Holiday Photo Tips and Flickr Changes

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Holiday Photography Tips and Flickr

Jeff is joined by Connor to talk about their best tips for photographing holiday events and recent changes to Flickr.


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Photo Taco Software Updates Status

Before getting into things let me give a really quick Photo Taco status on the updates to software right now.  I am working on a status page over at but until that is there let me just quickly give you my status for this as of mid-November 2018.  

Adobe Products

I continue to see bugs logged against both Photoshop and Lightroom for their October 2018 releases.  That is Photoshop CC 20 and Lightroom Classic CC 8.0. More issues with Photoshop than with Lightroom.  It isn’t affecting everyone of course, many have been using them both successfully on both Mac and Windows.  But there have been some extreme cases reported like many having to do a clean install of macOS Mojave before Lightroom would have normal performance.  

As of this recording I recommend waiting a little longer to update if you rely on these tools for your business and can’t afford a couple of days of downtime.

Operating Systems

The Windows 10 October 2018 update was released and then pulled in early October after many users had their documents and photos deleted as part of the upgrade process.  It isn’t released as of the recording of this podcast. After it is, as with all updates, I recommend you hold off installing Windows 10 October 2018 until others have had a chance to use it with the Adobe tools.  This is a good reason to pay for Windows 10 Professional so that you can put off applying updates for at least 30 days after release.

The macOS Mojave update has been available for several weeks now.  There were some early bumps but in general things seem to be pretty stable now.  A minor update patch has also been released with important security updates. The challenge is the Adobe products.  Adobe didn’t officially support Mojave until the release of their updates in October 2018 to Photoshop and Lightroom.  I have used previous versions of Lightroom and Photoshop on Mojave and didn’t have any problems, nor have I seen a lot reported that way in the Adobe forums, but if something does go wrong and you are on Mojave then Adobe is going to ask you to upgrade their products to the most current versions.  Since I can’t recommend upgrading to the latest Lightroom and Photoshop just yet, I also recommend waiting on Mojave a bit longer.

Holiday Event Tips

Connor, the holidays are coming up here and most of our listeners are probably going to be looked to as the family photographers to capture the moments of the events.  The family parties, maybe even trying to get good shots of the corporate parties for those hobbyists like me out there.

I want to go through our best tips for shooting these types of events.  The obvious first challenge is the lack of good lighting at these things.  Like a wedding where they almost always want a mood set with dark lighting, these events are usually held in the evening well after the sun has gone down and the lighting is even worse than normal indoors.

Be sure to check out the Master Photography Roundtable episode where we talked about how to get good exposure indoors with a flash for some really great tips there.  The problem with indoor flash is that usually these gatherings aren’t so formal and the people aren’t really wanting to have flash popping all the time through the night.  So Connor, you are facing a dark environment and let’s assume that for whatever reason flash is not an option. Big extended party, 50 people, how are you going to shoot the event?

Recommended Gear for Holiday Photos

Connor: Use as much of the ambient light as possible before bringing in flash. To a point anyway. If it is a super dark room, that might not be so practical, but since many of these scenes are largely  informed by the ambiance of the room, you want to be sure to not completely over power them with a flash.

Fast Lens

If you can’t use flash, then having a fast lens is going to be critical.  Something that goes f/2.8 at least, but even better if you can use a prime lens that opens up as wide as f/1.8 or f/1.4.  The focal length should be on the wider side. The 24-70 would give you a lot of options, but this is the perfect place for a wide prime lens, like 50mm or so.

Lot’s of photographers get worried about how much a fast, somewhat wide-angle lens is going to make their photos look with people in the background not being in focus.  Some things to remember there are that the distance between you and the subject has a lot to do with the depth of field, it isn’t just how wide your aperture is. If you want to get the people in the background in focus you just step back away from them a little more.  For some of the more candid and individual or couple shots it is fine to have the others in the background blurred. That helps the photo have a better portrait feel. Just make sure to get at least one shot of each person there in sharp focus and your family and friends will rave about the photos.

Photo Pills Mobile App

Jeff: Connor I have a tip there.  This is another example where having experience and knowing your camera and your lens is going to help you a lot.  Understanding through practice and experience how things are going to work with your depth of field is tremendously helpful.  However, there is a tool that can help you a lot. A mobile app called Photo Pills. I think it is about $10 to buy and it is worth every penny.  Does way more than this, but the thing I am thinking of here is the augmented reality function where you tell the app your camera and lens and it will show you on your phone as you look at the scene in front of you where the depth of field is going to be.  Really helpful and I use it regularly.


