Posts Tagged ‘photography tips’

Essential Underwater Photography Tips from Sarah Lee

March 26, 2014 2 comments

Water photographer Sarah Lee (recently featured in a behind-the-scenes artist profile for our SmugMug Film series) grew up in Hawaii, surfing and swimming competitively. One day, while at a swimming competition, she was handed a camera and hasn’t looked back since. She finds inspiration in the unpredictability of nature, creates art that captures the interplay of people, water, and light, and uses photography to find beauty in the chaos. If you want to take the plunge into underwater photography, check out Sarah Lee’s essential underwater photography tips below, plus get a close look at her underwater photography gear kit.

Underwater Photo Tip #1: Ask your models to channel their inner ballerina or yogi and trust them. Open body posture is key. This photograph was taken of adventure model and soul surfer, Alison Teal, somewhere in the warm waters of Fiji.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #2: I find it ideal to photograph people underwater in the late morning between 8-11am because you’re going to need a lot of natural light being underwater. Though, on occasion it’s fun to experiment with different times of day. This photograph was taken during the last hour of the day, probably in the presence of a few sharks too shy to make themselves known.


Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #3: Skin tones look the best within 1-5 feet of the surface. Beyond that, you start to lose the warmth and reds in their skin tone.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #4: Lately I’ve been using an Outex, which is a silicone water cover. It’s rad because you can use different lenses in it, and it has a tripod neck strap. It’s worked really well underwater in lots of different situations.

Photo Credit: Mark Tipple


Underwater Photo Tip #5: You don’t always need a fancy camera or underwater setup to take a good photo. This photograph was taken on a GoPro. Read more about shooting with a GoPro on my blog.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #6: Working with props and clothes can be challenging underwater but worth the effort! In this shoot, I created a jellyfish from an umbrella, ribbons, and beaded curtains. Just be careful you don’t lose anything in the process!

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #7: Within the realm of underwater photography, there’s not much in your control. It’s all about being in the moment and finding the composition within the “chaos.” Most of my favorite photographs were taken when I just let things “be” and used my camera as a way to interpret what is happening at the present moment, rather than trying to orchestrate and control any of it.

Photo Credit: Lucia Griggi


Underwater Photo Tip #8. Protect your gear. I alternate between surf housng and water covers depending on the conditions I shoot in.

sarahlee-watergear (2)

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Want more?

Read our exclusive interview with Sarah Lee. You can also check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Sarah Lee below. Thanks for the tips, Sarah!

Find Sarah online:

Categories: photography, Tips, Users, video

How To Avoid Leaking Sensitive Photos

February 7, 2014 19 comments

Stories are breaking on sites like Fstoppers and Brandsmash about private Boudoir photos that appeared on a creepy voyeur forum.  It’s hard to imagine a more humiliating nightmare for a photographer or their clients.

Photo Used With Permission From Je Revele Photography 

Photos came from several sites, including SmugMug, and we paid extreme attention over the last two days to how it happened.  We tried to take some comfort in observing that in every instance, it came down to passwords that were guessable in just a few tries.

The question for us was what could we do that we weren’t already?  Over the past year, we’ve done considerable work around this problem, but yesterday we decided to expose some of the alerts our systems generate to our customers.

When our systems see several password attempts on a gallery or folder, they now send an email to the owner of the SmugMug site.  It identifies the gallery, gives the first few digits of each password attempt with asterisks for the rest (bou***), and adds info like time of day and geographic location the request may be coming from.

Today our Support Heroes are receiving thank-yous from people whose family members couldn’t get in because they left the caps lock key on or forgot some aspect of the password “it’s a cap O (oh), not a 0 (zero)”.

And we read two help tickets from photographers who discovered that their boudoir galleries had password guessers.  Fortunately, they had long passwords that were too hard to guess, but they are still making changes like removing the word Boudoir from the title, and making the gallery Unlisted so only people who obtain the link can know of its existence.

One of the security upgrades that came with New SmugMug is we don’t store passwords in a form that could leak in any way, including a systems breach, a bug, or a disgruntled employee. We use an industrial grade, Cryptographic hash function.

The breaking stories are about Boudoir photos, but we host incredibly sensitive photos (all cloud services do) of unannounced products and even, we remember, photos of an upcoming TIME Person of the Year.

