Q&A: Margo Seibert

You had a lot of good questions after the Margo Seibert shoot last week, even to the point of telling me I was breaking a Scott Kelby Rule. (For the record, I lurve breaking Scott Kelby rules.)

(And who is he to say you shouldn't shoot a portrait with a 50mm, anyway?)

Besides — and believe it or not — that lens selection was totally driven by the light. No joke. That, and more of your Q's answered, below.

Mike Scott asks:

"With the sun shining in your face did you need a Hoodman in order to chimp or did you work more by the numbers?"

Chimping? What's that? Actually, I did have a giant white foamcore I could duck behind to kill the sun and chim confirm all of my predictions.

"How did you meter/check exposure? D3 Histogram/camera meter?"

It's available light, man. I just went through the lens, in-camera meter and tweaked it until it looked good.

"About your post production/white balance - how did you process your files to retain that golden hour warmth rather than 'fixing' the colors?"

Funny one, that. I shot on daylight balance and let the warm sun do what it wanted. This is what I got. (Talking about the lead photo on the original post here.) When I tried to tweak it, or "fix" it in post, it would never look as good. So I pretty much left it alone. It is very close to straight out of camera.

Robert Davidson asks:

"For your sun/flare shot you made with you x100s, I'm assuming you removed your UV filter, or did you leave it on?"

Hmm. Didn't even think of that. I might have taken it off, if I'd thought about it. But since that UV filter is on the X100s full-time for protection, I splurged and bought a good one. A B+W UV in 49mm is not very much money — and great glass.

Babylon asks:

"On the last photo, was the street naturally wet or watered down on purpose to be used as a fill and to make it look better?"

Well, given my entire lighting kit was a couple speedlights (of which we only used one) and some white foam core, you'd probably be pretty safe in assuming we did not bring a water truck. Or even a bucket. And you'd be right. We were dodging rain. Lemons -> lemonade, right?

Dylan Alvarez Asks:

"I was just wondering if you could drop a bit more context into this shoot. How many people did you have with you?"

1. Three: me, Margo and her sister, who did her hair. You know how Annie Leibovitz' 13th assistant is in charge of spontaneously starting the applause at the end of a shoot? We don't got that.

"How did you carry around stuff like the umbrella, PWs, foam core, tape, aluminum foil, etc, especially when this shoot was more spontaneous and improvisational?"

2. Dude, I did not even pull out a speedlight until it got dark. This is super-lightweight stuff. And I assembled the foamcore reflector a couple hours before the shoot on a whim. Traveling light like this makes it much easier for a shoot to be fluid and improvisational. The ideal gear pack is: A camera and a lens. Everything added to that will introduce some friction into the process.

"Why Howard County?"

3. 'Cause it was for the Howard County Arts Council.

"How did you do outfit changes on location?"

4. Actually, I wore the same clothes for the whole shoot. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) We would shoot for five minutes, then I would scout/set up for five minutes. So figure ten mins total per setup. She'd take the five-minute scout to change outfits. She is a stage actress. They change clothes like a NASCAR pit stop.

Taras asks:

"Anybody here knows how to move the focus point on x100 manually?"

Can't remember on the X100, (seem to remember it is on the buttons on the left) but is much better on the X100s: Just rock the top of the input wheel with your right thumb and dial it wherever you want.

Luthman Photography asks:

"Could you have shot the first shot (the one where you shot through the reflector) with a ring flash instead? I'm guessing you could, but would the light quality be different in some way(that I don't understand)?"

It would look totally different. This is actually more of a faux-clamshell than a ring light, and that's all down to where you put the lens hole. (I left more reflective light above than below by moving the hole below center. That was by design.)

Aaladexter asks:

"Can you please tell us what white balance settings you are using?"

Unless I am purposely shifting colors, I tend to hang out on daylight. This is to let the light do what it is gonna do, and look at it. Then augment with flash (which is consistent with daylight settings) and gel the flash if needed to blend or accent.

