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Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 13:00

Over the last several years, several identifiable trends have developed in the world of food photography, including one towards dark, moody images, often with a rustic feel. These photographs call to mind the interplay of light and shadow in the paintings of the Old Masters, such as those by Vermeer and Rembrandt.

The style is often referred to “chiaroscuro” photography, a painting term borrowed from the art world. It means “light-dark” and refers to the contrast between the shadows and light in an image. The technique guides the viewer’s eye to a specific area in the frame and creates a dramatic mood. Mystic Light is another phrase used to describe this dark and moody style.

However, a dark style won’t necessarily suit every image. Sometimes a dark, shadowy approach is not appropriate to your subject. Developing strong food photography requires thinking about the purpose of your image. Your lighting, props, styling, and camera settings all work together in service of the story you are trying to convey.

For example, in the image above, I imagined someone sitting down at a farmhouse to eat a bowl of chilli on a cold winter’s day. I envisioned that the light was spilling in from a window onto my scene. This food story is one that I often use in my work, in one form or another, and chiaroscuro is the perfect style to bring it to life, as it arouses the emotions of the viewer.

So let’s take a closer look at how you can apply the chiaroscuro style to your food photography.

Dark Props and Backgrounds

The idea in dark food photography is to keep the background in shadow and draw the viewer’s attention to the main subject—what in food photography we call the “hero”. Therefore, a selection of dark or muted props, surfaces, and backgrounds is vital. White or light dishes and props will draw the eye away from the food and create too much contrast, which is distracting and can also be difficult to expose correctly.

When sourcing props, look for vintage utensils with a patina, which will not reflect the light as much as new ones. Matte dishes will also be less reflective, and are best in darker, neutral tones. Reflections can be hard to manage and cause a lot of problems in food photography.

Some good places to look for these items are thrift shops and vintage or flea markets, where you can find them for a fraction of the price you would pay for them new. Many food photographers use old, mottled cookie sheets in their work, which create a stunning surface or background, which subtly reflects the light without being to bright.

Wood is also a great material to utilize, both in the background and as props. It is easy to work with and lends a rustic feel. You can use weathered items such as an old cabinet door or tabletop. Ensure that whichever wood you use isn’t too warm toned. It will look quite orange in the final images and therefore unflattering to the food. A deep espresso color always looks great.

Food Styling

You will most often find the dark food photography style in editorial as opposed to advertising work. Advertising photography is meant to look perfect, with highly stylized food. Anyone who has ever seen a fast food burger ad and compared it to a real burger knows what I’m talking about.

But editorial food photography, such as that found in cookbooks and foodie magazines, has a looser, more candid style. The food is often perfectly imperfect, with scattered crumbs or artfully placed smears and drips, as if it has been freshly prepared or someone has just begun to tuck in.

This is not to say there is no deliberate effort in the styling because there is. The line between rustic and real and downright sloppy is a fine one. It takes a practiced hand to make food styling look casual and random.

In the image of carrot ginger soup above, I gently swirled cream on the surface and carefully placed the croutons off-center to create a focal point. I garnished it with pepper and thyme leaves, which I also scattered on my surface with a thought to the composition.

In reality, one’s dinner table would hardly look like this, but for the purposes of food photography, such extra touches give an honest, storytelling quality and enhance the main subject, which in this case is the soup.

When approaching styling, think about the ingredients used in the recipe you are shooting. Ask yourself how you can incorporate some of them into your image in a way that makes sense and complements your hero.

Carving the Light

When producing darker images, it is imperative to carve and shape the light to bring attention to your main subject. You will need to determine how you want to light your image and where you want the shadows to fall. For moody images, I often use side and backlighting. My light placement is at about 10:00 if I am imagining the face of an analog clock as my set.

It’s best to use indirect lighting so no lights pointing directly at the set or food. In the case of natural light, placing the surface at an angle to the window.

Use small black reflector cards, like black cardboard or poster board cut into squares, to kick in shadows where you want them, and place them around your set depending on where you want to cut down the light. Alternatively, you can roll up pieces of black poster board and staple the ends together; these rolls can stand on their own and do not need to be propped up against anything.

In the images above, I wanted the mushrooms to be bright and catch some of the light, especially as the look was monochromatic, yet I wanted shadows to fall on the plate. I used side backlighting and a black card from the front, angled into my scene to create shadows in the front and absorb some of the light that was coming directly into my scene.

You will have to play around with different sizes and placements of the reflector cards to get the shadows where they work with your story.


Typically, with chiaroscuro food photography, you want to slightly underexpose the image in the camera. Chiaroscuro can have very bright treatment of food with very deep shadows, or the image can be low key with not a lot of contrast. Whichever approach you choose, the main subjects should be placed in the brightest part of the frame, which attracts the eye first. Make sure the highlights are not blown out and the shadows are not too black with no detail.

It is best to work with a tripod, especially if you are shooting in natural light in less than ideal conditions. Instead of boosting the ISO and risking a high amount of noise, you can increase the exposure time when using a tripod. As long as you have some light, a long exposure allows you to take a properly exposed picture.

Using the timer or a remote shutter trigger will prevent camera shake and an image that is less than sharp. The focus should be on the main subject, however, the image needs to be exposed for the concept, mood, and story.


The right post-processing for dark food photography will really make your image pop.

Using the luminance sliders in Lightroom or Camera RAW to brighten colors individually. Use global and local adjustments to bring out the best in the food, instead of bumping up the exposure in the whole image, which can cause your shadows to fall flat.

And remember, warm colors bring elements forward, whereas cool colors recede. The best food photography has a balance of both, as it gives a three-dimensional feel to your image. With chiaroscuro food photography, white balance and tint can be used creatively, since you are not using white dishes and backgrounds. Split-toning can also be used to great effect, as long as it is done with subtlety.

Finally, no matter how you carve the light, a bit of a vignette adds a bit more mystery. It also prevents the eye from wandering out of the frame by bringing you back to the brightest part of the image — the food.


So there you have it, my top tips for making dark and moody food photography images!

I’d love to hear if you’ve had a chance to experiment with this approach to food photography. What were your struggles? Please share your experience and images in the comments below.

The post Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography by Darina Kopcok appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 10:00

Now that we’ve poked around ACD System’s most capable software – having worked out a decent Photo Studio Ultimate workflow, as well as ways to make migration as easy as it can be – I think it may be time to actually use it.

After all, photography is the whole point, right? And, as much as we may sometimes dislike this fact, post-processing is very much part of it. So, this time, no ratings, no color labels, keywords, or metadata. No presets, either. In fact, we’ll only be touching on a small part of the Photo Studio package. Mainly the Develop mode, or however much of it we might need for a black and white portrait of an immensely charming lady. This is refreshing.

An important disclaimer: As has been stated on numerous occasions (so many times, in fact, that you may have learned this paragraph by heart) the license for this copy of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate has been provided by ACD Systems. Having said that, the article has not been dictated by the company in the slightest, not even the task itself. My words are always my own, so take that for what it’s worth.

About the Portrait

The curious and geeky among you may wonder about the context behind this unusually-composed photograph, and I will gladly satisfy said curiosity and geekiness. The lady’s name is Ona (or Anna, if you will). She is a 94-year-old ex-partisan and exile survivor from my hometown, known better here by her codename, Acacia. Along with that, she is an immensely lovely old woman with a brilliantly sharp mind and memory.

I find her beautiful, most of all because, after being betrayed by her loved one, stabbed, shot, imprisoned and tortured, there is little bitterness to be found in her words. This portrait was taken as we met for the second time when I took her on a promised trip to a nearby forest.

The best part of this process we call taking portraits is everything that happens before the click and after the camera is cozy in its bag again. This is the part to savor, not the visual proof, the byproduct of simple human interaction. Whether you like the given portrait or find it exceedingly average, the experience is beyond all that. It was a lovely evening, and lovely company to be in.

The data

Unlike a different portrait of Acacia keen-eyed readers may have noticed in one of my previous articles, this one’s not an already-perfectly-black-and-white Ilford HP5 Plus negative. Instead, it’s a Fujifilm X-Pro2 RAW file, taken with the XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens, then converted to DNG. And, upon close examination, this is a lovely, natural-looking image. ACDSee Photo Studio is handling it very well.

But none of it matters. Not the camera, or the lens, or the aperture (f/2) and ISO (that’s at base 200). Not the image sensor, the size of it, or the resolution. Before we even start talking about tones and their curves, here’s a secret about portraits, whether black and white or of gentle color – it’s about the light. Really, if there was one thing for you to take from this article, repeat after me— it is all about the light.

Even when it’s as unassuming, as undramatic and soft as it was on that warm May evening, this is where you start your post-processing. Beforehand. It’s the crucial first step.

Get the light right, and you’ll have the most fun, and the simplest time at the computer bringing about the final touches. Photo Studio will help you here and make the task easy. Get the light wrong, and no effects, no HDRs, clarity sliders, and dynamic ranges will save the image.

With the romantic bit out of the way, let’s get to it.

Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Bump the Contrast to high. Using the Tone Curves, deepen the shadows further, and bring out the highlights until they are almost white. Use the Sharpness slider liberally to emphasize the wrinkles. Something missing? Finish up with a dash of vignetting. Skin as bright as the sky, shadows as deep as … something else vaguely poetic. All the experience reflecting in the now-shocking creases on her face.

This is everything we are not going to do.

Not to say that there is something wrong with high-contrast black and white photography, but thinking every portrait of an older person needs to be accompanied by a healthy (read – senseless) dose of clarity/contrast is a cliché I will gladly call out. Acacia is soft in her expression. The light is soft. Her feather-light hair is soft. Let’s keep it that way. Let’s not bring drama where there is only calm. Let’s not try to change what seems to come naturally from all this softness. Let’s, instead, start with color.

Strange as it may sound, converting a digital image file to black and white means working with color. In fact, from a certain point, it’s almost no different than working with a color image. Especially when post-processing with portraits, understanding skin tones and what colors lie there is extremely important (a lot of red), because that, along with the light, will dictate a large part of the adjustments to be made. And, as ever is the case when working with color…

1. White Balance

Setting the White Balance (to taste) is mandatory, and is the natural first step. Now, Fujifilm is usually so very, very accurate when it comes to color temperature. It doesn’t really do the “warm glow” thing and sticks to a more neutral tone overall. Some might even call it cool (in both a color temperature and the “it rocks” sense of the word)

My White Balance adjustment is subtle and verging on unnecessary. A bump of just around 500 degrees towards the warm side (from 5000K to 5500K). I may come back to this setting at some point, but before diving into gray tones, I tend to give myself a technically good starting point, a decently-exposed, decently-toned image. This small adjustment seems to have done the trick for now.

Speaking of technical things, I also tend to fix any visibly-irritating distortion, vignetting, and image straightness at the very start, when necessary.

NOTE: Jumping ahead a bit, I will show you what I mean about white balance and black and white photography. Notice how adjusting this one setting that is seemingly unrelated to black and white conversion (from around 2450K degrees to our chosen 5500K) changes the overall look of the image.

The impact of warmer or cooler color introduced with WB adjustment depends on how dark/light and prevalent certain color ranges are. As you tweak Tone Curves and lightness/darkness of individual color ranges using Color EQ/Advanced Black & White tools, the effect of the WB adjustment will become more noticeable. But it’s a complex process and quite difficult to accurately predict.

2. Convert to Black and White

There are three ways to do black and white conversions with ACDSee Photo Studio Develop mode.

The first one involves adjusting the Saturation slider (General tab) to -100. The second involves desaturating each individual color range using the Color EQ tool. Obviously, neither way is particularly practical. Unsurprisingly, the third option proves to make the most sense – simply change the Treatment setting from Color to Black & White at the very top of the General tab, above the Exposure slider.

All three options render the exact same initial conversion, so using the most convenient (and most easily reversed) method is, well – you get the idea. Using the Treatment method will disable the Saturation adjustment slider and replace the Color EQ tool with the Advanced Black & White tool.

Change the Treatment setting from Color to Black & White on the General tab.

