Shoot Like a Pro Tour

I spent this past Thursday at Scott Kelby’s Shoot Like a Pro photography seminar.  I have some arguably negative things to say about the seminar, but on the whole, if you fall into the target audience, this seminar is well-worth the money.

Here’s my detailed follow-up…

Prerequisites First, Scott’s web site doesn’t include any kind of a prerequisites list or target audience description.  Since this seminar isn’t targeted at the beginner, let me fill some gaps…As fairly hard requirements, before attending this seminar, you should be able to:

  • Describe the relationship between ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed.
  • Describe white balance.
  • Describe “image sharpness”.
  • Describe image noise and what causes it.
  • Describe the difference between prime and zoom lenses.
  • Describe Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Photoshop Elements and list the major differences between them.
  • Describe the difference between RAW and JPEG.
  • Perform RAW to JPEG conversions using the software of your choice, inclusive of basic white balance, exposure, and contrast adjustments.
  • Perform intermediate to advanced edits in the photo editing software of your choice.

Though these are not hard requirements, before attending this seminar you should be able to:

  • Perform basic RAW conversions in Lightroom.
  • Perform basic edits in a modern version of Photoshop (CS5.5 or higher).
  • Operate your camera in other than Program Mode (and get acceptable results while doing so).
Target Audience This seminar is intended for the hobbyist, the advanced hobbyist, and the semi-pro, where the sweet spot is the advanced hobbyist.Beginners and Pros may find this seminar to be helpful, but the bang-for-the-buck factor is definitely smaller at these ends of the spectrum than at the middle.
Covered Topics The agenda listed at does a pretty good job listing the various covered topics.Personally, of particular interest were:

  • Scott’s tips on image stabilization,
  • Scott’s tips on landscape shooting,
  • Scott’s brief discussion on focusing for portraits and how to use super-fast lenses, and
  • Scott’s “tough talk” near the end of the day (e.g., “the picture is the expression, not the exposure”, “to get pretty pictures, you need to shoot pretty things”, and “to make money at photography, you need to spend 90% of your time not shooting”).
The Good
  • Even as an experienced photographer, I took away more than enough from the day to justify the cost.
  • Scott is honest and extremely knowledgeable.
  • The extra-class video content which augments several of the covered techniques are exceptional.
The Bad
  • The extreme range of topics and the relatively short day,
  • make it hard for Scott to demo the covered material, and
  • severely limit audience interaction; no question/answer sessions are built into the agenda and the audience is specifically discouraged from asking questions during the presentation in the name of preventing schedule overruns.
  • The workbook for the seminar isn’t provided until the end of the day.
The Mediocre
  • As mentioned above, note-taking is gently discouraged during this seminar – and no notepads nor pens are provided.As it turns out, there’s a science to note-taking, and taking notes incorrectly can, in fact, harm the learning process.That said, however, notes taken correctly can greatly improve the learning process.  If you know how to take notes, you would be very well-advised to (A) bring paper and pencil and (B) disregard Scott’s suggestion that you not take notes.
  • The workbook is bare-bones. As what’s traditionally called a “job aid” (a brief memory jogger and/or checklist for when you execute a task), the workbook works well.  As a detailed reference, it’s woefully lacking.  The additional video downloads help to make up for the lack of material, but they don’t go far enough to move the workbook into my “The Good” list.
  • The post-class survey is administered before the seminar materials are disseminated, explicitly precluding feedback thereof.
  • As of this writing – 4 business days following the seminar and in spite of reaching-out to Kelby’s support group – I have yet to receive my link for the downloadable Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It class which is being bundled with the seminar. My guess is that Scott’s staff is busy with Photoshop World…  I lump this under “mediocre” because if I’m honest, the seminar was worth the purchase price all by itself.  That is, the download is a nice perk, and I won’t feel I’ll have been robbed or deprived if I never get the link.  As of today (Sept 9), after a phone call to the courteous and helpful support staff at Kelby Media, I have my download!  It’s 4.3GB (GigaBytes) of material!!!


