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How to Put Some “Sparkle” in Your Photos with Sparkler Photography

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 15:00

The post How to Put Some “Sparkle” in Your Photos with Sparkler Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Sparklers are fun, festive, and can add, well…Sparkle to your photos! Getting good sparkler shots will test your skills too, teach you new ways of operating your camera and allow you to make some “hot shots” people will admire. So let’s look at the tools, techniques, and tips for sparkler photography as well as give you some ideas to try.

4 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

Playing with fire – Safety First!

If you play with fire, __________________ (complete the rest of that common saying). You’ve heard that, right?

“Play with fire and you’ll get burned.”

That’s NOT what we want to happen! So, Safety First!

These things ought to be common sense, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t list some precautions. After all, you are playing with fire.

  • Sparklers are HOT! The best sparklers for photography, (those with metallic nature and metal wire handle), burn between 1000 and 1600 degrees Centigrade, (that’s 1,800-3000 F)! Even after they burn out, the sparkler will be red hot for some time. Use them with great caution.
  • Flying sparks can burn you and your photo equipment. I have pitted glasses used as props in my shots with the sparks and the same can happen to your lens if too close. Stay back and zoom in, keeping your camera out of the range of flying sparks. Put a UV filter on your lens for extra protection.
  • Make your shots in a safe area with no flammable materials nearby. Sparkler photography is best done outdoors with cement, pavement, or other non-flammable surfaces underneath. I have read too often of photographers setting areas on fire (even historic sites!) by improperly using fireworks. I have also read of weddings where the bride’s dress was set on fire with a sparkler and all kinds of other sad and ugly stories. Don’t be that idiot! Have a bucket of water, perhaps even a fire extinguisher, nearby just in case. A water bucket can also be useful for disposing of expended but still hot sparklers.
  • Be careful when lighting sparklers. Often they take a bit to light, and standard paper matches could burn your fingers as they burn down. A long fireplace-style lighter works well. Light one at a time, never a bundle of them.

I could go on and if you search for “sparkler injuries” you might decide not to try this at all, but the point is, be smart, be safe, and above all…be careful!

What you need

Camera – Full manual control of exposure and manual focus is pretty much required. Automatic modes won’t cut it for good sparkler photography and autofocus will cause much frustration.

Tripod – You will be shooting long exposures, often several seconds, and you can’t possibly hold your camera still enough for that time. Also, unless you have an assistant, you will also be busy with the sparkler. Your camera needs to be on a stable tripod.

Sparklers – I’ve found the best sparklers for photography are the metallic type with wire handles. Those with bamboo handles and a paper end produce a different-looking spark pattern, a lot of smoke, and are not well-suited to photos. You can also buy sparkers of different sizes.

Consider the amount of time it will take to make the shot you want as well as the distance you will be from the camera. Standard size (#10) sparklers work fine for shorter effects up close. Consider the bigger ones if you need more time or will be far away. I stock up during the Fourth of July season here in the U.S. If you have to buy online in the off-season, search for “Smokeless Sparkers” and you will find sites that sell the proper type in various sizes.

Props and People – The right props in a photo can help “tell a story” which the sparklers enhance. (See the shots in this article). Have those ready and be sure to consider their flammability. If you will have people in your shot, especially if they are children, be sure you carefully instruct them in the safe use of sparklers. Their safety is your responsibility! Also, consider the clothing people wear. Obviously, easily flammable clothing is a big NO. Dark colors will help them “disappear” in the shot if that’s what you want while lighter colors will help them show up. Again, if you have any doubts about being able to use sparklers in your photography and doing it safely, just don’t do it – period.

4 seconds, F/14, ISO 400 – Flash Fill light was also used here

Remote trigger for your camera – If you are any distance from your camera, (especially if you are working alone), you will need a way to fire the shot remotely. You might get by with the timer, tripping the shutter and then running into the shot, but I like to be able to do multiple shots using just one sparkler. (They are hard to extinguish and re-light. If you need to run back to the camera to make another exposure, your sparkler will likely burn out by the time you can do that.)

I use a Yongnuo RF602C radio trigger with my Canon 6D and so can work from a distance, repeating the shot several times in the duration of just one sparkler. A wired remote could work too, depending on the length of your cord and distance from the camera to subject.

Flashlight (aka “Torch”) – You will most likely be working in the dark, so being able to set your camera, adjust focus, and do what you need to without too much fumbling will require a flashlight. We also discuss other uses for the flashlight along with Flash below.

Flash and Orange (CTO) Gels – This is optional, depending on the shot you’d like to make. We’ll get into using flash with your shots a bit later.

Bucket of Water and Fire Extinguishers – I discussed why previously but will repeat it. Have a place to put still hot sparklers after they burn out and also a means to quickly douse a fire in the chance things go bad.

2.5 sec. f/11, ISO 100

Long exposure and camera settings

You will want full control over all your camera settings, so Manual Mode is a must. You will also want to be able to set and lock focus, so Manual Focus is needed. Shooting Raw (not .jpg) images will free you from having to worry about white balance and also give you greater latitude for adjusting exposure in editing if you aren’t right on.

As for the specific camera settings, that will take some experimentation. Start with ISO. You’ll be taking long exposures and keeping the ISO low. ISO 100 is fine and will help limit image noise. The desired depth of field will help determine your aperture, and that in combination with your shutter speed, (which will need to be long enough to accomplish whatever action you’ll be capturing) will determine your exposure. Sparklers are brighter than you may think and I achieved many of my shots with the light of the sparkler alone.

Take a look at the sample photos included in this article for which I’ve listed the camera settings. Note that ISO is almost always 100, aperture between f/8 and f/11 with the shutter speed determined by the duration of the action I’m capturing. Sometimes, rather than guessing how long you will need, it might be a good idea to use the Bulb mode for your shutter. Click the shutter once to open it as you start the action, then close it when finished.

0.5 sec., f/8, ISO 100

Use with still-life photography

Your imagination is your only limit to how you can use sparklers to put some pizzaz in your shot. I am a fan of using them in Still Life photography for several reasons:

  • Use the sparkler to contribute to the theme and story you’re telling with a photo. Note the images in this article where sparklers add to the festive or holiday feel of the image.
  • Consider how the light of the sparkler plays with the other props or people in the scene. Glass which allows the sparkler light to shine through. Reflective objects or things that might look good backlit can make for interesting shots. You will often be able to make the shot with the light of the sparkler alone.
  • Back to the safety factor – With still-life images, you can be more in control of the situation, the location, and the other variables when working with inanimate objects. Working with people increases the hazard.
  • If an object moves, (and is lit well enough) during a long exposure, it will be blurred. I like the sparkler to be the moving object while the other objects in my scene are static and thus sharp even with a longer shutter speed.
  • Multiple takes are usually necessary to get a “just right” shot. I often make multiple shots even during the duration of one 35-second burn of a small #10 sparkler. After it’s exhausted and I toss it in the water bucket, I chimp my shots, decide what I might do differently or better, adjust and make another series. Still-life subjects don’t care while your model might not be as patient with many multiple takes.

1/160 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 – The sparkler was added with the technique described below

Use in wedding photography

Using sparklers in conjunction with wedding photography has become popular and can make for some nice images. A personal confession here – I’ve done wedding photography and find it scary enough. Add fire to the mix – as well as some potentially inebriated guests wielding that fire! – and the fear-factor goes up exponentially for me. I’m not saying don’t do these kinds of shots if that’s something you’d like to add to your wedding photography repertoire. Do your homework and read up on how other wedding photographers are using sparklers. Then, as you should with all wedding photography, do it with due diligence and the safety of your clients utmost in mind.

That said, read on in the Special Effects Section below to learn how you can include sparkler effects in your wedding images through some creative editing while not having to have them physically present during the wedding shoot.

This sparkler shot was done independently – 14 seconds, f/11, ISO 100, and then layered over the dance shot below

Writing with fire

Another popular effect done with sparklers is to “write” or “draw” with the light trail created when a sparkler moves during a long exposure. (Interesting that in the Greek roots of the word “photography,” Phos means light and graphi means writing.) During a long exposure, a sparkler can be used to “write” words, draw pictures, or trace the outline of an object. A tip when writing letters or words; usually the subject doing the “sparkler writing” will be facing the camera and for them, (so the letters appear proper to the camera), they would need to form backward letters. Make it easier for them by letting them write as they normally would and then flipping the image later in post-production.

I’ve also made some fun shots, such as that of the bicycle in this article, by “outlining” the basic shapes of the object with the sparkler during a long exposure. For this kind of thing, you might want to look into longer-burning sparklers such as #20 types which burn for about 2 minutes. They even sell extra-long #36 sparklers which will burn for up to 3 ½ minutes. Get what you need to accomplish the shot you’ll be making.

80 seconds, f/11, ISO 100. I probably could have traced the bicycle just once to simplify the shot and use a shorter exposure

Mixing ambient light and using flash

What you want to show up in your shot will determine your exposure settings and other techniques. Sometimes, all you want to show up is the sparkler itself. If that’s the case, put your camera on a tripod, put the unlit sparkler (or a stand-in object) where you expect the sparkler to be, use your flashlight and focus on that spot. Then turn off the autofocus so the focus is locked on that spot. You will want to shoot in the dark, have a dark background, and wear dark clothes if you or your subject will be in the shot moving the sparkler. Make a shot without lighting the sparkler with the ISO at 100 and adjust the aperture, so the resulting image is totally black. Shutter speed will be dependent on how long you expect the action to take.

Now, leaving all the settings there, light the sparkler and make the shot. Evaluate the shot to see what adjustments might be necessary. Once you have it dialed in, repeat as needed with another sparkler. If you are shooting relatively short, say under 5-second exposures, you may get multiple shots during the 35-second burn of even a small #10 sparkler.

Now, say you want your subject to appear in the image with the sparkler. A still-life object might work just fine with a similar technique with the light of the sparkler enough to illuminate the subject. The cocktail glasses and flag shots here were done in that fashion. The bicycle shot was too, though a long 80-second exposure was needed to trace the subject fully.

The New Year 2017 shot needed a little help from a flash. The 4-second exposure was about right for the static sparkler placed behind the glasses, but it’s placement behind the glasses, and the amount of light it cast, wasn’t enough to illuminate the other objects in the scene, so some fill-flash was used.

2.5 sec, f/16, ISO 100

Say you want to see your subject holding the sparkler, perhaps drawing with it, or maybe show a wedding couple in the shot with sparkler effects in the shot too. Set up the shot as before with enough shutter duration to capture whatever motion you want with the sparkler. Then, just before completing the exposure, pop a flash on your subject to illuminate and freeze them.

If your camera and flash support second curtain sync, that’s a great way to do this as the flash will be automatically triggered just before the exposure is completed. If not, or if perhaps you want to put the flash off camera, you can also manually trigger it with the test button. It takes a bit more timing and luck, but being able to put the flash where you want it and timing the flash to your action might be worth it.

Another option, since you will be making a long exposure, is to use a flashlight to “light-paint” your subject. As with the flash, if you want the sparkler to produce a trail but the person or subject to be frozen, illuminate them with the flashlight at the end of the exposure.

I mentioned the use of a CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel with your flash. Because most sparklers burn with a warm gold light the much bluer light of the flash won’t match them. Putting a piece or two of CTO gel over your flash allows its light to better match that of the sparkler. Carefully crafted, you will be able to make it look like it was the sparkler lighting the subject when in fact the flash was doing the work.

1 second, f/11, ISO 100

Special effects with sparkler shots

I mentioned a wedding shot where it had the sparkler effect but without actually having the sparkler there. Here’s how you do it:

  • Shoot your sparkler shots on a dark background. Then in post-production, adjust the black so the only thing visible is the sparkler and light trail itself.
  • Open the image you want in Photoshop, say the wedding shot.
  • Open the sparkler shot as a separate image. Then “Select All” and “Copy” that shot.
  • Go to the wedding shot and then “Paste” the sparkler shot over it on a separate layer.
  • Change the blending mode on the sparkler layer to “Screen.” The black will become transparent, leaving the sparkler trail over your wedding shot.
  • Adjust the placement, size, and so forth on the sparkler overlay to put it where you like.
  • Using masking tools on that later, mask out any of the sparkler effects you don’t want to show.

Sparker effected added using Screen Blending mode with the sparkler on a separate layer.

The beauty of this technique is you can make your own “stock images” with various sparkler effects and have them available later when you might want to add them to other images. The other advantage is you don’t have the hassle and risks of using sparklers around your subjects.

If you don’t want to mess with sparklers at all but still want the effects, you can also buy “sparkler effects” packages and alphabets which you can use with this same technique.

So, have fun, be safe, and put some sparkle in your photos! Then, be sure to share them with us in the comments below.


The post How to Put Some “Sparkle” in Your Photos with Sparkler Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

5 Camera Accessories You Shouldn’t Buy Cheap

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 10:00

The post 5 Camera Accessories You Shouldn’t Buy Cheap appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

With each passing year, it seems that camera gear and accessories get progressively cheaper. Third-party brands now offer everything from lenses and flashes to batteries and tripods. This gear is typically priced at a fraction of the price of name brand manufacturers and the quality is often on par. Photographers have often said that “you get what you pay for” when it comes to camera gear, implying that cheaper goods offer less quality. But is that still true today?

In this article, I’ll highlight 5 camera accessories you shouldn’t buy cheap and should consider paying full price for. This isn’t to say that there aren’t cheap, third-party brands offering solid quality for less. But these are items that you’ll want to research extra hard to make sure you’re buying the best product for your camera.

1. Camera strap

All cameras come with a stock camera strap that you can use to secure your camera on your shoulder. However, the quality and long-term durability of these camera straps are often questionable. Thus, it’s becoming more commonplace for photographers to purchase their own camera straps. Peak Design and Black Rapid are two popular brands offering sturdy and stylish camera straps. These straps are on the pricey side with the Peak Design Slide coming in at $64.95 and the Black Rapid Breathe at $68.99. Each strap also attaches to your camera differently, but their main benefit is being able to detach on demand if you need to remove the strap (ie. for use on a tripod or gimbal).

Are there cheaper camera strap alternatives? Certainly. But consider the fact that you are trusting the camera strap to hold hundreds or thousands of dollars of equipment and be sure to buy a camera strap that you can trust.

2. Tripod

Along the lines of keeping your valuable camera gear safe, it’s also wise to invest a little extra into a high-quality tripod. I’ve spent years buying cheap, compact tripods for travel only to have them fail on me sooner than expected. As a result, I’ve amassed a pile of broken tripods. Last year, I finally took the plunge and bought a more expensive Manfrotto tripod. Solid and reliable, I now wonder why I didn’t just buy this tripod in the first place.

When purchasing a tripod, it’s also important to buy a quality tripod head. Ball heads are popular and are often the default tripod head that you’ll receive. However, they tend to loosen over time. Luckily, there are many other tripod heads out there that offer more stability and precise control over your camera movement. My personal favorite tripod head is the Manfrotto MH804-3W, which I now use for all of my architecture and real estate photo shoots.

3. Camera batteries

When buying a new camera, it’s always important to budget for a few extra camera batteries. You’ll always want spares just in case, and authentic spare camera batteries are generally not cheap. For example, a spare Sony Z-battery for the A7III costs $78. Similarly, a spare Fujifilm battery is $65. Third-party brands such as Wasabi Power offer cheaper battery knock-offs, but there’s a risk in using these.

