Archive for July, 2016

Any kind of light is a must for photography. You just cannot photograph without light. There are various types of light that no doubt you are familiar with:

  • Natural light from the sun
  • Ambient light (could be natural or manmade)
  • Artificial light such as strobes, incandescent or tungsten, fluorescent, flash and LED lights
  • Infrared light


This article will give you tips for using two LED lights to achieve moody portraits.

Tip #1 – Modify your light

The best light is always modified. Even sunlight is better with a diffuser. Direct sunlight produces hard shadows and harsh light. Clouds soften and diffuse sunlight (by making it spread over a larger area). On a bright cloudless day, shooting in open shade minimizes the harshness, but still takes advantage of the beautiful natural light. Shooting in shadows, located next to reflective surfaces, also leverages any bounced natural light. These techniques are simply modifiers of natural and available light.

Modifiers are more obvious for artificial light. There is a plethora of choice when it comes to these: soft boxes, diffusers, reflectors, foam cores panels, umbrellas, flags to name a few.

The same is true for LEDs when it comes to the need for modifiers. There are many types of LED lights, including ones that you can adjust their brightness as well as colour temperature. But, just like the above, regardless of brightness intensity of the continuous light, it is essential to modify LEDs to get soft, pleasing, beautiful light -overall a better quality of light.

I’m going to show you a setup using modified LEDs to create moody portraits.


Using a window to camera left and an LED, bounced into a diffusion panel, to the right.


The main light I used here is the Magic Tube, the cheaper alternative to Westcott Ice Light. You can adjust the brightness of the light, and it comes with a tungsten gel if you need it. Apart from looking lightsaber Star Wars cool, the Magic Tube also comes with a charger that allows continuous charging while it is being used. So you can always have access to power by just plugging it in if the battery charge runs out.

You can also use window light and just one LED for this setup. Substitute the main light with your window light, but make sure you are diffusing the light coming from a window with a sheer voile, or fabric to soften it.

To diffuse the main light, I covered it with the Rogue Bender diffuser for the strip light. This is just a piece of rectangular translucent material which simply covers the light.

Tip #2 – Position your lights for contrast

Position the main light at 45 degrees to the subject, up high to emulate light coming from a tall window. Use a diffusion panel or a piece of sheer fabric. The less opaque the fabric, the more diffuse your light will be. To further modify the Magic Tube after I have attached the Rogue Bender diffuser, I also used the diffusion (translucent part) panel of a 5-in-1 reflector and had an assistant hold the panel in front of the main light. Having these two diffusers together reduces the strength of the light, but also greatly softens its quality.


The second light is also an LED, this time a small video light positioned to camera right, at 45 degrees, but at the same height as the subject. However, instead of using a diffuser to modify this light, you can turn it around so the light faces away from the subject, and put a reflector in place to bounce the light on. The subject (filling in the shadows) gets illuminated by the soft bounced light from the reflector.


For a moody look it is essential to have both light and shadow in the portrait. You need to watch where the main light falls, and the shadow it’s creating. You want the shadowed area to still have some detail, instead of being completely black. The bounced light from the reflector takes care of this.

Tip #3 – Use a dark background

I tried the exact same setup, although the lights were positioned the opposite way, with the main light on camera right. This setup had a lighter background, in this case lightly patterned, and the results were far from moody. I did not want to shoot at a smaller aperture as I wanted to blur the pattern of the wallpaper in the background. I also wanted to emulate sunlight shining through a window illuminating a dark room, and this setup just did not work to achieve that look.

I’m sure if I had gridded the main LED to avoid spill into the light background, while increasing my shutter speed, the background would have gone darker, but I would have lost the soft and atmospheric look I was after. Compare this photo below to the one underneath it, and it’s pretty obvious the darker background is most definitely better at achieving the moody look.



I hope this article gave you new ideas to try. Do share other tips you have to achieve moody portraits!

The post How to Use Two LED Lights to Achieve Moody Portraits by Lily Sawyer appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Props: are they a blessing or a curse? In photography, props can often make or destroy a photo, and because of this some people try to avoid them, some are afraid to use them, and other people love to use them.

I moved from being afraid to loving props because I found they are amazing tools to unlock creativity.


Freshly squeezed coffee. A different way to prepare a fresh cup of coffee.

Why use props?

Usually, the role of the props in photography is to help add character and interest to a photo, or to add context to the scene.

Some kinds of photography, such as conceptual photography, cannot exist without props, as they are needed to translate the abstract concept or message into an image.


