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Updated: 8 hours 14 min ago

Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 07:30

The post Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Wildlife photographers are a dedicated bunch.  They spend money to travel to exotic places, brave miserable conditions, deal with whatever light conditions are present at the time and then sometimes don’t even see the animals they came to photograph.  Pandas in China, tigers in India, lions on the Serengeti, polar bears in the frozen Yukon or maybe gorillas in the Congo.  You could spend a lifetime photographing wild animals in their native lands.

Bengal Bath – Photographed in the wilds of India or in a zoo? You tell me.

Or, you could take a cue from Simon and Garfunkel –

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo”

                     – “At the Zoo” – Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

I’ll grant you, photographing a lion in the zoo doesn’t have the same thrill as being on safari. If you have the time and the money to do such things, by all means, go for it.  For many of us though, the zoo offers a chance to photograph animals we’d never see otherwise and, using the tips we’re about to cover, you can still make some very nice images.  You don’t have to tell your friends where you took them, right?

It’s hard to make a zoo photo look like it was taken in the wild with a chainlink fence in the background. Go with a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus if you can.


In the bush, the challenges of photographing wildlife are likely finding the animal you’re seeking and, depending on the species, perhaps trying not to get eaten.  At the zoo, there are cages, glass or at least barriers designed to separate you and the creatures.  Safer, yes, but also a little frustrating when you’re trying to make a nice photo.

Let’s look at some workarounds for zoo photography.

Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is right up against the wire, there’s not much you can do.

Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large aperture, and you can do this. This could probably be cleaned up further with the cloning tool in post-production.


Zoos are getting better at designing structures so that the animals aren’t always behind bars or chainlink fences, but sometimes you will still have to deal with this.  If the animal is up close to the fence, you might have no choice but to include it in the shot.

But, if you can wait until the beast moves further away from the barrier, this trick can work.  Get close to the fence if you can, then use a wide aperture.  Zoom into and focus on the animal.  You may find that the limited depth of field pretty much renders the fence as a blur, barely showing up at all.  Often you can clean up what remains of the fence or bars when editing.

Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some editing, a pretty nice Panda Portrait results.

An aquarium is a zoo of sorts where all the animals will be behind glass. Note how I rescued the turtle image with editing and monochrome conversion.


Sometimes the barrier between you and the animal will be glass.  You’ll have to deal with grime, scratches, and reflections.  Carry a cloth in your bag when you go to the zoo and clean a spot on the glass where you’ll be shooting.  Get as close to the glass as you can, again with a wide aperture to help blur any scratches.  If reflections are a problem, consider throwing a jacket or cloth over your head or perhaps just the camera to help eliminate them.  Later in editing, the dehaze tool can be your friend with photos made through glass.


Many times I’m glad there’s some distance between the animal I’m photographing and I. (The Komodo dragon was a scary guy for sure!). The difficulty becomes making the animal in your photo more than just a speck in the shot.

You’ll have even more difficulty with this if you’re visiting a wild animal park where instead of the animals being in smaller cages or enclosures, they roam a wide area, and you drive through the park on a tour bus. There’s only one solution here – longer telephoto lenses.

More about lenses in a bit, just know that to get those nice portrait shots, you’re often going to need some bigger glass.

Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you’ll capture a more engaging image.


Though you’ll be photographing animals at the zoo, you’d prefer to have your images look like they were taken in the wild.  Your story about photographing zebra on the Serengeti plains will fall apart if there’s an obvious chainlink fence in the background.  So, a couple of possible options here:

  • Fill the frame with the animal, including as little of the background as possible in the shot.
  • Zoom in and use a wide aperture so the background blurs.
  • Consider your vantage point when composing your shot.  Could you move a little to put natural vegetation, rocks, or something not manmade in the background to better simulate the animals’ natural habitat?

Watch, wait and be ready, and you can capture animals behaving as they do in the wild.

Capturing behavior

A photo of a lion just standing there might be okay, but a shot of a lion roaring…that’s the one you’d like.  Images that capture animal behavior are the prize winners.  The difference is waiting for the moment. Waiting, waiting, and perhaps waiting some more.

Perhaps you’re not up to being another Dian Fossey living with the mountain gorillas so you can get that unique photo.

Or there’s Guido Sterkendries, who spends weeks in the stifling heat of the Brazilian rainforest on a perch in the treetops to photograph poison dart frogs.

But, rather than just taking the minute or so the average zoo visitor views each exhibit, you might have to wait, watch, and be ready when the animal does something interesting.  Also, watch for animal interactions and make photos that tell a story.

Mamas and babies can make good photos. Look for animal interactions that tell a story.

Set up, be ready, and perhaps have continuous mode and servo-focus activated. Then, when it happens and the subject does that intriguing behavior, fire off a burst of shots to guarantee you’ve got that one really great shot.

After all, would you rather go home with a boring photo of every animal in the zoo or just one superb shot of one animal engaging in some really interesting behavior?

When to go

Sometimes you get to a particular animal exhibit at the zoo and the animal is nowhere to be seen. Or maybe he’s over in the corner, zonked out and sleeping – hardly a great photo subject.

Often the trick is to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler, and the animals are apt to be more active.

Photographers are also quite familiar with the “golden hour.” Not only will the light be better during these times, but the animal’s up, about, and ready for their closeup. Feeding time can also provide some action.

If you can, talk with the zookeepers to find out the best time to come, especially if you have your sights set on shots of particular animals. They will be a great source of information.

Including people

Sometimes the action at the zoo can be on the other side of the cages, the antics of people reacting to or aping for the animals.  Keep an eye out for these kinds of behaviors too.  Sometimes people are the funniest animals.


If you’re going to spend a day at the zoo, you may not want to bring your whole photo kit. Firstly, it’s not much fun schlepping it around. Secondly, while you’re intent on making a shot, an unscrupulous bandit could help themselves to some of your gear.  Thirdly, you really don’t need that much for zoo photography.

Here are some things you might want:


Something with the ability to go manual if necessary and, of course, shooting Raw is almost always better.

A Canon 100-400 zoom was a great lens to have to allow these bird portraits. Wildlife photographers use long lenses and at the zoo, they can help too.


You might very well be able to get by with a good wide-range telephoto for zoo photography. Something like a 70-200mm, or if you have something longer like a 70-300 or 100-400, better still.

You’re not apt to need a wide-angle lens at all.

The only other possibility is for zoos that have a butterfly exhibit where a macro could be useful.  One or two lenses should have you covered.

Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a macro lens.


You may find that some zoos prohibit tripods, so it would be a good idea to check before you go.  A monopod can be a good substitute.


Probably not.  Again, some zoos will prohibit them, they spook the animals, and you’re not apt to want a “flash look” anyway.

Polarizing filter

This can be a good idea.  The fur of many animals is shiny and a polarizer can help tame that, also giving you richer colors.


Cloth is great for cleaning the glass on animal enclosures that use that.


You will encounter a variety of lighting situations at the zoo, from dark animals lying in the shade to light animals in the sun, to the dreaded speckled light situation.

Some animals may barely move while others may leap wildly about.

There’s no substitute for knowing your camera and how to deal with varied conditions.  Often going fully manual, both for exposure and focus will be your best option.

Fences or glass in the foreground can too easily fool the autofocus, so be careful there.

Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photography. Again, have a long lens and if you’ll be handholding the camera, keep the shutter speed high.

In general, a wide aperture to blur the background, coupled with a fast shutter speed to freeze any animal movement, is good.  You may also be dealing with a long focal length, and having to handhold is a recipe for camera shake/blur.

Try to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible.  Also, keep the ISO low to minimize noise.  In varied lighting conditions, you may also want to consider Auto ISO if you understand how it works with your particular camera.

Continuous mode can be a good option so that when an animal does something interesting, you can fire a burst of shots, helping guarantee you capture the moment.


If there’s any mistake I see beginners making, it’s not filling the frame with their subject. Of course, not every shot needs to be a tightly cropped “portrait,” but the problem comes in when the subject in the image is so small it’s barely identifiable. Alternatively, the shot is so cluttered with other things that one questions what the real subject is. This is where a long lens can help with zoo photography.

Real wildlife photographers must sneak up on their subjects in places where enclosures don’t restrict the animals. So, often they will use – really – long, (and really expensive), glass. You need not go to that extreme, but you do want to make the animal in your shot the star, so frame accordingly.

The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes need to be sharp.

As when making portraits of people, when photographing animals, keep the eyes in sharp focus. Having other parts of the animal out of focus or a very limited depth-of-field is forgivable, but if the eyes are not in focus, the shot is probably a candidate for the delete button.

Use manual focus or learn you use your focus points to force focus on the animal’s eyes. Simply using the default center-focus point will likely fail you almost every time. Be the master of your camera’s focus.

This is a tricky one because enclosures, cages, and places where the animal will be won’t always allow this, but where possible, try to get on the same level as the animal.  Looking down on the subject just won’t be as impressive.  Perhaps you’ll have to put your camera on the ground or use something like a Gorillapod, (appropriate for the zoo, yes?) but do what’s needed to improve your shot.

This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. Then again…


As with any photo editing, you want to use the tools and tricks in your editing program to improve your shot. Always consider whether a crop may help eliminate distractions or better highlight the animal. Use the exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders (if editing with Lightroom), to bring out the color and detail of the animal.

The Dehaze option may help, especially where you made a photo through a glass enclosure.

The new Texture slider can also work wonders, bringing out details in an animal’s fur.

Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camouflage in his environment.

Don’t forget to take a look at going monochrome with some of your images.  Sometimes a black and white version of an animal image can be especially striking.

Go zoo it!

So grab your gear and get down to your nearest zoo.  You’ll have a great time, get some nice images, and if the song is right, “the animals will love it if you do.”

Do you have any other zoo photography tips? Share with us in the comments! Also, share with us your zoo photography photos.

The post Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 05:00

The post How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Layering images experimentally in photoshop can be an exciting way to bring a fine art feel to your photography. It is spontaneous and unpredictable, with different outcomes each time.

The layering technique I talk about in this article is a way you can explore and get inspired by the work of Victorian art photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron. They would have used long exposures because of the limitation of their cameras, which added a dream-like quality to their images.

Instead of long exposures, I have used multiple images shot of the same subject, layering them and using Photoshop blending modes. It gives a different kind of ethereal feeling to the images which you can use on any subject, not just portraits.

Start with a portrait

Your portrait doesn’t have to be sophisticated, but it should be able to be repeated over a dozen shots or so. I opted for simple natural window light, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use flash instead.

The image I found worked best was one with strong colors and features with a simple background. I opted to take inspiration from Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography by using simple historical clothes, and an instantly recognizable prop.

You want to try to end up with a dozen or so slightly different images of your subject. Take far more images than you need so that you have lots of choices when it comes to selecting images for your layering effect.

Between each shot, ask your subject to move just a small amount – perhaps their head or their hands, but just a fraction. Try to avoid any dramatic pose changes.

Layering the images in Photoshop

When it comes to selecting images and editing them, there are many different software packages and options. I’m going to talk about how I use Lightroom Classic and Photoshop to achieve this effect. Even within these two software packages, there are other ways you can accomplish the same effect. As long as you end up with a photograph that you love, then you haven’t done anything wrong!

I start by importing my images into Lightroom Classic and then selecting the ten or so images that will make up the layers of my final image. At this point, I try to choose a ‘base’ image that will be at the bottom of the layer stack in Photoshop and will show through the strongest. Generally, this is my favorite image out of the set.

When you’ve got your images selected in Lightroom Classic in the Develop module, open the ‘Photo’ menu and select ‘Open as Layers in Photoshop.’

This will save you having to manually stack all of the images together. You’ll end up with a single file open in Photoshop with all of your selected images placed on layers.

The next stage is to place your ‘hero’ image (the one that you want to show through the most) at the bottom of the layer stack by dragging and dropping it. Then select all the layers above and reduce their opacity.

Playing with Photoshop Blending Modes

This is when it starts to get interesting. Playing with the different photoshop blending modes for the layers will give you all kinds of different results. Dark images will suit different blending modes to lighter images. You can check out a comprehensive guide to photoshop blending modes here!

You’ll want to turn down the opacity of the layers quite far so that the original ‘hero’ image shows though. The other layers should then become more of a fuzzy halo rather than a focal point for the shot.

Once you’ve found a blending mode and opacity that looks good, you can start to fine-tune the image.

Begin by identifying parts of the images that don’t really work, and work out which layer they’re on. Then create layer masks and use a black paintbrush to gently fade those unwanted parts away.

I decided to remove almost all of the layers from the face of my subject since it was a portrait, and I wanted to be able to see her clearly. I also took away some distracting echos of hands, which I felt made the final image stronger. Since you’re working using layer masks, you can always undo any of your choices at this stage – just simply paint over the bits you want to see again on the layer mask with a white paintbrush!

As you can see from my layer masks, they don’t have to be neat. Just use a fairly large brush with soft edges and a low opacity and you won’t be able to see the brushstrokes of your mask in the final image.

Finishing your image

Once you’re happy with the basic image you’ve achieved through layering, I’d suggest saving a copy of your work. Then you can experiment further with different techniques.

Once I’d saved my image in Photoshop, I closed it and went back to Lightroom Classic to work on the shot further. Here, I simply changed the toning of the image slightly with a preset and applied some sharpening to key areas of the picture.

The result was a warmth that always makes me think of Old Masters paintings in galleries. Together with the effect of the layers, it creates a rather painterly fine art image.

But, of course, there’s absolutely no harm in processing the same image in a different way. This is one of the reasons I love Lightroom Classic – you can create virtual copies of a single shot and work on them all differently!

This variation I processed in Nik Analog Efex Pro 2, which you can use straight from the Lightroom Classic interface in the same way that you can take photos to Photoshop. The software itself is very similar to Lightroom Classic with its adjustment panels on each side but instead specializes in replicating old film effects.

