Archive for December, 2015

Creating a vintage look for an image is now easy, without having to shoot with an old film camera. Although I would recommend any photo enthusiastic to try! I have a an Agfa camera ISOLA that I use every now and then. I love the contrasty, grainy black and white pictures it allows me to shoot. I usually ask advice regarding the film I can use depending on the sought-after result (contrast- grain – ISO).

With a few easy steps in Photoshop you can make a textured, desaturated vintage look for any of your pictures. I’m going to show you how I did it with a self-portrait, but you can really do it with any picture as this technique really creates a great feeling to any image, whether it is a portrait or a landscape.

Vintage images are usually not so sharp, so I chose an image with some motion blur. You can add some directly in camera playing with slow shutter speeds and creating some motion. To edit this image, we are going to change the color using a gradient map adjustment, add some textures, and finally add a vignette to get a vintage look image.

Setting the mood for creation before Setting the mood for creation after

Step one: Modifying the color tones using gradient map

There are many ways to desaturate an image. I love the gradient map adjustment because it allows me to desaturate the image, to add some color tones, and also to adjust its contrast. Hopefully, you will love this tool if you haven’t tried it yet.

Vintage images are usually desaturated – it could also be sepia. To get the desaturation you can go to Layer > New adjustment layer > Gradient Map (as shown below).


Or you can go to your layer tab and select new Gradient Map layer (as below).


In the properties tab (screenshot below) you can see what gradient has been applied. By default it will be a foreground to background color, so usually black and white (the color squares on the bottom of your tools bar). You can also set the gradient color by changing your background and foreground color.


Photoshop then offers you 2 different options:

  • The Reverse option will change the gradient and give you a negative of your image, as in this case I add white into the black and black into the white (below).04
  • The Dither option will mix in noise to help blend the gradient more smoothly. So you can check any of those options depending on the effect you want to achieve.

Edit your gradient by clicking on it (click on the gradient color bar); the gradient editor will then open.


The gradient editor window shows you on the left the color applied to your blacks, and on the right the color applied to your whites. To modify the gradient you have two options:

First option, you choose one of the available presets. You click on a preset to apply it to your image. Second option is to create a custom gradient. Simply double click on one of the color stops, and choose a new color among the color pop-up menu.

You can also create a new color stop/intermediate by clicking below the gradient bar to define another one wherever you want (remember on the left are your shadows/black tone – in the middle mid-tones, and on the right your highlights/white tones). Once the new color stop is set you can also move it so it affects more of your dark or light tones.

In case you want to save the created gradient as a preset, name it, then click New after you have finished. It will then appear in your presets.

This is a powerful tool to adjust any color tone in your images. In this case I will first use the black and white gradient. When using this option the image is then turned into a black and white picture.


As it is not what we intended to do, lower the opacity of the adjustment layer.


I set it to 68% in this case, but you can choose whatever number gives a nice look to your image – play with the opacity to decide which one best suits the image you are editing.

You can add also a touch of color. Keep it very soft to achieve a vintage look. To bring back some color, you can add a second Gradient Adjustment layer. After you add another layer, click on your gradient and choose a yellowish/brownish option to get a sepia tone, one in the presets or make a custom one.


Once again you can lower the opacity of the adjustment layer to have a softer effect.


You can also add a different color according to the mood you want to set in your image. In this case I decided not to add further color tones so I added only the black and white gradient.

Step two: Adding texture to give the image a vintage feel

Now that you have achieved the color you want, it is time to add some texture to your image.

Personally I always shoot my own textures, but you can also find great textures on the internet on stock image sites. Or shoot your own pictures: walls, old paintings, grounds, wood, leaves, etc., any textured surface you can find. It is very easy, and can help you find some inspiration.


You drag and drop using your move tool or copy and paste a textured photo on top of your main picture. Then mix it by using the layer Blending Mode, try Overlay or Soft Light. I really recommend you to go through all the blending options to see how they blend the texture with your image (each image is different, and each mode can create a different look).


I always add textures to my personal works to give a painterly effect to my images. To have a lighter effect you can lower the opacity of your layer. To have a stronger effect you can repeat this step and add several textured layers.

You can modify the effect by adjusting your texture image. Select the texture in your layer’s tab and go to: Image > Adjustment > Curves/Levels.


Playing with Curves or Levels will help you to bring back, or soften, some details in the texture. You also can add a Gaussian Blur filter if there are details that are too sharp in your texture image.


Select the area where you want to show or not show the texture. You can add a layer mask on the texture layer and by painting with black or white on the layer mask, you add (show) or remove (hide) areas where the texture appears.

Select your texture layer and click on add a layer mask. Lower the opacity of your brush tool, and keep its hardness to 0% to get very smooth edges. Now you can start painting in black over the areas where you want less or no texture.


Everything is in the details, and Photoshop allows you a full control over your images. Usually to still have a “clean” image, and not to lose some details, you can mask areas such as skin, eyes, lips, etc., when editing a portrait.

So take your time to play with your textures. Try different types of shapes and contrasts. You can desaturate your textured image, or keep it in color. I find it easier when the texture is desaturated so you can fully control the color tones of your image separately, but it is up to you, and to the image you have in mind. As with any creative exercise, it is a matter of taste and style.