Musical scores.

Props in commercial photography

In tabletop photography (product, food photography, and still life), props are used to build the scenography of the photo you are crafting.

The teapot, the plate, and tea leaves are all elements of the scenography used for the pile of chocolate biscuits in this a classic food photograph.

Props in landscape photography

Props are sometimes present even in landscape photography, usually with the task to add interest to the foreground. A classic example would be to photograph a camp site in the wilderness, with a lit tent under a starry sky.

This tent is, indeed, just a prop. I brought it along with me solely with the intent to add interest to this nocturnal landscape.

Props and portrait photography

Using props will also help you to create more interesting portraits. Are you into self-portraiture? Cool, but there is only so much you can do with your face, and after a while you will probably feel the need to start using props, The more creatively you can use them, the better and more interesting your portrait will be.


A simple ball thrown in the air with a bit of timing can make for a dynamic, “It’s a kind of magic” portrait.

So, props are all those objects that photographers add into the scene they’re photographing that are not the main subject of the image. I don’t consider hats, jewelry, wristwatches, and all those accessories your model wears for a portrait, to be props.

Another plus with props, especially in portraiture, is that they can help your model to be more comfortable in front the camera by giving him/her something to do or to focus on, thus forgetting about you and your camera.

A prop in the hands of a 3 year old toddler (my son in this case) can lead to interesting results without making a fuss.

Things to look out for using props

So where is the problem with the use of props? Why people can be negative about them? My guess is because they are so widely used in photography that the risk of fall into photographic clichés is quite high.

Below are five tips to help you be creative with props, instead to fear them.

Before you continue allow me a final word. While it is true that many things can be do inside editing software, to really exercise your creativity don’t be a lazy photographer, craft your images for real as much as possible.

I consider the flame and the smoke in this photo of a hot pepper to be props. The fun in crafting the image with real fire and smoke was unbelievable.

Tip #1: Use a classic prop in a fresh way

Old film cameras are classic props in portraiture, and the ways to use them are variations of my son’s portrait you saw above.

Among those cameras, the most photogenic ones are, in my opinion, the TLR (twin lens reflex) cameras, such as Rolleiflex, Rolleicord and Yashica. Because these cameras have a huge focusing screen you have to look into from above, the usual way to use these props is to have your model look down into the camera.

A less common way to use those TLR cameras as props is to take advantage of their massive focusing screen, which is many time larger than any SLR camera viewfinder, and to photograph the scene the TLR camera is seeing.

Once you get the setup right, don’t stop after the first shot, but experiment with poses and props.




To reveal the child inside us.

Tip #2: Build your own props

Another way to get creative with props is to craft them yourself. This will not only ensure you have unique props to work with, but the whole process of making the props will make you think more creatively about how to use them.

A one meter long, origami paper boat, and a yellow balloon are good props to make one of my son’s fantasy and childish adventures come to life.


A fantasy childhood adventure gets real in this photo.

If you are into origami, and tired of taking the usual portraits of your children, you could try to create adventures for them by folding big paper planes or animals, or whatever you know how to do with a piece of paper. Plus, you can find plenty of origami tutorials waiting for you online.

Once again, it is true you could easily compose the adventurous portrait of your child by adding elements to the photo later in Photoshop. But, again, what fun would that be for both of you?

Tip #3: Break the physical laws and go surreal

One of my favorite prop to work with are helium balloons, those you usually buy for parties. They are colorful, cheap, long lasting and very versatile.

Inspiration for their use is everywhere; have you watch the animation movie Up recently? Cool, wouldn’t it be fun to fly away holding tight to a bunch of balloons?

Up, up we go. Here the low key really helped a lot to make the pose believable.

What about breaking the physical law by playing “tug of war” with those balloons, instead?

Up and Down are quite arbitrary in this kind of photos. Here I was lying down on the floor but I tried to keep my shoulder off the ground, so that once I turned the photo 90 degrees counterclockwise, the pose was still believable. The low key helped by getting rid of the floor.

Tip #4: Prep your props

Sometimes, you can obtain something original just by prepping up a classic prop, such as the omnipresent book. Books are often used to fill a still life scene, or to get more interesting portraits.

A funny contrast between the surprised grown up, rude, and bearded man, and the book of one of Winnie the Pooh adventures.

To make things more interesting, dynamic and less cliché, you can prep a book by sprinkling body powder on its pages and then have your model to blow the dust off while you take the photo. Or have him slam the book shut just before you fire the shutter, so to record of white powder flying out the book creating clouds.


