Questions and Answers

Welcome to the club's Q&A page.

Many people have questions about photography that they might consider....
  • Only affect one person - themselves.
  • Are too silly to ask anybody about.
  • Seem so complex nobody would know the answer.
Well, let's dispel those myths - feel free to send in your photography questions (via the "Contact" page or direct e-mail) and I'll put the answer here so that everybody can learn stuff - and/or hopefully chip in with their own answer.
Will we know the answer? Sometimes. Will I be able to find out the answer? Almost always, eventually.

Here are a few to get you started....

1. How do I take better portraits?
  • Use longer focal lengths (telephoto instead of wide angle -90mm was the 'ideal' length with 35mm film - the digital equivalent [APS-C sensor] is about 55 to 60mm). This will make your subject's face more natural.
  • Use a wide aperture for shallow depth of field. This will focus attention on your subject and not your background.
  • Avoid distracting backgrounds.
  • Try to achieve even illumination by exploiting natural light. If you can't use natural light, then use studio lights and/or multiple flashes and/or a bounce flash. In general, always aim for softer light (but there are exceptions).
  • Avoid taking pictures where part of your subject's face is in shadow.
  • Avoid using a single flash pointing directly at the subject. This will create harsh shadows on either the subject of the area behind the subject.
There are several websites that offer tips on portrait photography techniques and Jonathan Sugarman runs special courses (see Workshop page)
2. What are the legal issues involved in photographing people and places?
If this is of serious professional interest to you - you really must check with a lawyer. (If I gave incorrect advice I could be sued). A Google search on laws concerning photography will turn up a lot - but make sure it concerns Canada (or wherever you're photographing, everywhere has differences). Rules concerning amateur photographers are the same..... but common sense will generally tell you what is right and what is wrong. If the question even crosses your mind then your senses are probably telling you it's not a good idea. Never take a picture at a military base or of security personnel. You may be in the right, legally, but it's not worth the hassle. Check this link.
3. How do I  use wide apertures even in bright light? You'll be wanting a Neutral Density filter. This makes everything a little darker without affecting the colours or the polarisation of the light. I've made a PDF on the Workshop page on the subject of filters with digital cameras.
4. How do I reduce glare off chrome, water, etc.? Try a polarizing filter, also called a polarizer, preferably the type known as a circular polarizer - also covered in this PDF.
5. How can I get more dramatic looking skies? A polarizing filter, see above, will certainly help. If you really want to 'go for it', I suggest a 'Graduated Neutral Density Filter'. This will be half-and-half dark and clear - you align the darker part in front of the sky and the clearer part in front of the darker areas of the scene. This will at least ensure that the sky isn't 'washed out'. There are different strengths of 'ND Grads' and can be used in combination with many systems (like the Cokin) More on this PDF.
6. I don't have my camera's manual - any advice? A very large number of them (but not all) can be downloaded from the internet, usually in PDF format. Your manufacturer's web page is the first place to check, or give them a call.
7. What is this EV Compensation I hear about? This is a way of telling your camera to expose the scene in a slightly different manner from the way the scene was metered. Don't forget... the camera's meter will always try to give you an exposure that would give you GREY. So if you take a picture of snow it will be grey; if you take a picture of a night sky it will give you an exposure that will give you grey. So we're going to have to make some alterations to get white snow and black night skies. Compensation is usually expressed in terms of the number of 'stops' of compensation and most cameras have the ability to compensate at least between -2 and +2. Here's an example of how this works: Suppose you dial in +1 compensation. This means that you want the scene to be one stop brighter, which will require a wider aperture, longer exposure, or some combination of these two. If you are using aperture priority mode, your camera will keep the same aperture, but double the exposure time (half the shutter speed). Dialling in a negative value will give you darker images and shorter exposure times (and/or narrower apertures). It's important to understand that exposure compensation does not change the characteristics of your film or sensor; it's just a way of dealing with situations where the metered exposure isn't what you want. (Generally, you should increase exposure for snow by 1 2/3rd stops, or decrease exposure for a night sky by the same).
8. When would I want to use a high ISO?. In general, high ISO is used in conditions where it is not possible to achieve a fast enough shutter speed with low ISO. Typically, the reason for desiring a faster shutter speed is to avoid blur from motion - either from the camera shake or subject motion. Situations that might require high ISO would include: * Indoor, handheld shooting in available light (no flash). * Shooting fast action that requires a very high shutter speed. * Handheld shooting with a very large focal length. Another reason for increasing ISO is to extend flash range. The higher sensitivity will allow you to use a less powerful flash for longer distances. Ideally, even in the best cameras, it's good to steer clear of a high ISO - 'digital noise' will always increase... in a Point and Shoot camera it's fatal to your image; in a top level DSLR anything more than ISO800 will show digital noise but it won't be a total disaster.
