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Artistic Versus Technical Photography Skills – What is Holding You Back?

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 15:00

In my work as a teacher – and as an artist – I have noticed something that might sound very obvious but is rarely talked about in our journey to become better photographers. That is, how we live our day-to-day lives will show us where we are going wrong in our photography. Figuring out your shortcomings is the only way to overcome them.

Let me explain.

“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse

Photography is an inner game. Everything about who we are is expressed in our photos. You can ask 100 photographers to photograph the same scene and they will all pick out different elements, they will all work on different parts of the scene and they will all end up with different images.

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas

What we respond to as a human being is filtered through our experiences and thoughts and for a huge part, through our personalities.

So if you are unhappy with the photos you are taking, as well as looking at all the usual suspects – technique, composition, etc. – I would take a close look at how you do things in your life and what that says about your personality.

Look at the strengths and weaknesses in yourself – you can then work to balance them and become the very best photographer you can be. Let’s take a look at a few (stereotypical) examples:

Person A – technically proficient, creativity lacking

This first stereotype is of someone whom I have met several times on my workshops. There are many of these people about. Let’s call them Person A.

Person A lives very much in their left brain – the home of the analytical mind. Person A is great with detail-oriented, academic tasks.

I am going to bet that because Person A is so strong in this area of analysis, they have lived in that side of their brain for a long time, and become better and better at tasks associated with that. But they have neglected their right brain, their more creative side.

Your right brain is the home of creativity, of ideas, of inspiration even. At least that is what science is saying at this point…

Person A is often amazing with their camera – they either know or are working on knowing, a lot of camera techniques. Technically their photos are excellent, which sounds great, right?

But their photos are boring! Their photos lack feeling. They can see it themselves. They look at their photos and wonder why they lack that certain “Je ne sais quoi” – that certain something – that takes a photo from good to wow!

Their photos are decent, they work technically and/or compositionally. But they aren’t memorable, or particularly unique looking. People don’t look at them and feel something deep in their souls, they don’t feel stirred by them. Worst of all, they don’t remember them.

What’s the problem? And what is the solution? My number one diagnosis is that this person finds it very difficult to be present, to live in the present moment and to just “be”. They find it very hard to daydream, to drift, to explore and get lost. They have lost touch with their imagination.

Person A is drawn to interesting looking subjects but they don’t feel much when they are taking photos – so their images end up looking a bit cold or soulless.

Person B – highly creative, technically challenged

Now person B is very different. They are very good at inhabiting emotional states, they are drawn to mood, feeling, and atmosphere. Capturing subjects that move them and fill them with wonder and awe is their forte.

They have so much passion for photography, and constantly seek out locations and subjects that really excite them. The process of being creative is exciting, inspiring, and gives them so much joy.

The problem here, though, is when they look at their photos they are rarely, if ever, what they pictured in their head. They may see the feeling and atmosphere but in reality, if they are being honest, they don’t capture the feeling or mood of the subject in their images. The images don’t ooze with atmosphere in the way they want them to.

Person B is thinking – why aren’t my photos better!

Finding your solution

Now the creative solution for these two people would be completely different from each other – right? What person A has to do to create better photos is not what person B needs to do to create better photos.

This is why you need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can work to balance them out. Learning is not a one-size-fits-all journey.

I have students who pick up using Manual Mode in 2 weeks and some who take two years to master it. Others take two years to feel comfortable shooting strangers, whereas some are relaxed and confident after one afternoon’s instruction and shooting.

But it’s not how long it takes – it’s the fact that you are working on improving all aspects of your photography.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

In fact, it’s more impressive to me that someone continues and perseveres than just focuses on what is easy for them. That’s how you improve.

Now back to our example people. I wonder if you can imagine what solutions I’m about to suggest for each to help them develop their photography.

The solution for those lacking creativity (A)

If this sounds like you, what you are doing, for the most part, is focusing on the technical execution of the image, not the real feeling behind it. And if you can’t feel anything when looking at an image – then what’s the point? You might as well as just stare at cereal boxes.

So you need to work on inhabiting states of emotion, wonder, and awe whilst shooting. To notice atmosphere and to then translate that into your images.

The solution if you lack technical abilities (B)

For Person B: There is a definite lack of technical skills – and this translates as not being able to capture the vision in your head. You could see a life-changing sunset, but pointing your camera at it will not capture the real vision of what it looks and feels like to be there. You have not learned to translate emotion via the technical.

If this sounds like you, then you need to get a better understanding of your camera and the technical possibilities. An understanding of composition is also helpful. By learning and utilizing the potential of the camera you will be able to create the photos within that you so desire.

Can you see that I have taken two extremes and that in an ideal world they would both get a little of the other’s natural tendencies? By doing that we can then create balance. And nature thrives on balance and harmony. Not too much of this, not too much of that.

Salt is essential to bring out the flavor in cooking, but if you add too much it’s gross…you get what I’m saying.

These examples may seem extreme but I do teach many people who fall into either one of these camps.

So instead of just focusing on learning more, I encourage you to take a long, long look at what your personality is like – and work out where you need to focus.

The way that I have thought about it for myself is that I am very good at being in the moment. It’s a skill I’ve developed over 30 years of shooting. I also love the technical part of photography (never met a user manual I didn’t want to read).

So what’s the personality issue that affects my photography?

Well, I am so in the moment, so wrapped up in light and mood and atmosphere that the big challenge I’ve had in my career is to not get stuck into taking singular great images. One of this, one of that.

My weakness has been the inability to create and sustain a varied collection of photographs. It took me several years to realize that I was reacting to the world, rather than going out and seeking what I wanted.

I would just wander and drift, and see where my interest and attention led me. I had to work hard on becoming much more proactive – instead of I’ll wait for the shot, I had to become open to the idea of I’m going to find the shot.

Now, keep in mind that I don’t always do that. Again the key here is finding a balance. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; build on your areas of weakness, but still, celebrate your areas of strength.

I am now a much more proactive photographer – I don’t confine myself to singular, wicked shots. I build projects, and I sustain them over time, and I work hard to make incredible images that work together as part of a story.

All the photos in this article are from a series of projects I’ve been working on for several years of cities at dawn. I love photographing the beauty of dawn light, the emptiness of the streets and the odd snippet of early morning life. The cities in these photos are Paris, London, and Istanbul.

Some tips to help you

How do we overcome our weaknesses?

To start – you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your personality. If you don’t already know then ask your family or friends, I’m sure they would be more than happy to tell you!

You might think of concerns like:

Issue: You’re very shy and you find yourself holding back when you really want to grab a shot.

Solution: Do the thing that you fear! Perhaps it’s some street photography or portrait work to build your confidence with people. Or wandering off up that cool looking mountain.

If you don’t overcome your fears, you will always be holding yourself back from what you love to photograph. Great images rely on jumping into the process with your whole being, your whole heart.

Issue: You are better at talking about what you’re going to do than actually doing it. You alternate between perfectionism and procrastination.

Solution: Focus lots and lots of effort on getting started and work on producing a project. Don’t worry about it being perfect, or waiting for exactly the right time, because as someone with procrastinator to perfectionist tendencies, this could mean that the perfect time will never happen.

For this issue, start to work on producing something, anything, just so you can move through that block of never doing something. Then once you’ve got some work under your belt, you can then start working on making the photos or project you are involved in, better. Getting started and staying with something is the thing to focus on initially, though.

Once you know where your weaknesses lie, then you can start to look for ways to overcome those issues. There are always solutions. When you are not afraid to look at the weaknesses in your creativity and to work on them, then you create so much more freedom in your photography practice.

If you feel like you can go anywhere and do anything, then your photography will grow exponentially.

Do things differently

Shake things up a little. For example, if you’re a big planner in your “real life” – maybe you want to begin by not planning. Go out, drift around, get lost, and just explore. Move away from all the planning.

Or if you are like me – doing more planning has been essential to being a better photographer. I am so used to exploring with my senses rather than doing lots of research. While that is great and has served me well, a little planning has made me much more effective on my shoots.

Develop an “open awareness”

We tend to live our lives going from one fixed activity to the next. Whether that is at work, driving home, shopping, cooking, emailing or sorting out the myriad of problems, issues, and conflicts that pop up every day.

We end up flitting from one thing to the next, mostly concentrating in a narrow focus on one thing at a time – which is obviously very helpful when we want to get things done.

If, though, you want to develop new ideas and get good insights about yourself or your photography, then having an open – rather than focused – awareness is key.

Open awareness is being aware of your thoughts, but not paying too much attention to them. Allow for some space to enter and open up to the world around you. So you are letting thoughts drift through but you are still noticing other things – the weather, the clouds, the birds – but not letting your attention focus on any one thing in particular.

This brings tremendous space to your mind, space you need for new ideas and insights. If you are always thinking, thinking, doing, doing; you won’t have space for inspired ideas or amazing insights.

When you develop open awareness you have the ability to see your thoughts, your ideas, but also allow space for other things. You start to observe the world around you, to pay attention to your thoughts and habits and tendencies without getting locked into them.

Believe that you can change and develop yourself

“We are what we believe we are.” – C. S. Lewis

I know so many people who are scared of their cameras. They are intimidated by learning the technical aspects of photography. They tell me it’s impossible to learn!

Yet I know that as humans it’s possible to learn anything if the desire is strong enough.

You don’t have to confine yourself with your photography just because you can’t do something. As Picasso said:

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

Science is also telling us now that what we previously thought about the brain – that it was a set, fixed entity that stops developing as we become adults – is in fact not the case.

We can develop our brains at any point by having new experiences and learning new things. We can cultivate new skills, we don’t have to stay in this fixed idea of what we are good at and what we aren’t good at.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso

I cannot stress the importance of this idea enough. If you feel the urge to create in your life – with photography or any other medium – it’s a beautiful calling.

In my life, there is nothing more important than taking photographs. I know what it brings to my life, to ideas about photography and how I’m able to light little fires of inspiration in other people.

When you are being creative you are putting down your smartphone, the to-do lists, the emails and the shopping lists. Instead of looking inwards at your life – you are looking outwards at the world. You are committing yourself to the deeper, more interesting, more beautiful parts of life.

You are connecting to other people and to the world around you. Surely, paying more attention and creating connections to others is an incredibly important thing to promote in this day and age.

“Photography in our time leaves us with a grave responsibility. While we are playing in our studios with broken flower pots, oranges, nude studies and still lifes, one day we know that we will be brought to account: life is passing before our eyes without our ever having seen a thing.” – Brassai

Photography is such an exciting way to be creative, I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how to challenge yourself to keep improving and growing as a photographer.

We all have it in us to create memorable, unique, and interesting images. I’d love to know what you think of these ideas – please comment below.

The post Artistic Versus Technical Photography Skills – What is Holding You Back? appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Photographing Patterns in Nature

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 10:00

Photographing natural patterns is a fantastic project to work on as a outdoor photographer. The process of exploring patterns not only gives a wealth of photographic opportunities, but also provides a perfect opportunity to concentrate your mind on composition, shape, line and form aiding your development as an all-round photographer.


One of the best things about photographing patterns in nature is that it doesn’t require any specialist equipment to get started. Any camera from a smartphone to a top-of-the-line DSLR will give you options for capturing wonderful images of natural patterns.

Standard DLSR lenses such as an 18-55mm often have a decent close-up facility to help you fill the frame with larger patterns. While the macro feature on a compact camera can be a great benefit for those wanting to travel light in their photographic pursuits.

To take things a step further, however, investing in a macro lens is a great way to explore some of the smaller and more obscure natural designs. That will allow you to focus in close on small bark, leaves, and shell designs to explore the natural work in miniature.

Often it’s recommended to pick up a macro lens with a focal length of 100mm or above in order to allow a greater working distance. That will help you to stay out of your lighting as well as give you room to compose. If you are on a tighter budget, shorter length options can still be a great alternative such as a 40mm or 60mm macro.

Alternatively, you can even look into purchasing extension tubes to reduce the close focusing distance of your current lenses. These are affordable ways to get into macro and close-up photography.

Outside of macro, long lenses can also be put to great use to pick out patterns within a landscape. Working with a long telephoto such as a 70-200mm can help you pinpoint and explore repeating elements within a larger frame. This will help you to extract patterns and textures from wider landscapes, something that can be highly effective for making creative images.

Aside from the camera and lens, tripods are especially handy for slow shutter speed work as well as ensuring maximum sharpness when working with higher magnifications. Alternatively, working with flash can be liberating, allowing you to be more flexible in your approach and light subjects as you see fit for added impact and interest.

Subjects with patterns

When out in the field look for subjects that have repeating shapes or tones. Obvious choices are tree bark, leaves or rocks as they often contain repeating forms and shapes, as well as strong lines to aid composition. Extending from this, look at the wider field of view, repeating trees, sand, and reeds also make for great images.

When looking into your chosen subject, stare at it for a decent amount of time and don’t rush to bring your camera to your eye. What areas strike you as interesting, are there any lines you catch yourself following? These are all important characteristics that make a great pattern picture.

Picking your area of focus, working with standard composition rules can be highly effective. A line or break in the rule of thirds, or a repeating design with a contrast or stop point on one of the intersecting locations can make a simple and highly pleasing image.

One of the great things about photographing patterns is often the subjects don’t move hastily, so feel free to really spend some time fine-tuning your composition for utter perfection.

Within subjects, also look for other pictorial qualities that can manifest as patterns. Pay careful attention to the light and shadows. Often the contrast of harsh shadows can make less interesting subjects take on a whole new form, making unique patterns for intriguing images.

Reflections can also offer good opportunities for pattern shots. Ripples in the water reflecting light and color for some pleasing effects can make some stunning abstract compositions.