Other thoughts…

Two Days This should be a 2-day seminar that starts at 9:00am rather than at 10:00am.  Two marginally longer days would allow for both in-depth demonstrations and for audience interaction.
On Minimum Shutter Speed Scott indicates at one point in his lecture that your minimum shutter speed shouldn’t fall below 1/60th of a second.  Unfortunately, at least for our seminar, that’s about the entirety of the treatment he gave it – and, unfortunately, it’s not as neat and tidy as that.Sharp images as impacted by shutter speed come down to managing 2 things:

  1. Subject motion.

    1/60th of a second will freeze stationary and slow-moving objects, like adults sitting in a posing chair or walking nonchalantly down a sidewalk.  1/60th of a second will not freeze a toddler, a quarterback, or a dirt bike in motion.  While you can get by with exposure times of several seconds or even minutes when shooting stationary objects, 1/60th of a second should be considered the minimum shutter speed to freeze a human subject’s movement, even if they’re sitting still.
  2. Camera and/or lens motion.

    Camera shake is mostly (but not entirely) due to physical lens length (and weight). It’s important to note that it’s physical length in play here, not focal length – though focal length compounds the problem at the long end.  In short, the longer (and heavier) the lens, the harder it is for a human to hold the far end of that lens still.  To get an idea of the forces in play, imagine holding a baseball bat by the handle with one hand.  Now hold the business end of the bat straight out from you parllel to the ground and keep the bat perfectly still.  Right.  Now extend your arm and the bat out like you’re fencing with it – and again, hold the bat perfectly still.  Hard as nails, no?  And the greater the overall length – the further from your body to the far end of the bat – the harder it becomes to hold the bat perfectly still.  Now replay, substituting your lens for the bat.

    With a 50mm prime lens, which is typically both short and light, the 1/60th of a second rule referenced above works well – but when you get to longer lenses, 1/60th of a second quickly becomes far too slow.

    Without taking into consideration the various lens/vibration/image stabilization technologies available on various camera bodies and lenses, the rule of thumb is that to freeze camera shake, you need to shoot at the reciprocal of your focal length (the rule assumes that long focal lengths come with long physical lengths and that short focal lengths come with short physical lengths).  For example, if you’re shooting a zoom extended to 200mm, you need to make sure you’re also shooting at a minimum of 1/200th of a second shutter speed.

    My experience has been that if you’re shooting a prime lens without stabilization, the reciprocal rule works pretty well.

    The rule also seems to work pretty well if you’re shooting a zoom with stabilization and if you use the longest focal length as your guide even if you’re at the shallow end of the zoom’s range.

    Conversely, however, if you’re shooting a zoom which doesn’t offer stabilization, the thing to remember is that camera shake is – again – a factor of the physical lens length, not the focal length.

    To drive that home, I’ve got a 17mm ~ 55mm lens which, when extended to a 55mm focal length, pushes the front lens element to over 5” out in front of the camera.  My (unscientific) testing shows that with stabilization disabled, my minimum shutter speed needs to be 1/160th of a second at 55mm.  In most circumstances, stabilization cuts that down to 1/80th of a second – which isn’t horrible, but is still faster than the 1/60th number that Scott was casually throwing about.
On Noise Scott told us to stop using noise reduction because it ruins detail and sharpness.  This topic isn’t treated in the seminar materials (Scott said it was because he didn’t want to go on record on the matter), and I don’t know if it’s something that Scott discusses at all of his seminars or it was just something on his mind when he was talking to us – but there it was:  Stop applying noise reduction to our images.

And though he wasn’t wrong – noise reduction can absolutely reduce the quality of an image – he didn’t go nearly far enough on the matter.

A better statement would probably have been, “Test your camera to find your noise threshold.  Only apply noise reduction if the image was shot at an ISO above that threshold.”

The trick is that sensors are not created equal.  Neither are in-camera NR algorithms for those who shoot JPG rather than RAW, and neither are NR algorithms offered by any of a number of post-processing software vendors.With my Canon 70D, the threshold is about ISO 3200:

  • RAW images taken at ISO 1600 (or lower) and converted to JPG using any of LR5, CaptureOne Pro 7, or DxO Optics Pro 9 absolutely do not benefit from the noise reduction offered by any of those programs.
  • At ISO 3200, whether to use noise reduction requires image-by-image inspection and in many cases comes down to a coin toss.
  • At ISOs over 3200, untreated noise is clearly visible in 8 x 12 full-frame prints, and even reduced resolution images intended for the web look better with reduction applied.
  • Images become largely unusable, even with noise reduction applied, at ISOs over 8000.

Your camera will need to be tested; my camera clearly out-performs my step-father’s Nikon D5100 and sample images from the new Sony a7S appear to be comparable at double rates (i.e., the 6400 ISO Sony images look similar to what I get from my 70Ds at ISO 3200).

Conclusion If you fall into the target audience and if you are willing to bring along a notebook and a pen, this seminar is well worth the money.