Best Practices:

1.  Set a good gallery password before uploading photos!

2.  Set galleries and folders to Unlisted.  Unlisted means means no one can see them unless they have somehow been given a link.  They cannot guess the link because it has a random string added to its URL.  The combination of strong password + Unlisted is extremely secure.

You can learn more about how to protect your SmugMug galleries here.

We hope this helps, and thanks for being part of the SmugMug family!

Chris & Don MacAskill


What Sells? Taking Your Photos with the Customer in Mind

June 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Have you gone out shooting on a great photo-adventure and wondered what else you could be doing to get more sales? In the same vein as our other amazingly astute guest post, our friend Varina Patel has offered us more great info about how to mix business and landscape photography. Here’s what she says about keeping the customer at the forefront of your mind the next time you’re outdoors capturing something beautiful.

Photos by Jay Patel and Varina Patel

You never know what a buyer will want – and each buyer is different. But, over the past several years, we’ve learned a few things about maximizing the potential of our portfolios. Here are a few tips for making sales.

1. Horizontal and Vertical Shots

Horizontal landscape photo by Varina Patel

When we are in the field, we usually find that a composition works best in either horizontal or vertical orientation. But in most cases, after capturing the most visually appealing image, we will work to find another shot that works with the camera turned 90 degrees. Why? Because sometimes the buyer needs an image that works in a particular orientation. Is he looking for a collection of calendar images? He’s probably going to need horizontal images. Is she looking for photos for a magazine? She’ll need a vertical shot to grace the cover.

Vertical lines landscape photo by Varina Patel

Since you never know who might want to purchase your images in the future, you can’t know which orientation will work best for their needs. Shoot in both orientations, and you’ll be ready no matter what they ask for.

2. Local images

Moss waterfall by Jay Patel

Not too long ago, Jay sold this shot of Cedar Falls (titled The Looking Glass) as part of a collection of fine art images. He has many shots of waterfalls, and this is not one of his favorites. The image lacks the vibrant colors or grand vistas that you typically find in Jay’s more popular landscape photographs. When the client asked about waterfalls, his first instinct was to send them samples of the most popular waterfall images in his portfolio. One of the first shots he sent was Arizona Dreaming… this brilliantly colorful “icon shot” from Havasu Falls in Arizona.

Havasu Falls red and blue by Jay Patel

But, the client passed on all those brilliant color and famous locations. Instead, she chose the quieter image… one that he had never sold before. He was curious about her choice, and he asked her about it. The answer was simple – she wanted images of local places… no matter how ordinary they looked in comparison with those famous iconic locations.

When you approach a potential buyer, make sure you have plenty of local images. Colorful photographs capture the eye of the viewer – but familiar places capture their hearts.

3. Collections

Green mossy waterfall collection by Varina Patel

When you present your images for sale, consider using gallery features that allow you to group your images into categories based upon similarities. For example, I have a gallery that is dedicated only to black and white images, and another that is just for mountains. You can set up a gallery for images with a dominant blue color theme, or for photographs from a specific location. Your options are wide open.

SmugMug’s Smart Galleries feature lets you use keywords to create collections, so that potential buyers view images with shared characteristics. When a buyer wants more than one image, they often have a theme in mind. One buyer asked me for 30 detail shots that she could sell as a wallpaper collection. Another wanted several waterfall photographs for decorating a newly opened hospital. In Cleveland, a buyer wanted images of local parks and iconic locations for the walls in an office building.

As you build your portfolio, keep an eye out for images that work well together, and be sure to present them as potential groupings.

4. Big Prints

Beach sunset by Varina Patel

Would you be surprised if I told you that giclée canvas prints are some of our biggest sellers? There’s just nothing like a really BIG print that makes a statement or ties a room together. In most cases, I don’t get to see a print after it’s hung, so it was a real treat to be able to see this one in its place of honor over the fireplace. This canvas print is hanging in a beautifully decorated home near Atlanta, GA. The colors in the room were actually chosen to match the print – the entire room is coordinated to match the colors in the photograph. I wish I could give you a tour of the whole house – which is a work of art itself.

Large canvas prints

Canvas prints are more expensive – especially really big ones… but most people hang them without a frame, since they stand alone so well. They avoid the expense of matting and framing, making the price much easier to swallow.

