Lisbon, Portugal Scene Setters

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 800, ƒ/9, 1.3 sec

Who, What, WHERE, Why, When & How

In Journalism 101 the five Ws and H are taught as the questions whose answers are considered basic in information-gathering. Importantly, none of these questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.

Last week while teaching Multi-Media Storytelling Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal we covered getting images that help give context for their stories.

Below here are some possible scene setters that help address the WHERE for the storyline.

When you examine the Five Ws and H most of those questions can be captured visually. The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.

This is why visual storytelling can be extremely powerful. You can get across a lot of information to the audience in a very short period of time.

While one image can capture “WHERE” a series of photos in a multimedia can do even more. Depending on the sequence, some music and the human voice can pull you even deeper into the context of the story.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/13, 1/180

Here is a photo of Nazaré, Portugal where I am at Sítio (an old village, on top of a cliff) overlooking Praia (along the beach). This is how you as a tourist give context.  Shoot too tight and you could be anywhere in the world. Don’t make that mistake or you could have just stayed home and taken photos in your backyard.


Context photos are difficult when you use a shallow depth-of-field. Compare these two photos with where changing the aperture to gave a greater depth-of-field.

Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 200, ƒ/3.7, 1/1000

Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 640, ƒ/10, 1/500

Wide Angle Lens

Personally I prefer to get close with a wide angle verses using a longer telephoto lens, but here in these photos it does work.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/500

Remember when you travel and you want to take establishing shots that capture where you were and not just photos of you that could have been taken anywhere.

Photographers: Three ways to direct the audience

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 1100, ƒ/3.2, 1/100 Custom White Balance with ExpoDisc


To help direct your audience through a scene to where you want them to look, you can use compositional elements like leading lines in the photo above. I have the lines from the shirt directing me back into the photograph to the guy talking.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 with off camera flash with Nikon SB-900 with MagMod 1/4 CTO Gel being triggered by PocketWizard TT1 and Flex TT5 with AC-3 zone controller


Now with this photo of the kids watching the balls racing each other down the incline I am using the incline to lead your eye, but I am also now using another element to help direct your attention—Light.

By using an off-camera flash I am able to put more light on the man at the top of the incline and also light the kids. As the light drops off to the background is is slightly darker so your eye doesn’t go there first.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 with off camera flash with Nikon SB-900 with MagMod 1/4 CTO Gel and 20º Grid being triggered by PocketWizard TT1 and Flex TT5 with AC-3 zone controller

I knew that if I didn’t use a light on the subject here holding the weight you may drift to anyone of the people in the background.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 with off camera flash with Nikon SB-900 with MagMod 1/4 CTO Gel being triggered by PocketWizard TT1 and Flex TT5 with AC-3 zone controller

Here in this photo you can see my photo assistant being a VALS [Voice Activated Light Stand].  This is helping me pop the subject out from the crowd.

Now on the flash I am using a 1/4 CTO gel that is working well with the available light. I started with 1/2 Plusgreen gel but even with color correcting using the ExpoDisc the color just never looked right on the faces as compared to the background.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 11400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 Custom White Balance with ExpoDisc


You can also use color to draw your eye into a photo. Here the lady in pink draws your attention because she is wearing Pink. Same photo in Black & White looses the directing quality of the color.

To now make a B&W photo work photographers will burn and dodge to direct your eye with available light photography. Here I have burned in some of the areas of the photo so your eye is directed by the lightest area.

Light is the greatest influence in photography

Photography is writing with light. That is what the word means. Now take a moment later I decided to add light to the situation above. Watch how much I am now directing your eye with the light.

While the lady in pink is drawing some of your attention, I have more light on the scientist here holding a brain model.

In black and white I have now really isolated where I want you to look. I have removed the color influence of the pink jacket and you are now because of the introducing of a spot light on the subject a way for me to influence where the audience looks.

Put it all together

Here I am using the off camera flash and using a longer lens of 90mm to come in close on the two little girls. Most importantly I am capturing a moment where their eyes are communicating interest and this is the second most important part of a photograph—The Moment.

Here I am using the off-camera flash to light the young boy and make the background darker. The mother’s orange jacket is a complimentary color to the blue jacket and I am also using the color to help direct you. I am using the hand of the scientist holding the brain model while the mother’s hands continue to direct you towards the boys expression on his face. This moment of interest is caught by his eyes and mouth expressions showing interest. The mom’s expression also compliments her son’s expression.

Here I am again using the off-camera flash to brighten the people in the foreground and the background is now darker. I am still using composition to help direct you and most important looking for the moment that tells the story. The embroidery on the scientists sleeve almost replaces the need for a caption.

Capturing a moment with a father and daughter is enhanced with the off-camera flash. The photo reads faster than had I relied solely on composition alone.

As you can see in this last photo your eye will wonder if the photographer hasn’t used all the tools necessary to direct your attention.

When you look back at your photos from something you attended and nothing is really standing out, there is a reason. Are you using all the tools at your disposal to capture moments? Of all the tools you can use, off-camera flash maybe the best weapon you have. Do you know how to use one?

