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Jim Zuckerman’s

PH OTO I N S I G HTS December 2016

When meters fail Hand held HDR Panning motion Photo tours Ask Jim Student showcase 1

On the cover: A rockhopper penguin with the Holiday spirit. This page: A black-collared hawk diving for fish in the Pantanal region of Brazil.


4. When meters fail 12. Hand held HDR 16. Panning strategies 24. What’s wrong with this picture? 26. Short and sweet 27. Ask Jim 28. Photography tours 31. Student showcase 36. Back issues


ave you ever noticed that when you see portraits of photographers, most of the time they are holding a camera. And if they are a nature photographer, more than likely they’ve attached a super long telephoto to the camera so they can look like a really serious nature shooter. Does anyone else think this is stupid besides me? I mean, when you see a portrait of a carpenter, is he holding a hammer? Or a plummer -- is he standing next to a toilet? How about a dentist? Is he or she holding a drill . . . or a needle? And then we come to politicians. For their official portrait, they would no doubt be holding a huge pile of other people’s money! The other part of the equation is if the photographer in the picture is holding an expensive, new camera, the conclusion that many people come to is that this guy must take totally awesome pictures. This is foolish, of course. By extension, then, Shakespeare obviously used a really expensive pen, and Rembrandt certainly used a very expensive paint brush. If you carry these idiotic conclusions further, Babe Ruth must have used a very expensive baseball bat. A camera is just a tool by which we photographers express our vision of the world. That vision, that creativity is between our ears. It’s not contained inside the camera somewhere. A camera without a person using it is metal, glass, plastic, and electric currents. Next time someone takes your portrait, think about the fact that no one cares about your camera. The picture is all about you and how you choose to present yourself to the world.

Jim Zuckerman


When Meters Fail W

hy is the photograph of the white-winged swallow, below overexposed? It was perched on a broken branch sticking out of a river in the Brazilian Pantanal, and the background vegetation was in deep shadow while the bird was in direct sunlight. What happened was that a large portion of the viewfinder -- i.e. a large area of what the meter was reading -- was dark in relation to the bird. Yes, the meter takes most of its information from the center, but the background was large enough so it influenced the final reading significantly. Meters are

designed to interpret middle gray, or the middle tones in a picture, and provide a meter reading to reproduce those middle toned areas as you see them. If the meter sees a very dark area or a very light one, it still tries to assess those areas as middle toned. In the case of the swallow, the meter detected all that darkness and ‘thought’: “Oh, middle gray. Let’s brighten up the picture so the dark shadow areas are middle toned.” And that’s why the bird is overexposed -- because the entire image was lightened in an attempt to make the deep shadow much lighter. The fact that the bird was so light plus its position in

This is overexposed by 2 1/3 f/stops because the meter was fooled by the dark background.


the middle of the frame counterbalanced the reading to some degree, and that’s why the background isn’t as light as middle gray really is. However, the bird is the subject. We can accept (and often like) a dark background devoid of detail because that forces all of our attention on the subject. An overexposed subject, though, is never acceptable. In order to capture the bird with a good exposure on it, therefore, I had to underexpose by 2 1/3 f/stops. At first I tried a one f/stop underexposure, and when I studied the picture on the LCD monitor on the back of the camera it was obvious this was still too light. I then tried a two-f/stop underexposure, and I felt it still needed some tweaking. Often, this kind of trial and error is necessary to arrive at the correct exposure. To adjust the image either lighter or darker, use the exposure compensation feature. This is one of the most important functions on your camera, and you should know where to find it and how to use it as quickly as possible . . . before the bird flies away, before a child changes their expression, before sunrays disappear, and so on. Time is of the essence in many photographic situations, and you have to know your camera intimately so you can produce a perfect exposure even in challenging situations. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are shooting something very light such as a geyser erupting against the sun (following page), the meter again wants to produce a middle toned image. White water and the sun are not middle toned, though, but the uncorrected meter reading will underexpose the image in an attempt to make the water and the sun darker. To counteract this, you have to overexpose the meter reading. How much overexposure is necessary for any given 5


situation? Well, it depends on the brightness of the subject and it also depends on what you want. That’s why you have to constantly consult the LCD monitor to make sure you are getting the exposure that is appropriate for the subject. When I photographed the yellowheaded vulture in the Pantanal, above, I was satisfied with a silhouette because I liked the shape of the wings. I didn’t have to make any adjustment to the exposure at all.

did I determine how much to tweak the exposure? It’s simple. I took a picture of one of the birds in flight, looked at the LCD monitor, and tweaked the exposure until I was able to capture the detail in the bird’s wings and tail. At the same time, I had to pay special attention to the shutter speed to make sure it was fast enough to freeze the lightning-fast movement of the bird.

