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Photography QnA: Studio, Still, & Personal Portraiture Photography

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Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Studio, Still, & Personal Portraiture Photography

Read about techniques for personal portraiture photography, tricks for still photography and studio photography techniques here.

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Photography Question 
Ziyaad Khoja

member since: 3/12/2004
  151 .  Which Backdrop Should I Use?
I need to know what to buy for a backdrop when shooting products. Right now I am using black and white bristol boards. Is that good enough? And when is it proper to use black instead of white (or vice-versa)?

3/12/2004 9:12:19 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  For small product photography, poster boards, sold at any craft shop or art supply store, make great backgrounds. They are inexpensive and come in a variety of colors. (I like to use color backgrounds as an "attention grabber" for products I'm selling.)

Either black or white can also be good choices, because they focus the attention on the products themselves, especially if they have color of their own. When using black boards, try shining extra light on them. They will be rendered as a muted gray, which is a desirable effect for many subjects.

3/12/2004 4:31:08 PM

Ziyaad Khoja

member since: 3/12/2004
  Does it depend on what I will be doing with these photos? I would either be doing some black-and-white prints or full colour on the net. Does white or black work better when removing it as the background in Photoshop?

3/15/2004 6:44:32 AM

Ryan Chai

member since: 9/23/2003
  I bought my first backdrop as a neutral gray with splashes of other colors that looks quite good with many different subjects.

3/15/2004 9:30:13 AM

Buddy Purugganan

member since: 8/31/2002
  Take the time to check Denny Manufacturing Co.'s official web site ( or call 1-800-844-5616. (You can request a FREE 2004 catalog.) Or try Backdrop Outlet ( at 1-800-466-1755. (Request a 2004 free catalog too.)

3/19/2004 6:10:08 PM

Anoop Shah

member since: 1/6/2001
  If you want to eventually remove the background in Photoshop it would be easier to use an off the wall color like Lime Green...yes lime green. In the video world they call them "Green Screens." It's best to pick a background color that doesn't appear in the product. The off the wall color will be easy to identify in photoshop and make the editing process a little smoother. The Magic Selection Tool does really well with the "Green Screen" concept. You wont have to ask yourself is this part of the product or not.

3/23/2004 2:21:15 PM


member since: 9/25/2006
  Here's a cheap tip, Ziyaad:

If you get one light-grey background, you can make that appear to be an endless variety of pastel colors by using colored gels on the background light(s).

2/11/2007 12:15:35 PM

John Rhodes
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 2/24/2005
Ziyaad, I have done product photography (actually the art in a local gallery) and I used the graduated background from Porter's Camera Store--see the link:

I'll attach an image taken using this background.


2/12/2007 6:06:22 AM

  Get white seamless paper from one of the large photo retailers. Come in widths of 4.5 and 9 and 12 feet, by 30 or 150 feet. Shoot on white whenever possible so that you do not have off color reflections in your product. Most of the stuff I shoot is cut out of the background and white reduces the problems with clipping out the image.
John Siskin

2/13/2007 2:30:17 PM


member since: 9/25/2006
  Is there an advantage of that over using a 'bluescreen' or 'greenscreen', John?

2/15/2007 1:39:14 PM

  Yes a blue or green screen has a good chance of reflecting blue or green back into the subject. While this works great for the movies it doesn’t work as well for still, note that I said as well rather than at all. A white background does the best job for lighting your subject if you want to do a clipping path. Keep in mind that the clipping path is annoying to make. Also you need to remeber that a still image, particularly if used in print, shows more detail than a movie frame. Thanks, John

2/15/2007 3:21:46 PM

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Photography Question 
Tammy Comer

member since: 10/21/2002
  152 .  What Props to Start With?
I am starting out in my home and am looking for some props to start with for portrait photography. Most of them are very expensive in the catalogs. I am mostly interested in photographing children. I plan to look at antique shops, yardsales, and even walmart to come up with less expensive props. Also, my dad and my husband play around with carpentry--is there anything they could build for me? And for small children, do I need a table to put them on? Thanks!

2/14/2004 10:18:53 PM

Kristen J. 

member since: 2/16/2004
  I have recently begun to collect props. Actually a great place to start is craft places. I just bought a mini white picket fence at Hobby Lobby in the Garden section for $10. Also Michael's craft has great unfinished wood items like a rocking chair or stools or benches. You can stain them the color you like. You can usually use a 40% off coupon or they often go on sale. Look around and think as a kid what would be cute. I've actually found too many cute things for cheap that I've had to cut back. yard sales and antique mall's are also great. Think vintage!

2/16/2004 2:26:18 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  For small toys, games, and other playthings of interest to children, check out a nearby Dollar Store. (This is also a great source for still-life props like glassware and vases.)
I occasionally walk through these shops and I am amazed at the stuff which can be found for practically nothing.

2/16/2004 3:03:50 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 2/8/2004
  Hi Tammy,

Hmm... off the top of my head:

- Step blocks

These are great for people to stand on to even out height or to seperate a back row of people from the front row for group shots. They are also great for children to sit on when they are posing in front. Just be sure to round the edges of the blocks/boxes so that the wood is smooth to the touch.

- Simple stools

This is the so-called "portrait" stool. Think slightly shorter than normal barstool. Good for people to sit on for single or multiple people shots. Make sure the stool is padded for comfort sitting on the edge or at an angle.