Offer your prints for sale on canvas at the largest size available. A photo printed at that size packs a whole lot of punch!

Learn More about Photography from Jay and Varina Patel

If you’re looking for more inspiration, photography tips, education and webinar workshops, visit Jay and Varina’s blog over at Photography by Varina. And use this exclusive discount code to get 10% off any eBook order over $20: SMUGMUG314

With this, we hope that you summertime explorers are inspired to take different shots with a new perspective. Stay safe, and stay tuned for more great tips from our pro friends!

Categories: Art, business

What Pro Fashion Photographers Can Teach Us About Taking Jaw-Dropping Portraits

May 7, 2013 7 comments

Fashion photography is just one of those things that inspires us all, whether you’re a photographer or not. The glamour, the lighting, the beautiful models, clothes most of us will never wear, and the notoriety of the rich and famous… who hasn’t dreamt about living that life? This month we’re going to take a closer look at what goes into making those incredible pictures, and we talked with Ed and Dallas Nagata White, two fresh, young and incredibly talented fashion photographers from Hawaii. Here’s what they had to say about what it takes to create magical portraits and how you can bring a little glam into your photos, too.

Black and red fashion photo by Dallas Nagata White

Photos by Dallas Nagata White

Fashion photographers tend to get a lot of attention for their images. It’s not hard to see why, since those photographs strive to portray glamorous moments within the four corners of a poster or glossy magazine spread, unfettered by the everyday stresses and worries of the real world. The truth is, though, those moments are carefully crafted illusions that no photographer can create alone, which is why SmugMug invited me to talk about the crew I work with and how they can help other photographers bring a touch of that same magic to their own work.

You are a professional photographer, that that’s what people hire you for, but there are other professionals in photography that don’t take pictures, but are essential to helping you craft the most polished, professional image possible. When I started doing fashion photography, I tried to do everything on my own, which was very expensive and not nearly as effective as working with people who make a living in each of these photography niches. You are hired by your clients because you are an expert at photography, so you should encourage you to do the same for your clients with models, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists and producers who can take your work to the next level.

Here are my thoughts on how to work with what I consider essential crew, and how they can help you improve your craft, even if you are not in the fashion industry. I also don’t claim to know it all, so I’ve also invited a few of my friends from the Hawaii fashion community to write their thoughts about how they think photographers can make the best use of their skills. Please watch for their guest posts over the next month!

Sepia mountain fashion photo by Dallas Nagata White

The Model

A model is much more than a pretty girl. In addition to being in possession of striking appearances, a model must be able to convey the right emotion and body language at the right moment, and know how to connect that emotion to the viewer. In that way, modeling can actually be a little more complex than film acting.

Even if you are not in fashion, you may benefit from hiring a model every so often. For example, a portrait photographer could hire a professional model to showcase what their technique looks like with an “ideal subject,” allowing you to focus on shooting instead of directing. Working with models will also give you more experience with seeing how professionals pose and emote, which will help you direct your clients later on.

Fireworks and model in denim by Dallas Nagata White

The Stylist

The stylist is probably one of the single most important members of a fashion crew, because they are in charge of the clothes! In fashion or editorial work, your client will usually fill that role, but there are also independent stylists who work on supporting bigger shoots, magazine editorials, non-clothing brands, and test shoots.

A stylist goes a great distance towards improving your photography, even if you’re not shooting fashion or editorial images. The great majority of photographs include clothes; by extension, fashion is a nearly unavoidable element in photography and it exists in a spectrum of good to bad. Hiring a stylist makes sure that balance falls on the “good” side, and will absolutely make a difference in your photos.

Besides having good fashion sense, a stylist’s job is to ensure he or she has access to clothes that would ordinarily be out of reach for most people. Your client may not own a $4,000 Oscar De La Renta outfit and $2,000 worth in accessories, but a stylist with the right connections can make it available for the shoot. Barring that, a stylist can consult with your client prior to the shoot and put together the best combination of their own clothes…or help your client buy a new set!

Rainbow mural and makeup by Dallas Nagata White

The Makeup Artist

Whether I’m doing commercial work, editorials, or test shoots for new models breaking into the industry, I insist on making sure a professional makeup artist gets hired. The time a makeup artist saves you during post-processing alone makes hiring one worth it, but good makeup work has the potential to totally transform the appearance of your subject and make your photographs far more cohesive.