The yellow-rumped cacique at right was a different story. I wanted to capture detail in the yellow tail feathers as well as in the black wings. The sky was blindlingly bright even though it was overcast. The background would, without adjustment, produce a black silhouetted bird with virtually no detail at all. Therefore, I had to overexpose by two full f/stops. How 7

My settings for this shot were 1/8000, f/5.6, 3200 ISO. Admittedly the shutter was unnecessarily high, but I wanted to make sure there was no blur at all even in the tips of the wings. Twilight and night photography also causes meter readings to be inaccurate in most cases. The pictures tend to be overexposed if there are large areas of a dark sky or muted shadows, while underexposure occurs if the frame is filled by large areas of bright lights. In the shot of Shanghai, below, for example, the brilliant lights atop the highrise in the immediate foreground dominated the exposure because (1) they are so bright, and (2) they are very close to the center of the frame. Therefore, I had to overexpose this image to prevent it from going too dark. In the remarkable structure built of solid blocks of ice that I photographed at the Har-


bin Snow and Ice Festival in China on the next page, it’s hard to know how a meter will interpret this. Will the black sky adversely affect the reading or will the middle toned ice structure be predominante in the determination of the light? Or, will the meter compromise between the two to produce a picture that is somewhat overexposed but not too much? Pinpointing the correct exposure When we all shot film, the most accurate way to determine an exposure was using the spot meter mode and identifying a middle gray, or middle toned, area of the image. You would take reading from that portion of the photo and then set the lens aperture and shutter speed accordingly. This technique is still valid, but it’s slow. Often, time is of the essence when taking pictures,



UPCOMING PHOTO WORKSHOPS Carnival in Venice workshop Outrageous costumes in a medieval environment! Venice is great to visit and photograph any time, but during carnival it’s magical. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. Exotic masks, stunning colors, classic images.

Feb. 17 - 23, 2017

Frog & Reptile Workshop Close-up encounters with poison dart frogs and exotic reptiles such as chameleons, geckos, snakes, and more in St. Louis, Missouri. This is a macro workshop in which everyone consistently gets amazing pictures.

Jan. 14-15, 2017

Photoshop workshop The setting is in my home, and in this two day workshop you’ll learn enough to be truly dangerous in Photoshop! How to replace a sky, how to fix all kinds of photographic problems in your pictures, how to handle blown highlights, how to be incredibly creative . . . and more.

April 8-9, 2017 10

and you don’t want to miss a shot while you’re using a hand held meter or switching to spot mode in your camera to determine the correct exposure. In addition, you have to be skilled at correctly identifying middle gray. It’s much easier and faster to look at the LCD monitor to assess an exposure, and if it’s too light or too dark, use the exposure compensation feature built into all digital cameras to adjust the exposure in 1/3 f/stop increments. This techniques assumes you are shooting on one of the automatic exposure modes: Program, aperture priority, or shutter priority. If you are using manual exposure mode and the picture isn’t exposed well, it’s a simple matter to manually adjust the shutter speed and/or lens aperture until you are satisfied with the results. For some pictures, like the ballerina at right,


metering will always be inaccurate because of the large expanse of the dark background as I explained earlier. For other types of images, like the sunburst at the bottom of the previous page, you may not know what you want until you see it. For example, how much of the center part of the clouds should be blown out? When shooting the sun, we never see texture or detail in the solar surface, but the question is, how dark should the clouds be and how large of an area should the highlights cover? You can’t predetermine this with any other technique other than taking the picture, assessing the exposure on the LCD screen, and then tweaking the results using exposure compensation. Some types of exposures are impossible to determine with any kind of meter reading. Lightning and fireworks are an examples. In this type of situation, I don’t even try to take a reading. I simply let the immediate feedback from the


LCD monitor help me make the correct settings. This is how I set my camera for the firebreather, above, as well because using the meter meant that the reading was constantly changing depending on how large the fireball was. At the beginning of the explosion, the fire was small. At the peak, it was large. This is one of the reasons why the LCD on your camera is so valuable. §