It is a great way to create an image that pays homage to the great Victorian art photographers.

You could get a similar effect by layering wet plate textures and dust and scratch layers in Photoshop before adding a black and white conversion.

There are many ways to get all these different effects – please try some and post your results in the comments. I’d love to see what you did with this technique and how you achieved it!

The post How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video]

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 05:00

The post How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video from Lindsay Adler Photography, Lindsay deconstructs an image that she has lit using colored gels to make it look as though she photographed it in a nightclub or bar.


Inspired by a red velvet couch that she has in her studio, Lindsay decided to make her studio look like it was a nightclub or bar. She takes us through the process to teach us exactly how she achieved this look.

When choosing the color of her gels, Lindsay chose red to unify the subject with the color of the couch. She then used color wheel theory and used contrasting/complementary colors, so she went with a color close to green – teal.

Lindsay uses three strobes with fairly basic modifiers – bare bulbs and umbrellas.

Lindsay states that “The shot as lit overhead by a small white umbrella (no gel). The right-hand side of the frame was lit by a large deep umbrella with diffusion and a red gel to wrap around most of the frame. Finally, a bare bulb with a teal/green gel was used to light the shadows on the left of the frame. The colors selected helped create a sense of atmosphere to the otherwise static black environment.”

During the video, you’ll find out why these choices were made to combat particular issues that arose, including the wall being a slightly reflective surface.

You’ll also see some post-production choices that Lindsay makes with the image, as well as discovering why Lindsay chose to have the model posed in this particular way.

But more importantly, you’ll learn how to make a photo like hers!

What did you think of Lindsay’s video? Did you find it helpful? Let me know in the comments!


You may also find the following helpful:

Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography

5 Creative Portrait Lighting Tricks Using Only Phone Light

How to use Off-Camera Flash to Create Dramatic Images with Cross Lighting

5 Lighting Setups You Can Do Using an Octabox

How to do Clamshell Lighting: A Reliable Two Light Setup

The post How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Patterns

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 14:00

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Patterns appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

This week’s photography challenge topic is PATTERNS!

Diogo Nunes

Patterns – a repeated decorative design – are all around us in nature, architecture, technology, and human-made objects.

So go out and capture anything that has patterns. They can be color, black and white, moody or bright. Just so long as they have patterns! You can also manipulate them in your favorite post-processing software. You get the picture! Have fun, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Levi Midnight

Kate Ausburn

Christian Bisbo Johnsen

Check out some of the articles below that give you tips on this week’s challenge.

Tips for Shooting PATTERNS

Tips for Photographing Patterns in Nature

How to Turn Your Images into Kaleidoscope Patterns

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

Master Repeating Patterns in Photoshop

Using Repetition and Patterns in Photography

33 Inspirational Images that Feature Patterns and Repetition


Weekly Photography Challenge – PATTERNS

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 #DPSpatterns 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 – Patterns appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Nikon Announces the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, it’s fastest lens ever!

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 07:30

The post Nikon Announces the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, it’s fastest lens ever! appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Nikon has just announced its latest Z-mount lens:

The Nikkor Z 58mm S Noct lens, which includes a whopping f/0.95 maximum aperture. The lens is slated to hit the shelves on October 31st, and it will debut with considerable hype, having snagged the designation as the fastest Nikkor lens ever made.

For those of us who have been waiting for Nikon to make good on its claims that the Z-mount’s 55mm diameter allows for the production of better optics, this new lens should give us a hint of what’s to come. But while the f/0.95 maximum aperture is eye-catching, is it actually useful? And will photographers actually be interested in this lens?

Let’s take a closer look.

While lenses with ultra-wide apertures are rarely small, the Nikkor 58mm f/0.95 sits on the other extreme, with a weight of nearly 4.5 lbs (2 kg). This comes from its aperture, the 17 lens elements, and a magnesium alloy construction. Of course, there are real benefits to all these features, such as higher optical quality and increased ruggedness. But is it worth the cost? For many, a huge benefit of mirrorless setups is the decreased size and weight. Yet this lens won’t be at all convenient to carry around. Plus, all that glass takes up a lot of space, which is why it’s packed into a 6-inch (15.3 cm) body.

Note also that an f/0.95 aperture will provide a very small plane of focus. And given that this lens only focuses manually to begin with, you may struggle somewhat to lock onto your subjects with speed.

The lens is primarily designed for astrophotographers and other night shooters (hence the ‘Noct’ designation). And for astrophotographers, the shallow depth of field won’t be a problem, as they rarely need to think about depth of field anyway. But ambitious portrait photographers may find themselves frustrated by the combination of a shallow plane of focus at f/0.95 and a manual focus lens, and anyone who tries to lock on subjects other than the night sky may come away from shoots without much luck.

Now, don’t get me wrong:

The Nikon 58mm f/0.95 is most likely an incredible lens, optically speaking. Nikon is promising amazing sharpness, and I expect this will be borne out in tests. I’m also impressed by the wide aperture, which will allow for unprecedented shooting in low light and at night. Astrophotographers, in particular, will like this lens, regardless of its size.

But at the same time, it’s hard not to wonder whether many other photographers will be interested. Especially because Nikon’s MSRP for this new lens is an incredible $7999.95 USD.

So now I’d like to ask you:

What do you think? Would you be interested in this lens? Will anyone buy it? Is there anything you would’ve preferred Nikon scrap or modify?

Let me know in the comments!

The post Nikon Announces the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, it’s fastest lens ever! appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 05:00

The post The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

When you bought your fancy camera with all its buttons and dials, you began a journey that few can endure.

Most people who buy a DSLR, never figure out how to use it. But the fact that you’re reading an article like this means that you’re determined to learn.

One of the most difficult phases of photography you’ll pass through is figuring out how your camera works. But once you understand even a little bit, the world of photography opens its doors to you.

If you’re new to photography, then this Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings is for you.

The Olympus Tough TG-6 comes with auto mode, more than a dozen scene modes, as well as aperture mode (one of the most used settings by photographers). This photo was taken by a child using a DSLR in auto mode.

Photographs are made with light

Buying paint and canvas does not guarantee that you will produce a nice painting, nor does buying a camera guarantee a good photo.

Your camera is a complicated piece of technology designed to capture the moment you see with your eye and make a picture. However, the main ingredient it uses is not ink or paint but light.

A poor photograph may be due to a lack of creativity. But many creative photos are ruined due to a wrong combination of camera settings used to make a picture. The most important camera settings are about what the camera does as it makes a picture out of light.

Small steps

Sure, cameras differ in their capability and quality, but it’s not really the camera that is ultimately responsible for how the photo turns out. You must have control over the camera to make it do what you want it to.

Every time you snap a picture, you need to make some decisions that are affected by camera settings:

  • Do I want my background to be in focus or not?
  • Should I freeze the action or capture motion blur?
  • Do I want my photo to be warm or cool-looking?
  • Is it best to capture a series of shots in burst mode or just one photo at a time?

These decisions, and many more, are represented by “camera settings.” You select certain settings so that the camera knows what to do when it takes a picture.

There are many settings and I want to walk you through some of the most important.

The best way to learn something is by taking small steps. Learn one step, and don’t move on until you understand it. Bookmark this and other articles so that you can come back to them as you grow in your understanding.

This was my attempt to capture my son’s first steps with an advanced camera that I didn’t know how to use.

Auto mode

Let’s begin in Auto mode. Look for the dial on the top of your camera. You’ll either see the word auto or perhaps just a green box or icon.

What does Auto mode do? It means that your camera will make all the decisions for you and choose all the settings. All you have to do is take the picture!

When you put your camera in Auto mode, you’re basically saying, “I don’t know how to work this thing!” There is no shame in not understanding how your camera works. If you are determined, you will learn over time.

It is possible to take nice photos in Auto mode. Part of the reason that auto mode can work so well is that it frees your mind from the technical aspects of photography that you don’t understand yet. Auto mode allows you to focus on the creative elements and use of light that you’re more likely drawn to.

Auto mode exercise

Go ahead and put your camera in Auto mode. Get out into the world and take lots of pictures. As you sort through your photos, make a list of the problems you run into. It’s easier to learn photography and grow when you’ve got specific problems that you can ask questions about.

Problems with Auto mode

You’re going to run into lots of problems in Auto mode, but how come? Shouldn’t your camera be smart enough to take a great picture on its own?

First, your camera has no idea what it’s looking at. So, it doesn’t know what you’re taking a picture of and it doesn’t know what you want the picture to look like.

All it’s trying to do is take a picture with the right exposure. Exposure refers to how bright or dark your photo is and it’s all the camera really cares about in auto mode.

You may see an inspiring scene in front of you, but the camera doesn’t. All it’s trying to do is expose your photo properly, and even that doesn’t work well many times.

Common problems in Auto mode include motion blur.


Overexposed highlights are another major problem in Auto mode.

Over time, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you wish you could make your camera do. You’ll say, “I wish I could tell my camera to…”

The good news is, there is actually a way to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of and how you wish it would look.

How to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of

If you tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of, you’ll increase the odds of getting a better photo.

The way to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of is to use the scene mode option on your camera. Scene mode covers the most popular photography situations such as landscape, portrait, close-up, sports, etc.


When you select the appropriate scene, you’re telling your camera what you’re photographing. Your camera will choose a combination of settings that are best suited to that situation. It’s going to choose roughly the same settings that an experienced photographer would use.

You can use Sports mode when photographing quick moving kids, or when you’re photographing any action. There will still be imperfections in your photos, but you’re more likely to freeze the action.


Freeze quick-moving subjects with Sports mode.


Portrait mode will help your camera achieve an out-of-focus background. That background blur is referred to as bokeh.


Landscape mode will favor a greater depth of field in your photo. This will keep more of the foreground, midground, and background in focus. It tends to make colors more vibrant too.


Your camera will have all sorts of scene modes to explore. Consider the situation you’re in and see if your camera has a scene mode to help you out.

But still, your photos might not turn out great. Why? Because ultimately your camera is most obsessed with making your photo bright enough. And you might be pointing it at a scene that is really hard for the camera to capture properly.

Light and creativity

When you put your camera on Auto mode, it has to balance three main settings in order to make a picture out of light.

The three settings are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Each of these three settings contributes to the overall brightness or exposure of your photo. But aperture and shutter speed have creative effects as well.

Aperture contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo, but will also help make your background out of focus, or keep it in focus.

Shutter speed contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo, but will also help freeze the action or make your photo blurry.

ISO contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo but doesn’t really have its own creative effect.

I’ll show you how to begin taking control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings so that you can get a predictably good photo. I mean a photo that is bright enough without being too bright, a photo where the action is captured as you wish and the background is in or out of focus as you desire.

A little more like the photo on the right than the photo on the left!

Make one decision

The good news is, you can take some control of your camera without the burden of having to take full control. You can take control over one of the three main settings that are part of the exposure triangle. But how do you choose which one?

You can make this decision by asking yourself what’s more important; freezing the action, or blurring the background?

If you’re taking pictures of birds, sports, or other quick-moving subjects, you’re likely most concerned with freezing the action. If you’re taking a portrait, you’re most likely concerned with an out-of-focus background or, bokeh.

In order to achieve an out-of-focus background, we’ll begin with a setting called aperture.

Aperture Mode

If you’re most concerned with whether or not your background is in focus, choose Aperture mode (also known as Aperture Priority).

  • For Nikon and most other cameras, turn your dial to A.
  • For Canon, turn it to Av.
  • If you’re using a Fuji, you control the aperture with a ring on the lens.

When you put your camera on Aperture mode, you’re telling your camera that you want to control the aperture but you want the camera to control the shutter speed and ISO.

You use aperture to control whether or not your background is in focus, but what exactly is aperture?

To understand aperture, think about your kitchen sink. Picture turning the tap on full-blast. The water will come rushing out of the tap. But you could also turn the tap on gently so that there is a slow trickle of water.

That’s what aperture is, except with light.

Open your aperture up and get a strong flow of light coming through your lens. Close the aperture, and you’ll only have a trickle of light.

The creative effect of aperture

Open up your aperture and your background will be more out of focus (great for portraits). Close your aperture a bit and your background will be more in focus (great for landscapes).

The aperture is measured in numbers such as 1.8 or 3.5 or 5.6 or 8 or 11, etc. The smaller the number, the more open the aperture. The larger the number, the more closed.

This was an aperture of f/4. The background is out of focus. The more you bring your subject away from the background, the more out of focus the background will look.


The aperture was set to f/11 for this photo so that the background is more in-focus.


The smaller the number and the more open the aperture, the more light that comes in and the more out of focus the background.

The larger the number and the more closed the background, the less light that comes in, and the more in-focus the background.

When you’re in Aperture mode, you use the scroller on your camera to open and close the aperture.

Choose Aperture mode when you’re most concerned about whether or not your background is in focus.

If you close your aperture a bit, then you’ll have a greater depth of focus in your photo. This photograph was made at f/5.6, but I would even recommend f/11 for landscape photos. Closing your aperture will help to keep both the foreground and background in focus.


If you want your background to be blurred, then open your aperture as much as you can. That might be f/3.5 or f/5.6 on the lens that you’re using. If you have a 50mm lens then you can open all the way to f/1.8.


The other way to help your background to go blurry is to step closer toward your subject.


The closer you get to them, the more the background goes out of focus.



Remember, ISO doesn’t exactly have a creative effect.

So what is ISO and when do you use it?

ISO is a magical setting that helps your camera to see in the dark.

So you would set your ISO according to the lighting conditions that you’re in.

  • Is it a bright sunny day? Then set your ISO to 100 or 200.
  • Perhaps the sky is overcast? Set your ISO to 400 or 800.
  • Are you in dim indoor light? Set your ISO to 1600 or 3200. Maybe even 6400!

You have two main options when it comes to ISO:

  • Set it to Auto and let the camera figure it out.
  • Take control of it yourself.