Battery knock-offs may or may not offer the same amount of power as the original batteries. I’ve used third-party batteries for certain cameras such as my Canon DSLRs and not seen any difference in their power. However, camera brands are getting smarter and will sometimes detect knock-off batteries. For instance, my Fujifilm X-T3 flashes a warning sign if Wasabi Power battery is inserted, and it definitely does not last as long as an authentic Fuji battery.

It’s also said that using third-party batteries can void your camera’s warranty. I’m not sure how the camera brand would know if you were using a knock-off battery, but it’s still something to look into.

High-megapixel cameras come at a price as they eat up storage on your memory cards and hard drives.

4. Memory cards

All of your photos and videos are recorded onto memory cards, so it is very important to select quality memory cards. SanDisk is one of the biggest and most reputable memory card makers. There are other brands such as Lexar and PNY that also make quality memory cards. But I’d be wary of buying memory cards made by any other brands. With that said, even the most reputable memory card brands tend to fail and malfunction, so also be sure to use multiple memory cards if your recording device offers multiple card slots.

5. Hard Drives

Related to memory cards, hard drives are also important for storing and backing up your photos and videos. If you’ve ever had a hard drive fail, you know the importance of choosing a quality hard drive and making sure you have a backup for your backup.

Similar to memory cards, even the most high-quality hard drives can fail, so the best brand names are up for debate. Western Digital and Seagate are generally good hard drive brands, even though I’ve experienced hard drive failures from them both.

Lately, I’ve had the best luck with Samsung SSD hard drives. I use a 1TB Samsung T5 as my main working hard drive and a 4TB LaCie Rugged Mini as my secondary backup. This combo is great for working on the road, as well as in the office.


There you have it – 5 camera accessories that you’ll want to consider splurging for because in some cases, you still get what you pay for. Are there cheaper, high-quality alternatives for these items? Certainly. But when it comes to these 5 items, take the extra time to read customer reviews and make sure you’re buying the best gear for your camera.

Would you add or remove any items from this list? Let me know in the comments below!

The post 5 Camera Accessories You Shouldn’t Buy Cheap appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

How to Travel Light With Your Photography Gear

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 15:00

The post How to Travel Light With Your Photography Gear appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Karthika Gupta.

For the longest time, one of my dreams has been to live away from home and travel with my family for an extended period of time. I used to dream about all the places I could travel to, and how much fun I would have living a nomadic life. Of course, then I would wake up, and the realities of my responsibilities would take over.

A couple of years ago after a major life setback with the loss of my mom to cancer, I decided that my life was too short not to make my dreams come true.

That year, after several months of discussion and planning, my husband and I decided that our little family would spend our summer in India – traveling and visiting family. Somewhere along the way a trip to Ladakh, London, Zurich, and Rome got added to the roster. Pretty soon I was in charge of planning and packing for a life on the road for two and a half months. We’d be living out of just four suitcases – one for each one of us. As a photographer, I knew that somewhere in those suitcases I had to pack my camera equipment along with my essentials.

Since that year, my family made a conscious decision to take time away from everything over the summer and spend at least 3-4 weeks traveling. Last year we spent two weeks in Utah, and back-country camped for a week in the wilderness of Denver. As the official photographer (both for personal reasons as well as professional ones), I have had to nail down the task of packing my gear and traveling as light as possible to make the most of the trip.

Here are a few things that helped me make the most of my time away from home. It is very likely that I have missed some key photographic opportunities, but overall I am pleased with my gear setup, the opportunities that my family has experienced, and the images that I have created. As a bonus, all the camera equipment I take along make it back without any significant mishaps along the way. If traveling has taught me anything, it is that not every moment needs to documenting and not every piece of gear needs to be used at the same time!

1. Gear choices

Let’s face the reality of life as a photographer – we all love and want all the gear that we think we need wherever we go. As I pack, I realize that as a photographer I always have so many things I want to take. However, often the need for gear is quickly overruled by the need for practical things like clothes, shoes, and books. After a few days on the road, showers are not an overrated thing, they become necessary! I narrow down my list based on where my travels are taking me and what gear I could realistically carry and transport safely without any damage.

This is my typical kit for most travel adventures
  • A wide zoom lens – my go-to is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8
  • A simple point and shoot camera (yes, this is my backup as weight is a concern on most trips)
  • One telephoto lens – I have the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
  • One camera body – Canon 5D Mk III
  • 3 camera batteries
  • 1 battery charger
  • A small travel tripod – this is my latest addition and it fits in my carry-on bag
  • A remote trigger
  • 7-8 camera CF cards ranging from 8GB to 32GB
  • One compact 2TB External Hard drives (backup photo storage)
  • Two generic lens and camera cleaner kits

All of these things comfortably fit into my REI brand hiking backpack. I use this bag for everything and store my gear in individual soft-cover bags inside the pack. This is what I have done since day one and something that has worked well for me.

As a mom of young kids, my backpack not only carries my gear but also snacks, extra t-shirts, books, color pencils and at a minimum, 5 matchbox cars of many colors. Just as the camera is my toy, my kids have their own toys that have to make it on every trip.

My most recent trip to Portugal had very limited gear because we were traveling light. So I had to get creative with my 24-70mm lens around town as I was enamored with all the beautiful tiles all over Lisbon!

The one thing I always wish I’d taken with me is a rain cover for the camera itself. My backpack has a rain cover, which I use when caught in a sudden downpour, but without a separate rain cover over my camera, I am not able to use it in the rain – which can be disappointing. Somehow, I always forget to buy one before my trips.

2. Organize and plan your trip

For me, being prepared and organized includes having a rough idea of where I am going and the kind of environment I am going to expose myself and my gear to. Before I leave for a trip, I jot down all the serial numbers, make and brand for my camera equipment, and store them in a document on my cloud-based Dropbox account. This gets updated and checked multiple times in the year as I sell and buy new gear. Just add this as one of your to-dos before you depart on your trip. All my external hard drives are stored off-site at a friend’s place as well as the remainder of my gear.

Now, obviously, this is a friend I trust. But another option would be to lock it in an off-site storage facility. As part of your research, another good thing to keep in your back pocket is the name, address, and contact information of authorized service dealers for your gear in the country you are visiting. Sometimes things go wrong no matter how prepared you are. Having information about services centers and authorized dealers for your gear is a time saver – especially when you are traveling in areas where internet connections are not very reliable.

During my travels, my gear choices depend on the activities planned and the kind of travel we are going to do. When traveling with my family in Rome and Zurich, we traveled everywhere either on foot or used public transportation. So I just carried my camera body and the 24-70mm lens among other daily necessities in my backpack. The rest of my camera equipment was either packed away in the hotel room safe or locked away in my suitcase.

When we hiked and camped in the Himalayas, my camera, along with both my lenses, were always on my person. The tripod was handed off to the porters that were carrying our camping gear. For my camping trips, I just carried all my CF cards and ditched the charger and external hard drive at the house where we were staying because it was highly unlikely I’d find a charging port on the journey.

Sometimes, if I ask nicely, my husband will carry my gear bag but only because it is not too feminine!! Also, it doesn’t scream camera bag.

This is my camera bag, day pack, and hiking bag. It can hold a lot of stuff and has back support which is really important. Plus it is not too”girly” in case I need some help carrying it!

When we travel on a road trip, my camera and 24-70mm lens sit up front with me and store the rest of the gear in the car trunk. When I fly, I carry all my gear in my backpack – I am too paranoid about checking in any gear.

My next purchase for a long haul trip is going to be a Pelican case, so I don’t have to carry anything on my person. As I age, I find that I cannot carry heavy bags as easily.

All these choices are possible because of the research I do ahead of time.

Additionally, a good mindset to have when you travel to far-off exotic locations is one of acceptance of physical and mental limitations of both your and your camera gear.

I experienced some altitude sickness when I traveled to Leh and Ladakh as we were traveling on roads at almost 17,000 feet above sea level. I also found my gear did not function as efficiently at that altitude. My batteries did not last as long, and the camera also did not shoot as fast. The first few times it happened I freaked out. However, then I just accepted it as something beyond my control and gave myself some extra time to be patient when getting the shot that I wanted.

3. Know your gear

This one is too basic to include here, but it is amazing how many of us don’t follow this simple tip. We are so enamored with the latest and greatest gear available, but yet don’t quite know how to use the stuff that we do own.

The best way to get over this is to limit yourself to a few key pieces of camera equipment for an extended period. One of my photography goals is to capture star trails and the Milky Way. The opportunity presented itself when I traveled to Ladakh. After all, I was going to be in a remote part of the country at an altitude of almost 15,000-17,000 feet above sea level.

Now astrophotography is not my thing. I always limited myself from trying it out because I don’t usually travel with a tripod, nor do I own an intervalometer. So this time I downloaded the camera manual on my phone and studied it before I left. With that information, I was able to comfortably and confidently use the B (a.k.a Bulb mode) on my camera to capture star trails in Ladakh. It was quite a thrilling experience for my maiden attempt.

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing the milky way. That first glimpse takes your breadth away and without the right gear, it is impossible to capture.

This is one of my first milky way shots and now I find myself looking out for stars every night! This would have been impossible without a tripod and proper remote trigger.

Another good thing to practice before you head out is gear maintenance. I routinely clean my lens and camera throughout my trips, so I carry two camera cleaning kits because I know my gear gets a lot of time out in the elements when I travel.

Before every major outing, I spent the time to clean out the dirt and dust from the camera and the lens. I keep the dust pen in my camera bag in case I need it while I am out and about photographing.

4. Be local and think like a local

I have to include this one in any travel photography related article because it does relate indirectly to taking care of yourself and your gear. I often find photographers I meet along my journeys have a fake sense of entitlement. When you are a guest in someone’s house, are you not on your best behavior? Why is it that when you are a guest in another country, common sense and basic manners seem to fly out the window?

Locals are still people who deserve the same amount of respect and courtesy as anyone. Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine what they experience when someone shoves a camera in their face without so much as a hello or a smile.

My 24-70mm lens is my go-to travel lens. It really lets me get into small places and photograph a variety of things. I am not one for a more obscure lens where people don’t know I am photographing them. Instead, I prefer to interact with people and let them know, rather see, that I am taking their picture. This is just the way I work.

While in Ladakh, we visited a lot of beautiful monasteries. Most of them are still in use, and we saw many temples where the monks were in prayer. Even if there is no sign discouraging photography, please use common sense not to invade their private space – especially when they are chanting.

I cannot tell you how many times I have come across tourists that almost jump over each other or hang out of moving cars just to take pictures of monks chanting and praying. Seeing this rude behavior almost made me embarrassed to take my camera out!

Being respectful has everything to do with travel and travel photography.

Additionally, flashing your fancy gear around is almost begging for the wrong kind of attention. One evening in Rome, I was out with my kids taking photos around beautiful horse-drawn carriages. We lost track of time and soon found ourselves in a deserted alley. I quickly put my gear away in my backpack, stuffed it with our jackets, grabbed my kids, and sprinted towards a more crowded piazza.

5. Make friends with local photographers

The internet is an amazing tool for almost anything. It is such a great resource to find and connect with other photographers, especially if you are traveling to areas that are new and foreign to you. When I travel, I always try to connect with some local photographers. We sometimes meet for dinner/drinks, chat on the phone, and just become friends.

They even give me advice on some of the local, non-touristy spots to photograph as well as offered to lend me gear if I need it (Well! Some do…not all want to part with their gear to a total stranger).

A recent trip to the city where I got to try out a 40mm lens and get some cool shots indoors in low light.


I hope these tips are helpful as you plan your next vacation in a far-off destination. Travel in itself is quite the adventure and adding photography to it is just the icing on the cake. However, remember to travel light and enjoy your trip for all that it is – not just a photography expedition.

Also, there is no such thing as perfect photography, but there is something known as a life-changing experience. Travel to experience more of those than just taking pretty pictures.

Do you have any extra tips for traveling light with your photography gear? If so, please share them with us and our readers in the comments below.


The post How to Travel Light With Your Photography Gear appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Karthika Gupta.

How to Create and Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 10:00

The post How to Create and Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

We often perceive color in digital photos to be “correct” when the neutral tones – if they exist – are indeed neutral. But in the real world, light always has some color cast or other that affects the areas it illuminates. A camera sensor ruthlessly reproduces these uninvited hues, but still, we try to edit photos to reflect our own vision. Gradient maps can either correct color or spin it to your advantage.

A blue gradient map removes the reddish color cast of artificial lighting (as per right of picture). Your choice of hue, saturation and brightness gives you fine control over the result.

You can use gradient maps for dramatic black and white conversions or create different monochromatic effects, but this article focuses on color gradient maps to:

  • Use them to subtly improve photos
  • Separate elements within your compositions using color contrast
  • Make subjects stand out

This image was originally black and white. Because the fog in the picture creates smooth transitions in tone, you can clearly see what the “robin egg to orange peel” gradient is doing.

What does a gradient map do?

A gradient map at its simplest is a smooth gradation between one color (or tone) and another. Let’s say you have a gradient map that goes from green to orange. When you apply that to an image, the shadows would have a green tint and highlights an orange one. The mid-tones are typically least affected except with more complex multi-color maps.

Here, a black and white gradient occupies the lower half of the image. Above that is a color gradient map, and above that is the effect it has on the lower half once an “overlay” or “soft light” blending mode is applied (soft light tends to be more subtle). Don’t worry if you can see banding.

You might be wondering at this point: why would I want to twist the color of a photo and effectively give shadows and highlights a color cast? This, after all, is virtually the opposite of a white balance correction. One reason is to enrich the colors that already exist in a photo.

For this picture, I’ve created a custom gradient map that emphasizes the orange brickwork and the deep blue sky. This is one way of warming up the building without forfeiting the color of the sky.

Another good reason to use gradient maps is to harness the power of complementary or analogous colors and create more eye-catching pictures. Sometimes, the feel of a photo is more important than the truth, which only ever exists in degrees to begin with.

An old color wheel illustration. Opposite colors are complementary colors, so they’re a good choice for gradient maps.

If you imbue your shadows and highlights with complementary colors, you will often make the photo a little more eye-catching. It might be subtle, but it still works in your favor. This isn’t a magic bullet that makes all photos great, but it’s fun to experiment with. You’re becoming a colorist.

Creating gradient maps

The simplest way to create a gradient map in Photoshop is to go to your toolbar and set the background and foreground colors to the ones you want at either end of your gradient. Then, when you open the gradient map, the colors are already in place.

If you want to use precise colors in your gradient map – perhaps complementary colors you’ve found on the Internet – you can enter the hex numbers into the color picker pane instead of randomly sampling.

Gradient maps don’t have to include radically opposing colors. This one has a cold effect all the way through.

Method 1

This is one method for creating a gradient map:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Go to the toolbar and set the background color (click on the rear of the two squares to bring up the color picker pane). This will be your highlight color, bearing in mind you can reverse the gradient in Photoshop anyway.
  3. Do the same with the foreground color by clicking on the front square. This will be your shadow color.
  4. With the shadow/highlight gradient colors chosen, open a gradient map adjustment layer. At this point, the photo looks drowned by color, but we’re not done yet.
  5. Choose either soft light or overlay blending modes and adjust the opacity to taste.

Needless to say, not all gradient maps suit all pictures. One way to create useful gradient maps is by looking for color schemes on the Internet. There are also websites that discuss the color palettes used in movies or movie scenes, which you can “borrow” for your own photos.

You can use “Adobe Color Themes” to find the perfect complementary color for one that you’ve chosen. Create a gradient map accordingly. In this case, the yellow-green hue in the little squares is the opposite color to this patch of purple.

