Site search Web search

Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Advanced Questions
by Chuck McKern

With over 12 years of retail and professional experience Chuck thought he'd heard it all - until he took this job.

Send us your questions for either the Beginner or Advanced columns by clicking HERE.  Please include as much detail about the technique, camera, lens, or film as you can so Chuck can answer your questions.

Referring to Bill Hartley's article on focusing (May issue), it is clearly defined as to how to focus in order to have the background sharp, and how to use lock focus to focus on a subject other than the center of the photograph. I have had situations where I would like both the background and subject in focus. It's probably a depth of field issue....huh. If I focus 1/3 into the photograph (Gary Stanley said...:) and close my lens down, will I then have all elements of the image in focus?

You got it! By focusing one-third of the way into the scene and using a smaller aperture, you should be able to get most of the scene in focus. This is called the hyper-focal distance and is the best way to optimize your use of depth-of-field. Just keep in mind, when you close down the aperture, you will need to increase your shutter speed. Keep an eye on your shutter speeds. If they're getting too long you'll want to set up on a tripod.

My question concerns exposure and having enough light. I know that exposure is controlled by aperture and shutter speed. I also know that that overexposing means adding light and underexposing means subtracting light.

However, isn't it more correct to think of over and under exposing as controlling tonality? For example, just increasing exposure is not going to really add light because you can't get anymore light than is already there unless you add light by artificial means such as by using a flash or by using a reflector. If what I just said is correct then doesn't it stand to reason that there are just some scenes that can't be photographed without adding light artificially? Another example is I was taking pictures from a balcony, which was approximately 150 ft. from the stage, which was very dimly lit. I used 800 speed film. Even with the aperture open as much as I could without compromising shutter speed to stop the movement, the pictures still came out somewhat dark.

George E Givens Jr.

When you are overexposing you are allowing more light to reach the film. You would either be using a longer exposure time, which allows light to reach the film for a longer period of time, or using a wider aperture to allow more light through the lens at a given time. Either of these methods will allow darker areas of a scene a better chance of being properly exposed in the photograph. Underexposing would be either shortening the exposure time or cutting down the amount of light coming through the lens.

When you overexpose a negative, you are creating a more dense negative. This would increase the contrast in the scene. Underexposing would create a thinner negative with lower contrast.

Just about any scene could be photographed without adding artificial light, given the correct combination of film speed, aperture, and shutter speed.

Even the darkest scenes with minimal light could be photographed using the correct shutter speed with a wide aperture, and film speed.

I enjoy reading both the beginner and advanced Q&A. Many of the photography magazines I subscribe to such as Photo Technique, Outdoor Photographer, and Shutter Bug frequently have articles about developing your own film.

Sometimes I get the impression that unless I can develop my own film I can never become an accomplished photographer. Although I understand the depth of knowledge developing my own film would give me, I am simply just not that excited about film developing. I enjoy creating images though. What are your feelings on how good a photographer I can become without learning to develop to film?


I know plenty of great photographers who have never developed or printed any film themselves. The key is to know and understand your equipment, lighting, exposure latitude, and composition. Developing and printing your own work can make it easier to learn about the exposure latitudes of film and about composition but these things can also be learned by reading on these topics, going out and shooting, and studying your results.

My husband and I are rock climbers, as are most of our friends, and it's fun to document our adventures. I am looking for tips on exposure/aperture settings and composition for dynamic-looking shots in both bright, high contrast scenes and darker scenes. I've tried using natural light or the built-in flash and they work okay, but the images are blurry (sometimes it's a cool effect!). The other thing that's been difficult is finding a good spot from which to photograph since the subject tends to UP. 

Any suggestions?
Rachel Foss

Taking photographs while rock climbing can be a little tricky. However, most of the general rules to getting sharp photos still apply. When hand holding a camera, it is important to keep a shutter speed fast enough so that you do not inadvertently move during the exposure. This becomes a little more difficult if you are suspended on the side of cliff. Using a flash will help increase the light level of the scene, within the flash range. The built in flash units in any camera are not very strong and will not reach a long distance. Using a high power flash attachment will greatly increase your range.

To obtain more "depth" in your photographs, use a smaller aperture. Smaller apertures will allow you to have more of the scene in focus at greater distances.

Keep in mind that the smaller the aperture, the longer the exposure time will be due to the reduced amount of light coming through he lens. Try focusing a third of the way into the scene if possible. This will help to optimize the amount of depth in your scenic pictures.

Also, keep in mind that you may need to increase your film speed to help with the balance of movement and the aperture/shutter speed combinations.

As for how to determine where to shoot from, look for angles that give you striking views with good details or dramatic lighting. Experience will help you spot dramatic angles.

For more information on these points as well as composition, check out Gary Stanley's "Back to Basics" at and for tips on improving your photography see "Fine Tuning Your Photographs" at

Also check out climbing magazines and even catalogs for climbing gear. Just keep in mind that professional photographers have burned up a LOT of film to get those shots. In many cases photographers who specialize in climbing and mountain photography have created special climbing rigs to suspend them at angles you can't possibly get with normal climbing gear! And one final thing Rachel - be careful up there!

Where do I take my roll of film to develop if I want copyright protection on it? I have been doing professional pictures. People take them to Wal-Mart and copy them after buying the proofs. Since I am new in the business I have no idea where to send the film for them to say copyright protection on the back.

Love the magazine. 
Dawn McDonald

Many professional or custom photo labs offer proofing and custom printing with watermarked copyright protection warnings. Some of these labs may even offer a paper with a hidden marking that is detectable by the machines used to reproduce photographs by many mass market stores. This marking pops open a window on the machine warning about the copyright protection of the image and requires a password to be keyed in by an associate of the lab.

The best thing you can do is to contact some of the professional labs in your area and ask them what they offer in this service.

  Subscribe to Vivid Light 
Photography by email 

Tell Us What You Think

Vivid Light Photography, monthly photography magazine online

Site search Web search

Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online