The weekly newsletter on the art of photography from
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Featured Gallery
Welcome Note
This Week's Tip
Updates From BetterPhoto
Q&A 1: Lens Hood: Why It...
Q&A 2: Focus When Using ...
Q&A 3: How to Take Pictu...
Q&A 4: Using a Polarizin...
Q&A 5: Camera Support fo...
Q&A 6: A Backdrop with N...

"WOW! This was one great class! ... Jim is a fantastic teacher. ... His critiques of my work have already improved my skills and vision, and his advice on how to start making money will be invaluable!" -student in Jim Zuckerman's Making Money with Your Photography course


Learn how to interpret scenes in order to create more dynamic and compelling images! "Photo Design: Composition for the WOW Factor" - with new instructor Josh Anon - begins January 3rd. Learn more...

Learn how to put together a dynamic photographic story from Pulitzer Prize-winning National Geographic photographer Jay Dickman! This new 8-week class begins January 3rd. Learn more...

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Explore Your Subject, Then Trust Your Eye!... By Kerry Drager
Amid the excitement of shooting, it's not always easy to keep all of the compositional strategies in mind. Here's the key: Whenever you're shooting non-candid stationary subjects, slow down and examine your scene in-depth. Try different camera positions, place your main subject in different parts of the frame, switch from horizontal to vertical, zoom in and zoom out, etc.
So how will you know when you've come up with the "perfect" photo? If, after thoroughly investigating your subject, you have a picture that "looks great," then you most likely have your shot! But what if the view through your viewfinder still "doesn't quite feel right"? Well, you may be shooting in the "wrong" light or you might not have the "right" lens for the job. Or, it simply may be time to practice the "fine art of giving up": move on and find a more cooperative subject.
In short: Look, analyze, experiment ... and then go with own visual instincts!

Editor's Note: Check out Kerry Drager's online classes: Creative Close-ups and Creative Light and Composition

Featured Gallery
Lighted House
© - Alisha May Furbish

Welcome to the 296th issue of SnapShot!

At BetterPhoto this holiday season, we are having so much fun gearing up for another exciting session of online classes. Check out Winter school schedule, which gets under way January 3rd. ... We are also thrilled to welcome the newest instructor to Team BetterPhoto: pro photographer and author Josh Anon. His new class is an exciting one: Photo Design: Composition for the WOW Factor . ... Incidentally, if you haven't already, be sure to take a look at the latest BetterBlogs - Instructor Insights and BetterPhoto Digital Photography Show - for information and inspiration. ... That's it for now. Have a fantastic and safe holiday week! And whatever your plans, don't forget to have your camera handy :-)

Jim Miotke
Where Is Jim?

Updates From BetterPhoto

Have you received a new digital camera? Do you want to learn how to use it to make great digital photos? Then consider one of BetterPhoto's Nikon or Canon D-SLR classes. We also have dozens of other online courses to choose from... An exciting new feature from® now makes it much easier to learn photography or Photoshop over the course of just one year! We have simplified things by giving you fabulous combinations of PhotoCourses™. Plus, upon payment of the enrollment fee for your ClassTracks™, you get your choice of an additional free 8-week course (up to $297 value) OR admission to the 2007 BetterPhoto Photography Weekend. Learn more... If you haven't checked our Articles on Photography page in a while, you are in for a treat. There are lots of new articles by some of our top instructors, including Robin Nichols, John Siskin, Matt Bamberg, Jim Zuckerman, Sean Arbabi, etc. Read more...

