Through the Gadling Lens: your questions answered!

As promised, this week I thought I’d answer some of the really great questions many of you have sent in. I’m going to try to do this monthly, so keep sending in those great questions to

Let’s get started!

Question 1:

I have a nice Canon Digital Rebel XTI and I admit I mostly use it on the automatic setting. My question is… what do you do when you go in someplace where the flash is not allowed? For example, we went to visit Graceland this summer and I turned the flash off but almost all of my photos are blurry. My camera has a “flash off” setting then it autofocuses and auto sets the apertures and shutter speed.

Is it my lens? Is it me?

Judy (a fellow Texan)

Hi, Judy —

You’ll be happy to learn it’s likely not you or your lens. It’s probably your ISO setting. You might remember in an earlier post, I talked a bit about ISO — the number of “light catchers” you might need to capture light. The more light you have, the fewer light catchers you’ll need; in less light, more light catchers are required. If you have your camera set to a low ISO (i.e., too few light catchers), the slightest shake is going to give you blur. In this case, you need to figure out how to really crank up your ISO — to, say, over 1000 — and the blur will likely disappear.

Once you’ve figured out ISO, you might find you prefer your shots without flash — they tend to be a much closer representation to what you actually see, rather than completely washed out in the light of a flash. The image below as taken in a dimly lit coffee house/art gallery here in Houston, without a flash:

See what I mean? A flash would’ve created a white light without any shadow nuances — but in the above, you notice the warmth of the available incandescent light, communicating the ambiance surrounding the painting far more accurately than a flash would. The above image was shot at an ISO of 1000.

Good luck!

Question 2:

I have a question. How much processing do you do? Do you crop a lot of shots (or otherwise process them) or do you WYSIWIG (“what you see is what you get”)? And do you rename them all or leave them numbered in your files on the computer?


Hi, Wanda —

The other day, I was surfing the web and came across a photographer who promised her clients “an hour of post-camera processing on each image.”

An hour?!?

Don’t get me wrong, her images are beautiful, but I can’t imagine what she must be doing for an hour on each image — I certainly don’t process my images that much (I spoke of how I process most of my images in my last post); I spend maybe a minute or two on each image — five minutes at the most.

As for cropping, I only crop for size, but not to edit. My reason for this mostly has to do with standard print sizes: in normal mode, my camera shoots images at 4288 pixels x 2848 pixels at a resolution of 300 dots per inch — all a fancy way of saying that if I want to print an image it sizes down nicely to 4 inches x 6 inches, with no cropping necessary. If, however, I want to print a 5×7 or an 8×10, some cropping will be necessary to get the size right.

I don’t, however, crop an image to get an objectionable item out of a shot — as I mentioned here, when I look through the viewfinder, I scan to see if there’s anything I wouldn’t want in the shot first, before I squeeze the shutter.

And finally, when it comes to archiving my photos, I pretty much leave them named as they are, and file them in a folder titled with the date I took the shot. And that’s it. Isn’t that awful? I am, however, in the market for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, which I hear allows you to tag images and do all kinds of other wonderful things related to archiving — as soon as I purchase it, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wanda followed up her question with another:

Question 3:

In your Gadling post, you talked about sharpening the images you take. Being new to digital photography and not having any experience with Photoshop … or the like .. I really don’t know what that means.


Hi again, Wanda —

Sharpening an image means what it sounds like: using Photoshop (or your favourite photo-editing software) to make the details of an image sharper, or more distinguishable. Paradoxically, however, in Photoshop, the way you sharpen an image is to “unsharp mask.”

I know, I know, it makes no sense.

To show you how it works, though, here’s an image of my friend Sam, taken late last week, before I sharpened the image:

Can you get over those eyes?

Okay, so here’s the same image, “sharpened” — a bit more than I’d normally sharpen an image, but I wanted to make sure you saw the difference. To sharpen an image in Photoshop, I go into the toolbar and click “Filter,” and then under “Sharpen” I click “Unsharp Mask.” After playing with the range a bit, I get this:

See how you can see more detail in his hair, his eyes, and each little freckle starts to pop? Sharpening an image takes some practice — too much sharpening, and the image starts to look downright scary — but done properly, it can make your images look really clean and detailed. It’s a lovely little photographer’s “trick.”

Question 4:

Can you give suggestions on how people can get pictures taken of them that don’t show that “deer in the headlights” look of complete and utter terror at being photographed because they hate how they look?

Green Yogurt

Ah, yes, Green Yogurt, the age-old question: how to take a “natural” looking photograph. Unfortunately, I certainly can’t give advice on how to pose to have your photograph taken — people either tend to be comfortable in front of the camera, or they’re not. I
do, however, have a few tricks that I use when I’m taking a portrait to get people to relax:

(a) I lie.

I attended a conference earlier this year, and I knew my friend Kristin would be there. I wanted to take her photograph, and she describes herself as being “notorious for having that deer-in-the-headlights look” in photographs. I knew that I was going to have to make her feel a bit more comfortable in front of the camera in order to get a good shot.

So I lied to her and told her I wasn’t taking her picture.

Basically, I said something vague like, “Don’t worry, I’m not shooting now. I’m just testing the light.” And I kept talking to her, all the while furrowing my brow and fiddling with the camera after each shot, and pretending not to be paying any attention to what she was doing — in the meantime, of course I was taking the shot:

And I love how it turned out.

(b) I talk and joke incessantly

This is related to the above: Once I’ve lied and told my subject I’m not taking their picture, I don’t ever tell them when I do start taking their picture. And then, basically we start joking, and laughing, and I’ll purposefully say something outrageous, and hopefully they’ll laugh in shock, and I’ll shoot.

One particularly memorable occasion was during a few days away with some friends on the Oregon coast, and I asked my friend Brené if I could take her portrait. She reluctantly agreed. We walked out on the beach, and were joking about nothing in particular. She sat down, we kept talking, and one of us said something outrageous. She threw her head back in laughter, and I took the shot — resulting in one of my favourite portraits ever:

(c) When it comes to children, I have them tell the jokes.

Everyone knows that when it comes to photographs, no one can do “Cheese Face” better than a kid. But I recently learned a trick: rather than me trying to tell a kid a joke, I have the kid tell me a joke. The image of Sam at the top of this post was taken while he was telling me a joke, and the image below? Taken last year while my daughter Alex was telling me something she found exceedingly funny:

The fact is, kids totally crack themselves up. (For what it’s worth, Alex’s joke wasn’t that funny.)

And finally:

Question 5:

I know that in an ideal world, I’d rather shoot in shade or filtered light, than in bright sunlight. But if I must shoot a subject (person, scene, etc.) at high noon with harsh light, what tips do you have for a successful shot?


Hi, Jen,

You know what? While convention does say that you should shoot in shade, and in truth, overcast skies are lovely for avoiding weird shadows and that sort of thing, I’m actually a fan of shooting in harsh sunlight (see Brené’s image, above). In harsh-light circumstances, I think the best thing to do is embrace the sun as a tool, and use it to help create your image. A couple of ideas:

Have your subject close his/her eyes, and look into the sun:

Or use the sun to illustrate translucence:

Or better still, break all the rules and shoot directly into the sun, and capture some of that great lens flare, or a cool silhouette:

So I maintain it’s possible to get great images in harsh sunlight — it just means sometimes you have to get creative.

So, that’s it for this edition of Through the Gadling Lens — but please, keep sending your great questions to, and I’ll try to tackle them in next month’s FAQ post. Next week, we’ll be back to our regular scheduled programming.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.