Method 2

A more tailored way to create a gradient map is as follows:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Open a gradient map adjustment layer.
  3. Set the blending mode to soft light or overlay.
  4. Click on the gradient to open the gradient editor.
  5. Click on the left color stop (square slider at lower left), then click in the color window that activates.
  6. At this point, you can adjust the shadow color and see its effect in real time on your photo as you move the color picker around.
  7. Do the same with the right-hand highlight color stop.
  8. Now you have a custom-made gradient map for that image.

Note: you have to use the preset manager in Photoshop to save your gradient maps if you want to use them again. Otherwise, they vanish when you close the program.

If you use gradient map layers rather than direct edits, you have a layer mask built in. In this picture, I wanted the deep blue-green of the water that contrasts well with the reflecting lights, but I didn’t want to lose the warm shadows in the buildings. I brushed those back in, so the gradient map only affects the water and sky.

Gradient maps vs color LUTs

An alternative to gradient maps is color LUTs (look-up tables), which you can also find in Photoshop and other programs. Rather than applying color according to the tone of the image as a gradient map does, a LUT shifts hues numerically.

The latter often causes a radical change in mid-tone subjects like skies and trees, whereas simpler gradients tend to leave those areas relatively unscathed. But it depends. LUTs, like gradients, vary a lot in their effect.

This is a comparison between an orange-teal color LUT (left) and an orange-teal gradient map. Both are more atmospheric than the neutral image I started with, though the LUT has completely altered the color of the trees to the right. Mid-tones are less changed in the gradient map, but highlights are decidedly more orange.

The starting point: white balance

Whether you apply a gradient map or a LUT, the end result is affected by the preexisting white balance in the image. As photographers, we don’t always want to drain a photo of warm or cold light with a white balance adjustment. It’s frequently this light that makes the picture – adds to its atmosphere. However, such an adjustment ensures a purer result with gradient maps and LUTs.

Color LUTs and gradients are usually designed from a white-balance-corrected starting point. So, if you want to see them as the author intended, consider correcting white balance at the raw stage. This isn’t anywhere near compulsory: you can simply lay these edits over photos and they’ll act as filters. Just know that their effect can be exaggerated, skewed or diminished if the photo already has a color cast.

If you customize a gradient map to suit the image, the need for a prior white-balance adjustment obviously disappears. But this is time consuming compared to having a set of tried-and-tested presets at your fingertips.

The color in the red lens at the front is brought out by this gradient map and the tone of the wood becomes darker than the original. There’s some cool-warm contrast going on here between wood and glass.

Creating multi-color gradient maps

I find simple two-tone gradient maps more useful and certainly more versatile than complex ones, but you can add further colors to the gradient if you wish. You might add a separate color to mid-tones, for instance.

Use analogous colors (sets of three closely related hues) or triadic colors to inspire you, or customize a gradient to enhance the colors that exist in a photo.

I probably wouldn’t go for this look, but it illustrates the effect of a three-color gradient map (violet, green, orange – a triadic combo). The different tones in this abstract architectural shot bring all three into play, albeit with a very subtle orange in highlights.

Here’s the method for adding a further color to your gradient:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Create a two-color gradient map as above (steps 1-7).
  3. Click under the center of the gradient in the gradient editor to create a third color stop.
  4. Click on the newly created color stop to activate the color window, then click in that window.
  5. Choose a third color that complements the image (e.g. for mid-tones) and adjust its effect by changing the position of the middle slider. The small outer sliders alter the area affected by this color regardless of its position along the tonal range.

The more colors you add, generally the muddier and less “realistic” the photo appears, but that may be an effect you’re going for.

I can’t think of a useful role for this multi-color gradient map. However, it does serve to show you how colors are distributed across different tones. By initially viewing the image in “normal” blending mode, you get a clear idea of how colors will affect the photo before you switch to overlay or soft light.

Using restraint

You can add gradient maps to photos and many people won’t notice you’ve done it. But that’s not to say they don’t have the desired effect.

Just like in the movies, you’re using color to create a mood or make the subject or foreground stand out from the background. You’re not necessarily trying to draw attention to the color itself, even if it pleases your eye.

Many photographers think in terms of light and dark to create impact, or saturation boosts, but color contrast is a rarer consideration.

Although gradient maps (and color LUTs) are powerful tools for making pictures stand out, it’s easy to get carried away with them. After a period of overdosing, you’ll come to recognize the types of images they work best on and which of your gradients to use where. Here are five free gradients you might like to try out. Happy colorizing!

Try out these techniques and share your images with us in the comments below.


The post How to Create and Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Birds

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 15:00

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

This week’s photography challenge topic is BIRDS!

Image by Jaymes Dempsey.

Go out and capture those little feathered friends doing those awesome things they do. They can be close-ups, in flight, perched on a branch, in a cage, or eating insects. They can be color, black and white, moody or bright, motion blurred or creatively edited. You get the picture! Have fun, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Image by Jeremy Flint.

Image by Jaymes Dempsey.

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

Tips for Shooting BIRDS

5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography

5 Ways to Photograph Birds

10 Surefire Tips for Photographing Birds in Flight

5 Unforgiving Post-Processing Mistakes Every Bird Photographer Must Avoid

5 Tips for Better Forest Bird Photography

A Guide to Photographing Birds and Wildlife in a Wetland Area

5 Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

How to Photograph Hummingbirds

Weekly Photography Challenge – BIRDS

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 #DPSbirds 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 – Birds appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography [video]

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 10:00

The post How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video by Shutterstock Tutorials, Robbie Janney shows you how to create dramatic portraits with shadow photography by using everyday objects to create those shadows.


Shadow portraits

If you are after something different to do with your portraits, using shadows can create dramatic effects and make your photos stand out.

Shadow photography is an interesting niche to explore. You can achieve it by doing the following:

What you need:
  • A hard key light
  • A backlight (like a Quasar or similar)
  • Backdrop
  • Some cool household items that light can pass through (colanders, wicker baskets, film strips etc.

When shooting through the objects, the light can become softer instead of the hard light you are trying to achieve. This problem can be attributed to the light source’s aperture. Similar to your camera, when you want an image with nice sharp edges, you close your aperture to one of its smallest settings.

It’s the same with your light source. Just in this instance, you’re limiting the amount of light being put out, not absorbed. This limits the amount of diffraction that your light projects creating a harsher shadow when passing through your opaque object.

Most lights won’t have an aperture setting, so to cut down the beam of light, cut a hole in a piece of black cardboard and put that close to your light source using a stand to narrow the light beam. You can even change the shape of the hole in your cardboard for different effects.

Once you have your studio setup, and light ready, get creative with your shots by changing up the angle of light, subject, or the type of object you are sending the light through.

Experiment to get your best shots.

Have fun and share your shots in the comments below.


You may also find the following helpful:


The post How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

6 Advantages of Using a Tripod in Your Photography

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 15:00

The post 6 Advantages of Using a Tripod in Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jeremy Flint.

Tripods are a wonderful accessory to have and can assist you greatly with your photography. There are a large variety of tripods available on the market at present in different shapes and sizes, ranging from compact to full-size devices. Tripods are available to suit all kinds of budgets and come in a range of materials from aluminium to carbon fibre.

With the high ISO functionality and faster shutter speed capabilities of modern cameras, you may be asking why do I even need a tripod? Depending on your genre of photography, tripods can be a versatile and beneficial support. If you don’t already have one, and are considering adding one to your photography kit bag, here are 6 reasons why a tripod can be beneficial to your photography.

1. Ability to photograph in low light

The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland © Jeremy Flint

Whatever your preferred type of photography, a tripod is an essential tool for photography, particularly in low light. In these situations, there comes a time where you can no longer hold the camera steady in your hand. Using a tripod will greatly assist you.

2. Ability to photograph long exposures

A tripod allows you to capture a longer exposure by using a slower shutter speed of up to several seconds. This helps to minimise the risk of any movement. While capturing a long exposure the use of a tripod will allow much more light to enter the camera than would be possible if you were taking a picture hand held.

Guernsey © Jeremy Flint

This way you are also capable of capturing movement in your images which would not be possible if you are holding the camera in your hands. Examples of which include movement in cloud formations or light trails.

3. Better stability

One of the most beneficial reasons for using a tripod is that it provides stability to the camera. It also avoids camera shake by the operator, especially in those situations where longer exposure times are necessary. If you are shooting anything from a sunset to starry nights, fireworks or the moon, you will need the stability that a tripod provides, particularly to keep the camera in position.

The Lake District © Jeremy Flint

A tripod can also be advantageous in extreme weathers such as heavy winds. By having your camera mounted on a tripod, you can achieve a steadier shot as the tripod provides much needed stability in blustery conditions.

4. Sharper images

Tripods are a great bit of kit to help you get sharper images. One of the biggest mistakes I see newbie photographers make when shooting in low light is that they try to take too many shots hand held and end up with blurry images. A tripod will assist you in achieving more accurate mages.

5. More time to create shots

Corfe Castle, UK © Jeremy Flint

The whole photography process takes a lot longer when you are using a tripod. Instead of taking instant handheld shots, the process of setting up a tripod and placing your camera on it slows you down and effectively allows you more time when taking pictures.

Using a tripod in photography forces you to take your time when setting up a shot and subsequently gives you more time to compose your image. The additional time spent on getting your tripod ready can be an investment as it helps you to focus more on your image-taking. This can, in turn, result in better pictures.

6. Ability to frame and adjust shots with ease

Once the camera is mounted on the tripod, you will find you can make subtle changes to your framing with ease. When doing this, by moving the camera in any direction, up and down or left and right, there will also be limited movement.

Ljubljana, Slovenia © Jeremy Flint

In addition to these camera related benefits, another blessing with having a tripod is that the weight of the camera is literally lifted off your shoulders when placed on one. As well as holding your camera, a tripod can also double up as a stand for lights or reflectors if required.

Whether or not a tripod is right for you depends on what type of photography you do and your photographic needs. If you enjoy taking pictures of landscapes and architecture, a tripod is a must-have accessory. If you find tripods are generally too heavy to carry around or don’t necessarily need them for low light photography, a monopod is a great substitute that is lighter and can also be used as a walking stick.


In summary, tripods are a wonderful addition to our camera equipment and should be used to your advantage in low light and when photographing longer exposures.

They will help you by providing more stability, slowing you down when taking pictures and facilitating minimal movement when framing and capturing your shots.


The post 6 Advantages of Using a Tripod in Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jeremy Flint.

How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Start Charging for Your Photography?

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 10:00

The post How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Start Charging for Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Carl Spring.

An image from my first wedding. One of the scariest days of my life.

How do you know when you’re ready to start charging for your photography?

When someone is willing to pay you for them.

There you go. In twenty-two words, I have answered one of the most-asked questions in photography.

In all seriousness though, that is pretty much it.

You only have to look at the story of many photographers and how they started. They simply took an offer to get paid, fearing they were not ready.

Let’s be honest right out of the gate. You will be nervous as hell – probably convinced you are a fraud – and will be fearful of delivering the images to the client. Awaiting their reaction, you may wonder why anyone would pay you to take photos. This is natural and is more commonly known as “imposter syndrome.”

Imposter syndrome

To put it simply, it is the feeling that your work isn’t very good and doesn’t deserve the attention it gets. Albert Einstein also suffered from this, so if this sounds like you, you are in good company.

The truth is, people who are highly skilled or accomplished tend to think others are just as skilled. Because you see what you do as simple, you don’t see the vast amount of skill involved in the work you do. You take it for granted because it comes so easily to you.

It is also human nature to be more critical of your own work than that of others. Put this into a world of social media where everyone is #livingtheirbestlife, and there is what appears to be a never-ending stream of amazing images you see as better than yours. Now you have the perfect storm.

The fact that Einstein suffered from this shows there seems to be no level of accomplishment that makes you able to see worth in what you do. In some cases, higher accolades and awards make things worse.

You just need to remember you are skilled in what you do and your work is good.

Unfortunately, if you suffer from imposter syndrome, you may never be able to rid yourself of it. However, there are things you can do to make it easier. Tactics include talking with others about your issues and taking note of the positive feedback you get. People don’t have to say nice things about your work; they say them because they mean it!

Most importantly, remember that almost everybody suffers from this in one respect or another. I suffer from this badly. Repeatedly, I think my work is awful and wonder why people want to pay me to take their photographs. I convince myself that unless I have taken the best photograph in the history of photography of whatever I am shooting, then it is a failure.

Luckily, I have a great family who support me through the tough times and remind me that people pay for my work because I am a good photographer.

I had shot lots of bands, but few band portraits at this point. They were nervous as I had photographed artists they loved. I was nervous because they were paying me for portraits. Imposter syndrome at its finest.

Fake it til you make it – except for weddings! 

There is always a huge element of “fake it til you make it.” You sometimes need to have faith in yourself and go for it. Standing at the edge of the diving board is the worst place to be because you have time to think. Sometimes you need to jump off and try your best. At times it will be graceful, sometimes you may bellyflop. However, in reality, all that is hurt is your pride (and your belly obviously).

Let’s say a friend asks you to photograph their kids because they have seen photos on your Facebook and want some of their kids. They are happy to pay you for the photos too.

My advice is to go for it.

Let’s say the worst happens, and the photos turn out to all be awful (this is more than likely not going to happen. Even if you do not get loads of great shots, you should get a few keepers).  All you do is own up and say you are not happy with the photos and they deserve better. The only thing that is an issue is you have to give up more time to retake the photos.

Photographing a family portrait is the perfect example of when fake it until you make it is okay. Shooting a wedding, however, is not!

The fact that weddings are a one-off event and if you are not 100% certain you can deliver, then you shouldn’t do it.

I have seen (as I am sure many of you have) people on Facebook groups asking questions like “I’m photographing my first wedding next week, I have this lens and that lens. Which will be better? Also, do I need a flash?”

This is irresponsible. You need a certain level of skill and knowledge to photograph a wedding, especially if you are getting paid for it. You cannot gain the knowledge to photograph a wedding by asking questions in a Facebook group a few days before the event. You need to have it before you take on a wedding.

There are always news stories about a wedding photographer getting sued for ruining a couple’s wedding day. Please don’t become one of those. If you aren’t sure if you are ready to photograph a wedding, you probably aren’t.

With that said, your knowledge does not have to be in wedding photography. I know lots of photographers who have never photographed a wedding, but I am sure they would do an awesome job. As a starting point, you need to know how to photograph in a variety of lighting situations. You need to know how to solve exposure issues your camera may throw up, and you need some spare gear in case your main camera dies.

You need a headshot to apply to acting school? Of course, I can (I had no idea).

What equipment do I need if I’m NOT shooting a wedding?

For most photography there are three simple questions:

  • Do you have a camera?
  • Do you have a lens?
  • Do you have a memory card?

If you answered yes to the above three questions, then you have the right equipment to be paid for your photography. Will a variety of lenses and gear make things easier? Yes, but a beginner DSLR with a kit lens is more than capable of producing beautiful images people will be happy to pay you for. 

What equipment do I need if I’m shooting a wedding?

As with the knowledge requirements above, the gear requirements for shooting a wedding are different. A wedding requires a different amount of equipment. The most important is to have two camera bodies. If you have one camera body and something goes wrong, you are in a mess. A spare camera body may not be needed, but it is better not to need something and have it there than to need it desperately and it not be there.

In terms of lenses, most wedding photographers tend to go for two f/2.8 zoom lenses or two to three prime lenses. What is best for you depends on how you like to shoot. Fast lenses are always best for weddings as you can use wider apertures to get more light into the camera in low light scenarios such as dark churches.