- Curtain/backdrop hanger

Something that can hang a 8'-10' tall and about 6'-15' wide curtain or background for an impromptu background. Not required if you are shooting in the environment of a living room or library. :)

- "Antique" table or chairs

Something to add character to a group or solo shot. You can "antique" something by distressing it and then oiling the wood to give it a deep "lived in" look.

- Throw rug, Vases, and "antique" metal light stands.

Various items to add to the richness of the scene or as props for people to lean against/stand next to.

The items above can be had at just about any WalMart, IKEA, Home Depot, Michael's Art and Craft store. Don't skip over places like KMart, BigLots, and other "Storage bin" places as they tend to have great deals on cheap items that can really add character to a shot.

2/16/2004 8:56:06 PM

Robert Bridges

member since: 5/12/2003
  get a mirror! that way the kids can look at themselves and not worry about you.
btw works for adults too!

2/17/2004 3:56:33 PM

  When it comes to backdrops, I found the best and cheapest for me is sheets! A queen size flat sheet fits perfect across my studio wall and I put one on the floor. A king size is great if you have the space. I buy them at liquidation type places for cheap and now have at least 30 colors. I like having the option to play with color.

2/17/2004 4:37:12 PM

Kris Lingle
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/10/2001
  I saw some baby shots done with the child sitting in a flower pot, metal washtub, bushel basket. They were adorable.

3/24/2004 1:16:34 PM

Dawn E. Lorey

member since: 4/21/2004
  Please don't put children on a table ! This could prove to be a huge liability issue for you. Trust me Moms don't pay attention and children fall. Consider vintage clothing, hats & dress up items for 2 to 5 year olds, pretend birthday cake, baby carriage, vintage baby doll(or suggest they bring a favorite toy).Avoid items made of shiny plastic or metal.They can reflect light and tend to look cheap. Look for items that look expensive and wont fall apart in the hands of a toddler. Hobby Lobby and the wholesale catalogs are my favorite places to shop.
As far as the most useful backgrounds go, I would suggest Black fleece or muslin,white muslin, a warm brown muslin with some tonal variations, and maybe a scenic on closeout if you can afford it. This will give you a nice variety to accomadate those unpredictable wardrobes. Keep in mind less is more and the props should not be the focus of your image. However if you want a reputation for fantasy imagery thats a whole other discussion!

4/21/2004 6:38:27 PM

Pat Worster
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/21/2004
  i also use sheets and drapes, material from Joann Fabrics, I have spray painted backgrounds and I have made a lot of props, my husband is in the process of making me a Jack-In-The-Box for my next new prop. Yard sales and antique shops.

4/29/2004 8:16:59 PM

Carol J. Guernsey
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/15/2004
  Netting or tule with some artificial flowers (daisy flowers in soft pastel shades) hot glued or sewn to the fabric looks amazing -in B&W & Colour. A wicker hamper with the netting added is a fantastic setting for a diapered baby or small child.
The netting can also be placed on the floor.
A cheap squeek toy is a great way to get someone's attention!
Good luck!

5/18/2004 5:56:03 AM

Cindy K. Bracken
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/8/2004
  You don't have to spend a fortune on props! For babies I use alot of tulle netting and silk flowers. Definitely get a mirror...I use mine all the time! For more ideas visit

Thanks and good luck!

6/28/2004 8:59:34 AM

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Photography Question 
Marilyn Gottsponer

member since: 8/24/2003
  153 .  How to Develop a Model's Portfolio
My daughter needs to put together a "modeling portfolio" - the cost associated with this being done from a 'professional' is TREMENDOUS! I love to do a little picture taking and would like to give a try to taking these portfolio pictures myself! I am hoping you can help.

I have a Canon Rebel EOS, it is a great camera. I have two lenses:
a)Canon EF 75-300mm and b) Canon 28-80mm.

We have to take pictures that will be great when enlarged to a 9x11 size. I need help in determining the film speed and suggested brand/type for the following scenarios:

1. Outdoor location pictures, some sunny/some cloudy/etc.
2. Indoor pictures
3. Black and White pictures (both indoor and outdoors).
**Some of these pictures will be done in a still fashion while some will be with her moving. Some will be close-ups, some more distant and full body length.

Please keep in mind that I am SO amateur it isn't even funny! Of course, any other comments and/or feedback on putting together a portfolio for a model would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks so much.

8/24/2003 6:03:26 AM

Crystal  G. Collins

member since: 7/24/2002
  I have found, personally, that when taking outdoor photos to use a film speed of 100 or so, because when you blow it up to an 11x14 or so it will be less grainy. However, when doing black and white photography, the grain almost adds to the picture. But I've read that the bigger picture you want to end up with the lower film speed you need to use. For indoor pictures, you will have to use a faster speed film, but if you haven't taken many indoors, I don't think you'll be happy with the outcome for professional looking pictures. What about putting a "backdrop" outside, where you can take advantage of natural light, but it could still "look" like a studio pic (with the backdrop). This is just an opinion, hopefully you'll get more feedback and can try a few things. I'm pretty amateur too!!

Good luck!

8/24/2003 1:10:27 PM

Marilyn Gottsponer

member since: 8/24/2003
  Crystal - thank you SO much for the feedback. I love the idea of doing a 'backdrop' outside for the natural lighting! That is a neat idea. I took some "starter" photos yesterday and today - I can't wait to see how they turn out. If you have any other thoughts, send them on!

