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Updated: 5 hours 30 min ago

Why We Have Such a Love-Hate Relationship with Mirrorless Cameras

8 hours 46 min ago

It’s odd how some ideas seem to cascade once our minds start churning.

I recently wrote about the weird fascination we have with constantly chasing the latest cameras and gear, where I investigated the uncanny rise of full-frame mirrorless cameras. And with the newly announced full-frame mirrorless offerings from Nikon’s (the Z6 and Z7) and Canon (the EOS R), the bell has been sounded for an all-out mirrorless war.

Which got me thinking. Why are we so fascinated by mirrorless camera technology?

Our love-hate relationship with mirrorless cameras is of special interest to me. I’m a card-carrying member of the Sony full-frame mirrorless photography club, and I’ve used an A7R MK1 as my main camera body for some years now.

Let’s look at what mirrorless camera technology gives us, and why the winds of mainstream personal and professional photography are gusting towards a predominantly mirrorless future.

Note: I’m not trying to promote one camera system over another. While I do most of my work with a mirrorless camera, I still use SLR (film and digital) bodies and large-format film cameras.

The Allure of Mirrorless Camera Tech

The concept of mirrorless cameras is nothing new. Mirrorless digital cameras with interchangeable lenses have been available commercially since 2004. That was the year Epson released the still cool (yes, really) R-D1, which incorporated a rangefinder design alongside a digital APS-C sensor. This camera was a bridge between the familiar 35mm rangefinder and the digital revolution that was soon to come.

But let’s back up just a second. What makes a mirrorless camera so appealing to the general shooter? For the most part, it’s the lack of a mirrored optical viewfinder (hence the name).


Traditional SLR cameras (both film and digital) use a mirror and pentaprism system to show what’s being seen through the lens. But while this system is ingenious, it does make the camera quite bulky.

Mirrorless digital cameras do away with this system, relying on the digital sensor itself to show what’s going in front of the camera using an electronic viewfinder (EVF), an LCD screen, or a combination of the two. (Think of this as a constant “live view”.) This means mirrorless digital cameras can be inherently smaller than most DSLR camera bodies.

The Sony A7R MK1 (left) and the Canon 7D MK1 (bodies only).

And whenever something becomes smaller, it usually becomes more comfortable and practical.

Resolution for Days

Let’s briefly talk about the game-changing event in 2013, when Sony released the ILCE7 and ILCE7R (commonly known as the Sony A7 and Sony A7R respectively). These two cameras took what most hobby and professional photographers thought was possible from a compact digital camera and threw it out the proverbial window.

The A7 and A7R were the first full-frame mirrorless cameras, each packing pro-grade DSLR performance into a hand little camera body. They could even be mated to whatever lenses the photographer was using at the time (with the appropriate lens adapters). The A7 sported a 24.3 megapixel sensor, while the A7R floored us with a sensor packing 36.4 megapixels.

This meant ultra-high resolution, enhanced low-light performance and full-frame bokeh cream could be achieved with a mirrorless camera, while keeping weight and physical size to a minimum. The fact the price was comparable to other full-frame DSLR cameras at the time led to a mass exodus as camera jockeys (including me) handed in their DSLR for these new, more wieldable mirrorless cameras that could match their current setups.

The Good, the Bad, and the Mirrorless

But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows in the mirrorless camera world. Some of the benefits of digital mirrorless cameras are also their Achilles heel.

Battery Life

The ever-present live view tends to drain batteries quicker than their DSLR cousins, and also limits their burst mode rates. While the problem has been somewhat alleviated, the battery life of full-frame mirrorless cameras still hasn’t caught up with most current DSLR models, even though their burst rates have. This leaves some feeling slightly disadvantaged when it comes to battery mileage.

A Diminishing Size Gap

As I said earlier, the ratio of photographic punch to physical size was one thing that drew me to the full-frame mirrorless realm. But it comes with a few caveats.

For example, if you need to use non-native lenses with converters you won’t get much of a size benefit from mirrorless systems compared to their DSLR counterparts.

A Canon 5D MK3 with a Canon 50mm F/1.8 lens (left) and a Sony A7R with an EF 24mm f/1.4 Sigma lens attached via an MC-11 adapter.

While this is becoming less of a problem – more and more third party lens manufacturers getting on board and producing native-mount lenses for most mirrorless cameras – it’s still worth mentioning.

An Undeniable Shift in Mentality

The “big guys” (i.e. the larger camera manufacturers) have been basking in their exclusivity for years. While they’ve produced  excellent (and sometimes iconic) cameras and lenses, their innovation has been lacking during the past few years.

These long-standing giants in the photographic industry are starting to realize they aren’t the only game in town. And consumers have gotten wise to the fact that mirrorless cameras, particularly full-frame mirrorless cameras, can match (if not outperform) the products that have seen them resting on their laurels for so long. The Nikon Z6 and Z7, the Canon EOS R, and even the Panasonic SR1, all hint that Bob Dylan was right all along.

The times really are a changin’.

The post Why We Have Such a Love-Hate Relationship with Mirrorless Cameras appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Reasons to Consider Concert Photography with a Wide Open Aperture (and the Secret to Perfecting it)

Sat, 10/20/2018 - 17:20

Concert photography is arguably one of the most adrenaline-filled niches you can engage in as an image maker. Musicians, magazines, fans, and record labels alike turn to skilled concert photographers to tell a story for the momentous performance. For most music photographers (due to venue constraints) there is less than ten minutes to capture enough great images to populate a full gallery. Partner this with tumultuous circumstances such as sporadic lighting and an excitable audience and you have effectively created a photographic situation that is unlike any other.

As such, shooting with a very wide open aperture might appear to be too daunting of a task! There are common misunderstandings of how to use and work with a wide open aperture! If your inner aesthete drools over soft, dreamy photographs and creamy bokeh, then you better get ready to play with some low, low, low numbers. We are here to tell you how to photograph concerts at f/1.2, f/1.4, and f/1.8!

Why Use an Ultra Wide Aperture?

Here are 5 reasons you may want to consider shooting concert photography with a wide open aperture.

1. Aesthetic and Style

To preface, a lot of the quality and final image look is based on the type of lens used. In the past several years, photography fans are gravitating towards the shallow depth of field aesthetic. If you’re in the business of producing commercial music photography (like myself), you’re going to want to keep following the trends and adapting to what is sought after in the industry.

An added bonus is being able to niche yourself a bit in an industry that has a lot of competition, many photographers are wary of shooting fast paced events with a wide aperture due to potential focusing issues. If you can master this art, you have something that will separate you from others.


2. Low Light Capability

Unless you’re shooting a big name at an amphitheater, a lot of smaller venues will have very poor lighting. You’ll need to use equipment that will illuminate the frame with whatever limited lighting is available. In these low light scenarios you need a lens with a wide enough aperture to let in more light. Using a lens that goes down to f/1.2, for example, is a great way to let enough light in and make the frame bright. Remember, the aperture is the hole the light passes through in your lens. The wider the aperture, the more light that enters the camera.


3. Shallow Depth of Field

The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. Shallow depth of field is great for live concerts because the stage can be rather cluttered compositionally. From instruments to cables, background props, and other band members, there can be a lot going on in the frame at once. Only having one subject in focus with the rest blending into a creamy bokeh makes for a much more visually pleasing and simplified image. With the depth-of-field being so shallow, whatever troubles you about the background can easily melt into a beautiful creamy bokeh.


4. Detail Shots

On the topic of shallow depth of field, if you are photographing for an instrument company, an aperture of f/1.8 will likely become your best friend. This is because photographs taken with a large aperture allow all of the focus to lie on the subject, and the background ceases to remain a distraction. Many instrument companies love to have their products captured in a natural usable setting, such as musicians at a live show.A shallow depth of field will keep the interest solely on your single subject.


5. Sharpness

Due to technological constraints, lenses that open their aperture below f/2.8 are fixed millimeter lenses (they do not zoom). As a general rule, fixed millimeter lenses tend to be sharper than lenses with a range.


Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room: Focusing with a Wide Open Aperture

Right where all of the benefits of an f-stop of 1.2 start to break down is the focusing. The wider the aperture and the shallower the depth of field, the more difficult it can be to focus on what you want. Pair that with a live show in which the lighting is a bit of a mess, and the subjects move spontaneously in various directions, and it sounds like the perfect recipe for a photographer migraine. However, focusing with a wider aperture doesn’t have to be so difficult- it’s just a different thought process.

The Concept of Sharpness

Really, the focus stems from a desire to have an image that is sharp. But what is sharpness? Sharpness is an interesting concept. How sharp a subject appears is a matter of two things: the focus the camera captures and the amount of contrast on your subject. The term “sharpness” is, in fact, an illusion. You see, for an image to be considered sharp, it needs to have contrast. If the there is little contrast in the image, the subject will not look three-dimensional regardless of whether the focus is perfect or not. Biologically, the way that our eyes work, our vision naturally detects edges to register sharpness, and shadows and highlights in order to record the depth in a subject. This is a very important concept to understand when answering the question of how to make images look sharp. When editing your concert photography images, be attentive to the shadows and highlights. And add contrast to define your subject.


Perfect Focus

In terms of getting your image to actually be sharp (from being in perfect focus), here is the basic concept of how focus works in a camera. When you focus your camera on a subject, it establishes a focal plane. To get your subject in focus, it has to be on the focal plane. Focal planes happen on an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis. This means anything along either of those axes will be in focus, and anything not on them will be out of focus. The concern with a wide open aperture is that your focal plane is quite small. As you decrease your aperture number and make the opening wider, the invisible area in front and behind the plane of focus will get smaller and smaller, leaving you with much less wiggle-room. As such, distance from the subject plays a key role in your focus.

When shooting wide open, even the smallest diversion from either of the focal plane axes will cause your subject to be out-of-focus. You cannot take a step forward or back without the need to refocus when shooting at a wide aperture. But by keeping this in mind, you can adjust your photography technique to better accommodate the small focal plane.

Single Point Autofocus

A trick to help make sure that what you want in focus is indeed sharp, is to use single point autofocus. By default, your camera will probably select either the object that’s closest to the camera or what’s in the center of the frame. By using single point autofocus, you tell the camera exactly where to focus, which is extremely helpful with low aperture numbers. Refer to your camera model’s manual to find how to change the focus setting!

The Real Secret

Keeping in mind how the focal plane works, this is the big trick to shooting wide open at a concert: The farther away you are from the subject, the easier it is to get the subject in focus. You can get the subject in focus and still maintain and extremely creamy depth of field.

Whether you’re in a photo pit or just in the main venue floor, your position to begin the concert shoot can significantly affect your success for the rest of the shoot. Keeping in mind that for most general photography passes your time is limited, you need to be ready to jump right into the shoot the very second the music hits your ears. My suggestion is to start on the outer edges of the pit or venue and work your way to the middle. Many concert photographers all flock to the center of the shooting zone, and begin shoving to claim their dead center spot. When you start from the edge, while the other photographers are all congregating and fighting for the center, you have much more room to move freely on the outer edge. This is where you will have an advantage to be able to move a bit further away from your subject in order to expand your plane and get that perfect focus.