On the side of saving you time, professional makeup goes beyond covering up acne or blotches. One of my most memorable makeup moments was watching makeup artist Jessica Hoffman explain what the techniques and colors she was using on that day’s model, and watching very slight circles under her eyes–things no one else would have noticed–disappear on one side, and leap into existence on the other as the difference made it possible for our brains to finally notice they were there.

Makeup artists who work with photographers also know how their various products photograph, which your client may not. This helps prevent unflattering artifacts in your images (which you’d have to fix), and can help you nail a particular look in the process of transformation.

On the side of transforming your subject, a makeup artist is able to minimize some aspects of your client’s and emphasize others. A slight darker tone under your subject’s cheekbones in real life can translate to sharp, contrasty features in photographs. The right shade of eye shadow can make a your subject’s eyes jump to life and convey the sultry attitude of a rocker. A different brand or variety of makeup can create the dewy glow of an athlete or the shimmery aura of a clubber. Most importantly, a trained makeup artist can achieve these looks without overdoing it and distracting from your final images.

Black and white two models by Dallas Nagata White

The Hair Stylist

Hair is often described as the one accessory you have to live with every day. While makeup artists are generally able to style hair, having a dedicated hair stylist on set allows you to push the polish much further with their specialized tools or their ability (or willingness) to actually cut hair with confidence. This is particularly important when a particular look absolutely must be achieved for a commercial client. Some hair teams may also have wigs they can style instead of cutting the subject’s own hair.

Even if you’re not a fashion photographer, you can suggest or offer professional hair styling in your packages. This will give you control–or at least input–into hair styling right before the shoot, so you have the freshest, most polished hair possible for your shoot, and your client leaves with a whole new cut from a hair professional!

Street and bus fashion photography by Dallas Nagata White

The Producer

A producer’s job is simply to help you get things done. I don’t generally have to use producers, but sometimes it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to pay someone who has the appropriate knowledge, connections, and relationships to help you complete an assignment. A big role producers play for most photographers is helping scout and book locations, especially private locations that are not generally available or advertised for commercial work. Even if you can’t hire a producer to play this role, you may be able to consult with some if you are looking to change up the places you shoot for fresh and interesting locations.

Producers also help with other production work, such as acquiring props, vehicles, catering, and accomplishing other non-photography tasks that make the shoot come together in a timely manner.

Model, stylist and photographer on location

Putting it into practice!

So, where can you find all these adjacent-industry professionals?

It varies a lot by city, and finding fashion crew is different going from Honolulu to Maui, let alone from Los Angeles, California to Bartley, Nebraska, especially given that a lot of fashion people don’t necessarily advertise their services due to the close-knit nature of most fashion communities.

The best and most universal place to track down fashion crew is to start with local magazines or publications that use editorial images. The editors and creative directors will probably know a few fashion professionals and could give you a couple of contacts, and those connections can potentially give you a foothold into the entire network of people in your area. In larger cities, the usual places–agencies, marketing firms, and places of that sort–will probably provide you contacts as well.

Thanks for reading! I hope my advice was useful, and I hope you find the guest posts from my friends over the next month helpful as well. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out on your social platform of choice (I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook) and I’ll do my best to give a useful answer, and if you’d like to keep up with my work, please visit

Categories: business, Images, Users

5 Lies Your Camera Likes to Tell

May 6, 2013 12 comments

Think your camera is your best friend? Think again.

Your camera is a marvel of amazing technology, but you still need to use your brain when you shoot. Even if you’re in full Auto mode, don’t assume your camera knows what’s best for you!

Here are five common bloopers and how to avoid getting tripped up on your next shoot.

1) It’s exposed.

Adjust exposure for backlit scenes

Photo by Windermere Studios

Your camera has several automatic metering modes to help you catch the right amount of light without you needing to whip out the calculator. But are you using the right one? Spot, center-weighted and multi-zone metering are great for many situations, so be sure you know which one is best for you.

For example, you may want to over-expose when shooting in situations like snow, to be sure you get that fluffy, clean white stuff you’re used to seeing. No one likes gray snow.

Finally, let your artistic creativity be your guide. There’s no shame in flooding your summer portraits with light or even leaving in a bit of flare if you’re going for a sun-soaked, dreamy mood. Similarly, underexposing your shots is your key to super-dramatic clouds, abstract shadows and gritty street shots.