Give me a call for a personal class for some one-on-one instruction if you would like to master this technique.

Shallow depth-of-field @ ƒ/9 can give great Bokeh

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, 100mm ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/200

When you first think of ƒ/9 you might think of the photo above where you can see from the lady to the sign behind her that most of photo is in focus, but that the far background of the building is out of focus.

I have written on this topic before in a different way and even created a video on it. Here is that link.

This is a little different perspective on the topic using the new Fujifilm X-E2.

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, 300mm ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/125

Now in this photo here you might not realize it too is shot at ƒ/9.  Two things helps with the silky Bokeh in the background. First, I am now shooting at 30mm verses 100mm at ƒ/9 and second the background is far enough in the background that it is out of focus.  It is about 100 ft from here.

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, 150mm ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/200
In this photo she is standing not too far from where she was in the first photo. However the shallow depth-of-field is helped by the distance from the building, the 150mm focal length.  
Same photo from above but just cropped
Now when you enlarge the photo you will see the eye closest to the camera is tact sharp. But the next eye is ever so slightly soft, but by her hair by her ear we are out of focus.  
Things that affect the Bokeh of the background in photos
  • ƒ-stop: The wider the aperture with everything else the same, then the depth-of-field becomes shallow
  • Distance to Subject: The closer you are to your subject the shallower the depth-of-field will be.
  • Subject distance to background: The greater this distance the more likely the smoother look of the Bokeh
Fujifilm X-E2 with Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 using the Nikon G AFS lens to Fujifilm Fuji X-Pro1 X-E1 Adapter Aperture Control Ring to connect the Nikon lenses to the Fujifilm camera







All were shot on tripod at the very closest focusing distance that the lens would focus on the eyes at ƒ/1.4. The only thing I changed was the aperture and the camera adjusted the shutter speed to keep the exposure the same.
Approximately 100% view of the ƒ/1.4
You can increase your depth-of-field by just backing up from the subject and this will increase it for you. Conversely if you want a shallower depth-of-field get closer if the lens allow you.
When you are super close you are not looking for Bokeh
Macro photography you are actually needing a large aperture or the photo can look out of focus even when it is in focus.
All these were shot with Fujifilm X-E2, Nikon 60mm ƒ/2.8 Micro 








Off camera flash and gels for the sky

When I get this kind of a situation on a cloudy day in Kona, Hawaii sometimes I fix it with flash.

By using a off camera flash I set the flash to be 2-stops over the available light and the camera I underexposed by -2 stops.

While this made the photo much better the color just didn’t pop on the background.

Here I added a CTO +1 and did a custom white balance for the flash on the model’s face. I could have also just dialed the white balance to tungsten and been very close.

The last photo I put a CTB +1 on the flash and then did a custom white balance. Because the camera is compensating for the blue in the flash it added orange to the entire scene. Where the flash is hitting the model is now the proper color temperature.

So, which one do you like the best? Do you like just a flash added or would you add a blue or orange filter to change the background?

Nikkor 28-300mm ƒ/3.5 – 5.6 can replace the Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.4

Nikon D4, 28-300mm (300), ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/25 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.


Bokeh originated in the Japanese word [boke], which means blur. Today many photographers are going out and buying the ƒ/1.4 lenses to get that silky smooth background for when you shoot the lens wide open.

If the reason I am reaching for a lens based on getting a silky smooth out of focus background I might be wasting my time. You see so much of what I shoot is with the AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR and to take the lens off to put on my AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D IF I could be just creating an unnecessary step.  

If you compare the lenses at the same aperture and focal length then it would make more sense to grab the 85mm ƒ/1.4. As you can see in the photo below shot on the 85mm @ ƒ/5.6 the background isn’t all that silky Bokeh.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/50 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/2, 1/50 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.

Shooting however at ƒ/2 you are seeing a major difference on the 85mm as compared to itself. But now compare it to the first photo on this blog shot with the 28-300mm when the lens is zoomed in to 300mm and shot wide open at ƒ/5.6.  I am having a really hard time seeing any difference in the Bokeh.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/50 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.

When shooting at ƒ/1.4 with the 85mm the depth-of-field is tad bit more shallow than the 300mm @ ƒ/5.6.

This is where you might just be scratching your head as I was after doing this little test.

The trick to getting that really silky smooth background has as much to do with how close you are to the subject as the ƒ-stop.

I would argue that if you are wanting that shallow depth of field with a creamy Bokeh you can do it with the 28-300mm ƒ/5.6 and not have to buy another lens to carry around.

There are other reasons you might want an 85mm ƒ/1.4 in your bag–stay tuned in for that post later.

Nikon helps to continue solving photography’s number one problem

Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 6400, 1/50, ƒ/5.6 (shot at 112 focal length)

Photos are not sharp

While the photo above is not terrible it isn’t sharp. Look at the enlarged section here below.

The reason the photo isn’t sharp is not due to the camera or lens. You see the number one problem facing most photographers today is soft images due to camera movement.

