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Jim Zuckerman’s

PH OTO I N S I G HTS March 2013

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Portraits Wide angle lenses Green screen Museum photography 90 degree finder Photo tours Student showcase 1

Table of Contents

4. 9. 12. 16. 20. 22. 24. 26. 30. 33. 2

Portraits vs. snapshots Wide angle lenses Green screen Museum photography What’s wrong with this photo? Short and Sweet Ask Jim 90 Degree Angle Finder Student showcase Back issues

The fastest way to grow in photography and to seriously improve your work is to honestly self-critique your pictures. I learned to do that by comparing my pictures to the photographers I admired most when I was first starting out in my career, and it helped tremendously. For example, in the middle 70’s I was in the gift shop in one of the national parks and spotted a book by David Muench. I greatly admired his landscape work, and as I was looking through it I realized that his nature work was beautiful and, by comparison, mine was not nearly as good. I obviously wanted to find out what the difference was, and when I studied his pictures I realized he was doing two things that I wasn’t: He was shooting at sunrise and sunset, and he was using a wide angle lens positioned extremely close to some great foreground subject. By honestly comparing my work and David’s and by recognizing what my images lacked, I knew what changes I had to make in my shooting. When I started using his approach, my landscapes took a quantum leap forward. You have to critically look at all aspects of your pictures: the lighting, the background, facial expressions and body language of people you photograph, the contrast, the sharpness, the color saturation, how level horizon lines are, and so on. When you find fault with any aspect of your pictures, the next step is to figure out how to fix the problem. If you don’t know, ask someone -- me, another instructor or pro, an accomplished friend in a photo club, buy an ebook on the subject, or search the Internet for answers. Once you find out how to make the pictures better, try again, and again, until you see improvement. Jim


Portraits vs. Snashots



hat is the difference between a portrait and a snapshot? We think of portraits as classic depictions of people that are intimate, revealing, beautiful, and compelling. Snapshots are images we grab to remember a special moment, but there is little or no thought about the artistic merits of the images. There are three factors that distinguish the two ways of photographing people. 1. Background 2. Lighting 3. Expression

That forces all of our attention on the subject.

Backgrounds are all-important. For a portrait, they must be completely non-distracting, complementary, The muted, out of focus green grass behind the adorable and usually the same tone as the subject or darker. red head, below, is also non-distracting and darker in tone than she is. When I shot the portrait of a Hamar tribal woman from Ethiopia on the previous page, I had two people hold Both of these images are portraits. By contrast, the a two-yard piece of black velvet behind her. This did picture of my niece, Jamie, and my cocker spaniel is a two things. It eliminated elements from the village that snapshot. I’ve always loved the image, but the out of might be distracting, and it made the background dark. focus highights in the background are distracting. Also


visually annoying is the white lettering on Jamie’s shirt. Finally, look at the lighting. The sun was high in the sky and the lighting is OK for a snapshot but it’s not ideal for portraiture. Lighting makes or breaks a photograph. In portraiture, good lighting compliments, elevates, and adds artistry. There are basically four flattering ways to light a face. This is true whether you are shooting in the studio or outdoors: 1. Soft, diffused light. The portrait of the Indian man, right, illustrates how flattering soft light is. The sun was high in the sky, and to avoid the harsh light I photographed him in the shade of a building. 2. Rembrandt lighting. This is characterized by the nose shadow crossing the corner of the mouth and a triangle of light on the cheek opposite the light source, below left. In order to capture this kind of light, the sun or the artificial light has to be at a 45 degree angle to the lens axis and above the face. 3. Butterfly lighting. The light source is directly in front of a face and above it. This forms a butterfly-like shadow under the nose, below middle. This portrait was done with a single flash unit. 4. Sidelighting. The light source illuminates the face from the side, below right. Many times photographers like to use a reflector or a second light source to fill in the shadow on the side of the face away from the light,


