Greetings folks!

I continue to be amazed at how blessed we are to be running a successful business that continues to thrive in this troubling economy. A big part of it is refusing to get depressed or downtrodden over things that we can�t control. In fact, I have flat out refused to participate in the recession. Keep pluggin� along, keep creating, keep moving forward. We are more resilient than this little blip in the road.

We�ve had a wonderful month of travel, writing, workshops and great photography. In fact, I�ve just returned from workshops in New York and Boston where I was able to meet up with a bunch of fantastic photographers eager to learn new digital technology. It is fun to see how many people are clamoring to learn and understand everything they can around digital photography.

I still have some seats available for the Columbia River Gorge workshop on April 30 � May 3, 2009 in Hood River, Oregon. This annual workshop is a load of fun and I can�t wait to get out and take some beautiful images. We�ll be photographing amazing flower-filled landscapes of the Eastern Gorge as well as all the waterfalls that make the Gorge so famous. At this workshop we�ll also be covering a new technology called HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography that anyone can do with their camera. Come along for a great trip!

Also, for those of you who love wildlife photography, you might consider coming with us to the Triple D Game Farm in May to photograph all the new baby wildlife. The Triple D Game Farm allows photography groups to photograph animals like tigers, wolves, bobcats, bears and snow leopards under controlled environments in wild settings. The photos you are able to capture are stunning and I�m especially excited for this shoot where we�ll be photographing baby animals surrounded by spring flowers. I�ll be running this trip with the Nikonians Academy (

Our new book on the Nikon Creative Lighting System continues to sell well. We�ve sold through the first printing and are going gangbusters on the second printing. You can see details on this book here:

March GOAL Assignment: Low Key Images
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment last month was to create some low key images that have a darker, more serious look to them. A low key image is defined as something that has a darker background than the subject in the foreground. Typically, these types of images have a lighting ratio of something like 8:1. This means that the background is 8 times darker than the brighter elements in the scene. Another way to state this is that the background is around three stops darker than the foreground. Low key lighting is often used as a method for creating drama, isolation and seriousness. Movies that have serious plot lines (Batman, Lord of the Rings) almost always have low key lighting as their predominant look. As a photographer, you should use low key lighting if you want to make your subject look more dignified, striking or theatric.

A low key image can be effectively used to show the shape of your subject. It is very common for low key images to give special attention to contour lines, emphasizing them with highlights. Specifically, if you photograph a person against a dark background, you�ll generally want to light the rim (or the side) of the profile so their shape stands in good contrast against the background. In this scenario, the light needs to originate from the side and not land on the back drop. This can be done in the studio by placing your lights directly to the side of the subject. In the outdoors, you can achieve this effect by photographing your subject at sunrise or sunset like the example shown to the left of the couple walking on a sidewalk. In this case, you can see that they are lit up only from the side and the background doesn�t have much ambient light on it.

Low key images don�t always have to involve the use of sidelight. For example, the photograph of the American Flag (shown to the left) was taken in a dark stadium during a monster truck show. The majority of the photograph is black and the flag is illuminated with a single spot light. This created a dramatic look that isolates the flag from the rest of the image.

One of the easiest ways to create a low key photograph in a portrait scenario is to use a black back drop. I frequently use a king-sized black bed sheet since it is fairly inexpensive and very portable. Another possibility is to use a fold-up photographic backdrop like the Lastolite collapsible background or Botrero panels (

Position your subject so they are at least six feet away from the background. This will allow the light to fall off from your flashes/hot lights so the background doesn�t get hit with much light spill.

In available light or continuous lighting (i.e. without flash), you can use your camera�s spot meter to determine the brightness difference between the subject and the background. For example, if the subject�s face registers at f5.6 and 1/60 second, then the background should register at f5.6 and 1/8 second. This will result in a three stop difference or an 8:1 ratio, and will help create the traditional low key look.

If you are using flash for your photograph and your flash is set to manual mode, then you can use a hand-held light meter to judge the brightness difference between the foreground and background. In this scenario, you will only be concerned with aperture (f-stop). If the face meters at f11, then the background should meter at f4 to create a three stop difference.

Another important aspect of low key photography is that you need to keep your lighting source fairly confined. Think of it as a small pool of light that you direct onto your subject and don�t allow to spill onto the background. If you are using umbrellas, then it can be somewhat more difficult to control the light spillage because by their very nature, umbrellas spread light everywhere. Therefore, your background will need to be farther away from the subject so that the light falls off. A better tool for low key images is something like a light box that allows you to direct the light and prevent it from hitting the background.

