In this Q&A article, I will answer 10 of the most urgent and burning photography questions posed to me by members of our DPM Facebook group. I’ll answer them each in short form and give you a link to read a more in-depth article about each topic, where applicable.
#1 – Photo organization
Two members asked questions about how to organize their photos.
Photo storage and organization tips! From memory cards to the cloud. Help!Ginnie Zawacki
This is not a quick and easy thing to answer, or to do! You need to think about a plan beforehand and decide how you want to organize your images – by date, category, or another way?
Unfortunately, if you already have a disaster going on, there isn’t an easy fix other than to make a new plan and start from there moving forward. A couple of my tutoring students are in the same boat and my advice to them was this:
I have photos everywhere! I would like to get them all together and organized, but I don’t even know where to start. Can you recommend an easy-to-follow basic step-by-step program to do that?Gail Schlosser
- Layout your new plan on paper and really think it through
- Start from your most recent images (shot in 2021) and sort those into the new system
- Then work backwards from there doing 2020 next, and so on.
- Put all new images into the new organization scheme.
Read more here:
- Setting up a Good Digital Photography Workflow – Dos and Don’ts
- Tips for Creating Your Best Photo Storage and Backup Plan
#2 – Focus stacking and macro photography
The following people all had questions about macro photography.
I’m currently obsessed with focus stacking (the dahlia fields have been spectacular). Any tips and tricks?Stephanie Smetana
Getting really sharp macro shots (focus stacking)Dianne Wells
True macro photography is when you can capture the subject at 1:1 size on the imaging sensor. But you don’t necessarily need a macro lens to do it, nor do you have to break the bank.
Read my Ultimate Guide to Macro Photography here.
Focus stacking is a technique where you take multiple images, each one focused on a different distance from the lens, and merge them using software. This allows you to solve the issue of the very shallow depth of field that occurs when you get so close to the subject.
How to get enough light on macro subjects without breaking the bank on equipment….Jack Leishman
For this, I would use either a ring light or try some light painting with a flashlight.
#3 – Histogram
This next question is relevant when you are shooting and when you are editing your photos. The histogram is an important tool that you need to know how to understand and use correctly.
I keep reading about the importance of the histogram when shooting yet at times I find that trying to get that bell curve is pretty elusive. What are the guidelines? And how to correct for Left, Right and loss of midtones.Nancy Gazzano
The short answer is – don’t worry about a bell curve. That is not the goal you want to strive for – instead make sure that the histogram represents the scene you are photographing accurately.
This is what the histogram represents – pure black on the left, medium grey and midtones in the middle, and pure white on the right.
But what if yours look like the one below? Is that an incorrect exposure? No, not necessarily. If the subject is mostly light tones it would be accurate.
Read this for more on the histogram and how to use it: Why is the snow gray in my winter photos?
#4 – Focus and sharpness
The next topic is about focus settings and how to get sharp photos, especially in the dark.
Different autofocus modesColin Knight
Most cameras have three different focus modes.
- Auto where the camera picks between the two below: AF-A, AI Servo, or A-AF
- Single where the camera locks focus on one subject: AF-S, One Shot, S-AF
- Continuous where the camera tracks focus on a moving subject: AF-C, Servo, C-AG
I recommend choosing one of the bottom two. Choose single for non-moving, stationary objects and choose continuous for moving subjects.
NOTE: I recommend NOT using the last option (#1 above) where the camera chooses. It usually chooses wrong, at least that’s my experience. Most pros never use that mode.
Read more on focus modes and other focus settings here: How to Get Sharper Photos – 6 Essential Settings You Need to Know.
For more advanced focus settings read: What is Back Button Focus and Why it Will Help You Take Sharper Photos
How to manually focus when it is really dark and cold outside?Suresh Sharma
There is a trick to focusing at night. Even using manual focus will be tricky because you can’t see in the dark any better than your camera can.
The cold isn’t really a factor other than it will drain your batteries faster and it will affect the camera operator (you!) so dress warmly.
If you are doing light painting, use a flashlight to illuminate the subject and lock the focus (either by using back-button focus, or just turning off the AF). For stars, Milky Way, and Aurora Borealis set your lens to infinity and back just a tiny bit. Most lenses at infinity are slightly unsharp.
Read more here: Night Photography Settings – Guide to Getting the Best Exposure
#5 – Sport photography
How to get good sports action shots at night outside under the lights/or inside a gym with less lighting?Bonnie Smith Meyer
This is basically a question of how to shoot in low-light conditions. The short answer is:
- Use a lens with a very large aperture like f/1.8 or f/2.8. If you don’t have such a lens, borrow or rent one – check with your local camera shop.
- Shoot wide opened
- Use a high ISO (possibly 1600-6400)
- Use Auto ISO
Read more here:
#6 – Auto ISO
Using auto ISO?Colin Knight
This question goes hand in hand with the one above. I use Auto ISO a lot actually. For example, whenever I’m just walking around doing street photography, travel, or an event. Any situation where the lighting conditions are constantly changing, that’s when you want to use Auto ISO.