and that’s fine. Without this seconary light, sidelighting is more contrrasty and dramtic. There are other ways to light a face, too, like backlighting and under-the-chin light for a bizarre, Halloweentype of look. For flattering, classic portraits, though, use one of these four types of light. Expression is an important ingredient in what defines portraiture as opposed to snapshots. When people offer you that ‘say cheese’ smile, that has snapshot written all over it. Fake smiles look fake. They are dishonest expressions that have nothing to do with how the person is feeling. If you don’t mind people pretending to be happy for the camera, then you’ll be taking snapshots. When you capture people spontaneously laughing, or serious, or contemplative, or even sad, you’ll have captured a portrait. The photo below is a very sweet picture, but it is a snapshot because of the fake smile. Having said that, any mother or grandmother would adore the image. But I’m sure they would treasure a portrait more. The portrait of a young girl with her llama in Peru, right, is also sweet, but there is nothing fake about it at all. §


UPCOMING PHOTO WORKSHOPS Baby Wildlife Workshop Hinckley, Minnesota June 14 - 16, 2013

Frog & Reptile Workshop St. Louis, Missouri June 22 - 23, 2013

Two back-to-back Carnival Workshops, Venice, Italy Feb. 21 - 27 - 23, 2014 Feb. 27 - March 5, 2014


Wide Angles


n my photo tours and workshops, I stress the importance of using wide angle lenses because they add a dramatic perspective unlike other lenses and, in fact, unlike what we see with our eyes. Many people think of a wide angle lens as a tool to ‘get everything in the picture.’ Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with a 16mm lens, for instance, you can include in the frame most of what you see. In a large cathedral or palace, an extreme wide angle lens will capture the entire ceiling as I did in the picture at right. This is one of the painted ceilings in the palace I use for a model shoot on my Carnival in Venice workshop. I used a 15mm fisheye here. To maximize visual drama when using a wide angle lens, though, the key is getting physically close to the foreground element. When I say close, I mean within two to six feet depending on the size and nature of the foreground. This does several things. First, it makes the

element close to the camera positon disproportionately large compared to the rest of the picture. The above photo of the railing that makes up the Tulip Staircase in the Queen’s House, London is an example. I shot this with a 24mm lens (on a full frame sensor camera) and the camera was about 24 inches from the wrought iron. Notice how large the railing is in the foreground. It didn’t appear this way when I was standing there shoot9

ing it. That means in order to compose pictures like this you need to previsualize what a wide angle can do for you even before you raise the camera to your eyes. This isn’t difficult -- just study the images in this article and you can see the dramatic way the foreground dominates the composition. Remember these visuals when you are looking for your own wide angle compositions. For the photo of a costumed model in Venice on the next page, I used a 14mm wide angle. I stood over her and positioned the camera about three feet away. Second, wide angle lenses when used close to the foreground create a remarkable sense of depth in a twodimensional image. The shot of the Tower Bridge in London, below, illustrates this. Third, there is an elongation of lines. Long lines, just like long legs on a model or the elegance of an elongated body of a giraffe, are beautiful. This applies to landscapes, architecture, flower gardens, statues, and so much more. In the photo at right of from Deadvlei in Namibia, the dramatic elongated shadows draw the eye into the picture. §



GREEN SCREEN t e c h n ol o g y P

hotoshop is a brilliant program, and I am eternally grateful that I’ve lived long enough to learn it and use it in my creative work. However, it has a few limitations, the most vexing of which is hair. The problem is that hair is not opaque. It is translucent at the edges of each strand, and that means that some of the background color, tone, and light comes through each hair. This is true not only for blondes and people with light brown or even white hair, it is also true for people with very dark or black hair. If you try and cut around hair with the most precise tool in Photoshop, the pen tool, you just can’t define the demarcation line between the edge of the hair and the beginning of the background. They blend in a way that Photoshop can’t deal with. Green screen is a procedure whereby you photograph a person or animal in front of a particular color background, and then using special software the subject can be selected along with the hair for the purpose of replacing the background. An example is the young girl, below, whom I photographed in my home studio in front of a large piece of fabric, the green screen. The replacement background is


simply a rock texture, but notice the hair, especially in the closeup view, above. You can see all of the fine strands of hair clearly defined. This is incredible technology. Nothing in Photoshop itself comes close to being able to do this.

