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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 interviewed a person regarding a commercial product photo shoot. The customer wanted photos of gourds, which are painted in high gloss paint not to show any shine in the photograph. I observed the gourds in her living room with subdued light. But any place light fell on them, they gave off a shine. She showed me photos she took of them with over cast sky and the gourds had light reflecting on them. She said with the proper lighting equipment I could do the photograph without any shine. I was thinking of using coverings of sheets over them outside. Thank you for answering this question.

Joy MacGregor

The best way to handle a shiny object is to create a "tent" around the object so that the light is evenly diffused. The only spot that should not have material would be a hole just large enough to fit the front of the lens through in order to take the picture. If you are going to use light such as strobes or photofloods, keep the lights at even distances to create an even lighting across the object.

In a short note from a Photo Tip of the Day article (which I deleted!), you mentioned a lens to use when doing sunsets/ sunrises...I think it was ND lens. Can you explain it to me again, and also what is the best camera to use it on?

Thank you!

The tip was on filters and they can be fit to any lens. Two very effective filters for use in shooting sunrises and sunsets are the Neutral Density (ND) and the Graduated Neutral Density (ND Grad). They both allow you to bring out those saturated, vivid colors. I prefer the graduated style as it will only affect part of the scene and can allow you to match exposure levels between the foreground and background.

We have an article in the May issue called Tips for Shooting Sunrises and Sunsets and an article from B. Moose Peterson called Filter that Light. These filters (and others) are discussed in detail.

I have a Vivitar SLR camera and I take a bunch of pictures of wildlife and friends at parties. Some of the pictures don't come out the way I wanted. It's always blurry and out of focus. I bought a good lens and I don't think I'm getting my money out of it. Can you give me some input please. I really like to take pictures of wildlife and I want to learn how to be better at what I do. 


Let's focus on some basics first. There could be a couple of reasons your images are coming out blurred. The first thing to think about is the shutter speed. Your shutter speed should be at least 1/60 or faster. Under 1/60 it very easy to move the camera during the exposure without even realizing that it is happening. If you need a faster shutter speed you may need to increase your film speed.

The second thing to consider is, how are you holding the camera. You want to have a solid grip of the camera with your right hand and cradle the lens from underneath with the left. Also, when tripping the shutter you want to gently squeeze the shutter release by just moving your index finger. For more on this see our article Proper Technique for Wide Angle and Telephoto Lenses by B. Moose Peterson.

If you feel these do not solve your problem, please email me more detail such as what camera model, film speed and lens(es) you are using.

I am looking into buying a good camera outfit. Most likely a SLR (somewhat due to my lack of knowledge in regards to digital). I want something that I am not likely to outgrow for quite some time that will be suitable for a full range of photography from nature to people to night photography. I am planning a trip to Washington State followed by a trip to Paris next year and need an outfit that will do it justice.

My price range is $800-$1200 for the body, at least 2 lenses and a good bag. I was leaning toward the Nikon N80 but I haven't done much research and know little about SLR photography.

Also, do you think that I should consider digital or will my needs be better met in a SLR??

Thank you so much for your advice and assistance, 


Buying a camera outfit is a very personal thing. What one person feels is the best, another may despise. Digital, for most people, is not the way to replace 35mm SLRs (yet). To get a digital camera that could give you the feature flexibility and quality that a SLR would give you, you would have to spend about $1500.00 or more.

As far as the N80 goes, it is a great machine. Its light and compact and packed with great features. Nikon also offers a wide range of great lenses to compliment the camera and aftermarket lenses are readily available.

What I strongly recommend is to go to a local camera store and handle the various cameras. The handling is a very important feature. See how it feels in your hand and make sure that you are comfortable with the location of the camera's controls. The best camera for you is the one that feel most comfortable to you. Check out this article from a past issue of VLP for more tips!!!

I'm a Graphic Designer, and a freelance Artist. Now I'm interested to Digitized my work. Please send me more detail about it. 

Pradeep Chakravarty

The best way to digitize flat artwork such as photographs, drawings, and paintings is to use a good flatbed scanner. The most important part is to decide how much resolution you will need to create an image file that will not be too large to be easily used, while still getting the quality and detail that you need.

For three-dimensional work, a good digital camera can do the job. Again, it is important to get a camera that will not underperform for the results that you want. All the major manufactures of cameras make an assortment of good cameras to choose from. For images of three dimensional artwork, make sure you look for digital cameras that support an off-camera flash.

If you are currently taking photographs of your work, you may want to look at having your negatives or slides scanned to a CD. There are different levels of CD to provide different size files to meet different needs. The Kodak Master Photo CD gives the widest variety of resolutions (five different files of each image at different resolutions).

These are the most common methods of digitizing your work with some relative ease.

I'm working with a Canon Rebel 2000, a nice machine, but without many of the flexibilities of the more advanced camera bodies. I have experimented with outdoor fill flash using the on-camera flash, but its too bright and at present I can't afford a programmable dedicated flash. Have you ever come across a piece of colored/neutral density plastic that I could use to cover the flash to hold back some of the output?

Would this fool the TTL program? Or am I just stuck until I can get a $250 dollar dedicated flash whose output can be adjusted? 

Tom Hubin

The best control of fill flash will come from using dedicated flash attachments. Many of them offer a flash compensation adjustment to cut back or increase the flash power on the foreground. This doesn't mean that you have to wait for that expensive flash to get good results. I have heard of people who have successfully used diffusers over the built in flash. An easy way to get small pieces of diffusion material is to contact a dealer of lighting gels and get a sample swatch book. These samples are large enough to cover the flash head but small enough to fit easily in the camera bag.

The sample books usually have a small cut of all the gels that the manufacturer makes. This will allow you to use various colors, neutral density, and various other special effects. You may also try contacting the manufacturer directly for a sample. I personally use Rosco gels. Their website is

Hello, I am an amateur photographer; I wanted to know are there any correspondence courses in digital photography/fashion photography in any reputable colleges like Boston School of Photography Boston ,USA. 


The only correspondence photography school that I am aware of that has a good following is The New York Institute of Photography. They are a full correspondence school offering courses in traditional photography, digital photography, and video. They also offer workshops on different areas of photography. Visit them at

I have two questions

1. What is it that measures 35mm in 35 mm photography or Why is it named so?

2. I am interested in nature/landscape photography. Is it true that I may not need fast lenses since these objects do not run away! This is what a famous landscape photographer of the U.S. has said in his book and has shown many photographs taken at f/5.6 aperture.

Santosh Patra

The term 35mm comes from the size of the neg. The film is originally designed for use in motion pictures. Each frame in 35mm measures 24mm by 36mm (an approximate 35mm width).

High-speed lenses are not as important in landscape and nature photography as in some other types of photography. You would normally use a tripod and cable release to shoot a longer exposure with a smaller aperture. High-speed lenses would allow you to get sharper images at wider apertures and shorter exposure times in low light. So, you can use slower lenses and still get excellent results (assuming that you have a good quality lens). The thing to remember is that many lenses lose sharpness at their widest apertures. To get the sharpest image you would need to close down one stop. This has the effect of bringing more of the background into focus, something most wildlife photographers don't want to do. An animal or bird that is the subject of your photo will stand out more if the background is thrown into a soft focus blur.

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The best way to handle a shiny object is to create a "tent" to evenly diffuse the light
























Consider how are you holding the camera

























The best way to digitize flat artwork is to use a good flatbed scanner
























Where does the name 35mm come from?








MS.C 392x72

text and photography copyright 2001 Vivid Light Publishing