Ivan Boden asks:

"David, I've heard some people say that using a 50mm is not a good choice for portraiture. I don't know why and I was wondering what your opinion is on this, and why they think it's not a good choice. Based on this shot, it sure looks fine to me. Ideas, thoughts?"

Looks fine to me, too, Ivan. First off, I love a 50 for portraiture. It is the perfect tight horizontal portrait lens as far as I am concerned. And shooting a head-and-shoulders horizontal keeps you far enough away so they don't go all bulbous on you. In fact, a head-and-shoulders 50 is very 3-D feeling and intimate, as you can see.

Plus, the 50 was driven by light. I wanted the foam core reflector in as close as practical, both for intensity and size of light source. An 85 or 105 would have forced me to move the camera (and light) back, and would have made for a lesser image IMO.

Ivan Boden goes on:

"I've heard some highly regarded photographers say they will never shoot a portrait with a 50mm lens."

Seriously, what bonehead is telling people not to shoot portraits with a 50? I mean, it can be a beautiful lens for that. Not to mention fast, sharp, light and cheap…

Ivan finally names names:

"I agree. It was Scott Kelby during one of his blind critiques that said, 'Never shoot a portrait with a 50mm lens.'"

Oh, Jesus, Mary Joseph and The Saints. If Scott Kelby told you to jump off of Adobe Bridge, would you? And besides, any time someone tells you to "never" do something in photography, it is probably a good idea to think about exactly doing that thing.

And never forget that.

Finally, Nathan Johnson notes:

"Love it. And I'm sure you saw her website featuring your image with the direct sun in it."

Yes, I did! Doesn't she look great? Make sure to go see her in Rocky on Broadway starting in February.

Next: Loren Wohl's Chokra and Awe


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Blogger Tim Lingley said...

Thanks for the insightful post David, I always enjoy reading your blog. I am in the same boat as you regarding the 50mm lens. It's lightweight, looks great and is generally sharper than my expensive 24-70 lens. Why wouldn't I use it?

Further to that though, do you use lens correction in PS to remove any distortion and vignetting?

October 10, 2013 8:58 AM  
Blogger AJ Schroetlin said...

I had always heard that 50mm was a good focal length for portraits; just outside of the wide range and distortion. I use it all the time....and I don't take advice on portraits from guys who shoot sports with huge telephoto lenses. ;)
One man does not make the "rules". Do what you want and if the results are pleasing to you and your clients, then it's the right thing to do. I'm so tired of all the so called "experts" and the fandom some photographers exhibit. One reason I like you, Mr Hobby. Your ego seems to be in check. Thanks for all you do.

October 10, 2013 10:05 AM  
Blogger noblog said...

"jump off of Adobe Bridge" made my day =)

The setup is simple enough that everybody can pull it off easily and the results are great so that you could probably stick anybody in fornt of the camera and the image will look great.

Thanks for sharing.

October 10, 2013 10:22 AM  
Blogger Ed Rhodes said...

And besides, any time someone tells you to "never" do something in photography, it is probably a good idea to think about exactly doing that thing.

And never forget that.

So I should forget, which means Kelby is right? I'm so confused :)

October 10, 2013 10:47 AM  
Blogger Joe Crocco said...

I can't stop laughing from your Adobe Bridge comment. Well said. I love shooting portraits in natural light with my $100.00 Nikon 50mm 1.8D. It's one of my favorite lenses. Creativity has no rules!

October 10, 2013 10:49 AM  
Blogger ginsbu said...

Did nobody complain about your using a 35mm (equivalent) for a portrait? I'm pretty sure there are rules against that too…

October 10, 2013 11:46 AM  
Blogger Patto desu said...

Whenever I have to shoot a portrait of an executive in their office, I pull out my 50. Never even think about anything else. Well...unless they want something "environmental," and I can't imagine Scott's reaction when I pull out my WA lenses!

October 10, 2013 12:13 PM  
Blogger J.B. said...

Finally, Nathan Johnson notes:

"Love it. And I'm sure you saw her website featuring your image with the direct sun in it."