Step three: Finishing your image by adding a vignette

Vignetting can be an unintended, and undesired effect, caused by camera settings or lens limitations. However, you can also introduce it for creative effect, such as to draw attention to the center of the frame. You can choose a lens which is known to produce a vignette, or a filter to obtain the same effect.

Obviously, as we are going to do now, you can also add a vignette by post-processing your image in Photoshop. You have many options in Photoshop to vignette your images. In this case we are doing something very uneven so the vignette also helps to create a strange atmosphere.

Grab your lasso tool and draw very random lines around the edges of your image. It looks weird, but it is quite effective.


Go to Layer > New adjustment layer > curves. Darken your mid-tones by pulling down your curves to about one third (or to any darker/lighter spot according to your taste).


Whenever you select an area of your image, and have this selection active when you create a new adjustment layer, Photoshop automatically creates a layer mask on the new layer from your active selection.

Remember – on your layer mask white is where the effect will be applied, and black where the effect will not be applied. Here you want to apply the effect on the edges of the image, not in the center- if need be invert your layer mask by selecting the layer mask and pressing: CMD/CTRL+I.

Then double click on your Curves layer mask and feather your selection (around 87 pixels here).


You can once again play with the opacity of your layer to lighten the vignette.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to share in the comments your usual steps to crete a vintage look to your images. Share your images as well using this technique if you give it a go.

The post How to Create a Vintage Look for Your Image Using Photoshop by Amélie Berton appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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There is a spot about 25 minutes west of the city. It is a spot right along the highway with a big sign that says, “Scenic Viewpoint”. Naturally it draws a lot of photographers. A quick look on Google will show a lot of sunsets shots, most with the guard rail along the bottom.


Having 45 minutes before sunset, with a 20 minute drive, plus 10 minute walk, leaves no time to find and compose a shot. Being able to walk into the spot, set up and shoot makes some shots possible.

I know, I am one of them, making the scramble to get set up. Of course, it’s natural not to know the cool little spots when you are just passing through the area. However, after living in a place for some time, you start to learn of some go-to spots. You know, those places you can confidently walk into as the light is building, set up, and be there when the shot happens? If you don’t have a list of go-to spots you may want to consider making one, it can help you improve your photography.

Over the past couple of years that I’ve been shooting, I have developed a lengthy list of very specific spots (down to where the tripod stands) that all have their ideal season, weather, and time of day combination.


After an hour of walking this area, I found the spot that aligns the features of this shot. This way if it looks like a certain shot might have good light, I can save myself a ton of hassle and just get to where I need to be quickly.

This is particularly important when shooting at night, the Milky Way, northern lights, etc. Night photography requires a lot of planning. To make an interesting shot, having good foreground and mid-ground objects is key, and just cannot be done blindly in the dark. Thus a lot of mediocre shots are required while scouting a new area. Learning the angles to line up items in your shot with features in the sky.

River aurora

This photo was taken on the third trip in to this spot. I knew everything would work, so when the auroras started up I was ready.

The whole process takes some time, but as you revisit locations you will become so confident about it being right, that you can walk up to that certain rock and set up. There’s no second guessing, and wasting time repositioning for a better composition.

Building your list of go-to spots

Most places I shoot, I return to many times. The first trip in is often just to gather info, and shoot some images to use for planning purposes. Here are a few tools that I use:

1. Facebook:

Yes Facebook can be useful, I am part of several Facebook photography groups and specifically one for my local area. Going out to photograph with other people, is a great way to learn an area. Just be careful not to poach another photographers exact go-to spot. I also find groups for other places that I plan to visit.


Being invited along to an area with another photographers is a privilege. Be sure not to steal their go-to spot.

2. Google Maps and Images:

I use Google all the time to find new areas, specifically Maps, for looking into an area to see the lay of the land. The terrain is critical as to how the natural light will play into the shot. If a waterfall only shoots facing north, but you want the sunset behind it, then that will quickly rule out this spot for that shoot. However, it might make a fantastic spot to photograph the auroras.

3. The Photographer’s Ephemeris:

I use the Photographer’s Ephemeris to place celestial events. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the Ephemeris, but it will allow planning of moonrise, sunset, sunrise, etc., type of shots. It shows the azimuth, and time when certain events occur for any day of the year. Very handy if you plan to photograph the moonrise in a notch along a ridge, or something.


If you are interested in getting a shot of the sun rising at the end of the lake you will have to wait.

4. Boots on the ground:

Research can only take you so far before you have to get your feet dirty. Making day hikes into a new area is by far the best way to explore a specific spot. Just make sure to get off the beaten path, if possible, to see what others might miss. This is also the time to get some shots which I call taking notes. The images can even be iPhone shots, because their purpose is to gather info. I always look at my images and quickly see better positions to shoot from, or a feature that went unnoticed.

Timing is everything when lining up celestial objects. Knowing your go to spot can help you get the most out of your shots. I wasn't by chance that the Milky Way lines up with that point of rock.

Timing is everything when lining up celestial objects. Knowing your go to spot can help you get the most out of your shots. I wasn’t by chance that the Milky Way lines up with that point of rock.

You get the idea. I guess there is a fifth note, and that is to just keep going into places and taking shots. I always see better positions to shoot from while going through my images. Having a lot of go-to spots is the result of simply going to a lot of places. Remembering how each spot shoots, and knowing when the conditions will work best.

