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Photofocus Episode 81

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about the best aperture for portraits:

Question One – Best Aperture for Portraits

Debbie Hume from Long Island, NY asks: I know this is very basic but I’ve struggled with knowing which aperture is best for general portrait photography. How much depth of field do I really need?

Tamara: There is no one perfect aperture for portraits. It depends on the look you want to go for. Shooting wide open is very popular these days to blur the background and separate your subject from the background. It will also depend upon how far you are away from your subject, the lens length, the distance they are from the background.

Scott: It depends but typically the style today is to shoot a bit more wide open.

Question Two – Bringing Cameras Into Events

Dave Kallaway from WIFC radio writes: I just got back from Kid Rock at Summerfest in Milwaukee. I saw several people with full-blown camera bags and large Canon 5D or Nikon D3s’ allowed in with lenses like 28-300mm. But on many occasions you know you’re going to be searched and they want to take your camera. I always play it safe, unless I’ve gotten prior permission to shoot using DSLRs. Do you have a point & shoot camera or smaller DSLR that you’ve tested that would work at concerts? I know you have a Leica M9 and D7000 for smaller cameras.

Tamara: I’ve been kicked out of a lot of places and likely sometimes because of the gear I’m carrying. If I’m going to a concert or something then I’m finding I can get amazing looking stuff with my iPhone these days.

Scott: First of all, nobody has ever taken a camera away from me. I will just leave. They don’t have the authority without a search warrant. My solution has been a Leica M9. When I’m carrying the D3s people comment it’s a big pro camera but they don’t say anything when I’m carrying my $12,000 M9.

Question Three – Rangefinder Cameras

Richard Dexter from Dallas writes I’ve heard you talking about the Leica M9 and that you call it a rangefinder camera. Can you explain how this is different form other cameras such as the Canon 7D?

Scott: A rangefinder camera is basically a camera where you are looking through a viewfinder rather than looking through the lens like you do with a dSLR. Most are also manual focus. I really like the manual aperture marks that you’ll find on the range finder type cameras. One problem a lot of people run into when they first start using one is that they forget to take the lens cap off because you’re not looking through the lens.

Question Four – Workshop on Making Money with Wildlife Photography

Sam Gasser writes: I work for a local school photographer here in my area, I would like to get more involved with wildlife photography. My questions is, are there any classes or workshops that teach how to make money with wildlife photography? For example, how does a person go about finding clients to sell images to, where to market the images that person makes?

Scott: There are plenty of workshops to learn about wildlife and landscape photography but I’m not aware of any schools focused on how to make money at wildlife photography. If our listeners know of any, feel free to email us here at [email protected]. The closest thing is the Summer Intensive at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

Question Five – Tips for Shooting on Your Belly

Ryan from Orlando I’ve been doing a lot of pet portraits recently and more often than not, I find myself shooting from a prone position. After a couple hours shooting from this position, find that my arms get tired. Do you have any tips or gear suggestions for shooting while laying on your belly?

Tamara: I mostly shoot children and babies so I lie on the ground a lot to shoot them. My first suggestion would be to try and photograph larger animals ;). If you can, try to elevate the animals on a platform so that you don’t have to lie on your belly to shoot them.

Scott: If you can find the right terrain, then you can get lower than the animal without laying down at all.

Question Six – Shooting Portraits on the Beach

Stephen Skoutas writes: Can you give some pointers on shooting better portraits or candid’s at the beach. When I expose the primary subject well, I’m blowing out a lot of the beautiful scenery, and exposing the background well leaves me with dark silhouettes for subjects. It seems that HDR is a solution, but as the people move shot to shot, lining up might not be so straight forward, plus I’d rather get it right in camera. Thoughts?

Scott: Try shooting at sunrise or sunset. If you can’t do that, this is why god invented reflectors and fill flash. You can also do it via subtractive lighting by cutting light out from the top and side.

Tamara: Time of day makes a significant difference in terms of how the whole scene looks. Expose for the ambient sky and just use fill light. Reflectors on the beach are good but tough to work with if it’s windy. I like putting my subjects closer to the sand and using it as your fill.