I recommend playing in Aperture mode with your ISO set to auto. That way, you can experiment with aperture and let the camera figure out ISO and shutter speed for you. In a moment, we’ll look at shutter mode. In that case, I recommend leaving your ISO on auto as well. Take control of ISO when you feel comfortable with the other settings.

A word of caution about ISO

The higher you raise your ISO to help capture the light, the more noise or graininess will be introduced in your photo – especially in low light. The noise or grain is intensified all the more if you brighten your photos in post-processing (with a program such as Lightroom).

I don’t always mind a little noise or graininess in my photos. Noise and graininess are normally considered an imperfection in our photos. To me, it reflects the graininess or imperfection of everyday life and the moment by moment struggle that we have as photographers when we take pictures.

My photos are filled with imperfections, as am I in real life. If everything in my photo looks good except for the grain, then I am happy. I have an old iPhone that I keep around just for its nostalgic graininess.

The grain or digital noise is easily seen in this high ISO photo. Generally, the newer the camera and the larger the sensor, the less of a problem you’ll have with noise.

Shutter Mode

If your main concern is freezing the action, then you should choose Shutter mode (also known as Shutter Priority).

  • Nikon – set your dial to S.
  • Canon – set your dial to Tv.
  • Fuji – look for the dial with numbers like 125, 250, 500, etc.

If the aperture is how much flow of water is coming out of the tap, then shutter speed is how long the water comes out for.

Aperture controls how much flow of light comes into the camera, while shutter speed controls how long that flow comes in for.

The quicker the shutter speed, the less light that comes in.

The slower the shutter speed, the more light that comes in.

It’s generally the case that in bright light you should have a quicker shutter speed, and in dim light, you need a slower shutter speed. The danger with a slower shutter speed is that your photo may become blurry.

Why will your photo become blurry with a slow shutter speed?

Consider shutter speed being how long it takes for your camera to take a picture. A quick shutter speed means that the photo is taken so quickly that the action is frozen in the photo. But a slower shutter speed means that the camera takes longer to take the photo and any movement in the scene becomes smeared across the photo.

Two circumstances lead to a blurry photo. The first is that you have moved the camera while taking the picture – often referred to as camera shake. Maybe your hand shakes, or the camera vibrates as you take the photo.

You must hold the camera still and consider using a tripod when your photos turn out like this.


Another possibility is that your camera is perfectly still but your subject is moving. If the person you’re photographing is moving, they may be smeared across the photo.

But even if you put your camera on a tripod, a moving subject may cause motion blur.

So what does it take to freeze the action?

You’ll notice that shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. You’ll see numbers such as 1/125th or 1/2000th. Basically, the smaller the fraction, the more likely you are to freeze the action.

So 1/2000th will likely freeze the action, but 1/60th likely will not.

Shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. The camera was held still so that the background was sharp, but the motion is blurred.


A shutter speed of 1/500th of a second froze the motion of her hair as she turned.


A shutter speed of 1/2500th froze him as he bounced in the air.


Slow shutter speed creative effects

These silky waterfalls were captured using a slow shutter speed. ISO 100, 1-second shutter speed


The panning technique uses a combination of slow shutter speed and following the movement of your subject with the camera. The shutter speed was 1/20th of a second.

Other articles to explore

You now have enough knowledge to control the amount of background blur in your photo and to freeze or blur the action. You can also use ISO to help your camera see better in the dark.

Now it’s up to you to practice one little bit at a time until you’re comfortable and ready to move on.

Here are some more advanced concepts that may help you down the road.

Many people find it harder to master the introductory stage of camera settings than the advanced stages. Advanced techniques are easy to learn once you know the basics. Don’t be discouraged, and feel free to leave questions in the comment section below.

The post The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

Photoshop Elements 2020 Released With New AI Features and Guided Edits

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 07:30

The post Photoshop Elements 2020 Released With New AI Features and Guided Edits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Adobe has just released its latest iteration of Photoshop Elements: Photoshop Elements 2020, which debuts alongside Premiere Elements 2020.

Now, Photoshop Elements has always been geared toward beginner and amateur photographers, and this year’s release is no exception. Adobe has included new features that ensure it’s easier than ever to produce stunning edits.

Included among these exciting features is Adobe Sensei AI technology, which will drive Photoshop Elements automation. While Sensei AI technology isn’t new, this time it’ll be used to bring photographers options such as:

  • B&W Selection
  • Pattern Brush
  • Painterly
  • Depth of Field

In all four of these cases, Sensei AI is the driver behind easy-yet-powerful edits. B&W Selection allows you to quickly isolate elements from your photos and portray them in color, while giving the background a black and white look. Depth of Field takes a relatively sharp background and gives it a beautiful blur, making your main subjects pop.

And that’s not all. In addition to these new AI-powered options, Photoshop Elements promises a new black and white editing experience with its Colorization feature. Colorization takes a black and white photo and gives it realistic colors (or, as Adobe promises, you can use Colorization to “give new life to an existing color photo”).

Photoshop Elements also offers a one-click selection of your subjects for easy manipulation, as well as a skin-smoothing effect. And let’s not forget the two brand-new guided edits, which are designed to make post-processing accessible to everyone, as the software walks you through the process of creating patterns or making unwanted items vanish from the frame.

Adobe Photoshop Elements isn’t for everyone. Experienced photographers will likely prefer to work with Photoshop CC or Lightroom, both of which pack some real editing power. But for those who are just getting started with photo editing, Photoshop Elements offers a level of accessibility that its more serious counterparts lack. And the guided edits are a great feature for those wanting to learn while editing.

You can purchase Adobe Photoshop Elements as a standalone piece of software for $99.99 USD, or you can get it alongside Adobe Premiere for $149.99 USD.

The post Photoshop Elements 2020 Released With New AI Features and Guided Edits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 05:00

The post How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

Are you bored of doing portrait shoots in the studio or the local park? Try mixing things up with an urban portrait shoot. The city streets, the buildings, the laneways – this is your cinematic backdrop. All you need is a little bit of planning and a lot of imagination. If you’ve never done a shoot like this before, you might be wondering how to choose locations. In this article, I will run you through my process of choosing urban landscapes for portrait photography

Bailey in a window, Brisbane. I took this shot with some off-camera flash outside my local library. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 23mm f1.4 lens.

An urban portrait shoot in my city? No way!

You may think that your city or your town has nothing of interest, but it does. You just have to look with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I’ll be on a photo walk with another photographer, and they don’t seem to see the potential that their town has to offer. “Wow, look at that doorway!” I’ll say. With a puzzled face, they reply, “It’s just a doorway!” 

No, it’s not just a doorway – it’s a potential scene in your next urban portrait shoot. 

Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Every town or city I’ve ever been to has its charms and a unique look: from modern glass and steel skyscrapers to historic buildings to run-down industrial areas. There are so many aspects of urban locations that you could include in your shoots: laneways, street art, doorways, neon signs, steel shutters, and traffic trails, just to name a few. 

There’s also the unique way that light falls in urban environments: harsh beams of light that fall between buildings, beautiful soft light that you find in doorways and under bridges, and in Brisbane, dazzling light reflecting off skyscrapers. The possibilities are endless.

The best time for an urban portrait shoot

The best time for an urban portrait shoot is whenever you and your client or model are both available. Regardless of the light, the weather, or the locations. The success of the photoshoot is ultimately in your hands. 

My favorite time for doing urban portrait shoots is just before dusk. This allows you to get a good mix of golden hour photos with sunlight, blue hour photos as the city lights come into play and nighttime shots with artificial light. 

Alyssa in an industrial alleyway, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 60mm f2.4 lens.

Location scouting

I usually run portrait shoots for around 90-minutes, allowing me to shoot in 6-8 locations. 

It’s best to do your location scouting at the same time of day that your shoot will take place. This is so you can look at the light, see how it falls, and plan accordingly. In practice, though, I usually end up doing my scouting during the day. 

Before I arrange the shoot, I take some time to wander about the city to find 8-10 locations close together. The reason I look for more places than I’ll need is to be flexible on the shoot. Cars or trucks can block alleyways, big crowds could move through the area at the time of the shoot, or the lighting could be all wrong. There’s a whole lot of things that could make the location unsuitable when you arrive at the scene.

Although it’s tempting to plan to shoot in two locations at opposite ends of town, unless you have easy access to transport on the day of the shoot, it will be impractical. Photoshoots can be tiring for everyone, so asking your client or model to walk several city blocks and back again to shoot in one location may not be the best idea. 

What to take during location scouting

When you’re scouting for locations, have a notepad and pen ready along with your smartphone. When you see somewhere that you like, take a photo on your phone for reference and jot down some notes. I always draw a map of the city streets in my notebook. Then I plot the locations on it and plan a direction for the shoot.

What I’m looking for during my walk is a cool urban location in which to place the client or model. Some locations will leap out at you, and you will know that you should take some photos there. Others may not reveal their charm until later when the lights are low. 

Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. Fujifilm X-T3 with 56mm f1.2 lens

As you’re wandering around, there’s a couple of things you need to keep in mind:


What is this place going to look like at dusk or nighttime? Remember that for many shots, you will be shooting with a wide-open aperture, or close to wide open, so many of the details in the background will be blurred. 

Potential risks

It may look cool, but is this place dangerous in any way? Think of how you will place the model or client in this scene – are there any risks that you need to be mindful of? Is there a lot of traffic? Is it a dangerous neighborhood? You should consider all of this when you’re planning, as safety should be your top priority for these shoots.

Below are some of my go-to shots when I plan an urban photoshoot. I took all of these within a few blocks of each other in central Brisbane, Australia. 

Neon lights

Neon shots are a favorite with the Instagram crowd, and it’s easy to see why. They are so much fun and a great image idea to have up your sleeve.

Neon signs are something that, quite honestly, I never usually notice. However, as soon as you start looking for them, you’ll be amazed at how many your town has.

Alyssa, Brisbane. This neon light is outside a takeaway shop in central Brisbane. I was attracted to the three different colors the sign had.

Beer kegs outside a pub

As soon as I saw these beer kegs in a laneway outside a pub, I knew I wanted to incorporate them in a shoot. I’ve used them as both a background element and also as a prop for models to sit on.

In this shot of Anne, I struck gold. By chance, it was one of the busiest days for pubs in the year – Melbourne Cup Day. There were a few dozen kegs in a laneway all stacked on one another. I lit this shot with an LED video light.

Anne in front of beer kegs, Brisbane. I love the shape, color, and reflection of the kegs in the background. Fujifilm X-T3 with an 8-16mm f2.8 lens lit with an LED video light.


Many Australian cities are blessed with alleyways. In many ways, they are the perfect place for photoshoots. Expect atmospheric lighting, an industrial look, street art – and best of all – little traffic. While Melbourne may be the laneways capital of Australia, Brisbane has many too.

Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights provided in this shot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Telephone booth

This is a really fun place to use for some shots – if you can still find one these days. You may also have to take some time to explain to younger clients or models on how to use a public payphone!

Alyssa in a phone booth in Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens.


Reflections are a go-to image idea for urban portrait shoots. Many buildings provide you with glass or reflective surfaces.

Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Old signage

I love history and nostalgia, but sadly there isn’t much left in my city. One day I noticed this sign and thought I’d love to do some shots here.

Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Take your next portrait shoot to the streets

Urban portrait shoots can be a lot of fun. If you’ve never done one before, I hope that this guide has inspired you to look around your city for urban landscapes for portrait photography.

For your first time, you can always ask a friend to be your model if you want to try things out and see how the images look. Practice makes perfect.

Remember, safety is a very important factor in a shoot like this – both for your client or model and for yourself.

Urban shoots have helped me grow as a photographer. I feel more creative, I see possibilities for images in the mundane, and they’ve also helped me to think on my feet and improvise. ­­­­

So what are you waiting for? An endless array of scenes is right on your doorstep. Take your next portrait shoot to the streets.

Do you have any other tips for scouting urban landscapes for portrait photography? Share with us in the comments!

The post How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 07:30

The post Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Having just purchased the Sony A7r III earlier this year, I didn’t expect to add another camera to my collection so quickly. Until… the Sony A7r IV announced it was on pre-order. Typically, I will not invest in yet another body unless something truly monumental comes about, and this was such a situation. The A7r IV is a piece of machinery unlike any other – and I don’t regret a single dime spent. This Sony A7r IV review will explain why.

Mirrorless versus Digital 

By now, 2019, many photographers are well aware of mirrorless cameras invading the digital photography market. Just to refresh on some of the key differences in technology between DSLRs/SLRs and mirrorless cameras… 

Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests, does not utilize a mirror to reflect the image to the viewfinder. The way that a digital camera works is that a mirror inside the camera reflects the light up to the optical viewfinder. This is also how you see the image before you take it.

In a mirrorless camera, the imaging sensor is exposed to light at all times. This gives you a digital preview of your image either on the rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder (EVF). This allows you to see exposure changes in real-time on a mirrorless camera. The lack of a mirror also aids in the camera’s size, allowing the mirrorless model to be smaller and lighter than a traditional DSLR.

DSLR aficionados don’t trust the digital viewfinder portrayal in mirrorless cameras as this is system-based, while the DSLR uses a practical application to show a true-to-life, through-the-lens optical viewfinder system. This uses a series of mirrors to reflect light to your eye. However, as a new mirrorless user, I can testify that the electronic viewfinder display is extremely accurate to the image I create when clicking the shutter button. 

In regards to quality, both can excel in optical quality, image sensors, technical aspects, and adeptness at shooting conditions. Both are equally spectacular, with each model having its own pros and cons (of course). It does come down a lot to personal choice.


Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to the drool-worthy A7r IV. The specifications of this newest member to the Alpha line is what made me fall out of my seat and need to order this model.

And it has not disappointed.

