A few random questions

So I have virtual post-it notes on my desktop where I can jot down little to-do lists or things to remember. Lately the list for blog-related or photography questions has grown rather lengthy. In an attempt to find answers (and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with deleting to-do list items) this will be a compilation of those things that have been rolling around in my mind.

For the record, I’m using a Canon Rebel XT and have only recently begun using PS CS3 for post-processing.  To see examples of some of my frustrations, feel free to peruse my Flickr photostream too.


I am slowly learning how to capture better images, which makes the job of post-processing that much easier (though that too is still tricky at times). While I understand the concept and interplay between shutter speed, ISO and aperture, I still have a hard time making the mechanics of all three work together in a way that produces the image I see in my mind’s eye.

One question I have is about lenses. I almost always (ok, always) use my 50mm fixed lens, and I think part of my reasoning behind doing so is that I was told somewhere along the line that that lens is good for portrait-type shots. The person explained it as having the subject in sharp focus, but the background blurred. Isn’t that simply depth of field? Can’t that be achieved with any lens? I’m hoping to use my kit lens (18mm-55mm) a little more to see if I can’t play around and build my camera knowledge.

After taking a one-night class at the store where I purchased my camera, I began shooting in manual, almost exclusively. I find I’d be happy with the tiny image on the display, but dissatisfied by the blur (camera shake?) when I downloaded the images. I guess I’m looking for that crispness and definition that I see in so many other images on various blogs I read. Any suggestions to help me improve my practice?  I often find that I try to salvage bad shots with post-processing, which more often than not reduces what little integrity the original image had.  These highly processed shots then, result in poor prints, and so on.


There are times when I want to take a picture where the subjects are equidistant from the center of the frame. I’ve tried adjusting my focal points, but often end up with images that focus on the point between the subjects instead. There are certain situations that don’t allow the time to adjust these focal points while also adusting other settings to capture the shot.

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(I know there are several issues with this one…again, blur is the main one I notice)

Is there a way to set the focal points to an “auto” setting? Would I want to turn them off? There are times when I want everything in focus, which I know is also an aperture issue. Am I totally confusing the issues here?


I think I’ve read about reducing the “strength” of your flash. It would allow you to use the built-in flash, but without washing out the image so much. I thought I figured out how to do it at one point, but it seems that the result wasn’t much different. Any suggestions?


I read most of my blogs through my Google reader. A few, I’ve noticed make updates or changes to certain posts, and they show up in my reader (not as “new” or “unread” but when I click the post there is new content). I know how to edit posts through wordpress, and I always save my changes, which means the post on my blog is correct or updated. How do I get that corrected version to “re-publish” through my feeds?

Many of my photography questions are fueled by a slight case of anxiety as I prepare to take my first “official” shoot for some friends next week. I’ve already given several disclaimers and hope to get at least a handful of decent images for them to choose from. I’m also, just diving into the world of printing the images so that they look as good (or better) in the print form as they do on my screen.

Thanks for listening today and I really appreciate the help!

2 thoughts on “A few random questions

  1. OK, most importantly: I AM NOT AN EXPERT! Far from it, actually. But, here are some opinions I have…

    1. If you are having trouble taking crisp, clear photos in Manual, perhaps you should move down a step to Aperture priority. Then YOU control the depth of field (and iso, of course) but your camera will take care of the shutter speed for you. Once you’re comfortable with that, go back to manual. I confess that 90% of the shots I take are Program, 9% more Aperture priority, and 1% manual. Yeah. Also remember that often the crispness and definition you see in other photographers work is a result of photoshop. Not always, but often they’ve sharpened at least the eyes and upped the contrast and run noiseware to make it clearer.

    2. I ALWAYS leave my camera on the center focal point. Instead of having all of them light up, I set it just for the center…then I focus with that and recompose with the shutter button still halfway down. That lets ME determine where the focus lands. It works a large majority of the time. And remember, if that’s not working, decrease your aperture to allow for deeper depth of field.

    3. I don’t know if you can reduce the strength of the pop-up flash on your Rebel. Possibly, but I just don’t know. Before I purchased my speedlite, I had a diffuser thing that went in front of the flash on my Rebel. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was just a white semi-transparent piece of plastic that really, really made a difference in the way my flash photos looked. I ordered it from a camera store online (Adorama, maybe) and it was cheap–maybe $12? I’d definitely recommend that.

