The weekly newsletter on the art of photography from
Monday, April 10, 2006
Featured Gallery
Welcome Note
This Week's Tip
Updates From BetterPhoto
Q&A 1: Graduated Neutral...
Q&A 2: Family Group Port...
Q&A 3: No-Flash Wedding...
Q&A 4: Exposure for Whit...
Q&A 5: How to Check Shar...
Q&A 6: Macro Lens Buying...

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The Art of Paying Attention ... by Brenda Tharp
If you haven't already, check out Brenda Tharp's Instructor Insights blogs right here at BetterPhoto. An excerpt:

"I don’t consider myself a photojournalist by career, yet I had training to be one many years ago, and that training has been so useful in other areas of photography. Studying, through workshops and classes, to become an expert at observation meant I had to be present while walking around town, in a village, on a boat, bus or subway train. It meant I couldn’t “zone” out and ignore the world around me...

"Today, as a travel photographer, that skill of learning to be observant has helped me photograph many interesting moments - moments that tell a story, that make you wonder, laugh, cry or smile. That same training has helped me observe animal behavior and to be ready to capture moments with them, too. They don't have to be high-action moments, either. Sometimes just coming upon a simple scene of a cat perfectly positioned between the railings is enough to make a nice picture.

"So if I learned only one thing from that early training... it was to pay attention - to everything around me; to watch the light, the action amongst people, the gestures of individuals, of animals. All of these things will provide a plethora of pictures if you're watching for them."

Brenda Tharp, by the way, is teaching a new 4-week course in May: Macro II: Advanced Techniques

Featured Gallery

Welcome to the 259th issue of SnapShot!

Are you kicking yourself for waiting too long? Don't fret, because you can still join one of BetterPhoto's online photography courses. Check out our lineup of 8-week classes. Although the first lessons have already been sent out, the assignments for our 8-week courses are not even due until this coming Sunday (April 16th)! In this issue of SnapShot, don't miss our usual features, including an excellent Photo Tip from instructor Brenda Tharp and another fine collection of questions and answers.

Jim Miotke
Where Is Jim?

Updates From BetterPhoto

Yes, there's still time to join the fun. If you sign up for one of our 8-week online courses today, we will send you the first lesson pronto. Then you will have plenty of time to do the first assignment, which isn't even due until Sunday, April 16th! Learn more about photography through Better Blogs - "Instructor Insights" and "The BetterPhoto Digital Photography Show". Incidentally, although most of our courses are already under way, the second session of BetterPhoto's 4-Week Short Courses doesn't begin until May 3rd! Many of these exciting classes cover specialized subjects, while others focus on specific cameras.