In terms of shooting technique, often you’ll want to maximize your depth of field to ensure the greatest level of detail within your images. This can be done in a number of ways depending on your subject.

Getting sharp images

The simplest method of gaining a large depth of field is to use a small aperture. Shooting above f/8 to ensure a large amount of your frame is kept in focus will help bring out the details of your chosen subjects. If you are working handheld, you might need to use flash or increase your ISO so as to not fall into slow shutter speeds that will see you encounter sharpness issues.

If you are working at an even closer scale, often stopping down won’t be enough to get the depth of field needed to showcase an entire pattern (especially with macro photography). So another method that can be deployed is focus stacking.

This is the process of shooting multiple images, each one in the sequence focused incrementally apart, then brought together in software to maximize the depth of field. This is a more advanced technique, that due to its precision requires a tripod to ensure critical sharpness. If the ultra-close perspective is something you find intriguing, focus stacking is certainly worth exploring.

Finally, sharpness isn’t always a necessity for photographing patterns in nature. Using slower shutter speeds offers fantastic ways to explore shapes and form, rendering obvious structures into abstraction for intriguing images.

One classic example is panning with trees to create a smooth line effect. Simply working with a slower shutter speed of a 1/2 a second and then by panning up and down the tree trunks you can render them into strong and simple abstract line compositions that can be fascinating.

Additionally, anything that moves in the wind can also be worked with slower shutter speeds. The effects of the elements have a marvelous impact for creating stunning patterns in nature pictures.


Photographing natural patterns is great fun. Once you’ve started to train your brain to see the variety of striking repeating and abstract patterns in nature, they will soon become visible everywhere.

Exploring them can make the basis of a photographic project or a great way to create images when things just aren’t going to plan with your other subjects. It’s a great way to make the most of any day out with the camera and return home with some striking and interesting frames to boot.

The post Tips for Photographing Patterns in Nature appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Budget Portrait Photography Hacks to Save You Money

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 15:00

We all love some good photography hacks, and what better than some for portraits. Photography is such a great and fun artistic journey and there is always something new to try, or rather, buy. However, taking great portraits can be done with these five hacks that won’t break the bank. Most of these hacks can be made using household items or you can find them at your local craft stores for a quarter of the price.

Use a plain, solid painted wall on location as a background for your portraits to add a different look.

#1 – Reflectors

Reflectors are a great tool, especially for both studio and on-location setups. They help fill in the shadows with light, bounce light back onto your subject, and can create cool effects. They can even help block out the sun or light falling on either on you or your subject. A reflector is great all around tool.

There are many great reflectors available, like the very popular 5-in-1. But you can definitely make one yourself that will give you the same results and enhance your portrait photography. The great thing here is that your handmade reflectors can be large or small depending on your portrait needs. Small, perhaps for the studio, and large for outdoors or on location portraits. Or make one of each, as it really is so simple to do!

Use your handmade reflector to bounce light back onto your subject’s face.

Making your reflector

Grab a piece of cardboard and some aluminum foil (crinkle it up a bit first). Next, glue down the aluminum foil with the shiny side up with spray glue or double-sided tape. Make sure to smooth it out as best you can and cover one side of your board. Finally, paint the other side white. If you choose to go with white foam board, then you can skip the last step.

What you will have is a very durable and effective two-in-one reflector! Use the silver side for maximum fill and use the white side for a softer look. This reflector can be used for both indoor and outdoor portraits. Make a few in different sizes to fit your needs.

Aluminum foil glued to recycled box cut to lay flat.

DIY reflector in use.

Use the white side of your DIY reflector to softly fill in light while photographing portraits on location.

Don’t want to DIY it? You can head over to your nearest store and pick up a reflective car shield, the ones that help block the sun from heating up the inside of your car. Those also work great as reflectors and the best part is that you can simply fold it up when you’re finished using it.

#2 – Diffusers

Diffusers, like reflectors, are incredible tools especially for outdoor portraits and for newborn photography. They are simply a translucent material that you can use to soften hard lighting or to create soft light on your subject.

I say newborn portraits because even window light can be hard for these little ones and a diffuser helps to soften it. You can also place the diffuser in front of off-camera speedlights to disperse the light over a larger area, effectively softening it.

Use a diffuser to create soft light for your subject, especially great for newborns.

You have the ability to create a diffuser just the right size for your portraits. Grab an embroidery ring and some translucent fabric at your local fabric or craft store. Place the fabric inside the embroidery ring, cut the remaining fabric so that you don’t have too much hanging out. You could hem the edges but the embroidery ring really does hold it pretty tightly.

Once you cut the edges, you have a portable and easy to hold/mount diffuser. It’s lightweight and easy to carry. Use this indoors to soften window light or even a speedlight. Or use it on location to soften harsh sunlight and simply to shade your subject during the session.

This scrim was made with a thiPVCvc pipe about 6 feet long to create a diameter of about 3 feet. I duct taped the ends together and hot glued the translucent fabric to the ring. A hula hoop would be perfect to use for this as well. I couldn’t find one big enough to use for this so I used PVC, both are inexpensive and quick to make.

DIY lighting diffuser in action.

You can also make a DIY large lighting panel – get instructions here.

Editor’s Note: Make note that a ring, 12″ or so is still a relatively small light source and as such will produce fairly hard light. You need a large diffuser (larger than the subject’s face) to really soften the light.

#3  Portrait stools

There are many tools that are made specifically for portrait photography like the portrait stool. It’s basically a fancy hydraulic stool to sit your subject on while you make their portrait. There are also some made especially for children. You don’t have to invest in one of those, however, you simply have to go to your local hardware store and pick up a small two-step ladder, or if you photograph children, a two-step stool. Both of these options offer you the same functionality as a portrait stool.

Use them during your session to pose your subject indoors or on location. Another advantage to using a ladder as a posing stool is that it gives you the option to use it yourself to get a higher camera angle. There are really no limits to the usefulness of the ladder, or small step stool, and it is easy to transport. If you are a beach photographer, use it as a tabletop to hold your gear and keep it from touching the sand.

Use a portrait stool to seat your subject.

#4 – Phone Flashlight

Sometimes the best tools are right in your pocket. Your phone is used for so much of your daily life and it can also be a great tool for photography. The flashlight on your phone can serve as a steady fill light in case you don’t have an off-camera flash or need a little boost of light.

Turn your camera’s flashlight on and point it directly toward your subjects. You may need the help of a selfie-stick or a friend because although it’s powerful, you’ll still need to have the light pretty close to your subject. The mighty flash is perfect for portraits where you want to capture the light behind, but need a little fill on your subject. This is perfect for on-location photography, especially when the sun is setting behind your subject.

A phone flashlight was used to create interesting lighting in a dark area.

Use your handy smartphone’s flashlight to add drama to your portraits.

Create a little drama using your phone’s flashlight and use it to manipulate the available light around you. This is also very easily done for indoor portraits and it works great to fill your subjects when there is beautiful warm light behind, like in the photo above. Get creative with this portable light that you always have with you. It’s quick and there’s no fussing with adjustments.

#5 – Backgrounds

One of the best photography hacks that you’ll learn is how to turn plain walls into beautiful portrait backgrounds. When you’re looking to do some headshots or just photograph so that it looks as though you were in a studio, this is the hack you can use every time.

Choose a concrete wall that is plain. Pose your subject a good distance from the wall so that you can let the background blur a bit (use a wide aperture as well). Then, with your handmade reflector or phone flashlight, photograph your subject. What you will get is a beautiful seamless background just a tad out of focus to give it that studio look.

Use your ladder and a plain wall to create studio-style portraits on location.

You can also choose a more patterned wall to give your background added texture. Look for walls that are painted in a solid color or have a repeating texture like the brick wall below. Another great photography hack is to shoot from above and let the concrete stairs or asphalt blur out so that it creates a nice background.

Choose plain or patterned walls to give your on-location portraits more of a studio look.


These five portrait photography hacks will save you both time and money all while enhancing the portrait experience for both you and your subject while photographing on-location. Use them for your next portrait session to get new and different results!

The post Five Budget Portrait Photography Hacks to Save You Money appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Discuss: Better Equipment Versus Knowledge – Which Will Help You Improve Your Photography More?

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 10:00

As a photographer, you always have the urge to buy new equipment thinking it will bring you better results. This might be true, but only up to a certain point, because if you don’t have the knowledge you can’t make the most out of your equipment. I started with a Nikon D3200 and I use it to this day because, in my opinion, it’s not the equipment that is going to help me take better photos.

If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do with my entry-level camera?” then this is the article that’s going to prove that you can achieve great things and be a great photographer with your own camera. There are many photographers that took some amazing pictures with film cameras, photographers like; Andreas Feininger, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, etc.

We cannot deny that their cameras were the best of their time. But my point is that even today they could compete with any owner of a fancy camera because having the latest camera is not going to guarantee a better vision.

I’m going to give you some tips and tricks on how to take better photos and overcome the obstacle of not having the latest equipment.

1. Read

The most important thing you can do is to read. Many people skip this step and think that only by practicing will they improve. It is true that you have to practice, but unless you study the theory first there is no way of practicing in an efficient way.

For example, if you read an article about shutter speed and aperture it’s easier the understand the mechanism and then apply it, than trying to figure it out all by yourself.

Start here to get to many great dPS articles and find the topics that interest you the most.

2. Know your equipment

You just bought your first camera and you are stuck with your kit lens. But before buying a new lens you have to learn the basics. You can use your kit lens for numerous types of photos, from landscapes to portrait photography.

I took more than 5,000 images with my kit lens before buying my second one, and I learned a lot of helpful things. If you’re shooting portraits, 35mm focal length can get a nice bokeh having an aperture of f/4.5. This focal length is perfect because it’s not wide so you’re not going to distort the face and you can have more light than shooting the same lens at 55mm, f/5.6.

3. Know what to buy

Buying equipment can be difficult when you can’t afford expensive things and you have to spend your money right. I am speaking from the perspective of a portrait photographer. My first portrait lens was (and still is my main lens) a 35mm f/1.8. If you want nice bokeh for a cheap price this is the right choice. I’m still exploring with this lens and I always find new perspectives.

Knowledge Over Equipment

Next, I’m going to present some arguments on why better equipment doesn’t necessarily make you a better photographer and on why knowledge can help you overcome your equipment struggles.

Buying new equipment is always tempting, but you have to learn how to make the best of what you already have. The best thing you can do as an amateur is buying an entry-level camera and a prime lens. Stick with it and see if you can come up with a new vision every time you go out to take photos.

At first, I didn’t know how to use manual mode. But do you think buying a better camera is going to help with that? No is the answer, you have to read and understand how the relationship between ISO, shutter speed and aperture affect everything in a photo.

After learning that no picture is the same and the settings are going to change every time, you have to do a lot of trial and error. If you practice enough you can achieve great things. After learning how to use your equipment you have to learn how to process your pictures because it makes a big difference as well.

The next thing you have to know is that light makes the difference in every picture, you have to learn how to manipulate and control the light. Once you know how light works you are going to love your equipment.

When do you need better gear?

There are a few situations where better equipment can be helpful. I’ll give you a few examples and some tips to overcome the difficulties.

1. Shooting in low light conditions

Having expensive equipment can help you here, you can have a higher ISO without a lot of digital noise. With my entry-level camera, I can raise the ISO to 400 and it already looks really noisy. With a full frame camera or even an expensive DX sensor you can raise the ISO to 1600, or 3200 and your image is still going to look fine.

2. Sports photography

This is another hard thing to do with an amateur camera, you can still achieve great things. Your autofocus is going to play some tricks on you, so you have to work on your timing. Knowing where and when to press the trigger will help your autofocus a lot. Another thing you can do is to learn the panning technique.


So in summary, equipment is just a tool. It doesn’t help you to shape your vision and buying the latest gear as a beginner is not the best choice you can make. When you find that you have difficulty expressing your vision with your current equipment, then you can start thinking about upgrading.

The post Discuss: Better Equipment Versus Knowledge – Which Will Help You Improve Your Photography More? appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Creative Macro Photography – A Guide to Freelensing

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 15:00

Freelensing is one of the strongest and most underutilized tricks in the macro photographer’s toolkit. It can add diversity to a portfolio, and—when used carefully—generates some truly stunning effects. In this article, I will cover the basics of freelensing, and discuss how it can be used to enhance your macro photographs.

What is freelensing?

Freelensing is a technique that can be used with any camera that accepts interchangeable lenses. You detach the lens from the camera and focus by tilting the lens in different directions, as well as by moving the lens closer and farther away from the camera body.

How does this change the resultant image? The plane that is in focus is no longer parallel to the sensor. The overall effect is to get both near and far objects selectively in focus, as shown in the photographs below.

By tilting my 50mm lens, I was able to selectively focus on these colorful leaves.

How to do freelensing?

First, equipment: I’ve found that macro freelensing works best with lenses in the 50mm range. Lenses much longer than that are going to be hard to focus accurately with, and lenses that are much shorter give a field of view and depth of field that is a bit too broad for macro purposes.

Note: because freelensing involves holding the lens detached from the camera, there is always the risk that you might drop something. Therefore, I like to use lenses that are on the cheaper side; the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is my go-to lens in these situations.

The camera model isn’t important, but I tend to use my backup body, as detaching the lens from the camera does increase the risk of dust and other debris getting inside and onto the sensor.

The freelensing process

Begin by putting the lens on the camera as you normally would. Turn on the camera and set it to Manual Mode. Choose whatever aperture you like; when the lens is taken off the camera, the aperture setting will be rendered irrelevant (it will be wide opened). Focus the lens on a distant object.