If you don�t have a light box, then consider using a snoot on your flash or a set of barn doors to prevent the light from spilling on the scene. You can easily create a snoot for your flash by wrapping black paper over the end of the flash and taping it in place. Alternatively, you can buy a nicer snoot by a great guy named David Honl (

Ok, so now that you have a bunch of great tips for creating low key images, you have no excuses for getting out to create some more yourself. Have fun!

April GOAL Assignment: Warm and Cool
Your assignment this month, should you decide to accept it, is to mix warm and cool colors in the same photo. The example shown to the left is of a sunrise over Mount Rainier and the Cascade mountains. It is an excellent combination of warm colors (reds, oranges) and cool colors (blue sky). Work this month on trying to photographically mix these two primary colors, because next month I�ll give some good tips for combining the two.

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Digital Tidbits: Applying Star Ratings and Labels to Your Photographs
As I lead workshops around the USA, it is clear that people have a wide variety of ways they use to categorize and label their photographs. Some people use star ratings for their images and other people use color labels for their images. Other people use both! I fall into the last camp, and use both star ratings and color labels for my photographs. This month, I�ll talk about how I use Star Ratings. Next month, I�ll cover how I use Color Labels.

The first thing to understand about Ratings and Labels is that they are used to help you organize and quantify your images. The screen capture on the left shows what a labels and star ratings look like in Photo Mechanic. These labels and ratings will look similar in different software programs as well. Generally, labels are color tags that you apply to a photograph. You can think of labels as �work instructions� that tell you what you are supposed to do with the photograph. Star ratings on the other hand are �quality ratings� that tell you how good your photograph is.

Labels come in the form of color tags like red, green, yellow, blue, etc. Generally, the label has a name such as Winner, Select, Approved or Trash. The color red is typically used to describe a Selected image. For example, if you just finished photographing a wedding, then you would label all the photographs you will show the bride with the color red. Red means selected, as in �I�m selecting this to show my client.”

Once the bride has chosen the photographs she wants to purchase from you, then you can mark those with the color green. Green typically means Approved, as in �my client has approved this image and will buy it.”

Star ratings come in the form of, well, star ratings. They show up in your photograph�s meta data as a star icon. A one-star image will show a single star and a two-star image will display two stars. The philosophy of star ratings is that they are used as a quality designation. Using the wedding example, you would apply a star rating to images that you think really stand out from the others. Perhaps only five or ten images from the whole shoot deserve a single star to indicate that they are the best.

I generally am very conservative with my star ratings. Here�s my approach for star ratings:
– One Star: The best images from the photo shoot (usually 3 to 5 images)
– Two Stars: The best images of the month
– Three Stars: The best images of the year
– Four Stars: My portfolio images
– Five Stars: Best images of my lifetime

There are tons of programs out there that allow you to add star ratings and labels to your photographs. Just to name a few: Photo Mechanic, Lightroom, Adobe Bridge (Photoshop), Apple Aperture, Nikon Capture NX 2, Nikon View NX and Microsoft Expression Media. Generally speaking, you should use whatever program you like best for adding star ratings. All the programs I list above will let you add the ratings to the files. The difference is in how fast or efficiently the programs allow you to add the ratings/labels.

My favorite program for doing my ratings is Photo Mechanic. It is fast, efficient and clean. If I have the time, I will quickly rate my files immediatley after I download them. Then, I�ll open up my cataloging program and import the data into the catalog.

My cataloging program of choice is Microsoft Expression Media. This program used to be called iView Multimedia, but was bought out by Microsoft a few years ago. I like Expression Media because it allows me to keyword, rate and label all types of media files, not just photographs. I do video work, audio work, PDF eBooks, and slide shows. All of these media files need to be cataloged, keyworded, rated, and labeled, therefore MS Expression Media is the right choice for me. If you don�t utilize any type of files other than photographs, then I highly recommend Adobe Lightroom for your catalog. It is a stellar program.

Whatever program you use to place star ratings and labels on your images, you should always make sure that they adhere to the IPTC standard and/or the XMP standard. You want to make sure that the ratings you apply in one program will be readable by other programs on your computer; otherwise, all of your hard work will be for naught.