The procedure To address the vexing issue of hair, you have to photograph a subject against a colored background that is: (1) such an usual color that it probably won’t be part of the subject, and (2) recognized by the software that makes this possible. The background fabric should be ironed to remove the wrinkles. I purchased a 10 x 12 foot green screen (from, but they also have an inexpensive 5 x 7 foot section. The fabric comes neatly folded in a sack, and when you take it out there are wrinkles that need to be eliminated. The success of the software in analyzing the background is dependent on the uniformity of the background. Wrinkles and shadows will work against you. And that brings up the issue of lighting. If a person is standing in front of a background in a studio, they create a shadow if they are in close proximity to the background and if the light(s) are positioned incorrectly. You do not want that. The photo below is an example of what not to do unless you are willing to spend time in Photoshop cloning out the wrinkles and the shadows. If you light the background correctly, you won’t need to do any post-processing. It should be lit as evenly as possible, which means you need two lights on it, one on either side, producing the same intensity of light as well as the same spread. In other words, you wouldn’t want a

portable Canon flash on one side and a monobloc with a white umbrellas on the other. The model is lit separately with one or more lights, depending on the look you want. For the young girl jumping in front of the green screen, I used a single monobloc with a softbox to diffuse the light. The software

Make sure you eliminate shadows and wrinkles. They will thwart the software’s ability to separate the subject from the background.

The software that I use to replace a background when hair is involved is Primatte Color Key made by Digital Anarchy ( It is surprisingly easy to use, and I was amazed that my very first composite, above, came out so well. The flyaway hair that would have been impossible to retain merely using Photoshop was now clearly visible against the storm clouds. I was very impressed. The step by step procedure in Primatte Color Key is straightforward. I will use the closeup portrait on the previous page to demonstrate how remarkable this software is. Notice the flyaway hair. If you were 13

using Photoshop, you’d have to smudge or blur the edge of the hair, and everyone would know that this is just one of the limitations in compositing images with Photoshop. 1. Open the image, make sure the green background is as uniform as possible. 2. Make a duplicate layer, Command or Control J. 3. Choose: Layer > smart objects > convert to smart object 4. Once you have installed the trial version or the licensed software, Open Primatte Color Key under the filter menu: Filter > Digital Anarchy > Primatte 5. You can see what the dialog box looks like in the screen capture below. In the upper left corner there is a tab Auto Mask (magenta arrow). Click the tab below this tab that says AM Settings (i.e. auto mask settings). You will see a dialog box, below bottom, and make sure the box ‘always on’ is checked.

Using the Auto Mask feature, the black and white mask that Primatte Color Key makes is excellent most of the time. There are ways of making the mask manually, but in 90% of the pictures you work on, this won’t be necessary. To learn about how to make masks manually (it’s really easy) as well as how to eliminate unwanted green spillage on the subject from the background, study the free online tutorials that Digital Anarchy offers. They are excellent, clear, and they will get you up and running to deal with the many kinds of challenging photo composites involving subjects with hair. Here is the link to the tutorials:

6. Click the tab Auto Mask, and then look at the top of the Primatte dialog box to view options. Click the second box from the left (green arrow) and now you’ll see the actual mask that the software made, above right.

You don’t need studio lights to do green screen. As long as you have the fabric, you can set it up outside in the shade. The soft and diffused light from the shade of your house or from an overcast sky means that there will be no shadows on the green fabric as long as your subject is positioned several feet away from it. I would use cloudy white balance in this situation to mitigate the blue color bias associated with shooting in the shade. I usually use daylight white balance for all my outdoor shooting, but in this case where the color is important, I’d switch to cloudy WB. Green screen technology also works well with feathers, lace material like wedding veils, whiskers, and fine detials in natural subjects like bonzai trees, dandelion seed heads, and caterpillars. §