8/24/2003 4:35:23 PM

Leo Enriquez

member since: 12/2/2001
  1. Outdoor pics: Use 100ISO film, but you are also allowed to use "fill in flash" on some of your pics!...

2. Indoors Use 400ISO film, allowed to use "fill in flash" as well on some of your pics!...

When using your camera flash, stand about 5-6 feet away from your subject; the cameras w/integrated flash only cover aprox. that distance. Turn the red eye funcion on, so You won't be sorry for taking a perfect pic with red eyes (specially at dusk)!...

3. In B&W I'll suggest you to go for Ilford delta 400, it does work well and has excelent tones of greys and blacks!...

I don't know any of your lenses but I could suggest you to use the one with the biggest aperture for the close-up portraits (2.0 or 3.5) so you won't have any distraction on her back like plants or any other objects, and those could become blurry and the pic focusing only on her face or body!...

I'll recomend you to do not buy only 4 rolls of film, get 6 or 8 and/or more and shoot, shoot, shoot!...

When developing, only develop the negatives (about $3.00 usd each roll), and buy one of those little squared-plastic film or transparency viewers, and pic de ones you want to make prints from!...

Also you could scan your prospect negative shots (if your scanner has the film scan mode or the transparency adapter) and see the whole pic in your computer, before making your final decision on which ones you want to print!...

8/25/2003 12:21:42 AM

Thomas Kendall

member since: 5/23/2003
Marilyn, many advanced amateur, and pro photographers are willing to do TFP shoots for new models. This cost you no money and you can get a variety of styles and venues for her book. There are several forums that you can post to. Also go to and search for photographers in your area, e-mail them and ask if they are interested in a TFP. If you are near Milwaukee you are welcome to come use my studio and I will help you.

8/26/2003 6:38:12 AM

Birgit Harper

member since: 4/14/2003
  Marilyn, I agree with Thomas K. My guess is you want the best results for your daughter. For good instructions on professional headshots and an idea of what is needed I recommend John Hart's book 'Professional Headshots'. It is available at for little money. Good luck!

8/26/2003 7:43:57 AM

Phil Penne

member since: 12/3/2001
  Hi Marilyn!

Just an addendum to the great advise others gave: 1) Got a tripod? Make good use of it! It will help the sharpness of your pictures. A cable release or use of the self timer on the camera (along with the tripod) will also help reduce camera shake. 2) When shooting outdoors, don't be afraid to shoot on a less-than-sunny day! In conditions that are foggy, cloudy, or downright overcast, the light is evenly diffused, resulting in very gentle, shadowless lighting. 3)You may want to read up on using filters. For color, a "warming" filter can render very pleasing skin tones; for black and white, a yellow-green filter can render skin tones more accurately.

Good luck!

8/26/2003 7:58:20 AM

Marilyn Gottsponer

member since: 8/24/2003
  Wow! I am so excited about all the feedback! Thank you all so much, it is great that you guys were willing to spend time to provide that information!
Thomas - I wish I was in the Milwaukee area, if you know of any places in Arkansas let me know! Crystal, Leo, Thomas, Birgit and Phillip - THANK YOU! I will have to 'scan' one of the pictures I have taken and get some feedback from you guys! Once again, I am amazed at the feedback and thankful for good people like yourselves who are willing to take the time to help us out!

8/26/2003 8:43:13 PM

Carey Yazeed

member since: 7/25/2003
  Well, it looks like you have gotten some very good advice. So, I will only give you words of encouragement...Some of my best portraits were taken when I was in the "amature" stage of photography. Use a lot of film and try different settings/locations/ during different times of the day. Also, make sure your daughter has on different outfits (swim wear, jeans, dressy...) If there is a semi professional lab in the area you may want to let them handle your development. It may cost a little more, but you will be pleased with the results. And make sure you purchase a nice portfolio to display her enlargements. Good Luck!

Carey Yazeed

8/30/2003 10:52:43 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy

member since: 3/4/2002
  In your daughter's best interest I say find a professional and have them done. In the meantime, by all means, practice them so that you might be able to do them in the future. But for now if you want results for your daughter you would be well advised to find someone with experience. The suggestion above to find someone willing to do TFP is a good one.

9/1/2003 9:48:13 PM

Rebecca M. Gold

member since: 12/22/2002
  I will have to dissagree with you Jeff. My daughter is in modeling and I went with the professional who had a long list of actors that she had done. I handed over the money and what a waste it was her 20 years had nothing on my 1 year of expierence. I am in no way gloating but cheap film and bad pictures didn't amount to what I paid for. I regret not pushing my photos a little harder and not believing in myself a little more. I am not saying that all pros would be like that but see what you come up with first and then decide on which way you will go.

2/16/2004 8:32:01 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy

member since: 3/4/2002
  Oh by all means give it a shot yourself. I mean it can't hurt. But your one isolated incident doesn't make my recommendation wrong. Like anything else there are good photogs out there and bad photogs out there. Shop around and make sure the photographer you choose has the quality you are looking for not just the right price.

2/16/2004 3:35:16 PM

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Photography Question 

member since: 7/9/2003
  154 .  Ideas For Shooting a Large Family Group
I have to shoot a family of twenty people, nine adults and eleven children. It will be outside in a yard, shaded by trees. I would like some ideas for posing possibilities. Any help would be appreciated. Also I am in search of a wide angle lens to go with this shoot for my Minolta Maxxum, any ideas on which one I should go with?