Photo Q&A

1: Graduated Neutral Density (ND) Filters
I do a lot of outdoor landscape shooting. What situations are necessary when you want to use a 2-stop or 3-stop graduated neutral-density filter? Are they most effective when you want the separation of sky and land? And what would you recommend - the 2-stop, or the 3-stop? Thank you for your time and patience.
- Charley Andrisano
Graduated neutral density filters are most advantageous when a part of the scene (usually upper or lower portion) is considerably brighter or darker than the rest. You are correct in your assessment of sky and land. It is impossible to say for certain which strength to use, as it should be determined by metering the contrast of each scene.
However, 3 stops is extreme, in my opinion, and would probably be used the least. I'd recommend a 2-stop if you could only afford one, and a 1-stop & 2-stop if you can afford two.
BTW - to compound matters, you also have to decide between a hard edge and feathered edge graduated filter. If I had to choose between hard or feathered, I'd choose the feathered first.
In a nutshell, the more of these you own, the more circumstances you can cover. It can be quite a financial investment in owning several graduates.
- Michael H. Cothran
Depends on where you live and the type of light you encounter. Most people find 2-stop is most useful. One stop hardly makes much difference at all. You might need 3-stop in hard contrasty light such as found in the southwest deserts. Be advised that hard vs. soft edges varies greatly between brands. Some brands' "hard" edge might really be a "soft" when matched with a competitor.
- George Anderson
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2: Family Group Portrait
Hello everyone, here is another one of those "I've been asked to..." questions! I have been asked to do a family portrait of approximately 20 people indoors. Any tips or help that I can get would be very much appreciated. I will be using my Canon 1V HS with a 28-200 f/4.5 lens. I have rented two 800-watt studio lights and umbrellas. I also have a 20x10 muslin backdrop. My biggest concern is, of course, proper lighting. My experience with studio lights is extremely limited. I will hopefully get them the day before the shoot and work with them a bit before doing the sitting. Any advice on how I can achieve the best results would be very much appreciated. The shoot is this Saturday coming up. Thanks in advance.
- Doug Hornung
The trick in these deals is to usually balance the lighting. For that, you ought to have a flash meter. 20 people isn't really a big number. So, if you really want to use your muslin, hang that first in a place where you can get people 6-8 feet in front of it. (Closer may produce some harsh shadows).
Then throw some masking tape down on the floor to mark where you plan to position people (standing and/or sitting). Rig your lights, one at a time, measuring the output in various parts of 1/2 of the area you marked out. Then set the second light to work at the same f-stop and distance as the other. You can leave X marks for the stands and try and recall the height your lamp heads are set at. BTW, you don't want that lens set at less than 35mm. 50-100 would be better if you can get the distance and depth of field you need to the subjects. 28mm, forget it ... it's going to distort at the sides of the frame.
Then Saturday, set it up, remeasure the lighting to get the proper f-stop to work at the depth of field you want and rock and roll. Piece of cake ... yes?
- Mark Feldstein
Thanks, Mark, for the great advice. I guess I forgot to mention that I have a sekonic light meter and will be using it. With the space I have, I should be able to set the lens near 100mm. I was thinking of using a aperature of approx f/8. If I understand you correctly, I should then adjust the light output so that my light meter reads f/8 for a proper exposure across the entire area using both lights? Thanks again!
- Doug Hornung
Well, f8.0 at 100mm should give you adequate depth of field. So, in that sense, if you've got people stacked, say, 2 deep, the folks in the front and back should be in focus. All you need to check with your meter is that all the zones, say you divide the space in front of the backdrop into four of them, should be getting about the same amount of light, whether it's f8.0, f 8.5 or f 11, or even 5.6 (which is pushing the depth of field envelope a bit).
And, you also want to make sure with your meter that you don't have any dead spots that aren't getting any light. Umbrellas can be tricky that way. BTW, set your umbrella on the flash head using the modeling light. (This may be old hat to you) but when the umbrella is at the proper distance from the flash head, you should just begin to see shadow from the modeling light falling on the inside edge of the umbrella with adequate illumination toward the inside or center. In other words, if you push the umbrella too far towards the lamphead you won't be getting sufficient light output from the rig and the illumination it provides will be uneven. That's a common mistake people make using umbrellas which are otherwise nice modifiers.
Some lights, for example my Bowens monolights, have what's called a "spill-kill" reflector that fits around the lamp head before you insert the umbrella. That reflector helps keep the light inside the umbrella to allow it to do it's job. Seewhatimean?
Take it light.
- Mark Feldstein
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3: No-Flash Wedding
I'm throwing a question out there for the pros of this Web site: What do you do in the situation of a no-flash photographed wedding (church-rules)? Slowing down the shutter speed and using a tripod seems like a huge undertaking... but is that the solution?
- Rhonda M. Ramirez
Bump up the ISO, use as fast a lens as you can get your hands on, and use as slow a shutter speed as possible. If the church is too dark to get the exposure handheld, you may have to use a tripod or a monopod.
- Kerry L. Walker