2) It’s in focus.

Focus on your subject, not the background

Photo by Windermere Studios

Despite the reassuring “beep-beep!” of your AF, there’s still a lot that can foil your focus. The most common culprit is motion blur if it’s too dark in the room. As a rule, you want your shutter speed to be at least 1/(focal length) for your shot to have a chance at being sharp. If it’s not possible, try bumping up your ISO to compensate for lack of light.

Also, be sure you’re focused on the right spot. If you’re shooting wide open (low f-stop numbers) your depth of field gets smaller, meaning it’s easier to accidentally focus on your subject’s nose, not their eyes. We love bokeh as much as you, but missing the focus can make or break a perfect portrait.

3. You can keep on shooting.

Smooth ocean small file, busy photo big file

Photo by Schmootography

Your camera’s telling you your memory card can hold 386 more shots, but did you know this may not be the case? The size of each photo file you shoot depends on the data in each, which usually translates to how busy your pictures are. A zen, monochrome ocean scene makes a smaller image file than a colorful fisheye of Times Square. So be aware if you’re worried about space on your hard drive, or on your memory cards.

When in doubt, pack extras.

4) You’re a great/horrible photographer.

Green Slovenian landscape by Ana Pogacar photography

Photo by Ana Pogačar Photography

“Great shot! What camera was that?” We’re sure you’ve heard this before but contrary to popular belief, the camera doesn’t make the image. YOU do. You don’t need to upgrade your equipment just to run with the big dogs, and top-of-the-line gear isn’t carte blanche to the photographer’s Hall of Fame. So be proud to carry your favorite camera into the field. As long as you know what all the buttons do and have a grasp of fundamental principles, you’ve got everything you need to take an awesome photo.

(Like the above shot, taken with a 4 megapixel Canon Powershot point-and-shoot.)

It’s not the size of the ax; it’s how you click it.

5. You’re off the hook.

Manually adjust exposure even when using Auto modes

Photo by Windermere Studios

Even if you switch on your camera’s auto modes (green square, Tv, Av), don’t switch off your brain. Auto modes work most of the time to get you better shots with less fiddling, but they can also be fooled. Like when shooting in unusually bright scenes (snow), unusually dark scenes (backlit subjects) and when you want to freeze action.

Take that extra second to think about what you’re shooting, the picture you want to get, and how best to make it happen. You can manually bump up or lower the exposure when using most automatic modes, so consider over- or under-exposing your scene to get what you want.

Have you discovered any scandalous lies that your camera has been telling you? Share it with us!

Categories: photography

In Case You Missed It: It’s a Small World

May 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking about our big planet and all the weird riddles that concept brings. We’ve brought you information about tiny photography, tips for your small business, how to shrink the gap between you and your fans, and how to make your time sitting at your desk smaller so you go to out and explore this glorious world.

Here’s a quick recap.

Photo by Liquid Drop Art

Photography Perspectives

Your small business

  • How to Stay in Business Our friend Varina Patel magically juggles her photo education business, travel, and her family. She shared some great tips with us about how to keep the first afloat.
  • 7 Rules for Small Businesses Will your small business survive? Quickbooks Certified Advisor Kathy Rappaport has something to say about that.

Shrink your workflow

  • Kickstart your Lightroom Workflow Matt Kloskowski is a master Adobe educator and it shows. Here are his suggestions for Lightroom users to get your photos organized before you can say, “Publish!”

Shrink your world

Categories: SmugMug

10 Ways to Get Out of That Photography Rut

April 10, 2013 4 comments

Bored with shooting the same ol’, same ol’? If you’re like the rest of us, malaise is destined to happen eventually but there are lots of things you can do to breathe new life into yourself… and your camera. Here’s ten ways we recommend.

photo by Windermere Studios

1) Shoot something new

If you’re a portrait or a wedding photographer, you do the same thing all the time. Why not point that lens at something else: A sunset, people on the street, flowers in your garden, skateboarders at the park, the Milky Way? You may discover new ways to use your existing gear that you never would have thought of before.

And who knows! You may even end up finding a new niche.