7/9/2003 3:50:53 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy

member since: 3/4/2002
  As for posing, try to get people on different levels. Use chairs or benches to seat some. Think about building triangles with faces. If you can keep people on a similar plane it will help with focussing. With a long line of people you want to form it so that they form an arc. IOW, the end people are a bit closer to you than the middle people. If you have to "stack" people it helps to shoot from a higher vantage point so that you can get the film plane more parallel to the people's faces. This helps get everyone in focus.

As for the lens, I would avoid a wide angle lens. Wide angle lenses cause distortion at the edges and the people on the ends might not appreciate the way they end up looking. Use a lens in the normal to short telephoto length. Something like a 50mm up to an 85mm depending upon how much room you have.

7/11/2003 9:48:20 AM

Maryann Ianniello

member since: 8/1/2002
  Dept of Field is very important when shooting large groups. You need to have everyone in focus. So its important to use a fstop of 16 or 22. As far as wide angle I would not even consider this lens. I would go with the response from Jeff K.

7/15/2003 7:28:25 PM

Debby A. Tabb
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/4/2004

5/18/2005 9:06:03 AM

John Rhodes
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 2/24/2005
  I still get a laugh out of reading something like, " I am going to shoot an entire family..." OK; now to be serious--

Sarah, there is an excellent article in
April 2004 Shutterbug magazine on photographing large groups outdoors. Read the article on-line at the following address:

Good luck.

5/18/2005 9:39:23 AM

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Photography Question 
Lisa Plourde

member since: 10/19/2001
  155 .  Lighting for Portrait - Images Too Dark
  Christmas baby
Christmas baby
Baby in a red box with bow
© Lisa Plourde
I tried to photograph my daughter with a lot of lighting in the room and a white sheet behind her. She was in a box with red foil paper and a pearlescent bow. The photos came out very dark. Did the flash reflect from the bo877777777777+w and paper? What can I do to fix this?

10/19/2001 9:14:29 PM

Phil Banton

member since: 2/3/2001
  This is just my guess, you could have metered off of the white sheet, makeing your camera think the room was much brighter than it was, like when your subject is in front of a window.

10/19/2001 10:15:04 PM

Mark A. Braxton

member since: 5/2/2000
  Dear Lisa,
Looks like a cute setup you had. A lot of times, we amateurs make the mistake of matrix metering for portraits. The best metering for this would have been metering on your daughter's face and synchronized flash usage. The reflection off of the box still could have swayed the metering though.

I would try lowering the light level in the room also. This also could be a situation where a high f-stop and slow shutter speed might help also. A sync flash cord might also not be a nice investment.

10/21/2001 1:03:18 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
Looks like you got a lot of reflectivity from the flash on the red foil. The give-away is the white "hot spot" just above the bow. When a strong reflection occurs from a colored surface, the light that bounces around picks up that color. This is most probably why the entire photograph has a pinkish cast to it and all but the hot spot is underexposed. I suspect you were using an on-camera flash just above the lens as no shadows on the white sheet are evident.

You didn't mention lighting details. This type of photograph begs for off-camera flash. A single light, mounted up higher above the camera and angling down at the subject could work, and might get rid of the hot spot. If you cannot move the flash higher, then try angling the box slightly and move the bow toward the upper corner facing the camera. A vertical composition, and moving closer would make your subject fill the frame better, if you can get the flash off of the camera and keep it well above the lens.

-- John

10/21/2001 11:02:37 PM

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Photography Question 

member since: 9/13/2001
  156 .  Best Backgrounds for School Photos
Please give me advice on choosing appropriate backgrounds for children taking school pics. Should I consider more the child's skin tone/eye color or clothing color?

9/13/2001 12:31:48 PM

Ken Pang

member since: 7/8/2000
  Generally the principle for portraits is to draw attention to the face. You do that by blending in the rest of their body with the background. You can do this by using the same colour background as their school uniform (assuming that their school has a uniform).

From the school photos I see in Australia, they pay no attention to little details like that. I've seen photos that are unsharp, off-centered, or children not really looking into the camera, and parents still buy them.

I am far from encouraging bad work - don't take me to be doing that. But let's just say when it comes to school photos, parents tend not to be too picky.

9/13/2001 7:20:22 PM

Cheryll Williams

member since: 7/21/2001
  Well, I wouldn't say that parents aren't picky. Being a mother of three and grandmother, I will tell you that when it comes to school pictures, we parents tend to accept what we get from the school photographer because it is usually difficult to have a second shot done. Scheduling doesn't allow much of an option. Think about what background color you would want behind your own child. Be different from other companies. It's true you only have so much time with so many students, but you can have some control over the background color. I would say, anything neutral except for white. One school in Westerville, Ohio, did a bookcase background for my grandsons' school. It was a nice change! Hope this is helpful.

9/16/2001 5:04:22 PM

Mark A. Braxton

member since: 5/2/2000
  Hi Sydney,
I am not a professional by a long shot but, I would like to offer my 2 cents. First of all, Cheryll's idea is great. I haven't been in elementary school for almost 20 years now. The photographer of my pictures' used a background with a bookshelf painted on it. I think a wall with a school mascot or some symbolism of the school is good. It'll make it easy for picture viewers to see the reason for the photo. Also it should have some colors from the school uniforms in the colors on the uniforms as Ken P. comments. The background will then also have symbolism, strengthening the picture instead of taking away. Skin tones and the sharpness of your subject should be your highest concern I think.

