The weekly newsletter on the art of photography from
Monday, January 01, 2007
Featured Gallery
Welcome Note
This Week's Tip
Updates From BetterPhoto
Q&A 1: Portrait Lighting...
Q&A 2: Problems Shooting...
Q&A 3: Circular Polarize...
Q&A 4: Red Eye - Cause a...
Q&A 5: BP Rolls Out Cool...

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Bracketing Your Focus by John Siskin
I have been focus-bracketing for a while with my digital camera. This is somewhat similar to exposure bracketing that we do when we are unsure of the exposure for a shot. The idea is to focus as accurately as possible and then take additional shots focused closer and further away. There are several reasons for doing this:
- First, autofocus often has trouble with a low-contrast subject, such as the hood of a car.
- Second, often we often can’t predict what focus point will make best use of the available depth-of-field, so we are more likely to find that point among several shots.
- Finally, digital cameras use very bright focus screens to make the viewfinder as bright as possible. While these screens are significantly brighter than standard ground glass screens, they don’t give the photographer the sense that an object is in sharp focus that previous screens do. This means that we really need to bracket-focus because we may not be able to see the focus point accurately.
Editor's Note: John Siskin teaches several excellent courses here at BetterPhoto, including: Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Introduction to Product Photography.

Featured Gallery
Yosemite Falls rainbow
© - Loretta Valdez

Welcome to the 297th issue of SnapShot!

I hope you are enjoying these opening days of 2007! Right here at BetterPhoto, there's so much excitement, with our next session of online photography courses kicking off this Wednesday. And the Winter lineup is our absolutely best ever. Check out the school schedule... The new year also brings an opportunity to take part in a unique online adventure: ClassTracks™, in which you can learn photography or Photoshop over the course of one year. Learn more about ClassTracks... Also, I am pleased to announce that we have renamed the "Special Effects" category to "Catch-All" in BetterPhoto's free contest. Catch-All will be for everything, including special effects, still life images, and whatever else doesn't fit into the other categories. Here's a rundown of all ten contest categories... That's it for now. May this new year be filled with prosperity, growth, and success for you and yours.

Jim Miotke
Where Is Jim?

Updates From BetterPhoto

At BetterPhoto, our classes is focused on teaching you how to improve your understanding of photography or Photoshop through exciting weekly assignments and helpful critiques. You must act fast, though, since classes are starting to fill! See the school schedule... Check out BetterPhoto's one-year programs: Composition for the Nature Photographer; Become a Photoshop Professional; or Making Money as a Professional Photographer. Learn more about ClassTracks™...: Learn more about photography through "Instructor Insights" (by Jim Zuckerman, John Siskin, Brenda Tharp, etc.) and Jim Miotke's "The BetterPhoto Digital Photography Show"! Better Blogs... For more tips and techniques, read BetterPhoto's frequently updated Articles on Photography.

Photo Q&A

1: Portrait Lighting - Help!
I need your help! I received a very generous Christmas present that included some studio lighting and backdrop system. The problem is that I don’t have a clue how to use it or where to place the lights. While my family is still here from out of town, they want to do a family portrait. I have two Smith-Victor 700-SG 600 Watt Quartz Lights. They have the umbrella attachment with reflective side to them. I have two different backdrops (white and black) and look kind of like a velour blanket. Which backdrop would be best for a family portrait (9 adults and 1 baby)? The only lenses I have are a 28-135mm 3.5-5.6, 18-55mm 3.5 – 5.6, and 75-300mm 4 – 5.6. I also have a Speedlite 430EX but do not have a light meter. I wanted to get a general idea of where to start without making them go through a lot of trial and error. Thank you in advanced for your response!
- Janet Oldaker
Hi Janet,
I would start out with (clock reference) camera at 12:00 (pick the lens that fits your working area in the room) - group at 06:00 - position the backdrop 2-3 foot behind the group (remember that the backdrop & group may also pick up reflective light from the walls/ceiling and cast a tint onto the group) and then set 1st light just slightly behind your right shoulder at 10:00 about 6' high and the other light at 02:00 at 5' high and see where the shadows are. Then start moving stuff until you get the lighting you want. Mark is right and you may end up spending way too much time doing this. I have a couple of books and there are so many configurations that do so many different effects - it is too much to discuss here. Good luck Janet - Happy New Year
- Carlton Ward
If you have 9 people in your family, including a baby, it will be hard to arrange all these people, let alone the lights. Of course, it is possible that you live somewhere that the outside temperature is about minus 12. In that case, point the lights at a white ceiling and get the family together under the lights. This won’t work perfectly, it may not even work well, but it is quick and even. Don’t mix your strobe with your quartz lights, but you could use it outdoors. Happy New Year!
- John H. Siskin