Now that you’ve been let in to the secret, go out there and capture some awesome concert shots!

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Concert Photography with a Wide Open Aperture (and the Secret to Perfecting it) appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Customize and Use the Photoshop Gradient Tool

Sat, 10/20/2018 - 09:00

Despite its straightforward name, the gradient tool is incredibly flexible. You can customize practically every settings, and use it in many different ways.

In this article I’ll show you how to use it to its full potential.

The Gradient tool shares the same toolbar space as the Paint Bucket tool, so you may not see it at first glance. Click and hold the Paint Bucket tool to reveal the fly-out menu, then select the Gradient tool.

You use the Gradient tool to make a smooth transition between multiple colors. And one of the first things you can customize is the colors you want to transition between.

With the Gradient tool active, you’ll see a sample on the left-hand side of the options bar. Clicking the small arrow next to it will reveal the gradient picker that includes a number of preset gradients. And clicking the gear icon to the right of that will bring up the settings menu where you can:

  • load more presets
  • add new presets
  • customize the display window.

If none of the presets suit your needs, you can customize a new gradient by double-clicking the sample to bring up the Gradient Editor window. Here you’ll see a bar with the current gradient, along with a set of sliders you can use to create the gradient you want. The top sliders control the opacity, while the bottom sliders control the color. If you need more colors, simply click on the gradient where you’d like them to go.

As well as choosing the colors, you can also choose the start and end points of your gradient.

Next to the sample you’ll see five icons representing the five different types of gradients you can apply: Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected and Diamond.

The Linear gradient will gradually transition your colors in a straight line from the start point to the end point.

The Radial gradient radiates out from the start point in the shape of a circle.

The Angle gradient will transition clockwise in the direction of the angle created by the line uniting the start and end points.

The Reflected gradient creates a mirror effect using the start point as the center.

Finally the Diamond gradient radiates out from the start point in the shape of a diamond.

Next to the gradient icons are two dropdown menus. The first lets you set the bending mode (how your gradient will affect whatever’s below it). The second reveals a slider that lets you control the gradient’s opacity.

Finally, you have three checkboxes:

  • Reverse, which reverses the color order of your gradient
  • Dither, which will make the transition smoother
  • Transparency, which will apply the opacity from the gradient.

In this example, the top half has the transparency option checked while the bottom half does not:

So now you know how the Gradient tool works and how to customize it. Now let me show you how you can use it to give your images a trendy look.

First, choose the photo you want to modify. While there’s no right or wrong here, some photos are a better fit for this kind of effect than others. (e.g. something that looks vintage, or an artsy portrait).

Next, make it black and white by applying the Black & White adjustment layer.

Next, add a new layer on top of this adjustment layer you just added by either selecting Layer -> New Layer from the menu or by clicking the New Layer button at the bottom of the layers panel.

Now, create your gradient in this layer, choosing whatever colors and angles you prefer.

Finally, set the Blending Mode to Screen.

The Gradient tool gives you endless possibilities for adding effects to your photos. Start experimenting, and have fun.

The post How to Customize and Use the Photoshop Gradient Tool appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Silhouettes

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 14:00

Fisher man by Saravut Whanset on 500px

Silhouettes are a wonderful way to convey drama, mystery, emotion and mood to the viewers of your photos and often stand out in an album because of the combination of their simplicity but also the story that they convey. I love them because they don’t give the viewer of a clear picture of everything but leave part of the image up to their imagination to wonder about.

That’s an excerpt from a post I wrote quite some time ago, but remains one of our more popular posts on how to photograph silhouettes. Your challenge this week is to take a photograph of a silhouette and see if you can create a story that evokes imagination in the viewer. Here’s some tips to get you started:

How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps

Silhouette Photography Technique

worlds appart by Carlos Canales on 500px

Breakup by Michael Valjak on 500px

Looking for more inspiration? Check out these great shots:

12 Stunning Silhouette Shots

A Collection of Great Silhouette Photos

Or this post on how to use your silhouettes to tell a story will help you for this week’s challenge:

How to Create Powerful Silhouettes by Telling a Story

Weekly Photography Challenge – Silhouettes

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.

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.

If you tag your photos on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter or other sites – tag them as #DPSSILHOUETTES to help others find them. Linking back to this page might also help others know what you’re doing so that they can share in the fun.


The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Silhouettes appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Take Better Photos of Festivals and Celebrations

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 09:00


Mitchell K is not only a brilliant photographer, but also creates the most engaging videos of his travels. This one is no exception, and whilst a little longer than the videos we normally share, it’s an engaging, informative and inspiring lesson from Mitchell on how to get better photos at festivals and celebrations.

The video was filmed in a few locations in Peru. I’ll share parts of my adventure. You’ll even see how I almost killed myself driving over a high mountain pass at night. The main focus, though – is on the travel photography tips and advice. When you finish watching this video, you’ll have a much better idea about photographing festivals, celebrations and gatherings of people. It is almost 30 minutes long, but, I do really believe that it’s worth your time.
– Mitchell Kanashkevich

Mitchell has authored 3 great books for dPS – if you love his style, grab this quick offer to get 50% off these titles. Just use the code MITCHELLK50 (expires 31 October 2018):

Transcending Travel


Captivating Color

Natural Light

You can also check out more free tips on the blog:

Photographing Festivals and Events – Tips for Travel Photographers

Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Festivals

20 Tips for Photographing Historical Reenactments and Festivals

The post How to Take Better Photos of Festivals and Celebrations appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Adobe Lightroom Plugins That Will Make Your Life Easier

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 14:00

We all love Lightroom.

There’s a reason it became an essential part of a photographer’s workflow. It’s powerful, easy to use, and helps make your photos come alive.

But what if I said you could make it even easier to use while adding a new dynamic to your editing process?

Well, plugins can do just that.

Being able to extend Lightroom’s capabilities with third-party plugins is one of the things I love most about it. And it’s something most people overlook.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to five Lightroom plugins I use and couldn’t live without.

But first…


How to install Lightroom plugins

Installing Lightroom plugins is pretty straightforward. They all use the same six-step installation process.

  1. Unzip the ZIP file for the plugin, and move the unzipped file to a folder on your computer. Note: The unzipped files can’t be moved or deleted after installation, or the plugin will stop working.
  2. From Lightroom’s File menu, select ‘Plug-in Manager’.

  1. Click the ‘Add’ button near the bottom of the dialog box.

  1. Navigate to folder you chose in step 1.

  1. Open the folder and highlight the file with the ‘.lrplugin’ extension, then click ‘Add Plug-in’.

  1. Restart Lightroom to complete the installation of your new plugin.

Note: with the 7.5 release of Adobe Lightroom, some newer plugins now have the extension of .xmp rather than .lrtemplate or .lrplugin. This is so they can be used in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

In this case, go to Lightroom->Preferences and select ‘Show Lightroom Develop Presets’. This will open the Presets window. Select the ‘Settings’ folder, and simply drag and drop your unzipped file into the Settings Folder and restart Lightroom.

If you don’t have the ‘Show Lightroom Develop Presets’ link select the ‘Show Lightroom Presets Folder’. This will open the Presets window. Select the ‘Lightroom’ then ‘Develop Presets’ folder, and simply drag and drop your unzipped file into the folder and restart Lightroom.

Now that you know how to install Lightroom plugins, let me show you five that will save you time and effort during your next mammoth editing session.


The Fader

The Fader is probably the plugin I use the most. Its main advantage becomes clear when you’re using presets.

It works as a master slider that controls all the different tools within Lightroom. Moving the slider will adjust all the edits a particular preset makes at the same time and in equal measures.

If you’re working on an edit and haven’t applied a preset, but you still want to use The Fader, simply create a new preset using the image you’re working on as a template and adjust it from there.

To create a new preset, click either a filter tool (graduated or radial) or the brush tool, and from the drop-down menu select ‘Save Current Settings as New Preset’.

Whether you create your own presets or download other people’s, chances are you’ve experienced this situation: You apply a preset to one photo and it looks great, but when you apply it to another, it’s completely over the top and looks terrible.

Normally you’d have to reduce each tool individually. But with The Fader you can reduce them all at once using the slider. Just open The Fader (File -> Plug-in Extras -> The Fader), select the preset you want to apply, and then use the opacity slider to increase or decrease the preset’s overall strength.


LR Backup

LR Backup does exactly what it says it does – back up your Lightroom catalog. But it gives you a few extra features the standard backup tool doesn’t provide.

Why is it important to back up your catalog? Because it contains a record of every edit you’ve made to your images. You might have backups of your RAW files, but without a backup of your Lightroom catalog they’ll be just that: RAW images with no editing applied.

LR Backup lets you make manual backups of the Lightroom catalog without having to exit the program, which you need to do when using the built-in backup tool. But what makes this plugin really useful is its ability to schedule backups.

It also compresses the backup to almost 10% of its original size, which is particularly useful when you have a large database of edited images.

While a free version of LR Backup is available, you need to make a donation to the creator to unlock its full functionality. But the donation can be as small or as large as you like. It’s totally up to you.



If you create time-lapse videos using your camera’s intervalometer, you’ll need an easy way to batch edit the images so you don’t have to do them one by one.

LRTimelapse makes time-lapse videos easy. It comes in both free and paid-for versions as either a standalone product or a Lightroom plugin. And what I really love about it is how the plugin integrates with Lightroom.

By integrating LRTimelapse with Lightroom, you can create a few keyframes that you’ll edit in Lightroom and then export back into LRTimelapse. It then uses these edited keyframes to automatically and seamlessly edit the other time-lapse photos into a video that transitions smoothly and gradually from the first frame to the last.

It’s a great way to incorporate the power of editing in Lightroom into your next time-lapse video.


Focus Mask

The Focus Mask plugin by Capture Monkey (the same people who make The Fader) is a simple plugin. It does only one thing, but it does it very well.

The plugin works the same way focus masking or focus peaking does in your camera. It highlights the parts of the image that are in focus.

This helps you to choose the best shot between two or more similar images at a glance.

We’ve all taken a handful of photos of the same subject because we weren’t sure we nailed the focus. This plugin will help you quickly pick a winner.


The last plugin on the list might not be for everyone. In fact, some people might be totally against it.

Photolemur automatically edits your photos with one click. It uses artificial intelligence to create the best edit possible so you can focus your time on other aspects of photography.

Now, some of you might think letting a bunch of computer code edit your photos takes away part of the artistic process. And you’d be right.

I wouldn’t use it on every image, especially client images. But if I want to quickly upload something to Instagram without having to process the image first, I’ll use Photolemur.

Photolemur is a standalone product, but can also be set up as a Lightroom plugin. Unfortunately, there isn’t a free version you can try before you buy. It’s only available as a paid product.


Which Lightroom plugin will you try?

I’ve used all the plugins I just mentioned. But if I had to pick one, I’d choose The Fader because I love using my own presets. It makes my editing style consistent across all of my work.

But they’re all great plugins. Which one are you going to try?