As long as your subjects are fairly clear parents will buy them true but, as a photographer every shoot you do adds to your resume. This shoot will affect whether you get called by the same school or others again. You might even get a referral from such a job as this one. Think of the prestige earned from doing a good job on school pictures. Most of us wanna be's can only dream of such a job. Good luck and do your best! Just take your time and think your setting through.

9/16/2001 6:21:23 PM


member since: 9/13/2001
  Thanks for your responses.

9/17/2001 1:05:54 PM


member since: 4/25/2001
  I say "phooey" to school photographers. After photographing 3-800 elementary kids I'd be blurry and out of focus. I take my own kids photos down at the park in the fall. For $30 cdn I can take 72 shots pre-paid. My local camera shop will make any size re-prints at a reasonable charge. Most of us have camera's. How about doing an article for the average Joe on taking kids photos?

[Editor: I like the article idea - maybe the Muses will make something happen in the near future :) - Jim ]

9/17/2001 6:12:41 PM

Cheryll Williams

member since: 7/21/2001
  Well, gee Mike, that's great for those of us that really like taking our kids photos. But kids like to have the same type as their friends, to hand out. Also, the point is to help Sidney out with this job. No offense, I think you may have lost the point of his question. Anyway, I understand where you are coming from. I used to let the kids get the school photos and then I would take my own to hang on the wall. So, Sidney, go for it, get creative, and have fun with those kids. that is the biggest part of it. Getting the kids to respond to you. Good luck!

9/17/2001 7:43:22 PM

Kristi Norbeck

member since: 11/20/2003
  Hi Sydney,

I am still new to photography, but I have done the school picture thing. I worked for a company so it was cut and dry what we WERE suppose to do. I dont know what you are working with as far as backgrounds but something standard and flexible works best in my opinion. Browns and greys tend to be the best neutral that I have worked with. I have found that those normally go with ANY skin tone and any color clothing, unless your dealing with shocking lime green!! Blues are ok too. School photography is well as KID photography!! So take your time with them, especially the little one and have FUN!!!! Why else do it right?? Hope this helps you out!! :o)

11/20/2003 6:55:30 AM

Carol J. Guernsey
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/15/2004
  A word of caution do not use a brown background unless you're using a light behind the children. I had my grad pics taken with a brown background and being a brunette my face looked as though it was floating! Blue may be a better choice - not many children with blue hair! Diffuser lenses aren't great for school pics either but are great for adults who have a skin flaw or two to mute!
Best of luck! Sounds exciting!

4/18/2004 10:44:22 AM

Michael Stevens

member since: 1/24/2006
  I have had over 25 years experience at operating a pretty large sized School Photography business. There is more to just satisfying the parents when selecting backgrounds. At the Middle School & High School levels, most schools make yearbooks. In the section where the student's photographs are, typically a school wants the backgrounds to be consistent and not too busy, so when they are bunched together on a page, the page looks nice. At an elementary level, this is not so important. I reccomend looking at, they have a lot of backgrounds to choose from. I work for a software company that uses green screen technology. Everyone is shot on the same green colored background and the parent chooses what background is placed in back of the student when the pictures get printed. For the yearbook it can be set to generate images with a single background. Good Luck!

1/24/2006 3:38:58 PM

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Photography Question 
Dominic Seet

member since: 9/5/2001
  157 .  Using Expired Film - Need to Compensate?
I have a roll of expired ACUPAN 800 film. The film expired in 1999. However, I would still like to use it for some "effect" shot. I understand there will be degrading of the quality. Would like to know how should I compensate for the lost of quality. via overexposing? or underexposing? pull or push during processing? Also, will a filter help? if so, what filter? thankz

9/5/2001 1:57:08 PM

Romen Vargas

member since: 2/22/2000
  Hi Dominic,
As far as I know when film expires you shouldn't really use it BECAUSE you get colour cast in it. What colour depends on the film. I tried using old Kodak 400 once and it gave me a greenish yellowish tint to all my photos. All in all I've been told that when films expire it starts to react slower/fast to different colours.

But in any case I haven't heard of Acupan and almost sounds like B&W film.

Sorry I can't be of much more help than that.

5/29/2002 9:37:29 PM


member since: 11/22/2002
  why don't you try a clip test. it's a weird one for bw films-it's usually for e-6(slide film). you need to definitely go to a pro lab. shoot about 3 frames of gray scale or gray card at your rated iso. rewind the film. have the lab clip 3 frames from the beginning(note-tell them the beginning-sometimes they do an end clip which would yield nothing beacause it's at the other end.
This all depends on your camera too
i had a fuji that shot from the end to the beginning). ask them if they could leave you a leader as well. it's no fun digging the film out of the cannister if you don't have an extractor

anyway-tell them to process and print these normal. judge the prints accordingly.

then rate your film properly.

it's a lot more involved. but it's probably your best guess without shooting the whole roll blind

by the way- i've heard that film increases in speed as it ages.
some of the light-sensitive grains cease to be.

oh well
good luck

11/23/2002 12:12:06 AM

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Photography Question 
Amber Mizer

member since: 6/18/2001
  158 .  First Studio Set-Up for Preschool Shoot
Ok, I'll start from the beginning, again...

I'm shooting a preschool next month. I've been doing some extensive research and have gotten some excellent advice from this site and from a major distributer of studio equipment. This is what has been recommended and I'd love to hear from all of you to see if you agree...
Keep in mind that I'm just starting out...