A true feat of modern technology, it includes the following specs:

  • A whopping 61 MP, 35 mm full-frame Exmor R CMOS and enhanced processing system. This produces an image sized at 9504 x 6336. For landscape and commercial photographers, the a7r IV features a 240MP pixel-shift mode.
  • ISO 100–32000 (ISO numbers up from ISO 50 to ISO 102400 can be set as expanded ISO range.)
  • Fast Hybrid AF with Wide (567-points (phase-detection AF), 425-points (contrast-detection AF))/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot (S/M/L)/Expanded Flexible Spot/Tracking (Wide/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot (S/M/L)/Expanded Flexible Spot) The focus modes include AF-A (Automatic AF), AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), DMF (Direct Manual Focus), Manual Focus.
  • Eye-start AF, Lock-on AF [Still] Human (Right/Left Eye Select)/Animal, [Movie] Human (Right/Left Eye Select), AF micro adjustment, and predictive AF control. 
  • High-speed continuous shooting of up to 10fps12 with AF/AE tracking.
  • 5-axis image stabilization with 5.5-stop exposure advantage20.
  • 4K video in full-width and crop modes.
  • Dual card slots with simultaneous or consecutive recording.
  • Silent Shooting Mode.
  • You can operate the camera via newly supported wireless PC Remote functions via Wi-Fi.

Much like the other models in the Alpha line, this camera is an E-mount that only accepts E-mount lenses (unless you use an adapter). The awesome thing about E-mount, though, is that many brands (alongside Sony) make lenses for it, including Zeiss, Sigma, and Tamron.


I did not expect a redesign of the A7r IV body. Silly me! I expected a perfect replica of the A7r III with more advanced technology. In fact, the A7r IV has improved upon its predecessor’s body and ergonomics. They have changed the design, proving that Sony listened to photographer complaints and suggestions when redesigning this camera.

Firstly, the grip is different. Sony modified the contour, and the grip has deepened – for lack of a better term. I found it to be much more comfortable, and my hand cramped less during prolonged use (photographers, you know what I’m talking about here).

The camera grip reminded me of my large DSLRs rather than a mirrorless, and I liked that a lot. While I have small, feminine hands, I am sure this new grip design will work nicely with larger hands too.

Sony has also redesigned the buttons. They’re softer and “squishier” to the touch. There is also a redesigned joystick and an amended exposure compensation dial that now includes a lock button (thankfully!).

A big change is the card slot door. The new card door no longer needs a lock lever. Just pull straight back like Canon and Nikon. This provides a much tighter seal as well. Oh, and speaking of cards…Slot 1 is now on the top, not backward like the A7r III (which constantly confused me).

The Sony A7r IV is sized at 5.07 x 3.8 x 3.05″/128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5 mm and 1.46 lb/665 g.

Ease of use 

In my brain, Sony Alpha and ease-of-use are synonymous phrases. This camera is quick to set up, even simpler to use, and you can run off and play immediately when the battery is charged. The menu and settings are intended for professionals, but if you’ve been doing photography and understand how a camera works, figuring it out is quick.

I’ve heard complaints about the Sony menu, but I’ve personally not had any problems with it. I easily found everything I needed and do all of my adjustments within about 10 minutes.

This is coming from a Canon user that features an entirely different menu. 

I do wish the eye-tracking mode was an actual button on the camera as you can switch between Human subject or Animal subject. It would be convenient to have this as a button rather than having to dig into the menu to change this feature. I find myself continually changing it back and forth (being both a human and a pet photographer).

Autofocus, sharpness, and clarity 

Just one word: phenomenal. 

I could end the review with just that one word and be satisfied. However, to go into detail…the autofocus is lightning sharp. Definitely the fastest autofocus of all of my cameras – and I have a lot of them! I find the autofocus to be even faster and more accurate than the A7r III – and that’s saying a lot, as the A7r III is very fast as well. 

I’ve captured dogs running – high speed – directly at my camera without even losing focus on their eyes for a second. That is how superb the eye-tracking mode is. I see a lot of use for this camera in sports photography if you have large enough cards to accommodate the 61-megapixels, of course! You can bring the camera down to 24-megapixels if needed, but that’s no fun.

The predictive AI focus has truly revolutionized the way you can photograph subjects moving erratically or quickly, and I am living for it. This has made my job much easier with pets, or little humans that love to run away from mom!

In regards to sharpness and clarity, (while much of the final quality and look comes from the lens), in this case, the camera plays a big role. This is where the Sony mirrorless cameras begin to stand out significantly. The images are extremely sharp and clear. To some, maybe even artificially so. The look is very distinct. Professional photographers can quite easily pick out a Sony mirrorless photograph from the rest. The 61-megapixels show an immense amount of detail, excellent for commercial and detail work. 


Despite the enormous amount of megapixels, the A7R IV can still fire up to 10 frames-per-second with autofocus and autoexposure active. That’s impressive! The camera can keep at this for up to 68 compressed raw images.

Color rendering

With vivid, vibrant, and deep colors, there is little editing I need to do with this camera. Even in low light, the colors tend to be quite true. The dynamic range is superb with 15-stops of dynamic range. I have been able to pull incredible details, colors, and information from darker images. 

Low light capability 

The only gripe I have with this model is the low light capability is not improved over its preceding version. That doesn’t mean that the low light capability is bad – it’s just not better. For a camera that has improved in so many ways, I would have liked to see an even better low light sensor in this particular model.

However, the larger megapixel count does allow for significantly more manipulation, and it hasn’t phased me to take care of noise through a quick flick of the Noise slider in Lightroom. Ideally, it would have been nice not to need to do this.

With that said, I have not personally noticed worse noise at the same ISO levels, as some photographers have reported. The autofocus in low light is superb. It’s great for my concert photography endeavors, and even better than the firmware update on my A7r III.

Battery life 

For battery life, my original frame of reference is my many Canon DSLR cameras. The 5D Mark IV, 5D Mark III, 7D Mark II, and 1Dx Mark II are the models I use. In my experience, Sony batteries are not nearly as powerful or long-lasting as Canon batteries. However, this makes sense, as the power necessary to operate a mirrorless tends to be more draining than the DSLRs due to the mirrorless cameras using a digital viewfinder and LCD display. 

When I purchased my first Sony camera, I went ahead and bought a second battery. The battery is the same as the one that the Sony A7r IV uses, so now I have two additional batteries for it. I am glad that I did because the battery does not last me all day like Canon cameras. I seldom end up switching to a second Canon battery. Even after shooting a dog agility trial for eight hours without turning the body off. On the Sony, I found myself switching the battery mid-day on all-day shoots.

It is key to note I am not using a battery grip. With a battery grip, the power lasts significantly longer. 

However, when comparing to Sony itself, the battery in the newer Alpha series cameras are significantly better and far more superb than previous models. The Sony NPFZ100 Z-Series Rechargeable Battery is no joke – far more powerful than the previous batteries used by the company. 

Final thoughts

Do you need the power of the Sony A7r IV? Generally, probably not. For specialty work? Absolutely. The specifications are very much overkill for the average photographer, but for those that have found a use for its tremendous amount of megapixels or the ease in which the AI focuses, this is absolutely a worthy investment.

It’s likely great enough to sell prior pieces of equipment in order to buy the A7r IV.

I work a lot in commercial photography, and this camera allows me to better produce commercial imagery for my corporate clients – something I couldn’t pass up. 

Would you like to own this camera? Why? Or are you lucky enough to have you tried the Sony A7r IV? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comments! 

The post Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 05:00

The post Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Sunrise pictures can be tricky. Even the most dedicated photographer can get frustrated with sub-par results, often with foregrounds that are too dark or a nice round sun that appears white and washed-out. While things like timing and technique are critical for taking good sunrise pictures, another element is the editing. With a few Lightroom sunrise photo editing tips, you can take a boring, bland sunrise and turn it into a work of art.

To get a good finished photo you need a solid starting point. That means your initial sunrise photo needs to meet a few basic parameters:

  • It must be shot in RAW.
  • The sky should be properly exposed, which means the foreground will be dark.
  • It’s helpful to shoot with low ISO values to give you as much headroom as possible when editing.

If you start with a sunrise photo that meets these parameters, you can use a few sliders and options in Lightroom to bring out the colors and brilliance that you saw with your eyes when you shot it.

To illustrate this process, I’m going to walk through an example of sunrise photo editing. The picture below is a RAW file straight out of my camera.

Original RAW file straight from my camera. Nikon D750, 50mm, f/4, 1/180 second, ISO 320.

This picture might not look very impressive, but that’s the point. If I had exposed for the foreground, the dark areas would be bright and natural. The trade-off is that parts of the sky would be so bright they would be unrecoverable in Lightroom.

Everything needed for a beautiful sunrise photo is fully intact in this dark, underexposed image. I just need to coax out the colors with a little sunrise photo editing.

Step 1: Shadows

The first thing to do is brighten the foreground by adjusting the shadows. Locate the Basic Panel in the Lightroom Develop module and push the Shadows slider all the way to the right.

Boosting the shadows will make the dark foreground a lot more usable.

This makes the foreground much brighter. It is very close to how the scene looked when I shot the picture. I was on my bike, and there’s no way I would have ridden to work that morning in the complete pitch black!

With the shadows lifted, the foreground is brighter. You can also see that there is plenty of image data captured in the RAW file to work with.

Step 2: White balance and graduated filters

After bringing up the shadows, the next step is to tweak the colors of the sky and foreground. The graduated filter is perfect for this since your edits are applied gradually, as the name implies.

Graduated Filters are ideal for sunrise photos.

The values you use for this will depend greatly on the look you want in your picture. For a good starting point, I recommend lowering the Temperature, raising the Whites, and increasing the Saturation. Feel free to tweak the other settings to your liking, but I recommend being a little conservative at this point. You can always go back and change things later. If you have objects protruding into your sky like trees, buildings, or mountains, you can use the Range Mask option. Then your edits are only applied to the sky and nothing else.

When using a Graduated Filter on the sky, I like to lower the color temperature and increase saturation. You might find other tweaks to be helpful as well.

After adjusting the sky, use a second Graduated Filter to perform a similar operation on the foreground. Click the New button at the top of the Graduated Filter panel, and click-and-drag on the picture to apply your filter.

Move the Temperature slider to the right so the foreground is a little warmer. Then adjust other options like Exposure, Texture, and Sharpness as needed.

A second Graduated Filter in the opposite direction can be useful for giving the foreground a warmer white balance.

There’s no correct way to do this next step because everyone has unique taste and preferences. I used the following values on the image above, but your results will vary depending on your picture.

When applying a second Graduated Filter to the foreground, it can be useful to edit some other parameters as well, especially Exposure and Shadows.

Step 3: Crop the picture

Some will debate the exact stage in the process where you need to crop your picture. Others will say that a good photographer should use what comes out of the camera and never crop anything! I say it’s your picture and if you want to crop, go right ahead. I recommend cropping after your basic adjustments are in place. Those operations can bring out things formerly hidden and give you a better sense of how you really want to crop the image.

In the image I’m working with for this example, I don’t like the “Speed Limit 35” sign on the right side. If I crop that out, then I need also to re-frame the picture, so the sun is in the middle.

You can use cropping to get the dimensions and proportions of your picture just right.

Step 4: General Color Adjustments

After making your initial set of adjustments, and cropping the picture to your liking, it’s time to head to the HSL/Color panel to tweak the individual colors of the sunrise. Bring up the Saturation level of orange, blue, and red while also adjusting the Hue and Luminance to get just the right look. As before, be careful not to go overboard since too much tweaking makes your picture look unnatural.

For the picture below, I adjusted the Hue and Saturation of Blue by +20 each, and the Saturation of Orange by 14.

Adjusting the blues and oranges can really bring out some of the vivid colors of a sunrise picture.

Don’t overdo your adjustments or your image will look fake and over-saturated.

Step 5: Detailed enhancements

As with cropping, some photographers have varying opinions on when to do this step while others skip it entirely. I like to do it near the end of the editing process after I have made my other adjustments. However, you might find it better utilized at an earlier phase. Head back to the Basic panel where everything began and fine-tune a couple of other sliders like Highlights, Whites, Texture, and even Exposure if you need to.

Final tweaks help put the finishing touches on your sunrise.

At this point, you’re really just putting the finishing touches on, almost like adding a pinch of salt or garlic powder to a pot of soup that’s ready to eat. I sometimes get lost down an image-editing rabbit hole at this step. I find myself endlessly tweaking the sliders in a vain attempt to chase perfection. If that happens to you, walk away from your computer for an hour. When you return, you may be pleasantly surprised at how good your picture looks, with no additional tweaking required.

You can also use the Spot Removal tool to clean up dust or dirt on the lens as well as fix other imperfections. There are also several Sharpening options to make your sunrise a little more clear and crisp.

From good to great

As with most photo editing situations, your results will vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. I have found that this same process, with different degrees of adjustments to the sliders, works quite well for me. It would probably work as a good starting point for you too. Still, I encourage you to experiment and develop your own editing style over time.

For one more example of how this process can yield good results, I started with the following RAW file. I shot this picture just as the sun was coming up in rural Nebraska.

RAW file straight out of my camera. 50mm, f/8, 1/180 second, ISO 100. As with the other image at the top of this article, the original is severely underexposed but contains all the data needed when editing in Lightroom.

I used the exact same process described in this article to vastly improve the picture in less than two minutes.

Two minutes later and it’s been transformed into a frame-worthy midwestern sunrise.

I hope these sunrise photo editing tips help you achieve some epic photos!

I’d love to see some of your sunrise shots and hear about the editing process you use as well. Leave your thoughts, as well as any pictures you’d like to share, in the comments below.


The post Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Five Foot Lens and 3.2 Gigapixel Camera Produced for Night Sky Photos

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 05:00

The post Five Foot Lens and 3.2 Gigapixel Camera Produced for Night Sky Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

L1 Lens of the camera polished and coated with a broadband antireflective coating by Safran-Reosc. LSST Project/NSF/AURA.