3. Overall Contrast

I have likely noticed that the initial conversion is fairly low-contrast. For me, that’s good. I like to start off with a flat look and work from there (and I already love how soft and beautifully toned the hair is). For the general contrast of the image, I tend to use the Tone Curves. The contrast slider is fine for adjusting general contrast by just a smidge but is too imprecise when a more pronounced or more controlled adjustment is needed.

Tone Curves is an exceedingly powerful tool, of course, and I keep coming back to it again and again during post-processing, just to make tiny adjustments. When using the Tone Curve, I don’t pay too much attention to areas that I know are of mostly one specific color, like trees and grass. Even if these areas are a little off, I’ll be adjusting them later on using the color tools.

What matters to me is the general look, the shadows, and the highlights. Here, a mild adjustment of the shadows is enough.

Before Tone Curves

After Tone Curves has been tweaked.

To keep the image subtle and calm, I’ve left the highlights as they were and only really pulled the shadows down a touch. Nothing too drastic, just enough to emphasize that soft light. Note how the bright tones of Acacia’s face and hair remain almost identical, but the deeper shadows have corrected the sense of flatness to a degree.

We are not quite done yet, but this is now closer to what I envisioned.

4. Back to Color

I think it’s possible to do a decent black and white conversion using just the Tone Curves, or alternatively just the color adjustments. At least if the first step is done well – remember my point about the light? But, when used together, these tools work at their best.

Switching to the Luminance tab of the Color EQ tool allows us to adjust the brightness of each individual color channel. In other words, I can adjust how dark or bright my reds, blues, greens, and other colors, each separately. This means two things; you have a very high degree of control, and also unlimited ways to mess something up. I’d say we should avoid the latter.

My issue with this image lies mostly in the grassy area. You see, there are at least two things that I can do to emphasize Acacia’s face. I can go down the “clarity and contrast everything” route and just keep working those Tone Curves further. Alternatively, (this is clearly my preferred choice) I can de-emphasize the area that surrounds the main visual element, to make her stand out a bit more.

In other words, I’ll just pull down the grass tones to make them slightly darker using the Advanced Black & White adjustments. As I’ve mentioned before, this tool allows control over the luminance of individual color ranges. The Advanced Black & White tab allows grab-and-pull action on the image itself if you’re ever unsure what colors are in that area. In this particular case, I know it’s mostly green and yellow.

Again, this is a subtle adjustment, but it has helped make Acacia’s face stand out more. As ever, there’s plenty of room to push further. But, knowing I’d be making some more adjustments afterward, I didn’t. Keep in mind I’m doing this all to personal taste.

One might proceed to adjust the tonality of skin, for example. But I’ve found it to be to my liking already, so why tweak something just for the sake of it? And if you’re curious about the Purple and Magenta colors, that’s for the hair and sweater. We are now nearly done!

5. Final Critical Touches

The last adjustments (not counting any going back and forth with the tools that have already been used) are made using the Light EQ tool. What this tool does is give you precise control over shadows and highlights, the same way Color EQ/Advanced Black & White allows precise control over colors.

Light EQ is actually not that different from Tone Curves but can be a little easier to use and it doesn’t seem like such a global adjustment. I use it when I only need to make small changes like save a highlight here and there, or bring out a shadow or two. A subtler operation is easier with Light EQ than with Tone Curves.

My goal here was to make sure all the shadows and highlights of Acacia’s face were in order and not too harsh. But because I knew I’d be printing this on a fairly textured paper (PermaJet Portfolio Rag), I also knew I had to bring it all up a notch.

Notice how the last step, the Light EQ tool, is also perhaps the most prominent. I could have done pretty much the same with the Tone Curves, but Light EQ has made it easier. I also find the Standard mode the most user-friendly, while still offering plenty of control.

After setting the Tone Bands to 9 from the default 5, I could make the adjustments with enough precision. The image is nowhere near as flat as it was when we started off, but the fundamentals are very much the same.

6. Final Less Critical Touches

Once the overall look of the portraits is as I envisioned, it’s time to take care of the little things, like sharpness, noise reduction, and such.

That’s It!

Over the years, I’ve found that when it comes to photography the less you tweak the better. The simpler tools you use, the more you learn to focus on the image itself rather than effects and wow-factors. I believe this article is a supporting example of such a point of view and I hope you’ve picked up some tips for black and white conversion using ACDSee’s Photo Studio Ultimate.

Disclaimer: ACD Systems is a paid partner of dPS

The post How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate by Romanas Naryškin appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Take Unique Crystal Ball Portraits

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 08:00

The search is always on to try something new in photography. That process is often about taking a technique and applying it in a new way. A crystal ball is a great addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. In this article, you’ll see why this is also true for portrait photographers.

You’ll learn to take the perfect crystal ball portrait. There are some special characteristics of refraction photography to consider. You will learn the technical side of refraction photography, and how to use this for your portraits.

In this photo, the model is seated, with her legs near her body. This made it easier to “eclipse” her behind the ball.

What is refraction photography?

Refractions is an effect that is produced when the light is bent upon passing through an object of denser mass. In the case of a crystal ball, this has the effect of inverting the background image inside the ball. This can be great to use for photography, as the ball becomes an external optic for your camera. You can read more about refraction photography in one of my previous articles.

This effect is mostly used for photographing landscapes, as it creates a super wide-angle scene within the glass ball. However, there are occasions you’d use a wide angle lens for portrait work, and the same is true with the crystal ball.

As with all crystal ball photos, try to ensure your subject is well lit, this will enhance the image coming through the ball. If you try to use strobes for this you need to position yourself carefully, the ball will pick up the light from the flash as a reflection very easily. The best advice I can offer is to position the strobes in a parallel line with the glass ball.

In this, photo the model is silhouetted against the dawn sky. The distance from the model to the crystal ball is quite far, so the person appears small in the ball.

How to create your crystal ball portrait

Now you know what refraction photography is and how to do it, the next step is to apply this to a portrait.

There are three main types of crystal ball portraits you can make, each uses the ball in a slightly different way. The three types of photo are shooting close to the ball, photographing the ball in the scene, and using the ball as a prop. Let’s take a look at each one.

1 – Fill the frame with the crystal ball

This composition type has the crystal ball fill the entire frame, or become the dominant part of the frame. In this photo, your model will be the main subject inside the glass ball, which means they’ll need to be quite close to the ball itself. To succeed with this type of photo look at the following points, and apply them to your portraits.

You can avoid distortion by placing the model in the center of the ball.

Center the model
  • The model needs to be in the center of the ball so that you avoid ugly distortion of the face on the edges of the ball. To do this consider the following steps.
  • Don’t have your model standing up strait, a sitting position where there body is more compressed will fit better inside the ball.
  • Take the portrait from the chest up, and center the composition on the eyes.
Compress your scene

Use a long focal length to hide the model behind the glass ball, essentially eclipsing the model. The larger the glass ball the easier this will be.

Position the ball

The ball should be level, or a little higher than the model. This will avoid distortions on the edge of the ball, and by having the ball higher than the model, it will focus the viewer’s eye more on the face.

Avoid bad bokeh

The background in a crystal ball photograph can make or break your image. With your model close to the ball, the background is likely to contain some bokeh. Use an appropriate aperture to blur them out, or consider using post-processing to remove them.

You can enhance your crystal ball portrait by using good light on the model.

A photo of this type is best achieved with a macro lens, or a long telephoto lens. Both these lenses will allow you to fill the frame with the crystal ball, and then it’s simply about avoiding a bad background.

2 – Use the crystal ball as part of the overall picture

The next option for incorporating the crystal ball into your portrait shoot is to include much more of the background, and make the ball a smaller part of the frame. In this type of photo the focus will be on the ball, but the background bokeh will be equally important in telling the story.

Use the bokeh in the image to create your crystal ball portrait.

  • The ball is smaller – The ball will be more of an accent within the overall frame. It’s likely the ball will be placed on the ground, or perhaps on a wall and will take up between 10-25% of the frame.
  • The background will be bolder – The shape of your model is important, so have them strike an interesting pose. As the focus is on the ball, the focus on the model will be soft.
  • Use the correct aperture – Adjust the aperture to a suitable level, so defined shapes can be seen in the background. The background should be neither to blurred nor too sharp. An aperture of around f/4 is a good place to start.
  • Wider focal length – Now that you are including a large amount of the background a wider lens will be needed to achieve this.
3 – Use it as a prop in your crystal ball portrait

You can also use the ball in the more traditional way, as a prop for your model. In this type of crystal ball portrait your model will be directly interacting with the ball. This will mean that the refraction effect inside the ball may or may not be seen, depending on the way you arrange your photo.

Have your model hold the ball, and interact with it.

  • Tell the story – As a prop, the ball will be a focal point for your photo. You can use the crystal ball to show tropes like fortunetelling and magic. Use these ideas when composing your photo.
  • Do you refract? –  When using the ball as a prop you don’t have to show it producing refraction; however, it will add more interest if you do so.
  • Using strobes – A glass ball is a very reflective surface. When using strobes you need to decide if you want your strobe light reflecting on the surface of the ball. Moving your strobe to a side light position will eliminate most of the reflection on the ball, so this is a solution.

Using more than one ball gives you more storytelling potential.

Go out and create your magical crystal ball portrait!

Have you ever tried using a crystal ball in portrait work? Let’s see your results if you have. What difficulties did you encounter when you tried this style?

If you bought the ball primarily for landscape photography, how about trying your hand at a portrait?  Give it a go and let us know how it turns out.

The ball can help you make some unusual portraits.

Experiment with your crystal ball portrait, how about using other techniques like light painting?

When your model looks into a crystal ball, there is a story to that photo.

The post How to Take Unique Crystal Ball Portraits by Simon Bond appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Using Layers and Foreground Interest for Better Landscape Photography

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 13:00

Have you ever been travelling, come upon a breathtaking vista, and taken a photograph only to find your representation to be a poor record of the view you remember? Welcome to the wonderful world of landscape photography! Capturing that breathtaking view in a photograph is not quite as easy as it looks.

Luckily, with a few simple strategies, you can significantly improve chances of getting better images. Read on and follow these tips for using layers and foreground to take your photos to the next level.

Do your images capture what you saw?

As is the case with any type of photography, great subjects (people or places) always help make better photographs. However, just because a vista is spectacular or the light is gorgeous does not guarantee that your photographs will turn out that way.

Why? What is going on?

The problem

Basically, the problem lies in creating composition from the vistas as they are presented. Many tourist views are interesting because of scale or the unusual nature of the location. To make a good image you need to create interest and capture that sense of scale. As you travel through scenic areas around the world, those locations that are the easiest to access don’t necessarily make the best landscape photographs. Being high or adjacent to the road may create a great viewpoint but it often doesn’t lend itself to a great two-dimensional representation (photography) of a three-dimensional object (the world and the view in front of you).

Going one step further, many beginners will look at landscape images from other photographers and instinctively like some and not others. They will often have difficulty articulating why they prefer one image over another. Understanding composition and layering will help you make more interesting images and get a better appreciation of why you enjoy certain landscape photographs.

The solutions

The best way to understand these concepts is to break your image down into a few simple pieces when approaching a scene you want to photograph, and then put them all together in the final photograph. Let’s start with scene scouting and composition before you worry about your camera settings.

Choose your subject

As part of your location scouting, before you set up to take an image, take some time to think about what you are looking at before you are ready take your camera out of the bag. Decide on the subject matter you are interested in making into a photograph. Figure out what part of it you found interesting – it could be something close, like a lake, or something far away, like a mountain.

Shoot when the light is best

Next, try to make sure you are taking the image when the sun is low in the sky. This is not always an option when you are travelling and it is raining or you only have time during the middle of the day. The wrong time of day (i.e. midday) will significantly limit the impact of your photographs. It is almost always essential to shoot landscape images during golden hour (right after sunrise or just before sunset).

The only exceptions are when the sky is overcast or if you are in the mountains. If the sky is overcast it will extend your shooting time but simultaneously makes getting good images harder because the sky is not interesting.

When you are in a mountain range, the mountains are often big enough to interfere with the lighting on your subject as shadows from mountains will get in the way. This means you have to shoot later in the day. In general, shooting during the golden hour will create interesting shadows and great quality of light.

