Shutter Speak 2

Shutter Speak is my Digital Photography Learning Journal. It’s where I collect notes, thoughts, and reflections as I go about learning the art of digital photography. 
(click the button above to go to the main Shutter Speak page)

 Shutter Speak, Volume 2:


1.  Scott Kelby

So I’m pretty sure Scott Kelby’s book series was recommended to me about four million times when I first got my dSLR. Still, I only managed to get my hands on it and give the series a good read in the last month or two.
Wow. I could have saved myself a lot of trial-and-error by reading those puppies right when I got my camera, like everyone told me to. But that would have been too easy, right?
If you haven’t seen these yet, it’d be worth your while to get your hands on them. Scott Kelby is pretty much the be-all-end-all in digital photography, so it makes sense to start with his stuff. His books are funny and very well-laid-out (read: easy for the over-taxed postpartum brain. Trust me, I should know.) My library carried the whole series- I bet yours does, too.

2. Lightroom 4

I got it. And that is about as much as I can say at this point. I think I need to carve out some time to just sit and play with it.

I also got the guide to go with it by Scott Kelby, and although I haven’t spent much time learning how to actually use the software itself, I can say that the acknowledgements at the beginning of Kelby’s guide definitely got my attention.

In every book I’ve ever read, the author begins the acknowledgements by thanking his or her editorial team and then somewhere toward the end throws up a thank-you to his or her spouse. Not Scott Kelby. Get a load of this:

“I start the acknowledgments for every book I’ve ever written the same way- by thanking my amazing wife, Kalebra. If you knew what an incredible woman she is, you’d totally understand why.

This is going to sound silly, but if we go grocery shopping together, and she sends me off to a different aisle to get milk, when I return with the milk and she sees me coming back down the aisle, she gives me the warmest, most wonderful smile. It’s not because she’s happy that I found the milk; I get that same smile every time I see her, and even if we’ve only been apart for 60 seconds. It’s a smile that says, “There’s the man I love.”

If you got that smile, dozens of times a day, for nearly 23 years of marriage, you’d feel like the luckiest guy in the world, and believe me-I do. To this day, just seeing her puts a song in my heart and makes it skip a beat. When you go through life like this, it makes you one incredibly happy and grateful guy, and I truly am.

So, thank you, my love. Thanks for your kindness, your hugs, your understanding, your advice, your patience, your generosity, and for being such a caring and compassionate mother and wife. I love you.”

Ummm… Isn’t that the most awesomest-acknowledgement-section-you’ve-ever-read??? I read that and immediately called my friend Meghan to tell her that we need to smile at our husbands more. Seriously. He’s been married for 23 years and the one thing he credits with making him the happiest man on the planet is that his wife smiles at him.

Ladies, are we paying attention??? This is so, so simple. And so, so huge.

3. Sarah, I thought you were going to talk about photography…???

Right. Yes. I am. You can blame Kelby for distracting my hopelessly romantic sensibilities. Back on track now.

4. UV Filter

One thing Scott Kelby is very good at is convincing me that I need to buy stuff. (I know, right? Did I really need any encouragement?) I didn’t realize that I should have a UV filter on my lens. Kelby says he primarily uses these to protect his glass from being broken or cracked, and that’s reason enough for me. They aren’t expensive at all and the B&H website makes it very easy to see which size will work with your particular lens.

  5. Finding My Lens’ Sweet Spot

So did you know that every lens has a sharpness sweet spot? Guess who told me so? (I’ll give you a hint. Initials are SK.) Apparently, two full stops below the widest aperture on your lens will often give you the sharpest quality image (and of course, by “below” you know I actually mean a higher number, right? I think they made photography terms backwards just to confuse the whole lot of us…).

I’ve been playing with this and think that for my lens, it’s spot on. I use a 50 mm f/1.4, so my sweet spot is at an f/2.8. I’ve been surprised at how accurate this is. I had previously thought that I would want to shoot wide open at an f/1.4 since my lens is capable of it, but now I’m realizing that my pictures are much better if I stop down to f/2.8.

If you play around with this, remember that your camera can dial to a fractional stop (like an f/3.5), but to get your sharpest image you want to go two full stops from your widest aperture. These are full stops: f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22. So, for example, if you are using a lens that opens to f/4 (and you would know this because your lens is called an f/4), then your sweet spot is likely an f/8. Make sense?

Ahhh, the benefits of being a fourth-born baby. You come into the world with your own in-house Entertainment Committee! :)


  6. Going Manual. Or not.

Every so often I get an email from someone who wants to know how long I used my dSLR before switching to Manual mode.  I don’t use Manual mode, pretty much ever. I much prefer to shoot in Aperture Priority. I used to think I was cheating, but then I noticed lots of pros shoot primarily in Aperture Priority (Me Ra Koh and Scott Kelby, to name a couple who have admitted to doing so).

My main reason for shooting in Aperture Priority is that I get better results faster. I’m usually either taking pictures of kids or taking pictures while trying to manage kids. Four of them. Most of them wild and untamed. ;) I like un-posed shots that are more photo-journalistic in style, so that means I’m trying to capture a moment that’s happening on its own. If I’m going to get the shot, I need to be quick. Shooting in Av is (much, much) quicker for me.