Last month, engineers packaged up the largest optical lens ever created, before shipping it 17 hours from Tuscon, Arizona to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in central California.

The lens is five feet in diameter and four inches thick; it required a truck to transport it. It was attached to an additional (3.9 foot) lens element when shipped, and it will soon be followed by another.

Together, these three lens elements will be mounted to a camera that, when finished, will be the largest digital camera in existence. And the camera-lens duo will ultimately be attached to a telescope: the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which is over ten years in the making.

Note that the camera itself is constructed out of 189 sensors which, when combined, will create pictures of an astonishing size: 3.2 gigapixels. It’s still in production at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, but will likely be finished in 2021. The cost of the camera alone is a whopping $168 million dollars.

The purpose of this huge setup is to capture detailed photos of the night sky. The full telescope will be placed on Cherro Pachon mountain in Chile, where the camera will take exposures at 20-second intervals.

As explained in a press release by one of the laboratories involved in the lens construction:

This data will help researchers better understand dark matter and dark energy, which together make up 95 percent of the universe, but whose makeup remains unknown, as well as study the formation of galaxies, track potentially hazardous asteroids and observe exploding stars.

We recently reported on Xiaomi’s 108-megapixel smartphone, with its wrap-around screen, but a 3.2-gigapixel camera blows this out of the water. Even a recently announced security camera, which made waves when it was unveiled at the China International Industry Fair, topped out at 500 megapixels. Equipped with facial recognition technology, there are major privacy concerns when it comes to how this may be used in a country that already heavily monitors its citizens.

But, the high resolution of these cameras does bring to light something that is conveniently forgotten by tech advertisers: More megapixels will only produce greater detail if you have a lens that can resolve that detail. If your lens can only resolve 12 megapixels worth of detail, then you’re not going to gain from slapping a 108-megapixel sensor onto the camera. That’s why the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope requires ultra-precise optics if scientists want to gather meaningful data.

Of course, you don’t need a lens costing millions of dollars to produce highly-detailed 108-megapixel photos. But my suspicion is that the current optics used by smartphones (Xiaomi, but also Huawei, Apple, and Google) just aren’t up to the task of generating 108-megapixel photos.

So don’t fall prey to the megapixel myth. And keep your eye out for photos from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope!

What are your thoughts on these new lenses and cameras? Share with us in the comments!

The post Five Foot Lens and 3.2 Gigapixel Camera Produced for Night Sky Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

How Would Your Photography Change if you Couldn’t use any Auto Functions on Your Camera?

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 05:00

The post How Would Your Photography Change if you Couldn’t use any Auto Functions on Your Camera? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.


What if your digital camera had no auto exposure ability? How would you manage? Do you think you’d adapt and learn to make good and creative exposures? I’m sure you would. And you’d enjoy your photography a lot more once you realize it’s not so difficult.

Learn to control your exposures in Manual Mode

I learned on a camera with no auto modes. It was completely mechanical. It only required a battery for the simple exposure meter. My Nikkormat FTN, however, was a film camera, so I had no monitor with which to preview or review photos. There was also no metadata recorded to help me understand the exposure choices I was making. I had to write my settings in a notebook.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How much do you rely on any of the auto exposure modes? When you’re learning how to use your camera these modes are helpful. They allow you to capture photographs easily. Not having to think about exposure settings can free you up to pay more attention to other aspects of picture taking.

You can better achieve composition, timing, and relating to your subject when using an auto mode. But what if you didn’t have this option? Do you think you’d learn to manage to set your exposures by yourself, only with the help of a built-in light meter? I think you would.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Once you commit to understanding light and exposure, making manual adjustments is not so difficult. You can become more accurate with them over time. If you are only sometimes bold to use manual settings, you’ll take a very long time to master them, if you can at all.

To be successful at using manual exposure mode you must commit to learning how it works. You need to have an understanding of light and how your camera records different tone values. Using manual mode does require you to slow down at first. But once you’re practiced, you’ll become faster and more accurate.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Discipline is required to learn to photograph in Manual Mode

Learning any creative artform requires discipline. If you want to paint or sculpt you must spend time studying. Making ceramics or wood carving takes time and practice. When learning to play a musical instrument, you must go over and over the basics many times.

Most kids don’t like playing scales ad nauseam when learning a musical instrument. But they are foundational and so beneficial in helping a young musician grow and understand their craft. Photographers are rarely so disciplined.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Taking time to practice the essential functions of your camera will allow you to become more proficient. If you are relying on the built-in artificial intelligence, you will often struggle to reach your full creative potential.

By making a point of frequently using manual mode, you’ll be on a journey towards a deeper creative expression. But you have to be disciplined to make it most effective.

Many people who enroll in my photography workshops tell me they use their cameras in an auto mode. They admit to occasional manual use. I encourage them that unless they commit to using it, manual mode will remain difficult.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Slow down and feel the freedom

Often, photographers who prefer using an auto mode express their concern for missing the moment if they are using manual mode. I appreciate this as a genuine concern. However, you can’t always catch great photos on the spur of the moment. They take planning and patience.

Taking time to learn manual mode will also help you develop what you want to photograph. You will look at the world around you in different ways. You will begin to anticipate more when you choose to take photographs, rather than looking for snapshots.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Every genre of photography requires patience on the part of the people with the cameras. Whether your photographing landscapes, sports or birds, it’s best if you are not in a hurry. Take the time to study your subject. Know your camera well and how you can control it. Be most familiar with it, and observe and predict when the best opportunity for a photograph will happen.

Landscape photographers can wait for months for the right conditions. Sports photographers must develop lightning-fast reflexes. But these take time to perfect. They are developed with the study of the game and frequent practice photographing it.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Practice often

The more often you practice anything, the better you will become.

Many years ago, I had accreditation to photograph the world cup cricket matches played in Auckland, New Zealand. I was working for a newspaper back then. I had no experience with cricket, other than watching some matches on TV. I turned up on the morning of the first match with my camera fitted with a 2X converter and a 400mm lens.

That day, I hardly managed to capture a single frame with the ball in it. I felt disheartened. I did realize, though, that I had lots of opportunities to practice. Over the next month that the tournament played out, I improved. Each match managed a higher percentage of good photos.

I started with what was simplest – the batsman swinging at and, hopefully, striking the ball. These were not the most impressive photos to aim for, but it was a good place to start. I was envious when I saw the published pictures of more experienced photographers. They showed more dynamic action. However, as I became used to working in the environment with an 800mm focal length, I was able to capture more interesting photos.

I focussed manually, due to using the 2X converter. My exposures were also manually controlled. But this was not so challenging when the light was constant. The repetitive action allowed me to grow used to the flow of the game. I became better at predicting when the best photo opportunities were.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Explore and experiment with your photography

If you can discipline yourself to use manual mode and practice photographing the same subject material over and over, you’ll improve. Once you are more confident using manual exposure settings, you’ll become faster.

Doing the same routine many times, you’ll build up your ability to understand your camera. You can reach a level of competence where you make good exposure changes without being fully conscious of your actions.

When the light changes, you will be more aware of it. You will change your aperture or shutter speed a few clicks without having to check your exposure meter. Once you are doing this, you’ll be able to give more of your attention to other aspects of taking photos.

Difficult lighting conditions will no longer be so challenging. Many people who prefer to use auto exposure settings don’t like taking photos in the middle of the day. Especially when the sun is out. Learning to control your camera will help you see the light and make your exposures to manage well in these conditions.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I took this photo at around 2 pm on a sunny day and tweaked it only slightly during post-processing. The basic light and dark effect was created when I took the photo. Being able to see when the light is right and control your camera gives you more freedom. You will be able to create better photographs.


I know there will always be photographers who prefer to stick to using auto modes. The most common argument is using exposure compensation to override the camera’s choice. I always think if you are taking this extra step, you may as well be using manual mode.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I know from experience, learning on a camera with no auto exposure options helped me to understand more about light. It also meant I had to learn the relationships between the exposure settings. I was responsible for getting it right and making my photos look the way I wanted them to.

If you discipline yourself to use your camera in manual mode, you will have a far easier time learning than I did. With digital cameras, you have the advantage of being able to preview and review your photos in real-time. You also have tools like the histogram, highlight indicators, and spot metering. These all make it easier to capture well-exposed photos in manual mode.

The post How Would Your Photography Change if you Couldn’t use any Auto Functions on Your Camera? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 07:30

The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast and tonality in your images in any type of lighting situation.

It should be no secret to any photographer that one light is all you need to achieve great results. While one light setups (in this context, specifically those that don’t involve the use of a reflector) are both well discussed and incredibly useful, sometimes it’s good (or even essential) to go beyond the basics. The next step in your progression is probably going to be to add fill lighting.

Fill light is one of those essential skills that every photographer should have a good grasp of no matter what type of light they are using.

One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s useful to be able to take even more control over the contrast in your images.

This article will help to get you started with two types of fill lighting. The first of these is the use of the humble reflector. The other is to use a second dedicated light source. Both of these methods are very different in how they are implemented and what they can achieve. Mastering both will give you a more complete skill set with which to use in your photography.

What is fill lighting and what does it achieve?

In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back of the subject’s dress as pure black. Adding fill light (right) has brought those details back.

The concept of fill lighting is quite simple.

The idea is that you use it to light the shadows in your frame. What this does is:

  • Brings up the exposure of the shadow areas in your image.
  • Reduces overall contrast in your frame (much like landscape photographers use graduated ND filters to reduce contrast in their images).
  • Brings your final images more in line with how the eye sees the world, rather than the limited range of your camera’s sensor.

While really dark and contrasty images definitely have their place (I love them myself), images (especially portraits for clients) will benefit from a more even contrast ratio. I once heard it described (I’m sorry, I don’t remember where) that in lighting for TV and cinema, the shadows are always lit. This was a lightbulb moment for me as I had always wondered how cinematographers seemed to show a lot detail while still retaining a good amount of contrast. The answer was controlled fill lighting.

Two types Reflectors

Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as you like with your fill lighting.

The most basic type of fill lighting is that provided by the ever so basic, yet powerful, reflector. You probably have at least one of these already (or you’ve made a few). Reflectors provide fill light by reflecting light (go figure) from your key back into the shadows of your frame. In a lot of cases, reflectors will be your first foray into fill lighting. However, they will also be one of your most-used pieces of kit altogether.

Secondary lights

Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

You can also use a second light (or third and beyond) as your fill light. A dedicated fill light will do the same basic job as a reflector, but it is infinitely more controllable. You can fine-tune the exposure and shape of your fill light with a precision that reflectors just don’t allow.

Contrast ratios – The very basics

Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This results in a low contrast image with shadows retained. Right: the fill here is four stops below key. The contrast is high and the shadows are deep, but all of the detail is present.

The very concept of a contrast ratio can seem technical and daunting, I know. However, it is not at all that difficult of a concept and it’s just not that technical. At the most basic level, a contrast ratio simply tells you how bright one light is in relation to one another in terms of the aperture of your camera.

If your key light is metering at f/8, that means that if you set your camera to f/8 and an appropriate shutter speed (lower than your camera’s max sync speed) you will achieve a correct (subjective) exposure in-camera.

Fill lighting will always be underexposed in relation to your key light. If it’s even to your key light, you will get flat, no-contrast images as a result. For a contrast ratio that provides low contrast, you will want your fill light to be at least one stop darker than your key light. Since our hypothetical key light is f/8, that means the key light in this instance needs to meter f/5.6. This is a ratio of 2:1 (which is more advanced and you definitely don’t need to know to get started).

In short, if you want less contrast, your fill light should be one to two stops under your key light. If you want more contrast, try three to four stops.


If you want to be as precise as possible with these ratios, you will want to consider a light meter. That way you can measure any light falling on the scene with the press of a couple of buttons. This is the easiest way to go about it and works in the studio and natural light. You can also meter the light bouncing off a reflector.

A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However, they don’t tend to be cheap.

That does not at all mean that you have to use a light meter, though. While more difficult (especially if you’re new to lighting like this), you can do it with your histogram on the back of your camera. Take a test shot with just your key light on. Now take one with only your fill light on. (Note: you won’t be able to do this if you are using a reflector.) Because fill lighting should be raising the exposures on your shadows, the shadow area of the histogram of your fill light test shot should be further to the right than that of your key light test shot.  If the shadow areas on both histograms line up, you need to increase the exposure of your fill light. If the shadow areas of your fill light’s histogram line up with the mid-tones or highlights of your key light’s histogram, you need to decrease the exposure of your fill light. (I did say it was trickier.)

Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill light, you can see the shadows are brought up quite a lot.

Of course, you don’t have to do either of these things. You can always eyeball the whole setup and try to adjust things on the go. I would say this is perfectly fine with experience, but as you start out, I encourage you to at least have a go with the previous methods. It will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes you to get to grips with the technique and fully understand what is going on with your light. The more you understand, the easier you will find it to adjust things on the fly. You will also be able to learn new techniques faster.

Fill light with reflectors

Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are.

Reflectors are:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to setup
  • Easy to use
  • Very effective
Getting started with reflectors as fill lighting

Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Before you start to think about fill, you will want to decide what your key light (main light source) is going to do. Set up your key light so that it is shaping and lighting your subject the way that you want. Meter so that you have the exposure settings that you desire.

A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows underneath the subject’s features.

Now, evaluate the shadow areas that your key light is creating. If you’re using natural light, or strobes fitted with modeling lights, you can do this by eye. Alternatively, you can take a test shot and review it on the back of the camera.

Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Place your reflector so that it is roughly opposite your key light. Evaluate what the reflector is doing (either by eye or test shot again).

Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of the image.

What you are aiming for is for you shadows to be brought up in exposure, but not eliminated altogether. If you want low contrast, bring your reflector in as close as possible. If you want more contrast, move it away.

With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in the image has been reduced.

It can take quite a lot of practice before you learn to see the subtle changes a white reflector provides. The key is to get as much practice in as possible.