Think in terms of layers

Once you have your subject selected and have picked an appropriate time of day, the next step is to think about layers. Add an object(s) of interest in front of your subject, and include it in the composition of your image. This will often mean using your feet to get into a better position.

What is meant by layering composition or objects of interest?

Good landscape photos have layers or objects in the foreground (close to you), middle ground (medium distance from the camera), and background (farthest away). This will help prevent your images from looking flat. These layers form elements that draw the viewer’s eyes and create depth in your photo.

It’s even better if the foreground leads into the background (maybe a river or a line of trees). Some objects, like people, can create a sense of scale. This is particularly important when you are looking at large vistas. For example, a massive cliff will provide no sense of scale without someone or something of a recognizable size in the field of view.

What makes a good foreground layer?

What kinds of things can you use to create these layered elements? For the background, distant mountains or hills can do the track. For the middle layer, look for tree lines, intermediate distance hills, clusters of objects, rivers, or lakes. If you have open water such as a lake in the foreground, lowering your perspective, may allow you to see a reflection of your subject that can create additional interest.

Finally, for the front layer, any isolated object in the foreground can function for this purpose. It could be a rock, a cluster of grass, or even a person. The object in the foreground creates weight and balances the image. These should all be placed in the field of view to divide up your image and create interest. You get extra credit for atmospheric effects like fog, mist or haze. Remember you can introduce a subject in the foreground, or get lower to the ground to make something small look bigger.

Get ready to shoot

Okay, now that you have scouted your subject, planned your layers, and have positioned yourself you can grab your camera. Choose a lens that gives an appropriate field of view, remembering that really wide angle lenses don’t necessarily work for distant objects in landscapes because they tend to make them appear very small.

Compose your image well

With your camera and lens selection in hand, you need to compose the image in your frame. It is easiest to remember and implement the Rule of Thirds with layers at the thirds. Most modern cameras can be configured to have a grid with lines that divide the screen into nine squares (two horizontal lines and two vertical lines). Where these lines intersect is where you should put the objects(s) of interest, or the layers.

For example, placing the horizon on one of these lines is great. Having the sunrise positioned on one of the intersections of the lines is even better. If the sky is really interesting, put the horizon on the bottom third so the sky fills the top two thirds. If the ground is the most interesting, position the sky so that it is only the top third.

Remember you can also shoot landscapes in portrait orientation if that helps the composition. Some people don’t want to follow things like the rule of thirds, but until your photographs are regularly turning out as you want them, it is a good general approach.

Camera settings

In general, for each type of landscape there will be preferred camera settings that will make your photographs really pop. Don’t set your camera at its widest aperture for landscape photographs. You want to try to get as much of the subject of interest in focus. Using a smaller aperture will help, but don’t go too far or you will start introducing diffraction effects.

Use the hyperfocal distance of your aperture to your advantage and make sure you are focusing on an element in the middle ground. This will get all of your background in focus and much of your foreground too, especially if you are using a f-stop in the range of f/8 – f/11.

Finally, you should almost always use a tripod for landscape photography. This type of photography demands tack sharp images: achieve this by using a tripod.


Once you get used to this as an approach to your imagery, it will help you create better images and understand why you like some landscape images more than others.

Please share any additional tips you have for adding layers to your landscape photos in the comments below. Share your landscape images as well, we’d love to see them.

The post Using Layers and Foreground Interest for Better Landscape Photography by Mark C Hughes appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Tenba BYOB Camera Insert

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 08:00

Is the perfect camera bag still eluding you? If so, Tenba has a great DIY option worth checking out. Dubbed the Tenba BYOB Camera Insert, it invites you to actually Bring Your Own Bag while still protecting your camera gear. Here’s more about what fits in the insert, plus pros and cons about using it as your new camera bag.

What is it?

The Tenba BYOB Camera Insert is a padded shell meant to carry and protect camera gear while being carried inside another non-camera bag. It consists of a soft yet durable outer shell that easily molds to fit the shape of other bags, such as suitcases, handbags, and backpacks. Unzip the insert and you’ll find padded interior dividers that can easily be configured to hold gear of all shapes and sizes.

On the outside, there’s a handle for carrying the insert as-is if desired. Or you can purchase the BYOB Packlite Bundle, which includes a BYOB Camera Insert and an easily storable Packlite bag. The optional bag is rather thin, yet very durable and easily expands to hold the Camera Insert, or compresses to a size that will fit in your pocket.

There’s a range of sizes available for the BYOB Camera Insert, with the smallest being the BYOB 7 (best for inserting into a purse or handbag). The largest is the BYOB 13, which is big enough to hold a DSLR with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached, plus 2-3 additional lenses. In this case, I’m testing out the BYOB 10 with the Packlite bag included.

The Good Solid Build

Even though Tenba doesn’t really refer to the BYOB Camera Insert as a camera bag, it really can function as one. This insert is very well built and feels very solid and durable. Pockets line the exterior of this bag, with two flexible mesh accessory pockets on the ends. There’s even a solid top handle to help with removing the Camera Insert from another bag or to carry the Camera Insert on its own.

Lots of Space

I used the BYOB 10, which was advertised to carry a “DSLR or Mirrorless Camera with 2-4 lenses.” At first glance, it looked like a large DSLR, such as my Canon 5D Mark III, would be a challenge since the BYOB appears very slim and narrow. It turns out that the BYOB has quite a bit of depth, allowing it to carry its suggested load, and then some. I appreciated the inclusion of flexible padded dividers that made it easy to pad stacked lenses to take full advantage of available space.

With the Tenba BYOB 10, I was able to pack the following camera kits. In the case of the Canon kits, it was definitely a tight fit, but the zipper did close all the way in both cases. For the Sony kit, I still had room to spare.

Canon Kit #1 (tight fit)
  • Canon 6D (with camera body cap, no lens attached)
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8

Canon Kit #2 (tight fit)
  • Canon 5D Mark III (with camera body cap, no lens attached)
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
  • Canon 580 EXII Speedlight
Sony Kit (with room to spare)
  • Sony a6300 with 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 attached
  • Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
  • Sony 20mm f/2.8
  • Rokinon 12mm f/2
  • Small bag of spare batteries

Truly Flexible Bag Options

The Tenba BYOB is efficient at packing and protecting your gear while also maintaining a slim profile. This makes the camera insert truly flexible, as it snugly fits into a wide variety of bags. I appreciated this for several reasons.

First, it was nice to not be restricted to having to carry a typical camera bag. I could literally choose ANY large bag I had and convert it into a camera bag. This is especially handy if you want to fly under the radar with a bag that is not so obviously a camera bag.

Second, the BYOB addresses the constant problem of being limited by the amount of baggage you can typically take with you when traveling. Usually, the two-bag carry-on restriction for airline travel means that at least one bag needs to be your camera bag. With the BYOB Camera Insert, you can easily turn your dedicated camera bag into a more multi-purpose bag that can hold additional items.

What the BYOB 10 Fits into

The list of what bags you can stuff the BYOB Camera Insert into will vary based on the specific size of your bag. During my tests, I was able to stick my BYOB 10 into the following bags, each with room to spare:

  • ThinkTank Airport Takeoff Rolling Camera Bag
  • InCase DSLR Pro Pack
  • Clark and Mayfield Stafford Leather Laptop Tote Bag
  • A medium-sized women’s handbag
  • A Poler drawstring backpack
What Could Be Improved

All in all, the BYOB Camera Insert is a very simple concept that is executed well. Thus, it’s hard to find too many points for improvement.

The one thing I’d say is that the optional Packlite bag could use some improvements in terms of aesthetics. It is made of a thin water-resistant fabric that packs down to an incredibly small size, but at the cost of the bag appearing very wrinkled when unfolded. As a result, this Packlite bag is great to use if you really need it, but it won’t earn you many compliments.

Over to You

What do you think of Tenba’s BYOB concept? Would you try it out for yourself, or do you have another camera bag that you’re dedicated to? Let us know in the comments below.

The post Review of the Tenba BYOB Camera Insert by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Photograph Light Trails from the Back Seat of a Car

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 13:00

Photographic light trails are a beautiful effect. You’ve no doubt encountered them before. Photographers perch over a vantage point and trace the trajectory of cars navigating an urban landscape using a slow shutter speed. The result renders a fluid trail tracing around the environment in a variety of shapes and colors.

Think of this project as a new take car light trails. We’ll still be recording passing light sources – but we’ll be capturing them from inside of the car instead. The result is just as striking inside as it is outside. You might have an old car or a fresh new one – it doesn’t matter! You get an impressive effect regardless.


First, a little caveat. Safety is the priority here. As we are going to shoot from the back seat of the car, you will need a pal as the driver. Do not try and take photos while driving – it can only end badly. Having a buddy as a driver will allow you to concentrate on what you are doing while the driver can focus on driving. It’s strictly a team effort.

Another safety point, try not to obscure the rear-view mirror. Hunch down a little to save the obstructing the driver’s view. For the best effect, photographing at night is ideal – so be extra aware of the limited visibility.


What you need to do this:

  • Camera
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • A friend
  • A car
Setting up

It can be a rough ride trying to get everything set up in a moving car, so set up before hitting the road. First, clean the glass. Give your windshield and windows a good clean to avoid spending countless hours cloning out unfortunate bugs in post-production. Next, set up your tripod in the car. You’ll have to do some adjusting to get the camera level with the windshield.

Just keep in mind, the tripod just adds extra stability. It’s impossible to take a sharp slow shutter speed image while driving along in a fast car. But the tripod is far more stable than photographing by hand. I use a Manfrotto tripod because it’s nice and heavy to keep things a little steadier.

Sit the tripod so two legs rest against the front seats, with your camera peeking through the gap between the headrests. Be sure your camera is securely attached before heading out. You don’t want a camera bouncing around in a moving car.


Once you are packed and ready,  it’s time to set off. Take a few test shots on your camera. As I mentioned before, this project works best at night, otherwise, you won’t get much of a result at all – just blown out exposures. In addition, the variety of lights will be much more apparent at night, with a good mix of color and shape.

Next, try to familiarize yourself with the car’s handling so you can expect certain lumps or bumps and the car’s response. I’m not saying you have to become a car-psychic, but higher cars behave differently from one to another. The interior of a car also has an impact on how your photographs will turn out. You may have to incorporate a dashboard or interior lighting too. I chose to keep the dashboard lighting in my images to maintain the process of the photograph.

The next step is all experimentation! You’ll get an endlessly diverse result with every exposure. I recommend setting your camera to ISO 100 so you can use shutter speeds between 10 and 30 seconds. If you have a shutter release, give the B (Bulb) setting a try too. Just take a few moments to find a comfortable position. You can keep your tripod a little steadier if you brace yourself against the legs of the tripod and the front seat.

In this image, the driver is making a turn which creates the horizontal lighting effect.

You can choose to include your friend in the review mirror. Just make sure you warn them in advance and don’t obstruct their visibility for too long.

You can tell how rough this section of road was due to to the jagged lights. You can also see the illuminated settings on the dashboard. I felt that including them adds to the final image and the process leading up to each photograph.

By swiveling the camera to focus on a different area of the car you can record light sources from two angles of the frame.

On a rainy night, the windshield gets a little fogged, diffusing the lights at this interchange.

By unfocusing your camera, you can create some colorfully abstract patterns and bokeh.


Photographing light trails inside the car is a quick and easy way to capture a unique perspective. We know the world outside the windshield is a wonderful one, but sometimes it takes an abstract project like this one to truly bring it alive. While I’ll admit it ain’t Top Gear, it does have some pretty amazing results.  I would love to see some of your results below!

The post How to Photograph Light Trails from the Back Seat of a Car by Megan Kennedy appeared first on Digital Photography School.

4 Tips For Better Black and White Photos In Lightroom

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 08:17

Some photographers use Photoshop for converting photos to black and white, others use plugins. But what you might not know is that you can create beautiful black and white images with Lightroom. The benefit of keeping your workflow within Lightroom is that it saves you a lot of hard drive space (as the only way to send a full-quality photo file to a plugin or to Photoshop is to convert it to a 16 bit TIFF).