2) Find a group to shoot with

Nothing lifts the mood like a smile, and there’s tons of that at a photo walk. Social sites like and Google+ are only two of many options where you can find like-minded photographers like you getting together to shoot something fun. It’s always inspiring to see what other people are using and doing, and you may end up making a few new friends, too.

Better yet, if you’re thinking about organizing your own photo walk, we have some tips for you.

3) Shoot a theme

Sometimes the way to stretch yourself is – yes, it’s weird – to limit your boundaries. Try taking pictures of just red things, a series only looking upwards, or any series you can think of with a common theme. You’ll find yourself liberated by the rules, grounded by great focus, and perhaps even seeing something new in the mundane.

Try uploading those photos into a single, themed gallery, too. You might like the result!

photo by Schmootography

4) Rent something new

With companies like out there, it’s so easy to take your dream lens for a spin. From macros to mega-zooms, you can get anything you want shipped to your door and enjoy it for as little (or as long) as you like. Especially great for getting to use highly specialized lenses like fisheyes, which pack a lot of punch mixed up in with your regular portfolio offerings.

And did you know that Borrowlenses is part of our ClubSmug? They’re offering logged-in SmugMuggers a special discount on your next lens rental, so why wait?

5) Try a Daily Photo project

Daily photo projects aren’t a new concept, but there’s a reason why they’re still around. It’s pretty neat to take a picture every day, whether you frame it with a common theme or just take a picture of whatever you’re doing at a certain time each day. It may not be high art and you may miss a day here or there, but it still gets you thinking about shooting each day without the stress of your business or a client. It’s YOUR time, YOUR life. Enjoy it!

At the very least, they make fantastic time capsules. Going through your photo diary ten years later is priceless. Browse SmugMug’s Daily Photos community to see some great examples of Smuggers documenting their lives.

6) Take a break from shooting

At the other end of the spectrum, you may just need a break. Put the camera down but don’t get stagnant — go hiking, pick up a paint brush or a pencil, read a great book, take your kids to the park, or do yoga. Try new things that don’t flex your photography muscles, and you may find your creativity growing back.

photo by Schmootography

7) Take a workshop

Some people thrive in the formal education environment. Is that you? With the boom of digital photography workshops of all types, you’re bound to find a way to learn something totally new, and find the best environment for you, to boot. From one-day classes to week-long trips, you can take up a brand-new photo skill and actually get good at it in relatively short time.

8) Look at other people’s art

Taking an afternoon to the museum could be the best thing you ever did for your craft. Switch gears, stop stressing about creating your own art and take a look at what others have done before you. The timeless work of old masters or the trailblazing pieces of new ones will inspire, stretch and get your brain thinking in great new ways.

Similarly, take a look through photo blogs and social channels to see what other photographers are doing. You may be inspired to try something new in the format you’re already familiar with. No need to trek down to the art store.

9) Travel 

Nothing gets the soul going like travel. Speak, eat, look, immerse yourself in new cultures and notice new things. And you don’t have to go far, unless you want to: You can experience a whole different side of your own town that you’ve never even noticed  by volunteering at an organization, taking a walk to that park you’ve never visited, paying attention to local events and flyers posted on the street.

What’s around your next corner?

10) Enter a contest

Sometime a little friendly competition is just what you need to hone in and focus on your craft. Get the blood pumping with a photo contest where there’s a set theme and (if you like) a tasty prize. Just be sure to check the rules and be sure that the way  the organizers handle copyright and ownership of submitted images is OK with you.

photo by Schmootography

We hope some of these methods work to breathe new life into your photo-passion. What are some things that you’ve done to rekindle your love for photography?

Categories: photography

How to Safely Buy a Used Lens

August 8, 2011 23 comments

For some, the kit lens is fine. But if you’re wanting to change it up and start shopping for new glass, the price tag can be a total dealbreaker. Today we’re featuring a guest post from our friends at These guys really know their stuff when it comes to buying, using and maintaining cameras and lenses, so we thought this would be a great time to share some tips about how to be a savvy shopper. The goal? Get the gear you want without spending top dollar.

By Josh Norem of BorrowLenses

It’s a sad fact of life that gear is expensive. A single Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS II USM is in the ballpark of a fresh kidney and not everyone can afford to buy a few kidneys, much less a spleen or lesser organ.

Don’t judge gear by age; This lens is 7 years old and still looks and works like new.