No matter the camera you are shooting, the best thing to combat camera movement is a tripod. Your images will be the sharpest possible, that is if your subject is perfectly still during the exposure.

The second thing you can do is to increase the shutter speed. The rule-of-thumb is turn your focal length into a fraction. Put 1 over your focal length and then find the closest shutter speed on your camera faster than it and you are generally good to go. 

In the photo above I was shooting at focal length of 112. I would convert this to a fraction of 1/112 and then shoot to the closest shutter speed, which for my camera would have been 1/125.  Notice however I was at ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6 and 1/50.  I needed to go up by more than 1 stop to do that for this photo.

For various reasons I couldn’t raise the shutter speed. To raise it would have been to push the ISO to 12,800 and the D3 really didn’t look all that good at 12,800. I was already wide open and so I couldn’t open up the aperture any more. I couldn’t shoot with a tripod in the hair salon because I would be in the way of customers.

Nikon to the rescue

Nikon added two lenses to some of their lenses to help with camera shake. These lenses help with vibration and reduce the camera shake by counteracting it. They call these lenses VR which is acronym for Vibration Reduction. Nikon VR lenses use two angular velocity sensors, one that detects vertical movement (pitch), the other, horizontal movement (yaw), with diagonal motion handled by both sensors working together. The sensors send angular velocity data to a microcomputer in the lens, which determines how much compensation is needed to offset the camera’s shake and sends that information to a duo of voice coil motors that move selected lens elements to compensate for the detected motion.

If you ever go on a cruise the ships have similar devices called gyroscopes that help stabilize a ship in rough water. If you have ever been on a ship and you still felt the roll of the sea this is because there is a limit to how much they can compensate.

The compensation of the Nikon VR II lenses is about equal to four stops. What this means is if you were shooting hand held with a camera lens at 1/60 then you should get the same sharpness as if you were shooting at 1/1000.  So you should be able to handhold a 1000mm lens at 1/60 based on this technology.  But if you have ever handheld a 600mm lens you know that few can actually hold one up.

The VR system can also detect the use of a tripod, recognize panning―an instance in which you wouldn’t want the lens to compensate for movement―and address the specific shake caused by the ongoing vibration patterns produced when shooting from a moving vehicle. From my personal experience you want to turn off the VR function when shooting from tripod.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12,800, 1/80, ƒ/5.6 300mm

Just a few years later I now am shooting with a Nikon D4 instead of the D3 above. I can now shoot ISO 12,800 and I also have the newer AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR that is a VR II technology.

I am hand holding this lens and just loving the results.

This is cropped area of the photo above. Notice how sharp the eyelashes are in the photo.

When I started shooting professionally 30 years ago I was using the Nikon FM2 film cameras. Let me list a few things that have changed making the above photo possible that I could have never done before.

  • Auto focus lenses
  • Highest ISO I shot in 1982 was ISO 400 for color and today I regularly shoot ISO 12,800
  • Vibration Reduction (letting me hand hold images four stops slower)
  • In Camera White Balance today (Only Daylight, Tungsten and BW film in 1982)
In 1982 Nikon had a 50-300mm that weighed 6lb 2.8oz

The lenses were manual focus early in my career and weighed a lot more than today. They are not as sharp as today’s lenses due to the ability of computers to help in the design today.

Today this 28-30mm lens only weighs 28.2 oz and can focus faster than I could ever do with manual lens.

Nikon has helped me take photos I could never have taken before in available light, which is helping me provide services to my clients that have never been done before.

My go to lens

The AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens might as well be bolted onto my camera. I do use other Nikon lenses, but this is always my first choice in majority of the situations I shoot. This lens with the Nikon D4 is one of the best combinations in camera gear today.


Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 28735, ƒ/5.3, 1/100

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Christians everywhere study prayer for many different reasons. Some want to harness the power of the prayer in Matthew 16:20:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

We want control. We want to be able and talk to God and for him to respond to our needs. We also see so many situations which we believe we know what is best.

I am sure you can think of many other reasons we pray. What struck me about the topic of prayer is how much we study prayer to be able to control it.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM, ISO 1600, ƒ/5.6, 1/80

Debra Williams, D.D. did a study called “Scientific Research of Prayer: Can the Power of Prayer Be Proven?” Here is a link to the study Her research does show us even when people do not know they are being prayed for there still is an impact. Who wouldn’t want to tap into this healing power?

If our friends all got together and compared their notes on how to communicate to us in order to get what they want—how would this make us feel?

Is the purpose of prayer to get what we want or is it really about the relationship with God?
This is why I really like what is said in Romans 8:26 (see above). It paints the picture to me of a relationship which is so good and intimate it may resemble a couple who have been married for years and are in retirement and their movements with each other resemble a dance. Words are not always said, but they know each other so well as to not step on each others toes.

Isaiah 56:7
“these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Christians in Photojournalism’s strength is in our prayer life. While individual prayer is our first priority, it is often when we are with those who are on a similar path in this life that we can learn from each other.

Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”