NOTE: With some camera makes and models, if you hold down the Depth of Field preview button while removing the lens it will lock the aperture closed to your desired setting. Test and see if your camera has this ability.

Make sure that your camera is not using Live View (as this would increase the exposure of the sensor to the outside world). Then, turn off the camera. Detach the lens, and carefully hold it in front of the camera body, just in front of the sensor. Turn the camera back on.

Example freelensing technique with a 50mm lens. The lens is pulled (slightly) away from the camera body.

At this point, the fun begins! There are a few things to consider:

First, the farther you move the lens away from your camera, the greater the magnification.

Second, tilting the lens left, right, up, and down alters the parts of the scene that are in and out of focus. It takes a bit of experimentation to get the hang of this, so don’t be afraid to take many images while honing your freelensing skills.

Third, any gaps between the lens and the camera allow for light leaks. This can result in very interesting effects (but be careful not to overdo it!). To minimize light leaks, cup your hand around the lens so as to block out the light.

A note on exposure

When it comes to freelensing, your camera’s metering system is going to be nearly useless. The proper exposure depends on the size of the gap between the camera and the lens, so you will always need to drastically underexpose if you use your camera’s meter. I often take a few experimental shots, incrementally increasing the shutter speed (and checking the image on the LCD), until I reach an exposure that I like.

Freelensing for macro photographers

I’ve given a basic overview of the freelensing process above. But how can freelensing be used by macro photographers?

1. Use freelensing to create spectacular backgrounds

One of my favorite things about freelensing is that it can generate stunning backgrounds. The shifted plane of focus causes greater subject/background separation, so the bokeh can be truly impressive.

Try shooting into the light (with the subject backlit).

The setting sun (just to the right of the flower) offered some great opportunities for freelensing.

You can also work with a shaded subject and a background lit by direct sunlight.

The poppy was shaded, but the background was lit by the setting sun.

2. Find a point of focus

Freelensing can be an exhilarating experience, as subjects that you’ve shot a hundred times will seem brand new. However, it’s important not to get too caught up in the uniqueness of freelensing, and focus on how the effect can be best used to create strong images.

To this end, find a focal point. This might be a flower, an insect, or some leaves. Use this point of focus to anchor your shot. Ensure that you’re tilting the lens so as to render that point of focus sharp, and the rest of the scene out of focus.

3. Use freelensing to isolate a subject from clutter

Adding onto tip number two, one of the advantages of freelensing is that you can order an apparently cluttered scene with a tilt of the lens. Look for the sort of image that would have previously felt too chaotic, then tilt the lens so that only a small part is rendered in focus.

4. Use light leaks for artistic effects

I mentioned light leaks above, and I want to emphasize their potential. When used right, light leaks can be beautiful.

I like to create small light leaks along the sides of the image by shooting backlit subjects, and by allowing a significant gap between the camera and the lens.

The effect here was created entirely through light leaks; by pulling the lens away from my camera, I was able to give this daisy image a more ethereal feeling.

5. Use freelensing for macro-level magnification

As mentioned, pulling the lens away from the camera increases your magnification. This can allow for detail-oriented macro shots without a macro lens. So experiment by increasing the distance between the camera and lens.

In conclusion

Freelensing, while unconventional, can be an excellent addition to your toolkit. By detaching the lens from the camera body, you can create unique backgrounds and artistic light leaks while emphasizing the main subject.

With spring flowers just around the corner (hopefully!), now would be an excellent time to start practicing!

The post Creative Macro Photography – A Guide to Freelensing appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to use Photoshop Droplets and Actions to Automate Your Workflow

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 10:00

Most photographers who do any kind of event photography (including corporate or weddings) need to find ways to automate aspects of their photographic workflow. This is because events usually generate a lot of images. There are many ways to automate your workflow. This article will describe a technique for speeding up your workflow using Photoshop Droplets and Actions (rather than Lightroom).

To understand this method you need to grasp a couple of Photoshop concepts: Actions and Droplets.

Created using an Action and the Droplet we’ll make below.

Photoshop Actions

What is a Photoshop Action? An Action is a powerful tool in Photoshop which is essentially is a recorded sequence of steps. By recording the repetitive individual steps as a group, the entire sequence can be repeated. Actions are really intended for global edits and not for image specific local edits.

Conceptually, as you develop your editing skills as a photographer, regardless of whether you are using Lightroom or Photoshop, you will eventually develop a style or procedure that you like to do when you process your images. Using Actions will help automate these procedural edits.

Beyond your own types of global edits, Photoshop comes with a small set of pre-configured Actions that are included in the installation of Photoshop.  In addition, there are many Photoshop Actions available either for free or for purchase on the internet.

Many photographers try to engage their followers by selling Actions to achieve particular looks. Anyone purchasing Actions should know that they are just pre-recorded sequences that anyone can do within Photoshop to achieve the same look (they do take time to set up though). Regardless, Actions automate repetitive steps in Photoshop.


Droplets are a great way to automate the use of Actions with Photoshop. Droplets are similar to Actions but can be used on many files and activated from outside of Photoshop. There are other ways to do batch processing, but Droplets are a neat and simple way to allow actions to be performed on multiple images.

Sound confusing? Here it is in a nutshell: a Droplet is a small executable file that allows you to drop a folder full of images onto a file on your desktop that will run an action set and create final image results that are stored in another folder.

Why do this?

By using a Droplet, you can take a folder full of images and process them without having to open each one individually. It allows you to perform a long series of repetitive steps on images simply and cleanly. Just drop the folder on the Droplet and walk away to allow your computer to do all the work while you do something more fun, like make a sandwich or watch a Netflix show.

Why not do all of this with batch processing in Lightroom? Lightroom allows for batch processing of images with Presets. But some Actions are too complex for Lightroom and Actions for Photoshop don’t work in Lightroom unless they are specifically built for Lightroom. Any event photographer or any photographer that has to take and process a lot of images needs to find a way to simplify their process to get images finalized.

So how do you set up a Droplet?

First, you need to either decide on an Action or sequence of Actions (you can use more than one) and decide where you want to put the edited files when they are done. To show how to use a Droplet, let’s create a simple action and then set it up as a Droplet.

Step 1: Open an image

Image before processing

Let’s make a simple action to apply the appearance of motion to an image by applying a radial blur.

The first step is to open an image in Photoshop. You need to start with an image in order to be able to go through all the steps to save the Action and create the Droplet. You can use a pre-existing Action but to create the Droplet you need to modify the Action and that can get complicated.

For this example, you are going to create an Action first, make sure it works, and then use it to create the Droplet.

Launch the image into Photoshop

Step 2: Create the Action

Dialogue box for creating a new Action in Photoshop.

If you already have an Action that you want to run, you can skip the process of recording a new one, but for this example, we are creating a new Action. First, you need to open the Actions panel. If yours is not visible, go to Window > Actions from the top menu.

Once the Actions panel is open, you need to make sure you are not in button mode (button mode has colorful boxes).  If the list in the Actions panel is grey staggered boxes, you are in the right mode. At the top right corner, there is a small wing menu. Open that and choose New Action. You will then see the panel above.

For this Action, we are creating a motion effect using a radial blur. Call the Action dPS Radial Blur (or whatever makes sense to you) and then press the Record button to start recording the Action. You are on your way and you should see a red dot at the bottom of the Actions panel.

Step 3: Create the Radial Blur

Duplicate the image by selecting Duplicate Layer from the pull-down menu at the top of the layer panel (or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd/Ctrl+J).

Create a duplicate layer.

The name of the duplicate layer is not important, but this is the layer to which you are going to apply the radial blur. Now, with the new layer selected go to the menu bar select Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. This will open the following dialogue box.

Apply the radial blur.

The default method is spin and the default quality is good. Change these to zoom and best (as seen above). You need to apply a fair bit of blur for this effect, so anything higher than 70% will work. Your dialogue box should look like the image above.

Step 4: Create the Mask

For this effect, you will only be applying it to the outside edges of the image. To do this you are going to use a layer mask. To create the mask, select the layer you just applied the radial blur effect to and then click on the icon with the white rectangle with a dark circle in the center (third from the bottom left). This should create a white square next to the thumbnail of your active layer, that is your mask. The white mask means that your effect is still being applied or showing across the entire image.

Create a layer mask on the layer with the blur effect you just created.

Once you have created the mask you need to paint on it with black to selectively hide parts of the effect on this layer. Select the Brush Tool and choose a large brush with a soft edge to modify the mask. The size of the brush should be pretty big so that it covers a large portion of the center of your image. Use a really soft brush (hardness of about 15%).

Paint on the mask with black (make sure the mask is selected not the layer itself – square white brackets should be around the mask) over the center of the image to reveal the sharp part you want showing. Use the softness of the brush to make the transition from blur to sharpness gradual. Your mask should now look mostly white with a black dot in the middle.

This is the image after the steps have been completed.

Your image should look something like this effect. Your Actions panel has been recording all these steps in the background. Save your image in the format you want (JPG, PSD, TIF, etc.), the location should be your destination folder.

Step 5: Finish recording the Action

Go to your Actions panel and press the square box (stop button) at the bottom of the panel next to the red dot.

Finishing the Action, press stop (square) next to the red dot

This stops the action from taking further steps. Your Action is now complete. If you delete the layer with the blur on it, you can test your action on the same image.

Simply go back to the Layer panel, delete the top layer with the mask.  Go to the Actions panel and find the new Action with the label dPS Radial Blur, highlight it, and click the triangle pointing to the right on the bottom line of the panel. This will activate or run the action. If you have done it correctly you will get the same image again. Yeah!

Step 6: Making the Droplet

Okay, we are almost ready to create the Droplet, there are only a couple more steps involved. To make sure the Action works properly you need a fresh instance of Photoshop. So the first thing to do is to close Photoshop and relaunch it.

The steps to make the Droplet from this point on are quite simple. To create the Droplet, go to the menu bar to File > Automate > Create Droplet.

The Droplet dialogue box.

This is the last set of steps but they are important. First, pick a good location for your Droplet. Usually, a great spot is on your desktop. Click the “Choose…” button, select the desktop and a name for your Droplet (give it a meaningful name for you).

Under the Play heading, uncheck all the boxes (these will stop your droplet from processing) and select your new Action from the pull-down list. Set the destination as Folder and choose a destination for your images (it is usually convenient to put the folder on the desktop as well). Uncheck the Override Action “Save As” command.Press OK.   The last thing to do is to create an empty folder (this will be the source folder where you put your images to be processed) in the same location as you put your Droplet (e.g. the desktop). Close and exit Photoshop.

I like having the source folder, Droplet and destination directory close to each other on the desktop. My arrangement looks like this:

A typical layout for a Droplet on my desktop.

Step 7: Using your Droplet

You are now ready to use your Droplet. Simply put your images to be processed (try only a couple to test first) into the source folder (in this case it’s called To Be Processed). The images should be in the same format you chose previously. Make sure Photoshop is not running (sometimes this causes communication errors). From the desktop, highlight the source folder and drag it onto the Droplet.

Here’s what should happen: the Droplet launches, Photoshop starts, runs your action, and saves your images in the destination folder. Using the test image, it should look like this.

The finished test image after processing


Sometimes droplets are finicky to set up but once they work, they work really well. Each image is processed separately one at a time, so you can take a number of images, put them in your source folder and then just drop the folder on the droplet. This allows you to walk away from your computer for a while, grab a coffee, update your Facebook status (#Workinghard!), have a short nap and come back to a finished set of images.

Droplets can really help to simplify your workflow. The only word of caution is that if you are processing a large number of images with an Action that causes the finished image to get significantly larger, make sure you have sufficient hard disk space for the finished images. I have found if you run out of disk space, Photoshop will crash during a droplet operation.

Happy workflow! If you have used Droplets before please share your experience in the comments below, as well as if you have any questions.

The post How to use Photoshop Droplets and Actions to Automate Your Workflow appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Panning

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 15:00

Panning is a great way to add a feeling of motion and movement to your images. It works well with street photography to isolate your subject and add a little drama.

Need more help? Read these dPS articles:

Weekly Photography Challenge – Panning

Here the subject and background were both frozen using a faster shutter speed.

In this image, a slower shutter speed like 1/30th was used to blur the background, while keeping the car sharp. This is called panning. You use a slower shutter speed and move your camera to match the speed of the subject to achieve this kind of image.

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 – Panning appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Panning and Tips for Adding Motion to Your Street Photography

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 10:00

One of the things I teach people on my photography workshops and tours is how to do panning. It’s a great technique to add to your skillset for shooting great street photography. Panning helps to isolate a moving subject and freeze it while at the same time blurring a potentially boring or ugly background.

I happened upon this bike race in Trinidad, Cuba. The street was full of people and the scene was very busy. So I chose to pan the riders as they went past to add a sense of motion and speed.

See the difference in this shot where I did not pan and everything is sharp. Notice how busy the scene is and the bikers are almost lost. Doesn’t it look like they are going a lot slower or frozen in place here as compared to the image above? 

Tips for doing panning

Here is a video from Gavin Hoey and Adorama TV where he demonstrates how to do panning. He also walks through the camera settings to use to get started and how to adjust them as needed. Have a watch.


Street photography with slow shutter speeds

Here is a different approach to adding motion blur to your street photography, by photographer Doug McKinlay. In this video, he talks about the need for a neutral density filter if there is too much light, and using a tripod to blur moving subjects or part of your scene using long exposures.


Panning demonstration

Finally, here’s one more video that has a really good demonstration of how to execute panning, and what not to do as well.

I hope that gives you some ideas and starting points for adding panning and motion to your street photography.