A Minolta AutoMeter IVF and a SP 1600 Excalibur lighting kit (which includes a stand and umbrella.) And, I plan to just go out and buy some fabric to tape up for the backdrop. What do you think?

I obviously want this to be as professional as possible, but it doesn't have to be state of the art right now. I had planned to buy a pro backdrop system, but wasn't aware of how much the flash meter would set me back.

I'd love to hear what you all think... I need to place this order soon so I have time to practice before I shoot.


8/27/2001 9:35:35 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy

member since: 3/4/2002
  Sounds great. How many lights come in the kit? Or is it just one? Backdrops are easy to make and much cheaper than buying the pre-fabbed ones. I can give you some pointers if you are interested. You can make your own and then all you need is a stand.

8/28/2001 1:30:11 AM

Amber Mizer

member since: 6/18/2001
  Thanks! I was hoping you'd say that! lol

Just one light, unfortunately, but I think it will be okay since this isn't a "real" professional shoot.

Absolutely would love pointers on making backdrops!!!

Thanks, again!

8/28/2001 9:23:24 AM

James C. Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  Hi Amber - Jim here...

I just did a shoot of a 30-year high school reunion. In addition to doing some digital shots for their Web site, they allowed me to set up a portable studio in a corner. I charge people for portraits, had a great time, and made good money... anyway...

First, you can rent a light meter. I did this for many years and the 10 bucks or so is much more manageable than the high price of buying one. Once you know you like doing this kind of photography, I highly recommend that Minolta AutoMeter IV F - I love mine.

Even though this is not as professional or formal, get as prepared as you can and treat it like a pro shoot. I can't tell you how much I recommend at least two lights. One light will look way worse, unless you have an assistant with a reflector (and this is much trickier than simply using two lights). Again, if you can, consider renting the second light.

Lastly, go for muslin as a nice backdrop material. You can dye it if you would like a little color. Then hem the edges and sew a loop into the top end. You can then stick this through a pole to hang it. Many backdrop support systems use such a pole - it will look a lot better than taping or pining it to the wall. You can also get white seamless paper and tape that to the wall but I am weary of recommending it considering your subject. The kids will likely be very active and they could easily wreck a paper backdrop in a matter of minutes. (Gotta love the little tickers...)

By the way, I also rented my backdrop support system - $10 for the weekend from Glazer's in Seattle. Calumet, Samy's in LA, and Gassers in SF also rent.

Hope that helps!

8/30/2001 7:20:16 PM

Amber Mizer

member since: 8/30/2001
  Thanks for the great advice!

Couple of questions... First of all, where can I find someone to rent met his equipment? I've looked online, but it seems most companys rent locally, and I don't believe there are any equipment rentals where I live...

As for the lighting... how would I position the lights and why would I need two? Also, could you recommend a lighting kit?

Backdrops... this may be a stupid question, but where would I hang it? I'm shooting at a preschool and I'm not sure where they're going to have me...

Thank you so much for your input... it was greatly needed and appreciated. I really need to place my equipment order next week so I have time to practice...


8/31/2001 8:37:05 AM

James C. Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  Hi Amber,

I wish I could get more into it with you but another project is on the front burner.

Those are tough problems that come up each photo shoot. While the rental shops do mostly rent local, I seem to remember Glazer's in Seattle shipping out an order from time to time. It all depends on where you live.

I really like the PhotoGenic lighting kits - great strobes at a good price.

The backdrop is a tough one that only you can scope out. But address it you must if they want that kind of picture. If they are just after a group portrait, the classroom as the background may be fine. But if they want individual portraits, I would set up my backdrop in some corner or just outside the room (it does take up a lot of space...). Even if they say "any old background is fine," I shoot with the backdrop - they always like the results better than a cluttered, distracting background. And you are the expert, after all...

Read my article on Digital Studio Techniques for more. It's geared around the digital but a lot of it will help you with film-based shooting, too.


9/6/2001 1:16:02 AM

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Photography Question 
Amber Mizer

member since: 6/18/2001
  159 .  The Right Camera
I am torn between a Nikon N80, N90 and F100. I know for sure I want a Nikon because of the extensive lens capability.

I will be mostly shooting weddings, portraits and candids on location. I plan to use Kodak Portra film with high quality processing and I need a camera that will give me the sharp pictures, lots of flexiblity and ease of use for quick shots.

I am an amateur looking to "go professional" and need a camera to grow with. I would love to find one with a remote trigger and a grip. Also, is medium format the only form that allows interchangable backs for mid-roll changes?

Thanks so much... I could really use some great advice on this! OH! Also... have you ever heard of the New York Institute of Photography, and do you recommend their course?



8/20/2001 5:15:37 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
Instead of telling you which Nikon body to buy, my advice is thinking about the entire system you will need for this. It goes beyond body and lens. Consider the light path that results in an image on the negative:
Light Source(s) -> Subject(s) -> Lens -> Film

You didn't mention anything about lighting equipment, so I don't know if you've thought about it. I recommend your first priority be on lighting; both equipment to create it and to control it. These are the most important tools of the wedding and portrait photographer. It goes beyond on-camera flash and even a powerful "potato masher" flash handle a photojournalist might use. You will have to create more light than the average hot shoe flash can create, you will need to be able to provide it from any direction, control where it goes, and control how harsh or soft it is. Complete control is not possible "on location" compared to a studio, but there much that can be (reflectors, diffusers, etc.). For weddings, you need to produce a portable studio for the formal groupings. If you haven't investigated what you will need in lighting equipment, you should do so. The list of possibilities and options go beyond the scope of this Q&A. Look for some books at a large bookstore or library about portrait lighting. Part of your studies will undoubtedly include this too.

