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Photofocus Episode 95

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ()

This week we kick things off with a question about achieving a certain look with group shots:

Question One – Group Shots

I need help with group shots. I look at posed band shots in rock magazines, and often wonder what the photographer said to the band to make them give a certain look. I’m sure it was a little more than ‘Look Moody’. So as a photographer what would you say to a get them to look a certain way. Chris from Portsmouth in the UK.

Scott: I’m not a big fan of the thuggish look that many bands are going for these days. That being said, what you need to do is experiment with getting different reactions out of people to get the look you want. For example, if you want them to look relaxed and happy – tell a joke. If you want them to look stunned – have a prop or show them something. Personally I would encourage them to be themselves.

Question Two – Lens Suggestion for the Olympus E-P3

Like you I bought an Olympus E-P3. In your opinion what is the best lens for architecture in cities and old towns? The 45mm is great, for sure, but it is too long. 17mm pancake is not quite faster than the kit zoom, but it is sharper? Roland Bley

Scott: For architecture, I would use the E-P3 12mm lens. It’s not the perfect architectural camera because it doesn’t have a tilt-shift or swings and tilts.

Question Three – Posing & Lighting Suggestions for a Portrait

I have the pleasure of making the photos of an older couple in their mid seventies. I would love any suggestions on posing and lighting for a couple this age. I have one all-manual (no TTL) flash and an umbrella I can use off camera if suggested and will be doing this in their home. Esteban Valverde Gilbert, AZ

Scott: I would spend some time with them before the shot. Get to know them and get them relaxed. Find out what they are about and let them do most of the talking. Then as that happens, start to work on making the shot. Get them to be as close as you can and have them wrap their arms around each other. Look at some portrait books to get some poses that you’ll like. Shoot in a way that is going to be pleasing. In terms of the light, try to shoot fairly flat to lose some of the wrinkles. Focus on expression over perfection.

Question Four – Teleconverters and Sharpness

I have a Canon 70-200 f4L (Non-IS) lens that I recently discovered was sharpest at around f8. Since then, I have been wondering how a 2x Teleconverter would change things. I understand that when using a teleconverter that my aperture will be multiplied by 2, but since my lens is sharpest at f8 anyway, it seems like this may be a viable option to gain some extra distance. I expect there will be a slight change in the sharpness when adding extra glass, but I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject and any other possible negative effects the 2x teleconverter may have. Robin Horn

Scott: A 2x converter is a challenge to use. If you are using an older model or an off-brand teleconverter, they just plain suck. The new models are good but I would shoot them at around f11 just to be safe if you’re going for maximum sharpness. It can introduce the possibility of flare and may reduce contrast. You’ll also have to get used to working at 400mm at the furthest distance and you’ll magnify all of the imperfections that are already there. Test it out by photographing a newspaper and see what aperture provides the sharpest results.

Question Five – Telephoto

I hate to sound like a newbie but I AM a newbie. What the heck does telephoto mean, as in telephoto lens? Helen Small, Orlando, FL

Scott: Telephoto just means that it’s a long focus lens. There is a lot of science and technology behind it but basically you’ll be narrowing the field of view. The longer the telephoto lens, the narrower the field of view. It makes it looks like you got closer to something.

Question Six – Shooting to the Right

I use a Canon 400D and shoot mainly jpegs when shooting wildlife, motorsports etc for faster buffer recovery, I also shoot RAW when it is more suited to the subject. I am always hearing about “Shooting to the right” on the histogram, is this method applicable to jpeg as well as RAW. Keith Killigrew Worcestershire England

Scott: No, it’s not. If you’re shooting jpeg, you want to be shoot spot on. Shooting to the right when you shoot in RAW is done to give you the most data when capturing your image. If you have too much data then it’s not good either so you want to find a happy medium.