The tips in this article will help you create beautiful black and white photos in Lightroom without Photoshop or an extra plugin!

1. Shoot Raw

The first tip is quick and simple. You need to use the Raw format to make the most out of your camera and for Lightroom to get the best out of your photo files. JPEG files have already been developed and compressed by the camera and don’t contain the information that Lightroom needs to make a good black and white conversion.

2. Learn to use the B&W tab

The B&W tab is part of the HSL / Color / B&W panel. When you click on the B&W tab, Lightroom converts your photo to black and white. At the same time, it automatically adjusts the Black & White Mix sliders (see below) to the settings it thinks will give you the best black and white conversion.

As this is an automated process, it is quite likely that you’d like to take control and override the settings. But first, you need to know what the Black & White Mix sliders actually do. They work very simply and make the tones in your photo lighter or darker according to the underlying color.

The easiest way to explain this is with examples. The color photo below has a deep blue sky which would look great in black in white.

When you click on the B&W tab Lightroom carries out an automatic conversion. This is what the photo looks like.

And these are the Black & White Mix sliders as set by Lightroom.

Tweak it a bit

The conversion looks good, but you can take control by moving the sliders yourself to see what happens. In this example, you could move the Blue slider left to make the sky darker, which would make the conversion even more dramatic. Or you could move it right to make the sky lighter and give a softer, more subtle conversion. It’s up to you.

You can see the difference when I move the Blue slider more to the left.


Here the blue sider is at -30.

Or move it to the right and the sky gets lighter: Blue + 25

Skin tones

The next example shows how the Orange slider makes a big difference to Caucasian skin tones. Here’s a portrait converted to black and white in Lightroom, with the Black & White Mix settings as chosen automatically by Lightroom.

This is what happens when you move the Orange slider. To the left makes skin darker – to the right makes it lighter.

Orange at -31. It makes the model’s skin darker and brings out its texture. If that is not desired – move the Orange slider to the right. 

Orange at 0.

Orange at +20

Experiment with the B&W Mix sliders to see the effect they have on your photos. Keep these points in mind as you do so:

  • The sliders always affect the underlying colors in the photo. If it helps to see the colors in your photo so you can understand which tones are affected by which sliders, click on the Color tab in the HSL / Color / B&W panel. Click the B&W tab again to return to black and white and your settings will not be lost.
  • The B&W panel is for subtle adjustments. If you move the sliders too far you’ll get strange effects like pixelation. Try not to go past +35 or -35.
  • If there are people in your photos pay attention to skin tones when adjusting the Red, Orange, or Yellow sliders. Zoom into 100% to double check your adjustments haven’t done anything odd to their skin tones.
3. Apply Clarity wisely

Clarity is a powerful adjustment that increases contrast, emphasizes texture, and adds punch to your black and white photos. But it needs to be used wisely in order to avoid an overcooked look. If you are new to Lightroom this can be hard to judge at first, but a good rule of thumb is to always add a little less Clarity than you think you need.

Another tip is that Clarity may be more effective when it’s applied locally. A good example of this is a photo taken with a prime lens at a wide aperture, with the subject in sharp focus and a blurred background. In this situation, it’s best to apply Clarity to the sharp areas using a local adjustment.

Let’s look at some examples. In the first, the entire scene is sharp. You can apply Clarity globally (using the slider in the Basic panel) to photos like these. Here, I set Clarity to +80 to emphasize the texture of the metal.

In the second, I applied Clarity only to the cow’s head, but not to the blurred part of the photo, using the Adjustment Brush.

This screenshot shows the mask created by the Adjustment Brush.

4. Learn from Lightroom develop presets

Follow the tips in this article and you’ll have a good foundation for working in black and white in Lightroom. Now it’s time to get even more creative. There are lots of techniques you can use, from Tone Curve adjustments to Split Toning and manipulating contrast.

One of the best ways to learn these techniques is to download Develop Presets made by other photographers. These are helpful if you are new to black and white photography by giving you a quick and easy way to convert your photos to black and white without paying too much attention to the details.

But you can also learn a great deal from those presets by analyzing the settings used. Go into all the Develop module panels and see what the photographer has done. For example, I developed the photo below using a preset.

One of its characteristics is that there are no true black tones in the photo. This is confirmed by the gap on the left side of the histogram.

How has this been achieved? The answer is in the Tone Curve panel. The creator of the preset lifted the left-side of the Tone Curve up, which gives the effect seen in the photo.


Lightroom is a powerful tool for black and white conversions and you’ll be amazed at what it can do when you learn how to use it properly. The tips and techniques in this article will get you started. If you have any questions about this then please let us know in the comments!

SuperBlack Presets for Lightroom

Want to get a head start with black and white? Take a look at my SuperBlack Presets for Lightroom, developed to help photographers like you create powerful black and white photos in Lightroom.

The post 4 Tips For Better Black and White Photos In Lightroom by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Black Background

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 13:00

This week I have something a little different for you for the challenge – shooting on a black or dark background.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Weekly Photography Challenge – Black Background

The idea here is to create something dramatic. Make sure you choose lighting that will help separate the subject from the dark background. That could be backlight, rim light, or side lighting – choose the direction of light carefully.

If you need some help try these dPS articles:

Image by dPS writer Kevin Landwer-Johan

Simply upload your shot into the comment field (look for the little camera icon in the Disqus comments section) and they’ll get embedded for us all to see or if you’d prefer, upload them to your favorite photo-sharing site and leave the link to them. Show me your best images in this week’s challenge. Sometimes it takes a while for an image to appear so be patient and try not to post the same image twice.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

You can also share your images in the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Black Background by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Selecting and Doing a Successful Photography Project

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 08:00

If you find yourself stuck in a rut, can’t find anything to shoot, or just need to get shooting – here are some videos to help you select an idea and get started doing a personal photography project.

The importance of doing a photography project

Photographer Matt Day talks about the importance of doing a personal photography project and gives you some ideas and direction to get started in this video.

5 Reasons why you should do a photography project

Adam from First Man Photography has five good reasons why you should start a photography project:

    1. Find direction – break out of a rut.
    2. Improve your photography.
    3. Build a social media following.
    4. Challenge yourself – get out of your comfort zone.
    5. It’s fun!

The most important ASPECT of doing a photography project

In this short video, COOPH founder Ulrich Grill shows you five things you need for a successful photo shoot or project. They follow the acronym A.S.P.E.C.T. – can you guess what they are? If not, go ahead and watch the video now.

  • A – atmosphere
  • S – shadows
  • P – positioning
  • E – energy
  • C – contrast
  • T – timing

Still need some help starting a photography project? Try these dPS articles for more tips.

The post Tips for Selecting and Doing a Successful Photography Project by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 13:00

Blue hour, especially the one in the evening (yes it happens before sunrise too!), is probably the most popular time of day to take cityscape photography with dazzling city lights illuminated. But exactly when is the prime time of blue hour that could result in you getting the best possible shots?

Singapore skyline at blue hour.

Hong Kong skyline at blue hour.

Blue Hour Photography Requires a Tripod

One note before we get started. Although you could shoot handheld at blue hour by bumping the ISO up, it’s always advisable to use a tripod in order to shoot clean (noise-free) photos with low ISO (e.g. 100). It also comes with an added bonus of letting you do long exposure photography with smoothed-out water, etc.

For your information, sample photos shown in this post are all shot using my trusty Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 carbon-fibre tripod.

Setting a tripod up and getting ready for blue hour.

Finding out Your Local Sunset and Dusk Time

Let’s get down to business. In terms of timeline, SUNSET comes first, followed by DUSK 20+ minutes later. The time between sunset and dusk is called TWILIGHT, and NIGHT falls once dusk is over.

To find out your local sunset and dusk time, simply go to and search for your city (e.g. sunset and dusk time in Singapore on January 26th, 2018 will be 19:18 and 19:40 respectively). Or alternatively, search Google using “dusk date city” format (e.g. dusk January 24th, 2018 Singapore). Then, Google returns a dusk time even before the first result. Checking a dusk time has become a second nature to me whenever I’m shooting at blue hour, locally as well as traveling abroad on holidays.

Note: Apps like PhotoPills are also really helpful for planning shooting times and figuring out the sunrise, sunset and dusk times daily in any location worldwide.

Sunset to dusk in timeline. Towards the end of dusk is the best time to shoot blue hour photos with beautiful bluish hue in the sky.

Aim for Shooting the Last 10 Minutes of Dusk

In this 20 or so minutes between sunset and dusk, the first 10 minutes are still not quite “ripe”, as city buildings are not yet fully lit up, and the sky hasn’t yet taken on the beautiful bluish hue that appears towards the end of dusk. Use this time to decide on your composition, do some test shots, etc.

This Singapore skyline was shot 15 minutes before the end of dusk (six minutes after sunset) at f/13, 1.6 seconds, ISO 100. The stage isn’t quite set yet, as the sky is still bright and not many of the city lights are illuminated.

When there are about 10 minutes left before dusk, more city buildings will be lit, and bluish hue starts to appear in the sky, getting deeper and deeper with every single passing minute. It’s these last 10 minutes of dusk that are undoubtedly the prime time to shoot blue hour photography.

In addition, the limited available light at blue hour allows for your shutter speed to naturally get longer, especially with the use of a small aperture. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode and use a bigger f-stop number such as f/13, which helps create smoothed-out water and rushing clouds effects (provided that you’re shooting with a tripod).

A neutral density (ND) filter is an item that will enrich your blue hour photography experience and images.

Add an ND Filter

To enhance such effects, try shooting with a neutral density (ND) filter attached. ND filters help reduce the light that is coming through the lens, allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds.

For example, with a 3-stop ND filter attached, a base shutter speed of 2-seconds is extended to 15 seconds. For a greater effect, use 6-stop ND filter to extend a base shutter speed of 2-seconds to 128 seconds (just over two minutes), which gives your photo a surreal and dreamy feel that is typically seen in long exposure photography, like Marina Bay (Singapore) photo below.

This Marina Bay photo was shot three minutes before the end of dusk (f/13, 135 seconds, ISO 100). The blue hour sky looks just right – not too light, not too dark, not overly vibrant. Also, an exposure of 135 seconds (with a 6-stop ND filter attached) helped create a silky smooth water effect.

Blue Hour Suddenly Ends after Dusk

Blue hour photography is sometimes mixed up with night photography, which starts once dusk is over. You might be surprised to find out that night falls almost suddenly after dusk. It doesn’t even take 10 minutes for the blue hour sky at dusk to turn into pitch-black night.

Personally, I never shoot after dusk. Photos shot after dusk tend to come out very dark and colors look muddy as there is little bluish hue left in the sky. Your photos will look considerably different if you miss this prime time of blue hour even by a mere few minutes.

This Hong Kong skyline was shot 8 minutes after the end of dusk. The bluish hue in the sky quickly disappeared, and the scene turned into the dark night rather abruptly.


In fact, what we call blue “hour” seems to last only approximately 10 minutes towards the end of dusk (depending on where you are located relative to the equator).

Blue hour photography is quite a time-sensitive genre, as this prime time of blue hour sky ends in the blink of an eye. So, stay focused, otherwise, you could suddenly miss it passing you by under the fast-changing dusk sky. I really wish blue hour could literally last for an hour!

Editor’s note: it does in some parts of the world, at certain times of the year. If you want more blue hour time – travel farther away from the equator! Where I live in Canada blue hour is almost a full hour in the summer, versus 20 minutes where the author lives in Singapore.

The post How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour by Joey J appeared first on Digital Photography School.

4 Incredible Photoshop Shortcuts in Six Minutes

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 08:00

I’m a bit of a post-processing shortcut addict. I’m always looking for more efficient ways of getting through my workflow in programs like Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, ON1 Photo RAW, etc. When I find a new shortcut, even if requires a bit of practice, I feel like I just leveled up. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true.

Four Photoshop Shortcuts in Six Minutes

I’ve been using Photoshop on a near daily basis for the better part of a decade now. Over the years, I’ve picked up a ton of shortcuts but I wanted to share some of my all-time favorites with you. These are the ones that rocked my world when I learned them, and if they’re new to you, I’m confident they’ll have the same effect!