The post Panning and Tips for Adding Motion to Your Street Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 15:00

Photography can be a lonely business, but there is no reason why that has to be the case. Of course, there are many that enjoy the solitude. If you’re a photographer who enjoys more of a community there are some great ways to get together for group photography.

The reasons to join a group are varied, and even if you’re a lone ranger there are likely some ideas here for you. Linking up with others could just be about an online community, or meeting up in person. However you like to do group photography, here are seven ideas for you.

Who’s going to take your photo if you always photograph alone?

1 – Create a photo walk

One of the easiest and most informal types of group photography event is the photo walk. These are often organized by photography clubs, and there is a popular one run annually by Scott Kelby. The nice thing about a photo walk is each participant can go at their own pace. The general idea is to have a start point, a finish point, and a time limit. You may choose to walk together as a group, or split off individually.

There may be some members who pass on tips to other photographers, making this type of event an informal workshop. At the end of the walk take some time to get to know your fellow photographers by having a meal, or stopping for a drink somewhere. Finally, share the photos you’ve taken that day on an agreed social media platform of some description.

Some people like to take all their gear to the photo walk! Or is the check-in for that flight this way?

2 – Photography clubs

Joining a photography club is one of the best conduits for group photography. Through a club, there is the possibility to organize many of the other ideas mentioned in this article. Photography clubs typically meet at regular intervals of perhaps once a week or once a month, though lots of activity can occur online between meetings.

The best place to find these clubs is through searching social media, your local community center, or perhaps there is a school club near you. These clubs are a great place to learn new photography skills, with evening post-processing workshops being fairly typical. Are you having trouble finding the right club for you? You could always start up your own group!

Meeting up with other photographers at a photo club is social, and is also a great way to learn.

3 – Group photography projects

These are projects that a number of photographers partake in together. The idea at the end is to have a body of work under a common theme taken by every member of the group. A project like this could well lead to a group exhibition or a collaborative photography book.

In most cases, you’ll work on the photography individually, though the leader of the project may seek to curate your work in a certain direction. The following are a few ideas that you could try:

  • Subway project – Most big cities have a mass transit system, with many stations. The aim of this type of project would be to take one photograph per station. The larger cities usually have many stations, so dividing up the workload makes sense. In projects like these, it’s often a good idea to seek permission from the authorities before beginning to do any photography.
  • 365 days or 52 weeks – Instead of working on your own project share it with others, and ask them to make photographs on the same theme as your own! The dPS weekly photography challenge could form the basis of this project.
  • Food photography – Everyone loves good food, so combine this with your photography. Each photographer can pick a country. Then make food from that country, and photograph it. You could even make this into an international cookbook.

This photo was taken as part of a subway project in Seoul. It was a big challenge to photograph all the stations.

4 – A photography team

There are times when forming a photography team will give you the edge as a photographer. The more you move into the commercial world of photography the more this becomes a need, as you can’t be everywhere all the time. Think of events like weddings, sports, or festivals. The need to cover all your angles means teaming up with other photographers so they can be where you’re not.

  • Event photography – Having more than one photographer allows one of you to concentrate on the wider scene, while the other covers moments closer to the action. Think of when tennis players go from singles to playing in pairs on a team. In doubles they have different roles and need to complement each other.
  • Portrait photography – Another great example of when a team of photographers is needed is portrait work with strobes. In this scenario, there is one main photographer, but having other photographers or assistants there to help with lighting equipment is desirable.

Teaming up with other photographers can be a great way to pool resources.

5 – Create an association

Related to creating a photography team is making an association. In this case, you’re creating more of a guild, and indeed a photo team could be formed from members of that guild. A grouping of photographers like this will look to use each other’s strengths, to form a stronger unit when a client comes along.

Such an association might look to create a stock library of their images, albeit on a much smaller scale to larger firms such as Getty Images. Other models for such a grouping of photographers would be the Magnum organization, though of course on a smaller scale.

The more the merrier as long as you don’t step on each other’s toes!

6 – Weekly challenges

Weekly challenges are a good way to do group photography on an individual basis, and you can decide to opt out of weeks that are not your style. There is a great weekly challenge run by Digital Photography School, and you’ll find other photography communities that run a similar program as well.

It’s of course, possible to organize these on a more local level, where perhaps you meet up in a coffee shop together once a week to make your own challenge.

Seasonal photo challenges are a yearly staple for many photography groups. Spring is often a popular theme.

7 – Enter a photo competition

A final way you can interact with your fellow photographers is through a photo competition. The weekly challenge is, of course, a competition, but there are many different types of competition. Among the biggest contests are those organized by National Geographic or Sony to name but two. These are annual competitions and often have themes for contestants to try and fulfill.

There are also photography contests that require you to tell a story through a sequence of perhaps 10 photos. Once again these contests can be adapted to you and your community. If you have a photography club, why not take a leaf out of the bigger company’s book, and make a competition. A little competitive edge within your group can often be a great way of pushing you out of your comfort zone to help you produce even more amazing results.

How will you do your group photography?

There are many good ways to collaborate with others and do more group photography activities. Have you tried any of the ideas in this article before?

Perhaps you have a new more novel way to make a photography community that can be shared here. As always I’d love to get feedback from you, so leave your comments and I shall endeavor to respond.

The post 7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 15:00

The holy grail of travel photography is a stunning photo looking into the vast distance taken at sunrise or sunset. It seems to just work as a blend of color, composition, and light to create something that often makes the viewer utter that famous word that any photographer wants to hear, “Wow!”.

But why is it then that so often when you look at your own sunrise or sunset photos they don’t look so stunning? Here are 5 reasons why your sunrise or sunset photos don’t live up to your expectations.

#1 – What’s the point?

I remember a picture editor once told me, “This might sound controversial, but a sunrise or sunset is actually pretty boring.” What he was referring to was the lack of compelling subject matter in a photo of a sunrise or sunset like for example an empty beach with just the setting sun.

While sitting on a beach and seeing a sunset can seem like a wonderful experience, unfortunately, the camera cannot replicate that. Most successful photos of sunrises or sunsets have a point of interest in them, in that there is a subject that is the main story and the sunrise or sunset is providing the light and the atmosphere.

That story doesn’t necessarily have to be a person or an object in the frame. The story could be the beautiful scenery or the crashing waves against the coast. But the key point is that there is something that gets the viewers’ attention. So, don’t just rely on the sunrise or sunset, try to build your composition using it as an addition rather than the story.

This photo just isn’t very interesting. There’s a lack of interesting clouds or even water movement.

In this image, the big rock in the foreground, footsteps in the sand and the people all add interest and context to the photo.

#2 – Clouds or no clouds?

For example, one element that can dramatically improve your sunrise or sunset photos is some clouds. Take your generic empty beach scenario from above, but this time add some dramatic clouds that the light can bounce off and suddenly you’ll go from something mundane to something that looks fantastic.

The clouds here add drama to the scene.

Of course, you can’t control the elements and no clouds in the sky means, there’s nothing you can do. In that scenario, you just have to work harder to frame your shot and give the viewer a point of interest.

While you generally want some clouds in the sky, too much cloud cover and you will often find the light seems flat and dull and the whole photo looks uninteresting (unless the sun can set below the clouds and light them up from underneath). So, in conclusion, while you ideally want some clouds, it’s important not to have a completely overcast day. You can, of course, plan your shoots around times when you will have the best conditions.

#3 – Are your highlights and shadows correct?

One of the big challenges in photographing sunrise or sunsets is the vast contrast you get between highlights and shadows. Your highlights are the light areas of your photo (such as the sky for example) and your shadows are the dark areas in the photo (for example your foreground).

If either is pushed too far you will get completely white areas for highlights and completely black areas for shadows. This means that these areas contain no pixel details and is something you want to avoid.

The problem you face when photographing sunsets or sunrises is that your sky will be bright, and your foreground will be dark (a high dynamic range). The way that you can ensure that your highlights and shadows are exposed correctly in this scenario is to use a graduated neutral density filter to balance out the difference in the highlights and shadows.

There are also other techniques such as exposure bracketing as well that can help you achieve this in post-production and actually just brightening or darkening these areas in a software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. But whatever you decide, just make sure that your highlights and shadows are exposed correctly and fine-tune them if you need to in post-production.

The blue areas on this photo indicate where the shadows are being clipped (black with no detail).

Here the same image has been adjusted in post-processing to hold more detail in the shadow areas. 

#4 – The image isn’t framed correctly

One of the key elements in ensuring the final photo looks great is to frame your composition correctly.

The easiest way to do this and a good starting point for any photographer is the famous Rule of Thirds where you try to place key points of interest on the intersection of the lines. But the Rule of Thirds is also worth remembering for your horizon line. Usually, you will find that placing the horizon either on the top third or the bottom third will look better than slap bang in the middle.

Horizon centrally framed.

Using the rule of thirds, the horizon here is on the lower third – off-center.

But try to consider the whole picture when framing your shot. Think if there are any areas that are just wasted space where you can crop in tighter. Or if your camera angle is slightly off and you can benefit by just moving a little to either side.

The beauty of photography these days is that you can usually take as many photos as it takes to get your shot framed right. So, play around with your composition and capture a few alternatives that you can then review later in post-production.

Your camera may have the option to display the Rule of Thirds grid when you’re shooting or in image playback mode.

#5 – You haven’t fixed mistakes

Usually, the first bit of feedback that I often give newbie photographers when I look at their sunrise or sunset photos is on elements that could easily be fixed in post-production. Whether you are an advocate of post-production or not there are certain things that you simply should not forego on any photo.

The two biggest of these are:

  1. Ensuring that your photos are straight, that means the horizon line needs to be dead straight.
  2. Making sure you have the correct white balance for the photo (if you haven’t already done so when taking the photo). Think about the scene that you are showing, is it a warm and golden scenario or is it a cool and crisp setting? Either way, tweak your white balance until it is correct.

If you do nothing else in post-production, just making sure these two settings are correct will immediately improve your photos.

This image is clearly not straight as can be seen from the horizon line.

Here the image tilt has been corrected.


Sunsets and sunrises are wonderful times in the day to photograph things. The soft golden light can transform an ordinary scene into an extraordinary one. When done well, they are often the photos that will be the “show stoppers” in any portfolio.

But always remember that a sunset and sunrise needs to work in combination with your composition and subject matter to create a wonderful photo. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to capturing great photos of sunrise and sunsets.

Now it’s your turn to get involved. Share your great sunrise and sunset photos below.

The post 5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning appeared first on Digital Photography School.

4 Ways To Make Better Street Portraits While Traveling

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 15:00

One of my favorite things about travel photography is the opportunities it provides to meet interesting people in the street and make portraits of them. Here are some of the things that I have learned that you can put into practice when you are traveling and make street portraits.

1. Ask people for permission

It’s surprising how you often get the best results when you ask people for permission to make their portrait. This doesn’t apply all the time – you might see somebody interesting who doesn’t notice that you are there and you get the opportunity to make a great candid portrait.

But more often than not you can get a better result by approaching people and asking permission. The good thing about this approach is that it gives you a great excuse to go up to somebody and ask if you can make their portrait. A good way to phrase it is to explain that you are undertaking a project asking interesting people to pose for you.

Problems can arise with this approach if you don’t speak the local language. But that doesn’t stop you communicating with good body language and a smile. You can point to your camera to indicate you are asking for permission to make a portrait.

It’s worth overcoming the challenges

An alternative approach is to work with a local person who can translate for you. This may be a local photographer who you have made contact with and who is interested in helping you out. Or it may be a fixer who you pay to help you communicate with local people and find photo opportunities that you are unlikely to come across by yourself.

Once you have somebody’s permission you have an immediate advantage that you can spend some time with them to work on creating a good street portrait. For example, let’s say you see an interesting person who is standing in the sun and as a result, the light is too harsh to make a good portrait. If you approach them to ask for permission you can then ask them to stand in the shade so you get the best light.

That’s the approach I took with the portrait above, created in a mosque in Delhi. The man approached us in the mosque and explained a few things to us about what we were seeing. When we met him he was standing in the sun. After a few minutes of conversation, we asked if we could make a portrait of him and he said yes. It was easy to find a shady place for him to stand.

2. Photograph character, not beauty

It may be tempting to look for beautiful or handsome people to photograph. And who could blame you? But you’ll create more interesting street portraits full of character if you find interesting people. This means people of both genders and all ages (except children, see next point).

For example, I made the portrait below in the town of San Antonio de Areco in Argentina. This town is famous for its atmospheric bars and gauchos. While taking photos in one of the bars somebody told me there was an elderly couple down the road who loved talking to people and having their photo taken. We went to check out the situation and found the couple sitting out on the street. We had an interesting conversation and I made this portrait.

This also shows how you should be open to opportunity. If people are friendly and make suggestions like this, go with the flow and see where it takes you. Interesting things often happen this way.

3. Don’t take too many photos of children

A few years ago I traveled to the town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia. We were walking through the town’s main square and noticed there was a lot of children. It turned out that it was a national sports day and as part of that event, local school children were in the square to participate in sporting activities.

Eventually one of the children noticed that I had a camera and started jumping up and down in front of me, asking me to take his photo. Of course, then other children joined in and soon I had a mob of kids in front of me who all wanted their photos taken. Which I did, and I have a nice memory because of it.

Luckily a teacher came along and shooed the kids away. The point of this story is that kids are often easy to photograph, especially in places where they get excited whenever they see a foreigner. But they are not likely to feature in your most interesting or memorable photos.

As a subject, they are too easy. Plus, you have to consider that in some countries local people may view strangers photographing children as suspicious. You’ll get better results by avoiding kids and finding interesting adults.