For those of you looking for specifics, a zoom lens shooter will use a 24-70 f/2.8 and a 70-200 f/2.8. They may also have a prime lens with an even larger aperture for situations where there is really poor light.

A prime lens shooter mostly works with a 35mm and an 85mm. They may also have a 135mm or a 24mm. These are generally f/1.8 or faster.

Now again these are the basics. I have not included flashes, memory cards, hard drive backups, etc.

I will take this opportunity to remind you again; you really do need a high level of skill and equipment to be able to shoot a wedding. It is hard work if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it is like a 12-hour waking nightmare.

Want me to shoot your camping space. Of course, I can. It will be…The first part of the sentence was easy. Asking for the money was always harder. In this case, the client said, “I was expecting to pay more than that.”

What should I charge?

Now for those of you starting to charge, you will always wonder how much should I ask? When you are first starting, you may photograph for an incredibly low rate, and that’s fine.

No matter what some may say, you are not ruining the photography industry by charging $100 including all the images when you are starting out. The truth is, people looking for photography at that price point are not going to be purchasing from photographers who charge thousands of dollars for a photo shoot.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer. My first family shoot I charged £50 including the images. My first full wedding I charged £500. Would I charge that now? Of course not. However, at the time, I got some cash, I built my portfolio, and most importantly it built my confidence.

The follow on question is how do you know when you are ready to charge more? Again this is down to you, your ability to deliver beautiful images and your confidence.

The moment I decided to raise my prices was when I was paid £600 to photograph a wedding where the couple had spent over £10,000. They didn’t book me for my price; they loved my work.

After that wedding, I doubled my wedding prices.

This led to more inquiries. Not only that, but I also received inquiries for the type of weddings I wanted to photograph. Was I convinced that raising my prices that much would mean no-one would book me? Of course, but they did, and I eventually raised them again. You just have to be confident, and remember, your prices are something you can easily change.

A photo from one of my first family photoshoots. I got paid the grand total of £50 including all images. Even then, I convinced myself I might be overcharging.


There you have it. You are now ready to start charging. Or, maybe you’re not.

The fact remains that in most situations when people offer to pay you, you are ready. The only thing that might mean you are not is you and your confidence.

You might be the type of person who will happily throw yourself off the 10m diving board and see what happens. Or, you might be the type of person who starts on the side of the pool and works your way up until you are at the 10m mark, confident you won’t bellyflop.

However, at some point, you need to leap. It will be scary, but I promise you, it won’t be as scary as it is in your head.


The post How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Start Charging for Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Carl Spring.

DIY Food Photography Props on a Budget

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 15:00

The post DIY Food Photography Props on a Budget appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

With the rise of Instagram, every meal has become a potential subject for a photographer. We’re sharing our food through photographs like never before, and higher quality imagery gets more likes in the world of #instafood.

But how do you create that styled look to your food photographs when you’re on a budget? Not everyone has the cash to drop on a whole styling kit of tableware, linens, and backgrounds. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ as the proverb says, so let me tell you about a few creative ways I’ve made the money go a little further when it comes to food photography.

Take the suggestions in this article as a starting point and be creative with your own ideas. Bring in skills you’ve already got (or would love to learn) in your quest to DIY your food photography on a budget!

Shop your home

It seems so obvious, but you’d be amazed at what you can find at home (or in the homes of your friends and relatives). The best thing about shopping your home is that everything is free! Take a minute now to take a look around your house and see what you already own that might work for food photography.

The kitchen is the first place to start – but don’t just stop at crockery and flatware! Ancient old baking trays make fabulous backgrounds, and interesting glassware can make great detail in an out-of-focus background.

Don’t neglect the bathroom as you make your shopping trip. More than once I have put food on a (clean) soap dish that happened to be beautiful in color or texture. From the living room, vases can hold a freshly cut flower for a food photography scene. Bedrooms are a treasure trove of trinket dishes, baskets, boxes, and fabrics (more than one evening dress has found its way into my shots as a textile element). Finally, check outside – weathered old plant pots or interesting bits of wood can really bring life to your food stories (once they’ve been scrubbed, of course).

On a similar note to shopping your home, don’t forget to visit your local thrift shops regularly! The staff in my local shops know me so well that they put interesting flatware, linens and ceramics aside for me now. Moreover, each item costs very, very little compared to buying them new.

Creating backgrounds and surfaces with interest

When you’re setting your scene for a styled food photograph, the background can really make or break the shot. You can purchase pre-made background boards designed especially for photographers that replicate various textures. They’re very and good, and I use them often, but they’re also quite expensive! While homemade boards don’t replace textures such as wood or marble they can be very effective for the right shot.

Top: pink stripes created with a child’s foam painting roller.
Bottom: blue, black, and grey emulsion paints applied with a kitchen sponge.

Head along to your local DIY store that sells sheet materials. There you can buy sheets of plywood. If you are lucky, the store will also cut these sheets of plywood into manageable chunks either for free or at a minimal cost.

It works out to be extremely cost-effective to create backgrounds using these boards as a base. A sheet of plywood that is 2.4m by 1.2m costs about £25 here in the UK and that makes eight neat 60cm square boards. You can paint both sides too, so it works out to about £1.50 per background (plus whatever paint you use).

Usually, I use cheap emulsion paint samplers to create backgrounds. Don’t be restricted to brushes for applying the paint either – a sponge is my favorite tool followed closely by children’s painting toys! Go bold with your designs; once you’ve made the background out of focus with a shallow aperture, you won’t see small details. Experiment with color – dark backgrounds can be as interesting as light backgrounds.

Build the set

Once you’ve created some backdrops, put one on a table next to a window and prop the other up behind it vertically like a wall. You now have a table set for a fraction of what it would cost you to buy special backdrops marketed to photographers!

Floor tiles used as backgrounds for food photography.

While you’re at the DIY store buying your plywood, check out the flooring section too. Very often DIY shops will sell sample flooring tiles for people to try at home. For just £1.50 I bought all three of the flooring tiles in the pictures above. The boards are often quite small, but if you’re shooting close-ups, they can still work really well (they’re also good for jewelry photographs).

Customised table linens

Beautiful linens can help to make a food shot pop. They feel luxurious because they’re something you usually only use for special occasions. Plus if you keep your eye out, you can often find linens with unusual textures to the fabric or fancy trim around the edge, and these can help elevate your shots to be something quite special.

Two different colours of linen fabric used for food styling. Consider the mood of your final image when selecting colours.

Table linens are, at their most basic, just a square of interesting (or not-so-interesting) fabric. To create the simplest DIY napkin that really packs a punch, head to a fabric store that sells dressmaking fabrics. Have a look through their linen selection. You’re after something heavy with lots of texture, and you’ll want half a meter of the fabric. Use sharp scissors to cut it into a large square (you should get at least two out of half a meter of fabric) and you’ve created your first designer napkin!

You can either turn the raw edges over and sew them with some matching thread or start pulling the threads away to fray them. Both styles give a different look to your shots as you can see in the shots above. Think about color when you are purchasing fabric; it can really make a difference to the mood of your shots. I’d suggest purchasing neutral colors first and then venturing out into colors when you have some good basics.

Many shops sell a ‘fat quarter’ of fabric (it is a meter of fabric cut horizontally and then vertically to make a rectangle). These cuts are the perfect size for a single oversized napkin. Once you’ve built up a stash of beautiful plain napkins, you can try venturing out into something a little more complicated.

Embellish your DIY props

If you browse the designer homeware stores, you’ll find that table linens often have intricate detailing like trim or hand-stitching on the edges. Back to the fabric shop again, and this time shop for some coordinating trim that matches some fabric you’ve got.

You can sew the trim around the edges of your napkins, or you can take some fabric glue to it. Food styling props for photography don’t have to be perfectly functional; they just have to look good on camera! Make sure you arrange your props so that any mistakes are facing away from your camera!

In the photograph above is white linen. The linen was made with very cheap white cotton fabric with fancy pompom trim stitched around the edge. It cost me around £3 in total. Considerably less than buying the fancy version I’d had my eye on in a shop! Photography is all about illusion. If the trim is particularly expensive just buy enough to go around two edges. You can style it when you shoot so that the other side doesn’t show.

The proof is in the pudding

In any good food photograph, success is measured by how much your viewer wants to eat the subject. I followed my own advice: shopping at my house, creating backdrops, buying fabric and trim, and then I photographed the results.

For under £15, I put together two completely different food photography sets that I can reuse time and time again. Moreover, the bonus is that if I don’t like the backgrounds in the future, I can paint over them time and time again!

Now it’s your turn; have a go at building yourself some props and shooting some food photos. I’d love to see what backgrounds and props you create for your food photography shots. Perhaps you can apply a skill you already know and create something really special that you just can’t buy in the shops.

Please share with us in the comments below.


The post DIY Food Photography Props on a Budget appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 10:00

The post How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

I’ve grown to really love making portraits of people. My preferred way of working is on location with my natural light outdoor studio.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

For many years I had a dedicated studio set up in my home. During this time I hosted many travelers who passed through Chiang Mai. I made photographs of them all and we had a lot of fun making them. However, I was never so comfortable using studio strobes inside as I am working with my outdoor studio.

Indoor studio portraits. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Inspired by Vogue photographer, Irving Penn

Early on in my photography experience, I became aware of American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009). He’s celebrated as one of Vogue magazine’s top photographers. Penn produced more covers for them than any other photographer over the 60 years he worked with the magazine.

Fashion photography has never been much of an interest for me. What attracted me to Penn’s mastery was the portraits he made outside his magazine work. Often he would stay on in these exotic locations where his assignments took him, and he’d make portraits of the locals.

He outlines some of these experiences in his book ‘Worlds in a Small Room.’ In the book, he tells how he developed a portable daylight studio he could set up on location. This allowed him control of the background and lighting.

Living in northern Thailand, I have opportunities to visit mountain villages and photograph indigenous hill tribe peoples. So I decided to design and build my own portable daylight portrait studio.

Setting my studio up in villages allows me to make studio portraits of people as they remain in their own environments.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How I designed and built my outdoor studio

This was a completely DIY project, so you could easily copy the idea and make your own.

My studio has metamorphosed over the years. It now comprises of:

  • Three stainless steel tube uprights
  • One black and one white background
  • A shade cloth above the backgrounds
  • Reflectors
  • A bunch of clips, ropes, steel rods, and tent pegs

Everything for my outdoor studio.

Because I often work alone my studio needed to be easily portable, unlike Penn’s which was large, bulky and required several assistants to set it up. I had to sacrifice size to make it practical. You could design a larger, less-portable studio for use in your backyard.

Originally I made upright supports using fiberglass tent poles. These proved too flimsy, so I replaced them with more sturdy stainless steel. I have also enlarged the background area and included a white background. My initial design only had a short black background. Now I also use reflectors to enhance and balance the light.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Control natural light using an outdoor studio

I prefer to set the studio up in the morning or later in the afternoon. If the sun is too high overhead, the light is more difficult to work with.

Choosing a location where the sun will be behind the backdrop is important. This helps to provide a hair light. The piece of thin grey nylon fabric I set up above the backdrops softens this hair light.

If the ground where I’m setting up is bare earth, that is perfect. Light reflects off the light colored soil up into the faces of my subjects. This is good for Asian skin tones, but not so good for Caucasians as it has a slight yellow/orange tone.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

When I have to set up on a lawn, I lay down some white or light tan plastic sheeting to provide some uplighting. Without this, the grass would reflect an unpleasant green cast onto the people’s faces.

In the early days of using my studio, this was all I did to manipulate the light. Now I also use a large foldable reflector to bounce more light onto my subjects. This gives a little more control of the shadows.

The background fabric is a very stretchy polyester. It does not wrinkle and can be pulled tight between the uprights, so it’s flat. Behind the black background, I add a sheet of thick black polythene sheeting. This completely blocks out the sun which would otherwise partially shine through the fabric.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Balancing the light

Your exposure settings are critical. A lot of light shines through the white background, while none shines through the black. Including too much of either background in your exposure calculations will result in an underexposed or overexposed subject.

You need to take your exposure reading from your subject’s face only. Using manual mode, once you have it set correctly, you won’t need to change it unless the light changes. This will happen if the sun goes behind a cloud or you bounce more light onto your subject with the reflector.

You can use the same exposure settings for both backgrounds because the light on your subject’s face does not change.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If you take a light reading from the white background, you will see it is far brighter than your subject. Taking a reading from the black background will show there’s much less light reflecting off it than your subject. These contrasts help you achieve a pure white and pure black background.

The thin fabric above the background reduces the light and prohibits full sunshine from affecting your subject. You need to make sure your subject is not too far from the background; otherwise, the sunlight might hit their head directly.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Make your own outdoor studio

Putting together your own outdoor studio is relatively easy and cheap. You can use it anywhere there’s sufficient space. You don’t need to buy expensive lighting equipment or have a large studio space. The materials are inexpensive, and it’s portable so that you can use it anywhere.

Working outside you are reliant on good weather. It’s best when the sun is shining, but you can still use it under an overcast sky.

Photographing with available light is so much fun, especially when you have a little control over how it affects your subjects.

We’s love to see photos of your outdoor studio in the comments below.


The post How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Gear Review: The Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 15:00

The post Gear Review: The Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Sean McCormack.

The Halo Compact is a new reflector/diffuser design from Lastolite (a Manfrotto company). In January, at The Societies Convention in London, I got a glimpse of the first batch on the Manfrotto stand. It looked great on display, and in the demo, it packed down really small. It was also attached to standard light stand fitting on display. As the owner of a few Lastolite products, I’m quite aware of how innovative they are, and that they do make quality products. Some of these are used day in and day out in the studio (e.g. the Hilite and the Triflector).

The Halo Compact on the Lastolite/Manfrotto stand at The Societies Convention.

Now I own a lot of reflectors. From large 5-in-1 disc reflectors to the already mentioned triflectors, to 6’X3’ frame reflectors; I even have a California Sunbounce. I’m not exactly in need of a new one, least of all something that’s well on the way to being €100 with shipping.

However, I was still interested in one major selling point – how compact it is when it is packed down. Seeing as I’d flown to the convention, I knew it would be a perfect travel reflector. I went to buy one. No luck. The small amount of stock that was in the shop at the convention was gone, so I left empty handed.

My next look at the Halo Compact in person was at The Photography Show in March. I happened to chat with one of the folks at the stand, and it turned out to be Matt Bailey. Matt had taken over from Gary Astil as a product designer, so we got chatting about the Halo, and how it solved quite a few problems.

Needless to say, I bought the diffuser version with the frame and a silver/white reflector cloth as well, to give me the best variety for shooting situations. I could have gotten the reflector with frame and the diffuser cloth if I preferred.

The Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector setup

The blue containing pouch

The Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector comes in a small, dark blue, zipped pouch. It has a carabiner to attach to a clips, belts or even belt loops. The material and finish are far better than the old royal blue material Lastolite formerly used, which tended to fray behind the zip, rendering the zip useless.

When you open the zip, it reveals what looks like a tent pole rods (but pre curled), and a fabric. You’ll also a find ¼” 20 screw back to back in the pouch so it can screw to a magic arm.

The rods are similar to tent pole, but curved.

You’ll find assembly is straightforward. Attach all the rods together. Finish the frame by pushing the two sides of the handle together in a kind of dove tail joint fashion.

The handle pushes together to make the frame rigid. It also houses a tripod fitting.

A quick glance at the handle and you’ll see the inbuilt ¼” 20 hole for a light stand in the handle. This is one of the great features of the Halo.

That’s it. It’s sturdy and firm.

To get either fabric on, you click a clip in place on either side of the handle and then clip them all on at even spacing around the frame.