Set up an object and light it. Put your reflector wherever you want and start taking shots, being sure to move the reflector into different positions each time. Review each shot and try to notice the behavior of the light in each instance. This exercise will give you a pretty good idea of how a reflector is going to behave in any given situation. Do this exercise often and you will find you can see even the most subtle shifts in light where it was difficult before.

Another quick tip to help you see the difference in contrast in a scene is to squint. It sounds ridiculous, but squinting reduces your vision to blocks of value and you will be able to see the contrast in the scene more easily.

A second light

A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shadows.

Like reflectors, using extra lights as fill is a fundamental skill, albeit one with a slightly steeper learning curve. That said, unlike reflectors, using a dedicated light source allows you full control over the power output, making it much easier than a reflector to control how the light is going to behave.

Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adjusting the power of your fill light.

To get started using a dedicated fill light, place your key light in your desired position and set the power for your desired aperture. Let’s return to that hypothetical of f/8.

Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Knowing your aperture, place your fill light where it will affect the shadows in the manner you would like and set the power output so that it will be underexposed in relation to your aperture. How much you underexpose for is entirely up to you. If you want, say, two stops of fill in this scenario, then you will want your fill light to meter at f/4.

A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. It was set to meter 2-stops under the key light.

Take a test shot and see if you have your desired effect. Adjust as required and there you go.

In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the image are lifted and filled in with the fill light.

Taking it further

You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different sizes and shapes if it works.

Of course, you are not limited to a single fill light. You can have multiple fill lights lighting your subjects from both sides. You can also mix lights and reflectors for different strengths of fill lighting from various angles. You can pretty much do whatever you want in terms of designing a light set-up. You are only limited by the equipment you have at hand and what you can dream up.

Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

An idea is only crazy if it might work and you don’t try it.

Tips for fill lighting

1) It’s often better to retain the shadows rather than fill them in completely. This is not a rule, but images that retain some amount of contrast are often more natural and pleasing to the eye.

2) Pay attention to the catchlights in portraits – Extra light sources mean extra catchlights. When you are setting up your lights (reflectors included), be sure to watch the catchlights in your subjects’ eyes. Catchlights can make or break a portrait, so make sure you are controlling them as much as you are the lighting itself.

3) Big light sources at a distance work very well as fill light.

This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right) from a distance work really well as fill lighting.

4) Don’t be a slave to the ratios – While using the ratios as a starting point can, and will, be a useful springboard, that doesn’t mean you should adhere to them rigidly. If something isn’t right, adjust as you see fit. Nobody cares in the end if your ratios are exactly 4:1, but they do care if your photos look right. Use your best judgment and change things up if you need to. Sometimes only the tiniest of power adjustments will completely change the end result.

5) Think outside the box – Any light source can be your key and your fill. You’re probably aware that you can use flash to fill-in shadows in natural light, but you can also use natural light as fill where your main lighting is provided by flash.

Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a strobe. You can mix light sources however you want to achieve your fill lighting.

That’s it

Hopefully, that’s served as a primer to get you started and demystify fill lighting. Being able to control the contrast in your images with lighting is a fundamental skill that you will be able to use across multiple disciplines. It will allow you to bring a new level of depth to your images straight out of the camera.

Get out and practice, start simple and go slow, and you will master the basics in no time at all.

Try out some of these tips, and share your photos with us in the comments!


The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Lens for Sony Review

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 05:00

The post Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Lens for Sony Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

The Sigma 45mm f/2.8 DG DN (sony, Leica) is the latest addition to Sigma’s Contemporary lens line. Launched in July 2019, this lens is available as Sony E-mount or Leica L-mount. The latter mount is of particular interest as the new L-mount is compatible with Panasonic and Leica full-frame cameras, plus Sigma’s own forthcoming L-mount mirrorless cameras. I got my hands on an E-mount version and tested the lens with my Sony A7RIII. Here are my thoughts.


The Sigma 45mm f/2.8 lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, which may be a disappointment for photographers used to having at least an f/1.8 on their prime lenses. It also is a fairly expensive lens given its $549 price tag. However, this lens makes amends when it comes to size and the build quality.


Compared to other Sigma prime lenses such as the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art (Nikon, Canon, Sony), this lens is significantly smaller and more lightweight. It weighs 7.5 ounces (half of the aforementioned 35mm) and comes in at less than 2-inches long. This makes the 45mm much more portable and discreet when compared to Sigma’s other Art lens primes that all have an f/1.4 aperture, but are significantly larger and heavier.

This compact size is closer to that of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 and 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens. Both were my longtime favorite prime lenses when I shot with Canon DSLRs. The beauty about this size is that it feels very balanced when attached to a full-frame camera, whether it be my old Canon 5D Mark III or my new Sony A7RIII. With that said, this lens puzzles me when I compare it to other similar lenses that I’ve owned.

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 (left), Fujifilm 35mm f/2 (center), and Sony 55mm f/1.8 (right).

Build quality

It’s hard to ignore the design of this lens, which is both visually eye-catching and functional. There are two physical rings – the outermost ring controls the focus and the innermost ring selects the aperture, similar to how a Fujifilm lens performs. Choosing the aperture via the lens can take some getting used to, but it’s a wonderful way to interact with your camera. There’s also a switch to toggle autofocus or manual focus. The lens itself is made mostly of metal, and it includes a lens hood that is also made of metal. There is also weather sealing on the mount of the lens to keep dust and dirt at a minimal.

Shooting experience

45mm is an interesting focal length. It sits comfortably between two of the most popular focal lengths out there: the 35mm and 50mm. Not too wide or too narrow, 45mm gives you a range that feels natural, yet intentional. Autofocus on this lens is fast, accurate, and very quiet thanks to a fast-stepping motor.

If you shoot on a Sony full-frame mirrorless camera, you may also be familiar with the feature of flipping between shooting in full-frame and APS-C mode. While the latter does crop and shrink your images, it gives you the ability to shoot at a slightly zoomed-in focal length. This, in turn, gives you at least two focal lengths to shoot from, and it is one of my favorite features of my Sony A7RIII.

Image quality

The images captured by the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 lens result in very consistent color, tones, and sharpness. This lens has a rounded seven-blade diaphragm that renders a smooth, shallow depth of field. There is a minimum focusing distance of 9.4 inches, giving this 45mm decent macro capabilities.

In Conclusion

Overall, I had a very positive experience shooting with this Sigma 45mm f/2.8 lens. The compact size complemented the Sony A7RIII perfectly, making it a very portable unit. I usually have a 24-70mm f/2.8 or 55mm f/1.8 glued to my camera when shooting in low lighting scenarios. Thus, the 45mm’s f/2.8 aperture did not hinder me much. However, there is something to be said about having a faster aperture, especially in low light conditions.

If you enjoy shooting with a versatile prime lens that is reasonably fast but very portable, this Sigma 45mm f/2.8 lens might be the lens for you.

What are your first impressions of the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 lens? Would you purchase it? Why or why not?

Sample photo gallery


The post Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Lens for Sony Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

Just Dew It – Fun with Macro Dewdrop Photography

Sun, 10/06/2019 - 07:30

The post Just Dew It – Fun with Macro Dewdrop Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Some things are practically guaranteed to make great photo subjects – dewdrops in the grass sparkling like diamonds in the morning sun, flowers and foliage wet with the rain, a closeup of dewdrops suspended in spiderweb-like pearls on a string or the crystal-ball look of a drop with a refracted image inside.  You can seek out such scenes in nature, or you can create your own miniature macro world.  However you do it, dewdrop photography will test your skills plus give you the reward of pleasing images, not everyone can make.  So let’s take a look at what, where, and how to “dew it.”

When the morning light hits the dew-covered lawn it can be like searching for diamonds in the grass.

Going natural

I’ve spent more than a few mornings lying in the grass with a macro lens mounted on my camera searching for the perfect dewdrop. I’ve also been out after the rain, looking for images where the drops have added a clean, fresh look with increased saturation to a subject. While often the subjects are found in nature, drops beaded on the surface of a freshly waxed car and other human-made objects can make for some great shots too.

Many leaves will naturally bead water like the raindrops on this daylily. Raindrop photography is the “larger cousin” of dewdrop photography with no macro lens needed .

A little spritz with a sprayer makes this rose look fresh and adds interest.

The fine hairs on a lupine leaf naturally beaded the water sprayed with a garden hose. 1/160 sec. f/3.5 ISO100 with Tamron 90mm macro.

Just add water to take a nice photo to the next level. Raindrops on the hood of this freshly-waxed Jaguar add some extra pizzaz.

Hunting for such subjects is fun.  Like much of photography, it’s a matter of getting out with your camera when the conditions are right, often early in the morning in the case of dew or right after a rain shower.  Sometimes you’ll find some great subjects where the drops, the light, and the subject all come together.  I’ve not yet made the classic dew-drop-festooned-spider-web shot, but I’m still looking.  Luck plays a certain part in getting such shots. The fun is in the search. But sometimes when you want to leave it less to chance, that could be the time to…

Fake it to make it

You realize in those great movie rain scenes it wasn’t really raining when filming took place, right? So is it cheating when we as artistic photographers “enhance” our shots with the addition of raindrops or dewdrops? I think not. I guarantee the photographer created the vast majority of great dewdrop photos you’ve seen. Take two otherwise identical flower photos; the only difference being one is covered with dewdrops. The wet one will win the prize almost every time.

Drops sparkle, shimmer, refract light in interesting ways, and can take an image from “meh” to “wow!”  So if you haven’t already done so, consider adding a little spray bottle to your camera kit with some “magic juice” inside.

“Magic Juice?”

You can often use plain water to enhance your shot. If you’re simulating raindrops that might work okay. Spraying the foliage with the garden hose often works too. But when you want smaller, more rounded beads that hang where you place them and stay for a longer time without moving or evaporating, get some glycerine.

Here’s the special ingredient for making photographer’s “Magic Juice.”

Often found in the baking section of the grocery store, glycerin is very transparent, much thicker than water, and just plain works better for photography. Use it straight from the bottle and apply where you like with an eyedropper, or mix one-part glycerine to two parts water for use in a spray bottle.

You can enhance the look of flowers and foliage, simulate condensation on glassware or other objects, give subjects a wet-look, enhance your food photography or even simulate sweat on human subjects if you need that look. Great stuff!

Using the Live View mode of your camera can really help in getting critical focus.

Equipment needs

For more distant shots of things like raindrops, you might get by with standard, close-focusing lenses and also be able to work hand-held.  But dewdrops are tiny. When it’s time to get close, closer, and ultra-close, you’ll be entering the world of macro photography.  You will definitely need a tripod and one of several ways to get up close to your tiny subject:

Here all three Kenko extension tubes (Canon, Nikon, Sony), plus a Canon 25mm tube, are all combined with a Canon “nifty fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens.  This gives 93mm of extension.  You can combine tubes in any sequence or combination depending on how close you need to get to your subject and how much magnification you’re seeking.

Standard Macro Lenses

Many lenses may state they have macro capability, but to truly be a macro lens, they should be able to create a 1:1 image. That means the image rendered on the camera sensor is the same size as the physical object or bigger. Full-frame cameras are called that because their sensor size is roughly equivalent to a full-frame of 35mm film, (24mm X 36mm), so if the lens you’re using can fill the frame with an object that’s about 35mm wide, it’s a true macro.

Here’s a quick test you can try: a U.S. quarter is 24.26mm in diameter. So, if you can focus on and fill the frame top to bottom with an uncropped shot of a quarter, you have a macro lens. On a crop sensor camera where the sensor is 14.9×22.2mm (Canon), a 1:1 shot of a quarter would more than fill the frame.

Catching the light source in the drops with a small aperture produced a star effect. 3 tubes plus Tamron 90mm macro. 1.6 sec. f/16, ISO 800

Extension Tubes/Bellows

Increasing the distance between your lens and camera sensor will have the effect of allowing you to focus closer than with the lens alone and thus appear to magnify the image.  Stacking multiple tubes or making the bellows longer will get you in even closer.  You can also get into macro territory with something simple like a 50mm prime lens plus an extension tube set.  Much less money than a dedicated macro lens!

You can just see the end of the reversed Vivitar 28-105 zoom in this shot. Note how close I’m able to get the lens to my subject.

Here’s what the reversed lens zoomed out to 28mm produced. Thinking backward helps here – Wider zoom settings allow closer focusing than more zoomed settings.

Reversed lenses

Mount a lens backward on your camera and you will be able to get in much, much closer than you would otherwise.  I did a whole article on this technique which allows you to use even inexpensive old film camera lenses for great macro effects.

A focusing rail like this simple Neewer unit can be especially helpful when working to get good focus with sliver-thin depth of field. It’s also excellent for making focus-stacked images where you take a shot, adjust focus slightly, make another shot, and repeat getting multiple focus points on the subject which are later combined to get more depth of field than is possible with a single shot.

Focusing rail

Working with tiny subjects and macro lens techniques, you will quickly find your depth of field is sliver-thin, sometimes only a few millimeters. Often rather than trying to focus as usual, (and forget about using auto-focus when making shots like this), physically moving the camera forward or back is the way to focus.

A focusing rail is a finely-geared device which, with the use of knobs, allows you to move the camera in and out in tiny increments. Like most camera gear, you can spend a lot on the sophisticated rails, and there are even computer-controlled versions for doing macros that focus-stack.

If you’re just entering the world of macro however, very serviceable versions can be had for under $50.00 US.

With a depth of field only a few millimeters, sometimes focus stacking will be required to get what you want in focus. This shot is a 5-image stack.


With your lens so close to your subject, you will often be in your own light, and shading your subject. There are many ways to light macro subjects and no single “right” way. It’s simply a matter of what works.

Do you know that things like extension tubes and bellows reduce the light reaching the sensor? Most often, you will be stopping down your lens, seeking more depth of field. Adding more light or increasing the exposure time will often be required. One advantage of the latter is that a several second exposure can sometimes allow you to “light-paint” your subject.