I don't know about the church you've got in mind, but from what I understand, a no-flash wedding means during the actual ceremony and doesn't apply to staged scenes before and after the wedding. While Kerry's solution is certainly right-on, he might have more info on that subject in terms of getting permission to shoot during "off-hours", so-to-speak. The only other real problem I can think of in terms of flash in a church goes, is when there are rare paintings or tapestries hanging around that might be adversely affected by repeated exposure to the daylight flash produces. Seewhatimean?
Take it light.
- Mark Feldstein
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4: Exposure for White Wedding Dress
How do I get detail in a wedding dress? I'm using a Canon 20D with mono-lights and I am washing out the whites. I use 400 ISO at f8. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
- Diann 
First off, hopefully you're using incident readings which makes life easier with monolights. One thing you can do is to take a reading with your meter and main light and then stop down about a half stop. For example, if you get a f/5.6 reading, I believe a half stop is like 6.3 or something like that. This will stop down enough to hopefully preserve your details. If not, stop down a full stop, which would be f/8 for a f/5.6 reading. Hopefully this helps you a little.
Or, if you have a stepless power option on your lights (like the AB's do), you can get your reading of, say, f/5.6 - then drop your light output by 1/3, 1/2 or a full stop, whichever works. Also, since you're shooting with digital, you can watch your histograms and exposures to make sure you're not blowing the highlights. Also, if you're shooting with monolights, I'd drop your ISO to about 100, so you get the most noise-less images you can get. Unless you're doing location shots, there's not too much of a reason to keep the ISO high in the studio. Just my opinions.
- Justin G.
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5: How to Check Sharpness of a Lens
I bought a 180mm L-series Canon macro lens. I was expecting to have super sharp images and now I am shocked that it doesn't get that sharp as I expected it to be more sharp than the 105mm Macro. Please help me know how to check the sharpness.
- Capt Suresh  Sharma
Eliminate all other possible contributors to unsharpness. No UV/protective filter. The longer focal length lens is more susceptible to camera motion than shorter focal length, so mount your camera on a sturdy tripod and release the shutter with a wired/wireless remote. Make sure that you are not misfocused on your subject. Set up with plenty of light on the subject for accurate focusing (auto or manual). Manual focusing is often preferred for macro subjects, but it can be difficult if you have a small and relatively dim viewfinder. If so, a viewfinder magnifier such as the Canon Angle Finder C will be a great help. Use mirror lock-up if shutter speeds are between 1/15 and 2 seconds to avoid camera movement/vibrations from the mirror kicking up.
- Jon Close
A 180mm macro lens should not be any sharper than a 105mm macro lens. It should, however, give you a larger image with equal sharpness. A good macro lens (of whatever focal length) should easily out-resolve any available dSLR, including the 16 MP Canon MkII. The difference between a 105mm macro and a 180mm macro should be that the latter lets you get 1:1 images while letting you be further away from the subject. Of course, a longer focal length means that you'll have less depth of field at the same aperture, and most dSLR lenses start getting diffraction-limited at f/11 (meaning that increased depth of field comes with decreased resolving capability, i.e., more and more of the image reaches a less and less sharp uniform focus).
If I wanted to check the sharpness of a lens, I'd put my camera on a tripod, use the camera's mirror lockup with a remote release (or use the camera's self-timer) and do the following:
- Take a photo of a newspaper with the camera in portrait mode (vertical), and pointing at a 45 degree angle to the paper's surface. This lets you see if the lens is focusing correctly. Your band of focus should be across the page and parallel with the horizon. If it's not, you may have a bad lens.
- Take a photo of a newspaper with the paper perpendicular to the central axis of the lens (paper flat on wall, lens pointing at the center of the paper directly above the center of the paper). I'd try this at different f-stops, and see where the sharpest image was (probably f/5.6 to f/8).
If your lens will not produce a crisp, sharp image under these conditions, then something's wrong with it. Take it back and try another lens of the same model.
- John Clifford
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6: Macro Lens Buying Tips
I'm keen on buying a macro lens for my D70s. I would be shooting mostly flowers, bugs, fruits, etc. Nikon lenses are very expensive.
Any suggestions?
- Sachin D. Das
Eliminating the excellent Nikkor Micros from consideration, I would strongly recommend the Sigma 180mm macro, the Sigma 105mm macro, or the Tamron 90mm macro.
If you can afford a little more, my first recommendation (other than the Nikkors) would be Sigma's 180mm macro. For the subjects you list (flowers, bugs, etc), I find that the longer the lens, the more pleasing the images.
My own personal 'flower' lens is the Nikkor 200/4 ED Micro. I've even used a 300mm lens with extension tubes. The problems with this latter system is the hassle of working with extension tubes, and the limited focusing area they allow.
For flower photography, you would do well with a longer lens, and the Sigma 180mm macro is priced significantly lower than the Nikkor 200mm. Furthermore, the Sigma macro lenses (either the 105 or 180) and the Tamron 90mm macro (which is a little too short for my tastes) yield top drawer, superb image quality.
- Michael H. Cothran
I have the Sigma 105mm and I love it.
- Mike Carpenter
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