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Beginner 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.

I take photographs of album covers using a copy stand. I have had problems with the glare off of the black covers and have been trying various things with the lights to cut down on the glare. Can you give me any advice as to what kind of lighting I should use. I was thinking that the best way would be to get the umbrella lights but I'm not sure.

Chris Purvis

The most important thing to do when using a copy stand is to make sure your lights are balanced (giving equal amounts of light to all areas of your subject). Once that is done, you can use a polarizing filter to reduce the glare on the album covers.

Switching to umbrellas will allow easier balancing of the light so it wouldn't be as harsh. Depending on how glossy the cover is, you may still also need the polarizer.

I recently got a 28-135 lens and have been doing a lot of portrait photos, friends, family etc and prefer the close up shots, around waist and shoulder up shots. I find that I am constantly use the 135 zoom as people are less conscious when you photograph them from a distance and you get more natural/candid shots. I am looking at buying another lens and ask if you could recommend a lens size for these close up shots. I know I can actually just get closer but people tend to put on a face when a camera is in front of them etc.

Gratefully yours 

The next best lens to get would be something in the range of 70mm or 100mm to 300mm. This range will allow you to get some good flexibility and be able to get even further away to get more natural candids. Lenses in this range are available form all major independent lens manufactures (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) as well as the camera manufactures (Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Pentax).

If you are using flash for these shots, make sure that your flash will have enough reach to accommodate the longer distances that you may be shooting from with the new lens.

I'm looking for some advice on tripods. I currently have an inexpensive Slik, and because it's inexpensive "I got what I paid for". It's unstable and if the locking collar is tightened too much, the plastic shaft will crack.

Is there a relatively inexpensive Gitzo or any other reputable brand out there? And what about ball heads? Are they included with the tripod? And if not, what criteria should I be looking for in looking for one? Anything else to consider?

Jay McCarthy 

Many tripods today are made from plastic. The "upper end" of these lines usually are pretty stable, but being that they are plastic, it is possible to crack locks and gears if they are over tightened.

Gitzo and Manfrotto both have many excellent tripods that are heavy duty and are mostly metal. Some of the tripods are pre-packaged with a ball head or other style heads. If you cannot find the head/leg combination that you like, you can order each piece individually and put them together yourself. They usually go together with about 4 screws.

As far as inexpensive, remember, you get what you pay for. Manfrotto tripods will start at about $110.00 and Gitzo will usually start a little higher. When looking at a head make sure that the head is rated to hold your largest/longest lens.

Both of these tripods are distributed by Bogen Photo Corp. You can visit them at

Your answer to Debbie Cabler regarding her polarizer filter question in the recent VividLight edition was right on. I just wanted to add something, and also ask you about it. As I understand it, a circular polarizer offers truer exposure than a linear polarizer. If that's true, and she was using a linear, it may have been the cause of her problem with the "dull look" she got in some of her photos. What do you think? My question regarding this is, why does the circular design provide better exposure versus linear? Thank you! Keep up the good work. 
- Bill

Circular polarizers are designed for autofocus SLR cameras that use beam-splitting metering. With this kind of metering, the light coming through a linear polarizer would be polarized by the filter and again by the meter resulting in double polarization. This would cause the image to be underexposed by about 2-3 stops.

A circular polarizer has what is called a "Wave Retardant". Light would be polarized by the linear element, the wave retardant would de-polarize the light, then the beam-splitting meter would polarize it again to get the correct exposure. You are correct in that this could have added to the problem that Debbie was having.

I use a Pentax ZX-50 body camera. I would like to know how well a kenko 1.5x teleconverter will work on this with a Sigma 100-300 mm 4.5 - 6.7 lens. Thanks for your help.


The Kenko teleconverter will work well with that lens, however, you will loose you autofocus and will have to focus manually when you get out to 300mm. The maximum aperture for autofocus to work with that converter is f4.5.

Also keep in mind that you will loose about 1 stop of light with that converter.

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