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2: Problems Shooting Red Flowers
Hi, I'm having trouble shooting flowers that are uniformly red. Right now, I'm trying to photograph cyclamens. All the detail is lost, no matter what I do. I have varied the exposure many ways, and the most variation I ever get is occasional blown-out portions of the petals. It's very weird!
- Colleen Farrell
Your Wrinkly Wrose picture looks very nice. Are you having problems with the edges of the flower being undefined? Red seems a difficult color for me as well, but I would try different lighting techniques since you have tried varying your Depth of Field. Maybe a softer light angled to the side a bit and a longer exposure would bring out the detail. Good Luck - you take very nice flower photos.
- Carlton Ward
Since it appears your highlights are getting blown out, instead of maneuvering your lights, try tenting your subject with one grade or another of a translucent panel, and then set your lighting to shoot through the panel. Of course, this may be the different lighting effect that Carlton was referring to.
- Mark Feldstein
Thanks, Mark and Carlton for the tips (and the compliment!). I'd forgotten about the "wrinkly wrose" -that was shot outside. I'm trying to photograph the cyclamens indoors with sunlight coming through a window covered with diffuser material, so I'll try variations on that. Thanks again!
- Colleen Farrell
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3: Circular Polarizer Filters
How much difference do circular polarizer filters make when shooting landscape/outdoor pictures? I currently have UV filters on my 17-40mm or my 100-400mm L lenses for protection, but read that the circular polarizers add richness of color and contrast with clouds and sky images. How much difference is there between the B&W brand and the Hoya?
- Carlton Ward
Well, actually, polarizing filters cut glare and reflections by polarizing the light source, usually sunlight. Color-enhancing filters, like 81 series, provide richer colors.
The problem using polarizers to do that is they tend to block up the shadow details by making them much darker and if your meter isn't reading the lighting correctly, you'll probably start getting underexposures because polarizers tend to fool built-in matrix meters.
As for using UV filters for lens protectors, you're really much better off to use a lens hood or compendium shade. UV filters are to filter out UV light at high altitudes. Yes I know, I know, you need to put something to protect your lens. This is pretty much of a myth, probably started by the guys at Tiffen or Hoya to sell more UV filters.
And, by the way, you probably wouldn't notice any appreciable difference between B+W or Hoya or Tiffen. While the glass in B+W is probably Schott optical glass, where you'd see a difference is in the brass rings B+W uses that makes them expand and contract less in cold weather shooting, thus less prone to getting stuck on a lens.
If you want richness in clouds, get either a Sky Blue or neutral density series or combinations of both. In fact, given the size of your lenses, I recommend that you just get a resin system, like a Hitech, Lee, Sailwind, a Cokin P???? (maybe), etc., and a universal filter holder that has a 77mm ring. Then you can stack multiple resins (which are excellent these days), and play with their effect. But a polarizer ain't what you need unless you've got flare or glare. The effect you want is a secondary effect with a polarizer, not its primary purpose, and lose the UV filters for a lot of reasons including the fact that added glass without any utility tends to cause more problems than it solves.
Also, the coatings of modern lenses are pretty resiliant from scratches, and the gaskets help prevent dust and grit from entering the lens itself. Just clean it when it gets dirty. If your lens suffers an impact because you carried it carelessly and the impact was strong enough to shatter the UV filter, chances are it would have been sufficient to shatter the outer lens element anyway.
Take it light and Happy New Year ;>).
- Mark Feldstein
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4: Red Eye - Cause and Prevention
I quickly grabbed my D200 and my SB-600 flash for my childrens Christmas choir preformance. Not having time to put the flash bracket on, I just put the flash on the hot shoe. Got lots of good pictures but now I have to correct every shot because of red eye. If I had put the flash on the flash bracket, would I have eliminated the red eye?
- Dan Schlochtermeier
I’m assuming that your flash bracket allows you to mount the flash off the axis of the camera lens - say, just to the left? Yes, getting the flash off the axis of the camera lens is the best way to foil red eye. Interesting, though, I too use the D200 but with the SB-800. Even mounted on the shoe, I’ve never encountered a red eye problem.
- Raymond H. Kemp
Moving the flash a few inches further away from the lens axis could indeed help with this problem, Dan, since red-eye is the reflection of the flash light off the retina of the subject. The further from the lens, the wider the angle of reflection becomes, such that eventually the light reflecting off the retinas doesn't find its way back into the lens.
Your distance from the subject also impacts this factor - when you're close, a couple of inches may be enough, but from a greater distance you would need to move the flash further from the lens to get the same effect (it's just geometry). So while it couldn't hurt to have used a bracket in any event, it is possible that a bracket would not have helped so much given how far you were from the kids. That's when you get someone next to you to hold the flash and point it forward - effectively becoming your human bracket holding the SB600 a distance of 3 feet rather than 6 inches.
- Bob 
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5: BP Rolls Out Cool New Course Pages!
Hi Everyone,
Just a note to let you know that BetterPhoto's design/tech crew has just finished up a terrific "overhaul" of the PhotoCourse™ pages. They are so much more user-friendly.

Check out the new designs, along with some of the new classes that begin in the Winter session (which kicks off Jan. 3rd):

Thanks, and happy new year!
- Kerry Drager

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Creative Light and Composition
4-Week Short Course: Creative Close-ups
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