Luckily, camera equipment doesn’t always deteriorate with age, so a lens that’s been cared for could theoretically perform exactly the same as a brand new one while costing significantly less.

Smart buyers know this, so everyone is always on the lookout for high-quality used equipment, including us. And because we buy so much used equipment (typically about 350 lenses per year) we have picked up quite a number of helpful tips along the way.

Here’s a few that will help you be a smart shopper when you upgrade from a kit lens, or when you just want to add to your collection.

Where to Shop

We all know you can find great deals on sites like eBay and Craigslist, but you have to be really careful about checking the seller’s feedback rating and past transactions so you don’t get ripped off. If you meet the seller in person, pick a public place and be sure to look over the lens very carefully before handing over your cash. (We’ll tell you how to do this below.)

A better place than Craigslist or eBay for used camera gear are photo forums with reputable commerce areas. Digital Grin has a great Flea Market section which is well worth checking out, and it’s free to join, buy and sell.

The Fred Miranda Buy and Sell forum is another great place. You need to open an account and pay a monthly membership to sell,  but it’s free if you just want to browse and buy. Fred Miranda is one of the best online marketplaces for photo gear:  Not only do they have a great feedback and ranking system so you can deal with established members, but they’re all photographers who know the lens inside and out. That’s a lot more than you can say for sellers on eBay or Craigslist.

In both, you’ll find many experienced photographers that buy/sell lenses and gear. Photographers who know their stuff can answer specific questions about its condition, history, functionality, etc. They usually provide lots of high-quality photos, too, so you can easily see the lens’s condition. Always a plus!

What to Look Out For

Here are some of the things you should keep in mind when examining a potential purchase:

  • Before you meet the seller, find out if they’re a smoking household. This doesn’t matter to everyone, but cigarette smoke can stick to gear and make it smell like an ashtray.
  • Once you have the lens in hand, check for scratches on the front or back elements. To do this, slowly move the lens back and forth under a bright light and look for scratches in the reflection on the glass.
  • Open the aperture blades and look through the lens to make sure there is no major debris (or fungus!) stuck inside. Nikon users will have to manually move a lever on the back of the lens to do this, while Canon lenses are always wide open when not mounted to a camera.
  • Don’t freak out if you see some dust inside the lens. This is normal even for factory-fresh gear and minor dust particles won’t show up in your photos or impact the performance of the lens.
  • While looking through the lens end-to-end, carefully and slowly rotate the lens in a rolling motion and look/listen for any loose elements shifting around.
  • Check around the rear mount for cracked or missing sections of weather sealing (if applicable). If there’s a hood, check that the hood stays locked on and is not cracked or damaged.
  • Be sure the filter threads are not dented or stripped and that a filter screws on and off easily.
  • Make sure you can zoom all the way in and all the way out without the lens getting stuck or stiff along the way. Also, make sure there are no sandy/gritty sounds as you zoom, or when turning the focus ring too.

Don’t discount a lens just because it has a few scuffs and bruises. The optics may still be flawless.

Test It Out If You Can

It’s a good idea to take the lens out for a test drive on your camera, whether it’s before you buy or if your seller offers you a trial period. Try these tips:

  • Mount the lens on your camera and make sure it stays securely locked.
  • Take test shots opened up all the way (like f/2.8) and stopped down all the way (like f/22) and at all focal lengths. You’re checking that the auto-focus works correctly and that the lens will perform at the maximum and minimum ends of its specs.
  • If applicable, turn on the Vibration Reduction (VR) or Image Stabilization (IS) switch and make sure it sounds right and that the image you see in the viewfinder doesn’t “jump around” during focusing.
  • Consider using a focusing chart if you really want to test the sharpness. But if you don’t know what that is, a newspaper will do the trick.

Upon careful inspection we found that this lens had an issue with its front element – it was missing.

Use Your Judgment and Enjoy the Process

The important thing to remember is this: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The only thing that really matters are the optics inside. Don’t assume blemishes on the outside have any effect on auto-focus performance or optical performance. The number one rule when buying ANYTHING still applies: If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t forget to have fun hunting and (most importantly) shooting with your new-to-you lens. If you’re unsure about which lens you want and want to try a few, hop over to BorrowLenses’s site for a huge variety of lens rentals. Finally, be sure to upload all the great shots you take to your SmugMug galleries and show everyone what a great deal you got.