#7 – Flash
How to shoot inside with a Manual Flash. Does it take 3 – 4 test shots with changes in ISO to get it right?Carol Totaro Warren
Using manual flash isn’t that hard to master. Ideally, you want to have a handheld light meter to measure the light, but if you don’t own one you can still figure it out with a few test shots.
Follow these steps:
- Set your camera to Aperture priority and select the aperture you want to use.
- Select an appropriate ISO for the situation. If it’s dim use a higher one, if it’s average use ISO 400-800 as a starting point.
- Take a test shot and see how it looks. Make note of the shutter speed that the camera seleced.
- Switch to Manual Mode on the camera and dial in those same settings.
- Turn on the flash, set it to Manual mode, and dial in about 1/8th power.
- Take a test shot and analyze the exposure.
- If it’s too dark dial the flash power up (¼) – OR move the flash closer to the subject.
- If it’s too bright dial the flash power down (1/16th) – OR move the flash away from the subject.
I have a series of articles all about flash and the settings. Check them all out:
- How to Use Your Flash – Tips for Total Beginners
- How to Use Your Flash – What all the Buttons and Settings Mean
- How to Use Bounce Flash for Better Photos
- 8 Common Flash Photography Mistakes You Need to Avoid
- How to Balance Flash with Natural Light for Better Results
In a situation where you want to take a photo of a person(s) and the only equipment you have with you at the time is an off-camera flash (no reflector) for one hand and your camera with a lens in the other hand (no tripod), how would you do it?
Hand/arm with flash straight out horizontally, flash arm/hand outstretched at 135 degrees, flash arm/hand straight above camera? I might also add variables of flash settings on zoom in or out, flash built in diffuser/white card in or out, and flash intensity versus ambient light setting.Terrance Fowler
Actually, I’d probably just bounce the flash off a nearby wall or ceiling if I am indoors. See the article above about bounce flash for more information.
If this is outdoors I’d probably not use the flash at all but look for a place in the shade where the lighting is good and don’t need the flash. Part of being a photographer is working smarter, not harder sometimes. Make your life easier by finding a better location. Under an overhang, in the shade of a building, in a doorway, etc.
Read: What is Quality of Light and How to Use it to Take Better Photos AND get this free PDF: Portraits in Midday Sun Guide.
#8 – How to sell images
What site or service is best to use for selling your own photos online where you don’t get charged a big chunk of the profit?Dennis Tan
I use Smugmug for my image galleries and for presenting client images and image sales. They have really nice gallery style options and I find it easy to customize. You can also lock galleries with a password for clients only, as well as their downloads.
They do charge a 15% service fee, but most sites that do the same thing have similar fees. You just need to factor that in as a business expense and make sure you charge enough – that’s a mistake new photographers often make so don’t fall into that trap.
I’m researching platforms to create my own website to showcase my portfolio. If I sell some downloads then great but that’s not my main goal. I’d also like to blog. What are your recommendations with so many options out there? I think I have picked Wix based on my research but would love your feedback.Holly Linton
Likewise, I’d also recommend Smugmug for you as well. You can do Wix but I can’t speak to how nice it displays images or the options you have for galleries or for selling and fulfilling orders via that platform. Their pricing seems a little complicated and if you want it to do e-commerce (accept payments for you) then it seems quite expensive like $39/month and up.
With Smugmug, you can backup and archive unlimited amounts of photos including your RAW files, so that’s an added bonus. You can add a blog element, and you can set up galleries and pricing to sell your images. You pay more per transaction but less up from in monthly fees – so it’s a trade-off.
I wrote about options for making a gallery here: Stay Home Project – Build a Yourself an Online Photo Gallery
#9 – Blending and masking
I have photos from my office window of a vineyard view, ranging from winter through to following winter. Is there anyway I can overlay one image from each season to make a photo showing the growth cycle? I’ve seen old black and white photos joined with present day colour shots, but I have no idea how to do this.Vickie Flier
This is a job for image blending using layers and masking. You will need Photoshop or a program that has the ability to use layers to do this.
#10 – Low light photography
What are the best settings to take prom pics indoors? My grandson’s prom is this Saturday and he wants me to take some pics.Ed McGowan
I touched on this already above, this is a low light situation once again so the same tips apply as to #5 above. Follow those and read: Tips for Low Light Photography.
I would also suggest going through the flash tips and reading those articles as well as taking a flash with you. If there is a dance it will likely be too dark otherwise, even with the tips above.
- 7 Tips for Corporate Event Photography Success (the same principals apply here)
- 9 Event Photography Tips for Getting Your Best Shots
If you have any other questions or issues that are baffling you – please put them in the comment area below. I’ll keep them for the next round of Ask Darlene Anything, or answer them with a reply below if it’s a quick one.