Yes, I did! Doesn't she look great? Make sure to go see her in Rocky on Broadway starting in February.

On that note, I just wanted to say I love (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!) the shot you did with the X100S. It's so warm and inviting, and with a wide (well, wider than the 50!) lens. Blown up on her website like that, it's again amazing (almost feels like you're back at the 50mm range). Love it! Fantastic word, David!

October 10, 2013 12:37 PM  
Blogger Michael Rapp said...

Love your answer with the wardrobe change, David!
However, what interests me (and may have interested the originator of the question, the post ist not quite clear) is less how the beautyful lady got out of her clothes, but rather "where."
I might be presumptuous, but your lightweight lighting kit does not include a changing room.
I inquire because some of the models I shoot are quite peculiar about changing wardrobe in public.

October 10, 2013 1:21 PM  
Blogger Joey Buczek said...

Great post, I also use a 50 on portraits, love it. The "experts" who say otherwise are just in this for the money anyway, I don't listen to them.

October 10, 2013 1:23 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


There was a house on the property, and she just ducked in and changed.

October 10, 2013 1:49 PM  
Blogger Pag said...

For those curious, the reason 50mm is sometimes considered a bad lens for a portrait is because you need to come quite close to your subject to fill a vertical frame with her head and shoulders. This proximity can be uncomfortable for some people, making them act unnatural, and it can somewhat exaggerate perspective, which could lead to an unsightly large nose for example.

If you're not standing that close to the subject -- because you're not shooting in portrait orientation, like David here, or because you want to include more than just the head of your subject -- then a 50mm is fine imho. In the end, it all depends on the effect you're looking for. I've seen some great up-close portraits made with a 24mm lens.

October 10, 2013 2:01 PM  
Blogger Geo Tu said...

I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on the tape used to stick the foil to the foam core. I noticed it was black as opposed to clear or reflective. I'm guessing it makes very little difference, but I was just wondering if it was intentionally black tape or if that's just what was available.

October 10, 2013 2:41 PM  
Blogger MikeScottPhoto said...

Thanks for the update, David.

How is it that McNally, Heisler and even Arias are presenting at PhotoPlus in a couple of weeks and you are not? Will you be on hand for the heckling at least?


October 10, 2013 3:11 PM  
Blogger SamuelM. said...

I'm always surprised at how simple and straight forward your home made light mods are. I know there are various posts throughout the site on specific ones, but would you ever consider doing a post dedicated to just all the light mods you've made? how you made them, what they do, applications for them...you get the idea.

Mainly so I only have to make one trip into town to build them all ;) Thanks!

October 10, 2013 3:37 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@ Mike-

I think there is a minimum height requirement to teach at PPE. Sadly, I am not going, as am too deep into the project I am shooting for next year. Ironically, I'll be there Wednesday night for an event, and have to return just hours before PPE starts.

Next year. Maybe.

October 10, 2013 3:42 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

I bet you get some extra special quality rich red light reflected off that T-shirt, you kept that one quiet :)

Interesting catch-lights.

Thanks for this post-shoot post, informative and humorous teaching, my favourite kind.

October 10, 2013 4:14 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

All fun aside (and it is fun :) focal length is essentially irrelevant, distance from subject, and with it the potential for foreshortening (i.e. giving the subject the appearance of a huge nose) is what matters. And shooting a 50mm on your camera's sensor is, from an angle of view, and hence subject distance perspective (oh look, a pun) roughly 75mm/full-frame worth, and if you're shooting horizontally, it would be more like the lens to subject distance of 100mm in a portrait format. So, you're not really being as risque as it first seems.

October 10, 2013 5:14 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


It's a full-frame sensor (D3) so a 50 is a 50.

October 10, 2013 6:45 PM  
Blogger Alex Sal said...

great answers David. And entertaining too. You have this wit and direct to the point way of answering questions.


i shoot with my 35mm, which equals to 52mm on apsc sized sensors. i even shoot with my x100 with a 35mm equiv.

heck, we can even shoot WA if we want. most distortions ca be fixed or even non existent if you shoot at a good distance.