4. Look for interesting backgrounds

My final tip is to look for interesting backgrounds or places and wait with your camera to see what happens. Have you noticed how some photographers walk rapidly from one place to another, taking photos of anything that catches their eye? The aim of this exercise is to get you to slow down and become attuned to the rhythm of the place you’re in.

If the background is interesting enough, you can wait for somebody to pass by and add an element of human interest. People will usually think that you’re photographing whatever’s in the background and probably won’t even realize they are in the photo.

Here’s an example of that. I found this beautiful scene in Guatemala and waited to see what would happen. Eventually, a man cycled by and I was able to make this photo.


When you are traveling with the intention of creating street portraits it takes some work to get the best results. Following the tips in this article, and getting used to approaching people to ask if you can make their portrait will help you a lot with the process.

The Candid Portrait

If you’d like to learn more about street and travel photography then please check out my popular ebook popular ebook The Creative Portrait. Use the code DPS20 for a 20% discount on your first order.

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Tips for Light Painting and Some Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 10:07

In this article, I will focus on light painting objects in night scenes during a single long exposure (rather than multiple exposures combined in Photoshop) and some of the pitfalls I have experienced. I hope you will gain an understanding of how different light sources, intensity, and warmth can illuminate your foreground elements in a balanced way to provide a creative twist to your shot.

A beautiful night sky filled with stars is often laced with compelling foreground elements that can provide context and intrigue to your shots. You have likely seen many examples of these things in other people’s work such as a saguaro cactus under The Milky Way in the middle of the desert, a homestead cabin in the middle of an old pasture, or a boat floating on a still lake.

This single exposure captures The Milky Way over a field of yellow wildflowers in central Minnesota. I used light painting to emphasize the flowers which were an important part of the scene.

I am positive you can think of foreground elements in your personal environment. Although silhouettes of those foreground elements can provide you with stunning imagery, you may consider using light painting techniques to emphasize the foreground elements of your shot.

What is light painting?

Light painting is a night photography technique where you use a light source to illuminate an object (in other words you “paint it”). The digital camera era has made light painting much more common as it is easier to check and compensate for your exposure of the shot. Because light painting provides so many creative options there are many forms it can take.

In order to do light painting, you will need to carry a little bit of extra equipment and have some basic knowledge about your camera’s manual settings. A grasp of these basic camera settings will increase the enjoyment of your night out by helping you make beautiful imagery.

Camera Settings

Manual Mode will be necessary to shoot your long exposures. You should be aware of how to switch to Manual Mode and then adjust your aperture and shutter speed. For night photography, you will want to use a large aperture (e.g., f/2.8) and slow shutter speeds of often 5 seconds or more.

ISO changes will be necessary in order for your camera to pick up the most amount of light possible. I recommend beginning at ISO 800 and then adjusting accordingly as you learn about your particular scene and shooting conditions. It is important to remember that a really high ISO will require you to post-process out digital “noise” and each camera model has a range of ISO values it can shoot at before it will become very grainy.

White Balance adjustment is critical to shooting at night and for light painting. Look in your camera’s manual or play with your camera settings to ensure you can access manual White Balance and you can create lower or higher White Balance values. White Balance is measured in Kelvin and most cameras will represent it with “K” after the White Balance value (e.g. 4500K).

I bounced the light off the snow to light this shot because direct light caused the totem to become too bright and out of balance.


An appropriate light source is necessary to do light painting. You should consider bringing multiple light sources that have both wide and narrow beams as well as multiple color temperatures. You may consider things such as a headlamp, cell phone, flashlight, or professional lighting as these have different beam widths and intensities.

To determine the warmth of your light source, check the box as it may tell you the temperature rating. For instance, many lightbulbs from the store will say 4500K on the side of them. Some professional lighting sources will allow you to adjust both the temperature and intensity of the light, so you may consider those as you progress and become more proficient at light painting.

Beyond the camera and a light source, a tripod is the next most important thing you can bring when shooting long exposures. Ensure your tripod can remain stable for long (up to several minutes occasionally) exposures.

A friend is a great addition to a night of light painting! Your friend can help sidelight objects while you take the photos, provide for creative solutions to problems, and keep you safe as you move around in the dark.

I use this LED light panel which allows me to control the light intensity and color.

Basic Light Painting Techniques

Each night has unique conditions that need to be accounted for, but I like to begin each night with a familiar set of steps. Set your camera up on a tripod and take a few test shots. I usually start at f/2.0, ISO 800, 10-15 seconds, and 4500K.

From those base settings, you can experiment with ISO, shutter speed, and set a White Balance that looks good to you. Once you have the settings for the scene right, set up a composition you like and which ties together the necessary foreground elements. Begin your exposure then use a light source to paint the foreground in front of you.

This image of the Aurora Borealis captures the beauty of the boreal forest and the subtle aurora behind it. I used standard settings (ISO 2000, f/2.2, 20 seconds) and a light panel to make this image.

Selecting a light source is important. Its qualities will determine how it can be used. There are three considerations you should think about:

  1. What is the intensity of the light?
  2. How wide is the beam?
  3. What is the color temperature of the light?

Keeping these things in mind will help you immensely when you go out to shoot. A wide beam can help you light close objects while a more focused beam can light a more distant one. I often use a professional light panel because it gives me control over the beam intensity, width, and warmth.

A good light source will help you get over the pitfalls identified below.

Pitfall #1: Not matching the color balance

When I first began doing light painting, I had a really hard time matching the color of my light and the context of my scene. Your camera will key in on bright objects in the shot such as the moon, a street lamp, or the Aurora Borealis which will become the dominant temperature in the shot.

Keep this in mind as you take your test shots because you will need to adjust your White Balance according to those light sources. If the White Balance of your light source is adjustable set it to the same as the camera. If you cannot control the temperature of your light source (e.g., a cell phone) then consider adjusting the White Balance of your camera to match the light source. You will know the light source and camera are calibrated together properly when the color of your foreground elements look natural (neutral) to your eye.

I’ve provided some examples of images below which came out well and some that did not (according to my eye) due to incorrect White Balance calibration. You should be able to spot images demonstrating the matching warmth pitfall that we just reviewed. I’ve left some thoughts in the captions of the images to reflect on each further.

It is not too hard to diagnose what’s wrong with this image – I did not properly calibrate the temperature of my camera and light source. The light source is too cold compared to my camera’s settings.

The calibration of camera and light source were close on this one, but the temperature was a bit too cold on the light source as evidenced by the bluish tinge to the tree on the left.

A good match! I was able to use the white of the American Flag to calibrate the light source and camera to get good colors from both the flag and the aurora.

This is a good match on the color balance. There were a moon and aurora on this night, so I only used a headlamp to softly light this sled dog that appears to be watching the aurora.

Pitfall #2: Not balancing the light in your scene

Choosing the right beam width and intensity will help you balance the lighting of the foreground elements to the rest of the scene. A digital camera set at ISO 800 or above is incredibly sensitive to light and it is very easy to “blow out” a shot by overexposing the foreground elements. Here are a few tips to help balance the light in your scene.

  • A broad beam will help evenly light an entire scene and a narrow beam can light specific aspects of the scene. I have provided thoughts and examples below about when my light source width was appropriate and when it was incorrect.
  • If you have close foreground elements consider bouncing your light source. I often use reflective surfaces like snow to indirectly light the foreground through bouncing. If you cannot bounce the light, try side lighting or lighting the object from behind.
  • You can decrease the exposure by closing down the aperture. I have found increasing the aperture (say from f/2.0 to f/4.0) and increasing the exposure time make it dramatically easier to create a balance of light in the scene.
  • It stands to reason that if you paint an object for a long time with the light it will show up brighter. You will find that duration is critical when light painting and often less is more. Try light painting the object in a short burst of one half, to one second of light and see if it adequately lights the object.

Blowout! I was light painting these autumn aspens to capture the fall colors with the Aurora Borealis. However, my beam was too narrow for the work I wanted to do.

A small beam allowed me to light up this “old man’s beard” hanging from spruce trees in Southeast Alaska. A wide beam would not have worked here as it would have lit the entire scene.

Here I wanted to capture the glacier face and the aurora together so I placed my light panel behind a block of ice. This masked it from direct view and allowed me to bounce the light off the snow.

A passing car provided the lighting for this shot, and I liked the warmth of the light a lot! The broad beam was most appropriate here.

Food for Thought and Wrapping Up

I hope this article can help you get over a couple of the steep learning curves of light painting. Remember, any light source at your disposal can be used to light your scene and each may have its own unique benefits. Experiment with headlamps, cell phones, car headlights, and professional lighting sources to see what each can provide to the shot.

I hope you enjoy your night out! As I always like to say, “Pixels are cheap”, so make lots of them as you learn light painting.

The post Tips for Light Painting and Some Common Pitfalls to Avoid appeared first on Digital Photography School.

What is a Flash Bracket and Why Do You Need One?

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 15:00

A flash bracket is a device that attaches to your camera and allows you to keep your flash at a greater distance than your built-in or shoe-mounted flash. The result is lighting that is more attractive and consistent. But it comes at the expense of adding quite of a bit of extra bulk to your camera.

In this day and age of MagMod and other portable lighting modifiers, are flash brackets still relevant for photography? Perhaps. Let’s dig into when and why you might need a flash bracket (or not).

Parts of a flash bracket

Flash brackets typically consist of a metal frame that attaches to the tripod screw on the base of your camera. The top portion of the flash bracket will also have a cold shoe mount for attaching an external lighting source such as a speedlight flash.

As a result of your flash no longer being connected to your camera’s hot shoe mount, you’ll have to add an extra accessory to complete your flash bracket setup. You’ll need a flash trigger, which can take the form of a dedicated TTL cord, sync cable, or a wireless radio transmitter.

Once you put it all together, you’ll have a beast of a camera rig.

Why use a flash bracket?

The reasons for needing a flash bracket depend entirely on what kind of photography you do, and the gear that you have. Generally speaking, flash brackets are useful for the following reasons.

Predictable, consistent lighting

Flash brackets allow you to have predictable, consistent lighting. This is especially key for event photographers who may need to roam between rooms with differing ambient lighting conditions. A flash bracket can help you achieve consistent lighting no matter the ambient light.

Among the most common applications for a flash bracket is at a red carpet event. If you look a the photographers working the event, almost all will have a flash bracket of some sort. That’s because they have no control over the ambient lighting at the event and must quickly take horizontal and vertical images of a fast-moving subject.

No need for an assistant

It holds your flash slightly off camera without the need to physically hold your flash off-camera or use an assistant. Again, this is most useful for event or wedding photographers who may not have an extra set of hands.

Helps you shoot in a vertical orientation

If you shoot a vertical image with direct flash attached to your camera’s hot shoe mount,  you might notice that your photo subject has a sideways shadow. You’ll have a similar challenge even when trying to use your flash’s built-in bounce card or a lighting modifier such as the MagMod MagBounce.

Most speedlights don’t rotate 90 degrees, with the exception of select Sony flashes with the Quick Shift Bounce feature. In order to keep your flash position consistent when shooting horizontal and vertical photos, you need a pivoting flash bracket to help you swivel the flash to always keep it above the camera.

Shooting a vertical photo with the flash mounted to your camera’s hot shoe means your flash is at a sideways angle.

Resulting image when shooting vertically without a flash bracket. Note the heavy shadow to the subject’s side.

Shooting a vertical photo with a flash bracket keeps the flash on top of your lens, allowing for more consistent lighting.

Resulting image when using a flash bracket. The side shadow is almost totally eliminated.

What about bounce flash?

Bouncing your flash off the ceiling or using the built-in bounce card is a great way to achieve nice lighting. But depending on the type of photography you do, you can’t always guarantee there will be a good surface to bounce your flash. When you need consistent lighting in unpredictable photography environments, a flash bracket could help you out.

Shooting a vertical image with a bounce card results in awkward angles when shooting without a flash bracket.

Resulting image when shooting without a flash bracket.

Shooting a vertical image with a bounce card and a flash bracket results in an image with more balanced lighting.

Resulting photo when shooting with a flash bracket.

Recommended flash brackets

Flash brackets can range from very simple and inexpensive, to more complex and thus more costly. A straight flash bracket such as this one by Vello will be pretty cheap, costing $20 or less. It’s much harder to find a rotating or swiveling flash bracket that will do so smoothly and without adding too much bulk. After much research, I ended up purchasing the model below, used mainly for my red carpet photography shoots.

Custom Brackets RF-PRO Rapid Fire Flash Bracket

This flash bracket (Custom Brackets RF-PRO Rapid Fire Flash Bracket) stands out for several reasons. First, it is somewhat thin and compact, especially when folded down. This makes it easy to store and carry with me on location. The layout of the flash bracket is also such that it keeps my speedlight relatively close to my camera body and lens, making for an overall low-profile rig.

Many other flash brackets such as this option from LimoStudio end up being extremely bulky as they elevate the flash way above the camera. This might be helpful if you need to move your flash around a lot, but it makes for a much bigger footprint.

Constructed of sturdy aluminum, the Custom Brackets unit is very solid, yet relatively lightweight considering the load that it is meant to carry. And finally, it is one of few flash brackets out there that easily and quickly rotates the flash.

So do you need a flash bracket?

If you have the luxury of setting up lighting and controlling your photography environment, you probably don’t need a flash bracket. However, if you do a lot of on-location photography and don’t always have control over your lighting factors, a flash bracket could help you out, and be a handy addition to your bag.

Do you use a flash bracket for photography? If so, tell us what brand you use and in what photography scenarios below in the comments areas.

The post What is a Flash Bracket and Why Do You Need One? appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Easily Watermark Your Images Using Lightroom

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 10:00

In this article, I’m going to show you just how easy it is to watermark your images using Lightroom.