  1. Make a stamp layer
  2. Brush opacity
  3. Brush resize trick
  4. Zoom trick

Correction from the video: For the brush resizing trick, the PC instructions I gave didn’t seem to be working for most users. The correct translation (this is for PC users only) is to hold down the ALT key, then click and drag using the right mouse key. If you’re on a pen tablet, use whatever button you have set for right click.


Well? Is your mind blown!? The brush resize and zoom shortcuts seriously changed my life when I learned them! I can’t tell you how many years I spent right clicking to change brush hardness and fumbling with bracket keys to resize the brush. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you have any incredible shortcuts to share, I’m all ears!

The post 4 Incredible Photoshop Shortcuts in Six Minutes by James Brandon appeared first on Digital Photography School.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 13:00

What are the next great apps you need for your Android and your iPhone?

There are many apps out there that are fun to use. In part two we bring you 10 more great apps for your smartphone (read part one here). Some of the ones listed below are for shooting, some are for creativity, and others are great tools for the landscape photographer. Most are available for both Android and iOS, some just available for iOS.

Shooting apps #1 – ProCamera 10 – iOS – $4.99 

ProCamera gives you a lot of control over your settings while shooting with your iPhone. It is easy to use and offers advanced features such as RAW capture, a live histogram, and an anti-shake feature. In the new iPhones with multiple camera lenses, it has the ability to access either lens.

The images come out sharp with accurate exposures. The reason is that
you can separate the focus and exposure points to really create a sharp balanced composition.

You can also shoot in either Manual, Semi-Automatic or Automatic mode with on-screen display modes of standard, medium or light to hide non-critical display elements. It also has a low light mode called Low Light Plus which captures up to 64 photos and combines them into one photo with reduced noise.

ProCamera 10 screenshots.

#2 – VSCO Cam – for iOS and Android – Free with in-app purchases

VSCO Cam is one of my favorite apps. This free app has a powerful built-in camera with very clear image resolution and the ability to separate exposure and focus points which is vital in creating optimal imagery with a smartphone. This app also has built-in presets as well as ones you can purchase. It has a very active community that shares photo “recipes” to gain inspiration and create similar photographic styles in post-processing.

When taking photos in VSCO, you can have manual control of focus, exposure, white balance, and even ISO and shutter speed. Depending on the model of your phone, you can even shoot in RAW mode.

A big part of this app is the VSCO community and the navigation can be a bit confusing, but the results are consistently great.

Light Effects Apps #3 – Lens Distortions – iOS only – Free

Lens Distortions is a unique app that will change the way you see iPhone photo filters. The app’s editing platform allows you to combine subtle blur effects, light leaks, textures, sun flares, and sunbursts to help you enhance your images with light.

Lens Distortions is a great app for any iPhone photographer who is looking for unique filter effects that are easy to control and can be used to highlight a specific subject rather than apply it to the entire image. When used properly, the effect can look like it was taken on a much more advanced camera. Since smartphones don’t have an aperture which allows you to create a sunburst or sun flare effect like you can on a DSLR, this app will let you apply a sunburst, and give a realistic effect of the sun’s rays.

 #4 – Rays App – iOS only – $0.99

The Rays app is great for creating realistic light ray effects quickly and easily. The rays are only added to the bright highlight areas and have the effect of passing through objects while adding a three-dimensional quality to your image. You can add shafts of light streaming through trees, rays filtering through clouds, beams of light coming through the fog, or even rays coming out of some text. You can customize the color of the rays using a color picker and specify where the rays will be visible.

Blend Mode Apps Creating Your Own Textures

Before introducing some blending mode apps, I want to introduce you to creating your own textures. You can create your own palettes by taking pictures of interesting tree bark, floors, walls, or anything that catches your eye and combine it in a blending program.

Here are a few textures that I’ve used to create an interesting appearance in the background of an image.

There are several apps available that give you stock textures to add to your compositions, but why not create your own? It’s just another way to see creatively and use your smartphone to make something unusual.

#6 – Superimpose – iOS / Android

($1.99 for IOS, $0.99 for Android)

If you want a powerful app to combine images and textures, look at Superimpose. You can create professional level layered images on your Smartphone and easily blend one photo on top of another with this app.

You can also use this tool to blend textures, overlay borders, or create double exposures while adjusting transparency with 18 different blend modes.

To use this app, first load a background image. Then load a foreground image, masking out any unwanted elements in the foreground image. You can then move, scale, resize or flip the foreground and adjust colors and exposure. Then you can save the blended image to the photo library at full resolution.

Use the textures you created in the exercise above to give your images a unique and creative twist.

The rich brown hues of the copper background layer and the blend modes give a warmth to this image that it didn’t have before. You can move your background layer around to work with the foreground. Notice you don’t see the copper texture in the sky in this sample image. That was because it was rotated to work in that space with minimum texture.

#7 – Mextures – iOS / $1.99

Mextures app lets you create grunge patterns, textures, and light leaks quickly and easily. With Mextures, you bring in an image from your camera roll and decide what texture from their menu you would like to use as a background layer. Once you apply that texture to the first layer, you can add another layer of texture, pattern, or light.

Layers are used in more advanced photography programs like Photoshop and are useful for making color and texture adjustments that won’t affect the whole picture. In this app, you can add texture in layer one, and then add gradient color in layer two. If you decide that you don’t like the gradient color, you can just delete that layer and redo it without affecting the texture layer.

Layers in both Photoshop and apps like this work the same way. Imagine having a stack of tissue paper, and each tissue has an element that you can add to your image. One tissue layer could have color, one could have texture, and one could have light leaks. It’s easy to take them in and out or change them without affecting the layers above or below.

This app gives you formulas that are saved presets which may be a combination of textures, colors, and gradients. You can even scroll through “Guest” formulas, and use them for your own images.

Plumeria Flower created with Mextures App

For Landscape Photographers #7 – My Aurora Forecast and Alerts – For Android / iOS – Free

Many photographers have shooting the Northern lights on their bucket list. This app will help you track the sometimes elusive Aurora Borealis and give you a forecast based on the Aurora activity. You can track the Aurora from your present location or at another location in the world. It will also give you alerts as to when the Aurora is active and in what location.

An interesting way to use this app is to follow Aurora cams around the world and then set your alerts as to when these areas are active. Then you can tune in and watch the show!

Get the app for Android here – and iOS here.

#8 – Geotag Photos Pro – For Android / iOS – Free

Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to your photographs or videos. This data usually consists of filename, folder location, city, GPS coordinates, date, and time captured.

The Geotag Photos Pro app is meant to be used while you are shooting with your DSLR. It will record your position while you are taking photos and create a GPX file that you can export to your desktop app or to other apps and services like Lightroom, Flickr, and Apple Photos.

This is a particularly good tool for landscape photographers or anyone who wants to know exactly their route or the specific location they shot a group of images. The images below show how you can set your interval time for the track log as well as watch the track log as it is being created.

Don’t worry, we weren’t walking in the ocean! The app did not recognize the pier in the route.

It is a quick, easy, and cheap way to keep track of your locations and log a shoot. There is no need for any expensive bulky additions to the hot shoe of your camera. It’s all tracked by synchronizing the clock on the app with the clock on your camera. It will create a track log with custom interval settings that you set up.

The best part is you can bring it into the Lightroom mapping module or connect with the Geotag Photo Pros online site and it will create a map of your shoot with thumbnail images along the route.

Mapped route after it was imported into Lightroom.

#9 – Sun Seeker – iOS / Android

$9.99 for IOS$7.49 for Android

Sun Seeker is a great app for landscape photographers as it shows the angle of the sun and where it will be setting and rising in several different views. It provides a flat compass view as well as a real time image with an overlay of the sun’s projected solar path. You can choose any date and location in the world to plan for optimal light conditions. It helps you to find the right time and location to set up for your landscape photography.

Views showing the projected trajectory of the sun in the Sun Seeker App.


Whether or not you are using your smartphone as your primary camera, or you’re using it as a tool to help you get the shot with your DSLR, these apps can add fun and functionality to any shoot. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

If there are others that we’ve missed (check part one also) please give us the info in the comments below. What apps are your favorite?

The post 9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone by Holly Higbee-Jansen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 08:00

If you’re like me, you may be wondering, “What exactly is commercial photography?” Well simply put, it is taking photos for commercial use. Common uses include ad space, websites, product placement, and items for sale. As you can imagine, having a working understanding of the essential elements of product photography can be extremely beneficial. Commercial shots influence consumers immensely. You can spruce up a client’s Etsy store, eBay listing, or even personal website with well done commercial shots.

Commercial photography is a great way to sell your prints to businesses as well. Many businesses love to have nice, professional shots of their product hanging in their office space, hallways, or lobbies. Have fun shooting products you enjoy, and you never know if the business will be interested in buying and displaying the print.

In this article, I’m going to talk about some essential tips for nailing commercial work. We’ll talk about how to set up a lightbox, selecting gear that’s right for the shoot, placing the product in flattering light, and how to touch up the image once it’s shot.

Equipment for commercial photography

First, it is highly beneficial to have a lightbox or light tent to use. The particular model I use folds and snaps together using magnets. You will first assemble your lightbox into its standing shape and then select the backdrop. Commonly used backdrop colors are black and white, and you will see that these are the ones I prefer to shoot against.

Feel free to have fun with the colors though! After all, you are the one behind the camera, so you call the shots. The use of a small stand may also be very beneficial for you. One tip though – be sure to position your camera in a way that the product will obscure the stand in the shot.

Lens choice

My all-time favorite lens for commercial work is the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro. In fact, all of the images included in this article were shot with this lens. Macro lenses are great, in particular for small objects, to reveal extreme detail in the item.

Remember, that is a core component of shooting product photography – you want to advertise how great the item is to the audience of consumers! All the details matter, and all the resolving power of the lens counts. One thing to be wary of is that exact resolving power.

The magnification of macro lenses can become a heavy problem because they will make things like dust, scratches, and fingerprints appear clearly prevalent. Thankfully, I will share my tips to help edit these things out in Lightroom and Photoshop later.


Most light boxes, like mine, come equipped with a set of LEDs that are programmable or can be dimmed to various ratios of light. You will want to position the item you’re photographing so that the LEDs can light it in a flattering and dynamic way. Depending on what you’re shooting, you may want softer lighting or something that will really pop.

Be careful to avoid things like glare when positioning the item, as this problem will only become a headache in the touching up part of the job. In terms of positioning, I love to mess around with the shadows that are cast against the backdrop of my lightbox.

Get ready to shoot

Now, it’s almost time to shoot! I would recommend canned air to blast some dust and dirt off the subject if it needs it. A tripod is also a MUST for this sort of work.

I generally shoot at small apertures to keep the images as sharp as possible, with as much in focus as possible. However, sometimes it can be nice to shoot wide to create a nice depth of field perspectives with the shots. There is a delicate balance between showing artistic intent and making the shot distracting when advertising a product, so be sure to keep the client’s intent in mind when shooting.

Here you can see a real-world example of what the setup could look like when using a lightbox to shoot a product.

A remote trigger is also very helpful, as commercial work necessitates eliminating camera shake. If you don’t have a remote trigger, my advice is to use the delayed-timer on your camera. Simply set the camera (mounted to the tripod) on self-timer for 10 seconds or so, focus the shot, depress the shutter release, and wait. Naturally, this method can add time to the process, so it isn’t a bad idea for you to invest in a remote trigger.


Now that you have the shots you want, it’s time to touch them up. This part can be long and tedious, but it makes a huge difference in the end product. I generally lean toward Lightroom when touching up shots, but for commercial macro work, in particular, I gravitate to Photoshop. I will explain the process for each.

In Lightroom: I normally boost highlights and whites to blow out the backdrop and create a nice glow to the product. You can do this by sliding the adjustment sliders for both highlights and whites to the right. The amount really varies shot to shot, but don’t be afraid to experiment! Exposure can also be adjusted by moving the exposure slider to the right, however, make sure to not clip the highlights! I also may adjust clarity and make slight contrast adjustments. The real work comes in with spot removal on the dust specks, which I generally do in Photoshop.