By adding body powder to the mix, you can obtain much stronger and dynamic portrait.

Powder makes things much more interesting, and the only limit is your creativity (or the absence of a working vacuum cleaner to clean up after the mess). You can sprinkled some body powder on a ball (another common prop) and make your model hit it with the hands just before taking the photo. You will capture great puffs of powder, helping to convey a feeling of action and power.


Basketball and body powder mix in interesting ways.

Tip #5: Go crazy with conceptual photography

While it is challenging per se, I consider conceptual photography to be the best playground to learn to be creative with props.

When you do conceptual photography, your subject will be a concept, and the challenge is to translate it into an image by using props. At first, keep it easy, and don’t be afraid to get inspired by the work of other photographers.


The chicken’s great escape, a concept I saw online and I made it mine by using my personal style, and adding the escaping chicken.

Because you want to convey a message, even with the simplest setup, you have to pay attention on how you place your props into the scene.

In the previous photo, the dark, out-of-focus chicken in the background is there to give the idea of the chicken moving away from the egg. While the broken shell with marks on its inside make the viewer think of it as the chicken prison. Had I placed the chicken in the foreground, in-focus and well lit as the egg’s shell, the message would have lost some strength.

When you do conceptual photography, do not focus on the photography aspect at first, but let your ideas and concepts spawn naturally from your everyday life. Are you cooking your favorite food? In that moment the idea that photography is a bit like cooking could strike you.

In photography, as in cooking, you combine what reality puts in front your lens (the ingredients) to create your vision of such reality (the finished food).

This idea struck me once and this was my personal way to translate it into a photo: the ingredients are the colorful paper rolls in front the lens of an old TLR camera, and those ingredients combine in-camera to reveal an origami nocturnal seascape crafted using the paper from the rolls. Photography magic.

The fun of doing the origami seascape for real and the challenge to frame, focus, and light it, so I could photograph the scene through my old TLR camera, was so much more than just use an editing software to copy/paste, move, rotate, resize and bled all the different elements together.

Once you start this game, you can find concepts everywhere; was your Mexican food too spicy even for a chili lover as you are? Something like that could pop in your mind.


The most useful kit for us chili lovers.

Bonus tip: The hunt for props

Now you know how you can get creative with props in many ways, even using common ones, but it is always good to hunt for more interesting ones.

A good way to hunt for unique and weird props is to visit flea markets and shops selling kitchen supplies, vintage clothes, and such. And then, as usual, once you’ve got your props, use them in a fresh and unconventional way.

A variation of the concept shown in the photo opening this article; the same concept can be photographed in many different and original ways. Creativity is your only limitation.

Once again, the way you use and prep the props is crucial to create a convincing image. The coffee stains on the table and the squeezer, the squashed and broken capsules, and the smoke from a hidden candle, make the viewer understand what the meaning of the photo is, and the reason behind those props.


Don’t be afraid to use props in your photography to add something more. Just remember to use them wisely and creatively to push your photography further, and to avoid falling into photography clichés.

The post How to Boost Your Creativity by Including Props in Your Photography by Andrea Minoia appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Achieve Background Blur or Bokeh

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If I show you two different portraits, one with a blurred background and one with a sharp background, you will automatically prefer the one with the creamy bokeh. Why? Because that’s just how it is. No, the bokeh effect is very flattering because it isolates the main subject by separating it from the background.

If you did not know, bokeh means blur in Japanese, and it is purely aesthetic.

Most portrait photographers blur their backgrounds, and I certainly do it because when I take a picture of someone, I want the viewer to focus on the person’s face and not what’s going on behind them.


Portrait with nice bokeh in the background.

I always want good background blur when I shoot portraits, that’s one of the main reasons why I shoot on Aperture Priority and let the camera do all the rest of the work. My minimum shutter speed has to be 1/100th, so I increase my ISO to 400 to compensate – this is for portraits with natural light.

Bokeh basically depends on how shallow your depth of field is (note that the further the background is from your subject, the smoother the bokeh). Depth of field depends on three main things


In this image, the bokeh looks really good because the background was really far from the subject (the bird).

The Aperture Matters!

The bigger your aperture (smaller the f-number), the shallower your depth of field (e.g., f/2.8 is a large aperture opening, and it creates shallow depth of field).

The first thing I did not understand when I first started photography is that I used the biggest aperture on my lens but the background was not completely blurred.