Hand held HDR

DR images should always be taken from a tripod because when the HDR software combines the bracketed exposures, they will be perfectly aligned. Sometimes, though, you are caught without a tripod. You didn’t expect to be shooting HDR or you just didn’t want to be burdened by the weight and volume of a tripod. Can you still do HDR? The answer is yes, but with one caveat. It can only be done with a wide angle lens, and the wider the better. The reason is that camera

movement is magnified with a telephoto lens. With wide angles, the movement is greatly minimized. During the time you take the three or five (or more) bracketed exposures, there will always be a slight amount of movement. The software you use to assemble the HDR composite -- whether it be Photoshop, Nik HDR Efex Pro, Photomatix, or Aurora -can handle a slight amount of misalignment and correct for it. With a telephoto, though, the camera movement is too much to be corrected. The picture below taken in Trinidad, Cuba was risky because the man in the door had to




Photoshop taps into your creative potential like nothing photographers have ever had in the past. Once you feel comfortable working in this program, the sky is the limit. You can do anything your mind can imagine. Pretty amazing, indeed! This eBook explains many of the techniques that Jim uses all the time. These include replacing the sky, compositing images, adding textures to photos, introducing natural looking streaks of light, realistic HDR, combining black and white with color, Jim’s favoritre plugins, using the blend modes, and more. Use this as an idea book as well as a reference. If you’ve limited yourself to Lightroom’s abilities, consider expanding your horizons and learn Photoshop. It’s about time.

Click the cover to see inside the ebook


However, there were two boys in the street playing ball, and during my three-frame HDR exposure they moved. Even though I checked the box in the software (I use Adobe Photoshop to process my HDR images) that reads ‘remove ghosts’, the boys had moved too much for this to work. Therefore, I cloned them out of the picture.

successful. I photographed through the open hatch, resting my elbows on the vehicle for stability. I held my breath and placed the center focus point on a small branch in the tree so I could see how much -- or how little -- the camera was moving. I’d shoot when the camera was as still as possible. In addition, I used highspeed continuous shooting because when the frames per second are as fast as possible, that reduces the time span for the entire exposure. That, in turn, reduces the total amount of camera movement. All of these things helped prevent the camera from moving during the exposure, and this in turn helped Photoshop align all the images perfectly.

In the landscape below from the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, I was shooting from a Land Rover and therefore a tripod wasn’t practical. I hand held a 5-frame HDR sequence, used a wide angle lens, and as you can see it was

Had I not used HDR here, the shadows which now show detail would be primarily black while the center part of the sky would be largely blown out -- meaning solid white with a lot of texture and detail lost. §

be perfectly still. If he turned his head, shifted the weight of his body, or even took a deep breath, the software wouldn’t be able to align that portion of the picture. I took several seHDR sequences to make sure he was sharp. I used a 24mm focal length for this picture.


Panning Strategies P

anning refers to following a moving subject with your camera as it moves from left to right or vice versa across your field of vision. In doing so, you have the option of blurring the subject, the background, both, or neither. Let’s look at each of these possibilities and examine the camera settings necessary to achieve a particular look. In the picture below of a running cheetah, both the subject and the background are blurred. However, the background is blurred more than the cat. I did this purposely to imply motion in a still photo but still retain definition in the cheetah so we can appreciate the grace, the lines of the elongated body, and the beautiful markings. The settings for this were 1/60, f/22, 125


ISO and I used a 300mm f/2.8 Canon lens. Notice that following the running cheetah with a telephoto lens with its narrow angle of view, the background flew past the viewfinder very fast, and that’s why it blurred so much with 1/60th of a second. A variation on this same theme is the photo at the top of page 19 of horses running past the camera. Again I panned with the action, this time, though with a focal length of 118mm taken with a 70-200mm lens. I abstracted the image much more with a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second, f/25, and 500 ISO. Is it possible to previsualize how a motion blur abstraction will look given a particular shutter

Expand your photographic artistry with


Click on any ebook to see inside



eBooks continued Click on any ebook to see inside

Fantasy Nudes is in production and is coming soon 18

speed? No, it isn’t. You have to use trial and error, studying each shot on the LCD monitor to know if you are getting what you want. There are too many variables to be able to predict how the final image will look. You can make an educated guess, but the results depend on: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

The focal length of the lens The shutter speed How fast the subject(s) is moving How fast you are panning How far the subject is to the camera How far the background is to the camera