If I can’t get my camera to do what I want in Av, then (and only then) do I switch to Manual. But then it takes me some trial and error to get things just so, and by then I’ve often missed the shot I was going for (this is especially true where the baby is concerned. You just can’t tell a baby to hold that darling pouty-lip expression while you reset your shutter speed).

I’m not telling you this is a good thing. I don’t give photography advice, remember? :) I’m just telling you what I do. This is a busy season of life for me. Shooting in Av means I’ll get better shots on a regular basis, and it also means that I’ll make a habit of picking up my camera more often. The more I pick up my camera, the more practice I get. That’s a good thing. In photography, practice is everything.

Wanna talk photography? Let’s chat in the comment box!

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  1. says

    Oh wow. That acknowledgment is heart-melting! And imagine if we smiled that way at our kids too, the kinds of people they’d grow up to be?

    All this photography advice is so good, and most of it went over my head, which is why your photos are so much better than mine. The most technical thing I do is look for the light and sometimes stand on tiptoes to shoot from a higher angle! ;-)

  2. says

    I saw Kelby in person at a Photoshop workshop YEARS ago now. He is a fantastic speaker. Nice to know he is a great person too! I have a couple of his books for PS, but not the digital photography ones. That good huh? (Because MY library is not likely to have them.)

    LOVE the duck photo (and the Posy ones too of course). Great composition. LOVE Av mode — shoot there almost entirely. And I had read the sweet spot thing years ago, but had forgotten. Thanks. Will test it out. I do shoot at 2.8 a lot, though, unless I really need those extra stops (Which I do in my house often — ISO 1600 ALL THE TIME, I kid you not. I need to convince Matt I need a new body that will handle those higher ISOs better, right? HA)

    I have read that many wedding photogs shoot in P mode for many of the same reasons — things are moving so fast. I tried it a few times and it is fine too. AV just seems so much more comfortable.

    • says

      I really liked them. You might know most of what is in them already, though.

      ISO 1600?! Are you kidding? But I never see any noise in your photos!

  3. says

    Love that acknowledgement! What a great reminder! I’m in about the same spot as you with my DSLR, thinking of starting a photography section on my site since it occupies so much of my brain now :) I’ve been shooting in manual since I got it two months ago, but now that you mentioned it, maybe I should try aperture priority mode – I’ve got two kiddos to keep after ;)

  4. says

    Love his books! I even purchased my first external flash under his guidelines and have never been disappointed. I don’t shoot indoors without it. Beautiful photos! Beautiful models, even the ducks ;)

  5. Anonymous says

    Sarah–what do you use to organize (and edit–if I ever had time. For now I will settle for organize) your pictures?


    • says

      Lightroom. I’ve heard great things about how LR organizes pictures. That’s all I’ve done with it so far, and I’m liking what I see (I’m still making edits in Picasa and Picmonkey for now, but I’m using LR to organize. I need to start keywording my photos, though, so that they are easier to find- I’m sure I’ll learn more organizational tricks once I really start digging into LR.

  6. says

    Gorgeous, gorgeous pictures, Sarah! I bought a book for my husband when he got his dslr, but it is a little “girly” for him. Maybe these would be more fitting. Thank you for the suggestion.

    p.s. “Whimper-face” = my favorite. Quick, take the picture so you can pick her up and kiss her!

  7. says

    Love the pictures of your kids – especially the first one! And Posy’s boo-boo face is adorable!
    What great marriage advice from Scott Kelby! I’m going to start practicing the art of smiling for my family. :-)
    I think even Bryan Peterson uses Aperture priority from time to time, and I don’t think anyone would call him a cheater. ;-) I think we have to do whatever works for us at the time. As long as we’re getting great pictures of our kids and preserving memories – that’s what really matters. I agree, it’s frustrating fiddling with settings and then missing a shot. (But I’ve missed shots with Av mode too, b/c the camera chose a shutter speed that was too slow to freeze the baby’s hand motion, etc. Equally as frustrating.)
    Thanks for sharing what you’re learning.

  8. says

    I totally agree with everything you’ve said, from Scott Kelby (whose books I love) to smiling to using AV mode. I love Lightroom. I have 3 and haven’t bothered to upgrade because I’m not sure if I need to or not, but I have Scott’s book on Lightroom and it made a HUGE difference in my learning curve. Great pictures!

  9. says

    smile more. got it (good one!)
    love the duck pic!!
    prim looks somehow younger in that photo of them on the grass…!?
    cool book – i’ll have to snoop to see if Jack has it yet or if it should be the next gift item! thanks!

  10. says

    Love the images Sarah! (and SK is awesome all around ; )) I used to fret over high ISO’s too til LR. Try your noise reduction slider wayyy on the bottom right toolbar. Bless it, it has been a lifesaver. I am not an AV fan though many people swear by it. Have lost shots because it tends to select a slower SS than I need.

  11. says

    I don’t. I often shoot in Aperture Priority when I’m outside or the light is really good, but I find that it usually sets my shutter speed too slow, so I shoot in Manual Mode the majority of the time now. I’m much speedier at finding the right settings than I was last year! :)