I won't say much about the subjects. Your studies will also include methods of posing people and groups of people along with controlling lighting.

The lens is more important than the specific camera body. The optical qualities of the lens(es) you have will affect the images much more than the camera body. Buy excellent optics and place budget priority on them over the camera body. I also recommend buying body and lens separately. The ones bundled with these bodies are at the bottom end of the Nikkor's (typical is a 28-80 zoom). By buying them separately you avoid paying for a lens you will not use.

The most important aspects of a camera body for professionals is reliability and durability. A full-time professional can easily shoot over 1000 frames of film a week. Film usage is measured as a "burn rate" in frames per hour when working, and it is bought by the "brick" (IIRC, that's 20 rolls). Any of the bodies you mention are capable of the essentials you require, albeit a few things require workarounds (i.e. lack of a PC socket). For professional use, probably the N90s or F100 would be better.

Last, think about backup for essential equipment. No professional I know of shoots a wedding without some kind of usable backup for lighting, lens(es) and camera body. It may not be as new, easy to use or elegant as the primary hardware, but it can be pressed into service. Something that can be used to continue shooting is better . . . much, much better . . . than being dead in the water (the ultimate nightmare for a wedding photographer). If you have a 35mm SLR camera body and lens now, I strongly sugget keeping them as backup until you build enough of your new system that you have some backup equipment with it.

-- John

8/22/2001 12:10:55 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
Forgot about your second question . . . removeable backs for mid-roll changes. I don't know of any 35mm SLR system that allows the kind of quick mid-roll changes that removable film backs with "dark slides" on medium format SLR bodies allow.

You can change film mid-roll on a manual wind, manual rewind 35mm SLR, but it's a royal pain, takes a few minutes, and you lose a frame doing it. Here's the procedure:
a. Note frame counter and rewind until you feel film just pull out of the takeup, then STOP.
b. Open camera back, pull out cannister and _mark_it_ with the next frame to be used (last used frame plus two; leaves a blank frame to prevent overlapping images).
c. Load next film cannister.

To reload a partially used roll:
a. note next frame to wind to (it was marked on it, right?) and load the film.
b. put lens cap on, set shutter to highest shutter speed, and stop lens down completely.
d. Cup hand over the lens cap, then shoot and wind until you're at the next frame to be used. I keep my hand cupped over the lens cap just in case there's a slight light leak around it.

I don't know how one can do this with the newer bodies that have auto loading and motorized wind/rewind built into them. By comaprison, inserting a dark slide, pulling off a film back, putting a new one on and pulling out its dark slide is much, much easier.

I recommend building a solid 35mm SLR system before moving into medium format. They're very nice to use for portraiture and formal shots at weddings. The negatives allow huge prints with magnificent detail levels. However, medium format SLR's with prism finders are big and heavy compared to 35mm, and film loading takes longer (unless you have a stack of preloaded backs). They easily become unwieldly and tiring at wedding receptions where the shooting style is more photojournalist.

-- John

8/22/2001 12:42:12 AM

Amber Mizer

member since: 6/18/2001

Thank you so much for your thorough answer of my questions. I appreciate you input more than you know, as I've had such a hard time finding someone who really knows about this stuff and is not just trying to sell me equipment!

I know you didn't want to specify a camera without knowing lighting, but if you could choose between the N90s and the F100, which do you think would be more useful for what I need? Please keep in mind that I will need it in my beginning stages (which is to say I know nothing of apertures and shutter speeds, yet) as well as when I get to be more of a professional.

As far as lighting... the reason I'm focusing on the camera, quite frankly, is because the whole package is so overwhelming and confusing, and I really have no idea what to look for. Plus, I know that if I HAVE to start out with just a camera and a good speedlight, I can do that and just charge not much over my expenses. I am supposed to shoot a preschool next month and I had planned to buy a soft box light (no idea the technical term, sorry) and a backdrop, but haven't even considered what I'm going to need for an October wedding I have. I had already planned to buy the lenses seperately... probably a wide to normal and a zoom? Is there anythink I really need to look for when purchasing lenses? Since I want top of the line for excellent pictures...

I definately plan on keeping my Minolta, even though I can't control shutter speed or aperture at all... it has programs like portrait, landscape... maybe eventually will buy another SLR. And I definately plan to steer clear of medium format until I'm quite good at all this. Besides, the budget does not allow that, yet!

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm running out of time and need to start buying all this equipment.


8/22/2001 8:29:06 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
At this point I would lean toward the N90s which allows a larger budget for lighting and lenses. You can do a wedding with on-camera flash. However, you should use a flash bracket. It needs to keep the flash directly above the lens, no matter which way you turn the camera. It should also elevate it a number of inches higher than the hot shoe to better control shadows and greatly reduce red-eye risks. Red-eye at receptions with low lighting and after people have consumed some alcohol can be a big problem (the alcohol dilates the pupils even more). Stroboframe is one of *the* names in flash brackets. If there is a large camera store near you, take a look at the different ones they have. Ensure your camera body will fit it and that you feel reasonably comfortable with holding it. You will have to run a cable from the camera to the flash head. I believe Nikon has one the slides into the hot shoe and connects to the flash. There are two basic styles of bracket: one the allows you to flip the flash to keep it above the lens as you turn the camera, and the other allows rotating the camera inside the frame. Your flash should have a GN of at least 100-110, and 125 is even better. You will lose between 1-2 stops of light with a diffuser on the flash head, depending on make and model. Practice with using the bracket. It takes a little getting used to. There's more weight and camera balance changes signficantly with it.