The grip on the handle is great and I found it reasonably easy to hold outdoors, despite holding it in my left hand on my right side in the wind.

I’m not saying it’s not a kite, but it was far better than the floppy eBay reflector I’d used earlier that day.

Why do you need this?

So why would you bother with having this at all?

The answer is simple.

You want to have control of the light.

Here’s what undiffused evening sun looks like.

While it’s not as harsh as midday sun, it still has hard shadows and causing squinting.

By using the diffuser, the light is spread, making is softer.

Obviously it’s also lower in intensity, so you have to open your shutter to compensate.

Another typical way of shooting with evening sun is to use backlighting.

Here you can lose the direction of the light, but adding a silver reflector can bring back contrast and shape.


You could also opt for a more subtle white reflector.

Pros and Cons


  • Sturdy
  • Good modifier options with reflection and diffusion
  • Compact, perfect for travel
  • Reliable brand with known quality
  • Built in stand adaptor


  • Longer setup time than a popup
  • More expensive, but still not the most expensive

While a little on the expensive side compared to the eBay popups, the Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector is still an affordable product. Despite the longer setup time, I feel the compact pack means this product will live in or on my camera (via the carabiner) permanently, vs the pops that are left behind when I’m travelling more compactly.

I’ve included the downside of the price and longer setup time in my rating, but in truth, I’m delighted with this product.

Now to sell some of my other reflectors!

Have you used the Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector? What are your thoughts? Share with us and our readers in the comments below.


The post Gear Review: The Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Sean McCormack.

Four of the Latest Updates to Lightroom Classic CC

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:00

The post Four of the Latest Updates to Lightroom Classic CC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

When it comes to the world of photography it seems as if change is an everyday occurrence. New cameras, new lenses and new ways to make your photographs better, give the feeling that we are never quite standing still. One of the biggest testaments to this fluidity comes from the recent changes made to Adobe Lightroom Classic CC. It seems as if Adobe has been extremely busy over the past year by introducing new features and settings to Lightroom.

It’s impossible to list all of the changes here, so I’ve picked four of the biggest and freshest new features to be introduced into Lightroom Classic CC. These range from somewhat complex to some very simple tweaks that might leave you thinking “hey, why didn’t I think of that?!”

Here’s a short list of the new features which are currently available in Lightroom Classic CC v8.2 which was the most current build at the time this article was written.

Customize Develop Panels

To kick things off, we’ll take a look at a very simple yet interesting new feature introduced to Lightroom in December of 2018. Until now the only choice of customization for our Develop panels was to switch to “Solo” (highly recommended) mode. With the release of Lightroom Classic CC v8.1, we can now choose the order we want the Develop panels to appear and even decide which panels we want to have listed at all.

I know, right? Looks a little odd to see all the panels in a different order and a few missing! To customize your Develop panels all you need to do is right-click on the title bar of any panel.

This opens up the customizer dialog box.

From here it’s just a matter of checking or unchecking the panels and/or dragging and dropping them into the order you like.

Show/Hide Develop Presets

Moving over from the far right to the far left side of Lightroom Classic CC, we’ll find another new feature added to the v7.4 (seems so long ago) update which dropped in June of 2018. Beginning with this build, we can now control which Develop Preset groups appear in our Preset panel. This feature is called “Manage Presets,” and it is accessed by right clicking on any Develop Preset group or by clicking the dropdown icon at the top right of the panel.

We are then met with this preset management window.

This is where you can check or uncheck the preset groups you want to appear in the Develop presets panel. Remember, you can always select “Reset Hidden Presets” should you ever decide you want to restore everything to the default configuration.

Preset Compatibility

While we’re on the topic of Develop presets, it’s worth mentioning another brand new aspect to grace the halls of Lightroom Classic CC in 2018. Starting with the v8.1 update, we have the option to determine which presets appear in our Develop Preset folders even more judiciously than before with the ability to hide or show partially compatible presets.

Now, you might be wondering what a partially compatible preset is? Simply put, any Develop Preset that contains a setting not compatible with your current version of Lightroom will now be italicized or hidden depending on your preferences.

Here, let me show you.

First, let’s say this preset was made with a creative profile which you don’t have installed. You’ll notice that its name appears in italics. This means that the preset is still usable, however, it only offers limited functionality.

Alternatively, we can choose to not have that preset appear at all. To do this, we first select ‘Edit’ and then ‘Preferences’

Next, click on the ‘Presets’ tab and then set the preset visibility checkbox to your desired preference. If left unchecked ANY of your presets that feature settings not fully compatible with your version of Lightroom will no longer appear in your presets folder.

This of course can be undone at any time by simply checking the presets visibility box once again.

Single-step HDR Panorama Photo Merge

Don’t worry, just because the title is lengthy doesn’t mean this next feature is overly complicated. For years we’ve been able to tell Lightroom to stitch together our panoramic and HDR images for us. Now, the folks at Adobe have given us an incredibly easy way to combine the best of both worlds with the release of Lightroom Classic CC v8.0 back in October of 2018. We can now merger multiple bracketed photos into a high dynamic range (HDR) panorama in, you guessed it, just a single step. Well, maybe a little more than that – but it is still incredibly easy.

The majority of the work involved in making use of this new feature happens before you ever import your images into Lightroom.

Namely, your photos need to be correctly bracketed and meet a few other criteria. It will be helpful to read the full release notes from Adobe to learn more about how to make sure your images are compatible with Single-step HDR Pano Merge.

In any case, once you have selected the bracketed images for your HDR pano, the actual process is remarkably straightforward. So go ahead and select them first.

Then right-click on any image and select ‘Photo Merge,’ and then ‘HDR Panorama’.

From here, Lightroom will create a smart preview of your HDR Panorama.

You then have options to control the way the final photograph gets cropped as well as how the images combine. This new “single-step” approach to creating high dynamic range panoramas is light years ahead of previous methods. Instead of first needing to merge individually bracketed image sets into separate HDR photos, only then to require further stitching into the final panorama, we can now eliminate virtually half of the effort involved. If you’re an avid landscape photographer, you will absolutely fall in love with single-step HDR Panorama Photomerge.

And that’s not all…

Of course, this is just a taste of the new flavors Adobe has added to Lightroom in the last year or so. It’s nearly impossible to include all of the new features constantly added – and that’s a good thing. There are many more fresh features to be found in Lightroom Classic CC.

Do you have any favorites? Feel free to let us know in the comments!


The post Four of the Latest Updates to Lightroom Classic CC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Easy Beginners Tips for Long Exposure Photography

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 15:00

The post Easy Beginners Tips for Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

Learning about Neutral Density Filters and how you can use them to slow down the shutter speed was a big turning point in my landscape photography. I instantly fell in love with the soft and dream-like feeling I was able to achieve – it was like giving life to my not-so-interesting images.

I’ve learned a lot since that day, and while I don’t only do Long Exposure Photography anymore, it’s still an important part of my work and it’s something my students often like learning about. After all, it has the power to instantly transform an otherwise standard image into something more fascinating.

As with anything else, it takes a lot of practice to master a subject but I want to help you on the way by sharing some crucial tips that will make life just a little easier.

1. Prefocus when using Neutral Density Filters

There weren’t a whole lot of articles and tutorials to study when I started exploring with Neutral Density filters. This meant that it took a bit of struggle to find a solution to some of the mistakes I made. One of the things I simply couldn’t figure out was why all my images with a 10-stop filter were blurry…

After some back and forth I understood that it was because I used autofocus.

Remember that a 10-Stop ND Filter is essentially a piece of black glass. Try looking through it with your eyes when the sun is low on the sky and I’ll bet you can barely see anything. This is the case for the camera as well. Most cameras aren’t able to properly set the focus when dark ND Filters are used – just as they aren’t able to automatically focus at night.

The solution is to switch over to manual focus. I know this sounds tedious to some of you but here’s an easy workaround if you prefer autofocus:

  1. Mount the camera on a tripod and find your desired composition
  2. Focus roughly one third into the image (depends on the scene and desired look)
  3. Change to Manual Focus (read your owners manual to figure out how it’s done with your camera/lens)
  4. Place the Neutral Density filter in front of the lens
  5. Calculate the shutter speed and take the picture!

Since you switched to manual focus, the camera isn’t going to try to focus after you attach the ND filter; instead, it’s keeping the focus you set.

Note: Remember to repeat the process when you’re changing compositions and to switch back to autofocus when you’re done using the filters.

2. Avoid light leaks by covering the viewfinder

The biggest frustration I’ve ever had when working with long exposures was the mysterious purple glow that appeared in the center of my images.

It turned out that this is caused by light leaking through the viewfinder and the solution is quite simple: cover it up!

Some professional DSLR cameras have a built-in ‘curtain’ that you can close by flipping a small switch next to the viewfinder. If your camera doesn’t have this, I recommend using a piece of cardboard to place in front of the viewfinder.

It’s also possible to purchase covers custom made for your camera.

Now it should be said that these light leaks don’t always occur. It’s most common when:

  • You’ve got a light source directly behind you (such as the sun or a streetlamp)
  • You’re using a shutter speed of 1 minute or longer

I’d still make it a habit to cover the viewfinder whenever you’re using a shutter speed of 20 seconds or more.

3. Remote Shutter + Bulb Mode = Sharp Images

One of the biggest challenges you’re going to experience when experimenting with Neutral Density filters and slow shutter speeds are getting razor sharp images. There are many factors that can result in the images being unsharp; one of the most common is camera shake.

The maximum shutter speed of most DSLR cameras is 30 seconds. In order to use a shutter speed longer than this, you need to use a function called ‘Bulb’. In Bulb mode, the image is being captured for as long as the shutter button is pressed.

You can imagine (and try if you don’t believe me!) that manually pressing the shutter button for one or two minutes is going to cause a significant amount of vibration to the camera. What does that lead to? Blurry images.

A remote shutter is absolutely essential in this case. You can find a cheap version but I recommend a remote shutter that has:

  • the possibility to ‘lockup’ the button
  • an LCD display that shows time

Long Exposure Photography is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to improve your understanding of how the camera fundamentals (ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed) work together. Since we’re working with shutter speeds of up to several minutes there are many factors that might result in failure but the results can be mesmerizing.

The tips I’ve shared in this article gives the solution to some of the most common obstacles and I hope they will remove some frustration for you. If you’d like to learn everything you need to know in order to capture beautiful images using slow shutter speed, be sure to take a look at my eBook ‘The Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography‘.


The post Easy Beginners Tips for Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 10:00

The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How would you like to learn a little “photo magic?” A magician not wanting to reveal his secrets might tell you his trick was all done with “smoke and mirrors.” The expression speaks of a kind of deception used to fool the viewer. No fooling here though, as you’ll learn the technique. You really will photograph smoke and later, mirror your image to add even more interest. So it really is smoke and mirrors. Shall we begin?

Can you see the Firebird? How was this done? Read on for the tricks to this abstract magic.

Tools for the trick

Here’s what you will need to create your photo:


Most cameras will work for this kind of photography. Being able to use manual control and manual focus will make things easier. You will also need to be able to fire a flash mounted off-camera using either a wired or wireless method. A lens which will allow you to focus on an object a few feet away will be best. The shots shown here were done with the Canon “nifty fifty”, a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens mounted on a Canon 50D camera. For a relatively inexpensive lens, it is very sharp.

A package of 40 incense sticks from the dollar store is probably enough for a lifetime of smoke photography.


You will want an external flash you can mount off-camera. The pop-up flash on the camera won’t work for this. You will be mounting the flash off to the side of your shot so it illuminates the column of smoke pointing perpendicular to the direction you’re pointing the camera. Having a light stand on which you can mount it will be helpful. You also don’t want any of the light to hit the background or flare into the camera, so a snoot which will direct the beam of the flash at the smoke column works well. You may also be able to fashion a “barn-door” arrangement with cardboard (or even tape). Whatever works to keep the light only on what you want – the smoke column.


The flash will provide plenty of light and also freeze the action, so you really aren’t concerned about motion blur. The advantage of a tripod is simply to help you compose and frame the shot and provide some consistency.  If you don’t have a tripod or simply prefer to handhold your camera, that’s okay too.

To better see the smoke and also give you more flexibility later in editing, a black or very dark background will work best. Black posterboard, black cloth, the black side of a reflector, or whatever you have should work. Because the column of smoke you’ll be photographing will be relatively small, you won’t need anything very large.

Smoke-producing object

Incense, the kind that comes in stick form, works very well for this kind of smoke photography.  It’s cheap, burns for a long time, and produces just the kind of smoke needed.


Unless you have an absolutely calm day with no wind, shooting outdoors probably isn’t going to work. Even the slightest air currents will affect your smoke pattern. Shooting indoors, particularly in a modern home, might be a good way to test your smoke detectors but having the alarm go off just as you’re getting started with your work is rather disruptive.  I found shooting in the garage to be a good option. It was dark, the air was still, and after the session, it was easy to open the door and clear the smoke. Just be aware of the requirements needed; still air, no smoke detectors, (or at least temporarily disarmed ones), the ability to make the room dark, and a door or window you can open afterward to clear the smoke afterward, and you’ll be set.

Setting up

The diagram above shows a basic setup. Put your camera on a tripod a couple of feet from where you will place the incense stick.  Taping the stick to light stand may allow you more flexibility in positioning it in the frame, but whatever you use, you will want to frame the shot so you put just the tip of the stick at the bottom of the frame, leaving a couple of feet above for the column of smoke. Whether you use a portrait or landscape orientation with your camera is up to you, just remember the smoke will drift around. Being a little loose with the framing isn’t a bad idea, you can always crop later.

The background should be a couple of feet behind the incense stick. If you light properly, it won’t show anyway so this isn’t crucial.

Position the flash on a light stand so it’s to the side of the camera and points perpendicularly to the camera angle. You will be side-lighting the smoke. Some photographers also put a reflector on the opposite side to bounce a little light on the other side of the smoke. You can experiment and see if you like that.  The shots here use only the one flash. As mentioned above, what is crucial is that no light fall on the background nor flare into the camera lens. A snoot is the easiest means of achieving this.

The smoke patterns are constantly changing and no two will be alike.

Camera and flash settings

In the darkened room where you’re working, use a flashlight or other dim lighting so you can still see the incense stick and do your framing. Focus on the tip of the stick, then turn off the autofocus so the focus stays locked.  Leaving on autofocus will almost guarantee frustration, as while shooting, the camera lens may hunt, trying to find and focus on the drifting smoke.

Shoot in Raw mode, (which you usually do, yes?) Doing so will allow greater editing flexibility later.

Set your camera around ISO 200, f/8 and about 1/60th of a second for starters.

Leave the flash off.

Make a shot before lighting the incense in the darkened room.

You should get a totally black frame and that’s what you want with no flash.

Now put the flash in manual mode and set it to about half power. You should have already connected it to the camera with a cord or perhaps set up a radio trigger so it will fire when the shutter is tripped.

Make a shot with the flash on and you should be able to just see the tip incense stick.  If so, you’re now ready to get smokin’.

This image is straight out of the camera. Note the tip of the incense stick at the bottom right.

Making your photos

Light the incense stick, blow out the flame and a thin column of smoke will rise from the tip.

Make a shot and check it. Is it focused?

Be sure, as you don’t want to make a whole series only to later find out they aren’t sharp. If you need to adjust your focus or perhaps go to a smaller f/stop for more depth of field, do so now.

Also, check the exposure. If things are too bright, drop the flash power or reduce the ISO. If the smoke is too dim, do the opposite. You want to clearly see the smoke, but nothing else.