    4. Sorry, I know nothing about feed readers!

    5. Please, please don’t compare your photos to other photos you see online or in magazines or books. I wasted too much time doing that in the beginning–trying to make my work look like something else I’d seen. It’s fine to draw inspiration from other sources, but your viewpoint and unique shooting style is what makes your photography YOURS. Work on your own style–be it contrasty or soft or photojournalistic or whatever–and strive to improve. You’ll be surprised at what you can do!

  2. Ok..Here’s my take!

    1) Focus area selection. What happened in that first shot happens to me all the time too (although I’m getting a little better about it)…which is why I shoot a million photos at at time! I shoot everything in RAW+JPG and, so I use 4GB cards…I have 2 of them which means I can get about 400 images at a time….You have to watch what your camera is choosing as in focus…I think Alissa has a great tip for that by using center focus, but I’ve not ventured to that yet…I still use the 11-area focus, or whatever its called on my D80 and then watch what areas will be in focus as they pop up…either way, you have to take a second to make sure your focus is correct unless you are using a smaller aperture or are shooting from a longer distance.

    2) Manual vs. Aperture Priority – shallow depth of field/focus…etc.

    I shoot almost exclusively in manual now. Even a lot of pros work exclusively in AP mode, but I found that manual made me more aware of what all of my settings were. For example, in that second picture, I clicked on your Flickr properties and saw that your shutter speed was 1/25….VERY slow for capturing kiddos, and, in fact, slower than is recommended for hand-held use. (The basic rule is supposed to be nothing slower than your focal length…so, with your 50mm, you shouldn’t use a hand-held shutter speed slower than 1/50). Now, I break this rule sometimes, but do so knowing that I am risking blurry shots. However, when you are shooting kiddos, if they move at all 1/50 will probably be too slow and they will blur anyway…so, for kids, I’ve heard it recommended that you shoot somewhere around 1/125 or faster….but, I definitely break that a lot too, again knowing that I am risking some blur if they move.

    Of course, this all ties into your Aperture setting….In that second picture, your aperture setting was f5.6…which is actually pretty closed down (at least compared to what I normally shoot at)…so, that is why you had to use such a slow shutter speed, even at ISO 400, to get the exposure correct. I normally shoot somewhere between 1.8 and 2.8 for almost all of my photos, unless I’m trying to capture a large group of people and I’m pretty close to them, so I know I will need a smaller aperture to make sure everyone is in focus. But, when you shoot at wide apertures like this, you have to watch your focus area again because the depth of field is pretty narrow, so if the DOF is really shallow and the subject moves, it could be blurry again…for a different reason than before! I like those wide apertures for allowing me to use natural light and get the shots I want, but they do present challenges for figuring out how shallow your DOF will be…sometimes it is too narrow and too little is in focus (like only the eye closest to you). What I’ve done that has sort of helped with that is start at the beginning of a session and choose an aperture that I want and that I think will work and then checking my focus by zooming in on the first few images. If some areas are out of focus, I stop down a bit, or back up from my subject to allow a greater DOF! Ok, I’m rambling a bit here, but this is a complex subject!

    Finally, sometimes you will hit the wall…the place where you don’t want to go any slower on your Shutter speed because it will be blurry, but you either can’t open up your aperture any further to get more light or you need to shoot at a smaller aperture to give you a greater DOF and you cant. That is where ISO comes in. I usually choose my ISO based on the lighting situation I’m in at first, and then go to raising the ISO if I come to the wall where I can’t get what I want. I shoot at high ISO all the time and use Noiseware Professional to get rid of some of my noise if I need to…it works great!

    Yikes…this is turning into the ETERNAL post…but, I’m going to answer anyway!

    Flash…the on camera flash sucks…I almost never use mine and haven’t had a lot of luck with reducing the strength of the flash either…an external flash is almost a requirement for good flash photos…but, the diffuser Alissa mentioned is probably worth trying (I might try it too)…It is only about $15 I think and I’ve heard good things about it.

    Lenses…you can definitely get a nice bokeh of the background with your other lenses, but the 50s are known for having the best bokeh around….a wider aperture is probably the most important in achieving that subject in focus/background out of focus look though…And, although I don’t know the details on that particular lens, I’m guessing the widest it goes is around f3.5 at 18mm and stops down to f5.6 at the 50mm range…so, you won’t be able to achieve that background blur as easily, unless your background is further away from your subject.

    Feeds…I wish I knew how to update the feeds too….I hate it when I accidentally post something and then it doesn’t show up correctly in the readers!! Let me know if you figure that one out!

    Ok, I am officially done with my “take”…e-mail me if you have any questions on what I wrote…I don’t know if it will even make any sense!

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