Image Credit: Joseph Pearson

The post 5 Adobe Lightroom Plugins That Will Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Shutter Speed and Aperture Together When Using Manual Mode

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 09:00

When you’re just starting out as a photographer, one of the biggest challenges can be using the correct shutter speed and aperture values. Shooting a correctly exposed photo in manual mode is an amazing feeling. But unless you know the relationship between shutter speed and aperture it may not happen very often.

In this article I’ll talk about how to use the shutter speed and aperture values efficiently to get properly exposed photos.

Note: To get full control of your camera’s shutter speed and aperture values you need to put it in Manual Mode.

What happens when you adjust the aperture value

When you increase the aperture value the aperture opening inside the lens gets smaller, reducing the amount of light that can enter the camera. Similarly, when you decrease the aperture value the opening gets bigger, allowing more more light to enter the camera.

Here’s an example to help you understand how changing the aperture value affects the shutter speed.

Let’s say you’re using a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with a default aperture value of f/8. At a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second your camera will give you the correct exposure.

EXIF: f/8, 1/200th sec, ISO 100

Now you want a shallower depth of field (more blur effect), so you reduce the aperture value to f/2.8. Because you’ve reduced the aperture value by three stops, the aperture opening is now letting three stops more of light into the camera. The result? An overexposed image.

If you reduce the aperture value, you must increase the shutter speed by the same number of f-stops to compensate. Similarly, if you increase the aperture value, you must slow down the shutter speed by the same number of f-stops.

In this example, you’ve reduced the aperture value by three stops. So to get the correct exposure at f/2.8 you must increase the shutter speed by three stops to 1/1600th of a second.

EXIF: f/2.8, 1/1600th sec, ISO 100

Another example might be if you’re shooting a landscape. This time you want a deep depth of field, so you choose an aperture value of f/16. You’ve increased the aperture value by two stops (from f/8 to f/16), so you’re letting two stops less of light inside the camera. At a shutter speed of 1/200th sec this give you an underexposed photo.

Underexposed image at f/16, 1/200th sec, ISO 100

To get the correct exposure, you need to slow down the shutter speed by two stops to 1/50th of a second. With the aperture value two stops higher (f/16) and the shutter speed two stops lower (1/50th sec) your photo will be perfectly exposed just as it was at f/8 and 1/200th sec.

What happens when you adjust the shutter speed

When you increase the shutter speed the camera shutter opens and closes more quickly, reducing the amount of light that enters the camera. Similarly, when you reduce the shutter speed more light enters the camera.

Starting with the same base camera setting as before (f/8 at 1/200th sec), let’s see how changing the shutter speed affects the aperture value.

Let’s say you’re a wildlife photography, and you want to take photos of a flying bird. To avoid any blurring you’d need to increase to 1/800 sec. You’ve increased the shutter speed by two stops, and so you have two stops less of light entering the camera sensor. At f/8 this would give you an underexposed image.

Because you’ve increase the shutter speed by two stops to 1/800th sec, you must also reduce the aperture value by two stops to f/4 to get the same correct exposure you had at the f/8 and 1/200th of a second you started with.

Or perhaps you intentionally want to capture a panning shot, and s reduce the shutter speed to 1/50 sec to get the effect you want. Reducing the shutter speed by four stops (from 1/800 sec to 1/50 sec) means you’re letting in four stops more of light into the camera. And at f/8, that would give you an overexposed image.

To get the correct exposure you’d need to increase the aperture value by four stops to f/32.

By remembering these examples when you’re shooting in manual mode, you should end up with far more photos that are correctly exposed.

The post How to Use Shutter Speed and Aperture Together When Using Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Photographing a ‘First Look’: The Pros and Cons for Wedding Photographers

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 14:08

The wedding timeline can be different for every couple. That’s why you need to learn to ask important questions, such as whether they’ve considered a ‘First Look’ or would rather keep it traditional. This simple decision can change the entire course of the day in terms of taking portraits.

Let’s dive in and look at the pros and cons of having the couple see each other before the wedding ceremony.

What is a ‘First Look’?

Traditionally, the bride and groom don’t see each other until the bride walks down the aisle. It’s thought to be good luck, and keeps in line with centuries of tradition.

A ‘First Look’ is where a couple decides to see each other either before the wedding ceremony or before the important events  begin. This new concept is growing in popularity, with many couples opting to go for the first look rather than keeping the ceremony traditional.

Sometimes, as is normal with weddings, other factors will determine whether keeping it traditional or doing a first look is best in terms of both the photography and the day’s timeline.

The pros of having a first look

One pro of having a first look is when the wedding day timeline calls for it due to a schedule that might interfere with the bride and groom portraits. For example, if there isn’t enough time to take portraits after the ceremony because the couple would rather attend their cocktail hour, doing a first look earlier in the day will give you enough time to capture the couple. (Click here for other tips on overcoming common wedding day setbacks).

Another example is if the sun sets early on the wedding day and you’re not sure you’ll have enough light to take the couple’s portraits. This is where a first look can let you choose the best time during the day for the portraits.

Another pro of the first look is that when a couple sees each other before the ceremony it can calm their nerves and help them relax for the portraits. A first look can also act as a seamless transition into the bridal portraits without anyone else being present or having to wait for guests to move to the next event.

The first look will usually give you more time for bridal portraits. After the ceremony, many of the guests will want to congratulate the couple, which can eat up your precious time. They may also want photos taken of them with the couple, cutting further into your bridal portrait time.

A first look can make the transition to the couple’s portraits smoother on a wedding day.

I tell couples that the first look is usually the only time during the entire day they’ll be completely alone. This helps them savor each moment and really lean into each other during the photos. Since the first look typically lasts about ten minutes, it’s easy to transition into portraits of the couple. This works in your favor, as you get to spend more time with the bride and groom capturing real emotions before you seamlessly transition into the couple’s portraits.

A first look can bring out a lot of those nervous emotions and relax the couple before the day unfolds.

The cons of having a first look

One major con of doing a first look is it usually happens in the hottest part of the day or when the sun is at its brightest. First looks are typically done between 11am and 3pm. Photographing in the midday sun has its challenges, and the harsh direct light can sometimes mean changing locations for the bride and groom portraits.

Try to find a covered walkway, or somewhere that keeps the couple out of the sun. Look for large trees with lots of shade, but be aware of spotted light. In direct sunlight it may be easier to find big natural reflectors that bounce light back onto your subject. You can also help fill the shadows with flash or a photo reflector.

Another con to the first look can be the couple needing to get ready much earlier than anticipated just to fit it into the day’s schedule. Be sure to communicate with the couple so everyone knows the best time to photograph the first look and how long it will take.

How to photograph a first look

You can set up the first look in many different ways. A common way is to place the groom in a position where the bride comes come from behind and taps the groom on the shoulder. The groom then turns around and faces the bride. This is where emotions run high, and you can photograph from all angles so they can enjoy the moment.

The best angle is to photograph the groom facing away from the bride as she comes behind him. Then switch to the other side to get the groom’s reaction of seeing his soon-to-be bride in her dress. If you have an assistant photographer, place them at the opposite end of where you are so you can cover it from all angles.

Give the couple time to take in the moment and simply enjoy it.

Another way to do the first look is to have the groom facing the same direction the bride will be walking from. This will give you an instant reaction to them seeing the bride in her dress, so be ready to photograph all of those real emotions.

When you place the groom, take some solid portraits of him to help him relax before the bride walks into the scene. Talk to him, making sure your tone is soft, positive and excited. 

Tell the couple that it’s their time, you don’t exist, and that they should just enjoy the moment. Let them know that kissing, hugging and looking into each other’s eyes is what the first look is all about. 

Once the couple has relaxed and finished with the first look, move right into the portraits by taking them to the location you’ve scouted (if it’s different from the first look location). 

In conclusion

A first look helps you get the most out of your wedding timeline for bride and groom portraits. It also helps the couple relax and feel even more excited about walking down the aisle. Having this beautiful and emotive experience will create more authentic photos, and give you more time to create them.

Ask your next client if they’d like a first look, and refer to these tips when answering their questions. You may be able to help make their special day even more special.

Have you ever photographed a first look? Let us know in the comments.

The post Photographing a ‘First Look’: The Pros and Cons for Wedding Photographers appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Improve Low-Light Performance by Increasing Your ISO

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 09:00

Low-light Images often have noise issues, particularly in the dark areas.

So you’ve decided to take night time photographs. But the light is so low you’re worried about noise. You want the image sharp and the blacks to be black. And noise reduction reduces sharpness, so it’s going to be a problem. (Noise is always a problem with low-light images.)

In these situations you should always shoot at your camera’s lowest ISO setting and increase the duration of the exposure, right? Well, maybe not. The counterintuitive solution might be to increase the ISO and take multiple images of the same subject.

Single image at ISO 1600 and cropped showing lots of noise.

Increasing ISO Increases Noise

Hang on a minute. If increasing the ISO increases noise, how will reshooting the scene at a higher ISO improve low-light performance? Won’t it just increase the noise?

Conventional approaches to noise reduction reduce the sharpness of the image, making them soft or blurred. And blending multiple images won’t reduce the noise. Or will it?

Cropped image of stacked and blended images at ISO 1600.

Some Low Light Images Need Short Exposures

The other potential problem is that long exposures don’t always work. Some night photography involves taking images of objects that move, and shorter exposures can help control that movement.

Low-light image at ISO 1600 (single image).

Photoshop to the Rescue

Adobe Photoshop has powerful tools that let you blend multiple images, but most of these blend modes won’t help. However, there is a way to blend images in Photoshop to reduce noise. The key to shooting with a higher ISO to improve low light performance is to shoot multiple images of the same scene using the same settings (i.e. white balance, focus, aperture and shutter speed).

While the technique is fairly straightforward, it does take some discipline.

Stacked and blended image of six images at ISO 3200.

Understanding Noise

The key is understanding what causes noise. In general there are two types of image noise – chromatic and luminance. Chromatic noise is color aberrations where there are none, while luminance noise is variance in light levels where there is none. Both are instances where the sensor has registered some data that isn’t there. (It’s common in sensitive electronic equipment such as digital sensors.)

If you take a single image, the noise is part of that image. But if you take a second image in the same location, chances are the noise won’t be in the same spot (unless you have a bad sensor). The noise actually moves around.

If you think about exposure in simple terms, it’s the amount of light that hits the sensor or film. Changing the aperture from f/4 to f/2.8 doubles the amount light hitting the sensor. Similarly, if you decrease the ISO from ISO 400 to ISO 200 you need twice as much light for the same image.

But taking a properly exposed image and then blending a second properly exposed image doesn’t actually improve your exposure. Is there another way?

Cityscape at ISO 400 (single image).

Noise Moves

The short answer is “Yes”. This technique relies on the fact that the noise moves around on the sensor. You can take one image at ISO 400, or you can take two images at ISO 800. As long as the total length of exposure (assuming the same aperture) is similar, while the noise will have gone up you’ll effectively have the same image. That’s because you’re simply doubling the amount of light on the sensor at ISO 800, and there’s a proportional increase in sensitivity. Similarly, if you take four images at ISO 1600 you should end up with the same exposure.