If all looks good, keep making shots. Occasionally wave your hand near the smoke column or gently blow on it to vary the smoke pattern. You will want some variety so you can later choose your favorite shots.

This is the same image as the one before it, but horizontally mirrored and colored with a gradient.

Basic editing

What program you want to edit with is up to you. You will want to adjust the blacks so as to leave only the white smoke details. Then adjust the whites, highlights, shadows, exposure, and contrast by eye, tuning the shot to your liking.

If there are elements you wish to eliminate, paint them out with a black adjustment brush or use layers and masks in Photoshop if that is your preferred technique.

The Gordian Knot – This image was mirrored both horizontally and vertically and then colored with a gradient.

Mirrors and colors and abstracts, oh my!

You got the smoke, now what about the mirrors? Yes, the white smoke patterns on a black background are interesting but you can take this much further. I used Corel Paintshop Pro, but Photoshop would work too. Or for that matter, any photo editor that supports layers will work. (Keep in mind Lightroom does not support layers so while you can edit, colorize, and do other things with it, the mirroring part is beyond its capabilities).

Here are the basic steps:

  • Open in your basic edited smoke image. Select the entire image and copy it.
  • Paste the copied image on top of itself as a new layer.
  • Mirror (flip) the upper layer horizontally or vertically. (In Photoshop, Edit, Transform, and Flip Horizontally or Vertically).
  • Change the blending mode on the upper layer to Lighten. You will now see the upper layer mirrored and superimposed over the lower layer and some interesting patterns will be created.

Alien Gas – A straight smoke shot later colored green.

Purple Haze – Now, take the image above, reverse it so it’s a negative, (the black becomes white and the green becomes purple), then mirror it both horizontally and vertically.

You can move the layers so they overlap each other in various ways and change the pattern. You might want to make the canvas larger and put the mirrored image next to itself or even have multiple layers with the image flipped both horizontally and vertically.

You’ve now entered the realm of abstract art and anything goes.

Maybe you’d like to add some color?

Create another layer at the top of the stack and fill it with a gradient.  Now use the Overlay or Soft Light blending mode and watch your smoke take on the colors of the gradient.

If you’d like to hand-paint the smoke,  create a blank layer at the top. Turn the blending mode to Overlay, and using the Brush tool (and a color of your choice) to paint the smoke, watching the white smoke take on that color while the black is left untouched.

Try putting a photo on the upper layer and switching the blending mode on that layer to Overlay.

Like Rorschach inkblots, what you see is very individual. I call this one – The Witch Doctor

Something I find fascinating with these abstract smoke compositions is that they resemble Rorschach InkBlots. Everyone interprets them differently and can see different images in what are, after all, just random patterns of drifting smoke. The titles on these shots are what I interpret.

What do you see?

Smoke in other photos

You may have reasons to want to include smoke in your photos that is not an abstract interpretation. The same basic technique can work with side lighting.

The “Smokin’ Hot Peppers” was lit with two flashes, one on either side of the vase and an incense stick placed in and behind the peppers in the vase.

A flash on either side of the subject was the only difference here, otherwise, this image uses the same technique.


Here’s one last trick that could work for you when you want something that looks like smoke but you’re in a no-smoking workspace.

Get some dental floss, fray it a bit, and tie it to a penlight or small flashlight letting the light shine down the length of the floss and onto your subject.

Now make a long exposure during which you keep the floss constantly moving. Smokeless smoke, just another option to have in your bag of photo tricks.

Looks like smoke, but it isn’t.


You’ll find that photographing smoke is all about the lighting. Side or backlighting will work best and a dark background helps the smoke show up better. Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of experimenting.

Give it a try and make a little photo magic. And share with us in the comments below!



The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Should You Do Photography Work For Free?

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 15:00

The post Should You Do Photography Work For Free? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Carl Spring.

Sharon McCutcheon

There are normally two points of view that come up when you bring up this topic:

  • Version 1: Never, Oh my god, you are ruining the industry, NOOB! Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. You wouldn’t expect a doctor to work for free. You are the reason photographers can’t earn a decent living. 
  • Version 2: Yes. You need to gain experience and you can’t expect people to pay for it. You are not the reason that people can’t make money at photography. If you don’t need the money, then why should you charge people? Do what you want to do and ignore everybody else. 

Well, as with all things, it is a bit more nuanced than the arguments you hear on internet forums. Free is happening at all levels of photography all the time. From those of you just starting out, taking photos of your friends kids, all the way through to superstar photographers doing a favour for a friend at an advertising agency. Sometimes it pays to shoot for free. Sometimes you just want to shoot for free, and no matter what some might say, there is not always an issue with this. 

Chase Jarvis wrote a great blog post about this years ago that always stuck with me. If it doesn’t give you two out of the following three things, then it is probably not worth shooting: 


It is a simple approach that really makes it simple to help you figure out whether you should shoot for free. Now, as much as I wish I were at a Chase Jarvis point in my career, I am not. Therefore I changed it; does it pay me, build me contacts or build my portfolio? It has done me pretty well so far. So with this fresh in your mind, let’s look at how you can use free to your advantage.

Pay to play

I will be honest here; if somebody is willing to pay me my rates to photograph paint drying, I will do it.

As much as social media floods our feeds with photographers “living their best life” (god I hate that phrase) and choosing only jobs that feed their soul, most of them will at one point or another (and many still have to) take whatever job pays them. They just conveniently forget to add it to their Insta story. Sure, you only put work in your portfolio that you want to shoot, but if they pay and you need the money, you take the job.

I have been paid to photograph things that will never make my portfolio, but they meant I get to pay my mortgage. The old saying goes that money can’t buy you happiness, but it can give you freedom. If by doing boring jobs it means you can travel to shoot the project you always wanted to, then you get your creativity out of the job, just in other ways. However, this article is about when you should shoot for free, so let’s move on to the most obvious reason to work for free – to build your portfolio.

Headshots are something I always charge for now. I have a solid portfolio and there is no reason for me to do them for free any more.

Building your portfolio

You need to build a portfolio to get clients to pay you for your work, yet you need clients to get a portfolio. It is the classic chicken and egg scenario. When you are starting out and thinking that you might want to have people pay you for your services, you need to be able to show you can do the work you want to do. The simple solution is to offer photography in return for portfolio material.

This option also means you may be able to get into situations with specific people and locations that you may not have ever been able to get to on your own or paid to shoot with your current portfolio. In the music world, I shot for free a lot. I kept all rights to the images and sent them to a picture agency to make money that way. Whilst the website I shot for did not pay; they got me access.

Shooting for an agency is unlikely to get you stage-side access at a music festival. Shooting for the right publication, for free, can. The ability to get five minutes with a person that would look great in your portfolio is priceless. Unless there is similar work in your portfolio, you will struggle to get paid for this. This is the kind of free work that leads to more paid work and builds you a kick-ass portfolio.

Shooting for an agency would never have got me here. Shooting for free for a “cool” blog though, did.

The thrill

Let’s not forget, that being published is a major buzz, especially when you start out. Unfortunately, many photographers used to being paid for assignments can forget this. You should never underestimate this type of boost to your self-confidence.

My photography started in Skateboarding. It was the reason I picked up a camera. I shot everyone who came into my area and sent photos to magazines all the time. Then, something amazing happened – the magazine published one!

Very little replaces the thrill of being published for the first time. A photo I shot was in the magazine I had loved since childhood. That was the best feeling ever! Who cares if I got paid? I was young, and I had done the one thing I always wanted to do – get featured in a magazine. This one thing was a signal I could actually do something with my camera. I was good enough to get featured alongside photographers I looked up to. I still have that magazine in a box somewhere, and I will never, ever get rid of it.

However, this type of free shoot treads a very fine line. When you shoot for free, you are always the right price. Try not to get into making this a habit, especially for the same publication.

Testing, 1, 2, 3

Even more established photographers sometimes need free shoots. It could be as simple as testing a new camera or trying a new technique. I am planning on hiring a couple of cameras soon and I will time it for when I have a couple of jobs on a weekend. However, I will also offer a free shoot for someone during my time with the camera.

When someone has paid for your services, asking them to bare with you whilst you scratch your head and try to figure out which menu setting you need is not a way to build their confidence or your profile. That means I can only really experiment with the camera later in the shoot when I know I have some great images for the client.

By organizing a free shoot, however, I can spend all of the shoot experimenting with the camera, testing it how I want. The person who receives the free shoot will not mind (or will simply have to grin and bare) the time I spend working out which menu setting I need.

After a quick play, this little guy captured my attention. Next step is to hire one and arrange a free shot so I can put it through its paces.

Time for print/gym membership/whatever

Bartering has been around since the dawn of time. The exchange of modeling in exchange for the final images has been around almost as long. You get great images for your portfolio, and the model also gets the same great images for theirs.

However, there are more creative ways in which you can trade your photography for services. As in the portfolio building, this can again be a way to build a portfolio but also get something for your time, albeit not money.

I really need to get back in shape and haven’t been to a gym in years. I am getting older and feel I need to get a level of fitness back. Now, I could simply go out and pay for a gym membership. Instead, I am going to approach gyms in my local area and attempt to trade a photoshoot in exchange for a yearly gym membership.

Why do this? Well, I’ll save money by not paying for a membership for starters. I have my camera gear, and if I book them in for a time when I have no other work on, all I am losing is the time for the shoot (plus processing). It also helps me build a portfolio in this area of photography, which like my fitness, is lacking.

The gym may be interested as they will get some shiny new photos for their website/social media and it costs them nothing apart from letting someone use the already open gym (plus a 30-minute induction session).

Now, yes, I could get paid more for a promotional shoot. However, how many companies respond to a cold call from someone with no portfolio in this area, asking them if they want to pay hundreds of pounds for a photo shoot? In my experience, very few. Then, if other gyms see my great work and the response it gets, then they will be in touch. This is when I can use that shoot to leverage getting paid.


Depending on what photography you do, there will be people you need to impress. This could be business owners, record companies, or chairpersons. By doing work for these people, it can be a way to get where you want to be faster.

As an example, you could shoot family portraits. One family you shoot are wearing clothes from the local children’s clothing boutique. The shop asks if you would mind them using one of your images on their social media accounts. How should you go forward?

The most important thing is that you must get written permission from the family to use the images in this way. But, assuming you have done this, why would you give them the image for free?

There are two ways of looking at this, and neither is wrong. You could let them know your commercial rates and let them decide whether they want to use it. Alternatively, you could allow them to use it for free, but make sure they tag you in the posts. You could even get them to include your photography flyer in the bags of their customers. This means you get great, targeted advertising for your photography. Also, when the company does want to arrange a photo shoot, you will be the first name that comes to mind.


Photograph things you believe in. If I can help out a charity I believe in, then I will do it for free. This is the karma side of photography. If your talent can help people, then you should do it. As much as it won’t pay the bills, working for a charity will give you a feeling that money can’t replace. 

So that gives you some good reasons to shoot for free. Do you have any more? Or am I completely mad for ever suggesting people should shoot for free? Post a comment and lets see what people think.


The post Should You Do Photography Work For Free? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Carl Spring.

Field Test: Could the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 be the Most Versatile Wildlife Lens?

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 10:00

The post Field Test: Could the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 be the Most Versatile Wildlife Lens? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Shreyas Yadav.

Wildlife photography is exciting as well as challenging. Imagine you are photographing a Tiger at a distance and suddenly the Tiger attacks a deer! Alternatively, imagine you are in an African savanna where you are photographing a grazing herd of Elephants at a distance, and right after that, you see a beautiful Eagle on the nearby tree. To photograph these type of objects, you need to have a wide range of zoom lenses. You may have experienced this while on a Jungle Safari. Changing a lens while in the field can be difficult.

Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 lens mounted on a camera, zoomed to 500mm

It looks like Nikon has considered the needs of Wildlife photographers and produced a versatile, fixed-aperture telephoto lens at a quite reasonable price; the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6.

The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 lens, priced at around US$1400, weighs about 2300g (81.02oz). The best part is the lens has a fixed maximum aperture of f/5.6. In addition to a fixed aperture, there are three extra-low dispersion glass elements (ED), powerful vibration reduction (VR) – making this lens optically superb – and it also comes with a tripod collar. The lens is stable when mounted on a tripod, and it comes with HB-71 lens hood. The lens also works great with both full-frame (FX) and crop-sensor (DX) Nikon cameras. The telephoto zoom range and beautiful optics make this lens perfect for birds, nature and wildlife photography.

This field review of the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 lens, looks at how the lens performs from the perspective of a nature and wildlife photographer. It examines how this lens performs in the wild, as well as looking at the lens controls and ergonomics. This is important, especially if the lens has to be used from dawn to dusk in the wilderness.

This lens is versatile for photographing wildlife, mainly because of it’s:

  • Capability to photograph small and large objects
  • Convenience to capture both nearest and farthest objects, thanks to the zoom range!
  • Excellent compatibility with full-frame (FX) and crop-sensor (D) cameras, which means you can use the same lens on either of your camera bodies
  • Compatibility with the latest Mirrorless cameras (requires an FTZ lens adapter)
  • Travel-friendly size
  • Excellent vibration reduction
  • Convenient grip when you hold the lens collar
Specifications Focal Length

The focal length of the lens is from 200mm to 500mm. Being FX lens, effective focal length on FX bodies is 200mm to 500mm. On DX Nikon bodies, the effective focal length is approximately 300mm to 750mm.

The lens is capable of photographing small objects such as this Ground orchid (at focal length of 310mm)

Image of large-sized Elephant approaching from a distance of around 300ft (110 yards) at a focal length of 200mm.

Image of large Elephant approached closer at a focal length of 500mm.

Small sized Oriental white-eye bird photographed at a close distance of 8ft at a focal length of 500mm.


The maximum aperture is f/5.6, and the minimum aperture is f/32. The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 is an E-type lens (Electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism). It provides better control on the aperture blade as compared to mechanical linkages. This feature is compatible with newer cameras; however, with older DSLR cameras, an aperture is fixed to f/5.6.

Extra-low dispersion glass elements

The lens has 3 ED glass elements. ED glass element helps in reducing chromatic aberrations and offers overall better image quality.

Minimum focusing distance

This is the minimum distance between the lens and an object at which the lens focuses. The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 has a minimum focusing distance of 2.2m (7.2ft). For wildlife and bird photography, this is a perfect minimum distance. With a minimum focusing distance of 7.2ft, the lens acquires perfect focus in most cases.


Thanks to Silent Wave Motors (SWM), the lens focuses quietly and with accuracy. The lens indicates this feature as AF-S. While you autofocus, you can instantly override autofocus by manual focus and vice versa (M/A). The lens can be focussed manually (M) as well.

Teleconverter support

The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 is compatible with TC-14E III (1.4X) series teleconverters when used with DSLR cameras which can autofocus up to f/8. During low-light conditions, autofocus performance of the lens along with TC-14E III is satisfactory and usable. With the TC-17E (1.7X) and TC-20E (2X), aperture goes beyond f/8, hence autofocus is not possible. For this reason, it is not recommended you use the Nikon 200-500 lens with TC-17E and TC-20E teleconverters.

Camera compatibility

Full-frame (FX) cameras, crop-sensor ( DX ) DSLR cameras and Nikon mirrorless cameras (Optional FTZ mount adapter required) are compatible with the lens. This E-type lens (Electronic diaphragm) will work with the following cameras (you can change the lens aperture on these camera bodies): D5,D500, D4,D4S, D3, D3s , Df, D850, D810, D810A, D800, D750, D700, D610, D600, D300, D7500, D7200, D7100, D7000, D5600, D5500, D5300, D5200, D5100, D5000, D3400, D3300, D3200, D3100.