9. What does "35mm equivalent" mean when talking about a lens's focal length? Every lens has a focal length which is a physical property of the lens. Once the lens is made, this cannot be changed. The field of view associated with a lens will be a function of the area projected by the lens that is captured by the camera. For 35mm film photography, this area is 36mm by 24mm. Note that if you change the area captured, the field of view also changes. For many years, photographers who used 35mm film and no other systems became accustomed to associating particular focal lengths with particular fields of view. When these photographers moved to other systems, such as medium format, or digital, it was sometimes convenient to think about lens focal lengths in terms of the equivalent field of view they offered in the more familiar 35mm film world. Note that the 35mm equivalent focal length of a lens is simply a way of relating field of view of a lens attached to a new camera, to the field of view of a different lens attached to a more familiar camera. There is no deeper connection than this.
10. What's the relationship between focal length, subject distance, aperture, image size, and depth of field (DOF)? I've attempted to cover this on a Presentation on the Workshop page. Briefly....
  • DOF decreases with aperture size.
  • DOF increases with distance to the subject. This is why you can focus at infinity and get everything beyond a certain distance in focus. This is also why macro shots have such shallow DOF.
  • DOF increases as focal length decreases. This is why wide angle lenses have deep DOF, but telephoto lenses have shallow DOF.
11. What is diffraction and how does it affect my photos? Diffraction is an optical effect that occurs when light passes through a very small opening. Instead of producing a bright, clear image on the other side, it produces a blurry, disc shaped image. Diffraction can reduce the quality of your images when you use very small apertures.
12. The corners of my images are darker than the centre at the telephoto end of my zoom's range. Is my lens defective? Probably not. This effect is called vignetting and it is common in consumer quality lenses. If the effect is not equal in all corners, then something may be misaligned and you should return your camera or lens for service. Bear in mind, though, that vignetting can be an attractive feature and many people add this effect during post-processing.
13. How do I avoid chromatic aberration? Sometimes you will see red and green colour fringes on the edges in your images. With the lens you currently have, you can reduce CA by stopping down. You may also find that some focal lengths are more prone to CA than others. For zooms, CA is typically worst at one or both of the extreme ends of the range. Another way to avoid CA is to switch to a different lens. In general, extreme wide angle and extreme telephoto lenses are more prone to CA than "normal" lenses. Zooms are typically more prone to CA than fixed focal length lenses. Lenses with exotic elements (fluorite, high index or low dispersion glass) are less prone to CA. Such lenses are often labelled as "UD" or "ED" lenses. Apochromatic lenses also minimize CA. These are usually labelled as "APO" lenses.
14. My camera already has a flash built in. What's the advantage of getting an external flash?
  • External flashes are more powerful, so you can illuminate objects further away (but usually no more than about 15 meters, so don't expect to get a picture of an MLB batter at the plate from the crowd - like thousands of New Yorkers tried!).
  • An external flash will position the flash further from the lens, which will reduce red-eye.
  • Most external flashes have pivoting heads, which permit you to bounce the flash off the ceiling, further reducing the chance of red-eye and giving the scene a gentler, more natural illumination.
  • The power output of External Flash can usually be adjusted.
15. What causes red-eye and how do I minimize it? Red-eye is caused by light from your flash bouncing off of your subject's retina. There are several ways to minimise it:
  • Minimize the subject's pupil size, thus reducing the amount of light that reaches the retina to be reflected back. The 'red-eye reduction' modes in many flashes and cameras try to do this by hitting the subject with a "pre-flash" of bright light designed to make the pupils constrict. The effectiveness of these methods varies. The method of twinkling the flash rapidly for a second or two seems to be most effective. Some cameras try to reduce pupil size by simply blinking a small bright light. This does not appear to be as effective as the twinkling flash method. Another less obvious tip is to avoid situations where pupils are likely to be dilated.
  • Increase the angle from which the flash light is hitting the subject. You can increase the angle by moving closer to the subject (though see notes above about portrait photography) or using an external flash, which moves the light source further from your lens.
  • Diffuse the light hitting the subject. The typical way to do this is to use an external bounce flash and bounce the flash light off the ceiling. This has the effect of illuminating the entire scene, rather than hitting the subject with a burst of intense light. It tends to reduce harsh shadows too. If you don't have a bounce flash, you can try attaching a diffuser to your existing flash or coming up with an ad hoc diffuser.
16. Why does my flash not seem to work properly on macro shots? Your flash may be too powerful for shots at such close range. If you have a way to reduce the power on your flash, try this. The second issue is that your flash may not be angled properly to fully illuminate objects at such close range. Your lens may even be blocking some of the light from the flash. You should consider using a diffuser or getting a ring flash, which is a special donut-shaped flash unit that you attach to your camera by screwing it onto the filter threads of the your lens.