Although I am a landscape and nature photographer, who focuses on night sky photography, I also know the value of go-to spots for portrait and wedding photographers as well. Knowing when and where to shoot can make or break your shots. Being able to reduce harsh shadows and wrong angles to make more of your shots usable.

Do you have any go-to spots near where you live? Share your images and comments with us below.

The post Improve Your Photography by Having Go-To Places to Shoot by Dave Markel appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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It’s day 10 of our 12 deals of Christmas and todays deal is one we’ve been getting requests for – it’s deals on our brand new Photography Courses by Neil Creek.

These two courses were both released in 2015 and both have helped many of our readers to get out of Auto mode and gain creative control over their cameras.

Today you can pick up either course for $20 (they are each normally $59) or you can bundle them together for just $30.

Course 1: Photo Nuts and Bolts

This course is all about getting out of Auto mode and getting to know your camera and how to get control over it to take fantastic images.

In 10 practical video lessons, you’ll discover the key photography concepts that will put you in creative control of your camera and increase your technical confidence, to take more amazing photos than you ever thought possible!

  • Shutter speed
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This second course is for those who understand the basics (it builds perfectly upon the first course above) and helps you to discover tools, techniques and thought processes for creative photography.

In 10 video lessons you’ll:

  • Learn to harness light to convey emotion
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Today only you can grab it for just $20 (66% off).

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These courses are designed to be taken stand alone but are beautiful companion courses when you bundle them.

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If you’re sick of looking at the dials and settings on your camera and knowing it can do so much more than what you do with it they’re the perfect gift to yourself to help you take beautiful images in 2016 and beyond.

This is one deal you don’t want to miss.

The post 75% OFF: Get Out of Auto Mode & Gain Creative Control Of Your Camera by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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One of the most exciting developments in photography in the last year or two is the drone – high flying cameras that enable you to capture unique viewpoints of common subjects. Recently the cost of getting a camera into the air has dropped dramatically and if you decide to venture down this road I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Apart from the amazing images you will capture, they are also tremendous fun!


As with most modern technology there is a vast range of drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), on the market. Similar to camera equipment in general, how much you’re prepared to spend will determine the quality of camera on-board, and the flying characteristics of the drone itself. There are low-cost models that will take very basic images, up to the big boys toys that will happily lift your prized DSLR up into the heavens. You can even add your GoPro on to some units that will take advantage of camera gear you may already have. One company has a range of models that has a large percentage of the market – DJI. Their Phantom range of drones are the first choice for many, and though they do make some high end-models, the Phantom 3 series models are the most popular drone in the world, for good reason.

Getting Started


One of the big advertising features of most drones these days is their ease of operation. “Fly Straight Out of the Box” is a common term you’ll see, and in fact it is also very true. Charge the battery, download the app to your smartphone, fire it up, and away you go.

However, it must be mentioned that as easy as these are to fly, common sense and care is a big part of aerial flying. It’s suggested you start with some limitations in place, easily set up on the smartphone app that runs the drone. This is usually along the lines of limiting the maximum height you can fly, and also how far away you can send the drone.

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Photo courtesy of DJI

Always start somewhere wide open, such as a local oval or park, and spend time getting a feel of the controls before you even think about pressing the shutter button. Always be aware of your location in relation to what’s around you. As these cameras usually have a wide angle lens (20mm equivalent) and it’s easy to mis-judge your positioning when in close proximity to objects such as trees and buildings, especially if viewing the smartphone screen is your prime.

Rules and Regulations

Most countries have rules to follow, and while they can’t all be mentioned here, usually they are along the lines of these:

  • Drone must always be in Line of Sight (LOS) – that basically means you should always be able to see it
  • Maximum Height 133 metres (400 feet)
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Respect others privacy
  • No flying anywhere near airports and other no-fly zones as specified in each country

It’s suggested you check with your local air safety authorities for particular details in your area.


A few months ago I was flying above my local railway station, looking for the perfect image at dusk, just as the lights came on that illuminate the tower every evening on this historic building. Happily flying for five minutes or so, I looked down to see two local policemen coming over to me. My first reaction in these circumstances is to gauge their reaction to drone flying, and if there are any concerns I bring the machine down immediately. Unfortunately drones have been getting some negative publicity in the press, certainly not helped by the person that crash landed one on the front lawn of the White House in Washington earlier in 2015. Luckily these two policemen were very interested in what I was doing. By showing them exactly on-screen what I was seeing, and explaining the whole procedure and the care I was taking in not flying directly above any people, they left with a very positive attitude.

I think it’s very important to fly with this attitude in mind. And one other thing about flying in public places….you will need to be prepared to become the centre of attention as people are generally quite intrigued by what you doing!


Its also tempting to think that aerial imaging is going to be a great new avenue for making some money from your photography. Once again this is another area where the rules vary from country to country, and you should look into the certification you may need in your area to undertake paid aerial work.