Question Seven – Bean Bags

I’ve heard you talk about using a bean bag when you photograph birds. A bean bag? Like you buy at the store? How does that work. Sorry if this sounds stupid. Elliot M. Bay Boston, MA

Scott: It’s basically a cloth bag with a zipper that you will fill with some type of bean. This makes it easier to transport and you can fill it when you reach your destination. Then you place it over your car door or any place you want to steady your camera lens. I will often use a bean bag when I shoot in Bosque Del Apache and shoot from my car. I do this because the birds aren’t generally afraid of the car but if you get out of the car you’ll flush the birds out and they’ll fly away. The bean bag steadies the lens and makes it easy to work.

Question Eight – Naming Images

Seems like regardless of how special the image is to me a name/title NEVER jumps out at me. How critical is naming a shot for art sales/portfolio use? Any suggestions for naming generation? Colonel Duke Anaheim, CA

Scott: I have trouble with this too. The name does matter when you’re dealing with the fine art types. I tend to name things in a very literal way. Some of the most famous photographs of all time have been given simple names so don’t worry about it too much.

Question Nine – Improving Sharpness in Dark Environments

I take a lot of photos of Swing and Ballroom dancers in a dark night club environment. Dancers move around a lot. I use a Canon 1D Mark III, 24-105mm f4 L lens, and a 580ex flash. I set the camera to manual mode, ISO to 500, Aperture to f7.1, to help with focusing errors. Shutter to 1/40th for a little ambient light. Have tried higher shutter speeds up to 1/125th. Focus is set to Ai-Servo with focus point set to auto. Have tried moving a single focus point around but auto seems easier. The flash is set to TTL. I’m relying on the flash to freeze movement. My short and pithy question is: What recommendations can you give to improve my sharp focus keeper ratio? Currently about 40-50%. Gary Jones Orange Park FL

Scott: You need more speed in that environment. Start to think about a faster lens. The f4 likely isn’t fast enough so try to rent or buy the 70-200mm f2.8. Also try setting up a couple of additional flashes. You need more speed and more light. You could cheat down on the aperture.

Question Ten – Using Sliders for Video

Why are you always talking about Sliders when you talk about shooting video with your DSLR? Sam James Los Angeles, CA

Scott: A slider is a device that allows your camera to move side to side on a dolly. Video is about motion pictures and movement is key to good video.

Question Eleven – Shooting Hand Held with Long Lenses

Is it possible to shoot with a 600 or even 800mm lens hand held? Willam Evans Chicago, IL

Scott: It is possible if you are godzilla. I can’t shoot handheld with a 600 or an 800mm personally. I know people who do but I can’t. I will use a tripod and a gimbal head.

Question Twelve – Mac or Windows

Sorry if you’ve had this question before but do you use Mac or Windows and as a photographer should it matter? Dave Davenport, Pittsburgh, PA

Scott: I’m a diehard Mac guy and have used Macs forever. Windows has really cleaned itself up and all the photographers I know who use Windows don’t seem to have any issues with it. If you want to use Aperture you have to get a Mac. If everyone around you uses Windows, then buy a Windows PC. If everyone around you uses a Mac, then get a Mac.

Question Thirteen – Camera Straps on Tripods

When you mount your camera and long lens to a tripod do you remove the camera strap? I am worried about it flapping around in the wind. Heath Williams London, UK

Scott: If I’m not lazy then I will remove it. It can be a distraction. It can whip around and get in the way. The only reason to leave it on would be for safety if you were worried about it coming off the tripod.

Question Fourteen – Shadows in Portraits

I am new to portraiture and have heard it’s not good to have the subject’s shadow on your background. How do you avoid that problem? In my first few test shots the shadows are very strong. Alex Penn Toronto, Ont, CA

Scott: It’s a general best practice to not have the shadow on the background. The way to avoid it is to put distance between your subject and the background.

Question Fifteen – Acid Free Papers

Why do Epson and other companies tout their “acid-free” papers for photo printing? Is this something I should be concerned with? Scott Howe St Louis, MO

Scott: Acid free means that it’s archival in nature. There are no harmful brighteners or acids in the papers and those papers without acids in them will last longer.

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.

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