17. Should I use a UV filter on my lens to protect the front surface? Although it will provide some level of protection, you should be aware that it can also degrade the image quality due to internal reflections in the lens (light bouncing off the image sensor back into the lens, and then off the filter back onto the image sensor in another place). This can lead to bright blobs of light on your photos that just weren’t there in the scene. For lens protection, it's better to use a lens hood – it not only reduces lens flare, but can take most knocks. If you really must have a filter on there, buy a professional grade filter and don’t expect it to be cheap.
18. What is the key to sharp images? There are lots of factors that contribute to a sharp image – here are most:
  • Use the 'best' aperture for the lens – this is usually about midway between the widest and smallest aperture (usually f/8). Don't go to such a small aperture that your shutter speed becomes too slow.
  • Invest in good quality lenses. Kit lenses are build to a tight budget, but if you spend more, you’ll find image sharpness will generally improve.
  • Use prime lenses (not zoom) – this can make a huge difference, especially at the budget end of the market. The Canon and Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and Pentax 50mm f/1.4 are top lenses for image sharpness, yet are the cheapest lenses in the range.
  • Use the lowest ISO possible. High ISO means more noise, which generally means the camera will bring in greater noise reduction. This obliterates detail and kills the sharpness in the image. The downside of a low ISO is that you'll need slower shutter speeds or wider apertures and this has to be considered.
  • Use a tripod. If shutter speeds are getting a little slow, then use a tripod. If you don’t have one, use your camera bag, item of clothing or a beanbag and set the camera on it.
  • Shoot in RAW if/when you can (not "in the RAW", you understand). JPEGs from your camera are compressed and will 'average out' the colours of individual pixels - only Raw really gives you what you saw, though a good camera will work well enough in JPEG as long as you're not printing larger than A4/Letter sizes.
  • Pressing the shutter button can cause camera shake, therefore use a remote release when you can. The 'wireless' or infra-red remote controls are not expensive and will make a difference. Keep it in your pocket rather than your camera bag - the battery stays warm and it doesn't get lost under all the other bits and bobs.
  • Using mirror lockup, if you have one, can remove another source of camera vibration. Whenever you use a time delay shutter you will hear the mirror get taken out of the way well before the shutter 'fires'.
  • When using a tripod, turn image stabilization off. No that is not a typo. If you don’t need the IS, then turning it off prevents the camera trying to counter-act movement that wasn’t really there.
  • Post processing: You can fake a little bit of sharpness using tools within your image processing software (such as the Unsharp Mask). In reality, all it does it adjust the contrast around edges to give an apparent increase in sharpness, but the effect can be quite stunning...... when not overdone!
  • If you are using manual focus, use live view if available.
19. People often say that if you want to get better at photography, shoot manual mode. Is this true and, if so, why? Shooting in manual mode certainly offers you some advantages over auto-modes. It forces you to understand your camera, so initially your shots may be worse, however, in order to get “good” shots you need to fully understand how to get the best from your camera. 'Manual', in its own right, does not create better pictures – but when you switch back to Av mode after using manual, you’ll have a better appreciation of how everything works. Of course a good photo is not just about getting the exposure right (although it is a fundamental part) – so there is no harm in shooting in Av or even ‘P’ mode if you decide you want to concentrate on composition and style aspects of your photography. The trick is knowing when it is a good idea to switch back to manual mode.
20. What does a DSLR offer over a prestige compact or bridge camera? If you look down the feature list of high-end compact cameras you may wonder why anyone would want to carry around a large DSLR. They can match them on megapixels and, in terms of features, the list for a compact can often exceed that of a DSLR. With some more expensive compacts even looking like a DSLR, it’s easy to confuse them. So what does a DSLR offer for the extra money and weight? Here’s a few of the advantages that apply in most cases...
  • Buying into a complete camera system
  • Much faster autofocus
  • Faster continuous shooting modes
  • Larger sensor means much better image quality, especially in low light conditions
  • A true optical viewfinder
  • Higher quality optics (even on the standard kit lens)
  • More rugged and better sealed from the elements
  • Greater creative control over depth-of-field due to larger sensors
  • A proper focal-plane shutter rather than an electronic shutter
21. I’ve just received my first new DSLR camera – what should I do first?
1. Put your battery on charge – it will take a few hours so do it straight away and carry out step 2 while it’s charging. You might double check that you bought a good memory card for the camera, too!
2. Read the manual – this is not something that you do 9 months later. Find a quiet spot and find out what all the buttons do, and where in the menus you can find everything. It will save you time in the long run, and what else are you going to do while impatiently waiting for the battery to charge?
