mm and the 35mm.

Scott: If I was doing environmental portraiture, then I would go wide. In the studio I really like the 135mm. It compresses the picture and tends to be more flattering. I’ve also shoot with 300mm and 400mm lenses.

Question Nine – Tips for Photographing on Cloudy Days

When shooting landscapes what tips do you have for cloudy days? Charles Brown

Scott: Do not include the ugly gray sky in your photograph. If you have interesting clouds then that’s okay but otherwise try to keep it out of your shot. Also, use a polarizer which will punch up your colors and help cut through reflections.

Tamara: You may want to include the clouds if they are part of your landscape and are interesting.

Question Ten – External Storage When Traveling

What sort of external storage devices do you use when traveling? Glenn Hubbers from Aurora Ontario

Tamara: I have a bunch of 500GB rugged LaCie drives so I will bring those with me.

Scott: I used to take the mini-G drives with me. Now I just take extra CF cards with me. They have become pretty cheap so the cost to buy a few extra cards isn’t that much compared with buying hard drives which can be less reliable.

Question Eleven – Benefits of Wide Gamut Monitors

I am considering buying a new computer monitor to use with my Mac Pro for photo editing. I am confused about the potential benefits of a wide gamut monitor. I’ve never understood why if you send your photos to a lab to print in sRGB, you would work in a wide color space like Pro Photo in Lightroom 3 or even Adobe RGB on your monitor. You just have to convert it down to sRGB which changes what it looks like at the end of your editing. Ron Scholar of Roseville CA

Tamara: I think if you were doing your own printing then it makes sense but I don’t see the point if you’re sending your stuff off to a lab that will just compress it down to sRGB.

Scott: I am not aware of any mass market pro-photo color gamut printers that are available so if you don’t have a place to output then I don’t understand the big deal.

Question Twelve – Focusing in Low-Light Situations

I shoot a lot of wedding receptions where the light is very low and I like to shoot with fast glass super wide open the problem is it seems like when I focus with any other focus point other that the center one the focus has such a hard time locking and the photo ends up blurry. I can’t use the center because focusing and recomposing at that shallow depth of field will make the photo soft as well. Do you have any tips on this kind of thing? Brittan McGinnis from San Diego

Scott: All auto-focus systems rely on contrast to detect focus. More modern cameras have more of the cross-type sensors so you may want to look into one of those. You could also try renting a different lens or body and see if that makes a difference. Otherwise, try finding a place of high contrast or pre-focus on certain spots.

Tamara: I’ve found that some lenses do focus faster than others.

Question Thirteen – Recommended Number of Images for a Portfolio

How many images should I show in my portfolio? Dave Ramsey from Chicago, IL

Tamara: As many as you have that don’t dilute from your overall look. Only pick your amazing work and don’t mix it with mediocre images.

Scott: I see many portfolios that have more images than they should. Try to just include your most amazing images and try to focus on 10 or 11 shots.

Question Fourteen – Converting a Camera to Shoot Infrared

I have an older spare body that I don’t use and would probably sell for almost nothing. I have heard about sending it in for Infrared Conversion and was wondering about is it truly a things to do? and some others does this conversion, before putting that kind of money on this, Id certainly take your opinion. Once converted, What are the prime subjects that are worth doing infrared photography of? Denis Grenier from Montreal, Canada

Scott: I think it’s a very good thing to do. Just about any subject can be infrared with the exception of eyes.

Question Fifteen – Film vs. Digital

I noticed some people on a camera forum claiming film was superior to digital. I am not trying to open a can of worms, but should I be worried that my digital camera is somehow inferior? Shane Douglas from New York

Scott: Don’t worry, it’s not. If you like to shoot film, shoot film. If you like to shoot digital – shoot digital. I don’t think one is superior to the other but it depends upon your use. I’ve shot film way longer than I’ve shot digital but I can’t imagine going back to film now.

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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