On older versions of cameras, such as Nikon D200, you cannot change the aperture. The aperture will be fixed to f/5.6.

Filters (Optional)

The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 accepts 95mm screw-on filters. When carrying this lens into the wilderness, I recommend you have a filter. It protects the front glass element from dust, mild drizzle and minor scratches. I use the filter while photographing and do not see any significant loss in image quality. However, make sure you use a high-quality lens filter to ensure minimal loss in quality.

Vibration reduction

This lens has excellent vibration reduction performance. I have achieved sharp images at 1/30th during low light conditions. Nikon claims to have the benefit of 4½ stops. I always keep the VR “ON.”

There are two VR Modes – Normal and Sports. Normal mode works fine for me while hand-holding the lens on the ground, and also in the safari vehicle. I tend to keep it set to Normal mode.

Image of Warbler bird with Vibration Reduction OFF. Feathers are not clearly visible Exif: 500mm f/5.6 1/400s ISO 2000, VR OFF

Image as it is from a camera with Vibration Reduction ON. Feathers are sharp. The lens is a handheld. Exif: 500mm f/5.6 1/400th ISO 2000, VR ON


Weighing in at approximately 2300g (81.2 oz), the lens initially feels somewhat heavy. However, as you start hand-holding this lens regularly, you get used to the weight. I am now able to handhold this lens for two to three hours without any issue.

Lens Hood (included)

The HB-71 Lens hood is a plastic hood. It is a decent hood but slightly big to fit in the bag. However, I do use a hood on the lens mainly to protect the front glass element of the lens from minor bumps, tree twigs, and rain.

Lens Size

The lens Diameter is 4.2inches (108 mm), and the length is 10.5 inches (267.5 mm) at 200 mm zoom. The lens fits perfectly in mid-sized camera bags such as Lowepro Flipside 400 with the body attached. You can invert and fit the lens hood as well.

Controls and ergonomics Controls

Lens controls

The Nikon 200-500mm f/4.5 has five controls:

M/A – M

M/A means while autofocusing you can override it with manual focus if required.

M is a full-manual focus.

Full/Infinity – 6m

Full allows the lens to focus on the entire focusing range. I use Full all the time and have never missed the focus.

Infinity – 6m option limits the focusing range of the lens. The lens will focus from 6m to infinity. Any object which is closer than 6m won’t be in focus. I recommend using the Full option.


Vibration reduction(VR) ON-OFF. Set this to ON. I set it to ON even when mounted on a tripod.


Set the VR type to NORMAL. For wildlife and birds, NORMAL mode works great. NORMAL mode works great while I am hand holding the lens and even in the safari jeep.

LOCK 200

The Lock 200 button locks the lens to 200mm. You cannot zoom the lens if it is locked. The lock switch is perfect for when you are traveling, and your lens is packed. It avoids unintended zooming during travel.


The lens is a bit heavy, but as you continue to use it, you will be able to easily handhold it. I found when hand holding the lens, removing the lens collar or rotating it upwards made it easier to hand hold. However, hiking with this lens can be hard due to its weight, especially carrying it up the mountains.

The zoom ring is smooth with an excellent rubber grip. The zooming feels smooth and is precise. However, the manual focus ring feels slightly loose. But, I do find the quality of manual focus to be excellent.

The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 fits in a mid-sized camera bag. However, to accommodate the lens and camera, a larger bag is required. The only awkward part is the lens hood. Either you can invert the lens hood and keep in the bag or use a slightly bigger bag. I use this lens with Lowepro Flipside 300 (only lens), and the Lowepro Flipside 400 when the camera is attached.

Weather sealing

The weather sealing of this lens is quite decent, and I have used this lens in a moderately dusty forest and some drizzle. The lens offered good weather sealing. Make sure you clean the lens after using in dust and drizzle. I clean the front element, outer lens barrel, and mount. I use a Nikon Lenspen Pro kit for cleaning which is easy to use and travel-friendly.

The overall construction of the lens is good. It can handle minor bumps. However, some parts are made up of plastic, making the lens construction not as rock-solid as pro-grade lenses.


Qualities of the lens from the perspective of nature and wildlife photographer Focusing speed

Wildlife actions happen in a few seconds. Focusing speed is most critical for wildlife photography. The speed of focus with Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 is good. When the light conditions are good – such as morning and early evening – this lens focuses fast and accurately. I use back button autofocus. I have used this lens in forest, safari, grasslands, and drizzle. Here is how this lens exactly performs in the field –

The lens focuses superbly in the following light conditions and scenarios:
  • Bright light such as morning and evening light
  • Drizzle and normal dusty environment
  • Birds in flight (moving at a pace of slow to medium and not fast)
  • Animals and birds behind a tree or grass (behind clutter)
  • Animals in action (moving at a pace of slow, medium and fast)
  • Smaller birds and wildlife such as sunbirds, frogs, and grasshoppers (when they are slow moving or stationary)

Hawk cuckoo bird in the rain. Low light image and photographed from a safari vehicle.

Flight of fast-diving paradise flycatcher. Lens focussed on this fast-moving bird in good light conditions.

This bird was behind the grass. There was significant clutter in front of it and the lens focussed accurately on the bird.

Focus performance of the lens is average in following light conditions and scenarios:
  • Early morning or late evening light – this is the time when action happens for leopards, tigers, owls and nocturnal creatures. You may need an external light such as flashlights or headlights (not camera flash)
  • When the weather is rainy or dusty the lens focus performance is satisfactory
  • If the wildlife action is very fast, such as a Kingfisher bird diving for fish or a swallow bird flying over water
  • If wildlife is very small in sizes such as sunbird, crab or bees and moving

Average focus performance when photographing small objects such as a flying kingfisher at a distance.

A Peacock photographed when it was raining. The lens managed to autofocus decently during low light and rainy conditions.

Focus performance of the lens is poor in following light conditions and scenarios:
  • When the light conditions are poor such as night and heavy rain.
  • When birds in flight are at a very long distance against the plain and cluttered background – Lens struggles to focus in this case. This type of focus hunt I have experienced while photographing birds in flight against blue sky at longer distances.

Crested Hawk Eagle chasing Heron. The birds were at a longer distance and photographed during very low light conditions. Lens focus performance is a bit on the poor side.

The River Tern was flying at a long distance against a plain blue background. In this type of scenario, the lens struggles to focus on the main object.

Low light performance

This is a tricky one! As it depends also on how your camera performs in low light and how you photograph. Many of the latest cameras by Nikon are good enough to shoot in low light. Hence there are only two things which have an impact on the final image: lens low light performance and your shooting style.

All-in-all, lens performance is somewhere between good to average in low light. But if you follow the below techniques, you will be stunned with your images. It is so good! I have followed these techniques and achieved awesome images in low light :

  • Use a bean bag or tripod
  • Use aperture f/5.6
  • Since there is no external light source (such as flash) use shutter speeds from 1/30th to 1/60th of a second
  • If the lens is struggling to autofocus quickly, focus manually
  • Shoot in raw so that you can recover and process images effectively
  • Shoot at a reasonably high ISO (depends on your camera) but generally ISO 2000 to 4000 can provide a great balance between image quality and noise.

Here is an image I shot in almost darkness during a late winter evening. I used a bean bag, the aperture was set to f/5.6 and shutter speed 1/30s. The ISO was around 2500.

A Leopard during a late winter evening. Focus performance was decent during low light. Exif: 480mm f/5.6 1/30th ISO 2500

This type of performance I was able to repeat multiple times.

In short, in very low light scenarios the lens performance is average. But if you master it using the above-mentioned techniques, you can achieve stunning images.

A range of focal lengths

The Nikon 200-500mm captured the market aggressively in a short time. Its focal length is one of the prime reasons. This range is optimum for wildlife photography and is also a great focal length range on both full-frame and crop-sensor cameras. 500mm is a great range for birds, while the 200 to 400 focal length is great for large and smaller size wildlife.

If you are using a full-frame camera, you will get a focal length of 200mm to 500mm. If you are DX shooter, the effective focal length you will be getting is around 300mm to 750mm. 750mm is superb for bird photography. 300mm is great for animals and other wildlife. I use Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 on crop-sensor ( DX format ) body. When I am on a safari with the effective focal length of 300mm to 750mm, I can easily photograph eagles, woodpeckers, small forest birds, tigers, elephants, and snakes.

A Rat snake appeared in the bushes which were very close to me. I zoomed out the lens to capture this beautiful snake. Focal length: 200mm.

Flamingos are very sensitive to a boat. Hence, I have to keep a good amount of distance from them. I captured this image from a long distance while I was in a boat. The long zoom range helped to photograph this distant yet beautiful scene. Focal length: 480mm


The one caveat is you can’t capture wildlife when they approach close to your safari gypsy or boat. I needed to switch to the smaller telephoto lens such as Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 in this scenario.

Tigress in the dusty grassland. Lens managed to focus in a dusty environment. This image is captured with Nikon 200-500 f/5.6

As the Tigress approached very close, I switched to the 80-200 f/2.8 lens, as it was a close encounter.

Best aperture, image sharpness, and colors

When the lens is wide open, the aperture is f/5.6 from 200mm to 500mm. At 200mm, the f/5.6 aperture is a bit slow, but at 500mm f/5.6 is excellent. This is where you are going to use it the most.

I use the lens wide open 70% of the time. I use the lens wide open for slow-moving birds and wildlife. If the objects are relatively close, I get sharp images using f/5.6.

In some of the instances, such as birds in flight, fast-moving wildlife, and wildlife at distance, I stop down the lens to f/7.1 or f/8. This is mainly to extend the depth of field.

Shoveler in flight photographed at f/8 – sharp flight.

Shoveler bird captured at f/5.6, sharpness at this aperture is great

If the objects are at a shorter distance and not moving very fast, aperture f/5.6 produces nice colors and sharpness. If the objects are moving fast, use f/8 to achieve sharp images. While you adjust your aperture for image sharpness also ensure you have enough shutter speed to freeze the action.

Here are the techniques to get sharp images with this lens every time. I have used these techniques in the wild and repeatedly produced a sharp image:

  • Set lens aperture to f/5.6 or f/8 depending on the subject
  • Set the shutter speed to at least 2x times the focal length (for example, if you are at 500mm, use a shutter speed at least as a 1/1000s )
  • In case you are not able to use a high shutter speed because of low light, either use Vibration Reduction along with stable support such as a tripod or bean bag (shutter speeds can be as low as 1/30th)
  • Use continuous autofocus with focus areas as a d9 (AF-C + d9) or Single autofocus with focus area as S (center point) ( AF-S )
  • In case required to increase the ISO values. ISO values ranging from ISO 2000 to ISO 4000 (This depends on how well your camera can handle the noise). But for most of the latest Nikon cameras, this is a sweet spot

These are the main aperture values useful in wildlife and nature photography. I have found f/5.6 to f/11 the most versatile. But don’t limit yourself to these numbers. Try different aperture values based on the creative signature you want to make with your image.

Manual focus override

Manual focus override (M/A button) is useful when the lens struggles to autofocus. Usually, this happens if there is clutter in front of the main object. Examples are grass or leaves in front of birds and animals. In this case, use the manual focus ring to focus. The manual focus ring feels a bit loose, but the quality and precision of manual focus are good.

Manual focus override is also useful in low light conditions. In fact, I highly recommend when there is low light or if wildlife is in clutter, use manual focus override. You will end up getting perfectly focussed images every time.

Place Image 26: Image of a jackal. Initially, I tried using autofocus. Since there was much clutter in front of Jackal, I used the manual focus override. The transition was smooth, and the precision of the manual focus worked well.

Vibration reduction

The Vibration Reduction on the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 is great. I achieved great results when handholding this lens at a shutter speed of 1/30th in low light. When you are in a safari or hiking, this type of great VR is good to have so you can make sharp images while hand holding the lens.

Place Image 27: Barking deer photographed at 1/30 s shutter speed from the safari vehicle. (Exif: at 360 mm, f/5.6, 1/30s, ISO 1600 )

Recommendations Pros:
  • Maximum aperture of f/5.6 for entire zoom range
  • Excellent Vibration reduction performance
  • Focal length is perfect for wildlife and nature photography
  • Good focusing speed and image quality
  • Most affordable price for a super telephoto lens
  • Hood size is big to fit in the small bag
  • Some people may find this lens a bit heavy
  • Bigger filter (95mm) – it adds some price. If you don’t want to use a filter, then you can skip it.

The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6E VR is a beautiful all-around lens. It is perfect for animals and birds. If you are looking for the most versatile lens for wildlife and nature, the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 E VR is for you! Especially with the price of $1400, no other lens comes close.

It is compatible with all current Nikon DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Nikon 200-500 f/5.6E VR is your best friend in the wilderness. You will purely enjoy photographing the wildlife with Nikon 200-500 f/5.6E VR. Good luck!

Which telephoto lens do you use? What do you think about Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 lens? Please do let us know in the comments below.


The post Field Test: Could the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 be the Most Versatile Wildlife Lens? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Shreyas Yadav.

How to Capture Candid Photos You’ll Treasure

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 15:00

The post How to Capture Candid Photos You’ll Treasure appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

Most people agree that the moment is the most important part of a photo.

Even when you achieve perfect exposure or exquisite composition, you don’t feel it makes up for missing the moment.

Oddly, if it’s a good moment people will enjoy your photo in spite of the technical mistakes like motion blur or underexposure.

I learned about capturing candid moments by watching my mom take photos. She saw moments before they happened and captured them with her point and shoot film camera. She took this photograph of my grandmothers helping each other take a picture.

You’ve likely noticed how much interaction your friend’s photos get on social media. It can be the worst photo from a technical perspective (dark, blurry, mis-focused) and people will act like it’s the best photo they’ve ever seen. It’s stunning! As a photographer you groan because you see all the mistakes. But chances are they captured a good moment. And that good moment overshadowed everything else.

As photographers (amateurs or professionals) we’re called to a higher standard. We’re not concerned solely with the moment, but with the technical aspects as well.

Given how important the moment is, let’s focus on that. And let’s focus specifically on spontaneous or candid moments.

Often, photojournalism and lifestyle photography rely heavily on candid moments. As do street, travel and wildlife photography.

In order to capture good candid moments you’ll need to learn two important skills:

  1. The ability to see future events before they happen
  2. Know the right “camera settings” to capture those events

It takes some practice, but learning to see the future is not as impossible as you think.

I happened to notice this mama bird feeding her little ones. She kept up her rounds for long periods of time, so I found my camera and waited for her to return. While I was waiting I found good settings for my exposure. Then it was just a matter of watching and waiting for her to return. I got cramps in my legs and missed her more than once. But eventually I captured a number of images that I liked.

How to see the future

Initially, it may feel as if you have no control over moments. Everything is chaotic and you have no idea when a moment is going to happen. But with practice, you’ll feel like you actually have a lot of control over spontaneous moments.

In order to capture good candid moments, you need to be able to see the future. Seeing the future means developing the ability to anticipate what is about to happen before it does.

Some things are easy to anticipate because they are so predictable. The sun rises and sets every day. If you want a nice photo of the sunrise you know exactly when it’s going to happen.

Waves are predictable, they just keep rolling in.

But how about anticipating less predictable moments? You don’t know exactly when a storm is going to arise or exactly what form it will take. If you want to photograph storms you’ll need to watch how they behave across the seasons. Where I live it’s very rare to have a thunderstorm, but you can feel it in the air when one is coming.