Amazing Technology

Todays drones have some amazing technology on board that has revolutionized aerial photography:

  • By connecting your smartphone to your handheld remote control unit, you can see on-screen exactly what the drone is viewing. This makes for perfect compositional adjustments.
  • Camera controls are extensive – auto or full manual control, RAW capture, even time-lapse
  • The drone will hover in the one spot with incredible stability, almost like an aerial tripod! You can take your hands off the controls and the drone will stay in that position.
  • Failsafe flight options. With an average 20 minutes flight time per battery charge, the drone can detect when your battery is getting low and will go into RTH mode (automatic return-to-home), ensuring the drone comes back to you! If for some reason the lightbridge connection between the remote control and the machine itself is lost (this can happen when flying behind buildings or trees), once again RTH is activated. Another great use for the RTH feature is when you have lost sight of the drone, which is quite easy to do once it gets some distance away from you, by pressing the RTH button your flying camera will happily return to you before you know it.


Aerial Photography

When you first start flying, it’s very exciting to get home, load your images, and marvel at the amazing scenes you have captured. In my first few weeks of flying, everything I took was thrilling. However, I quickly realized that aerial photography is no different to other forms of photography – it’s still all about the light! So rather than just heading out randomly, I once again started to chase the light and conditions, which has always been the strength of my landscape photography.

As a landscape photographer I am always aware of weather conditions and what they might offer. Now even more so, as a drone pilot you will have to also take into account the wind forecasts. Drones are not something you fly in high winds (unless you have to get that amazing once-in-a-lifetime scene in front of you!) and you will find yourself looking for calm weather more than any other condition.


At present the in-built cameras on most drones are nowhere near the quality you are used to with your ground level camera. However, I have found the images I have been able to capture are surprisingly good. Though only 12mps, the fact that you can shoot a RAW file gives you more options to work with later on. The jpg files are also surprisingly good, especially if you have been flying in good light.

Even when shooting in low light the quality has been amazing for such a small camera unit, and the stability of the camera at 300 feet can be quite astonishing. You can also shoot panorama images just as you would when down at sea level, once again creating something very unique. And why not try a time-lapse from 300 feet?! I have had images printed up to A3 size (roughly 8×10) and you would be hard pressed to tell they were taken with a 12mp camera.


I should also mention that most drones these days shoot high quality video, even up to 4K, which produces stunning aerial footage. In fact, at 4K resolution it’s possible to take a high quality frame directly out of the video.

Unique Views

One thing you will love is the amazing patterns you find in the landscape when viewed from above. Drones allow you to get into the area that most planes and helicopters are not allowed to – below 300 feet. Google Maps makes a great starting point for finding locations that look worth visiting.

It certainly beats putting your camera on the end of a ten foot pole (yes, I did that a few years ago).


As a landscape photographer for a number of years now, I can’t recommend highly enough aerial imaging as a unique way to add that extra aspect to your photography. Everyone you share your images with will be amazed and intrigued, and don’t forget how much fun it is. If you ever tire of it, you may like to try herding sheep with your drone – yes, it’s been done!

Have you tried out any drone or aerial photography yourself? Please share your tips and images in the comments below.

The post How to Use Drones to do Stunning Aerial Photography by Andrew Thomas appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use the Canon Camera Connect App

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Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity are all the rage today, but not necessarily the most intuitive feature to unlock. Luckily, Canon seems to have listened to 6D owners, and increased the ease of use of their Wi-Fi platform by switching up the free mobile phone app that comes with the 6D. Previous versions of the app where called EOS Remote and Canon CameraWindow, but earlier this year, a new improved app called Canon Camera Connect, became the main app endorsed by Canon.

This is a visual tutorial on how the new app works. Please note that the tutorial is written assuming you already know how to enable Wi-Fi shooting on your particular device.

Canon Wi-Fi App

Step 1: Check for compatibility and download the app

Currently, Canon Camera Connect is a free app available for download on Android and iOS devices. The app is compatible with a limited range of Canon digital cameras, including select PowerShot point and shoot cameras, the EOS M2, and the EOS 70D and 6D. You can check full compatibility specs here. This tutorial was created using the Canon 6D camera, and a Moto X Android phone.

Step 2: Enable the Wi-Fi function on your camera

This step will likely vary depending on your model of camera. For the Canon 6D, this is a somewhat complicated process that merits its own tutorial, but the methodology can be summarized as such: you are effectively turning your Canon 6D into a Wi-Fi hotspot, that your phone must connect to as a means of communicating with your camera, for either remote shooting or downloading images. Thus, you must first activate the Wi-Fi hotspot on the 6D (or one of the compatible models), then connect to it via your phone’s Wi-Fi networks. Be aware that this WILL temporarily disable your phone’s functionality until you disable the connection with your camera.

Step 3: Explore the interface of the Canon Camera Connect App

After you have successfully connected your phone to your camera, the app should launch, and show you the opening screen, as seen below. The app’s menu is minimal, and pretty straightforward. You will most likely stick to the top two options, which are described in more detail below.

Canon Wi-Fi App

Images on camera

Pressing this will show you a gallery of all of the images on your connected camera, sorted by the date they were taken. To zoom in to any image, simply tap it with your finger. Three options will then appear at the bottom of the image: Save to phone, favorite (star), or trash. If you wish to share an image via email or social media, remember that you can’t do so without first disconnecting your phone from your camera. To work around this, choose the Save to camera option to store the photo on your phone, and then upload it when your phone has internet connectivity again.

Canon Wi-Fi App

Canon Wi-Fi App

Remote shooting

Selecting this option enables live view on your connected camera, and lets you control most of the settings from your phone. Controllable settings include: changing the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, drive mode, focus mode, and of course the activating the shutter button to take a photo. All the controls can be adjusted and activated using touch screen control. There are a few shortcomings to the remote control settings as listed below, but off the bat the app provides quite a few options for remote shooting.