With photography, it’s the simple things which often become the most important. Simple moments like the sun shining through that perfect wisp of cloud and plain objects shot with elementary techniques. Perhaps one of the simplest, and yet at the same time most important, additions you can make to your work is helping to protect it from unwanted uses while at the same time making sure people know who made your wonderful image.

Watermarks and logos (we’ll just use the term “watermark” for this article) help to keep your images from being used without your permission. Of course, nothing is bulletproof in the digital age but adding a watermark to your photos is one of the easiest ways you can impart a little security to your images before you send them out into the world.

Watermarks in Lightroom

Watermarks can be added to your images during the exportation process, but the watermarks you make and store in Lightroom are available anytime.

To access the watermark creation section dialog at any time in Lightroom, from your top menu bar go to Edit > Edit Watermarks (note: on Mac you need to go to Lightroom > Edit Watermarks).

Once in the watermark creation dialog, you have quite a few options for constructing your watermarks. The two main choices will be whether to create a text watermark or to import a graphic from somewhere else on our computer.

I’ll begin by showing you how to make a simple text watermark (which I use) and then move onto importing a graphic.

How to Create a Text Watermark

Making a text-based watermark right in Lightroom is extraordinarily easy. Essentially, all you need to do is type in the box provided and place the watermark where you want it to appear on your image.

For our example, let’s type in a simple watermark. Make sure the “Text” option is selected as the Watermark Style at the top right of the window.

Next, choose what font, color, style, and orientation you would like to use for the text. The orientation is less of an issue because you will be moving the watermark yourself later.

To shadow or not to shadow? This is just a drop-shadow to make the text appear more three-dimensional and I usually leave this option unchecked. If you choose to add a shadow, there will be some basic positioning and opacity options for you to adjust to suit your tastes.

Add a drop-shadow here.

Set the size

Now you will need to decide what size to make the watermark relative to your photo. Generally, keeping the watermark sized proportionately is best but you can also choose to “Fit” or “Fill” the text to the photo. Usually, the “Fill” option will be seldom used as it obnoxiously enlarges the watermark.

The Fill option is a bit too in your face.

Position the watermark

The “Inset” sliders control how far inside the frame the watermark will be positioned. I’ve found this is best left until the end so we’ll adjust this later.

The final set of options in the watermark dialog is the anchor point selection.

Picture that center dot as being the middle of your photo. You can choose whichever location you prefer but I like to position my watermarks in the bottom right corner and also vertically orient them. Use the arrows to rotate your watermark.

Watermark rotated and placed in the lower right corner.

Before you save your new watermark, I want you to adjust the inset just a tad vertically to move it back from the edge of the image. This is where those inset sliders from earlier come into play.

Now is the time to make some final tweaks to the size and opacity of the watermark once it is fully positioned.

To save this for use later (more on this shortly) simply click “Save” and give your freshly-minted watermark a name.

How to Create a Graphic Watermark

You might not believe it, but using your own graphical watermark is just as easy as making its textual counterpart. To start, simply select the “Graphic” option at the top of the watermark dialog box.

Next, click “Choose…” and find the graphic you want to use on your computer. Keep in mind it will need to be either in a JPG or PNG file format.

For this tutorial, I made a quick 3D watermark in Photoshop. Once you’ve selected the file you want to use, Lightroom will do the rest. This is my graphic before it was nested into the image.

And here it is after it has been placed and positioned. The text left in the box will have no effect since the Graphic Watermark option is selected.

From here you have many of the same options for opacity, positioning, and sizing as you did for the text watermark. Saving the graphic watermark is done exactly the same way as you saved the text watermark as well.

How to Apply Your Watermark During Export

Now that you know how to create and save your watermarks in Lightroom, it’s time to stick them onto your images during export which is also super easy.

Open the Export dialog box by choosing File > Export. Near the very bottom of the dialog box in the right-hand box, you’ll see the Watermarking drop-down menu.

Select the watermark you would like to apply. In this case, add the graphical watermark you saved earlier.

Click export and your image will be exported with your watermark lovingly placed!

Final Thoughts on Making Watermarks in Lightroom

Watermarks are a great way to sign and protect your photographs. While there are no real rules for applying your watermarks, I would urge you to adhere to the “less is more” mentality. Do not plaster your watermark obtrusively over your images like most of the samples in this tutorial, which were done for demonstration purposes only.

Make your photo the center of attention with your watermark as more of an afterthought. That being said, feel free to experiment with your own creative watermarks. As you’ve just seen, they are incredibly easy to apply in Lightroom.

The post How to Easily Watermark Your Images Using Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Photographing Real Estate Interiors

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 15:00

In this article, we’ll address the challenges you may face when photographing real estate interiors and a few ways to combat the issues. Shooting bracketed images is the most common and effective way to handle high contrast interiors. Read on below for tips on how to shoot and process interiors.

The problem

Most real estate photographers have entered a room at some stage in their career and thought, “Ah… a dark room with a bright window. Just what I do NOT need!”

Using straightforward post-production techniques to fix either over or underexposed parts of a photograph is practically impossible. So walking into this kind of scene can make your heart sink. The good news is that it’s not so hard to get around the problem posed by these scenes once you are equipped with the right techniques.

Achieving a well-exposed photograph of a dark room with a bright window initially seems impossible. Expose for the interior and the windows are blown out. Expose for the windows and the darker parts of the room are plunged into shadow.

Photo exposed for the interior (1/4 second at f/8), notice the windows are overly bright.

The difference between the brightest and darkest areas, known as dynamic range, is just too great. This is a High Dynamic Range scene, or HDR for short.

Photo exposed for the windows (1/125th at f/8), now you can see the inside is almost completely black.

Our eyes cope with HDR scenes by adjusting the size of our pupils, letting in more or less light as we encounter darker or brighter areas. The brain balances it all out and everything seems well lit.

Unfortunately, when it comes to a dark interior with a bright view, even the best DSLR cameras can’t capture the entire brightness range with a single exposure.

Photo at normal exposure (1/30th at f/8), here you can see some areas are too dark, and the windows are too bright. The camera cannot hold detail in the entire scene, the contrast is too great.

There are two ways you can resolve this issue
  1. You can add light to brighten the room and reduce the dynamic range.
  2. You can take multiple exposures and combine them using software to emulate what our eyes and brain do.
Adding light

To brighten the room, you’ll generally need to supply extra lighting. Just turning on all the available lights is unlikely to solve the problem.

One option is to bring along portable lighting. However, this is another skill to master, another thing to carry, and even though the cost of lighting is falling it’s still another expense. You may also need to bring an extension cable, and hope that the property has power.

You could also use professional flash units, mounted off-camera and triggered remotely. The term professional is important here because less powerful flash units rarely deliver enough light to solve this particular problem.

Effective use of flash units also requires skill. You’ll probably need several flashguns, and the knowledge of which units to use and where to put them. Again, it’s more expense and a lot more kit to carry, especially when you include stands for the units too.

Taking multiple exposures

So what about multiple exposure approaches? One method is the Photoshop approach where you take only two photographs, one correctly exposed for the room and one for the windows, and open them in separate layers in Photoshop.

Once you have manually aligned the two layers (using the Difference blending mode to guide you, zooming in may help as well), with the darker image on the bottom, you then select the blown-out windows on the top layer (the image exposed for the inside of the room). Using a layer mask, make the window areas transparent, and the properly exposed windows in the second shot will show through from underneath.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely results in a convincing and realistic looking image, as two exposures are not enough to cover the entire range of brightness that our eyes perceive. Additionally, the photo exposed for the window will underexpose the window frame and any ornaments on the windowsill, making them look darker than they should be.

A more effective approach involves taking multiple exposures to capture different lighting levels (bracketed photographs) and using HDR software to merge them into an image that’s well-exposed throughout. Shadows are corrected without additional lighting, and bright areas are pulled back without appearing artificial.

Bracketing is very popular with real estate photographers because it overcomes the problems associated with the alternative approaches. All without the cost and inconvenience of more equipment on location – except for one good quality tripod!

Bracketing exposures

Correctly capturing the exposures is key to obtaining the best results with this approach. So let’s look more closely at how professionals do this when photographing real estate interiors so that you can master it yourself.

Essentially, you take a series of identical shots at the same aperture – but using different shutter speeds. A constant aperture keeps the depth of field the same while changing the exposure allows you to capture well-exposed images for all the different lighting levels in the scene.

It is called exposure bracketing because the varying exposure settings are “bracketed” between the slowest and fastest shutter speeds needed.

The Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function, built into most DSLR and mirrorless cameras, greatly simplifies the process, allowing you to take three or more bracketed exposures with just one shutter release.

In many situations, especially outdoors, it will also save you having to use a tripod. Any camera movements during shooting (inevitable in hand-held shots) are small enough that software with robust alignment features can automatically correct them.

Camera settings

You start the AEB setup by selecting Aperture Priority (Av) mode.

The rest varies between camera models, but typically involves three steps: selecting AEB and continuous shooting mode, choosing the number of bracketed frames, and choosing the number of EV steps between each shot.

Your camera’s user manual will cover the steps needed for your model.


Exposure bracketing techniques for interiors

Lighting differences in an interior scene with views through the windows are so great, that taking bracketed exposures may involve more than just setting up AEB and taking the shots, especially when you want the highest quality results.

The main problem comes from the camera’s choice of shutter speed for the baseline or “normal” exposure (0 EV). Bright light through a window can influence a camera’s automatic exposure, resulting in a photo set that is skewed towards underexposure.

Another problem is that capturing the scene could demand more exposures than your camera’s AEB provides. Also, since a low ISO is best to minimize noise in the shadows, you may need quite long exposures. Without a tripod, that will result in blurred images that could ruin the shot.

Quick technique

Even though exposure bracketing is more involved when photographing interiors with window views, you can use a relatively quick technique when the lighting differences aren’t too great and your camera offers a broad AEB exposure range. This is how it works.

After selecting Aperture Priority (Av) mode, point the camera at an area of the room that is neither too dark nor too bright, just ‘average’, and well away from the windows.

Note that the shutter speed when the camera is pointed at the sofa is 1/10th.

Take note of the shutter speed your camera displays for that area. Then switch to Manual mode, make sure the shutter speed is the one you noted, activate the AEB function and take the photos.

While this will certainly be better than a single exposure, you lack control with this technique and you can’t always select the right number of photographs to be taken.

Advanced bracketing technique

When you want to maximize output quality, use this advanced bracketing exposure technique to ensure that you take all the exposures needed to cover the entire lighting range. This gives you far more control, although it takes a little longer and the process is slightly more complex.

This video steps you through the technique, from camera setup to determining what exposures to use, through to taking the photos themselves.

One of the main advantages of this technique is that it establishes precise shutter speeds that match the maximum levels of darkness and brightness in the room. It does this by determining the shutter speeds for both extremes of the lighting range.

This is important because misjudging the correct exposure for the darkest areas can result in an image where the interior isn’t bright enough. While failing to capture the brightest areas results in washed-out looking windows.

How to find the shutter speed for both extremes

You can choose between two methods to find the shutter speeds for the darkest and brightest parts of the scene:

  • Spot Metering method.
  • Histogram check method.
Spot metering method

This is the quickest way to find your needed shutter speeds. Start by selecting Aperture priority, or Av mode, then choose the Spot Metering option from the camera menu.

Spot Metering mode.

Find the longest shutter speed by focusing on the darkest part of the room. While watching the exposure meter in the camera’s viewfinder, adjust the shutter speed until the camera shows it to be the best exposure for that part of the room. Make a note of the recommended shutter speed.

Find the shortest shutter speed by focusing on the brightest part of the room, and repeat the process to find the best shutter speed. Again, note the recommended speed.

Histogram method

The second method to determine the two shutter speeds is more precise and works like this:

  • Set the camera’s LCD screen or image preview to display the brightness histogram.
  • Take a test shot of the darkest area of the room, then examine the histogram.
  • If the left side of the histogram shows a vertical line at the start of the graph, then there are dark areas you’ve not yet captured.
  • Take another shot with a longer shutter speed and repeat the process until the histogram trails off to a flat line on the left. When you see that, you’ve identified the slowest shutter speed needed.

  • Now take a test shot of the brightest part of the room, and again examine the histogram.
  • This time look for a vertical line on the right of the histogram. If you see one, then you’ve not yet captured the brightest parts of the scene.
  • Keep taking shorter exposures, checking the histogram after each one until it shows a flat line to the right of the graph. When you see that, you know the shortest shutter needed.

Many DSLR cameras have a feature that shows overexposed parts of an image. When activated, the highlight warning system makes overexposed areas blink or flash when viewed on the LCD screen. If you see this, increase the shutter speed until the blinking areas stop flashing.

How to bracket your exposures

Once you know these two shutter speeds you can use them in two different ways – one that uses the camera’s built-in Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) option, and one that does not.

The full manual method
  • Switch the camera to Manual mode
  • Set the shutter speed to the shortest of your measured shutter speeds and take a photograph.
  • Decrease the shutter speed by one stop (EV) and take the next photograph.
  • Keep reducing the shutter speed by one (EV) stop for each photograph until you reach the longest of the two shutter speeds you measured.

The semi-automated method
  • Open the HDR Exposures Calculator app from HDRsoft.
  • Enter the shortest and longest shutter speeds into the app.
  • Select the maximum number of bracketed frame your camera supports.
  • Select an EV Spacing of 2 if your camera supports it, otherwise go with the highest EV spacing it offers, then click “Get Exposures”.
  • Follow the instructions given by the HDR Exposures Calculator, making sure you have set the camera to AEB mode and selected Continuous Shooting mode before taking a bracketed set.
Additional tips to take the photos

You now know how to measure the longest and shortest exposures you will need, and how to set up your camera to take all exposures between them. Correct technique is important too, so here are some steps to follow to make sure you get good results.

