Reader Questions on Thumbtack, Background Blur, and More

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Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me. I reply to as many questions as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails that I get, I can't promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus. For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from March, April , and May.

Selling Photo Services on Thumbtack

Recently, I received what appeared to be a personally targeted e-mail from a Web site called Thumbtack inviting me to join to start getting leads to sell my photos online. Is this legitimate?
--Cindi Endres, Sacramento, California

Thumbtack is a fairly new marketplace service that is designed to connect consumers with local contractors and service providers. Photographers--such as wedding, real estate, and event photographers, just to name a few--are some of the options that show up if you browse the site.

While the site is certainly legitimate, it is getting mixed reviews. I read one account, for example, about a vendor who reported he got an e-mail from Thumbtack stating he was the number-one-rated provider in his city--but when he surfed to the site manually, he was listed as number 16. He concluded it was an attempt to get him to purchase an "elite" badge to promote his status.

I received an e-mail recently from Thumbtack asking me if I do nature photography, as they have leads they would like to send to me. Unfortunately, the e-mail was not sent to my personal e-mail address, but to an admin address for my Web site, which is usually (but not always) an indication of spam.

Bottom line: Some of Thumbtack's services are free and there's little risk in trying it out. But I definitely see a few red flags that make me leery of using Thumbtack as a way of launching my freelance photography career.

Blurring the Background

I can't find any columns you've written that explain how to blur the background. I recently took a portrait of someone wearing a hat, and the background behind him is a distraction. I tried the lasso but the hat is tricky to select. Can you please direct me to one of your previous columns that might address this? Or am I in over my head?
--Diana Altorfer, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Not at all! This is something you can do for sure. There are a lot of ways to blur the background. Using the lasso tool, though, is not especially easy, as you have discovered. Instead, I suggest that you duplicate the photo in a layer, blur the top layer, and then carefully use the Eraser tool to selectively eliminate the blur from the foreground. You can find the entire procedure in "Blur the Background for Punchier Photos."

Pruning Photos

When I take a slew of photos, I have trouble pruning them. What techniques do you recommend to separate the wheat from the chaff?
--Jim Caron, Bellevue, Washington

I'm sure everyone has their own system, Jim, but since I take photos in rather large batches as well (I might shoot a few hundred photos a day, even though I know that I'll only be keeping a handful of them), I've had to develop something of a system for dealing with the results, or I'm quickly overwhelmed.

When I get home from a day of shooting, I transfer the photos to an organizer (I like Windows Live Photo Gallery among the free options and Adobe Lightroom among the pro-level tools) and then browse each one fairly quickly, not spending more than a few seconds on any single photo.

I trust my first impressions. If I see a photo that looks great, I use the rating tool in my photo organizer to give it 5 stars; if I think it has potential, but needs editing, I give it 4 stars. After I run through the entire collection, I delete anything that has no rating.

At this point, I've probably deleted about 80 percent of my photos, and I can take my time with what remains. Before I go any further, I'll add tags or keywords to the surviving photos so they're easier to find, and then try my hand at editing any photos that need help.

What's your process for weeding your photos after a day of shooting? Let me know in the Comments. I'd love to hear about your system.

Easy Printing for Digital Focus?

I like to print your weekly articles. When I use Internet Explorer's Print Preview, the right side of the text is chopped off rather than wrapping onto a new line. If you could do something to the formatting of the Web page to fix this, I would appreciate it.
--Bob Berger, Benson, Minnesota

Actually, Bob, there is a super-easy way to print an entire Digital Focus article with no muss or fuss. I get a lot of e-mail about this, so it's apparently not easy to discover--but once you know about it, you'll wonder how you could have missed it.

Look at the top of any Digital Focus article. You should see a row of sharing buttons--Facebook, Twitter, and so on. To the right of those, you will see links for comments, to send the article as an e-mail, and, last but not least, a link marked "print." Click it, and you'll get a printer-friendly version of the article.

How Do You Enter the Photo Contest?

I can't seem to find a way to enter.
--Ed Katrusik, San Antonio, Texas

Lots of administrative questions this week, apparently! If you read Digital Focus, you know that we run an ongoing photo contest, and I publish a winner and runner up every week. Not only do the winning photos appear in Digital Focus and in a monthly "Hot Pics" slide show, but you can browse all the previous winners in our Digital Focus Flickr group, as well.

But how do you enter? Just send your photo as an e-mail attachment to me at Make sure the photo is sized appropriately (no bigger than 800 by 600 pixels) and include a description that includes the title of your photo, a short description, and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name and postal address. You can find these instructions and more in every Digital Focus in the Hot Pic of the Week section, up next.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Fuzzy White Caterpillar," by Barbara Hunley, Austin, Texas

Barbara writes: "I was trimming a bush in my yard when I saw this white caterpillar clinging to a leaf. I took the shot with my Nikon D300 using a 90mm macro lens."

This week's runner up: "Red Anemone," by Amy Brigham, Topeka, Kansas

Amy says that she captured this photo in her yard.

To see last month's winners, visit our May Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Reader Questions on Thumbtack, Background Blur, and More" was originally published by PCWorld.

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