Connor:  The other thing I would bring here to help with the dark lighting we are facing is a tripod.  If I am allowed to bring a tripod but not lights I would absolutely do that. I can set up some shots and not have to worry about the shutter speed being too slow.  You can take it too far of course, don’t want to get a full second shutter speed or anything, but it can help you get a little slower than you could pull off sharp photos with hand-held.  

Holiday Photo Settings
Underexposed is OK

Connor: Something to really consider as you are shooting indoors without flash is that this is a case where you might want to underexpose your shots on purpose.  This is a case where cranking your ISO up so that you have a “properly” exposed shot according to the light meter may not produce the best results. It may work out better for your image quality to slightly underexpose the shot and then increase the exposure in post.  Something you need to play around with and test with your specific camera to see how that works.

Jeff: Totally agree Connor.  This is a case where exposing to the right, as we have talked about on the podcast before, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get the line on the exposure meter over to the right of zero.  ETTR as a technique is pushing the exposure as far to the right as you can to get the best image quality possible. In this case the best way to do that would be to add more light to the shot.  That isn’t possible, so you have to consider what else can be done to leverage the technology we have and get the very best image possible using your camera settings and the post processing capabilities.

As your increase the ISO the dynamic range the sensor can capture goes down.  Does this on every camera. There are differences between cameras on how high you can take the ISO up and still have good dynamic range, but for all of them the dynamic range goes down as you increase ISO.  Underexposing on purpose to get good images is a good thing to do and something you should play with so that you know the limitations of your camera.

In this case using a fast lens where you can open that aperture up to f/2.8 or f/1.8.  That is going to help you get more light in there without having to crank up the ISO.

Mind Your Shutter Speed

Connor: The other thing to really watch with camera settings while doing this kind of shooting is your shutter speed.  We talked about bringing a tripod, which is going to help you use longer shutter speeds and still get sharp photos. I know that my technique is one where the inverse rule doesn’t even work.  The inverse rule is not shooting with a shutter speed any slower than your focal length. If you are shooting at 50mm, don’t go any slower than 1/50th of a second.

That rule doesn’t work for me.  My technique is a more energetic one where I am moving between shots fast enough that I often need a faster shutter speed than the inverse rule in order to get sharp photos.  You have to figure out how this works with your technique. How slow you can take the shutter while you are hand-holding your camera and your lens. Do some tests, probably in a darker room so that you can zero in on that.  A family party might be the perfect place to try that out. Kind of a no-pressure situation.

Jeff: Love that idea of using this as a way to practice things.  A way to figure out your camera better. Try things. Experiment.  If you don’t know how fast you have to keep that shutter to get sharp photos then play around with it here but make sure you check out the photos on the back of the camera and zoom in to see if the shot is sharp.   Make adjustments from there, increasing the shutter speed.

Like we said already, it is far better to have a sharp photo taken with a higher shutter speed and a lower ISO that you deal with in post than to have a “properly” exposed photo that it is blurry.  So if you check your photos and they seem a little soft on the edges, try increasing the shutter speed a little. If it still is, try taking the ISO down a little. See what the difference is. Great way to get used to your camera and understand where the lines are so that if you have an event where you have to get the shot you can have more confidence.

I also like what you said about shutter here because photographers tend to blame blurry or soft photos on missed focus.  After doing a lot of photo reviews and even looking at my own shots the majority of the time it wasn’t the focus missing that caused the photo to be blurry.  Most of the time the issue is not having a fast enough shutter speed.

Focus can absolutely be an issue in darker lighting conditions.  Focus gets less reliable the darker the environment. It can be an issue.  So take more than one of each shot, re-establishing focus each time, so that you increase the chances that focus gets it right.  Just don’t think that focus is the only issue and make sure the shutter speed is fast enough.

Connor: I take 3 shots of each pose/person as I am shooting.  That way I can have a better chance of getting people with their eyes closed, and like you said having the shutter speed and focus working together so that I have a sharp shot.