Canon Wi-Fi App

Canon Wi-Fi App

Camera settings

The third and final main menu option in Canon Camera Connect app is probably the most useless: it allows you to set the date, time, and time zone of your camera. This is a feature you probably won’t use often unless you take your camera traveling a lot.

Canon Wi-Fi App

What the app does

Shoots in JPG or RAW

The app is very quick and responsive, even when shooting in large RAW files. Also, it easily resizes RAW files to JPGs when you save images to your phone.

Will read JPG files taken from any camera

If you have JPG files taken from any other devices, the Canon Camera Connect will likely be able to read, and transfer them to your phone or tablet. I’ve done this using photos shot from an Olympus Tough TG-2 point and shoot, Fujifilm x100s mirrorless camera, and Canon 5D Mark III, so I would assume it would also hold true for other camera models.

What the app does not do

These are shortcomings, specific to using the app with the Canon 6D; some of these issues may not be points of contention when using the app with other compatible camera models.

Adjust to portrait mode while remote shooting

If the app does allow this, the user interface needs to be adjusted to make this feature more obvious. As is probably obvious from some demo shots above, I haven’t figured out how to enable it.

Remote shoot video

Whenever the Wi-Fi function on your Canon 6D is enabled, you cannot simultaneously activate video recording, so unfortunately remote video shooting cannot be achieved.

Time lapse

While you can set your camera to shoot in continuous or self timer mode with the app, there is not the option to shoot time lapses. This is a feature that Canon will hopefully implement in future iterations of the app.

Hopefully this overview will help you see if this app is useful for you. If you have one of the compatible cameras listed, give it a try and let me know what you think. Do you have any other uses for remote apps I haven’t thought of or mentioned?

The post How to Use the Canon Camera Connect App by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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It is day 9 of our 12 deals of Christmas and it is one we know many of you have been waiting for – crazy deals on our Portrait Photography eBooks by Gina Milicia.

We’ve got a brilliant bundle option for those new to Gina’s teaching or deals on each individual eBook for those who just want to complete the set.

Portraits bundle gina

Either way we’re so confident you’ll love them we’re offering a satisfaction guarantee.

We do this because they’ve already helped 10s of thousands of people improve their portrait photography.

It’s your turn today.

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Save Even More and Get a Bonus eBook When You Bundle Them

Pick up the whole set for just $21 and get our 14 Recipes for Amazing Portraits ebook as a special bonus. That’s 5 books at 73% off.

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But don’t hesitate – this deal lasts just 24 hours and the clock is already counting down.

The post Our Perfect Portrait Pack of eBooks – 73% Off Today Only by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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If you are a busy parent, you likely rely on your smart phone or pocket camera to capture the events of your daily life, especially at holiday times. But sometimes you want a little bit more than just the usual snaps, without the hassle of your bulky DSLR.

Photo4b details

There are some days when you often wish you had the time and ability to take meaningful photos of your family and capture special, magical times. Not the phone snaps that mostly end up as blurry images, but the ones that evoke emotion and feeling, and make new memories. There may be times when you wish you had a handful of quality photos as opposed to a hundred unrecognizable snaps on your phone or pocket camera.

This article has nothing to do with awesome DSLRs, it is about using the camera that you have with you to document fleeting moments of your family life. But it’s different from just snapping away without a little artistic vision. Instead, it’s about about seeing differently – with a creative eye, and most importantly, having fun doing so.

Note: Of course if you wish these tips can also be applied using your regular DSLR. It’s about whatever works for you so that you can still have fun participating in the activity with your family

Remember preparation is key, even if a lot of it is mental preparation and you only devote a few minutes to it. It gets you thinking and creative juices flowing.

1 photo1a

Christmas is just around the corner so let’s start get started creatively capturing Christmas at home in 10 images using the humble point and shoot pocket camera.

Part one: Capture a mini Christmas story at home in five photographs

Think of a simple theme (decorating a Christmas tree, making a Christmas card or décor, decorating a cake, etc.).
Choose a subject – a person, little or large. Find a location or corner in your own home and de-clutter the area. Choose a spot with ample light, or a light source such as next to a big window, lamps lit up, tree lights, or better yet just outside the house.

Select the macro or close-up scene mode. Turn your camera flash OFF as direct flash flattens the image and removes contrast making your photograph looking very two-dimensional. You want a play of light and shadow going on in your image to make it more interesting. Set the scene up as a fun activity with your family.

Top tip: When taking the photo, tuck both arms in, stay steady or lean on to something if that helps, and hold your breath as you press the shutter (some say press the shutter as you exhale but holding my breath works better for me).

Get ready to take photos. Wait for your moments. Take your time. Don’t snap loads of photos, rather try looking at the scene with an artistic eye. Remember you are only after 5 photos that tell a mini-story.

Photo 1: Get close and cosy

1 photo1

Choose a Christmas decoration in your home. Get really close to it and shoot at an angle so you need to tilt your camera. Shooting very close or with a wide aperture can help achieve nice blur (bokeh) in the background. In macro mode, shooting a scene that has several focal planes helps in achieving some bokeh.