I did many of the really close-up images in this article that way. I light-painted during the exposure with a simple LED flashlight.

Note the difference aperture makes. The shot at left is at f/22 while the one on the right is at f/5.6. The background is affected more that the refracted image in the drops.

In practice – a look at some samples

The following images show a tabletop session with glycerin “dewdrops” hanging from a strand of sewing thread. I used a combination of a macro lens (a Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di mounted on a Canon 6D camera), as well as a combination of extension tubes and a reversed old Vivitar 28-105mm zoom from my old Pentax ME Super film camera.

Some of the images used a combination of those devices stacked together in a quest to see just how close I could get. 

This is about as close as the Tamron 90mm macro alone could focus. The drops are tiny, so this probably is the 1:1 ratio the lens is capable of.

Using this combination allowed the three-drop shot below.

3 extension tubes plus the Tamron Macro. 1.6 sec. f/16 ISO 800

Combining the Tamron 90mm macro with all three extension tubes (for a total of 68mm of extension).

The reversed Vivitar film lens plus a 36mm extension tube focused close enough to fill the frame with two drops. The long exposure also allowed time to light-paint the sunflower. 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 100.

Bear in mind that the drops in the shot are really tiny, around 2-3mm, so filling the frame with a single drop was way more than a 1:1 magnification ratio.  If calculating the magnification factor is your bag, there are places with calculation tools to do that.  For example, for one image I used all my extension tubes, (a Kenko set with 12, 20, and 36mm tubes plus a Canon 25mm tube = total 93mm extension) and a Canon 50mm f/1.8 “nifty 50” prime.  Per the calculator, that produced about a 2:1 magnification ratio, filling the frame with about 3 of the drops.  I achieved the closest shot (below), with the reversed Vivitar at 28mm with the three Kenko tubes attached.  I figure it’s over 3:1, uncropped and almost filling the frame with a single drop.

To get this close with no cropping took all three (12mm, 20mm, and 36mm) extension tubes combined with the reversed Vivitar film lens at 28mm. The drop is only about 2mm wide.  This is also a 2-image focus stack, one for the drop and the other for the flower inside.

Take note of how in the images the drop acts like a tiny lens, refracting and inverting the image inside it.  If you want the image inside to be right-side-up, be sure to invert the real physical object before you snap the shot.  Also, with such limited depth of field, even a small aperture may not give you the range of focus you need.  Making shots like this will also give you a reason to learn focus-stacking techniques.

The captions on the shots reveal what I used to achieve each dewdrop photography image.  So, see what you can learn here, get your camera, maybe buy some entry-level macro gear and then… just go “dew” it!

Share the images you make with us in the comments section!


The post Just Dew It – Fun with Macro Dewdrop Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Review of PhotoWorks: a Fresh and Fast Photo Editor for PC

Sun, 10/06/2019 - 05:00

The post Review of PhotoWorks: a Fresh and Fast Photo Editor for PC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

PhotoWorks is an image editor with a fresh, clean interface and a set of tools that work intelligently to get the best from your photos. It helps you turn drab files into spectacular pictures within a few clicks – sometimes only one! The software’s Portrait Magic technology uses face recognition to add expert retouching edits to your photos. A host of other handy features make the PhotoWorks photo editor for PC an enticing proposition.

The histogram is a constant when you edit in PhotoWorks. It’s good to see a program that knows its value.

Who’s it for?

Automatic photo editing is the forte of PhotoWorks, but the software doesn’t do everything. It doesn’t offer the huge toolbox that many other programs do, with so much thrown in that you have to rummage endlessly to find what you want. It’s designed for ease of use and speed, which will appeal to beginners and casual photographers but might catch the eye of a few veterans, too.

The clean, minimalistic interface of PhotoWorks. All edits are memorized by the software, so they’re non-destructive.

In this review, I’ll look at everything PhotoWorks has to offer. I feel like I’ll enjoy it because this photo editing software for PC isn’t an unwieldy monster with innumerable needless features. PhotoWorks seems knowable from the first time you open it. You can jump in without facing a steep learning curve, though there are good tutorials available online if you need help. Let’s see what it can do.

Opening raw files

Raw files are always an obvious place to start when reviewing a photo editor for PC. Can PhotoWorks handle them? It’s not billed as a raw processor, but it does open most proprietary raw files in addition to Adobe’s standard DNG files.

When you open raw files in PhotoWorks, you have the option of applying one of six profiles to them: Default, Auto Enhancement, Landscape, Portrait, Sunny Day or Black & White. With the Default profile, all the settings in PhotoWorks are zeroed when you open the file, whereas the others are Presets with adjusted sliders.

You’re presented with six starting points when opening raw files. The default conversion opens automatically on the page.

PhotoWorks is really a pixel editor. It converts individual raw files quickly and the quality is okay – good, even – but problems like chromatic aberration (CA) and chroma noise are present if you examine images at 100%. Should you view images at 100%? Only if you’re creating big prints or trying to impress third parties with technical quality. And if you’re doing that, you may not belong to the target market for this software, though PhotoWorks has potentially wide appeal.

PhotoWorks does not currently fix chromatic aberration or purple fringing. If you’re the type of photographer who scrutinizes image quality and needs impeccable files, you could run them through a dedicated raw converter first.

By pairing PhotoWorks with a separate raw processor (e.g. RawTherapee, Darktable), “serious” photographers could have the basis of an efficient workflow. That’d be good for, say, wedding photographers, who would also benefit from the software’s intelligent retouching capabilities. We’ll look at those in more detail later, but for now, it suffices to say they’re good.

Saving the PhotoWorks way

Not long after firing up PhotoWorks, you’ll notice there’s no way to close images. This is unusual, to say the least, but it’s another form of streamlining. You can save edited files and move onto the next image. Your edits are stored, even if you move on without saving, and you have the option of resuming them or starting afresh when you go back to the file. This is true even if you close the program. Edits are non-destructive.

Both Save and Fast Export let you export a separate copy of the edited file in the format of your choice, the main difference being that you choose the format beforehand with Fast Export. You can select from JPEG, TIFF (8-bit compressed), PNG and BMP.


The Enhancement tab is where you make changes to color and tone in your image. It includes an Auto Correction feature that aims to transform your photos in a single click, but you can alter its effect if you want. For instance, let’s say you’re already happy with the tonal range but would like more color, you could switch off the dynamic range and add vibrance to Auto Correction. Plus, there’s a slider that adjusts the strength of the auto effect.

PhotoWorks includes a blue sky enhancement, which makes it easy to deepen the blue of the sky whilst also warming the photo up. Those two edits are normally at odds with each other.

Most of the color and tone sliders you’d expect to find in top-end software are in the Enhancement section of PhotoWorks under the Main tab. They give you as much manual control as you want. The workspace is so tidily laid out that it puts some established photo-editing brands to shame. The design is thoughtful and user-friendly, and it makes you want to linger. You even get to suggest features you’d like to see.

Two more tabs under Enhancement are Colors and Sharpness. The first lets you adjust hue, saturation, lightness (HSL) and color balance. The Sharpen tool is basically an unsharp mask, and there’s a blur section where you could create dreamy soft-focus effects or counteract over-sharpening. It’s all useful stuff, and the confusing terminology is notably left out.

A slightly de-sharpened image focuses attention on form rather than detail. That’s where the PhotoWorks Blur tool is useful. It works well with busy compositions.


Move along to the Tools tab in PhotoWorks and a carefully selected set of powerful tools reveals itself to the right of the screen. There are not a hundred little tool icons as with complex programs. Some of the tools, like Curves or Tone Mapping, offer an alternative and perhaps more advanced way of working with your pictures. Seasoned photographers will be familiar with these features.


The PhotoWorks crop tool includes a modern set of aspect ratio presets that fit today’s devices or social media pages perfectly. Of course, you can also use the original aspect ratio, choose a different ratio or crop the photo freely. There’s nothing much missing here. You can rotate the picture, which helps get horizons level or to achieve the most effective composition.

AMS Software, the creator of PhotoWorks, also offers a choice of grid overlays to assist you with composition when cropping. For example, you can choose a Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio grid to help you decide what to include and where. My only slight gripe here is that the grid lines are often a little hard to see: maybe a different color or opacity control would help.

The Golden Spiral crop grid in PhotoWorks.

Geometry (correcting perspective and distortion)

You can correct the perspective of architectural photos using the Geometry tools in PhotoWorks. Like in most photo editors for computers, there’s no auto adjustment, so you have to alter the vertical and/or horizontal perspective yourself using the sliders, but this is generally an easy task.

In this pic, you can clearly see the effects of lens distortion on the window frame. In the inset, I’ve corrected it using the distortion slider.

Correcting optical aberrations such as pincushion or barrel distortion is also possible in this section. Some programs will do this for you with the help of lens profiles, but you can do it easily yourself with the assistance of the included grid and distortion slider.

Change background

PhotoWorks makes it easy to change the background of your photo, so if you want to transplant a better sky or create a composite picture, you can. The process of separating the subject from its background is simple. You draw a green line with the object brush, a red line with the background brush, and then you let the software work its magic. Typically, you need to refine the edge a bit using the same brushes, which could become labor-intensive with intricate subjects. For many photos, the process works fine. There’s even a choice of free-to-use pictures you can add as backgrounds, or you can upload your own.

The Change Background feature in PhotoWorks separates subjects from their background with ridiculous ease. I’m not sure there’s enough finesse for complex selections (e.g. fur or fine strands of hair), but there’s a lot of fun to be had.


The vignetting tool lets you correct vignetting that occurs naturally with your lens. You can brighten edges and corners for even exposure. It also lets you add a vignette as a creative effect, focusing the viewer’s attention more on the subject of the picture. This photo editor for PC provides all the controls you need to fine-tune this edit.

3D LUT Color Correction

Color LUTs might just as accurately be called “special effects” since they remap the color of your photos to create a different look. PhotoWorks offers a nice built-in selection of them as well as letting you upload your own in the form of cube files. You can’t save your own LUTs within the software, hence you can’t preview them either, but I’m glad to see this feature in PhotoWorks.

This is the “Drama” color LUT. Interestingly, it compresses the tonal range. In doing so, maybe it makes the viewer feel more hemmed in and on edge.

Tone Mapping & Curves

PhotoWorks includes tone mapping and curves tools for controlling color and tone. Tone mapping lets you overlay a color or texture. You could apply a color to a black-and-white image here for a duotone effect. The curves tool adjusts contrast, changes color temperature, and tint and even corrects color if you use the individual RGB curves.

A black & white photo turned into a duotone (i.e. a mix of black and blue) using the Tone Mapping tool in PhotoWorks.

Noise Reduction and Grain

There are tools for reducing digital noise or adding film-like grain in PhotoWorks. This photo editing software for PC doesn’t separate color noise from luminance noise, which would be a nice feature for more advanced photographers. But it will smooth and improve the look of high ISO photos.

The film-grain effect is generally better looking than digital noise in photos. You can add that to give your photos an authentic retro look from the days of analog photography.


Some of the headlining features of PhotoWorks fall under its Retouch section. The software harnesses the power of face recognition technology to automatically enhance portraits. You can use its Portrait Magic or Face Sculpt technology to retouch faces and show your subjects at their best.

Portrait Magic

A remarkable feature of PhotoWorks is its Portrait Magic feature, which lets you automatically or manually remove blemishes and enhance portraits. Its toolset includes the following:

  • Skin smoothing
  • Control over redness (improve blotchy skin)
  • Skin tone
  • Eyes (sharpness, contrast, remove dark circles)
  • Eyebrows (sharpness, contrast)
  • Lips (sharpness, contrast, hue, saturation, luminance & glare)
  • Teeth (whiteness)

It may be hard to see the difference here, but Portrait Magic is good at damping down glare on the skin (aka “face shine”). There are many quick fixes to choose from as well as full manual control. (Image: Pexels)

Even if you know how to fix these things already, this technology saves time. It’s easy to imagine it being useful to pro portrait and wedding photographers. The best results are achieved by addressing issues one-by-one, but there’s a set of quick-fix buttons available to speed things up. You have to be careful with it because the software isn’t infallible. For instance, a pair of glasses get in the way of removing dark circles accurately.

Portrait Magic is so good that you could buy this software for that alone. It’s a great photo editor app for pc or laptop.

Face Sculpt

Just when you thought you’d seen amazing things with Portrait Magic, along comes Face Sculpt. Move a slider and watch the software identify and alter a specific part of the face. You can do these things manually in Photoshop using warp tools and the like, but boy is it easy with PhotoWorks: a deft picture editor and retoucher in one.

I’ve done nothing to this photo except turn a hint of a smile into a stronger hint. Like Portrait Magic, Face Sculpt is a powerful tool that can totally transform a portrait. The technology behind it is remarkably precise. Subtle edits often work best. (Original image: Pixabay)

Maybe we should all just accept the way we look, but contrary to popular belief, the camera does lie. It’s easy to take an unflattering portrait because of technical reasons, whether it’s an unflattering camera angle, harsh lighting, poor timing or lens distortion. PhotoWorks lets you remedy such problems.

Face Sculpt enables you to reshape or resize eyes, noses, mouths, eyebrows, and the face itself. You can even turn a frown into a smile. Used subtly, it creates different versions of the truth rather than outright lies. And if it helps the subject feel good about themselves, that can’t be a bad thing.

Healing and Cloning Tools

Healing and Cloning tools in PhotoWorks are also first rate. The clone stamp auto-samples from a similar area and gives you the option of changing the sample location. It’s quick and efficient, and no intervention is usually necessary. The Healing Brush is even faster for fixing small blemishes (e.g. dust spots).

Adjustment Brush

There aren’t any layers in PhotoWorks, but you can carry out local edits with the adjustment brush. Users of Lightroom will be familiar with the concept. Color, tone, and sharpness can all be selectively adjusted anywhere on the image. You can also deal with chromatic aberration by brushing neatly over edges and turning Saturation down, though a dedicated tool would be better.