But what if I use ten images?

Ten images at 1600 blended.

You may be thinking, “So what? At ISO 1600 I now have ten noisier images than my image at ISO 400. How does it improve my camera’s performance and reduce noise?”

The answer is to stack them, and then blend them together using a particular method in Photoshop.

Multiple Images Can Overcome Noise

By importing the images as a stack of layers in Photoshop and blending the stack together, you can improve your image quality. Using my earlier example, if you use ten images at ISO 1600 you effectively have an image comparable to an ISO 400 image.

Single image at ISO 400 with a tight crop.


Ten stacked and blended images at ISO 1600.

As I said earlier, while this technique is pretty straightforward it’s not exactly obvious. Following the steps is critical.

You don’t get extra resolution. But you do get less noise, and the image seems sharper.

The Setup

Pick a subject (not the night sky) that’s under low-light conditions and take multiple images of the same perspective at a higher ISO than you’d normally use – 1600, 3200 or even 6400. (Don’t use ISO values in the extended range because they’re not native to your camera’s sensor.)

Manually set your focus so it doesn’t change between shots. You should either shoot the images in RAW format or make sure all the White Balance settings are the same. Using RAW lets you edit the white balance later, but fixing it before you taking the shots will also address the issue. Take one image at a lower ISO value (probably with a long shutter) and many at the high ISO value. This will allow you to compare the results.

The Process

Step 1: Ensure all the images have the same White Balance. (You can correct RAW images together if you shoot in RAW.)

Use a RAW Processor to match the White Balance and Exposure

Step 2: Import the images as layers into Photoshop. (Bridge and Lightroom both can do this).

Step 3: Highlight all the layers in Photoshop.

Step 4: From the Edit menu, choose Auto-Align Layers.

Align the images.


Auto-Align works well.

Step 5: Crop the image to eliminate any missing parts of the image.

Sixth step: Highlight all the layers, and then from the Layers menu choose Convert to Smart Object.

Convert the Layers into a Smart Object

Step 7: Click on the Smart object, and from the Layers menu choose Smart Objects -> Stack Mode -> Median.

Use the median stack mode to blend the layers.

Step 8: Look at the result. (It’s pretty dramatic.)

Single Exposure at ISO 1600.


Stacked images at ISO 6400.


Cropped image at ISO 1600.


Cropped image at ISO 6400 (stacked).

What just happened?

Photoshop blended all the (now aligned) layers together, looked at where most of the images showed the same data and decided that data was correct. It then discarded any data that didn’t match. Because chromatic and luminance noise varies from image to image, blending multiple images like this eliminates the pixels showing incorrect color or luminance.

Stacked and Blended Evening Image

As you can see, it significantly reduces noise without losing sharpness or introducing unwanted artifacts. So the next time you’re shooting in low light, why not give this technique a try?

The post How to Improve Low-Light Performance by Increasing Your ISO appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Thoughts and Field Test: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 for Sony E-Mount

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 14:00

Sigma recently announced nine prime lenses coming to their Art lens lineup for Sony E-mount shooters. We got to test out the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras, an update to the previous Sigma 50mm f/1.4 released in 2014. Here’s what we thought.

What’s in the Box

Like all Sigma lenses, this one comes packed in its own zippered carrying case. It also comes with front and end caps and a lens hood. It’s ready to use right away, although you may want to buy a 77mm UV filter to protect it while in use.


This E-mount lens is designed for full-frame format Sony mirrorless cameras. However, it can also be used with APS-C models (although it will slightly crop the resulting image).

The lens has an aperture range of f/1.4 to f/16. When shooting at the maximum aperture of f/1.4, it produces a shallow depth of field with smooth bokeh, making it great for portraiture.

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens is made for several camera mounts including Nikon and Canon DSLRs, Sony A-mounts and Sony E-mounts. This lens we tested was made for Sony E-mounts and used with a Sony a7R III.

Look and Feel

Sigma designates this lens as part of its Art series, which means it’s designed for high optical performance in a range of shooting environments.

Off the bat, the lens has a high-quality look and feel to it. Comprised mostly of metal, this lens is big and bulky. While that may be great for those with bigger hands, having a big and heavy lens that only covers a single range may be an issue for some.

Autofocus Performance

This lens worked so flawlessly with the Sony a7R III that it felt like a native lens. With a clear, contrasting point the autofocus is fast and responsive. Sometimes the lens was slower to focus in low light scenarios, but never in such a way that made it unusable. If you need to focus manually, simply flip the switch from AF to MF and use the large focusing ring near the front of the lens.

Image Quality

Images captured with this lens are crisp with excellent, well-saturated colors. Even when shooting wide open at f/1.4, photo subjects are sharp with buttery-smooth bokeh in the background. There isn’t a lot of vignetting either.

The lens appeared to hit critical sharpness at f/8, although shooting at f/2 provides a nice balance of image sharpness and bokeh.

If all third-party lens mounts worked this flawlessly, I doubt photographers would even bother using lens adapters.

What About the Sigma MC-11?

If you’ve recently switched from a DSLR to the Sony mirrorless, you’re probably familiar with the Sigma MC-11 lens adapter. It’s a popular way to use existing DSLR lenses (i.e. the Canon 50mm f/1.4) on Sony cameras. But while the MC-11 has been popular, Sigma is pushing for photographers to adopt native lenses for their camera mounts, including Sigma’s lens options.

Why go for a native mount?

  • You can tune the lens to work with each focal length you’re shooting at.
  • Focus hunting is minimized.
  • Better autofocus including continuous AF, eye AF and face recognition.
  • Native mounts work better for video AF.

Why This Lens May Not Be for You

Overall, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is a winner when it comes to build and image quality. But here are two reasons why it may not work for you.


Firstly, there’s the price. At $949 this is an expensive 50mm lens. By comparison you could get a Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 for $248 or a Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 macro for $498. But fast Sony Zeiss 50mm lenses always come at a high price. The Sony Planar T FE 50mm f/1.4 costs $1,498, while the Sony Zeiss 55 f/1.8 is priced at $998.

So depending on your needs, you may need to budget quite a bit of money for a fast Sony prime lens. But if you’re in the market for a basic nifty fifty, there are much cheaper options.


Secondly, there’s its size and weight. At 1.8 lbs it’s large and bulky, comparable in size to the Sony 24-240mm and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. By comparison, the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 is only 0.62 lbs and is more compact and portable.

If you’re looking for a compact prime lens that’s easy to travel with, this Sigma lens probably isn’t your best bet.

Lens size comparison. From left to right: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, Sony 24-240mm, Sony 24-70mm f/4, Sony 55mm f/1.8

In Conclusion

For photographers set on having a fast 50mm prime lens, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens is a great choice. It’s smaller and more reasonably priced than the Sony 50mm f/1.4 lens, and produces crisp and beautiful images.

However, photographers with a smaller budget, or who want to carry smaller lenses, may want to consider other 50mm options at lower price points in more compact packages.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/11

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/8

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/4

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/2

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/1.8

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/1.4

Sony 55mm f1.8 at f/1.8

The post Thoughts and Field Test: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 for Sony E-Mount appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Luminosity Masks: What They Are and How to Use Them

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 09:00

Post-processing can make or break an image. It doesn’t matter how much you change in your photo editor of choice, even a small adjustment can damage your image if it isn’t applied correctly.

A common mistake I see with post-processing is applying all adjustments globally (i.e. to the entire image). It’s something we rarely want, which is why we tend to use Lightroom’s Highlights and Shadows sliders to adjust the exposure rather than the Exposure slider. And once you bring your image into Photoshop you can apply more advanced techniques and adjustments.

More than ever, you need to know how to make these adjustments correctly.

And that’s where luminosity masks come into the picture.

What are Luminosity Masks?

If you’ve read any of my previous articles you may have seen me talk about selective post-processing – making adjustments that only affect specific areas rather than the entire image.

Luminosity masks are selections based on a pixel’s luminosity value. This means you can accurately select only the bright, dark or midtone pixels. We can refine these selections to affect only the brightest brights or the darkest darks, and use them as layer masks for our adjustments.

Since they’re based on the pixel’s brightness, we can get extremely accurate selections that target only the specific pixels we want. Having an accurate selection means we avoid certain unwanted artifacts you might otherwise experience.

You won’t find luminosity masks in a list or menu within Photoshop (although third-party plugins can automate the process). Instead, you need to create them manually by making selections based on the RGB channels.

How to Use Luminosity Masks

Now that you know what they are, the next thing you need to know is how to use them. As you probably know they don’t adjust the image themselves. Instead they’re a selection you can apply to any layer or group you can use a layer mask on.

Before we look at how to use them, we need to look at how to create them. You can do this either manually or by using a third-party plugin. I strongly recommend you learn how to create them manually before you start using a plugin to speed up your workflow.

How to Make Luminosity Masks

Let’s create a Brights mask, which will select the bright areas of the image but leave the midtones and darks untouched. Keep in mind this is the broadest brights mask, and you’ll probably need to refine it to target more specific pixels. (More on that another time.)

Start by opening an image in Adobe Photoshop, and follow these steps to create the mask:

  1. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channels Tab. You should now see marching ants around several areas of your image.
  2. Save the selection by clicking the Save selection as channel icon. The selection is saved as a channel and given the name Alpha 1.
  3. Double-click the name of your new channel ‘Alpha 1’ and rename it to ‘Brights 1’.
  4. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press D to deselect the selection.

Not too hard, right?

This is what the Brights 1 Mask looks like

We’ll make the Darks mask next. It’s pretty much the same process as making the Brights mask except we need to invert the selection:

  1. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channel Tab.
  2. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and Shift, and press I to invert the selection.
  3. Save the selection.
  4. Double-click the new channel’s name and rename it to ‘Darks 1’.
  5. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press D to deselect the selection.

This is what the Darks 1 mask looks like

Finally, we’ll create the Midtones mask. This one is made slightly differently to the first two masks.

  1. Select the entire image (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press A).
  2. Subtract Brights 1 (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and option/alt, and click on the ‘Brights 1’ channel’s thumbnail).
  3. Subtract Darks 1 (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and option/alt, and click on the ‘Darks 1’ channel’s thumbnail).
  4. Save the selection and rename the new channel to ‘Midtones 1’.

This is what the Midtones 1 mask looks like

We’ve now created the three basic luminosity masks. The process might seem confusing at first, but soon you’ll find creating masks as easy as one, two, three.

How to Apply and Use a Luminosity Mask

Now that we have our masks, let’s look at how to use them. As I mentioned earlier, you can apply luminosity masks to any layer or group you can use a layer mask on. This includes merged layers, adjustment layers, groups, smart objects and more.

I want to brighten the darkest parts of this image but leave the highlights alone

A typical processing scenario is the foreground being is a bit too dark while the sky is perfectly exposed.We can fix this by increasing the exposure using a Curves Adjustment. But using a Curves Adjustment without a mask will brighten not only the shadows,but also the areas that are already well exposed.

So let’s use the Darks mask.

Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click on the Darks channel’s thumbnail to activate the selection. (You’ll know it’s active when you see the marching ants.)

With the selection active, create a Curves adjustment layer. Since the selection is active, the Darks luminosity mask will be applied to the Curves’ layer mask. Any adjustments you make on this particular layer will only affect the areas represented by white on the mask.

Now simply pull the Curve up to brighten the darks. You can toggle the mask on and off by shift-clicking the layer mask to see the adjustment with and without the mask. (It makes a huge difference.)

With the luminosity mask applied


Without the luminosity mask applied

What Now?

This is just one way you can use luminosity masks. When processing an image I use them several times with a variety of adjustments. They can even be used to blend multiple images.

And while third-party plugins can automate the process for you, you really should learn how to create them manually first. Understanding how they work makes it easier to know how and when to use them – and when not to.

If you’re interested in this subject, take a look at my eBook A Photographer’s Guide to Luminosity Masks where I teach you everything you need to know about them, as well as a variety of other masks and advanced selections.

The post Luminosity Masks: What They Are and How to Use Them appeared first on Digital Photography School.

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2019 Review: Face Detection and Recognition

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 18:30

A question seen frequently on photography groups is “What software do I get to process my images in?”. There is the usual flurry of recommendations for the familiar choices and a few random ones thrown in. One option that doesn’t get mentioned as often as it should is ACDSee. In particular the Photo Studio Ultimate 2019 bundle is worthy of consideration for both beginners and more experienced users.

The 2019 version with the newly included Face Detection and Facial Recognition features is a step up from the previous 2018 program, indicating an intention towards AI-based digital asset management.

For anyone wanting a one-stop shop to manage, view, process RAW files, and edit with layers, etc, PLUS only having to pay once for a perpetual licence, ACDSee offers a compelling option in the marketplace.

My background is in Lightroom and Photoshop which is the basis for comparison in this review.

Let us assess this software from the point of view of what it offers a beginner.

  1. Getting Started – installing and setting up
  2. Layout and Features
  3. Importing and Viewing Images
  4. Editing your RAW Image
  5. Advanced editing with layers
  6. New Features in 2019 version
  7. General Comments
1. Install and Setup

Setup and installation are fairly standard as per most software. ACDSee does require you to set up an account as part of the install process (it’s mandatory and cancels the install if you try to opt out), which then requires an extra registration step with an email confirmation. However, once sorted, no further registration is required. If you have registered before, you can use the previous login details.

It does allow you to choose which drive/directory/folder you want to install it into, as well as if you want to use a non-standard install path. As per the splash page below that opens on Startup—you can auto select the folder to open when the software starts.

Also new is the next screen, which helpfully shows you what the key functions and features are, and where to find them. Both of these can be turned off if desired. You can click on any of the words on the left panel and it will take you to the appropriate screen. Or click through on the NEXT button. Or close it.


Once you have navigated the splash pages, you will be taken to the Manage mode screen.

2. Layout and Features

ACDSee has five main modes in separate tabs for each function—Manage, Photos, View, Develop, and Edit.  There are some extra features but these are key ones used in general.

Summary of the features:

Manage mode has access to your computer, direction to find images where they are stored on the computer, and the default option is to view your images in thumbnail view (similar to Grid in LR). It shows EXIF data, histogram, and shot information for a particular image. You can colour code or rate images in Manage Mode.

Photos mode is similar to Manage. It allows a more comprehensive way of viewing image files on your hard drive, and you can drill down to specific day/month/year views.

View mode allows you to view a single image in full screen mode (similar to a single image view in LR) and has some basic editing functions included.

Develop mode is where you edit your RAW image files (similar layout and functions to LR or ACR).

Edit mode is where you can do advanced editing with layers (similar to PS).

There are also the 365 tab, Dashboard tab, and Messages tab. 365 is where you have access to your subscription information, if you opt for it. The Dashboard shows graphical data on image/camera information—if you want to know your most commonly used ISO setting, type, and number of files, it is visible here.


3.  Importing and Viewing Images

Importing is not required with ACDSee. The software will read folders directly off your computer, displaying and respecting its existing folder structure, just like Explorer. However, users can import off of external sources if they wish to achieve other organizational goals at the same time, such as culling, tagging, renaming, etc.

Once imported, you will then want to view them, cull, tag, and select the best ones for editing.

I have all my images stored on a NAS and it found those with no issues.  Above is the Manage page showing the hard drive directory structure and images in thumbnail grid view.

You can rate your images either using numbers or color tags. In the above image it has picked up the color rating I gave one image in LR. If you select the Catalog tab on the left hand menu, you can further refine your search parameters with selecting a specific rating or color tag. In the below example it has used the Red color tag to select images to view.


Also visible in the above image is the histogram (color graph below left) with camera settings above it for the selected image. The fine print at the bottom of the window has the name, file format, date/time taken, and file size information.

The full Manage mode window above, with directory tree/histogram/camera data on the left hand menu, and EXIF data for the selected image on the right hand pane, and all the images on display.

Other Image Viewing Options

ACDSee has two other image viewing options included. Photos mode and View mode

Photos mode opens with a splash screen explaining what it does.

It offers another way to sort and view your image files and has some granular control. You can get it down to a specific day quite easily and just see the images shot on that day. Probably very helpful for wedding or event photographers. Below is an example where it shows all the shooting days, with a blue bar that gives an idea of how many photos are stored under that day.

View mode is where you can see just a single image using the full screen size. You can zoom in to check the image quality using various zoom features. There is a floating Navigator panel you can activate and use that to ensure you are viewing the correct part of the image.  Similar to the Navigator in LR/PS.

There are some very basic editing tools available here, but better functionality is had in Develop mode.

4. Editing RAW Files

RAW image editing is done in Develop mode and it is laid out very similarly to LR. By default, the Editing tool panel is on the left but it can be moved.

Image with Edit Tool Panel on the left

It’s not immediately obvious, but the white section of the grey bar that ends with the triangle cut out of the bottom is the active slider. You move the light bar to the desired settings. Or type in a number or use the Up and Down arrows on the end.

There are 4 main tabs in the Tool Panel:

Tune – The usual tools for editing a RAW file, exposure, etc. Very similar to LR

Detail – Sharpening, Noise Reduction, and Skin Tuning

Geometry – Lens Correction, Cropping, Perspective adjustments

Repair – Heal/Clone and Red Eye adjustments

In Develop Mode with the Tune Panel open

In general, I found the sliders a bit fiddly to operate; it wasn’t smooth, but apparently it is easier to incrementally adjust sliders with a mouse wheel. My perception of the program is that its application of the settings is quite harsh, so careful use of the sliders is necessary.

While you can activate a second screen in Develop mode, the only purpose is to maintain a view of the unedited image for comparison.

The Tune tab also has some spot editing features—Develop Brush, Linear Gradient Tool and Radial Gradient Tool—the equivalent of Adjustment Brush, ND Grad, and Radial Tool in LR.

5. Advanced Editing With Layers

Edit mode gives most of the expected features you would find in Photoshop and other programs that offer layer/mask functionality. The Filmstrip is visible (similar to Bridge), although you can turn it off to gain the screen real estate back.

Edit Mode open with all the default settings and panels visible

Edit mode offers quite a few extra or useful features. The 2019 version also has an Adjustment layer for Color LUTs, which is a recent new feature brought into LR.

A new feature in the 2018 version was an Actions Menu—a range of preset creative edits you can apply with one click. The 2019 update to this allows you export and import actions as well.

Some of the actions have a really harsh effect like overdone HDR or similar, which was quite noticeable in the 2018 version. In the 2019 version they have toned down the effect in some of the actions, but not all of them. So it pays to pick and choose as it does depend on which action you choose as to what outcome you get. Also it applies it directly to the image so you can’t do it as a layer and then blend in, unless you duplicate the base layer and blend back which has its own issues.

One of the features that did impress me in both the 2018 and 2019 versions was how good a job the Heal tool did in tidying up spots and other issues. On the above image I have removed several spots and imperfections. On the right hand side, in the center of the flower, was a long black mark on a petal (near the small curled one), and that has been seamlessly removed.

An oddity also visible in the above image—in View mode I applied a LOMO preset and liked what it did, and further edited the image to mute the tones and lower the saturation.However, when you use the Navigator tool, as per above, it shows the original RAW file in its unedited state.

Finally I dragged some texture layers, (can be dragged from a second monitor into the Layer Palette), apply some blend modes, adjust the opacity, and soften areas with a mask to reach the final image.

New Features in 2019

Several new features have been included in the 2019 edition, but one key one is Face Recognition. A short video explains how to use it HERE.

I don’t shoot people/portraits generally but had a few tucked away to test. I could get the Face Recognition to function, however it didn’t automatically find all the other images and assign them correctly.  I suspect this is because I have all my images on a NAS and not in the usual directory. If I clicked on each image individually, it did recognise the face and the person.

General Comments

There are some things I find odd about how the program functions; three different ways to view the image can be a bit confusing. The second monitor view in Develop mode that only holds a copy of the unedited file for a comparison seems like a major waste of screen real estate.

Many new features were included in the 2018 version, and the ones assessed in this review of the latest version have been further enhanced and improved—I am guessing in response to user feedback.

This 2019 version adds a lot of nice new mature touches, and helpful splash screens to introduce you to different features.  More accessible help options is a vast improvement: there are links in the Help menu to a Support Community, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.

Any new software program takes a bit of getting used to, but once you understand it, ADCSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2019 offers any beginner (and more experienced users) a compelling package. It has all the features you need for image management, RAW editing, and more advance editing in one place, with the advantage of a ‘pay once and it’s yours’ option instead of a subscription.  Although a subscription option is available, if desired.

At $149 USD for the single purchase perpetual licence, you get a LOT of capability all wrapped up in one software program.


8.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: ACDSee is a paid partner of dPS




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Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 14:00

Most of us look at the world through both eyes. But whenever we take a photo, we close one.

I want to encourage you to reverse this practice.

© Pansa Landwer-Johan

Why Look at the World Through One Eye?

With a few exceptions, cameras don’t have two lenses. They record an image through a single lens, which is why the results are always two-dimensional.

But when you look through two lenses, as you do with binoculars, you’ll perceive more depth in the scene.

(That’s why we see with two eyes. It helps us perceive depth and distance between objects.)

Closing one eye lets us see a scene in the same two-dimensional manner our camera will record it.

This can be helpful in pre-visualizing a photo. When you use one eye, you’ll see the relationship between objects in your field of view differently. This can be particularly helpful when making a portrait, or photographing anything you want isolated from the background.

With both eyes open, you may not notice something ‘growing’ out of your subject’s head. Closing one eye lets you see distractions relating to your subject more easily.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Experiment Now

Hold your index finger up and stretch your arm out towards a glass or similar object two or three meters in front of you. If you look at it with both eyes open you’ll  still see the object. But if you close one eye you’ll be able to hide it behind your finger.

Closing one eye and holding your hand to shield the sun helps you see where the clouds are and whether one will soon block the sun.