  1. Securely mount the camera on a tripod, and ensure the camera is level.
  2. If the camera is mounted on a tripod, switch off Auto Image Stabilization.
  3. Set the built-in flash to Off if your camera has one.
  4. Attach a remote shutter release to reduce the risk of blur.
  5. Select Manual mode and set an aperture suitable for the lighting and depth of field required.
  6. Set the ISO value, 100 is ideal. Digital noise (the electronic equivalent of grain) increases as the ISO value increases, so keep it as low as possible. Try not to go beyond ISO 400.
  7. Determine the shutter speed required to best expose the darkest part of the room and the shutter speed to best expose the brightest part. See the section above on finding the shutter speeds for both extremes.
  8. Take the exposure bracketed photos as detailed in the previous section.

Once you’ve returned from the shoot, process the images in HDR software. There are various photo applications that can merge multiple exposures to HDR. Photomatix Pro is the first choice among many real estate photographers because it offers presets optimized for interiors, achieving the natural look they strive for.

Using Photomatix Pro with real estate interiors

Photomatix Pro is designed to be easy to use, so you should get comfortable using it pretty quickly.  Here are a few tips to help you get the best out of it for your interior photographs.

Check the Align Source Images option with On Tripod selected (even when you use a tripod, there can be some small camera movement between shots).

Don’t activate the option to remove ghosts. This is important in real estate images as adjusting for ghosting when there isn’t any reduces image quality. If you absolutely must use de-ghosting, for example, because something moved outside a window, be sure to use the selective de-ghosting option, so it can be applied to just the affected window.

When you adjust the merged HDR image, use the drop-down list above the preset thumbnails to show just those related to the Architecture style (or “Real-estate” depending on your Photomatix version).

Lastly, you can use the Finishing Touch panel’s straightening tool to correct sloping floors or walls that aren’t upright. Finally, use the cropping tool to remove edge areas of the photo affected by wide-angle lens distortion or chromatic aberration.


Although getting good photographs of real estate interiors can seem daunting, particularly when bright windows are involved, the right techniques and software make it is achievable without bulky, expensive equipment.

The main points to remember are:

  • Exposure bracketing is the key technique.
  • For simple scenarios, you can bracket based on an average exposure.
  • For other situations, work out the brightest and darkest exposure along with the shots in between.
  • Spot metering or the histogram can help you determine these exposures.
  • You can take the exposures manually, or using AEB and the HDR Exposures Calculator app.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask about the tips in the article and taking bracketed exposures of interiors? If you do, please let us know in the comments below. If you have any tips of your own, you’re welcome to share them too.

Disclaimer: HDRsoft is a paid partner of dPS

The post Tips for Photographing Real Estate Interiors appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Ways to Challenge Yourself as a Wildlife Photographer

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 10:00

As a wildlife photographer, often it can seem challenging enough just to find your subjects out in the field, let alone get close enough to take that perfect image. However, to develop as a photographer, constantly challenging yourself is a key ingredient to learning and growing, helping you to tell stories in a more meaningful and creative way through your images.

In this article, I will give you a few ideas to explore when you next head out on a nature photography shoot, to keep you challenged and growing as a photographer.

1 – Take one lens

Restricting yourself is often a great way to encourage creativity. Working with constraints can help you to think outside the box and explore ideas or ways of working that you might have missed in other cases. As photographers, having a boatload of lenses at our disposal means we have options to capture the world in a multitude of ways. Yet still, within this, we often become restricted within our view, choosing to consistently work with convention rather than explore creative options.

For example, if you are going to work with birds you will likely select your long telephoto, whereas, for insects or flowers, the obvious choice is a macro lens. However, if you decide to restrict yourself to a certain lens or focal length you have to use that in order to explore and create a photograph. That means that sometimes you’ll have to work in a new way, choose a different composition, or go for a different type of image than you would normally attempt.

For example, taking a macro lens out for a full day of shooting you might feel restricted. But the 100mm focal length (common for most macro lenses) is actually highly adaptable for working with a variety of subjects from landscapes to tiny insects, or even people and street images. Prime lenses further enhance this restriction, forcing you to zoom with your feet.

However, after a number of days solely focused on each lens in your bag, you’ll have a much greater appreciation for the wide variety of subjects and images it can produce. Thus helping you to be more creative with your choices in the future.

2 – Work wide

For most wildlife photographers, the long telephoto is our safe haven. We know that when using a 300mm, 500mm or 600mm lens we can frame up our subjects and get wonderful clean portrait images. Allowing us to concentrate on our subjects and not necessarily needing to worry about the other elements in the landscape.

The thing is that, although telephotos are fantastic for filling the frame and showing close details of distant creatures, they don’t give an impression of scale. Images show with a long lens almost seem less immersive than shots taken with shorter focal lengths.

Of course, one of the biggest problems is that shooting wildlife with a wide lens is often a lot harder, (depending on the subject) than your traditional long lens wildlife photography. But this is a great learning curve. Yes, the complexities of predicting animal behavior, working out positioning for remote cameras and triggering them at the perfect time without always being able to look through the viewfinder is difficult. But the struggles will certainly push you to be a better wildlife photographer in the long run.

Try working with a wireless remote in the garden to get started. A simple bird feeder or setup for urban mammals is a great way to hone your skills, to add another string to your photographic bow.

Remote-triggered wide-angle shot.

3 – Add movement

Often, I hear wildlife photographers talking about always getting the image tack sharp. But in reality, how much in nature ever freezes dead still? Adding motion to your images is a great way to explore and develop your shooting style, adding drama to images and also helping the wildlife you’re recording to come alive in your frames.

When working in the field it can be tempting to always have that 1/1000 of a second shutter speed dialed in. Learning how and when to slow your shutter to display movement is a great skill, but it takes practice to get it right.

Often I find that for large moving creatures, such as deer, a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second allows enough movement into the frame to make great panning shots. In contrast, birds with their fast-moving nature mean that often 1/100th or 1/60th easily provides enough movement within the frame for lovely streaking effects.

Of course, in addition to panning with slow shutter speeds, keeping your camera dead steady and allowing the creatures to move is another effective technique for creating unique and captivating images of nature’s patterns and movements.

4 – Pick a theme and stick to it

Another way to challenge yourself as a nature photographer is to set yourself a theme to work on. This could be a practical theme like birds in flight, animal portraits, or in the landscape images. Another option is exploring a certain location or place with a geographical theme or even delving a little deeper to explore emotions or feelings as a base for a set of images.

The reason for shooting around a theme is to train yourself how to showcase and express your ideas through images more effectively. As a photographer, you are a visual storyteller. So being able to draw from inspirations, ideas, and emotions and express them photographically helps you to tell better and more powerful stories through your images.

Aim to develop a couple of small bodies of work, maybe three sets of three images, each with a different focus as a training exercise. It’s a great way to focus on areas where you’re less confident and give yourself a mini-assignment to develop and shoot to keep you focused on improving your work.

5 – Shoot like you have one roll of film

A final way to challenge yourself is to go out on a shoot and pretend that you only have 36 images or a single roll of film. This is to force yourself to be more critical and picky with your images, choosing the perfect moment to get a shot rather than just taking a number to be sure one will be okay.

Shooting with a limit slows you down and makes you consider things more intently, thinking through your exposure, composition, and technique before shooting. The idea is that you only shoot one frame per subject, aiming to get it perfect on every image.

You can do this even more strictly by getting hold of an old school 1gb or 2GB memory card, the modern equivalent of a single roll of film. You can pick them up cheap on eBay and they are great training aids.

Of course, if you want even more of a challenge why not try shooting an actual roll of film. With each frame literally costing you money, you will soon focus your shooting in order to make sure you nail it out on location. It’s good fun and a really great learning tool!


So there you have it, a quick rundown of five ways to challenge yourself as a nature or wildlife photographer to help develop your photography.

By focusing on specific challenges and setting yourself goals and tasks, you’ll certainly see your photography improve. As well, you will have more confidence going for those creative images when you’re on your next shoot.

The post 5 Ways to Challenge Yourself as a Wildlife Photographer appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 15:00

In this article, you will get five simple exercises to help you improve your photography.

How to grow as a photographer

Everyone, from beginners to professionals, seeks to improve their photography. Yet we often struggle to do just that, repeatedly asking the question, “How do I actively move my photography forward?

Learning to take top-notch photographs isn’t like learning a musical instrument, where you can practice fingerings and scales while slowly gaining skills. When it comes to improving photography, the path often seems nebulous, difficult to grasp.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are more focused ways of improving your photography. Below, I discuss five of these exercises, which, if done consistently, will help you improve your photography by leaps and bounds.

Exercise #1: Photograph every day for a month

The first exercise is simple; photograph every day. This may sound easy, but it often isn’t. With a job and family and life, it’s surprisingly difficult to get out and do photography.

But I’d like to emphasize this, if you’re serious about improving your photography, start here. Make sure that you use your camera each day, even if you only take one image. Carve out a particular time of the day that works. Or, if it’s easier for you, carry a camera around in your purse/backpack/briefcase, and bring it out during your lunch break.

I’ve found that there’s a sort of magic that comes from photographing—not just consistently—but daily. Your camera becomes a familiar tool in your hands. You start to see compositions everywhere. The photographic medium starts to make sense.

Trust me, if you do this your work will improve fast.

Exercise #2: Make 10 unique images of one subject

One of the main barriers to photographic improvement is not the technique so much as it is the ability to see.

A great photographer often views a subject and starts to visualize the many possibilities, quickly rejecting those which won’t work, and selecting that which does.

Hence, choose a subject and start by taking the obvious photographs.

Then, rather than moving on, force yourself to look for more. Get in close and take some more abstract or detail shots. Move back and look for more environmental images. Alter the background, the angle, and/or the lighting. If you normally use a tripod, try working handheld, or vice versa.

This exercise is meant to improve your ability to see. It is meant to take you out of your comfort zone so that you go beyond the obvious, and start looking deeper at your subject. Once that is ingrained, the photographic possibilities begin to open up, and your images will become unique and more satisfying.

Exercise #3: Share only one image per week

Let me explain this one. Part of improving one’s photography involves becoming a better self-critic. If you cannot recognize where you need to improve, then it’s very difficult to improve at all. But if you can pinpoint your strengths and your weaknesses, then you can improve upon the weaknesses—and harness your strengths.

To this end, I recommend joining a photo sharing site, one that is geared towards photography. Flickr, 500PX, and Tumblr would work well (or the dPS Facebook group). Then post one, and only one, image per week. Make sure that you’ve looked through your recent work, and that the image that you’re sharing is your best.

Before posting, think to yourself, “What is it that makes this a strong image? What would make it better? And what was it that made me reject the other images in favor of this one?” Take note of your responses, and remember them the next time you’re out in the field.

So why can’t you just do this privately, rather than posting to a photo sharing site?

I find that there’s a bit of pressure that comes from posting your pictures publicly. This forces you to work slightly harder in identifying your best images. However, if you would strongly prefer not to post your images publicly, you could adjust the settings on your chosen sharing site so that only you can view the images—but imagine that you’re assembling them for a gallery showing.

Exercise #4: Critique at least 10 images per week

Similar to Exercise #3, but with a slightly different focus. Learning to critique your own work is great, but it’s also important to look at a broad array of photography with a critical eye. Hence, join a photo critique forum, and critique at least 10 images per week.

There are a number of forums out there that I recommend for nature photographers like myself: Naturescapes, Nature Photographers Network, and are all good ones. They should allow you to make a free account in order to comment on other images.

This will help you in a few ways. First, constantly looking at images will help you to internalize compositions and get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to improve your own photography if you don’t have a sense of what good photography looks like.

Second, it may give you ideas for your own photography. By this, I don’t mean that you copy other people’s photographs directly. But you can take note of interesting techniques, camera settings, and compositions, and incorporate them into your own work.

Third, being forced to articulate, in writing, what you find pleasing about an image will go a long way toward being able to understand how to make your own images more pleasing.

Notice that I’m not telling you to post your images on the critique forum—but if you feel confident enough to do so, then that is an excellent way to improve as well.

Exercise #5: Work in another genre of photography

This exercise is for those who would self-identify as intermediate or advanced photographers. Early on in your photographic journey, I would recommend focusing on a single genre and improving within that genre.

I took a break from macro photography to work on my street photography skills.

However, once you have a decent amount of experience, I find that it is really beneficial to get out of your comfort zone by working on another photographic genre (the more different, the better!). Stick with this genre for an entire month.

This forces you to expand your photographic eye and think in new ways. It can often generate unique ideas that you can apply to your primary area of photography. And when the month is up and you switch back to your favored type of photography, you’ll likely find that you’ll be seeing the world in a whole new light.

In conclusion…

If you’re seeking to improve your photography, follow the exercises discussed above.

If you photograph every day, focus on expanding your photographic eye, look at numerous images and learn to critique your own, and expand your photographic horizons—you will soon be on your way to a higher level of photography. I wish you the best of luck!

Have any exercises that you’ve found useful for photographic improvement? Share them in the comments!

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Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 10:00

A Lensbaby lens is a dream come true for artistic, creative, and ground-breaking photographers. A company made famous by their innovative effect lenses and optics, Lensbaby has captivated the industry for nearly 14 years. This company’s newest pride and joy is the Lensbaby Burnside 35, an f/2.8 lens that is unlike any other in their arsenal.