After you try a couple of test shots, you will have a good idea of how the pictures will turn out. The main camera control that will determine the final image is the shutter speed. If you want everything in the moving subject and the background to be tack sharp while you

pan, it’s a simple matter of using a fast enough shutter speed. How fast should the shutter be? Again, it depends on a lot of factors, the most important of which is the subject itself. A jogger might require a shutter of 1/500 to freeze the legs and arm movements, while a bird typically requires 1/3200th of a second or even faster. Experiment with various speeds, check the LCD screen, and after two or three attempts you’ll find the right speed. The Technique Set your camera to high speed continuous so you have several frames from which to choose. Begin panning with a moving subject before it reaches the point where you’ll press the shutter. In other words, compose the subject in the frame at the beginning of the action and follow it across your field of vision, keeping the subject in the viewfinder. When the subject reach19

es the place where the background is what you want, press the shutter and capture a sequence of images from which you’ll choose a favorite. You will find that both the subject and the background become more blurred as their distance to the camera decreases. The yellow 50’s car I shot in Cuba at right, for example, is blurred because I used a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second, but I shot this at an angle. As the car drove past me and reached the shortest distance to the camera, pictures at the same shutter speed were more blurred because the movement appeared to be greater as the car filled more of the frame. What happens if you want to capture a tack sharp fast-moving subject but a blurred background? Is this possible to do in-camera? Look at the photo below. This is the same cheetah as pictured on page 16, but notice how even the paws of the cheetah are sharp. I used


1/1600th of a second to freeze that motion. At that shutter speed, though, the background would also be sharp . . . But it’s not. A blurred background with horizontal streaks implies motion in a still photograph, and I wanted to suggest speed with a subject list this. Therefore, the only way to make that happen was to put together two separate shots in Photoshop: The sharp running cheetah and a picture of blurred vegetation. §


online course

by Jim Zuckerman

The ability to ‘see photographically’, to really grasp how your camera and lenses capture a subject or scene (which is different than how we see with our eyes) underlies successful picture taking. It is the bottom line that you’ve been looking for to take that quantum leap forward in your photography. The great thing about online courses is that they can fit into any schedule. Life gets in the way at times, and Jim puts no limit on the time you can submit your work for his critiques. CLICK THIS PAGE to read more about this course. This is a fill flash portrait at sunset during carnival in Venice, Italy.


New eBook for beginning photographers I’ve not seen a book on beginning photography that I thought was clear, concise, and relevant to taking good pictures, so I wrote one. If you are insecure about your knowledge of how f/ stops, shutter speeds, and ISO interact, or what exactly the various exposure modes on a camera are for, this is the eBook for you. Or if you know someone who just bought a camera and is having a hard time understanding the manual that came with the camera, the information in this new publication is essential. It will take much of the frustration in learning photography out of the equation. Instruction


manuals for cameras do not teach photography. All of the basics of photography are covered including depth of field, the simple mathematical relationships between lens apertures and shutter speeds, the issues surrounding digital noise, basic fundamentals of composition, the features you should look for when choosing your next camera, the different kinds of lenses and how to use them, how shutter speeds and lens apertures allow you to express your artistic vision, and creative considerations that enable you to start taking photographs rather than mere snapshots.

PHOTO TOUR to KASAKHSTAN August 23 - September 3, 2017 Dramatic landscapes

amazing architecture

eagle hunters exotic culture


What’s wrong with this picture?


don’t like this picture. I photographed it in Havana, Cuba on the Malecon -- the boulevard that runs along the ocean. I like the car, but for me there are four things wrong with this shot.

First, the dark blue car at the far left in the background is distracting. It constantly pulls my eye away from the subject. Second, there is too much pavement in the foreground. There are four things that should never be emphasized in a picture, and this primarily means you don’t want the foreground to be dominanted by them: dirt, gravel, asphalt, and concrete. Third, I don’t like all of the heads sticking up from within the car. I prefer to have the emphasis on the car, not the passengers. And four, there isn’t enough abstraction in the movement of the car for my taste. If you are going to shoot a moving car, it needs to be either tack sharp or artistically blurrred. This is neither.