Check out these great eBooks click each ebook to see what’s inside






useums present wonderful photographic opportunities of great sculpture, famous antiquities, fossils, mineral specimens, classic cars, medieval armaments, and much more. The problem, of course, is that no museum allows tripods, the lighting is often relatively low, and the backgrounds behind the items on display are usually messy, distracting, and uncomplementary. In addition, there can be dozens or even hundreds of people enjoying the same treasures that you find so interesting and photogenic, and the last thing you want in your photographs are any of these museum patrons. The solutions There are two ways to address the prohibition of tripods. First, you can take the ball head off your tripod and use this in some circumstances to steady the camera. By laying ball head on the floor, a railing, or even pressed against a wall or column, you can take sharp pictures with a low ISO. With continuous pressure against the ball head, you use the mirror lock-up feature plus the self-timer to minimize vibration. I have done this many

times and it works. The other option is to raise the ISO. The newer cameras allow you to shoot at 1250, 1600, and even 3200 ISO with no noticeable noise. Even if you do see some noise, with plug-ins like Dfine 2.0 from Nik Software, it can be eliminated. The fantastic fossil of an extinct marine reptile dating back to the era of the dinosaurs, below, was encased in glass in the British Natural History Museum in London. I gently pressed my 24-105mm lens up against the glass to steady it, and even though the exposure was 1/13th of a second, it is tack sharp because I found a way to make the camera solid. I still used the mirror lock-up as well as the self-timer to put all the odds of a sharp picture in my favor. Messy backgrounds are a real problem in museums. Some displays are ‘photographer friendly’, but most are not. When I don’t like a background, I simply select the subject in Photoshop and then change the background entirely. I’ll experiment with gradients as I did in the shot of the fossil and the statue of


Thalia from 2nd century Rome on page 16. I often prefer solid black because it so dramatically directs our attention on the artwork as you can see in the Roman Resting Warrior from the 1st century A.D. in the museum at Ephesus, Turkey. Lighting in the better museums is often fantastic. I look

for displays with beautiful light because I can’t use off-camera flash (which would be my preference in museums) because with the proper angle it creates wonderful texture, shadows, and dimension. The Resting Warrior, above, was lit by ambient light filtering through high windows and that worked for me just fine. In the shot of the eagle-headed protective spirit from ancient Assyria, about 860 B. C., left, an overhead light skimmed the surface of the carving which created the incredible texture and dimension you can see (exactly as I would have done with an off-camera flash). I shot this in the British Museum. If the subject I’m shooting could be embellished by additional lighting, color, or texture, I will search through my files for a complementary image. The photo on the next page of a 1959 Cadillac in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is an example. The car is in a very dark room, and even though the lighting is beautiful, the tripod prohibition made photographing it with enough depth of field to include the background virtually impossible. Therefore, I used the pen tool in Photoshop to cut out the Cadillac from the museum background, and I then replaced it with the wild neon lights in one of the long corridors between Terminals at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Note that I combined a subject lit with indoor lights (the car) with another indoor lighting scenario. Had I used instead an outdoor shot taken during daylight hours, this wouldn’t have made sense. Whenever you composite two images, the lighting has to match. §



What’s wrong with this picture?


here is one problem that is hurting this image. The orange and yellow costumed model at the far left is distracting to the main group of people. She is distracting for two reasons. First, part of her costume has been cut off by the edge of the frame, and she is close enough to the main subjects to be noticed but not close enough to be part of that group. The couple on the right in green and black are fine. They balance the large group and add an interesting focal point. They were posing for other shooters. Other than the distracting person on the left, I like the picture a lot and I wanted to make it flawless. It was impossible to clone out the orange and yellow costume with any of Photoshop’s tools because no


part of the architecture on that left side could be used. I couldn’t clone from the statue nor the columns to hide the offending color -- they just wouldn’t look right because what was actually behind the models wasn’t duplicated anywhere near them from the camera’s point of view. The only way to fix the problem was to ‘borrow’ a section of the architecture from the right side and cover up the problem on the left. Therefore, I made a selection of the round design to the left of the black and green couple. I used the pen tool to make a simple square selection, and then I copied that to the clipboard (Edit > copy) and pasted it into the photo (Edit > copy). I then used Edit > transform > flip horizontal.