Another important thing to consider regarding star ratings is that you always want to write them to your actual files rather than just keep them in your catalog. Programs like Adobe Lightroom and Microsoft Expression Media are catalog programs that don�t actually �own� the original data file. Rather, they catalog your files in a separate database. Therefore, if you apply star ratings to your image in a catalog, the star rating doesn�t transfer to your actual image file unless you instruct the software to do so.

In Lightroom, you�ll need to select �Automatically write changes into XMP� from the Metadata tab in the Catalog Settings dialog box (Lightroom –> Catalog Settings). In Microsoft Expression Media, you need to choose �Action –> Sync Annotations�. These actions will write the star ratings, labels, keywords and tags to your actual (i.e. original) image files so that the labels/ratings can be seen in other programs such as Capture NX 2, Photo Mechanic, Aperture, etc.

Once you have labeled and rated your photographs, you can then use your software to sort or show all of your images with that label. For example, at a wedding I might have taken 1,200 images during the day. After sorting and labeling my images, perhaps I now have 120 images I want to show the bride. I can use any of my software packages to only show the 120 Selects (i.e. red labels) and then write those images to a CD-ROM. Labels and ratings can really speed up your workflow and make your life a lot easier.

This month I strongly encourage you to spend at least four hours keywording, rating, labeling and organizing your images. Most people I talk to haven’t done any work with their image libraries and I don�t want you to end up like �those people.” Start organizing sooner rather than later and you�ll never regret it.

Photo Techniques: What Lenses to Buy?
Every month I receive tons of email requests about what lenses to buy for cameras. I very much enjoy answering these questions because I struggle with the same questions as you do! I spend tons of time poring over ads, sales, websites, reviews and commentaries to try and figure out which lens is best for sports or travel or portraits or whatever.

I remember a few years ago after buying my first autofocus camera (the Nikon N90s) that I spent days and months trying to figure out what new autofocus lenses to buy. I scoured the magazine ads in the back of Popular Photography magazine for days. I compared the Nikon to the Tokina to the Tamron to the Sigma. I compared price, focal length, f-stop. I read everything possible from the library and still came away feeling like I was in the dark. In the end, when I made my decision, I still didn�t feel like I made the �right� choice.

A few weeks ago I received this email from Scott, someone who I’d worked with during a private workshop session last year. He wanted advice on buying some lenses that would last a lifetime. Here�s his email:

“Hello Mike,

I know you are busy, so will be brief. This is Scott. My son and I participated in a private workshop with you in Seattle last spring. We are both looking at adding/updating lenses for our cameras. I will be upgrading my camera to the D90. I currently have the 18-200 and the 1.8 50mm lens.

I want to move to a set of lenses that will last a lifetime and hopefully not need replacement. I do want the faster glass for speed and sharpness. I know this is an expensive task. Currently I am thinking of…

12-24 f4 DX
24-70 f2.8
70-200 f2.8

We would greatly appreciate your thoughts and guidance on this matter. Thank you very much.


PS My main shooting needs are still travel, scenery and some family gatherings.�

I bet his email strikes a chord with just about everyone out there. We all want the lenses we buy to last a lifetime so that we don’t have to buy more. My answer to Scott was that his kit was just about the perfect solution for his needs. He�s an advanced amateur who travels a lot and doesn�t mind carrying around the extra weight of the f2.8 lenses. Also, he was willing to budget for the high cost of the additional lenses which is something he will never regret doing.

During our private workshop in Seattle, Scott and I talked a lot about the benefit of using f2.8 lenses, especially when the light is low and you are hand holding your camera. The extra two stops of light make a huge difference in all kinds of photographic situations. In fact, I use this same lens kit (12-24, 24-70, 70-200) when I travel and consider it to be my regular kit.

However, I know that my standard kit recommendation doesn�t make sense for everyone. I also know that there isn�t a �best� lens for everything or for every scenario. So, I think the only approach to take is to buy the lens that solves a specific problem for you or fills a gap in coverage. In other words, don�t buy a lens unless you have a specific reason for that purchase.

As a professional photographer, I have a lot of different needs for my lenses. For example, one day I might be photographing landscapes and on another I might be shooting wildlife. Sometimes I�m shooting portraits of a client and other times I’m travelling with my family at the beach. In all cases, my lens �needs� are completely different.