Fun Things to Try With Holiday Photos
  1. See if you can get everyone together at the beginning of the party to take the group photo instead of at the end when everyone is tired and trying to leave.  Even better if you can get there a little early and setup some flashes in the room so that you are ready to shoot as soon as the group is all there. Everyone will be fresher, people can leave as needed, and you can have the flash solve the lighting problem.
  2. While you are there early, capture some of the preparation stages of the party.  I know my mom was always dealing with getting things ready and since people don’t usually take shots of that she was rarely in most of our Thanksgiving or Christmas photos.
  3. Before and after shots are tons of fun.  Christmas parties especially. The nice lean room with all of the neatly wrapped gifts compared to the mayhem afterwards.
  4. Time-lapse.  For many years now I have set up cameras to take frames while we are setting up our Christmas tree.  I have used a 3 camera setup in the most recent years to make it more interesting by switching camera angles.  I set them up to take a frame every second. We have so much fun watching us set up our Christmas tree in a few minutes compared with the couple of hours it takes in real-time.  Plus I have the movies back for about 10 years now so we can see the kids growing up. So much fun and has become a family tradition.
  5. Everyone loves Christmas lights.  The fireplace on with a tray full of cookies and the twinkling tree.  Even better if you can get a nice shot of that with the little kids putting the cookies on the plate.  So think about setting that up ahead of time so that you can create a really nice memory. Don’t need the whole scene in focus there, kind of ads to the mood of the photo if you can have the kids in sharp focus and everything else less sharp.  Using flash to add just a little more light to the kids vs. the rest of the background is good too, especially to make those tiny little lights on the tree to show up much better.

    A softbox for the lighting just on the kids.  Maybe even a gridded softbox so that you can control the light from spilling outside of them.

Flickr Changes

On 11/1/2018, Flickr announced significant changes coming to their photo sharing platform.  Starting 1/8/2019 free accounts will be limited to a total of 1,000 photos and if you pay for the Flick Pro subscription at $50/year you now get unlimited storage.  Previously the free account got 1TB of storage for free, could put as many photos as you could fit in that space. I haven’t heard what is going to happen to your photos if you have a free account and had more than 1,000 photos.

Connor, before we talk about the impact of these changes, are you a flickr user?

Connor: No, I am not. I know I have an account I made at some point, but it never really grabbed me enough to hop on there are really make use of the platform. Didn’t really see who it was for.  Not sure I really see who it is for today.

Jeff: I created my flickr account before I got into photography.  Before I had a real camera and really got into photography I took photos.  I had a Canon Elf point and shoot camera and of course smart phones before they were really good for photography.  Anyway, I wanted to share the photos with other people and flickr offered a way to do that so I created a free account with them almost from the beginning.  

Once I got some better photos as I was learning to use my Canon 60D camera I put the best ones up on Flickr because I thought it would be a good way for the world to see my work.  I tagged them and added descriptions of where and how I took them. I didn’t see it bring a lot of exposure to my work really, but I did find a number of those photos being used with attribution out on digital magazines and blogs.  I was kind of excited about it when I found them to be honest. My work was good enough to be shared by others with attribution. Didn’t bring me any money but I liked the attention.

It didn’t last long.  Facebook was there but I didn’t consider sending photos to my friends/family through it.  There were stunning photos on the site. I remember seeing photos as I was signing and uploading my photos and being inspired by them.  The metadata of those stunning photos was there too and kind of helping making it something I could learn from.

I took it more seriously at one point.  Deleted all of these photos that were out there for me to share with family/friends and started putting my best work out there.  

It didn’t really bring me any sales of prints I decided the time I was spending to put them out there and tag them like I needed wasn’t worth it to me.  It really wasn’t a service that was helping me. I wanted to sell landscape photos and it wasn’t helping people to find them like I had hoped. I haven’t posted a photo to my flickr account for many years.

Connor, let me read for you why it is Flickr, now owned by SmugMug, said they are making these changes and then I want to get your reaction:

  • In 2013, Yahoo lost sight of what makes Flickr truly special and responded to a changing landscape in online photo sharing by giving every Flickr user a staggering terabyte of free storage. This, and numerous related changes to the Flickr product during that time, had strongly negative consequences.
  • First, and most crucially, the free terabyte largely attracted members who were drawn by the free storage, not by engagement with other lovers of photography.
  • Second, you can tell a lot about a product by how it makes money. Giving away vast amounts of storage creates data that can be sold to advertisers, with the inevitable result being that advertisers’ interests are prioritized over yours.
  • Third, making storage free had the unfortunate effect of signaling to an entire generation of Flickr members that storage—and even Flickr itself—isn’t worth paying for. Nothing could be further from the truth: there is no place like Flickr to share, to discover, to learn, and to interact around photography.
  • We looked at our members and found a clear line between Free and Pro accounts: the overwhelming majority of Pros have more than 1,000 photos on Flickr, and more than 97% of Free members have fewer than 1,000. We believe we’ve landed on a fair and generous place to draw the line.