October 11, 2013 12:50 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Geiger said...

"And never forget that."

Forget what?

And if memory serves, even Kelby himself said something like "these aren't hard-and-fast rules, don't be afraid to experiment" in one of the volumes of The Digital Photography Book (I admit I own all four... hey, they were cheap and I was just getting started when I got the first three).

October 11, 2013 1:58 AM  
Blogger CorneliusM said...

Great info, as always.

However, what pains me to no end (really wanted to use stronger words here but let's keep it civil!), is how people complicate the process of photography for themselves with "this setting" and "that setting", especially in the digital era.

Want to improve? Go out and shoot.

Rinse, repeat.


Take care all ;-)

October 11, 2013 4:29 AM  
Blogger Benny Profane said...

Lord, that woman is hot.

October 11, 2013 8:28 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Easy, pal...

October 11, 2013 9:56 AM  
Blogger Frank Hardy said...

There was a photographer back in the 1980's named Gary Bernstein that manufactured and marketed a two sided reflector that looked similar to the "contraption" you created. (No disrespect intended) The reflector was two sided and it folded down so you could carry it under your arm. It, to me, was real neat and practical device. The only draw-back was that he sold it for between $200 - 300. I do not have a photo of it, but maybe some of your readers might remember it. He was a popular speaker through the PPofA back in the late 1970' and early 80's. I do not know if he is still around or alive. Thanks and I enjoy your blog very much - Frank Hardy

October 11, 2013 5:02 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Baun said...

I use the 50 and 35 all the time for portraits and think they are just fine - http://jocelynbaun.com/portraits/. I have an 85, but don't use it!

And Platon's "portrait" lens is def not a normal.

Love your blog BTW!

October 12, 2013 9:03 AM  
Blogger Sean McCormack said...

I think Simon means the horizontal field of view of the 50 is more like a vertical 75 field of view in height, so has less distortion because you're further back.

Not that it matters, after all there are plenty of photos of bands leaning into a fisheye that look great!

October 13, 2013 8:32 AM  
OpenID crackleflash said...

Great idea, to devote a column to answering the questions generated by a 'guest commenter' in more detail. Sara Lando's very informative and readable offerings do give rise to some good questions and observations. Pulling it all together in one place ups its usefulness, and has made me smarter.

I like my 50mm 1.4, 35mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.8. I've used them all at different times in different conditions for portraits.

October 13, 2013 3:12 PM  
Blogger Chris Wunderlich said...

Scott Kelby is a promoter, not a photographer!


October 13, 2013 3:19 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Scott may not be a professional photographer (i.e., he may not derive a significant percentage of his income from photography) but to say he is not a photographer is demonstrably wrong.

I'd go a step further and ask if you'd be willing to put ten of your best pictures up against ten of his. ;)

October 13, 2013 5:02 PM  
Blogger john said...

is there any reason not to use corrugated cardboard for the reflector instead of foam core? isn't it just a flat backing to the silver foil?

Ok foam core is durable it won't get soggy like cardboard if it rains and it looks more "pro" for the model. But technically it wouldn't have been an issue would it?

November 10, 2013 8:21 AM  
Blogger danielfrederick said...

Great Shot, and love your answers to all of the questions. It seems we can get very hung up on the technical stuff. In the end all that really matters is the way the photo looks and this one looks amazing. Photography is an art and if we get technical on what lens to shoot with and flash to use or not than we will limit our creativity. I love using my 50mm especially since my canon 60d has an APS-C. Ive had people tell me I should not be using that lens for portraits. I should be using an 80mm. Most of the people who have made this suggestion don't even understand the concept of aspect rations and that my camera has a built in zoom. Once I explain tis they have a paradigm shift and start asking me other questions, but I don't think any of it really matters as long as you are expressing yourself through your work.

November 29, 2013 11:15 PM  
Blogger Pete Sutton Fine Art said...

Hey David, look what I just found. Thought this may interest you. Not quite as cheap as your solution but not to far off!

December 12, 2013 5:04 PM  

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