Here you can see the lightbox shown with unattractive shadows and blacks, which can be boosted as explained above, to white out the background as shown in the image below.

Edits are done in Lighroom showing the effect on the image.

In Photoshop: You should always clean your product before shooting, but some dust will not be avoided. Luckily, with Photoshop, you can select Filter > Noise > Dust and Scratches. From here, you can select the radius in pixels to target the dust specks. You will have a tendency to lose some sharpness since the filter isn’t perfect. It can have a tendency to smooth out sharp edges or features you intended to remain in the shot.

For this reason, I always create new layers of areas I want to filter and then re-stack the layers to show the changes while leaving sharp edges unaffected. Select certain areas to target with the lasso tool, then copy those layers, run the filter, and restack the layers.

Original image showing the dust specks.

The masked image with the dust specks removed.

Restacked layers with the dust removed.

Outside of this dust removal, I generally reopen the image in Lightroom and do any other necessary edits there. Generally the discussed touch ups I talked about for Lightroom in conjunction with the dust/scratch removal in Photoshop is enough for my taste as long as I shot the frame with correct exposure and settings.


While commercial photography can be intimidating at first, I find that it can be extremely rewarding and versatile alongside other ventures. I’ve found it to be on the lucrative end of the photographic spectrum in terms of genres, and I definitely recommend it as a skill set to add to your photographic tool belt.

Be sure to pay attention to details when shooting product work, and also pay attention to how you market these images to organizations and businesses to ensure the highest possible level of success within the genre. Above all else, go out, purchase a small light box and shoot! You may find that you love commercial work as much as I do!

I hope these tips help you with your commercial product photography. Please share your images and thoughts in the comments below.

The post Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography by Michael Neal appeared first on Digital Photography School.

8 Tips for Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 13:00

“I really don’t need any more photography equipment in my gear bag”, said no photographer ever!

We all know that is this far from the truth. Even if you have not voiced this thought out in the open, you have certainly thought it. Especially when you see a photographer that you admire rave about a certain piece of gear that they absolutely cannot live without.

We, photographers, get very upset when strangers compliment our gear over our skill. Yet we seem to fall into that same trap when we don’t quite get the shot we really want.-If only I had that fast lens, if only my camera could handle a low light situation, if only I had image stabilization on my lens, or if only I had a camera that takes more frames per second, etc., etc., etc.

Before you get ready to give up on the gear you have, I encourage you to look at your pictures with a critical eye and analyze if it is truly a gear limitation versus user error or inexperience. Now, I am not saying that the user is at fault in every situation. I will admit that in some situations gear is very important. For example, photographing a leopard chasing down its next meal or that sports car as it races around the track.

But in most cases, depending on your skill level AND the intended use of your pictures, you can get the shot with the equipment you already own. Here are some tips to help you.

#1 Perfect your composition skills

There are several different composition techniques that you can use to take your photographs from boring to interesting. Often just a small change can create a big impact. Are you finding yourself using the same center focused composition time and again? Try using the rule of thirds instead. Are you always photographing at eye level? Change your perspective and perhaps photograph from top-down or at a 45-degree angle.

A cloudy gloomy day in Vridhavan, India gave me the perfect opportunity to capture reflections on this relatively still river. I intentionally chose an off-center composition to add additional interest to this image.

#2 Take your camera everywhere

If you are really serious about improving your photography, one of the first things to do is to understand your gear. The best way to do that is to take lots of photos. Take your camera with you everywhere you go.

If you really want to improve your photography, you have to take lots and lots of photos. By taking lots of pictures, you will start to understand how to use your camera in different lighting conditions and what works and what doesn’t. You can only do this if you give yourself many different opportunities to photograph different subjects in different lighting situations.

Take this a step further by actually taking and using the gear you want to perfect. If you own a DSLR but find it too heavy or cumbersome, then perhaps it is time to buy a simple point and shoot or smaller mirrorless camera.

I am always carrying my camera to the barn where my kids learn horse riding. There are so many interesting stories that unfold and the lighting is quite challenging especially during winter so it gives me a chance to practice difficult lighting techniques as well!

#3 Learn to read and analyze light effectively

One of the most important elements of photography is light and yet it is amazing how many photographers don’t understand this important concept. Also, not all light is equal.

Light changes during the day and different types of light can affect images differently. Morning light is different from afternoon light which is different from evening light (a.k.a golden hour) which is yet again different from blue hour. In order to really improve your photography, you must learn to distinguish these different types of lighting situations and how to effectively work in each situation.

I saw this image long before I even took the photo. Just something about the light filtering from the right, the catch light and even the color of the horse just made this one of my favorite equestrian photos of all times!

#4 Use a tripod

A tripod is a very useful tool for you as a photographer. It opens up new opportunities for creative photography like low light or night photography. You can experiment with the light at night to capture really beautiful images.

A tripod can let you capture sharp images of non-moving subjects and blur out moving subjects, creating very interesting photographs. You can take this a step further by using a remote trigger that will also enable you to take long exposure shots without fear of camera shake.

#5 Learn to photograph in manual mode

Your camera is a pretty sophisticated piece of machinery with a pre-programmed brain (shooting modes). These modes can be found on the top dial of your camera and are generally labeled as P (Program), M (Manual), Av/A (Aperture Priority), and Tv/S (Shutter priority), plus other automatic modes.

Manual mode (or M on most cameras) is much like using an old film SLR, when they didn’t have buttons that do it all for you. Being the only option, photographers were forced to learn to use their cameras in Manual. In doing so, they fully learned how their cameras worked. Once you know how to properly use your camera, it becomes much easier to spot where you’re going wrong and to fix it.

Semi-automatic modes are good for some situations but, once you know how to properly shoot in Manual, you’ll find there’s no need for them and you’ll get better results on your own. Manual mode also gives you the freedom to make mistakes, freedom to bend the “rules” of photography, and in turn, gives you the freedom to excel in your art.

Manual mode on your camera gives you so much flexibility in terms of getting creative, photographing in different conditions and also allowing you to experiment with different techniques.

#6 Find great locations to photograph

Don’t just sit at home and expect great pictures to happen. Find local and state parks or perhaps even national parks that might be close to you (by close I mean within an acceptable driving distance) and look for potentially good spots for photography.

When shootig landscapes, you will have to envision your image to see what could look good and what may not. For example, a still lake is a great way to produce a mirrored image where the clouds, trees, and other objects are reflected on the lake. For portrait photography, drive around and see if you can find locations that will look good in the background.

The great thing about portrait photography is that a good background is often easy to find like a white wall, an old building, or an interesting fence. Use your imagination and you will soon be finding great spots all around you.

#optoutside and I guarantee you will find amazing things to photography. Just being outside in nature changes our perspective and lifts the mood!

#7 Understand basic post-processing

Exposure or brightness, contrast, color balance, and tone/tint are some of the basic things you can fix in an image. There are many free post-processing software out there in the market that you can use to make basic adjustments to your image.

If you want to learn advanced editing techniques there are many options for you like Photoshop, Lightroom, Luminar, etc. Adobe has great creative editing programs that are subscription based (a fee every month). Maybe invest in these programs on a trial basis and see if they will suit your editing needs.

I have a certain style of how I like my photos and I always look for elements that will work well with that style. I have a relatively easy hand in terms of editing my photos – minor adjustments in exposure, contrast, tonality and shadows/highlights and I am done. My preference is to keep the natural look and feel of my images intact – just my personal style of photography!

#8 Photograph in RAW

If you are still using JPEG for your pictures, it is about time to move to RAW. Most of the newer cameras today are capable of recording images in RAW format, so give it a try. A RAW image is called “raw” for a reason – it is an unprocessed image with a lot more colors to work with than a JPEG image.

It might not look great at the back of the camera when you take the photo but when you import it into your editing software, you have a lot more options to adjust to give it the look and feel you want. One caveat is that RAW  images do take up more space than JPEG, so you might have to invest in memory cards with more storage and a larger hard drive.

When we visited this state park, there were a lot of wildfires that were burning in the neighboring areas, so the sky had this general pink glow all throughout! By photographing in raw and editing in post, I was able to retain the look as I remember seeing the park when we visited!


I hope these tips help you understand your existing gear a little bit better. Sure, you may have reached a point in your career where an upgrade is absolutely required and essential.

If not, rather than investing more money in gear that you may not be ready for, try to improve your craft with what you have and a little extra effort.

The post 8 Tips for Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 08:00

Grunge. It’s a great look for gritty, edgy, photos, and you couldn’t have it simpler than doing it in Luminar 2018. In this article, you’ll see how to examine Presets and use elements from those Presets to create your own custom Grunge look. Presets are fantastic, but the best way to improve your processing is through your own creative process. So let’s get started.

Grunge look.

Find the right image for a grunge look

Open the photo you want to process. I have a winter woods scene here. It’s already moody, and you’ll find that using a photo that will benefit from a grunge look is a good place to start. No point starting with happy sunny day shots as it really doesn’t fit the style.


As Luminar has a huge number of Presets, you should begin there. If you don’t see the Presets at the bottom, click the Presets panel icon, it’s the third one in from the right on the top toolbar. From the Categories, choose Dramatic. Two of these look appealing for a grunge look; Dramatic Grungy and Dramatic Look.

Dramatic Grungy opens a custom Workspace with three filters: Dramatic, Clarity and Structure.

You’ll notice that Dramatic Look also uses three Filters. Dramatic is there, but the others are Raw Develop and Vignette.

The Dramatic Filter is common to both presets, and there are other filters that are in one and not the other, so perhaps a good start is to combine the five filters from both presets into your own custom workspace.

Custom Workspace

You can reset the image by going to Filters panel, clicking on “Custom Workspace” and choosing “Clear Workspace”. This gives you a fresh start to create your own grunge workspace.

Click Add Filters. You can find some of the filters immediately. Raw Develop, Structure and Vignette are in the Essentials section, Clarity is in Issue Fixers and Dramatic is in Creative. If you don’t see a filter immediately, just type a few letters in the Search box at the top of Filters Catalog to restrict the view to match.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s a Clarity slider in Raw Develop, so you could choose to leave out the Clarity filter. But you might want even more Clarity and this allows you to double up the effect, and mask it to only apply to certain parts of the image.

Finally, add one more filter to this set; Cross Processing. This will allow you to color tone the final look.

Raw Develop

The Raw Develop filter is where you use Luminar’s processing to bring out the most from your Raw file. This Raw file (as per most) is a bit flat to start, so needs some tweaking. Reducing Highlights and increasing Shadows will open up the photo a bit more, while decreasing Blacks and increasing Whites will add to the contrast of your photo. At some point, you may want to decrease the saturation of the photo, but for now, use Raw Develop to get the most out of your photo.

The Photo is still a little cool toned so a bump in Temperature to 6000k will fix that and sit better with the tones in the photo.

You can leave Clarity at zero here and come back later if you want to add more.


What makes a photo grungy? Think of the things and feelings grunge evokes; dark, moody, edgy, and gritty. The Structure filter can definitely do the Edgy bit. Your Amount slider can go from really soft at -100, to really nasty at +100. 60 seems to look good for this photo.

Softness changes your internal contrast in the photo. A setting of 30 keeps the skin from getting too blown out. Of course, if you want more of the effect in the background you could erase the effect a little on the subject using the masking tools.

The final slider is Boost, which does indeed boost the effect. 60 looks great here. We’re already well on the way to making a grungy photo.


Vignette darkens or lightens the corners of the photo via the Amount slider. To draw attention to the center of your photo, you should darken the edges. Your first step should do is click Place Center, then click on your subject. That will target the area for the middle of the vignette to keep lighter.

To see your Vignette edge easier, set the Feather to 0, with Amount turned way down.

Using Size and Place Center, get the best position and radius for your vignette. Use Roundness to get the best shape; to the left, it’s more rectangular, to the right it’s rounder.

Don’t worry if it looks too obvious, this is just for getting the placement and size right as it’s easier to see this way.

Finally, set the Feather to soften the edge of the vignette, and set Amount to the final darkness you want.

Edge vignette applied.