Connor: As I hear this I am thinking that $50/year for unlimited online backup isn’t a bad way to go.  That is pretty inexpensive. Especially if there is functionality to separate things so that you can share your best photos to the world and keep the others just there as a backup.  That is a pretty compelling service just for that backup perspective and if you can have the added functionality to share some of your best work there than that might be something worth checking out.  I don’t know if that functionality is there to keep photos private or not but that would make it appealing to me.

Users being the product of a service is very much in the forefront of my mind as I use them.  I consider myself a professional photographer and for my use I am well under 1,000 photos that I would share in my portfolio.  If I was using it as a storage platform I would need well over that of course, but I could just use the service for free and share only 1,000 photos.  To me I would use this primarily as a storage platform, which they are clearly not wanting to have photographers do here.

Jeff: If there was a brand new service saying that they have a brand new way to share, discover, learn photography would that be interesting to you?

Connor: Not really.  I enjoy talking with people online about photography, but social media feels like a bit of a drag sometimes.  I think the platform has a lot of appeal, but not sure it is something that I will be using.

Jeff: I haven’t logged into Flickr in 2018, so I can’t say how it works today, but the last I used it you totally could have some photos public and other shared with only private groups or just completely private.  So I think that is there.

I think that this is important for Flickr to do.  We all know nothing is free in life. I would much rather see a service change a fair and reasonable price than be free.  Facebook is a great example. Facebook has changed a ton over the years. It is an advertising platform with all of the users as the product.  A seriously expensive advertising platform where it doesn’t seem like it is a fair or reasonable price to advertise to the people you want to reach, at least not as photographers.  SmugMug is showing me here they are a better owner of the service than Yahoo was in changing the plans this way. The service has to make money to survive and this seems like a pretty fair and reasonable cost for the service.

The other thing I like about this change is how the service will now be used.  Under Yahoo’s ownership they offered 1TB of free storage and what that meant most people was this was an inexpensive way to backup their photos to the cloud.  They weren’t using the platform to share their best work and try to inspire others, which was kind of the intention of the service in the first place. Instead, photographers were dumping everything they took to Flickr as a way to backup and it diluted the value for everyone else.  Searching for photos kind of became a joke.

I think SmuMug is right.  Yahoo wasn’t a very good steward of the service.  I think SmugMug is heading in the right direction to making the service relevant again.  Encouraged by the fact that they are kind of pushing people over to pro subscriptions. Takes money to do this.  They not only need to create a good service here but they have to convince non-photographers to go there and find photos they are interested in buying.  A higher quality way to share photos than Facebook.

I check things out when Yahoo took over the service just to see what it was like.  Yahoo had redesigned a bit of the service at the time, but it hadn’t gone everywhere and the service itself was kind of disjointed.  I think this will help SmugMug to make Flickr a relevant and useful service again.

Connor: If they do get a community to form and kind of revitalize things so that it becomes whey they say it will become then I may be able to get interested again.

I am not sure that I am going to spend a lot of time uploading photos to Flickr immediately.  I don’t know that I am going to sign up for the Pro account. Not because I don’t think it is worth $50 but because I don’t think it will play a strong role in my hobbyist photography business.  At least I don’t see it playing a role for me right now. I will definitely keep an eye on it and watch what happens. If it becomes a place where serious artists are sharing their best work and a way to have my work be found, I would rather pay the $50/year for flickr than some of the other services I have stopped using like ViewBug as an example.


Jeff: Godox AD200 TTL Flash Strobe 1/8000 HSS ($300) and Godox Xpro-C TTL Wireless Flash Trigger ($70).  Yes, they are significantly more expensive than the Yongnuo flashes equipment.  I just barely got enough Amazon points to get 3 of these and the controller. I haven’t done an actual shoot with them yet, but I have played around with them in my basement to figure out how they work and I am LOVING them.  Still glad I have my Yongnuo flash gear. I think I am still going to use my Yongnuo stuff for some shoots or at least have them in my bag as a backup, but these Godox flashes are seriously good and compared with others in their class they are relatively inexpensive.  Yongnuo to get started, much lower cost to get going, but if you reach a point where you need more flash power, faster recycle times, and you want to try out high speed sync then this is the gear I can very strongly recommend. We will see how the batteries hold up over time.  Heavy batteries by the way. Also how the flashes hold up over time. But the recycle times are so short I don’t have to think about it anymore and I am excited to try out a little more in the way of action shots and using flash creatively.

Connor: Noctua NF-A8 computer fans  I replaced fans in my Drobo with these.  Prior to doing that the sound coming from the Drobo was SO loud I only turned my Drobo on when I needed to put photos on it.  Now that I have put these fans in there I have had the Drobo running not 3 feet from me as I record today and I don’t think you have heard it.  



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