3. Check everything works. Take a few test shots with the kit lens at both ends of the focal length range and at different apertures. Check that the image is sharp (at f/8 it should be very sharp, even with a cheap kit lens), that it locks on focus, and that the exposures look okay.
4. Start planning your next purchase – an ultra-wide angle lens maybe, or possibly an external flashgun? At the same time think up a few excuses to tell your partner why such extras are absolutely essential.
5. Most importantly - Go out and have fun!
22. "Digital Cameras are not as good as Film Cameras" (discuss)
You still hear that from "experienced" photographers, particularly in photo clubs. So, is it true?
Well, let's dispel a few misunderstandings here....
1. 'Like for like' - first of all, let's compare 'sensor' sizes:
  • A 35mm film frame is about 24mm x 36mm (it's the width of the film spool that's 35mm). That's 864 square mm. The sensor in a 'full frame' digital camera is the same. By any standards, the differences in 'resolution', sharpness, contrast etc. between film and digital at this size are hard to see. Personally, I'd go with the Full-Frame DSLR image - check out results from the 'top-end' cameras like the Nikon D700, Sony A900, Canon 1D. Another difference would be shown up at higher sensor/film speeds - the images from the latest top of the range Full-Frame Digital cameras at well over ISO1600 are now relatively free of digital noise, while the film at these speeds would be so grainy as to be useless for anything other than a special effect - even a newspaper editor would turn them down.
  • With the standard APS-C format (approx 23mm x 16mm or 368 sq.mm) in most DSLRs (most of the Canon sensors that are 'called' APS-C are actually slightly smaller than most) we can see that we have less than half the area of a 35mm film and in fact it's quite a lot smaller than 126 film - that's the stuff we used to put in our Instamatics! Of course, with DSLRs we've got far superior lenses in front of our sensors, plus some digital wizardry to bring the quality up to way past the quality of 126 film. Whether it's up to the standard of 35mm film is the only real debate here, but in pure quality terms I'd have to say that it probably isn't .
In my opinion, then, the APS-C gives 35mm film a run for its money, while a 'Full Frame' DSLR beats it.
2. There again, if it's a close thing between the 'Enthusiasts' DSLR and a 35mm SLR, why not stick with our older equipment? Well, let's see.....
 Digital (Mrs Realworld) Film (Mr Ludd)
I can change white balance frame by frame, to suit lighting conditions, particularly the temperature of the light.
I've either got daylight film or tungsten film (or perhaps IR film). I could change my film halfway through, but it's not a good idea.
I can change 'sensitivity' (ISO) frame by frame, depending on lighting conditions or exposure settings I want to use.
OK, I'm stuck with whatever the film speed was - although I could 'push' exposures (if I really didn't mind the extra grain or the more complicated developing).
I get instant feedback on the exposure - if it wasn't right I can do it again until it is.
You've got to be joking! Really? OK, bracketing may do it - but uses more film.... more money.
Related to the above, I could do 'tethered' shooting - connecting to my computer to preview or see instant results - and even using the computer to focus. Opens up a whole lot of possibilities, whether studio or in the field.
Pardon me?
Memory Cards cost relatively little and last a long time, being used over and over again. I can take them to lots of shops and get prints done for a few cents each or just pop them into the computer or even get an instant print on my home printer.
Yes, but film's not expensive - I've got lots in the fridge - although the developing and printing costs a fair bit and takes some time... I could do it myself, though, if I had a room I could darken and an enlarger, trays, papers, chemicals.... hmmm, fair point.
I can certainly improve my pictures quite easily on my computer, and make different versions for sending by email or posting on my website. Or I could get quite creative with the images - blending layers, making panoramas, I can repair scratched and torn old pictures and bring them back to life, High Dynamic Range....
Huh? High Dynam... what? Actually I don't like computers, you get viruses and people in Nigeria want your money and lots of other things (that I've never actually investigated) and Microsoft have bribed all those companies on TV to have websites so they can mention them on TV and........
Look, here's that nice Kingston Photo Club - I can show my best pictures on their projector and the members will go "Oooo and Aaaah" and they're starting their Monthly Online Themed Competition again.... come to think of it I could enter a few of those online competitions and maybe win stuff....
Would you like an antique camera? When does the Hockey season start again?
3. Then there's the matter of cost. You could say that one of the disadvantages of film was its 'cost per shot'..... particularly as those 'not so good' shots are discarded. But maybe there's something to be said for shooting digitally in the same way as you may have shot Kodachrome.... that would certainly slow you down, possibly giving you more time on getting things right. Next time you take your digital camera into the great outdoors, take a big bag of quarters with you. Then throw away one coin for every time you take a picture you didn't have to, or weren't completely ready to take. That's what shooting film was like. I can't remember the exact figures, but it cost me around 8 pounds ($16?) to buy and process a roll of 35mm transparency film..... if I took as many shots then as I do now I'd have soon been seriously broke! There's one advantage of thinking along those lines.... if you're out with your digital and you just pretend you're shooting Kodachrome, you will slow down, you will compose more carefully - and you'll spend less time wading through the 'accidents' when you get them back to your computer!