Photo 2: Blur it all

Include beautiful blur in the background, or use blur as the subject of your photo. Make sure your subject is at some distance, and in front of the light source. Press the shutter while your camera is still focusing. This way you get intentional blur even while using the automatic mode.

4 photo4

Photo 3: Capture it

Choose a very simple activity, for example, ask your child to put a decoration on the tree. Tilt your camera, and fill the frame focusing in on the action. Avoid empty spaces in the background. You will have a more dynamic photo if you go close and fill the frame.

5 photo5

Photo 4: Mirror it

Make sure there is ample available light, then photograph a reflection instead of the subject. Try to use a mirror, or any reflective object like a bauble, to frame your subject.

3 photo3

Photo 5: Look straight down

Ask your subject to lie down under the tree and play with the baubles. Crack some jokes or tickle tummy and toes to get some genuine expressions. Make sure that the light from the window is illuminating your subject’s face so there is light in their eyes.

2 photo2

Part two: Capture a Christmas activity and document the process

Set the scene, the photos below show a Christmas decorating activity. Get everything ready. Buy a Christmas cake if you haven’t had the time to bake one.

Choose the look (outfits and colour scheme), as you want some sort of coordination so that there is a focus. For example, if the cake is colourful, you may want to put plainer aprons or outfits on your kids, so that there is contrast and focus, and vice versa. Limit your colour scheme to three or four colors, so there is some sort of harmony and cohesion. Try not to go too matching though.

Make it a fun activity, but explain to the children that there is a process to follow to ensure a successful outcome, therefore they must allow time for each process. In your head, plan to document this process. Give them a sequence of stages so they look forward to the next step.

Set your camera to portrait or macro. The automatic settings for these in-camera include a wide aperture so lots of light enters the lens, and a slower shutter speed which allows in more ambient light. The danger here is blur, but you can use that creatively too. To counteract blur, try to be very still, and hold your breath as you press the shutter. You can also steady yourself against a table or wall.

Get ready to document.

Photo 1: Set the context

Photo1 context

In this case, it’s the bare, undecorated cake. One of the ways you can shoot editorially is to take the photo from a bird’s eye view. To make it interesting, rather than just photographing the cake on its own, get the kids to wave their hands on top of it for some energy and action. The blurry action creates an effective contrast to the still cake.

Photo 2: Introduce the characters

Take a photo of the kids kitted out in their aprons or outfits you planned for earlier, remember to try and capture expressions. You can introduce the kids by taking a more traditional front view image, or employing some creative cropping for a more interesting take.

Photo2 characters

Photo 3: Direct the spotlight on some details

Details are so important in telling a story, enhancing memory, and evoking emotions. Choose special, or key items in the process to focus on, and photograph them close-up. Avoid too many empty spaces in the background. A full frame engages the viewer more in this case.

Photo3 details

Photo3a details

Photo 4: Document some action

Movement and blur add so much dynamic and energy to a photograph. They strengthen a story and allows for fun moments too.

Photo4 action

Photo 5: Add fun

Talking about fun, allow some silliness in the process, such as painting their faces with a bit of flour, writing their names on flour, waving decorations around while singing Christmas tunes, etc. Make it an experience, not just a secret photoshoot!

Photo5 fun

So there you have it, 10 creative photos capturing some Christmas joy in your home.

Do you have any tips for photographing the Christmas spirit in your own home, or images to share? Share them in the comments below.

The post Tips for Capturing the Holiday Festivities at Home so You Can Enjoy Them Too by Lily Sawyer appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Photoshop is a massive program, with many ways to do things. To help you learn Photoshop it’s great to just pick one thing, one new tip, and try it out.

In this video from Phlearn Aaron Nace will show you how to add text with a reflection to an image, but with a neat little twist that allows you to edit the text any time and have it update your finished image automatically using Smart Objects. Have a look:

He even goes over the steps as a summary at the end of the video.

This is a fun project to try on a rainy day – give it a go.

If you want more Photoshop tutorials check out these:

The post Using Smart Objects to Add Text With a Reflection in Photoshop by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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It’s time for our 8th deal in our 12 Deals of Christas and today we have a fun one for you today – and cheap too!

Today we have two great deals on our must read Snapn guides.

Snapn guides

SnapnMotion for just $5

Capturing motion is no easy feat. With this never before released guide, you’ll learn all the techniques for snapping away with a memory card full of keepers, not blurry “what was that?” images.

Get SnapnMotion here.

Or Bundle Together ALL 4 SnapnGuides for $10 and Save 73%

Snapn Motion (our brand new guide to photographing ‘Motion’), along with Snapn Food (how to photograph Food), Snapn Paws (how to photograph Pets) and Snapn Travel (a guide to Travel Photography). This super Snapn bundle is just $10 today only.

That’s just $2.50 per guide and a real bargain at 73% off their normal retail price.

If it’s just one snapn, or a snapn frenzy, these handy mini-guides are worth every penny.

Grab them for a bargain whilst you can

Yesterdays Presets Deal Extended

Lastly – we’ve extended yesterdays deal because we had some real server issues and many of you missed out.

It seems more of you wanted the deal than the servers could handle so we’ve extended the $10 deal on Mike Newton’s 104 Lightroom Presets.

You can grab them here for the next 24 hours only. Our sincere apologies for those of you who had issues accessing the deal yesterday.