Contrast darkens shadows and lightens highlights. Clarity tends to work away from these areas and work more in the mid tones. It’s a grit filter, so add your grit here. 100 is way too much, and 40 looks better here.


You’ve already gotten quite a bit of drama to the image, so only a hint of this contrast-based filter is needed. The Dramatic Filter is one to play with for this.

If you want to retain color, set Saturation up to full. Adding Contrast and Local Contrast will increase both the darker and lighter aspects of the photo, so Brightness is there to compensate for whichever is stronger. In this photo, you’ll find reducing it is necessary.

Cross Processing

While this was originally a way of changing colors by processing film in the wrong chemicals, Cross Processing is now more associated with color toning a photo. Luminar uses city names to define their various toning options.

You should try each one with the Amount slider up high to find one you like. After looking at all the cities, I came back to Tokyo, which I’d found pleasing immediately. Then you can dial the effect back using the Amount slider until you find the look you want.


The image is now suitably dark and gritty, but probably a little too dark. A quick trip back to Raw Develop to bump the Exposure slider will fix this.

Saving Presets or Workspaces

Now is the time to save what you’ve set up. If you like your work, you should consider creating either a Preset to repeat the exact look you have here or set up a Workspace to have all the filters open for you to begin working from scratch (or both).

To save your Preset, click Save Filters Preset at the very bottom right corner of the screen. A dialog appears allowing you to name and create your new preset. This will allow you to apply all the same filters and settings to any image with one click. Of course, you can always adjust any of them to suit the image or dial it back using the amount slider on the preset.

To save your new Workspace, go to the top of Filters, then click on Custom Workspace. From the drop-down menu and choose “Save as New Workspace”.

Name the Workspace and create it.

The new Workspace will now appear in the Workspaces list and will be selected (check mark next to it). Now it is available for you to use with any image. Clicking it will open those same five filters but not apply any of the settings.

Other options

Here is the before and after to show the full grunge effect.


Grunge look.

With the look solidified, you could potentially add a texture to add even more grit to your photo. So, check out how to do this in our article How to Apply Creativity to Your Images with Texture Overlays Using Luminar.

As you’ve seen, Luminar 2018 has great tools that you can use to achieve your processing goals quickly and repeatedly. Now, go out and grunge!

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018 by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Photograph the Sheer Beauty of Soap Bubbles

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 13:00

Most of us are fascinated by soap bubbles and love playing with them since childhood. Watching bubbles float in the air and burst is a pleasure every child and even adults enjoy. Soap bubbles have an exciting range of color and textures. When light shines onto a bubble it displays vivid color that changes swiftly. Even though we see them on regular basis, we never actually observe them so closely to enjoy the thrilling beauty they hold within.

They are stunning, amusing and mesmerizing but extremely short-lived. Soap bubbles usually last only for a few seconds and then burst either on their own or upon contact with another object. So how can you capture these beautiful soap bubbles and keep it forever? Let’s find out.

What gear do you need?

First, we’ll talk about the camera gear you need for photographing soap bubbles. These photos can be taken with any DSLR or even compact camera if it is capable of firing an external flash. And for the lens, it’s better to use a macro lens but if you don’t have one, any lens will work fine.

Get or make a large light source

The most important aspect of soap bubble photography is the light source rather than a camera. It requires a large light source. If you have a studio light with a large softbox or beauty dish that will work great. But if you don’t have one, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take this type of photo. It can be done by using off-camera flash with a DIY softbox too.

For a DIY softbox, make a frame of two by two feet by using wood or iron wire and wrap it in white cotton cloth or butter paper. This frame, combined with an off-camera flash, will give the same impact as studio flash with a softbox.

And if you don’t have an external flash, you may place this frame near the window (or hang a white bed sheet over a window) and use sunlight as your light source. The possibilities are endless, you just need to use your imagination.

Steady the camera

You will also need a tripod so you can fix your camera on it and free your hands to blow bubbles. If you have a shutter release cable (remote trigger) it would be great to use that as well.

Other supplies

Other than this, get a piece of black cloth or black paper to use as a backdrop. You’ll also need soap solution to blow bubbles. You can buy it from local stores or make it at home by adding two tablespoons of liquid soap and one tablespoon of glycerine in half cup of water and leave it overnight.


Okay, now we have everything, let’s start shooting. First, switch-on your music system and start playing your favorite album. It’s not necessary but it’s always good to listen to music while you shoot.

Now pour soap solution into a small bowl and place it on a table. Put a black cloth or black paper behind the bowl and set up your light source. Your light should be very near to the bubble (just 2-3 inches). If you want your bubbles to look like a floating planet, place the light source right above the bubble otherwise place it at 45 degrees downward.

Set your camera on the tripod and attach the shutter release cable. Set a narrow aperture between f/11-f/16, so you can get deep depth of field and get the entire bubble in focus. Focus manually and change other settings like shutter speed and ISO according to the light. Now use a straw to blow bubbles and start clicking.

Problems and Solutions

Once you blow the bubble, you’ll notice that it doesn’t have the swirls of colors which you were expecting. Wait a few seconds, and the colors will begin emerging, which is your cue to start clicking pictures.

Also, keep a close watch on the surface of the bubble. If it starts looking transparent, it means that the bubble is about to burst. To increase its lifespan, use a straw and blow on the bubble slightly. This will also add some unique texture to it.

If you are using homemade soap solution which you made using the formula I talked about earlier, soap bubbles will have a longer life but if you are using other soap solution, bubbles will burst in very short time. If that’s happening, adding a few drop of glycerine will increase its lifespan.

I also discovered that the temperature and the humidity of room play an important role in increasing the life of a soap bubble. If the temperature of the room is hot or atmosphere too dry, the bubbles would burst very quickly. This happens because soap bubbles have a layer of water between two thin layers of soap and when the water evaporates, it bursts. This is why it has a shorter lifespan in hot and dry environments.

So, by adding glycerine and lowering the temperature of the room, you can increase the lifespan of the bubble up to five minutes. Soap bubbles show a whole range of colors and textures from their formation until they burst. Every second you’ll find different colors and patterns and you can get lots of different shots with just one bubble.


If everything has been set up properly, there is no need for heavy post-processing. Just level adjustments, some cleaning, cropping and sharpening would be enough and your image end up looking like scenes from the movie Interstellar.

At last, keep trying until you get the desired results and share your photos in the comments below.

The post How to Photograph the Sheer Beauty of Soap Bubbles by Ramakant Sharda appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Playing Stuck in the Mud – A Creative Exercise for Photography

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 08:00

Do you remember that game called Stuck in the Mud we used to play as kids? It goes something like this; one kid is elected to be “it” and runs around to tag as many people as possible. When tagged, the other players have to freeze and stand with legs and arms apart, as if they were stuck in some glutinous mud. The only way to get free of the mud is when a non-tagged comrade climbs through the legs of the trapped players. It goes on until everybody inevitably gets stuck in the mud.

I was thinking about this game rather nostalgically over the course of this project.

Um… What has mud got to do with photography?

Actually, a fair bit sometimes. Fortunately, this project doesn’t involve wading in sticky mud (unless you want to).  This project is about parking your feet for a few minutes to have a good look around – as if you were stuck in the mud yourself.

Even when going for a dedicated photography walk, you are bound to miss the subtle details of a landscape. You can’t help it. The brain prioritizes images that portend to the mission at hand – surviving. Physical activity, self-preservation – it’s all the ingredients a brain focuses on to sustain its host. That’s why the best way to draw more detail out of a location is to slow down.

We know this because often when we see a potential photograph, we stop in our tracks to take the shot. So rather than halting for a brief second, the idea of this project is to and make a little extra time to investigate an environment. The shapes, colors, people, graffiti, or details in a window sill. There are countless moments that are ready for the taking, they just have to be caught.

How to play stuck in the mud with a camera

It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The thought of my camera even coming near mud makes me sweat. But playing photographic stuck in the mud is easy.

The first step is to grab your camera and head out the door. Wander around, find a place to take a few shots and hold your position. Keep in mind that your spot doesn’t have to appear instantly enticing. In fact, choosing a boring location would be a quicker way to train yourself onto detail.  Plant your feet on the ground and have a good look around. I would recommend holding your position for a good one to two minutes at first. You’ll notice the time tends to go faster each try. In order to concentrate, set an alarm on your phone and get shooting!

Rules of the game

Apart from taking a few minutes to study the spot you’ve chosen, there aren’t any hard and fast rules to the stuck in the mud project. To advance, add a higher photo count or hang out in one spot for a longer period of time.

Want to stop every 100 steps? Do you want to be able to swivel around in a circle? Want to halt at particular points on a map? It’s totally up to you. You could even go out with a friend and compare shots from the same spot after! But I do recommend staying in the one spot for at least a minute or so – to truly get into that state of mindfulness and awareness. Sometimes it can be hard to get into that creative flow, so slowing down your process can help activate what I like to call “The Photography Zone”.

Also, it’s probably obvious, but don’t stop in the way of others or get yourself in a dangerous situation. This isn’t Pokemon Go, okay?

This is an example of a street corner I parked my feet on the other day. I was waiting for a friend and decided to take advantage of the surrounds. It doesn’t look like much, right? A fresh construction zone impeded by scaffolding. But, embracing the challenge I honed in on some of details that really make up the urban landscape.

This dark blue scaffold retains a sharp contrast in the midday sun.

A vibrant red scaffolding hanging just close enough to get a detailed shot.

You never know what you are gonna find! A cute little button.

And of course, don’t forget the selfie!

Pleasant Surprises

This short collection below surprised me a little because I’ve walked the route many so times before. But that’s what is so great about this project. It slows down your photographic practice, making room for unusual subjects to peek through.

The black and white conversion was a no-brainer to match tones in this image

I’ll often use these manholes to mark where I’ll stand next. This time, I decided to photograph one instead. I really enjoy the light filling out the overall image.

This tarp has been under construction for weeks but it took me a concerted effort to stop and explore the panorama of the city to capture this picture.

Sometimes the stuck in the mud project yields a cohesive series in itself. This image is the remains of Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in Australia. But instead of walking around to hunt out the obvious subject matter, I took a few minutes to plant my feet and take a good look at the detail around me.

It’s the act of staying put in the one space that allowed me to capture a different perspective of the old station.

The site of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station. Before I set off to scurry around for subjects I deliberately took a minute or two to survey the details of the overall environment.

The results of a few minutes stuck in the mud. The detail of the ground around me lit up like an abstract artist’s canvas.

The variation from one tile to the next is a striking contrast. Perfect for focusing on the historical site in a different light.

Over to you

I would love to see the results of your stuck in the mud sessions. By taking a few moments to truly check out a landscape, odd little moments become clearer. You’ll almost definitely leave your spot thinking, “Wow, I never noticed that before!” So have a go! and share your images in the comments below.

The post Playing Stuck in the Mud – A Creative Exercise for Photography by Megan Kennedy appeared first on Digital Photography School.

6 Mistake to Avoid When You’re Starting Out in Photography

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 13:00

Like most hobbies or professions, every photographer started out somewhere. This usually means they also made mistakes along the way from which they have learned.

The thing to remember is that everyone makes mistakes – even seasoned pros might on the odd occasion get things wrong, but the key is to learn from your mistakes and move on. As you become more experienced the mistakes will get less and less, but in the meantime, here are six mistakes to avoid when you’re just starting out in photography.

#1 – Avoid Skipping Over the Camera Manual

I often get asked if I have any advice for people starting out in photography and my first tip is to read the camera manual cover to cover. Even now, whenever I upgrade my camera I always read the manual a couple of times. Besides the fact that your camera is the tool you need to use to capture photos so you need to understand how to use it, the manual also has a wealth of information about photography.

Set yourself a task of reading each part over and over again until you understand it, then practice it using your camera until it becomes second nature to you. In an instant, you should be able to change settings, focus points, review images, and so on.

Cameras these days offer so many possibilities and you can only use your camera to its full potential if you know and understand everything about it.

#2 – Avoid Blaming Your Gear

Every new photographer has probably at some point early on in their photography journey said the words, “If only I had a better camera I could take better photos”. While better cameras allow you to take better photos by giving you more control, bigger image sizes, less noise, etc., that alone will not make you a better photographer and thus make you capture better photos.