Swirly Bokeh

The Burnside 35 features the iconic “swirly bokeh” that Lensbaby is famous for. This effect is seemingly influenced by the Petzval objective which causes a swirly bokeh and vignette, and it is created by pairing two doublet lenses with an aperture stop in between.

The first lens corrects spherical aberrations and the second lens corrects for astigmatism. However, the pairing creates the swirly distortion that we all love.

You can adjust the intensity of the swirly bokeh by changing the aperture: f/2.8 will be most intense, while something like an f/16 won’t have any swirl at all. The thing that I find most compelling about Lensbaby is the fact that all of the effects are in-camera/in-lens, hence saving you a lot of time on the editing front.

Built-in vignetting

I was very intrigued to stumble upon this lens, as it has a feature I have never before seen in any other – a built-in vignette slider. Instead of needing to darken the edges of your photograph in post-processing, you can do an in-camera effect and save yourself the editing trouble.

It’s a manual lens

That being said, much like other lenses in the Lensbaby collection, this one is fully manual. The aperture is adjusted by rotating the aperture cuff at the very back of the lens rather than in the camera as is common for other lenses. The vignette slider is located near the cuff on the opposite side of the lens.

When rotating either the vignette slider or the aperture ring, you can feel each stop as there feels to be a minor indent that pops into place – a welcome feeling when wanting to make quick adjustments without looking up from the lens.

The focus is also manual, which may cause a bit of a learning curve for photographers that rely heavily on autofocus. However, I found that it was rather easy to see when the focus was captured or not and I was able to become proficient in a matter of a half hour.

Keeping the fully manual aspect of the lens in mind, this may not be the right piece of equipment for fast-paced action shooting. That being said, the artistic look of Lensbaby Burnside 35 can even make out of focus images look intentionally fuzzy (although any stylistic choice should look intentional, not as a mistake).


The lens’s build feels incredibly sturdy (it’s made of metal) and it is visually striking. Though I’d consider the lens fairly light in comparison to other 35mm lenses, it is still a significant weight that adds to the impression of a very sturdy build.

The lens does not come with a case, and I’d highly recommend one. Despite a sturdy build, a good bump could crack something, and that’s not a risk worth taking.

The metal front lens cap is easy to slide on and off but holds very tight when it’s on; exactly how you’d want it to be. The rear mounting cap is equivalent to all the ones I’ve seen from other lenses. The box comes with a user guide with tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your lens, a welcome addition to any lens purchase.

The vignette slider in action

The vignette slider makes a significant, visual difference in the image. It’s great to be able to see right-off-the-bat how the image will look at the various vignette stops. As well, from a purely aesthetic perspective, it can be rather fun to watch the vignette open and close on the glass itself – it’s a bit like a reptilian creature blinking.

Do keep in mind that the frame will darken significantly when the vignette slider is set at its most closed point. As such, I actually found myself using the vignette slider almost like a neutral density filter to bring out the colors of a very bright sky.

The versatility of this lens is also notable enough to bring up. You are certainly not obligated to photograph at a low aperture number and a shallow depth of field, when bumping the aperture up to f/16, architectural photographs are exceptional at the 35mm focal length. Add the vignette slider and you have a dramatic image worthy of any gallery.

The vignette slider at the dark end of the scale.

The vignette slider at the light end of the scale.


This 35mm lens is nice and wide and can focus up to 6 inches away from the glass itself, excellent for macro photography. There isn’t much distortion on the subject that is in focus in the center, which is much appreciated.

Compatible with both full-frame cameras and crop sensors, I tested the Burnside 35 on my Canon 5D Mark IV (full-frame) and Canon 7D Mark II (crop sensor) to see how well it performed. I was brilliantly satisfied with its abilities for both, though it was clear to see that the full-frame yielded even more fantastic results than the crop sensor.

It’s worth mentioning that I was exceptionally pleased with how fluid the manual focus was as well as the vignette slider, both moved with ease and can be adjusted with just one or two fingers! This lens is exceptionally sharp when the focus is right, making sure that whatever you want to be the subject is very clear.

The equipment is small and easy to carry, another welcome sight in lenses.

At a retail price of $499.99 (available now), the Lensbaby Burnside 35 is worth every penny if I do say so myself. The Burnside 35 is available in the following mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Sony Alpha A, Fuji X, Micro 4/3, Pentax K, and Samsung NX.

The post Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Photographing Toddlers – 5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 15:00

“Having a two-year-old is like having a blender that you don’t have the top for.” – Jerry Seinfeld

No doubt, you’ve experienced the frustration of photographing your own toddler or a family with toddlers. Frustration and anxiety come from not knowing how to relate to toddlers and get them to cooperate for photos. But there is a way to have a great experience photographing toddlers even if they are grumpy, unruly, shy or scared.

I’ve developed five strategies based on my own career as a portrait photographer and insights from childhood psychology.

If you struggle when photographing toddlers, these five tips will transform your experience and theirs too!

This is often how a sibling photo with toddlers goes! There are times when you need to forget about the perfect photo and go for comical instead.

1. Meet the toddler where they are

“The fundamental job of a toddler is to rule the universe.” – Lawrence Kutner

Most toddlers are not interested in sitting for a picture. For them, life is all about exploration. They don’t understand the picture taking process. Photography is about cherishing their childhood and marveling at their growth.

Toddlers love to explore. They were born for picking up sticks and wandering off.

Begin by realizing that a toddler does not know what a photography session is about. They may even be confused or scared during this new experience.

I was photographing a family and the mom and dad told me that their little guy was terrified of the camera. When he saw my camera he burst into tears and ran away. It seemed like an impossible situation.

Never fear when a toddler runs away from a photo. Turn it into a fun game of chase.

2. Promise to be patient

“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” – Franklin P. Jones

If you’re planning to photograph your own toddler or another family, you must begin by promising to be patient.

This should happen long before you pick up your camera. Patience must be built into your photo session. Make the decision in advance that nothing will cause you to become upset.

Photographers only feel impatient with toddlers because they’ve lost control and don’t know what to do. When you promise to be patient, your mind will be clear to think of solutions.

Embrace a variety of emotions. Sometimes a grumpy look adds an interesting mood to the photo, especially in black and white.

When that little boy ran away from the camera, I had to be clear in my thinking and figure out what to do next.

Promise to be patient no matter what happens and then begin to create an environment in which toddlers will thrive.

3. Develop a friendship

“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”– Henry Ford

Kids love to make new friends. During photo sessions with toddlers (or older kids), you must make time to befriend them. A fun grown-up is like a superhero leading them into adventures.

When a toddler is shy, give them time to warm up. They’ll let you know when they’re ready to be friends.

Go ahead and provoke a great expression by being a comedian, toddlers will love it.

You can even make friends with misbehaving toddlers. Give them time to run free and pretty soon they’ll pull you by the hand to go play. This will give you great opportunities for candid photos.

The terrified little boy took about 20 minutes to calm down. In a few more minutes we were friends and my camera was no longer a threat to him.

This was actually a grumpy moment, but nobody can resist a funny photographer!

4. Give the child high fives

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Toddlers love to show off and make you laugh, and they love to receive praise from grown-ups.

When they do something well, give them a pat on the head or a high five. Simple gestures like this bring them to life.

Note: Be aware of cultural differences. Touching an Asian (or more specifically, Buddhist) person on the head is an insult.

If they give you rocks, leaves, or sticks as gifts, receive them with excitement!

Allow time for true joy to emerge.

Now that you’ve established an encouraging friendship, you can ask them to sit or pose. Get your pictures quickly, give the child a high five, and move on.

I didn’t force the terrified little guy to sit and smile properly. There was nothing but friendship, encouragement, and high fives. He would gladly sit for a moment or two. I was quick with my camera and captured many candid photos too.

When you focus less on telling the toddler what to do, and more on drawing out genuine happiness and laughter, you’ll get the photos you want without the stress.

You won’t even need patience if you create a toddler-friendly experience.

5. Don’t force the moment

“The quickest way for a parent to get a child’s attention is to sit down and look comfortable.” – Lane Olinghouse

One of the toughest problems you’ll face is toddlers not wanting to be in group photos. The more you try to force the toddler to sit for a photo, the harder it often becomes.

All sorts of fun can happen between the poses. Look around your environment to see what fun elements can be used in your photos.

Just moments later came a perfect pose and a smile.

Allow for a contrast of sitting for a photo and then time to explore.

When toddlers refuse to join in the family photo, I don’t force them. Every parent knows that toddlers love to interrupt what adults are doing. As soon as I start photographing Mom and Dad together, the toddler wants to be picked up. It’s a perfect moment for group cuddles, bringing out beautiful smiles from everyone.

That terrified little boy did not want to be in photos, but he did want to be comforted by mom and dad.

As he sat with them, I did things that would make him smile and laugh. I made a teddy bear dance on my camera. He smiled at Teddy which was as good as smiling at the camera.

Bring in the background as part of the photo. Let the little one wander off and then call their name when you’re ready with the camera.

Bonus: Dealing with the toddler’s parents

We spend the first 12 months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next 12 months teaching them to sit down and shut up.” – Phyllis Diller

Sometimes the hard part is dealing with a toddler’s parents. Some parents will be easy-going and let you run the photo session the way it seems best to you. Other parents will not. They have a deep need for things to be orderly and go as they planned.

During the session, keep reassuring parents that everything is going well, even if it doesn’t feel like it to them. Assure and show them that you know how to handle toddlers and that you will make beautiful photos.

This moment took a lot of work. It was a tiny moment of stillness in the midst of chaos.

Remind them how much their child has accomplished in these early years of life. Inspire parents to see the fun of the moment. Remember, you promised to have patience with the toddler, and his/her parents!

Let them be toddlers

“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember what it’s like to be a two-year-old. They don’t care about pictures like we do (but they will one day).

Promise to be patient and then create an environment for toddlers to thrive. Even when they start out cranky, angry, shy or scared, you’ll let them be themselves and experience friendship and encouragement. This is what leads to wonderful photos of toddlers.

I’d love to hear about your experiences photographing toddlers in the comments below. Please share your thoughts and images of toddlers.

The post Photographing Toddlers – 5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Simulate Venetian Blinds Lighting Using Photoshop

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 10:00

When you’re having a romantic dinner you light it with candles and not a bright reflector, right? That’s because light contributes to forming an atmosphere. When you’re making a photograph, measuring the right exposure is not the only thing that matters. Wouldn’t you agree that manipulating that light is what makes it or break it?

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to simulate light coming in through a window, so that your photo has a warmer ambiance.

Getting started

In this case, we’re going to make the effect of sunlight passing through a window with Venetian blinds. This is why the first thing you need to do is delineate the spacing in between the blinds. To make this task easier you can turn on the rulers, just go to Menu > View > Rulers so you can make the spaces more evenly.

Make a new empty layer by going to Menu > Layer > New Layer. Then select the Rectangle Marquee Tool and start tracing. They don’t have to be perfect just try to keep more or less the same width and the same spacing in between. The amount is up to you, for this example, I’ll do 8.

NOTE: Hold the Shift key down to add multiple rectangular selections.

Adding the light

Next, you need to fill the selections with white. You can either select the Paint Bucket Tool and click inside each of the rectangles, or you can go to Menu > Edit > Fill which will bring out a pop-up window. Just make sure the content is set to white and all the selected areas get colored at once when you click OK.

This doesn’t look very realistic yet, but don’t worry, we’ll make it better. To start, you need to give it some perspective to make it fit your image. For this, you can go to Menu > Edit > Transform > Perspective. Find the real light source and make the light (the white bars) smaller on that side. Then turn it and drag it until it feels as if the strips are coming out from that source.

Tweak the light beams

Once it fits you need to make the white bars look more like light beams by smoothing them using a blur filter. Go to Menu > Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

A pop-up window appears and you can set how blurred you want it by dragging the Radius slider. Make sure the preview option is checked so that you can see how your adjustment looks before you apply it. I’m leaving it at around 50 pixels but this is up to you. When you’re happy just click OK.

Then change the blending mode of the layer where your stripes are so that it integrates better with the background image. You can do this in the drop-down menu on top of the layers panel. Open it and select Soft Light blend mode.

Apply a gradient

It’s already looking much better, there’s just one final touch that needs to be done. Because the light will obviously be stronger closer to the source and slowly fade away; you need to apply a gradient to achieve this effect.

Add a Layer Mask by clicking on the button that looks like a rectangle with a circle in the middle, located at the bottom of the layers panel. While the mask is selected, go to the Gradient Tool that is hidden behind the Paint Bucket Tool. Then from the top sub-menu, choose the one that goes from black to transparent.

Apply the gradient by dragging your mouse across your image. Follow the lines and make sure the white part of the gradient is at the end of the image where you want the light the brightest. If it’s not, you can just invert the layer mask, or undo it and try again.

Finishing up

There you go, light passing through Venetian blinds from the window onto your subject without even needing a window!

Applying the effect to the background only

This, of course, works if your subject is lit by the same source as the background, but what happens if you have two different light sources? Let’s do an example where we want only the background to receive the light from the window and the subject will be lit by a different light source.

Start by doing exactly the same as you did in the previous example. When you’re done with that you have to add one more step. Duplicate the subject that you want to be in front of the Venetian blinds lighting effect.

You do this by selecting the object. It doesn’t matter which tool you use. In this case, I used a combination of the Quick Selection tool refined later in the Quick Mask. Once you have your selection go to Menu > Layer > New > Layer via Copy. A new layer will be created duplicating the subject that you selected onto an empty background; drag this layer to the top.

That’s it, your subject will be in front of the lighting effect and therefore won’t be affected by it. Give it a try and show us your results in the comment section below.

The post How to Simulate Venetian Blinds Lighting Using Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School.