The post Today Only: Get 4 Great Snapn Guides for just $10 (Save 73%) by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro

Sometimes, picking a favorite is hard. If you ask me to choose a favorite song or movie, it just can’t be done. Lenses; however, are different beasts. Ask most photographers what their favorite lens is, and you’ll probably get little hesitation before they start gushing and waxing lyrical.

At least that’s how I am, and when it comes to picking my favorite, all you have to do is ask which lens is probably on my camera body right now. That is almost always the Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro.

This lens is a gem that offers great quality in terms of sharpness, ease of use, durability and versatility, and even though I’ve acquired some fairly serious glass since I bought it 12 years ago, it’s still my go-to lens.

Making the choice

Regarding lens choice, one of the most common things new photographers are told is to start with a 50mm f/1.8, often referred to as “thrifty fifties”. The logic here is more or less irrefutable. These lenses are cheap, reliable, versatile, and their large aperture makes them much faster than anything else in that price range. Their versatility makes them perfect for portraits and most other subjects outside of the extremes such as landscapes, which favor wide-angle lenses, and sports, which favor telephoto lenses.


When I was starting out, I spent a lot of time photographing things like food, flowers, toys, and other small things with fine details. I had little interest in other types of photography, and no interest in portraiture.
As such, the biggest limitation I got from my kit lenses was the focusing distance. I was forever trying to get closer to my subjects using the long end of kit lenses, and falling short every time.

When it was time to consider upgrading that first lens, research made it clear that neither the thrifty fifty nor the 85mm f/1.8 would do much good towards those aims. On the other hand, a dedicated 100mm macro lens was far out of my price range. Because of all this, I put off upgrading my kit lenses for a long time.

It was only by chance that I eventually found the 50mm Compact Macro while browsing through Canon lenses on a retailer’s site. To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of research involved. I saw the lens, the price, and the focusing distance of nine inches, and I bought it within the week.

Pros and cons

The Canon 50mm Compact Macro is the workhorse of my camera bag and it’s certainly been put through its paces over the past decade. For my purposes, there are no flaws; however, it does have a few qualities that may make it unsuitable for some photographers.

Pro – Build quality

It can’t be helped that the first thing you notice about this lens is the build quality. This is particularly true if your previous experiences are with kit lenses. The solid metal casing makes it feel sturdy and the extra weight feels great in your hand.

It may be worth mentioning that when I did get to use a 50mm f/1.8 a few years ago, I thought that I was being handed a Holga lens. This isn’t in any way an attempt the demean the 50mm f/1.8, but rather as an illustration of how far apart these lenses are in terms of build quality.

Pro – Durability


Durability may fall under build quality, but experience makes me feel it’s worth mentioning separately.

This lens has been dropped on concrete, cobble stone, and Tarmac, and it has been in the ocean. It has been in ash storms, torrential rain, hail storms, and there was one terrifying incident where it was left to stew in a half litre puddle of shower gel for a few hours. Despite all of this, this lens has not once shown any performance issues.

Pro – Sharpness

As should be expected from a lens created for the purpose of macro photography, the Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro cannot be faulted in terms of sharpness. While I’m unable to compare it to the other 50mm offerings from Canon, I can compare it with the excellent 85mm f/1.8 and 70-200 f/4 L IS USM. The differences are almost indistinguishable.

Pro – Large aperture

The compact Macro may have a smaller aperture than Canon’s other 50mm lenses, but it is still a fast lens and works well in all but the dimmest of settings.

In terms of background blur, if you take into account that depth of field is also affected by the distance of the camera from the subject (the closer you are, the shallower the depth of field) you can see that you will achieve a comparable amount of blur to the faster lenses.

Pro – Focusing

Whether it’s in auto focus or manual focus, it’s really hard to find fault with this lens. In normal situations, the auto-focus is fast and accurate. The large aperture of f/2.5 allows for a bright image in the viewfinder, making manual focus easy and quick.

Pro – Focus distance


With a focusing distance of just nine inches (23cm), you can get extremely close to your subjects. Yes, this may be the sole reason for this lens’ existence, but the versatility this adds is wonderful. For example, you are able to take a close-up of someone’s eye, then move a few steps back and take a normal 50mm portrait seconds later.


As mentioned, it wasn’t easy to come up with any negative aspects of this lens. There are; however, a few considerations that could mean this may not fit your specific photographic needs.

Con – Weight

At 9.88 ounces (280 grams), the Compact Macro weighs more than twice as much as Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 lens (4.6 ounces/ 130g). If you’re trying to keep your kit bag as light as possible, and the macro functionality isn’t that important, then you may want to consider the alternatives.

Con – Price

While I will attest that this lens offers tremendous value for the money, at $299 it is a big jump in price from the 50mm f/1.8 at $125. If you’re just starting out, and do not yet know what subjects you’re interested in, or whether or not you will stick with photography for long, it may be worth considering a more wallet friendly option.

Editor’s note: at the time of this article the 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro lens is listed on Canon’s site as Out of Stock. You may be able to find it used on or go for the even higher priced 60mm f/2.8 Macro at $419 USD.

Con – Light

There is a slight downside to the lens’ closest focusing distance. When you’re standing that close to your subject, you and the camera effectively block any light coming from the front. Often, this is easily countered with side lighting techniques, or by using a dedicated macro ring flash, but it can be tricky to overcome at other times.