Links you may like:

Categories: photography, Users

Photog Tip of the Week: File Management in Lightroom with Wade Heninger

March 8, 2011 12 comments
Wade Heninger is a Seattle-based dance, documentary, and portrait photographer (and agent provocateur) who moonlights as one of SmugMug’s resident Lightroom Jockeys and UI designers. Visit his blog every Tuesday for a smattering of Lightroom tips, tricks and tutorials, and find him on Twitter, too. You can also look forward to seeing cool (and useful!) photo tips like this on our new weekly “Photog Tip of the Week” series.

Importing images into Lightroom can be a chore. What is a benign process when you shoot a few hundred pictures in a portrait session can become unwieldy when you come home with 15 CF cards full of files from a big event.

First, consider that Lightroom has always imported from only one card at a time. The standard process is as follows:

  1. Insert CF card .
  2. Configure the Import options and hit “Import.”
  3. Wander off with the intention of coming back when its done.
  4. Forget you were importing for an hour and then realize it.
  5. Wander back in and go back to step 1.

Repeat 10 or 15 times. And 8 hours later I’m good to go. A whole work day and I’ve not edited a single photo yet. Ouch.

This just does not work for me. I’m a ballet photographer and work routinely involves shooting several thousand photos of a single performance that need to be quickly imported because the next performance is 2 hours away and the cards need to be cleared and ready. That is some serious file management and little time to do it.

So what does the enterprising photographer do?

Photo Mechanic for Easier Photo Imports

Some years ago I bought Photo Mechanic solely because its Import tool was pretty darn good. Much better than Bridge. Of prime importance was the fact that it would import images from all mounted cards in order. If you had the card reader for the card, it would do the right thing. The rest of Photo Mechanic is inconsequential (and a bit ugly) with Lightroom, but this one feature makes worth the purchase price. I have 5 or 6 card readers, so I can really chew off a bunch of cards in one fell swoop using this little tool.

So for the past few years, I would use Photo Mechanic to import the files onto my Drobo and *then* run an Import in Lightroom to get them in and previews built. This was a two step process that had to be done serially as well: 1) import with Photo Mechanic 2) turn Lightroom loose on the big folder with everything.

Somewhere in the Lightroom 2 cycle I’d worked on a redesign of the Import dialog and as part of that I’d suggested the whole multiple cards thing as a way to speed our customer’s workflow. Sadly, we didn’t get it any of this for the release of version 2. So when Lightroom 3 was released, the first thing I looked at was the new Import dialog and if it could do what I needed. Unfortunately, no.

So recently, as I returned from another photo shoot with 12 cards in tow, I was all set up to dance the same waltz with the same klutzy partners.

But something clicked this time. Call it a Lightroom Epiphany of sorts, but all of a sudden I realized a possible solution had been sitting under my nose all this time.

Lightroom’s Auto Import Feature

Lightroom has this somewhat obscure feature called “Auto Import” that watches a folder and then imports any images therein.  As I recalled, it was mainly Lightroom’s way of dealing with tethered capture before we had a dedicated module for such. Anxiously, I clicked on the File Menu to see if it hadn’t been deprecated due to the new Tethered Capture features. Huzzah! It was still there.

Giddy, I clicked on the Auto Import Settings and set it up to watch the folder I was going to use Photo Mechanic to dump them to.

From Photo Mechanic to Lightroom to SmugMug

So, I setup Auto Import and chose the import directory. So far so good.

I then went into Photo Mechanic and dumped all 6 cards to the aforementioned directory.

It worked! Photo Mechanic dumped all the cards to the directory and Lightroom then imported it and built a preview for each image. It took awhile, but not nearly as long as I was used to. And it did it in one fell swoop.

So, so awesome.

I did notice that at one point there were over 500 processes going at once in Lightroom – one for each import and preview build it was working on. But it didn’t seem to bother it much.

The result is that I’m in business more quickly than before. I was able to import all those cards and have Lightroom ready to edit, with all files imported and previews already built.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Since that ah-ha! moment, I’ve dramatically cut down my file management time, which lets me get to the important parts faster. SmugMug makes uploading directly from Lightroom dead simple with their integrated publishing service, so I can get photos into my galleries and start making money.

- Wade

More on Streamlining Your Workflow

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