It’s out of fashion, I know, but here’s a quick demo of selective coloring with the Adjustment Brush on PhotoWorks. This Lightroom-style feature offers infinite possibilities without being as daunting to beginners as layers are.

Graduated Filter and Radial Filter

The Graduated Filter and Radial Filter offer alternative ways of making local adjustments to one or more parts of an image. Whether it’s tone, color or sharpness you’re adjusting, these retouching tools make it easy to emphasize your subject. You can also even up your exposures (e.g. the classic dark foreground and bright sky) and bring out shadow detail. Characteristically, these features are neatly designed and easy to use in PhotoWorks.

Two graduated filters are in play here – one to brighten and warm up the lower half of the photo and another to reduce exposure in the sky a little.

Special Effects

With over 150 special effects to choose from, PhotoWorks gives you plenty of ways to interpret each photo. In the Special Effects section of the software, you can add any effect you like and then adapt it to suit your tastes if you want. Hitting the “Apply” button takes you over to the Enhancements area of the software, where you can tweak color, tone, and sharpness.

A quite pleasing special effect to my eye (Faded Photo -1) and one of over 150 special effects available in PhotoWorks.

I personally like adding textures to photos, so it was good to find a few textured effects among the collection. There is also a Quick Enhancements selection, which gives further opportunity for one-click fixing. You can favorite effects so they’re easy to find later on.

A Photographic Films section attempts to replicate the look of various classic films. It’s fun to play around with these effects, which you could find yourself using again and again in some cases.

Captions (add text and stickers)

Whatever you normally do with your photos, there might come a time when you want to add text to them. Maybe you’re making a Christmas card or designing a flyer. You could be creating memes for social media and entertaining your friends. PhotoWorks photo editor app for PC includes a versatile set of tools to help you create the text you want in the font, color, and style of your choice. A sticker collection lets you add cartoon-like captioning for extra fun.


Beneath the minimalistic surface, PhotoWorks offers a powerful set of tools that are easy to use regardless of your level. The way the software exploits face recognition technology is magical, indeed.

There are a few nuts-and-bolts things I would like to see in PhotoWorks, such as chromatic aberration removal, more nuanced noise reduction and an exposure warning to help with histogram adjustments (aka levels). The ability to export 16-bit TIFFs would be nice. At some point, though, if you keep adding stuff, the program ends up complex like many others and loses its streamlined appeal.

Design-wise, PhotoWorks positively gleams. It has a beautifully clean interface, uses simple terminology that everyone can understand, and gets a lot of work done with minimal effort. Whether you use it alone or alongside other photo editors for PC, it’s definitely worth a look.

You can download a free trial version and explore the features of the program yourself. Or use the exclusive coupon for dPS readers to purchase PhotoWorks at a 50% discount now!

Disclaimer: PhotoWorks is a paid dPS partner.


The post Review of PhotoWorks: a Fresh and Fast Photo Editor for PC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How to Make Your Photos Awesome in Lightroom or Photoshop Camera RAW

Sat, 10/05/2019 - 06:00

The post How to Make Your Photos Awesome in Lightroom or Photoshop Camera RAW appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video tutorial, Nemanja Sekulic will show you how to make some dramatic editing changes to your RAW photos using Lightroom or Photoshop Camera RAW.


During the process, you will learn the following in Lightroom (which you can also translate to Photoshop Camera RAW):

  • How to use the Basic Panel including the Exposure Slider, Highlight Slider, Shadow Slider, Color Temperature Slider,
  • The shortcut for viewing before/after (\)
  • How to use the Radial Filter tool – how to make multiple radial filter selections, reposition, and make adjustments to the selection.
  • How to use the Adjustment Brush Tool – including changing your brush size, flow, and feather amounts.
  • How to use it to make selective adjustments in your image, including color, temperature, exposure, highlights, shadows, clarity, etc. to fine-tune your image.
  • How to use selective color with your Adjustment Brush.
  • How to make new Adjustment Brushes to fine-tune the details in the eyes.
  • How to use Hue and Saturation Panels as well as the Split Toning Panel.
  • How to add a vignette.
  • How to go back and readjust any of your Radial Filter, and Adjustment Brush settings.

You can apply these techniques across any image you choose, or you can download Nemanja’s image file here.

You may also find the following helpful:


The post How to Make Your Photos Awesome in Lightroom or Photoshop Camera RAW appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Triangles

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 15:00

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Triangles appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

This week’s photography challenge topic is TRIANGLES!

Chris Lawton

Following along on our shapes theme for the past fortnight, this week is Triangles. You can see triangles in flags, sails, architecture, windows, rooftops, in patterns and shadows, etc.

So go out and capture anything that has triangles. They can be color, black and white, moody or bright. Just so long as they have triangles in them! You get the picture! Have fun, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Bambi Corro

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Check out some of the articles below that give you tips on this week’s challenge.

Tips for Shooting TRIANGLES

Embracing Shadows in Photography – A Lesson for Light and Life

How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography

9 Creative Architecture Photography Techniques for Amazing Photos!

Tips for Different Approaches to Architecture Photography

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Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours


Weekly Photography Challenge – TRIANGLES

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 #DPStriangles 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 – Triangles appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Canon 11-24mm F/4L Lens Review

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 08:30

The post Canon 11-24mm F/4L Lens Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nisha Ramroop.

Following the release news of the Canon EF 11-24mm F/4L USM Lens, came countless sleepless nights of research and reading reviews. At the end of that process, all I could safely decipher was that it was the new dream lens of the landscape photographer in me.

The build

The moment you pick up this lens, the weight surprises you. It’s quite hefty and you notice every ounce of the approximate (just over) two-and-a-half pounds. The entire build of the lens screams quality too. Like other Canon lenses, the manual focus and zoom rings move smoothly and feel natural. Not a lens you want to be cumbersome with, so this was an important feature for me when working with such weight. You can make easy focal adjustments, as the zoom moves through the entire focal range with a small turn. When behind the lens, the AF/MF is also easily accessible.

The bulbous front element blooms with authority and still makes me nervous enough to cover it almost immediately when not in use. I am not reassured by the presence of the fixed hood that is meant to protect the imposing glass. However, I am glad it is there. The signature red ring around the front always sets expectations of promised image quality and Canon has delivered.

Size comparatives from left to right: Canon 85mm F/1.2 L, Canon 11-24mm F4 L, Canon 135mm F2 L

What works

The Canon EF 11-24mm is benchmarked as the widest ultra-wide rectilinear lens compatible with full-frame DSLRs, since the Sigma 12-24mm F/4.5-5.6 lens. Thus barrel distortion is minimal throughout the range, and straight lines in your subject are not compromised (and appear straight). The most distortion you would find occurs at around 11mm and 12mm and compared to any other lens at this focal range, it is minimal. Of note, distortion seems non-existent between 15-24mm.

By comparison, yes the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye is wider, but as is the signature of fisheye lenses, it outputs barrel-distorted images and your straight lines curve. The exception is if your line is directly center of your frame.

The lens is quiet and focuses quickly. Most impressively though, it is super sharp, even at the corners! Added to sharp images; the contrast is nice and balanced. If you have used other ultra-wides, you will admire the difference in the output. The image quality is simply amazing!

The angle of view on a full-frame, coupled with the minimal distortion, makes it great for indoor architectural spaces. The need for a lens like this to be F/2.8 eludes me, as F/4 feels more than adequate.

What could be better

If you are looking at this beauty, the two major drawbacks may reside in price and weight. It is an expensive lens and certainly not in everyone’s price range. However, it’s a great investment if you do professional architectural and landscape photography. In these areas, the minimal distortion works in your favor. There is no other lens that performs like this lens at the wider end.

It is a large, heavy lens that will make you think twice before packing it for travel – you know you want it with you, oh but that weight! Even worse, it is front heavy, so you will want to be extra cautious when out in the field.

The front cap feels inadequate, as it struggles to cover the hood. There are also spaces where it clasps (when aligned) that leave room for dust to get into the front. After all the time they spent on this lens, the front cap feels like an afterthought.

There is also a noticeable amount of vignetting at 11mm and also some color fringing. Both are easy to fix in post-processing, without loss of your image quality. For an ultra-wide lens though, the falloff (or darkened corners) is negligible.


The Canon EF 11-24mm F/4L is a truly magnificent lens for a landscape or architectural photographer. It is well-built, heavy, sharp, quiet and expensive. One thing for certain though, it is the only one of its kind and a signature Canon lens.

Have you used this lens? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comments.


The post Canon 11-24mm F/4L Lens Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nisha Ramroop.

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 06:00

The post How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

The job of a camera lens is straightforward: it bends and focuses light, and it does so through the use of several curved pieces of glass that move back and forth. It sounds simple but is actually a lot more difficult than it might seem. Byproducts of all that glass are anomalies such as chromatic aberration and barrel distortion which can mar an otherwise beautiful image. Lightroom can fix these on its own to a degree, but to really take control of your pictures you can use the Manual Lens Correction panel to fine-tune your image until it’s pixel-perfect.

Understanding Chromatic Aberration

Before wading too deep into manual lens corrections, it’s important to understand what causes issues such as chromatic aberration in the first place. Different colors of light travel at different wavelengths. As a result, when the glass elements of a lens bend the incoming light, it can be quite tricky to make everything line up properly on the camera’s image sensor. This is especially prominent when shooting at the widest possible aperture since it gets really difficult to get the light to behave properly when you let so much in at once.

The result is purple and green fringes when you see hard edges in a picture. It can also produce distorted images that look either squished or puffed out in the middle. Cheaper lenses, or lenses with very wide apertures, don’t have as many glass elements to correct for these issues. It’s also why lenses like the Nikon 105 f/1.4 or Canon 85mm f/1.4 cost (and weigh) so much! They have a lot of special glass inside to correct for the problems that often happens with their less expensive counterparts.

If you don’t have a few thousand dollars to spend on ultra-sharp lenses, you can fix these image issues in Lightroom.

When you shoot in RAW, you can use the Automatic option. This does a fine job of removing purple and green fringes and fixing barrel distortion based on what it knows about the characteristics of your lens.

Click these boxes to have Lightroom automatically attempt to fix lens-related picture problems.

Nine times out of ten it does the job quite well. However, sometimes you will want to tweak things for yourself or just do the entire operation on your own. This is where the Manual option really comes in handy.

Manual Lens Correction

The Manual Lens Correction panel contains three options, each of which you can control separately.

  • Distortion lets you re-shape your picture so it’s less puffed-out in the middle.
  • Defringe deals with purple and green fringes at areas of high contrast, particularly with a lot of backlighting.
  • Vignetting is for lightening or darkening the corners of a picture.

The Manual Lens Correction option gives you full control over lens corrections.


This is a common issue with many lenses that isn’t always very obvious. However, once you notice it, you’ll start seeing this phenomenon all the time. Fortunately, the fix is simple. It’s usually just a matter of dragging the Distortion slider to the left or right.

Something’s not quite right here. The composition is fine but the middle is bulging out like a balloon.

As you drag the slider, you will see a grid appear over the picture which can help you get just the right value. Look for straight horizontal or vertical lines in your picture, and drag the slider until they line up with the grid.

The roof of the building gives a nice guide when correcting for distortion. It’s not quite lined up with the grid yet, but pushing the distortion slider a bit more will fix the problem.

The Constrain Crop option makes sure the final image stays within a square or rectangular boundary. If you adjust the slider too far to the right, the image can get a little too warped. However, checking this option will fix this by essentially zooming in on the picture as it’s being adjusted to avoid an extreme pincushion effect.


Final image:


This is where you can easily correct purple and green fringes that can show up on your pictures. You can adjust the sliders manually, but my preferred way is to use the eyedropper tool to select specific areas of purple and green fringing that you want to remove.

The picture below is straight out of the camera with no lens correction applied. Notice how the edges of the bench have what appears to be slight purple and green outlines. These are caused by the light being bent and shaped by the camera lens. Once you know to look for these sorts of issues, you start seeing them all over the place!

Here’s a close-up view of the same picture. Notice the purple curve at the base of the seat and the green edges at the knurled edge that goes horizontally across the frame.

To manually correct these instances of chromatic aberration, Lightroom needs to know what range of colors you want to remove. Use the eyedropper tool to select either a purple fringe, a green fringe, or both, and then fine-tune by adjusting the sliders for Amount and Hue.

After selecting your purple and greens with the eyedropper tool, Lightroom will do its best to remove those specific colors around any high-contrast edges. You can fine-tune the defringing by adjusting the Amount and Hue sliders, but I usually find that Lightroom does a fine job just with a few clicks of the eyedropper.

When viewing the full image, you can see these instances of chromatic aberration are now gone, and the picture is much more pleasing as a result.

This operation can be extremely useful with portraits, which are often shot using larger apertures. Even if you don’t shoot close-ups for a living it’s nice to know that this simple, fast fix is available to you.


This option works much like the regular Vignette tool in Lightroom. You can use it to make the corners of your picture lighter or darker, depending on whether you drag the slider to the right or left.

Nearly all lenses exhibit some degree of vignetting, especially when using their widest aperture, but you can easily correct them using this tool.

Original image, straight out of the camera.

Sliding the Amount all the way to the left darkens the corners of the picture. It’s subtle but effective at drawing the viewer’s attention to the subject in the middle.

Vignette amount -100

Conversely, sliding the Amount all the way to the right makes the corners lighter. This is often useful to correct for the vignette that is inherent in many lenses at wider apertures.

Vignette amount +100


While you can use Lightroom’s automatic lens corrections, it’s nice to know how to correct for things like chromatic aberration, distortion, and vignetting on your own using manual lens correction. The best part is that none of these edits are permanent and you can undo your changes any time due to the non-destructive nature of Lightroom. So if you just want to try these out and see what happens, go right ahead!


The post How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.