Con – Magnification

What may be considered as a deal breaker for a lot of photographers is that the 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro is not a true macro lens. With a magnification ratio of 1:2, it only creates images at half life-size. This can be rectified with a converter that allows for 1:1 magnification.


In the end

I know I’ve been gushing quite a bit, but my experiences with this lens have been outstanding, despite the heavy use and torture I put it through. If you’re in a position where you’re deciding to buy a 50mm, and you like the idea of getting really close your subjects, do consider the Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro. It really is a treat.

The post Writer’s Favorite Lens – Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro by John McIntire appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Balance is one of the characteristics of good composition. It is the way elements of an image are arranged to create a feeling of stability. If you imagine that your image is a set of scales, all elements of your composition should be balanced to make a photograph feel stable.

balance 1 eva polak

There are many ways to create balanced images. The easiest way to achieve it is by using symmetry, as it guarantees left to right, or top to bottom balance. The results look formal, organized, and orderly.

If you would like to create a balanced composition that feels more casual, free, and energetic, then use asymmetry.
To understand this concept, let’s go back to our analogy of a set of scales. If you have several small items on one side, they can be easily balanced by one large object on the other side. Visual balance works in a very similar way, but it can be affected not only by the size of objects, but also by their value, colour, texture, quantity, orientation and isolation.

Different colours, shapes and sizes create different degrees of visual interest. So, to achieve asymmetrical balance you need to arrange elements of all different visual weights, when composing your image, in such a way that each side is still balanced out.

balance 2 eva polak

There are seven basic factors to consider when you compose your images with visual balance in mind. Let’s have a close look at how you can use these different factors affecting visual weight and gain some advantage.

1 – Colour

1 Colou by Eva Polak

Colour has many properties that can affect an object’s visual weight relative to others in the photograph, such as saturation, brightness, darkness, and hue. Warm colours advance into the foreground and tend to weigh more than cool colours, which recede into the background. Red attracts attention better than any other colour, and thus has the highest visual weight as opposed to yellow, which has the least visual weight. Also bright colours attract more attention than subdued colours.

2 – Size

2 Size by Eva Polak

Large elements appear heavier than small ones. Size is an evident visual weight factor because, in the physical world, an object that’s bigger than another will naturally be heavier, and will take up more physical space. Large elements command more attention. We naturally see them first, or spend more time looking at them anyway.

3 – Value



Value is a powerful tool for balancing images. Dark elements feel heavier than light items. The higher the value-contrast (between object and background), the heavier will be the weight of the object.

4 – Texture



Texture adds visual weight to items in photographs. Texture is just more interesting and our eyes are drawn to it. Smooth areas will feel lighter than those with a lot of heavy texture.

5 – Isolation

Objects isolated in a space appear heavier than those surrounded by other elements. Look at the image below with a brown circle on it. Your eyes go directly to the brown circle first because there’s nothing else to see.



6 – Quantity

A few small objects can balance out a single large object. Repetition of objects can be used here as well. In the example below, the three small berries are balancing out the large berry.



7 – Orientation

Vertical objects appear heavier than horizontal objects. A diagonal orientation carries more visual weight than a horizontal or vertical one. Lines can be very powerful in your composition. Pay close attention to them.



Remember, you don’t have to balance colour with colour, or light with dark – you can mix and match your visual weights. For example, a counterweight to a large, bright area might be a small red object. Experiment with different kinds of balance and play around with visual weight. See what works best for your images and the story you want to tell.

As you go out exploring with your camera on your next photo shoot, keep balance in mind and the seven factors of visual weight. Look closely and try to determine which elements are commanding the most visual weight when you compose your photographs, and see how they affect balance in your images.

If you have any comments or questions please post them below. And we’d love to see your visually balanced images.

The post 7 Quick Tips on How to Use Visual Balance to Make Better Photographs by Eva Polak appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Ever looked at a stunning image and wondered “why don’t mine look like that”?

Here’s the secret: great photo editing – achievable with this ALL-NEW collection of 104 Lightroom presets from Hacking Photography!

DPS Xmas Bundle Promo

Today’s deal in our 12 Deals of Christmas is deal #7 and it’s our biggest one yet with a whopping 94% off the normal retail price.

This preset collection from Mike Newton at Hacking Photography has never been released before – in fact Mike created it specifically for today’s deal!

Created specially for dPS, this deal includes:

  • The Evolution collection – 54 presets that turn up the volume of color adjustment and creativity (48 color, 6 black and white)
  • The Light Leaks collection – 25 special effects presets that emulate Holga-style, instant film, film burns and toy camera effects
  • The Custom Vignettes collection – 25 presets that add custom vignette styles around your images, in both black or white

Head over to Mike’s site to see lots of before and after examples of these presets

Screen Shot 2015 12 18 at 9 41 30 AM

And with an INCREDIBLE discount of 94% for today, it works out to be just over 10 cents per preset!
To be clear – these presets have never been available in any previous collections – they’re all brand new for you to grab today – but only at this price for 24 hours only!

FAQ: These presets are for use in Lightroom and work on Lightroom 4, Lightroom 5, the standalone Lightroom 6 version (non Creative Cloud), and the Lightroom Creative Cloud version. They come with step by step instructions on how to install them.

The post 104 Brand NEW Hacking Photography Lightroom Presets for $10 [Save 94%] by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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