As you become accustomed to how this works, you’ll start looking through your lens in new ways. Knowing you have less depth perception looking through one eye and one lens can help you position your camera with more precision.

This is particularly helpful when photographing an isolated subject. When the background contains distracting elements, even a slight change in camera position can help hide them. By moving left, right, up or down a little, you can eliminate things from view. Similarly, it can help to close one eye while preparing to take a photo.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Why Look Through Your Camera Viewfinder With Both Eyes Open?

With both eyes open you can be more aware of what’s happening around you. It’s easy to get consumed by an interesting subject while looking through your viewfinder. You may not see something else interesting happening nearby.

Being aware of someone potentially walking into your composition can also help you time your photos better. With both eyes open you can see who’s coming and choose whether or not to include them in your photo.

When you’re making portraits with a shortish lens (70mm or wider on a full-frame camera), having both eyes open makes you less anonymous to your subject. And they’ll be able to relate to you more easily if they can see one of your eyes.

Using a longer lens and keeping both eyes open gives you a more open view of your surroundings. When you focus through a long lens, it’s easy to lose some sense of depth in relation to your environment.

When photographing with a bright light in front of you or off to one side, closing your non-viewfinder eye will be less distracting.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Don’t Expect to Master This Today

Concentrating on what you see in your viewfinder is more difficult when you have your other eye open. Learning to split your vision and scrutinize what you see through your lens and with your other eye is challenging.

Like anything else you want to learn, you must practice. Even when you’re not taking photos, you can still discipline yourself to leave your other eye open while your main eye is at your camera’s viewfinder. The more you do it, the more natural it will become.

Repetition will build muscle memory, and you’ll get used to separating the two fields of vision.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Most people who do anything exceptionally well are usually somewhat different – even eccentric. Closing one eye to look at the world and then keeping them both open while looking through your camera may seem a little weird. But don’t worry about what other people might think.

These two simple techniques will take some getting used to. But once you do you’ll  see so many things in new ways and take better photos of them.

So set yourself the task of practicing one eye closed and both eyes open. Stick with it until it feels natural, and you’ll soon appreciate the benefits.

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Tips For Using a Grid in Off-Camera Flash Photography

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 09:05

An off-camera flash lets you create your own light, giving you new and powerful options for bringing your vision to life.

But one of the biggest challenges of striking out as an off-camera flash specialist isn’t getting the necessary equipment, or even learning how to properly expose a picture.

It’s learning how to control the light. You need to harness it, not to let it roam free.

Firing a strobe into an umbrella or a softbox for the first time and instantly creating soft, even light you can use for flattering portraits is an awesome feeling. Unfortunately, the artificial light usually spills everywhere, including the places you don’t want it to go—all over your background, back into the camera to create lens flare, etc.

As we know from the inverse square law, light loses its intensity the further it travels. But if you’re lighting a portrait in a tight environment you may not have the luxury of the light falling off. Your carefully lit shot could be ruined by light bouncing here, there and everywhere.

Fortunately, a bevy of creative options are available for controlling and limiting how your flashes splash light across the image. And one of the more popular options is using a grid.

What is a grid?

A grid fits over your flash and, using a series of honeycomb tubes, restricts the direction of the light output. Grids come in a variety of sizes to give you either a narrower beam of light or a wider spread. A 10-degree grid casts a narrower beam of light, while a 40-degree grid creates a wider beam.

With this level of control over your light you can create the precise lighting setup for the picture in your head.

While other options are available for restricting light (such as snoots), a grid provides the best balance between controlling the light and providing a pleasing effect with a gradual light falloff.

When is the best time to use a grid?

As I mentioned earlier, the challenge is to stop the light where you want it to. That perfectly placed light that’s highlighting your subject might also be throwing light over other parts of your picture, ruining the delicate balance.

Where a grid really shines is in providing a precise and restricted beam of light. You can use it to highlight a detail, create intrigue, or add drama in any other way you can imagine.

This shot is lit using an umbrella. The light is soft and covers a wide area.


This shot is lit with a flash but no modifiers. The light is harsh, but narrower than the umbrella.


Finally, this image is taken using a grid. The light is still quite harsh, but it’s restricted to bring more focus to the subject.

Using a grid on your key light

A grid is a fun way to create drama or heighten contrast. This is typical for low key images where a grid is used to purposefully show or hide key details.

For example, you can use a grid to mimic a shadowy and dark “film noir” image. The grid restricts the light, keeping it from spilling all over the scene and helping to maintain that dark, low key effect.

Using a grid on a secondary light

In a multi-light setup, you may need to use a grid on your secondary lights so you don’t ruin the balance provided by your key and fill lights.

Let’s say you already have the lighting you need on your model, but you want to emphasize a background detail. A bare flash would send a lot of new light careening around the image, whereas a grid lets you achieve the look you want with the precision you need.

The light from the secondary light behind and to the left of the subject is causing lens flare. Putting a grid on the light would restrict the beam and stop it from happening.

Another useful application for a grid is where your rim light is pointed back towards the camera. You may need it to separate your model from the background. But if that light spills into your lens you’ll have to deal with lens flare and lowered contrast when editing later on.

The solution? Slap a grid on your rim light. The light will be directed only where you want it to go, potentially saving you hours of post-processing work.

Give it a shot

A grid is a handy tool in any off-camera flash photographer’s bag. Their simple design makes them an affordable option and, as I said earlier, they can be used creatively on either your key or secondary lights.

Making the most of a grid is an excellent step to take towards becoming the best flash photographer you can be.

The post Tips For Using a Grid in Off-Camera Flash Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Capture a Successful Collection of Photographs with these 3 Tips

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 14:00

In a previous article, I discussed some helpful tips for preparing for a photo shoot. It’s important to be ready, but let’s be clear – you have to be able to perform on the day. So let’s talk about some helpful tips you can use to capture a successful collection of photographs on the big day.

I shot photographs for a band. The goal of the shoot was to create a collection of images they could use on social media. This one is pretty dark but it was processed this way on purpose. The band was playing a very moody venue and they liked the idea of a darker photograph.

Regardless of whether you’re shooting professionally or taking some photos for friends, these tips can help you to ensure you get the best pics. You may be taking photos of your child’s soccer game. Whatever the occasion there are some things you can do to get great photos.

1) Taking care of the people you photograph

This is the single most important thing you can do is take care of your clients. It sounds silly, but your job is to build their confidence, to direct them, to inspire and help them to pose for photos. Anyone with knowledge of camera settings and lighting can take an image that is sharp and well-lit. But to bring out the personality of those you photograph and to make meaningful images requires you to make a connection with the clients. They need to feel safe during the shoot. You’re the one who has to ensure each person involved feels secure.  It’s important to watch your models carefully. Are they comfortable? Are they fidgety?

The leader singer was a little apprehensive about me taking photographs. She told me when she sings she always looked like she was in pain. I took the time to shoot a lot of images hopefully capturing something she would like.

Consider the type of atmosphere you create during the shoot. Are you relaxed? Do you exude confidence in your abilities or are you nervous? If you’re feeling nervous, then so will the people you are photographing. It might be worth thinking of yourself as the father or mother of the folks you are photographing. Be that voice of calm amidst the chaos. Let them know you have their back.

I tried to include some shots of the action in between songs.

2) Think about the types of images you’re shooting

Depending on the event you’re shooting you need to consider several factors. The last thing you want to do is shoot a whole bunch of images that look the same. So you need to consider several things.

If you’re shooting a portrait session, then you need to think about posing and grouping individuals. How can you make the images look different? Do you change the setting or do you have people arrange themselves differently? You could have them grouped closely together or create a composition in which individuals are more spread out. Perhaps you have a mix of individuals either standing or sitting. There are lots of ways to pose people. If you’re the type of person who needs to sketch out diagrams and have a plan, then go ahead and do that, but remember variety is the key.

It was important to try and isolate two members of the band. A photograph of the married couple on stage together is an important keepsake.

If you’re shooting a child’s sporting event, you will want to mix in images that show both the whole playing surface as well as images that capture individual players. Maybe you choose to focus on facial expressions for a while. You can also capture intricate details like a pair of feet dribbling a ball, or the hands of player just before she shoots a 3 pointer. Just try to consider lots of different ways to portray the action.

3) Think about purpose

It’s so important to consider the point of taking these photographs. What do you hope to accomplish with this collection of images? Are you capturing precious family memories? Perhaps you’re documenting the growth of your son’s abilities to play soccer? Maybe the goal is to capture images of a beloved family pet that hasn’t got a whole lot of time left with the family. Whatever the reason, this purpose will guide you to create photographs.

Communicating an idea will dictate how you ask your family to pose. A photograph in which a dog is running happily after a toy or playing with small children will communicate a sense of family, but consider how a shot of an older dog sleeping next to your teenager on the couch may show a different stage of the life cycle.

A close up of the musicians and their instruments adds a nice variety.

All too often we jump in with the camera and forget that purpose can be more important than having the perfect exposure. So slow down, think purposefully as you shoot, and remember your goal is to create cohesion. You want a set of photographs that have a variety of compositions but also fit nicely together. Create interest in both the composition and the story told by your images.

Writing out your purpose might be helpful. Create a type of mission statement that you keep in the back of your mind as you shoot. Do whatever you need to do keep the purpose of your photographs front and centre. Don’t hesitate to post the purpose on a piece of paper somewhere. It might even help for the individuals involved in the shoot to see the purpose. If they are aware they can help to maintain the central idea through how they pose for photographs.

Including images of all the band members was important too. The focus on this shot is the sharpest but there’s a lot of emotion and effort in his face. That was important to capture.

So, no matter the subject matter or your photographic expertise, keep in mind how important it is to shoot photographs with a consciousness that accounts for all the factors listed above. It will be hard at first to remember all these different elements but eventually, you will become comfortable, and it will be more second nature to you.

If you’ve got some helpful tips, please share them with us. We want to hear about all the different types of steps you take when shooting a group of photographs. Let’s help each other out.

It’s also important to consider changing lenses. I used a wide angle lens for this shot.



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How to pick the perfect camera for kids

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 09:00

As a parent, one of the most enjoyable aspects of photography for me is sharing my love of photo-taking with my two kids. My wife and I enjoy taking pictures of our two boys, looking through old family photos with them, and involving them as much as we can when we are using our cameras.

However, when our oldest was about five years old he started wanting to get in on the action as well, and that’s when we hit a bit of a road block. We wanted to get him and his younger brother a camera, but with so many options we didn’t even know where to start. Fortunately we found a solution that has worked wonders for us and could be great for you too.

The Options

When we started looking more seriously into cameras for our kids we realized we had several options, all of which we ended up discarding for the following reasons.

Let them use our cameras. As much as we wanted them to get a real hands-on experience with photography, the cameras and lenses we use for formal photo sessions are much too expensive to hand over to our little boys. When they’re older we will certainly let them use our camera gear, but not at such a young age.

Invest in rugged point-and-shoot cameras. Some cameras made by Olympus and Panasonic are designed to take a bit of punishment and seem ideal for kids, but we didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a camera that our kids might enjoy for a few days and then put aside in lieu of something else. (As parents we have learned that our kids’ enjoyment of a particular toy or object is rarely correlated with the amount it costs, and just because something is expensive by no means ensures they will like it or use it more than once!)