The 50’s Buick above is much more of an artistic image showing motion. My settings for this were 1/6, f/9, 320 ISO, and I used a 24-105mm lens set to the widest focal length. Instead of the car being on the far side of the boulevard, it was in the lane adjacent to the curb. That meant that, even with my wide angle lens, the amount of asphalt included in the picture was minimal. I also like the headlights turned on, the streaks of light in the background, and the degree of abstraction. Also, the abstraction of the driver is such that he doesn’t stand out at all. In fact, he blends in with the car. The entire focus of our attention is on the car, not people in the car and not even the background. In this type of image, the background’s purpose is solely to direct our attention on the subject and to remain non-distracting. Finally, the burgundy paint job looks great. It is saturated, attractive, and directs our eyes exactly where they should be -- on the beautiful car. § 25

SHORT AND SWEET 1. When shooting tiny subjects like this weevil, depth

of field even at f/32 won’t be enough. Therefore, use focal stacking where you take multiple images as you focus throughout the subject from a metal rail. Software then puts all the shots together for complete DOF.

3. The concierge at large hotels can usually find any-

thing for you. I located these carnival participants -three weeks after the carnival -- on Borocay Island in the Philippines -- by asking the concierge of my hotel to call around for me and arrange three models in full costume. He simply gave me a price and I said OK.


2. In winter food is harder to find for many animals,

and you can bate them to within medium telephoto range with food, especially in snow areas. Nuts for squirrels, seeds for birds, carrots for deer -- the animals will be happy and you’ll get great shots.


The Photoshop plugin Topaz Glow is very unique, very cool to use, and it always produces images that are a surprise -- and a lot of fun. It’s simple to use. No instructions are necessary because it is so intuitive that you can open the software and use it immediately. All of the Topaz plugins are that way. §


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. If you have a question you’d like Jim to answer, please drop him a note at


Jim . . . I am interested in a portrait lens. I have been using my macro lens for portraits and I have done my best to make it work but I am just too far away from my subject. I would like to find a lens that allows me to get closer yet still give me a nice background blur. I use a Canon 40D camera. I was reading a lot of reviews and many were saying an f/2.8 is necessary for blur. Is that true? Meg Voyzey, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

A: Yes, an f/2.8 lens gives you less depth of field and therefore the background tends to be more blurred.

But it is heavier than, say, an f/4 lens as well as larger and more expensive. You can manipulate depth of field to produce the kind of out of focus background you want by (1) moving closer to the subject, (2) by having the subject move further away from the background, and (3) by using a long focal length. I would recommend instead of a 2.8 lens for portraits, get an f/4 lens because it will be easier and more pleasurable to use because it’s so much lighter, and you can throw the background completely out of focus by using one of the techniques above. The portrait of a little Japanese girl shows the background completely soft even though the aperture here was f/7.1 (although I was using a 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon lens) because I was very close to her and the background was far away.


Photography Tours 2016 - 2018 CARNIVAL IN VENICE Feb. 2017

NEPAL Mar. 2017




SNOWY OWLS Jan. 2018




MOROCCO May 2017

EGYPT Oct. 2017



For a complete list of all the photo tours/workshops Jim conducts, go to his website:

South Africa & Namibia photo safari April 25 - May 9, 2018

Awesome wildlife exotic birds monster dunes

6-month old leopard cub treed by its mother for protection from hyenas on the hunt, Sabi Sabi, South Africa

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CHINA PHOTO TOUR September 4 - 17, 2017


Student Showcase Each month, Jim features one student who took beautiful and inspiring images on one or more 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 places. Everyone gets great photographs on Jim’s trips.

Alan Raphael, West Los Angeles, California American Southwest photo tour, Morocco photo tour, Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos photo tour, Namibia photo tour, Photoshop seminar, Burma photo tour

© 2016 Alan Raphael

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Student Showcase, continued

© 2016 Alan Raphael

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Student Showcase, continued

© 2016 Alan Raphael

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Student Showcase, continued

© 2016 Alan Raphael



Sat. & Sun., April 8 - 9, 2017

Photoshop is a photographer’s best friend, and the creative possibilities are absolutely endless -- like replacing the background behind this 1947 Delahaye 135M. 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, replacing backgrounds, using layer masks, blend modes, adding a moon, 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. 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 creative ideas that will inspire you to produce amazing images with the pictures you’ve already taken. 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 or with a GPS. 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. 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. §


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• Topaz Glow • A different approach to composition • Photographing puppies • Kaleidoscopic images • Online photo course • Student showcase • Photo tours


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PHOTO INSIGHTS® published by Jim Zuckerman, all rights reserved © Jim Zuckerman 2016 email: mail address: P.O. Box 7, Arrington, TN 37014

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Photo insights december '16  

An eMagazine devoted to inspiring photography and Photoshop techniques written and published by Jim Zuckerman.

Photo insights december '16  

An eMagazine devoted to inspiring photography and Photoshop techniques written and published by Jim Zuckerman.