Photoshop Elements - What's really missing, compared with Full Photoshop?

Missing Features

Their Purpose?

Who Would Notice?


Colour Balance Colour adjustment Wide audience Actions freely available online
Adjustment Curves Tonal and colour corrections Advanced users Actions freely available online
Channels Palette Colour adjustment Advanced users You can edit colour channels separately by using the Levels dialogue or get a free Action online.
CMYK Colours Pre-print image processing Printing industry pros It doesn't matter if you print your image with your jet printer or in a photolab
Transform Selection Selections Wide audience Don't think I've needed it
Quick Masks Selections Wide audience Solved with Layer Mask Actions
Layer Groups Manipulation, design Wide audience You can't change individual layers in a layer group. This problem may be solved by ungrouping layers.
Some Layer Style Functions Manipulation, design Wide audience You can't, for example, create a separate layer from layer style.
Layer Masks
(now available in PSE9)
Retouching, manipulation Wide audience Layer masks for any layer are freely available online
Smart Objects Non-destructive transformations Advanced users Looks useful - can't say I've missed it
Smart Filters Non-destructive filtering Advanced users Looks useful - can't say I've missed it
Pen Tools Design Advanced users You cannot create or edit vector paths and masks. This may be partially resolved by creating path from raster selections and preset shapes. I'm told this really is useful, but I cannot say I've missed it.
Vector Masks Design Wide audience Never needed it
Paths Design Advanced users Again, never needed it
Actions Palette Automating work Wide audience You can use the existing Actions available in the Effects palette, or use Actions specially made for Elements (by kindly PS users); however, Elements won't let you record your own actions.
Some Web Components Web graphics Web designers You can't slice images; comparatively weak GIF animator, quite sufficient though to create a simple animated banner or button.

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