I have no idea why, but my six-year-old is obsessed with taking pictures of ceiling fans. This has led to some good discussions about shutter speeds and also the effect of flash when freezing motion.

Purchase a kid-oriented camera. If you search online you can find dozens of kid-oriented cameras that have big buttons and bright colors, but all the ones I have used have been quite unimpressive. Tiny low-quality LCD screens, slow response times, horrible image quality, and awful sound effects all seem like they are designed specifically to suck the enjoyment out of photography altogether.

Let them use an old mobile phone camera. This seems to make a lot of sense given the prevalence of tablets, phones, and other devices with cameras and touch-screen technologies, but we ultimately decided against it. We didn’t want the hassle of dealing with internet restrictions and app downloading, especially when our kids are so young. In the future we might open this door, but for now we’re more comfortable giving our kids an actual camera instead of a device that has many functions, including a camera.

The more we looked at choices available to us the more we seemed to hit dead ends, until we came up with a solution that seemed to check many boxes all at once: we would buy each of our kids a used point-and-shoot camera.

Old point-and-shoots can’t match modern cameras, but they’re not too shabby either. And when a kid can snap a picture of a sunrise with their very own camera, it’s a fun moment to witness.

The solution

A used point-and-shoot camera hit every one of our criteria. And the more research we did, the more we realized that this plan had almost no drawbacks and a variety of benefits including…

Price. You can look on eBay or used gear sites like for used point-and-shoots and find plenty of options for $25 to $50. That’s well within the range that we are comfortable spending on a toy, and if our kids lose interest or break their cameras accidentally, we haven’t lost a lot of money.

Selection. The sky really is the limit when it comes to selecting a used point-and-shoot, and no matter your budget you can probably find one that suits your needs – especially if the goal is to give it to a child. As a starting point search for “Powershot”, “Coolpix”, or “Cyber-Shot” and sort by price to see plenty of low-cost point-and-shoot options.

A quick eBay search for Canon PowerShot digital cameras between $25 and $50 turns up dozens of results.

Features. I owned a few small pocket cameras way back in college and over the years I had forgotten how many features these old things had! Most of the ones we looked at included things like optical viewfinders, video recording, optical zoom lenses, self-timers, limited manual controls, white balance options, various metering modes, macro/portrait modes, custom scene settings, and instagram-style filters. Some of these require digging through menus, but it’s all there for children to explore and figure out, which is part of the fun of photography in the first place.

Image quality. Can a decade-old point-and-shoot match the quality and megapixels of a modern DSLR or smartphone? Of course not. Most of the cameras you are likely to find will be in the 3-megapixel range, which pales in comparison to any modern camera. And good luck taking pictures at high ISO values. But the point is to use this as a way to get kids interested in photography, and no child I know is going to balk at having only 3 megapixel images. That’s plenty big enough to crop and print. (Remember, a 4×6 photo at 300dpi is only 2 megapixels.)

Image quality on a used point-and-shoot can’t rival a DSLR, but it can be easily and cheaply replaced if dropped in water when taking pictures of turtles. And that’s almost what happened when this photo was taken.

After all our investigating we ended up getting our boys each a Canon PowerShot DS450 Digital ELPH from eBay. We paid $27 for one and $29 for the other, including shipping. Our kids (age 6 and 3 when they received them) were so thrilled they could hardly put them down. They called them their “Professional Cameras” and quickly started taking pictures, experimenting with different options, and figuring things out in the menu screens while teaching each other what they had learned.

Over time our kids have learned a lot more about photography and how to use their cameras to get the images they want. And they really enjoy experimenting with the self timer and taking short videos too. We made albums for each of them within our Apple Photos app. Over the past year they have built their libraries up with thousands of pictures which they like looking through and sharing with others.

This picture of grandma and grandpa’s dog isn’t going to win any awards, but my son had fun taking it and it helps him remember this visit.

At times their interest has waxed and waned, and sometimes a month will go by without them picking up their cameras. But that’s how kids are with most toys, and I don’t think the situation would be any different had we spent $200 on a brand-new kid-friendly point-and-shoot. The situation isn’t all sunshine and roses though, and there have been some drawbacks and risks that any parent would need to take into account when buying a used camera.

The risks

Purchasing anything used, whether it’s a camera or a car, carries with it its own set of risks and parents should be aware of what they are getting into.

Gear condition. If you get a new camera, whether it’s a brightly-colored toy camera or an advanced drop-resistant point-and-shoot, you can be fairly certain that the product you pay for is the same as the product you receive. It will also likely come with a warranty, but neither of these is the case with used cameras. Reputable sites like KEH, B&H, and Adorama rate their items with a scale that gives you a pretty good expectation of their condition, but what you get in the mail might have scratches, dents, or other defects you might not expect.

Both of the cameras we got on eBay had dings and dents, but my kids didn’t mind at all and I would suspect most kids (especially very young ones) wouldn’t even notice.

Beware of auction sites. If you have never used eBay or other auction sites before, navigating their options can seem like a bit of a digital minefield. Look closely at seller ratings, return policies, and buyer-protection options before making a purchase. And if you come across a camera deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is. The same goes for cameras you might find on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the seller.

Accessories not included. Depending on where you get your camera it may or may not come with niceties like a wrist strap, a memory card, or even a charger or working battery. The cameras we got for our kids had batteries that barely held a charge, so we got a pair of third-party batteries for about $15. It wasn’t too big of a deal but it served as a good reminder of the difference between buying used vs. buying new. Things like this aren’t deal-breakers and your pocketbook will be still be much happier, even if you do have to buy some of these additional items.

On a recent trip to the local botanic gardens my kids finally got to be the ones taking pictures of daddy, not the other way around. Simple wrist straps definitely helped them keep track of their cameras in the process.

The lesson here is one that has rung true for ages, ever since humans began trading for goods and services: caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. If you do a little bit of research, ask questions, and trust your instincts you will probably end up with a perfectly good camera that will be great for kids.

It’s been well over a year since my wife and I got used point-and-shoot cameras for our boys, and despite a few hiccups, the experiment has been a resounding success. It has not ignited some latent passion for photography, but our boys have had fun experimenting and exploring and creating – and thus far they haven’t broken their cameras either.

My three-year-old took this with the pocket camera we bought him for under $30. I asked him why, and he told me he just liked the colors of the bike.

Meanwhile my wife and I rest easy knowing that they can’t access harmful internet sites or download strange apps onto their 2005-era digital cameras. And if our kids do end up breaking or damaging their point-and-shoots it will be a very cheap problem to solve. (As a bonus, if they do break their cameras we plan to use it as a financial lesson and make them save up for replacements.)

If you or someone you know has kids who are interested in photography, I highly recommend checking out the many used cameras available to you before shelling out hundreds of dollars on a brand-new model or buying a cheap kid-friendly camera with actual bells and whistles, but limited capacity for photography. The risk is fairly minimal, the results can be quite rewarding, and you might even find yourself renewing your own excitement for photography simply by helping teach the younger generation what makes the art form so special to you.

The post How to pick the perfect camera for kids appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Horizon Line Level

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 14:06

The horizon line is a big deal in landscape and other outdoor photography. You can’t do this kind of photography for long without encountering the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio, both of which are usually applied to the horizon line. Even if there isn’t a true horizon line in your picture, there’s often a line running through the picture that determines whether it will appear level.

Still, it’s surprising how often people end up with crooked lines. You might not notice it, but it’s often the first thing people will see when looking at your photo. Posting a good photo only for it to appear crooked can be embarrassing. Beginners are notorious for overlooking this, but it happens all the time. It even happens to me occasionally.

In this article I’ll walk you through ways to make sure that your horizon line is straight.

But before we get into that, start making sure you actually check it. After all, it’s an easy thing to forget. Do whatever works for you, whether it’s making a checklist, leaving yourself a note or whatever. And make it a part of your workflow so you do it every time.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether your horizon line is straight or not, even when using the level in your camera. It gets especially hard when it’s mixed up with other elements in your picture that aren’t straight either. Add in lens distortion, and you can end up with a convoluted mess.

So let’s talk about tools and techniques for keeping your horizon line level. We’ll go from the most obvious tools that  you probably already know about (but worth a little refresher) to some less obvious tools and techniques.

1. Use the Crop Tool Effectively

The easiest way to straighten your horizon line is with the crop tool. Virtually every photo editing software package in existence has a crop tool, so it should be familiar to you.

Lightroom’s crop tool controls. Note that the controls also allow you to straighten your photos.

Most of the time this tool will also let you change the angle of the picture. And quite often that’s all you need to do.

In Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), select the Crop Tool and then move your cursor slightly off the picture. The cursor will change to a curved line with arrows at either end, which indicates that clicking and dragging will now change the angle of the picture. Click and move it around to straighten your horizon line.

You can also do it by filling in the angle percentage on the far right.

2. Avoid Distortion

Sometimes your picture will appear crooked even when it’s level. That’s because most lenses have at least some barrel distortion, which makes the horizon line sag toward the sides of the picture.

This really affects things when you crop one side of your picture. The sag will show on one side (the one you didn’t crop) but not the other, and so your picture will appear to be leaning to one side.

You can fix this with the leveling functions mentioned already. But another way to fix it is to cure the distortion, which can be done easily in Lightroom and ACR.

Find the box labeled Lens Corrections, and check the box next to Enable Profile Corrections. The software will then apply an automatic correction tailored to the lens you used. You might need to help the software find your lens by selecting the manufacturer and perhaps even the model. But usually the software will find it for you and apply an automatic correction.

3. Transform to Correct

Sometimes you need a little help determining what is truly level. Your eyes can play tricks on you, particularly when you have different lines running in different directions in your picture. Lightroom can provide some help in the Transform panel.

Lightroom’s Transform panel lets you cure a variety of distortions. The most common adjustment is to correct vertical distortion, which is most useful for converging buildings and trees.

The best way to get familiar with these controls is to just play with them. Go through them all and watch how they affect your photos. After that, you’ll know which controls will be the most useful.

You can have Lightroom level your photo automatically by pressing the Level button at the top left. However, this doesn’t always work, in which case you can do it manually using the Rotate slider.

This is a great set of tools to use when you have multiple distortions working at the same time. Here’s a picture that isn’t level, and also seems to be suffering from vertical distortion.

And here’s the same picture after pressing the Auto button in the Transform panel.

Pretty dramatic improvement, isn’t it? If you don’t like what you get, you can always perform manually tweaks using the sliders. It won’t always be that easy, but sometimes this control is like magic.

4. Use the Ruler to Test

Okay, so how can you tell if your horizon line is actually level? We already talked about the Level command in Lightroom’s Transform panel. But there’s perhaps an even better way – Photoshop’s Ruler tool. It isn’t intuitive, and isn’t something you’d know about until someone shows you.

Here’s a shot with a crooked horizon line. We’ll use Photoshop’s Ruler tool to fix it in the next two pictures.