A good photograph requires that many elements come together and regardless of the camera that you have, a boring or uninspiring subject will still be boring and uninspiring even shot with the latest high-end camera.

If you really want to improve your photography, first you need to improve the creative and visual elements. Things like being able to light the scene or subject nicely, compose/frame your image correctly and actually find interesting opportunities to photograph. Once you have mastered these parts, your photos will look better regardless of the camera you are using.

#3 – Avoid Skipping the Theory Parts of Learning

Like most things, the more you practice photography the better you will become. It’s easy to forget that there is actually some science and theory behind photography.

Now while you don’t need to understand every intricate part of the theory (unless you want to) and be able to recite color temperatures off by heart, it still does help if you know some of the basics. It can help you in your photography, but also it can give you an indication of the limitations of modern day DSLRs.

The great thing is that there is tons of information about photography online these days and you can learn as much or as little as you want to, at your own pace, in your own time.

#4 – Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others

When you are starting out in photography there will always be a part of you that looks at your work and compares it to other people’s. While you should always look at other photographer’s work and be influenced by those who you admire, trying to compare yourself to others is not only a pointless exercise but it might actually be detrimental to your long-term success.

You will find yourself trying to copy other people rather than developing your own style which is what can help you and your photos stand out from the crowd. So don’t get consumed by comparing your work to others, view other people’s work with admiration but never envy.

#5 – Not Being True to Yourself

One of the great things about photography is that you could send a brief to multiple photographers and they will all likely come back with different work. Whether it’s in their interpretation, their vision or their style – the key is that their work will all probably look different even if that difference is subtle. It’s this uniqueness that makes photography such a wonderful art form to be involved in. But all of those photographers have one thing in common and that is that they stay true to their own way of working.

Sure, at times you’ll have to adapt when working for clients on a brief, but when photographing for yourself, there should always be a synergy in your work. If you want a test to see if you have developed your own style, lay out a whole load of your photos on a table. You should immediately see a connection between them. If you don’t, then ask yourself why and try to understand what is different.

#6 – Not Doing What You Love

Most photographers will tell you that they absolutely love what they do, and they wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

If photography is a hobby for you, why would you want to photograph something you don’t enjoy? Most people get into photography with a part of it that they really enjoy. For some, it’s travel images, for others, it might be food or weddings. Some people like shooting wildlife photos and others like sports photography.

Whatever your passion is, you’ll be far better off focusing on the things you love photographing rather than things you don’t enjoy as that passion will likely be shown in the quality of your work.


While this may seem like an obvious list, it’s incredible how often people still fall into these pitfalls. If you want a few more mistakes to avoid – go here.

Photography for many people is a hobby, and as such should be like any other hobby, an enjoyable activity. Avoid these beginner pitfalls and you’ll be sure to enjoy your photography even more and it will show in your work.

The post 6 Mistake to Avoid When You’re Starting Out in Photography by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to do Tilt-Shift Style Photography with the Lensbaby Edge 50

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 08:09

Professional architectural and landscape photographers use tilt-shift lenses to avoid converging vertical lines and to get the entire scene in sharp focus. Portrait and food photographers use them to create interesting effects using blur and shifts in the plane of focus. Tilt-shift lenses are exciting creative tools, but they are also specialist items. That means they’re expensive to buy, especially for hobbyists.

But there is a way you can apply a tilt-shift style effect (although there are no shift movements) with a relatively inexpensive camera lens – the Lensbaby Edge 50.

The Edge 50 is a 50mm lens attachment that fits in the Lensbaby Composer Pro II. The two are sold together, or you can buy the Edge 50 separately if you already have a Composer Pro II. It’s available for all major camera mounts.

The Lensbaby Edge 50 (with an inexpensive lens hood that I bought on Amazon) and Composer Pro II mounted on a Fujifilm X-T1 camera. The Edge 50 lens is tilted down in this photo.

On my APS-C Fujifilm camera, the Edge 50 is a short telephoto lens ideal for portraits and many other subjects. If you own a full-frame camera then you’ll get the same field of view and a similar effect with the Edge 80 optic.

The Edge 50 lens lets you tilt the plane of focus so that it runs in any direction across the frame you like.

The red lines show the direction of the plane of focus in the photos above.

Why buy a Lensbaby Edge 50?

So, why buy the Lensbaby Edge 50 optic? For me one of the driving factors was curiosity. I had so many questions. Could I make interesting photos with this lens? Is it any good for portraits? What happens if I add an extension tube to make close-up photos? The images in this article will provide some answers.

What I didn’t expect is that I would love using this lens. There’s something strangely fascinating about viewing the world through a lens that has tilt movements. The Edge 50 is so much fun to use there’s a genuine danger that you use it all the time and forget about your other lenses!

The Edge 50 can help you make photos with a miniature effect created by tilting the lens. These work best when you have a high viewpoint overlooking the subject.

Practicalities of using the Edge 50 lens

There are some differences between the Edge 50 lens and regular camera lenses that you need to know about before you buy one.

The Edge 50 is a manual focus lens

This is not an autofocus lens and you need to take great care when focusing for accuracy. It’s easier to focus with cameras that have electronic viewfinders and focus peaking. Or you could use Live View.

The Edge 50 lens is perfect for fine art black and white photos like these.

The Edge 50 doesn’t come with a lens hood

This is disappointing as it means you can’t point the lens anywhere near the sun without getting lens flare. I bought a metal lens hood from Amazon for a few dollars. The lens hood reduces lens flare and protects the front element from accidental damage when the camera is hanging at your side.

You can experiment with shifting the plane of focus, photographing the same scene in multiple ways.

Depth of field is very narrow at the widest aperture of f/3.2

I’ve learned to stay away from the widest aperture setting and stop down to f/4 or f/5.6 to get the best results. You will also have to use a higher ISO to get the correct exposure in low light than you would with a regular 50mm prime lens.

The Edge 50 lens with an extension tube can create close-up photos like this.

You can shift the plane of focus in all directions

With this lens, you can position it so that the plane of focus lies horizontally, vertically or at any angle in between. This allows you to get creative and experiment with different focusing effects.

For example, portraits are very effective when the plane of focus is horizontal, as you can focus on the model’s eyes and throw the rest of the scene out of focus.

The Edge 50 is great for close-ups when combined with an extension tube

I use a Fujifilm MCEX-16 extension tube with this lens for taking close-ups of flowers. It lets me shift the plane of focus around and create interesting effects in a way that you can’t do with a conventional 50mm lens.


The Lensbaby Edge 50 lens is a great addition to my camera bag and one that I’m very happy to have made. If you like creative photography, interesting bokeh, and blur effects, or if you’re looking for something a little different for your portraits, then the Edge 50 could be just what you need.

Would you like to learn more about lenses and your camera? My ebook Mastering Lenses teaches you everything you need to know. The buying guide alone will save you many times the cost of the ebook!

The post How to do Tilt-Shift Style Photography with the Lensbaby Edge 50 by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

6 Tips for Better Engagement Photos

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 13:00

When doing engagement photos, it is very important both to you and to the couple that everyone feels relaxed so that you can capture them being their truest selves. When your clients are relaxed and comfortable in front of your camera, it makes a huge difference in the images you capture and ultimately the client’s experience.

Here are a few tips that can help settle your nerves and your clients’ so that you rock the session and are able to photograph them at their best.


Have a simple meeting, either in person or via email, where you and the couple can talk about what the session will entail. The who, where, what, when, and how of their engagement photos. A few questions can help you narrow down the location, or locations if you’re up for doing more than one, clothing changes, and perhaps special information about the couple.

Start this conversation by asking how their wedding is coming along and how they met. This gives you great insight as to who they are as a couple. In addition, it conveys to the couple that you are interested not only in the session but in them as people. Let the conversation flow between topics and session details.

Ask questions like, “What do you envision for the feel of your engagement photos? Something more earthy or perhaps a more urban feel?” This will help you get an idea of what kind of surroundings they want for their photographs as well as where they’d feel most comfortable for their session. Another great idea is to offer shooting at a location that is special to them, so ask about that too.

Add something special just for them

Perhaps the place where they met, or where they went on their first date might be great locations if they are local and accessible. If they do reveal a place that is feasible, offer it up as one of the locations. They will love that you took interest in finding out such a place and recreating a special memory for them. If not, then go with the previous ideas and
narrow down some places where you like to shoot that go along with what they are envisioning for style and feeling.

Any additional details you can get during the consultation are key to helping you be more confident on the day of the shoot. Knowing a little more about the couple helps to have a few conversation starters as well, which will become important on the day of the engagement photo shoot.

Each couple is different, so it helps when you can get to know them on a more personal level rather than showing up at the location and having an awkward beginning. It isn’t unheard of for clients to turn into friends after photo sessions!


Now that you have the details of the session planned out and a little insight as to the personality of the couple, it’s time to begin preparing yourself for the session.

Aside from the obvious gear preparations, it’s good to go over some inspirational photos that you would like to try. Have at least 10 on your phone so that you can look at them during the session when you need a refresh or want to try something new. Having a set of images to help you with ideas for posing or lighting will make you more confident on the day of the session in the event you get stuck with a pose or need to change it up.

It’s a good idea to confirm with the couple a few days before the session and ask them if they have any questions for you. Being accessible reassures the couple that they have chosen a friendly photographer, which in turn helps them to feel more comfortable when the time comes to be in front of your camera.

Get to the chosen location early, even if it’s a place where you have shot before. Going early can help you make a plan of where you want to start shooting and move through your session. Having a plan makes the session run smoothly without losing momentum.


You’ve already set the groundwork for being friendly during the pre-session consultation and the confirmation and now it’s time to really be genuine.

When the couple shows up, don’t start shooting right away. Spark up a conversation with them. You will have much more relaxed clients this way and it will also relax you a bit if you’re nervous. Which, by the way, is completely normal! Plenty of seasoned photographers still get nervous before big shoots.

During the entire session, keep the conversation going. In between locations, clothing changes, and through the entire session. It relieves a little bit of the awkwardness between the clients and the professional, you. It speaks volumes when you can give your clients more of a personal experience by finding common interests, discussing the news, or even sports, anything. When your client has a good time, especially if they are nervous during the session, talking about common interests will aid in getting genuine expressions.


Each session and each couple is different. It’s important to keep the session moving smoothly throughout or the couple could tire quickly or become bored. This is why getting to the location and making a plan of where to shoot is so handy. Try different places within the location to shoot, offer clothing changes when you feel you’ve got enough with what they arrived wearing.

If a pose isn’t working, don’t say so, otherwise, you could make the couple feel like they’re doing something wrong. Keep going and try a different pose. Make sure that when you get a great shot, show them! This can build their confidence quickly and help them be more engaged during the session.


Whether this is your first engagement session or you’re worried because sessions sometimes go in a different direction than you hope – you simply need to take charge.

Direct the couple by showing the poses you’d like for them to do by demonstrating them first. Allow yourself to direct the flow of the session.

It sounds scary, however, you are the photographer. You’re the one who knows what to do and taking charge of the session speaks to the couple that you are confident in your work. Over time, it will become natural to you.

Once your clients become more relaxed in front of your camera, they will offer ideas, poses, and locations. Always allow them to be part of the creative process, as it makes them more confident and offers up more shooting opportunities where they are just being themselves.


You got into photography because it was fun for you, so why not have fun during your session as well? You should enjoy the shoot as much as the couple.

If you feel nervous that the session tends to go stale, have the couple do actionable poses. For example, have them dance, walk, tell each other a secret, or whisper something funny into their loved one’s ear. This will unwind them and you’ll be able to capture their real expressions.


All of these tips are here to help calm your nerves and allow the clients to be themselves in front of your camera. Being prepared, friendly, having a good momentum during the session, and most importantly, having fun all contribute to real expressions and real moments. Your clients will appreciate how real and relaxed you made them feel during their session and in turn, refer you to more people!

The post 6 Tips for Better Engagement Photos by Jackie Lamas appeared first on Digital Photography School.