See also my tutorial for weddings here:

It's geared for the advanced amateur who does not have more sophisticated portable strobes, light stands, etc., the cost of which is not justifed in using them only once or twice.

Fundamental principles for shooting your first few weddings:
a. Keep It Simple from a hardware standpoint. You can shoot a wedding only using a fast 50mm lens. The fast 50mm (f/1.8 or f/1.4) also has a huge advantage with low lighting at receptions; it gives you a much brighter viewfinder.
b. Ensure you can put out enough light.
Take your Minolta as a spare and think about how you could mount and hook it up to the same flash bracket so you can switch between them.
c. Take plenty of film and spare batteries for everything. Depending on your flash power, you will probably have to use ISO 400 film. Portra 400 NC has pretty good grain structure.

For tight portraiture of one or two people (head/shoulders), a longer lens in the 85mm to 100mm range will keep you from getting too close to them which can cause perspective problems. This is a consideration for the pre-school event you mention. It will increase working distance requiring more flash power than a shorter lens. The flash bracket is very important for this to avoid red-eye, which is a generally a greater risk with small children (for reasons I don't fully understand).

-- John

8/22/2001 1:40:41 PM

Amber Mizer

member since: 6/18/2001

Once again, can't thank you enough for all the advice. I don't feel so overwhelmed, anymore.

Just fyi... I plan on going with the N90 and will purchase a good flash and bracket. Also, for the preschool shooting, I don't think I'll be able to purchase that camera outfit, yet, so I think I'll go with a faster lens (I only have the one that came with it and a not very fast zoom) the lighting and a backdrop. Also, I was surprised by your suggestion to use a longer lens for that shoot... should I just buy a fixed 100 since it would be less expensive than a zoom? And, just for reassurance, I can still get a sharp picture at that range? I should be able to work the rest out for the wedding... (thanks for the link, can't wait to read your tips on wedding photography!)

Some more questions, if you're not sick of me yet... Can you recommend any Web sites or catalog companies that carry studio equipment such as lighting and backgrounds? I haven't had luck finding one yet.

If I use a light box will I still need a flash and braket?

I think that's it! OH! One more thing... you never said how you feel about New York Institute of Photography.

Thanks, again!!!


8/23/2001 8:30:45 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
With a good camera hold, decent lens and proper focus, and good aperture selection you don't have to worry about sharpness. The very short duration of flash strobes tends to freeze motion. The reason I suggested a longer lens for portraiture is to keep from getting in too close for tight shots. You can easily do them with a 50mm lens provided you get no closer than about 5 feet. This is a 1/3 portrait of an adult (bottom of sternum to top of head). Closer can get you into perspective trouble with the close nose looking big compared to the farther ears looking small. For one or two people I recommend no shorter than 50mm, and use caution with shorter lenses for larger groups (keep people away from frame edges, and especially heads out of the corners). If you do a lot of portraits, you'll eventually need a focal length between 85mm and 105mm.

Quick tips on portraits: If you can pick a focus point, focus on the eyes. Don't break at a body joint (waist, knees, ankles, etc.). For a partial (2/3, 1/3, etc.) put the frame edge between body joints. Don't get too close with a 50mm lens. Leave some border on the long dimension of the frame in the viewfinder. Standard prints are 5x7 and 8x10. If the full 35mm frame is printed though, it would be 5x7-1/2 and 8x12. You have to be able to crop the long dimension to make standard size prints from 35mm. In addition, the lip of a picture frame covers about 1/4-inch all the way around the print (a mat does also).

*The* mail order company on the web for new equipment is B&H in New York City ( They have an impeccable reputation and are used by professionals around the world. Their on-line ordering system works extremely well, but presumes you know what you're looking for (brand and model). Pricing on new equipment is generally very competitive.

Even if you use a light box on the flash, it should still be on a bracket. The box will "soften" the light but it won't help reduce red-eye. Shadows are still there, but with softer edges. If you cannot get enough light with the box on the flash, remove it. Remember, it absorbs some of the light along with diffusing it. Don't compensate for this by opening up the lens any wider than f/5.6 or you'll have depth of field problems. I have something similar for my flash, but there are times when I pull it off because I can't get enough light at longer working distances.

I've heard of NYIP, but do not know much about them. My "education" in photography was by making tons of mistakes and much self-study to sort out why.

-- John

8/25/2001 11:48:17 PM

Melissa Williams

member since: 3/29/2003
  I have a Rebel 2000 with auto load/wind and reuse half used rolls. Just take note of what frame you left off on, and then hit the rewind button. I use a Sharpie marker to write down the frame # I was on, onto the film cannister.

To reload the film you have to get the film leader out. To do this you can walk into most film developing places, I recommend Wolf/Kits/Ritz Camera stores and tell them to get the film leader out for you because they have contraptions for extracting the leader. Then when you want to use the rest of that roll, load it as usual, with the lens cap on, etc. Use a fast shutter speed and smallest aperture, cover the lens with a dark cloth if you want(lens cap on still), and shoot off the frames until you get past the one you were on, and then shoot a couple extras to be on the safe side. Like John said =)

6/24/2003 7:55:00 PM

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