Photo Q&A

1: Lens Hood: Why It's A Key Accessory
What is the main purpose of a lens hood?
- Eddie Lagos
Eddie, the main purpose of the hood to to reduce the effect of flare - when the sun, or other strong light source is allowed to strike the lens. A secondary purpose, but one I find very important, is to protect the front glass from damage. It's better to bump the inexpensive hood into something than the expensive glass.
- John R. Rhodes
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2: Focus When Using a Telephoto Lens
I have trouble getting my subject in sharp focus when using my Olympus E-500 with Zuikor 45-150mm lens. When shooting a subject far away using autofocus, with a tripod, I bring my lens all the way out, then a hair in (as suggested), and I just don't get a sharp image. I have better luck closer to the subject. Does this have anything to do with focal length? I feel like I'm missing a simple step, or a bit of knowledge. Please enlighten me, as I'm losing many good shots! Thanks,
- Ricky Howard
Hi Ricky,
Some tips on focusing:
As you know, the aperture actually used for the exposure effects the sharpness. Generally a lens will be sharpest when stopped down about 2 f/stops. Stated another way, consider a lens with a maximum aperture (lowest number) of f/2.8 and a minimum aperture of f/22 (largest number). Now, f/2.8 allows in more light and f/22 restricts much of the light. Two stops down from f/2.8 is f/5.6. This will generally be the sharpest setting. Why? The central region of the lens has the best correction. The peripheral or edges of the lens yield the worst performance. Additionally, as we stop down to tiny apertures, a high percentage of the light rays are forced to brush by the edges of the restricting iris. This close encounter causes many rays to go off course resulting in a phenomenon know as diffraction. Diffraction degrades sharpness. While stopping down yields greater depth-of-field, overall sharpness is diminished.
When you focus a single-lens-reflex (SLR,) the mechanism forces you to focus at maximum aperture because in this position depth-of-field is at minimum. When the shutter actually clicks the camera stops down to a pre-selected taking aperture, generally quite a bit stopped down. This stopping-down gains greater depth-of-field that improves the odds of getting a sharp picture.
Now you need to know that short lenses have greater depth-of-field than long lenses. We can take advantage of this fact when we focus a zoom. If we focus at max magnification, we are focusing under conditions of minimum depth-of-focus. Now after focusing, we zoom out to compose (reduce magnification), depth-of-field increases thus improving our chances of getting a sharp in-focus picture. Stated another way, zoom to max position to focus, and then reduce the zoom for actual picture taking.
Camera shake must be controlled. Higher shutter speeds and a well-mounted camera are the rule when working with a zoom at high magnification. When photographing a group of people, don’t focus on the center row, instead, focus on the next closest row to the camera. When focusing on landscapes, don’t focus on the horizon (infinity); instead focus on an object 100 feet or so away. This allows the depth-of-field zone to carry to infinity plus encompass most of the foreground. This allows depth-of-field to work for you. The zone of acceptable sharpness is not split down the middle. This zone extends further away from the point of focus than it extends back towards the camera. As a rule of thumb, depth-of-field extends 1/3 towards you and 2/3 away from you as measured from the point focused upon.