Question Seven – Processing Leica RAW Files

Andy Heather writes: I wondered if you might share with us your post processing technique for Leica RAW files. Does it differ from your Canon/Nikon process? Do you do any special to keep that 3D-like dynamic range looking so good? Or do you not process them at all?

Scott: I am processing them very minimally. I try to keep what I get out of the camera. When you print from this camera you see a big difference.

Question Eight – Running Aperture on a Thunderbolt Drive

Stuart Schaefer Gulf Breeze, FL asks: Have you looked into the new Macs that now have the Thunderbolt connection? If so what is your feeling on running the Aperture Library via one of these Drives? They are a little costly at this time, however in time the price should come down I would think. From what I have been reading they are very fast.

Scott: My inclination would to hold off until they have been proven. I don’t like to gamble with my photo library as it’s my 401K. Thunderbolt is scary fast and looks like great technology but in the past there have been issues with V1s of many new products. I like to stay one version back of the current version just to be safe.

Question Nine – Having a Backup – The Human Kind

Ian McNeil London I have started to professionally photograph weddings. My concern is that I might not be prepared to cover a wedding in the event I am sick or injured. How do professional photographers handle this possibility?

Tamara: Most professionals usually belong to some sort of an association or have networked with other photographers so if they find themselves in that situation they can reach out to those networks and generally find someone willing to assist them fairly quickly.

Scott: These days with social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, it can be very easy to get the word out quickly and find someone willing to help. Most associations will have a calling list that you use to get in touch with other photographers and find someone willing to help.

Question Ten – Clothing Guidelines for Clients

Helen Johnson, Nashville, TN I am starting a portrait photography business. I want to issue clothing guidelines to my clients. Do you have any suggestions?

Tamara: I do have some clothing guidelines but these days things are a lot more relaxed. I always advise my clients to wear something that they’ll feel comfortable in and something that they think they look good in. I encourage my clients to bring in a few outfits in case something doesn’t look good on them for a photograph we have some options to work with. We talk about trying to plan a bit so that if they’re doing a family photograph they look somewhat cohesive and avoid being too dated.

Scott: I am fairly conservative. I tell people to not go too fancy as we don’t want the clothes to be star of the photograph.

Question Eleven – Background or Foreground

Tom Byrd, Indianapolis IN writes: I have trouble deciding which is more important to my photographs – the background or the foreground. I always hear Scott talking about backgrounds, is this more important?

Scott: Too me, background is important but it depends. If the foreground object is important to your story then the foreground is important. You will probably have more problems with a busy background.

Tamara: For most photos, background is more important.

Question Twelve – Horizontal vs. Vertical

Jill Leone from Toronto, Canada asks: How do you decide whether or not to shoot vertical or horizontal shots?

Scott: That’s easy. I shoot both. You never know when an art director is going to want a horizontal or a vertical so I will shot booth for everything I do. Unless I’m just doing something for myself and I’m going for a very specific artistic look, I have learned over the years to shoot everything both ways so that I have it if I need it.

Question Thirteen – Higher End P&S vs. dSLRs

Mitch Weldon – Kansas City, Kansas asks: Have higher-end compact or point and shoot cameras caught up to the quality of DSLRs?

Scott: Some of the higher end P&S cameras may bump up into the lower end of the dSLR market but overall I would say they are not.

Tamara: I think the biggest thing with dSLRs is that you have the ability to put a variety of lenses on them which makes them superior to the point and shoots even though there are many great P&S cameras out there.

Question Fourteen – LED Lights vs. Flash

Karl Moody from Chicago, IL asks: Is there any advantage to using LED lights instead of flash while making remote portrait photographs?

Scott: The advantage of using video lights is that what you see is what you get. The disadvantage is that they are not as powerful as flash and sometimes they can be unreliable in terms of color temperature.

Tamara: I have used them when shooting video and I know that Jerry Ghionhis is coming out with an LED video light that looks like a lightsaber that is designed for portraits.

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 or

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