Start by selecting the Ruler tool from the tools on the left side of your screen. Then draw a line along your horizon line. If you can’t see all of the horizon in the picture, just use the part you can see. And don’t worry – you can re-do this as many times as you want.

Once you’ve drawn your line:

  1. From the main menu choose Image > Image Rotation > Arbitrary. This will bring up a dialog box with a number in the angle box. This is the angle Photoshop has set based on the line you just drew with your Ruler. Don’t change it.
  2. Click OK.

Photoshop will now level the picture according to the line you just drew.

Here I’ve used the steps mentioned earlier to straighten the picture using the Ruler tool. Now I need to crop the picture to make it look straight.

If it looks right, crop away to fix the edges. If it doesn’t look right, just undo it and try again.

Here’s the final picture straightened and cropped.

5. Add Distortion to Correct Without Cropping

Here’s another Photoshop technique to level the horizon line doesn’t involve any cropping at all. You simply distort the image to pull up the low end of the horizon line.

Start by selecting the entire image. You can use whatever selection tool you’re most comfortable with, or just press Ctrl+A to select the entire image. Once you’ve selected it, choose Image > Transform > Distort from the main menu.

See how the buildings appear to tilt a little to the right? The horizon line isn’t quite level either. We’ll fix it using the Transform command in the next graphic.

Your image will now have a series of little boxes on the edges and corners. By dragging these boxes around you can distort the image. You might want to play with them a little to get comfortable with the tool, as it can be handy in a variety of contexts.

For our purposes. just pull up the corner of the image on whatever side the horizon line is low until it’s level. Your picture is now level without needing to be cropped.

I pulled out the top left corner to straighten the buildings. I also pulled down just a touch on the bottom left corner to straighten the horizon line. In this example, I could have changed the angle of the entire picture to accomplish the same thing. But the Transform tool generally gives you greater control.

You can combine this technique with any other distortions you might want to fix, such as correcting converging buildings.

Putting it in Practice

Just thinking about having a straight horizon line goes a long way. Correct any other distortions first to get a sense of how the picture will ultimately look.

If you’re having trouble determining whether your horizon line is level, you can check with either the Level command (Lightroom and ACR) or the Ruler combined with the Image Rotation command (Photoshop). Use both to get a sense of what feels right.

But ultimately there’s no mathematical way to do this. It’s what you see with your own eye that’s most important.

The post 5 Tips for Keeping Your Horizon Line Level appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Paint Shop Pro 2019 Ultimate Review

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 09:00

About a year ago I reviewed the 2018 version of this software. It was an interesting comparison for me, as I started using it back when it was still owned by Jasc Software (before Corel bought it).

Now we have the 2019 version, dubbed Paint Shop Pro 2019 Ultimate. And as someone who uses Lightroom and Photoshop, I was interested to see how it stacks up.

The Basics

Corel Paint Shop Pro 2019 is a Windows-only product that comes in two editions – Standard and Ultimate.

The Standard edition features creative presets powered by AI, 360-degree photo editing, enhanced performance, features, enhanced usability and ease of use, and new creative content.

The Ultimate edition includes everything in the Standard edition as well as:

  • Photo Mirage Express
  • Painter Essentials 6
  • Perfectly Clear 3.5 SE
  • Aftershot 3
  • Creative Collection of brushes, textures and backgrounds.

Note: Painter Essentials 6, Perfectly Clear 3.5 SE and Aftershot 3 will run only on the 64-bit version of Windows.

Both come with a 30-day free trial, and the $99.99 USD price tag is for a perpetual one-off licence, not a subscription.

For more information, check out the website.


PSP 2019 Ultimate has two workspaces – Essentials and Complete.

Essentials is a cut-down version aimed very much at beginners, while Complete has all the features and options. To distinguish between them, Corel has made the interfaces different shades of grey.

Essentials is a light grey, although you can adjust it to one of three different shades. You can also adjust the size of the buttons on the toolbar to make them bigger (as shown  below), and move the toolbars and palettes around to suit.

Complete is a dark charcoal grey, and has the filmstrip of images along the bottom.

Layers comes up by default in Complete, whereas I had to manually add it in Essentials and dock it where I wanted it to go. So if you plan on using layers I’d opt for the Complete workspace, although you can switch between them quite easily.


I tested the performance of PSP 2019 Ultimate on my standard Photoshop machine. It has:

  • an Intel Core i7 processor
  • 24GB of memory
  • two 180GB SSD in a Raid 1 configuration for the operating system
  • two 500GB SATA drives in a Raid 1 configuration for extra backup (PSP was installed on this array)
  • network attached storage (NAS) for all my RAW files.

Admittedly my system is about seven years old. But it works fine with Photoshop CS6 and images with many layers.

PSP found my NAS files and let me access them easily. But performance was generally slow and noticeably laggy. When I moved sliders on the RAW image import I had to wait for the software to catch up.

Loading an image file as a layer was quite slow. And if I moved the layer it stuttered instead of moving smoothly.

Image Management and Editing

While RAW files can be imported into the program, the editing features are extremely limited compared to Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Corel does offer AfterShot3 as a RAW image editor, but it’s a separate program and not included in this review.

You can perform basic image edits and compare the Before and After results as shown below.

It also gives you some quicker options for editing photos. One-Shot Photo Fix is a one-click option that does it all. I preferred the Smart Photo Fix, which gives you more control over the edits as shown below. I did like the large preview panes when using this feature.

Other Editing Tools

PSP caters for layers and masks as you would expect. In the image below I applied a text layer to the original photo, changed the blend mode to soft light, and reduced the opacity. I then added a mask to brush out parts of the text.

All the usual suspects are present: adjustment layers, brushes, painting, text, selections and masks. But the creative additions to this version of PSP are interesting.

Art Media

Art Media is a new function that lets you paint over an image in a range of different painting styles (watercolour, acrylic, oil, etc.) It picks up the colour of the image underneath as you paint, allowing for a different creative approach to editing your images.

There’s also a built-in tool that lets you mix colours on a digital palette and paint with various brush styles. Here’s a short video showing how it can be used.

My machine struggled a lot with this. Every stroke was very slow, and as a result wasn’t very accurate.

Here’s an example of a test paint in watercolour mode on top of the original image

When you remove the base image and look only at the painted layer, it looks like this.

Having the paint strokes on a separate layer is a good choice as it lets you apply various layer controls such as blend modes, masks and opacity changes.

Pic to Painting

This is the new AI-assisted painting feature that, glancing at the sample images supplied, looks similar to Topaz Impression. (Here’s a quick video demonstration.)

It provides effects similar to mobile apps such as iColourama, Waterlili and Prisma, but lets you apply them on your computer. Controls are very limited. Choose the style, choose the strength, then apply.

It took a long time to download and install onto my computer. Even previewing the first style took several minutes. While graphics-intensive processing like this can be a bit slow (Topaz Impression can take a minute or so to gather its resources when you first start it up), this was a very long time to wait. Especially for just a preview.

After trying several times, and giving the last test 17 minutes to process, I gave up. Later I discovered that Pic to Painting only works in Windows 10, even though that isn’t stated in any of the advertising.

360-Degree Support

If you have a 360-degree camera (or take a lot of panorama shots), PSP can apparently process these images and let you create different effects. (I didn’t test this.)

Makeover Tools

A set of tools are included to help remove blemishes, lines and red eye, whiten teeth, and even out skin tones. I don’t shoot closeups of faces, so I tested the blemish remover on a blueberry shot.

Here’s the BEFORE shot. The blueberry was a bit old, and when zoomed in you can see creases, bruises and scuff marks.

The Blemish remover settings are essentially a brush. About all you can do is change the size and opacity.

I reduced the brush size to suit. I didn’t see much effect at 40%, so I increased it to around 90%. It seems to do a content-aware fill, as it picked up other lines from the area I was working on. It ended up requiring much more work to solve those extra problems.

Here’s the finished experiment.

Other Useful Features

The size of the buttons on the toolbars can be increased – handy for those with high-resolution monitors and those of us who should probably wear glasses when we edit.

If you click the ‘+’ symbol at the bottom of the Tools palette, a search window appears that lets you search for functions by name in several different ways. This is a great way to find things you don’t necessarily know the name of but can guess what they do.

And being able to change the colour of your workspace backgrounds in both Essentials and Complete mode is a nice touch.


Overall, I found this particular version of Paint Shop Pro Ultimate a bit disappointing. It performed very poorly on my compute, and some of the new features only work if you’re running 64-bit Windows, Windows 10 or both.

It does add AfterShot3 for Raw editing, Perfectly Clear for intelligent photo adjustments, Painter Essentials for the more artistic and Photo Mirage Express for animations. There are also some free bonus additions, and a lot of extras you can purchase (presets, textures, etc.)

Corel has certainly included all the options a photographer might want to process and edit images, as well as a variety of options for further creative exploration. But the hardware requirements needed to access all the extra features is a problem, especially when they’re only mentioned in the technical specifications.

I should note that I joined the PSP Support community to get answers to my questions, and the people there were extremely helpful and responsive. I got several responses to my queries over the course of a few days. The user guide is a bit vague, so if you do have PSP I strongly recommend checking out the Support Community if you need help.

While it is quite cost effective, and a one-off purchase rather than a subscription, I highly recommend downloading the trial version first to see f it will work on your current computer.

Overall score: 3/5

The post Paint Shop Pro 2019 Ultimate Review appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Weekly Challenge – Rainbows and Prisms

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 14:00

Your photographic challenge this week is to take and share a photo incorporating a rainbow or prism effect.

Rainbow over Kirkufell by Peter Hammer on 500px

Now, we don’t expect to send you all out chasing rainbows without any help! Whilst they can be elusive, this post will give you some tips on how to find and photograph them.

How to Photograph a Rainbow


Light Show by Mark Metternich on 500px

But, if you can’t find one, you could try creating one. Here are a couple of articles for inspiration:

How to Make and Photograph Rainbow Water Droplets on a CD

Copper, Prisms, and Orbs, Oh My! – 3 Creative Techniques for People Photography

Weekly Photography Challenge – Rainbows and Prisms

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.

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.

If you tag your photos on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter or other sites – tag them as #DPSRAINBOWS to help others find them. Linking back to this page might also help others know what you’re doing so that they can share in the fun.

The post Weekly Challenge – Rainbows and Prisms appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Make a DIY Lens Hood to Eliminate Lens Flare

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 09:00

Not all lenses come with lens hoods, and that can mean you can suffer the effects of lens flare. This occurs when light is scattered across the glass elements of a lens, often caused by bright sunlight at a particular angle, and it produces coloured spots around your image. Lens hoods shade the lens, almost entirely stopping lens flare in the majority of situations.

Sometimes this can be used to creative effect, but for the majority of the time you’re going to want to get rid of it. Building your own DIY lens hood is a way around this problem, and this 2-minute tutorial from COOPH shows you how to do just that.

By recycling an old plastic bottle, whilst using some black spray paint, you can create your own “foldable” lens hood to work with whatever lens you need.

For more tips about handling lens flare, check out some of our tutorials:

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