With the move tool, I moved the layer into place and rotated it slightly to fit the angle of the building. You can see in the above image that this solved the issue. Some people may feel this is cheating, but in a carnival situation (and so many other situations as well) it’s impossible to control all the elements that go into making the perfect image. Sure, sometimes you get lucky, but too often your photos are almost perfect if it weren’t for one thing or another. Photoshop can make the corrections so the pictures are exactly as they would have been had you been able to control everything within the composition. It’s almost never a good idea to compose a picture with a noticeable element touching the edge of the

frame. There will always be exceptions, but as a general rule elements in a photograph need ‘breathing room’. If they are touching the edge, they draw the eye out of the picture, away from the subject, again and again. That’s not how a successful picture is supposed to work. Another aspect of this picture to be aware of is the diffused lighting. Actually, the sun was out and the sky was blue. As I stood at the base of the steps and took this shot, behind me other photographers were shooting models in bright sunlight. I was using the shade of the church to block the sun’s harsh contrast, characteristic of mid-day light, and that made a much better image. Had an overhead sun been illuminating this scene, I wouldn’t have taken the picture. §



When you’re shopping or browsing online, look for things to photograph. You can produce some unique and compelling images with all kinds of things if you let yourself think creatively This is a chocolate-decorated apple I bought in an outdoor market in Florida.


Make your own faux finished backgrounds for portraits or still life images. The background here is a piece of cardboard dabbed with three different colors of watercolor paint. You don’t need to be an artist. It’s just a matter of smearing or dabbing colors together until you like the results.



When shooting at twilight or night, your histogram is useless. It will always show spiking on the right due to streetlamps, headlights of cars, etc. These lights, like the sun, are going to be blown out no matter what you do because that’s how you see them.

4. One of the basic things beginning photographers learn is how to blur pictures with slow shutter speeds. Even after 40 years in photography, I still use this technique to creative advantage. This is my wife in the London tube taken with a shutter speed of .3 seconds. I used the LCD to determine which shutter I preferred. §

Photography Tours 2013/2014 LONDON/PARIS August, 2013

BHUTAN October, 2013

NAMIBIA November, 2013

COSTA RICA December, 2013

BURMA (Myanmar) Aprila, 2014

TIGERS & PANDAS in CHINA January, 2014



MONGOLIA September, 2014

Check out the itineraries and photo galleries from these and other tours: 18



Every month Jim will answer a question from his online students, from people who participate in his tours and workshops, or from subscribers to this magazine.

Q: I expose to the right on the histogram and trust the highlight warning display on my camera to make

sure my photos aren’t overexposed. The highlight warning display and the histogram in Lightroom did not indicate any overexposure for the photo below. Is it possible to blow out the highlights without it showing up on the histogram in Lightroom? I tend to avoid underexposing to avoid noise in the shadows and to capture as much information as I can in the image and operate under the assumption that as long as there is no overexposure indicated, I am alright. If that is incorrect, then I need to know. Paul Nelson, Marquette, Upper Peninsula, Michigan.

A: I know some photographers teach that you should expose on the right side of the histogram. I think

this is a mistake, however. Once highlights are blown, you can’t recover that information. Why push the highlights so close to overexposure that the picture looks like it’s too light? Pictures usually don’t look good that way. If pictures are on the dark side, you can easily fix this with RAW files in post-processing. You ask if you can blow the highlights if the histogram indicates otherwise. It really depends on how you define ‘blown highlights’. If you define them as all texture and detail lost, then only that spike on the right indicates that. However, in your shot, you were very close to blowing them without actually going over the edge. To my eye, even without blowing the highlights, this picture is just too light, especially in the snow. I advise photographers to judge their exposures not by a graph -- a histogram -- but how they look on the LCD monitor. In my opinion, that’s a much truer way to ascertain if your exposures look good. With the better sensors and the minimal noise at low ISO settings, you don’t have to worry about slight underexposure and noise. I habitually shoot at - 2/3 f/stop. I fear overexposure much more than noise. I blow my images up sometimes to 30 x 40 inches or even larger for sale. The noise is just not an issue.