So, ask yourself what your needs are and then buy according to that need. I have a list of lens recommendations below based on a photographer�s need. Each lens (or group of lenses) I list represent the best compromise for that situation. I use the word compromise because all lenses are a compromise. You might be compromising weight for a constant aperture throughout the zoom range. You might be compromising the ability to zoom in order to get to f1.4.

Mike�s Official List of Nikon Lens Recommendations:
– Lightweight Travel Photography: 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR

– Semi-Pro Travel Photography Kit: 12-24mm f4, 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 AF-S, 70-300mm f4-5.6 VR

– Professional Travel Photography Kit: 14-24mm f2.8, 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8

– Portrait Photography Lens: 85mm f1.4

– Landscape Photography: 12-24mm f4 (or 14-24mm f2.8) and 24-70mm f2.8

– Sports Photography: 70-200mm f2.8 VR and a 400mm f2.8

– Wildlife Photography Kit: 70-200mm f2.8, 200-400mm f4 VR and 500mm f4 VR

– Macro Photography: 105mm f2.8 VR

Here are some additional comments on choosing lenses:
– If you are travelling with your family, then something like the 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 AF-S VR is �best� since it has most of the focal lengths that you need in a nice, compact package. You can use the 18-200mm for landscapes, portraits and sports, but it doesn�t excel at any of those areas. The 18-200mm was designed to be an all-in-one lens for runaround photography where you don�t want carry a lot of weight.

– I highly recommend f2.8 lenses because of the significant difference they make in the look of your photos. F2.8 allows you to make the background blur which helps your subject become visually separated from the environment. Also, f2.8 lenses allow you to shoot at faster shutter speeds than a slower f5.6 lens. This is a big issue for people who are photographing children�s sports in places like gymnasiums or outdoor fields. Obviously, f2.8 lenses cost quite a bit more than f5.6 lenses, but after you�ve used one it is very hard to go back to f5.6 lenses.

– I recommend buying lenses made by the same brand of camera that you are using. I�m a Nikon shooter, so I generally recommend Nikon lenses. However, Tamron, Tokina and Sigma also make good quality, sharp lenses that generally cost much less than the equivalent Nikon lens. I do own one Tamron lens and one Tokina lens. Both have performed well over the last few years, but in terms of overall build quality, the Nikon lenses I own beat both of them hands down.

– If you ever are considering the move to a full frame camera like a D700 or D3 (as opposed to a DX-sized senor such as the D300 or D90), then I recommend buying lenses that are full frame as well. Unfortunately, the full frame lenses cost quite a bit more than DX lenses and are also much larger.

I know there are as many lens choices out there as there are stars in the sky, but hopefully this gives you a little guidance on choosing lenses. Remember, this is one man�s opinion (mine!) and your opinion may vary. That�s ok. Take what I have said and go spend some money on new lenses! Our economy needs the boost right now.

Workshop Updates
We run workshops all around the USA and the world through Out There Images, Inc. Our workshops are run through Out There Images, Inc. ( as well as the Nikonians Academy ( Check out the information below for specific topics and dates.

We�ve added workshops in Hawaii, Ohio, New York, Washington DC, Texas and many other locations. We�ve also added new topics such as the Nikon D90, HDR Photography, Advanced wireless flash, D700/D3 and more.

The Art of Travel Photography Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2009! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic experience with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. We have two Art of Travel workshops planned in 2009. Our Columbia River Gorge workshop will be from April 30 � May 3rd, 2009 and our North Cascades NP/Mazama September 24-27, 2009. If you are thinking of signing up, contact us immediately in order to be placed on our signup list. Go here for more details:

Nikonians Academy Workshops
We have more classes than ever for 2009. Topics include Nikon D300, Nikon D700, Nikon D3, Wireless Flash, Capture NX 2, D90, D80, D60, D40 and more travel workshops than you can shake a stick at. We�ll be teaching great photographic subjects all around the USA as well as some international destinations.

Our topics include:
– Triple D Game Farm baby animals
– Hawaii
– Nikon D300
– Nikon D700/D3
– iTTL Flash
– Capture NX 2
– Nikon D90, D80, D60, D40

Find out about all of our workshops here:

Private Tutoring
Private instruction is a very popular way to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are studio lighting, nature photography, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.

I hope you enjoyed this month�s newsletter and that it encouraged you to get outside and take some photographs. See you next month!

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
[email protected]
office: 253-851-9054
mobile: 360-750-1103
fax: 206-984-1817

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