Happy holiday,
Alan Marcus

- Alan N. Marcus
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3: How to Take Pictures of Snow Scenes?
What is the best effect, or best settings, to use when shooting snow scenes?
- Jimmy W. Kennington
See if your camera has a preset for snow scenes.
- Stephanie M. Stevens
To photograph snow scenes, you want to compensate the exposure by +1.5, maybe +2, depending on lighting. The reason for this is because the meter in your camera will register the snow as being bright and will want to under expose the shot which will lead to gray snow.
Another option is to meter the sky (if sunny) and recompose to take the picture with that setting. As Stephanie suggested, if your camera has a "snow" scene mode, use it. That will usually take care of the compensation for you.
- Mike Rubin
For people or portraits in the snow: Spotmeter their skin, then zoom out, recompose the shot, and shoot.
- W. Smith
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4: Using a Polarizing Filter
Hello! I just purchased a Quantaray Circular Polarizer lense and used it today at the beach. I took one picture with it, and the sky was beautiful with so many colors, but the water and sand were really dark. Then, I took it off and took the same picture without it, and the sky didn't have nearly as much color, but the sand and water were the color they should be. I'm an amateur, so not too sure how I can get a happy medium. All I wanted to do was reduce glare, but all of my colors changed! Any help is much appreciated!
- April A. Todd
You did reduce glare. That's why the water and sand were darker.
- Gregory La Grange
Hi April,
Before you take the picture, take a few seconds to look carefully at the image in the viewfinder. Then slowly turn the front of the polarizing filter (keep looking through the viewfinder at the same time!) and you will effectively SEE the image change!
Basically, the 'darker' the image gets (which you control by turning the front ring), the stronger the polarization effect(s): more color saturation and glare/reflection reduction.
Beach, sand and sky are obvious applications for polarizers. But they are also very useful to control mirror reflections in shop windows and water (pools and ponds).
Polarizers can control glare/reflection in water and glassy materials, but not on metallic surfaces.
- W. Smith
Just a note to be careful: As you turn the outer ring of the filter, watch your sky (if it is in the shot), because you may end up with an unnatural darker corner of it compared to the rest of the sky. You want to try to get it uniform. This is probably one of the important and useful filters to own. Later on you may wnat to consider Gratuated Neutral Desnity filters (GND).
- Mike Rubin
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5: Camera Support for Macro Photography
So I am going to start taking macro pictures and am curious if I use natural light, do I need to use a tripod or monopod? I want very crisp photos. Do they make real small monopods? Some of my photos are a bit blurry, and I feel I need to use something. But I am just curious if others use tripods all the time or just sometimes when needed. Thanks,
- Desiree C. Preckwinkle
I shoot quite a bit of macro. I find I generally use some kind of support, a tripod, beanbag or whatever. With the extremely limited depth of field in macro work it definitely helps.
- Mark Follmer
As you get closer, camera shake and subject movement will become more pronounced. You should also consider ways to stablize your subjects to keep them rock-solid during exposure.
If you've been doing a lot with macro, often you will find yourself using shutter speeds of several seconds or more. It's essential that your camera AND your subject remain still during the time the shutter is open.
A decent sturdy tripod that allows you to shoot close to the ground is a valuable tool. Those compacts are OK for low-angle work as long as you can operate your camera hands-free. (Just pressing the shutter can generate enough movement to cause a blurry photo.)
Now... how do you stablize your subject? This depends upon what you are shooting. For most folks, the preferred macro subjects are flowers and insects. As anyone who shoots in the field knows, the wind can be a real pain sometimes... especially when your subject is being magnified to 1:1 life-size and beyond. Shooting early in the day is the best time for flowers and insects for several reasons:
The wind usually is much calmer then, and the bugs are still semi-dormant... especially after a cool overnight. Eventually though, the wind WILL pick up and getting things to stop dancing around in the viewfinder will become more difficult.
As mentioned earlier, the greater the magnification, the more movement will register on your film or sensor. To combat this problem, you can build a few supports from lengths of coat-hanger wire. On one end of the wire is a small alligator clip. On the other is a larger clip (the kind used for battery terminals). When the wind starts blowing, attach the small clip to the twig or stem of your subject just out of frame. The larger clip gets attached to your tripod leg, a nearby branch, or other support. These are simple to make and easy to transport inside a tripod bag. You can also make a few with just the small clip on one end and plain wire on the other for low-level work. (The wire end gets stuck into the ground.)
Often, two or more of these support devices are required to keep things rock-steady... especially when using extension tubes or a bellows unit for those really cool super-macros.
- Bob Cammarata
Desiree, Bob gave you some good info. There are also tripods specifically designed for macro work that slide back & forth for those very slight adjustments that are needed for focusing. I also shoot with manual focus for macro. I am currently re-reading a book about macro photography by John Shaw and there are some classes available here at BP that will show you some nuances and techniques as well (Editor's Note: Check out Brenda Tharp's Mastering Macro Nature Photography) and Mastering Macro Nature Photography: Advanced Techniques .)
Macro photography using natural light is wonderful but also consider macro lighting as well. Some of the most incredible macro photos I have seen are set up carefully with tripods and lighting to get that super sharp and vibrant look (like the tree frogs in National Geographic). You can also get a 3D effect with lighting. I am also starting to focus more on macro photography as it is so fascinating and easy to find subject matter - like in your back yard, the little leaves with water droplets, the bug on the flower, etc. I will be signing up for a couple more classes starting in Jan and am seriouly considering a macro class by Jon Canfield (Macro Photography: An In-Depth Look at Close-up Subjects). Good luck & have fun.
- Carlton Ward
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6: A Backdrop with NO Wrinkles??
I opened a "mobile" portrait studio back in October, more to feed my love of photography than anything else. But the business took off! I am trying to find a backdrop that won't wrinkle. Is there such a thing? Right now I am using standard muslins, and it is become more and more a pain in the butt. Not to mention on my last shoot (two pugs), one of them decided to "christen" my black muslin...,the client was sincerely apologetic ... but needless to say I'm looking to replace ASAP. I was wondering about seamless paper, which I know would be tough, since right now I don't have a studio so I need to be "mobile", and I was also looking into vinyl or canvas. I don't really know where to start. So any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated. I am also wondering the best place to purchase. I've ordered from ImageWest and Denny in the past and have been completely satisfied with the service I have received. Thanks for helping me out and Happy Holidays to Everyone and their Families!
- Heather Deabay
Hi Heather, If it were me, I would try white fiberglass drapery material. It’s fireproof; maybe this makes it a safe bet for mobile usage. I don’t think fiberglass can stain. It might also prove to be wrinkle-free. What I know about the subject, you could put in a thimble then drop it in the Pacific Ocean for the entire splash it makes.
Happy holidays,

Alan Marcus

- Alan N. Marcus
Hi Heather,
The great thing about seamless is that it is cheap enough to throw away. You don’t get that great painted look, however. What about bundling your muslin into a ball so it is evenly wrinkled? Then if you move the subjects further from the muslin and use a wider aperture, you should be able to make it look even. What aperture are you using now? Alternatively, canvas is much stiffer so it won’t wrinkle, but it is also heavy! Thanks, John
- John H. Siskin

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I'm not quite sure why you want to replace the black background that got dog christening. Why not just wash the thing? Throw some stuff called Nature's Miracle in with it, let it soak a while and then wash and dry it like it was a sheet. Nature's Miracle is available in most pet stores, including Petco and PetSmart, among other places. It removes all traces of pet odors so you shouldn't get repeat performances. ;>)
As for wrinkled muslins or muslin/canvas combos, you could do as John suggests. In fact, I use most of my backgrounds out of the parachute bag, hang them on a wall and start shooting with a uniform set of wrinkles and creases. Two things you can do if you don't like that particular look:
First, you can add bigger folds to it by hanging it with wrinkles and taking clothes pins in the back of it to fold it into itself and then clip it.
The second thing that seems to work with muslins and cotton backgrounds is carry a spray bottle with water, just plain water. Hang your background and apply misted water where you want to remove wrinkles. Wait 5 - 10 minutes and set something else up while it dries. Or, just mist it and take a hair dryer to it and watch those wrinkles disappear. You, of course, can't do this to plastic, fiberglass or vinyl-covered materials, and it works really poorly with paper backdrops.
Take it light.
- Mark Feldstein
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