(c) Paul Nelson 2013


London & Paris Photo Tour Sept. 26 to Oct. 5, 2013

Night photography Awesome interiors Stunning art Great cityscapes

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90 Degree Angle Finder


n often overlooked piece of equipment that I see few photographers carry with them is a 90 degree angle finder. It attaches to the viewfinder of your camera, and it’s purpose is to allow you to look through the lens without painfully bending or twisting your neck in certain situations. For example, in the photo above I was shooting the base of a falls in Croatia. In order to position the camera at a low perspective, I had to kneel down on the boardwalk. Instead of contorting my neck to look into the viewfinder, the angle finder enabled me to comfortably look straight downward into it to compose the picture -- which you can see on the next page. The angle finder is also great for shooting macro subjects like mushrooms, lichen, low-growing flowers, and dew drops on grass. I always use it when I’m photographing cathedral ceilings as well. Try shooting straight upward from a tripod when you want to capture a beautiful ceiling. You run the risk of breaking your neck, shoulders, and back to see what the lens is seeing. The angle finder 26



makes it painless and easy to take the shot. The Canon angle finder is very light and small, and it can be carried in any photo backpack easily. Nikon has an evalent finder, the right angle viewfinder DR-6. The only challenging aspect of using the finder is when you are shooting vertical compositions. It’s awkward to align the camera because looking through the angle finder, things seem askew when tilting the camera vertically. I try to limit my shooting to horizontal compositions so I can shoot quickly and easily. The angle finder is priced at $179 at B & H, and while you may feel this is an unnecessary expense, think how much a new neck costs! §

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Get professionalcritiques critiques of yourof work Get professional your work with Jim’s online courses with Jim’s online courses Learn composition, exposure, Photoshop, beginning fundamentals, techniques in low light photography, flash, making money in photography, and more at your convenience and on your schedule.

Lake 20 Nakuru National Park, Kenya


Student Showcase

Each month, Jim features one or more students who took beautiful and inspiring images on one of his photography tours or workshops. It’s really fascinating how photographers see and compose such different images even though we may go to the same place. Everyone gets great images on my trips.

Alan Raphael, West Los Angeles, California

Photo Tours to Ethiopia, Namibia, Carnival in Venice, India

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Alan Raphael, West Los Angeles, California

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Sat. & Sun., April 20, 21

Photoshop is a photographer’s best friend, and the creative possibilities are absolutely endless. In a personal and ‘homey’ environment (I have a very cool classroom setup in my home), I start at the beginning -- assuming you know nothing -- but I quickly get into layers, cutting and pasting, plug-ins, using ‘grunge’ textures, modifying lighting, and a lot more. I promise to fill your head with so many great techniques that you won’t believe what you’ll be able to do. I go over each technique several times to make sure you understand it and can remember it.

creative ideas that will inspire you to produce amazing images with the pictures you’ve already taken.

Photoshop instructors approach teaching this program from different points of view. My approach is to be as expansive in my thinking as possible in creating unique, artistic, and compelling images. In addition to showing you how to use the various tools, pull down menus, layers, and so on, I spend a lot of time giving you

Contact me if you would like to participate in the workshop and I will tell you how to sign up ( All you need is a laptop and a lot of your pictures. If you don’t have a laptop, I have two Mac Book Pro laptops I can loan out for the duration of the workshop. §


I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and if you fly into the airport (BNA) I will pick you up. If you drive, I’ll give you my address and you can find my home on Mapquest. For the $450 fee, I include one dinner in my home (prepared by my wife who is an amazing cook and hostess) and two lunches, plus shuttling you back and forth from my home to your nearby hotel.

Click on the past issues of

PH OTO I N S I G HTS you would like to read.

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published by Jim Zuckerman, all rights reserved © Jim Zuckerman 2013 email: physical address: P.O. Box 7, Arrington, TN 37014


Photo Insights Mar. '13  

A magazine devoted to photography and creative Photoshop techniques published and edited by Jim Zuckerman.