Still other things, such as people, seem completely unpredictable. Take toddlers for example. Who knows what they’re going to do at any moment?

But even something as seemingly random and chaotic as the behavior of toddlers is predictable. It just takes a bit longer to notice the pattern.

Patterns are the key to seeing moments before they happen.

Patterns are woven into our culture, our relationships and our personality.

Pay attention to the things you love to photograph, watch for patterns, and take note. Your ability to anticipate moments will increase over time if you observe and practice regularly.

I’ve noticed that every time the house goes quiet my toddler has found something interesting to do. Before I go looking for him, I pick up my camera and try not to interrupt what he is doing.

Learn to anticipate moments by looking for patterns. Once you can do this, you’ll be able to see the future (which has benefits beyond photography). When you sense a moment approaching, the worst thing you can do is interrupt.

What kind of candid moment is it?

Being aware of the type of moment will help you spot them more easily.

Some moments are packed with action, emotion, or a sense of mystery.






Nature has candid moments too

Even nature (flowers, landscapes, water) has candid moments. After all, we don’t normally pose our nature photos. We come upon nature doing something interesting and we make a photograph.

Nature’s moments are constantly changing. Think about a simple landscape. That landscape will look quite different depending on the time of day, from season to season, and in different weather.

I was just killing time waiting for night to set in when I noticed how rapidly the sky was changing.

Combining human moments with nature’s moments

When photographing people, you can combine their moment with a good nature moment to create a more powerful candid moment.

This photo combines kids playing out in the snow while little brother looks on with golden hour. A combination of people and nature moments.

Combine these people moments:

  • Action
  • Emotion
  • Mystery

With nature’s moments:

  • Season
  • Weather
  • Time of day
“Fail-proof” camera settings

What are the best camera settings for capturing good candid moments?

If you don’t understand your camera very well then begin with Auto Mode. Being in Auto Mode means that you don’t need to think about camera settings at all. You can just focus on seeing the future and being ready for moments. The problem is that Auto Mode is going to let you down quite often by giving you photos that are over or underexposed or blurry.

So you should begin to learn about ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Once you understand these three things, you’ll understand many of the technical problems in your photos.

When you’re ready to move away from Auto Mode, I highly recommend using aperture priority along with exposure compensation. Choose the aperture for it’s creative effect (f/1.8 for a shallow depth of field – f/16 for a greater depth of field). Let the camera figure out the rest. Then just focus on capturing the moment. Use exposure compensation when photos keep coming out too dark or too bright.

This candid photo at the dinner table was shot in Aperture Mode. The aperture was set to f/2.8, allowing the background to fall out of focus. An aperture of f/16 would have brought much of the background into focus.


At f/11 more of the foreground and background are in focus.

Move on to manual mode when you’re ready for that challenge. But even when you’re comfortable in manual mode you may find yourself scrambling with settings too much while trying to capture candid moments.

When you get good at anticipating moments, you can take a couple test shots and look at the exposure. You can adjust your settings and still be ready to capture the moment that you know is coming.

Once you’re fully comfortable with how your camera works you can forget about it in the moment.

Work with the light you’ve got

You won’t likely have the option of manipulating the light too much when it comes to candid photography. You can use your pop-up or external flash, but you may find that this will interrupt the moment. I prefer to use whatever ambient light happens to be there and get creative with it.

My first few frames were exposed so that you could see all the detail in this scene. But then I noticed the potential for an interesting silhouette.


It was the light itself that drew me to this moment.

Candid moments are about presence and exploration

Candid moments are about presence. You need to be there and be part of the moment. Yes, you’re standing back just far enough to capture a photo, but you’re just as much a part of the moments you capture as the people and places in your photos.

You’re not expecting to walk into a scene, snap one amazing candid shot and move on. You’ve got to be around long enough to understand what’s going on and begin to see the future.

It’s never the moment you think. You anticipate what’s going to happen and even when you capture a great moment, there are more to come. Some will surprise you completely as you begin to see new patterns you hadn’t noticed before. Patterns run pretty deep and you need to be able to see some simple ones before the deeper ones reveal themselves.

Have you noticed how toddlers imitate everyone? After mama had finished her stretches, this little guy came along and did his.


Candid photography, whether it’s photojournalism, lifestyle, street, wildlife, or travel photography, is about exploring. So don’t just take one photo and walk away. Begin taking photos before the moment actually happens and continue taking photos after it has passed. Be vigilant and ready for all the other moments that are about to unfold.

Ideally, you should walk away from an encounter having learned something. Perhaps you’ve seen a deeper pattern, better predicted a moment, or were rewarded with a great photograph for being there sooner and staying longer.


The post How to Capture Candid Photos You’ll Treasure appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

How to Use the New Enhance Details Feature in Lightroom

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 10:00

The post How to Use the New Enhance Details Feature in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One benefit of subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud is that the software you use is updated regularly throughout the year. Some of these updates might not add much to your workflow, while others result in dramatic improvements to how you edit your images.

In February 2019, Adobe rolled out a powerful new option in Lightroom called Enhance Details. You may not have noticed since there’s nothing new in the interface that even indicates the feature is available.

However, this can dramatically increase the quality of your RAW files, particularly if you shoot with Fuji cameras, and it is certainly worth investigating to see if it could benefit you.

In order to understand what Enhance Details does, it’s important to know how RAW files work. When you shoot in RAW you aren’t storing images on your memory card or computer like when you shoot in JPEG. Instead you are storing a set of instructions for how your editing software should create an image when it’s exported from Lightroom, Capture One, or any other image-editing program.

What’s weird to wrap your head around, though, is the notion that when you browse through your image library in Lightroom you aren’t looking at the RAW files at all. You’re seeing previews that the software has generated which give you a good idea of what the RAW files will look when they are exported.

This is why RAW files look slightly different when you open them in different software. Capture One, Lightroom, Luminar…they all use different methods to interpret the data in a RAW file. This results in previews (what you see when you edit an image or browse your image library) that look different, as well as your final exported final images.

This isn’t a RAW file. It’s a JPG file generated from RAW data, as interpreted by Lightroom.

Understanding RAW Files

So what does all this have to do with Enhance Details? It all goes back to how your RAW files are interpreted in Lightroom. Digital cameras collect Red, Blue, and Green data on their image sensors using an array of pixels that correspond to each color. When Lightroom loads a RAW file, it looks at the color data for each pixel and guesses what the resulting image should look like. This is what you see when you look at your images before exporting them.

This also means that Lightroom has to essentially fill in the details throughout each image since you don’t see individual Red, Blue, and Green pixels when you zoom in on an image. You see pixels of all colors that Lightroom has created based on what it thinks they should look like based on the Red, Blue, and Green color data in the RAW file.

Unfortunately, this means that some elements of the scene that you photographed, particularly the very fine details, get lost in the transition from RAW file to Lightroom.

Different camera sensors contain different types of RGB patterns. When saving RAW images, all of the color information for each pixel is stored without the camera deciding how to interpret the data as an actual image.

Enhance Details is a way for you to recover some of the finer aspects of your images that get lost along the way when interpreting RAW files.

It works by using Adobe’s artificial intelligence technology, called Sensei, to fill in some of the missing gaps when pixels are rendered from RAW data.

The results can be quite impressive, depending on the type of image you are working with. It can also mitigate some of the issues that Fuji users have traditionally had when rendering RAW data from Fuji’s X-Trans sensors. Traditionally, these result in wavy, worm-like artifacts with an overall loss of sharpness.

Bringing out the details

To use Enhance Details, select an image in your Lightroom Library and choose Photo -> Enhance Details.

This brings up a Preview window which lets you see what will happen after the Enhance Details procedure finishes.

It shows a zoomed-in view of the photo you are working with, and you can click and drag around to see what different parts of the image will look like after the operation is complete.

When you click on the image preview it reverts to its un-enhanced state, allowing you to compare the original and Enhanced versions with a single click. There are no parameters to configure, sliders to adjust, or options to customize with the operation which I find refreshing. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it approach, at least in its current state, which makes it a little less of a hassle from an end-user perspective.

When you are satisfied that you want to undergo the Enhance operation, click Enhance and wait for Lightroom to finish the operation.

When it’s done you will still have the original RAW file, but in addition you will now have a new Adobe DNG file that contains the Enhanced image. This file is, as you might expect, the same image as the original but with several additional megabytes of new data where Adobe has attempted to improve things.

Original on the left, Enhanced on the right.

More details, larger files

One important point to note in this process relates to file size and storage space. When I converted several RAW files that were originally about 22 megabytes, the resulting Enhanced DNG files were about five times larger. Since each new file easily takes up well over 100 megabytes you might want to be somewhat selective in choosing the images you want to Enhance. Either that, or start looking into more storage solutions!

So what’s different about the enhanced RAW pictures other than massive file sizes? It varies depending on the scene you photographed, the camera and lens you used, and other parameters. If you shoot Nikon, Canon, or Sony, you might not see that much of an improvement since Adobe already does a pretty good job interpreting those RAW files. However, if you use Fuji you might notice significant improvements. The image below is the original RAW file, shot with an X100F, that I edited in Lightroom.

Original Fuji RAW image. It seems fine, until you zoom in for a closer look.

At first glance, and sized down for on-screen resolution, it looks fine. But upon closer inspection you can see some significant issues particularly among the leaves and ground.

Some of the issues are now apparent, and they can’t be corrected simply by adjusting sliders in Lightroom.

When I first saw this up close, I thought there was something wrong with my computer! Either that or I had a broken camera. The edges of the leaves, particularly where the sun is shining through in the top-right corner, have a wavy, worm-like appearance that’s rather strange and almost a little disconcerting. This is due to how Lightroom renders Fuji RAW files and can be corrected quite easily using Enhance Images.

Original on the left, Enhanced on the right.

Notice the way the edges of the leaves are much smoother in the right-hand image. The gold light coming through the dark leaves is also crisper.

This isn’t just an issue of adjusting the Sharpening slider in Lightroom. Instead, it’s an entirely new RAW file built from the ground-up using Adobe’s artificial intelligence algorithms.

The new image really is enhanced – as the name of the process implies. While it might not be entirely obvious when viewed on a computer screen, there is a clear difference when files are shown at full resolution or as large prints.

Enhanced image. You can’t see a noticeable difference on a small screen, but when viewed full-size the details are much improved.

Your results may vary

While the process works wonders for Fuji RAW files, it’s somewhat hit-or-miss for major names like Nikon and Canon. For instance, below is a RAW file from a Nikon 7100 as rendered by Lightroom.

Original image, shot from the Columbia Center skyscraper in downtown Seattle.

The Seattle skyline looks crisp and clear, with no noticeable issues in the finer details even when zoomed in to 100%. When processed through the Enhance Image feature the improvements are discernible, but you really have to look for them. It’s a marginal improvement, and nowhere approaching the fixes to Fuji RAW files.

Original image on the left. Enhanced on the right. If you look at the roofline of the building in the middle, you can see a more accurate rendering in the Enhanced image…barely. The Enhanced version doesn’t have oddly-colored pixels where Lightroom didn’t quite get the original RAW file rendered properly.


In my opinion, Enhance Images isn’t worth the file size tradeoff on Nikon and Canon cameras. Lightroom already does such a good job of rendering them already. However, I encourage you to try it out and see for yourself. The amount of improvement depends greatly on a variety of factors including your camera, lens, and the subject in the photograph.

You might find that you prefer the Enhanced Images as a general rule, or you might only use this feature now and then. Either way, it’s nice to know it’s there.

Enhanced image, without a lot of truly noticeable improvements even enlarged to full size.

I like to think of Enhance Images as a useful tool to have in your back pocket for those times when you really need it and not something I use on an everyday basis.

The really exciting part is where this technology might end up in the future. Right now the process is done for one photo at a time and takes several seconds even on newer computers. I can easily see a time when it’s applied as easily as a filter or adjustment slider, with dramatic improvements to every image.

Until that happens, it’s fun to see technologies like this take shape and mature. As photographers, we live in an incredible time with technology like this that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

It’s amazing to ponder what the future might hold, and think about the tools we will have at our disposal to let our creative freedom loose.

Have you use this feature? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


The post How to Use the New Enhance Details Feature in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Cats

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 15:00

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

This week’s photography challenge topic is CATS!

Mikhail Vasilyev

Go out and capture your little feline friends doing those awesome things they do – like climbing, sleeping, scratching your stuff and giving cheek. They can be color, black and white, moody or bright. You get the picture! Have fun, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Karina Vorozheeva


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

Tips for Shooting CATS

Tips for Great Lighting for Pet Photography

6 Tips for Working with Unruly Animals in Pet Photography

Five Tips for Creative Pet Photography

8 Tips for Better Pet Photography


Weekly Photography Challenge – CATS

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 #DPScats 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 – Cats appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Your Camera Strap: Are you Using it Wrong?

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 10:00

The post Your Camera Strap: Are you Using it Wrong? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video by Phil Steele, he shows you the right way to use your camera strap, and you may just find a few little surprises!


How to attach the strap to your camera

If you are removing the strap from your camera, take a picture of the attachments, so you know exactly how to put it back together.

Also, in case you didn’t know, that little rubber rectangle piece on your camera strap (if you have one), is actually an eyepiece cover for when you do long exposure photography. It prevents light leaks coming through the eyepiece!

Fixing loose ends

Do the end pieces of the strap flapping around annoy you? If so, there is a way to fix that.

If your strap has little slide plastic collars on it, make sure it is towards the end of the strap, below the buckle. Then start by feeding the strap from the outside in through the attachment on the camera.

Then feed the end back through the plastic collar and pull it all the way through.

Now, feed the loose end through the buckle. However, instead of feeding it through the bottom first, feed it through the top first followed by the bottom. That way the leftover strap is hidden away rather than flapping around loose.

Using your strap for better photos
  1. Use the strap as a stabilizer to reduce camera shake – Place your elbows into your body then move your camera away from your body, pulling the strap tight. This tension helps stabilize your camera and works well when shooting video too.
  2. Step on the strap when shooting from a low angle to steady the camera.
  3. If you don’t have a tripod, place your camera on a surface and use your strap under the lens to angle it upwards. If you want the camera facing downwards, place the strap under the body of the camera.
Strap mistakes to avoid
  1. When placing your camera on a table, place the camera on top of the strap as though it is sitting in a little nest. That way, no one can accidentally pull your camera off the table by knocking the strap. Also, if someone spills water on the table, your camera is slightly elevated so that it won’t get wet.
  2. When using your camera on a tripod, the strap can cause motion blur on your images if there is any wind. Hold the strap while taking photos, or remove it altogether when on a tripod. Another solution is to get a strap that easily clips on and off.
Comfortable straps

Consider buying a more comfortable strap. Some have extra padding and stretch (Neoprene) and can be a little wider. They sit more comfortably around your neck and can ease the pressure when carrying a heavier rig.

Phil’s favorite strap for event photography

Phil uses a Sling Strap (black rapid) for event photography. It easily hangs over your shoulder and allows you to have free hands when you aren’t shooting. The camera easily slides up and down the strap when you need to use it.

One caution when using the sling strap, however, is the way it mounts to your camera. It screws into the tripod hole on the bottom of your camera. That can be a point of failure because if your screw comes loose, your camera can fall to the ground.

There are two things you can do to guard against that. First, when initially attaching it, wet the little rubber washer that goes between the mounting hardware and your camera. That seems to help. Secondly, periodically check the screw tightness, and tighten if need be.

Have you ever had a mishap with your camera strap? Share with us in the comments below.


You may also find the following helpful:

The post Your Camera Strap: Are you Using it Wrong? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.