Ask A Pro: Scott Kelby Answers Your Photography Questions

Got Questions About Photography? Professional Photographer and Photoshop Expert Scott Kelby Has Got Answers.

Q. I have a lens with built-in image stabilization—is there ever a reason to turn it off?

A. Absolutely! The idea behind image stabilization is to help you keep your camera steady in low-light situations where you wind up with a shutter speed that is slower than most folks can hand-hold steadily. A special motor inside the lens searches for movement and when it encounters it, it tries to offset that motion so you get a sharp shot even in low light. So, when does this work against you? When you’re on a tripod and there’s zero movement. That’s because the motor keeps searching for movement while you’re on a tripod and that little bit of movement inside the lens when it’s on a tripod can cause (you guessed it) a little bit of blur. So, when you’re on a tripod, switch off the IS (Image Stabilization) or VR (Vibration Reduction) for sharper shots.


Q. What can I do to give my outdoor portraits a more professional look?

A. Two things will probably help: (1) Shoot with a long zoom lens (zoomed in tight, between 150-200mm) and use a wide-open f/stop (f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6) for more flattering portraits (thanks to the lens compression) with a soft out-of-focus background. That out-of-focus background helps separate your subject from the background and simplify the portrait. (2) Buy a one-stop diffuser; I use a Westcott 30” White Diffuser ($19.90). Put it between the sun and your subject to soften, spread, and diffuse the light. It takes that harsh sunlight and makes it soft and beautiful. You won’t believe what a difference this $20 investment will make in the look of your outdoor portraits.


Q. If you had one piece of advice for a beginner photographer, what would it be?

A. For now, ignore all the settings on your camera, except for these three things: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Focus on just learning how those three settings work together and skip everything else for now. Those three settings are what actually make a photo, just like the brake pedal, gas pedal, and steering wheel are the only three things you need to drive a car. All the other stuff, like the radio, air conditioning, power seats, is just fluff. It makes the experience nicer, but they’re not essential for driving a car, just like all the menus and buttons and knobs on your camera aren’t essential for taking pictures. Focus on learning just those three settings and you’ll be well on your way.


Q. My copy of Lightroom has been acting weird. Do I need to reinstall it from scratch?

A. You might, but I’d first try replacing the Preferences. It’s likely that your Preferences file has somehow become corrupt, so I would start by installing a fresh set of Preferences. Here’s how: First quit Lightroom. Now hold Shift-Option-Delete (Mac) or just Shift-Alt (Windows) and restart Lightroom while holding those keys down. A dialog will appear asking if you want to replace Lightroom’s Preferences. Click Reset Preferences and chances are your problem will be gone. If that doesn’t do the trick, then yes, it’s time to Uninstall and then do a reinstall. Be sure to use the Uninstaller utility that installed with your copy of Lightroom.


Q. I’ve heard that if you shoot in JPEG you can’t change the white balance after the fact. Why is that?

A. Well, that’s just not true. It’s one of those urban myths that’s been going around for years. Here’s why I think the myth exists: When you shoot in Raw, and open your image in a Raw processor like Lightroom or Camera Raw, there’s a pop-up menu of white balance presets you can choose from. It’s the same list of presets you could have chosen in camera (like Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, and so on). However, when you shoot in JPEG, it applies the white balance you chose in camera, so when you go to this preset pop-up menu, those presets (Daylight, Shade, etc.) aren’t available—just “Auto.” However, that doesn’t mean you can’t change the white balance for JPEG images—I do it all the time. The White Balance Temperature and Tint sliders still work, as does the White Balance eyedropper tool in Lightroom and Camera Raw, so you can change the white balance any time using either of those tools.


Q. I’m using a flash with a softbox for my location portraits but the light still looks a bit harsh to me. I was expecting the light to be nice and soft. Is there something I’m missing?

A. You’re on the right track by using a softbox with your flash, but there’s one more technique you need to add to get that next level of softness and that is to feather the softbox. Here’s what feathering does: The area in the center of your softbox will be the brightest and harshest because that’s directly where the flash is aiming. So, if you aim your softbox directly at your subject with them in the center, that’s the harshest light. The closer you get to the edges, the softer the light gets, so instead of aiming directly center on to your subject, aim the softbox almost past your subject, so just the edge of the light hits them. Sometimes you have to turn the power of the flash up a little bit, but it’s worth it because the light is softer and more flattering toward the edges of the softbox. Also, the closer you move the softbox to your subject, the softer the light will be, so combine those two techniques: (1) moving it in close and (2) feathering the light so the center of the light doesn’t hit your subject directly, and you’ll get softer, creamier light.


Scott Kelby is a photographer, Photoshop Guy, award-winning author of more than 50 books, and CEO of KelbyOne, an online education community dedicated to helping photographers take the kinds of images they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about Scott at his daily blog (, or follow him on Twitter: @scottkelby.

(Editor’s Note: Ask a Pro is a Q&A column from professional photographer, writer, and educator Scott Kelby. Scott is here to answer all your photography-related questions, so if you have something you’d like to know, e-mail him at -- with “For Scott Kelby” as the subject line -- and your query could be featured in the next edition of Ask a Pro.)