At that time I used the 18-55mm canon kit lens with its maximum aperture of f/3.5. The user’s manual on my camera told me to just use the smallest f/stop on my lens and I would automatically blur the background. However, they did not mention a lot of other factors to get this result, like how big should my aperture be. After hours of trying to get a background blur with my aperture of f/3.5, I was left very frustrated because I did not get the results that I saw on the internet.

I later understood that bokeh depended a lot on how big my aperture was – I wanted to get bokeh for portraits with a focal length of 50mm. I had to buy a lens with a bigger aperture to get a completely blurred background, and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 was the answer. It is a relatively cheap lens to get started with portraits. You can find other lenses with an aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.2 but the bigger the aperture, the more expensive the lens.


Portrait with an aperture of f/1.8

With a regular lens like 50mm, you will start getting nice bokeh starting from f/2.8. So lesson number one is to buy a lens with a really big aperture – this is the first way to achieve flattering background blur. You probably know this already, but this is important to mention before giving the two other points.

With a big aperture, you will be sure to get a nice background blur. But, there are other ways you can blur your background without having a wide aperture.

The camera to subject distance controls the depth of field

Let me show you my point: lift your right thumb (or left thumb -it doesn’t really matter) in front of your right eye and stare at it while closing your left eye. While focusing on your thumb, notice that you cannot clearly see the background. Now move your thumb farther away from your eye, keeping your thumb in focus. You will notice that the background won’t be blurred anymore. This works with your camera the same as it down with you eyes. The closer you get to your subject, the more blurred the background will be.


At 40mm, f/5.6 you can see that I’m not getting any bokeh in the background.


At 40mm, f/5.6 you can see that with the same focal length and aperture I can get a nice bokeh by getting closer to the tree.


At f/1.8 I get a nice bokeh with the 50mm lens.


Still at f/1.8 with the 50mm, if I get closer the effect gets more intense.

I understood this when I finally managed to get nice bokeh with my kit lens (I still did not have my beloved 50mm f/1.8). I used to practice my photography, and background blur on a tree. The f/3.5 aperture was not good enough for me so I tried different things. The first satisfying bokeh I got was when I focused my camera really close to the tree.

If you take a second and think, you will realize that all the macro photography images have a shallow depth of field, therefore a smooth bokeh. This is because macro photographers get really close to their subjects.


By getting close to your subject you will blur the background.


Here I used a zoom macro lens (at 300mm) and got as close as possible to the leaf.


Here I used an aperture of f/1.8 with the 50mm, and got as close as possible.

Even if you have an aperture of, let’s say f/5.6, if you get your camera really close to your subject, you will have a blurry background.

Note that macro photographers use special lenses that enables them to take images really close to their subjects. Standard lenses have a limit regarding their focussing distance. If you cannot afford a lens with a big aperture nor a macro lens, extension tubes are a good solution to extend your focusing distance.

The shorter the distance between your subject and the camera, the shallower the depth of field will be. The bokeh really depends on that distance, because I can shoot a landscape scene with an aperture of f/1.8, and there will be no background blur. That is because there is a huge distance between my camera and the subject I’m trying to photograph.

The lens focal length changes the perceived depth of field

If you cannot get close to your subject, but still want to isolate it with a background blur, then use a long focal length lens.

Image taken with a long telephoto lens.

The cool thing with longer focal length lenses, is that you can photograph portraits, wildlife, macro, and isolate anything you can’t get close to. The other advantage is that you don’t need a large aperture, an aperture of f/6.3, for example, will give you creamy backgrounds.

A longer focal length will appear to give you a shallower depth of field, because the subject is compressed, and the isolation between your subject and the background is more important.


A shorter focal length will appear to give you a larger depth of field. Let’s go back to the example of the tree. If I put my aperture at f/4 on a 16mm lens in front of the tree, the background will appear quite sharp. Whereas if I focus on the tree from the same distance, with the same aperture, but with a focal length of 50mm, I will notice that I get a background blur and a shallow depth of field.


Taken at f/5.6 and 70mm.


Taken at f/5.6 and 300mm without moving.


So you must be thinking: the best bokeh you can get is to have a long telephoto lens, focused really close to your subject, with a really wide aperture. That’s pretty much it!

The sad part is that these lenses are very expensive. But, I have two portrait lenses, and together they cost less than $400 – and, I am still able to take good looking portraits with nice bokeh. So it’s about combining these things, the best you can with the tools you have.


Using a telephoto lens and getting really close.

The post How to Achieve Background Blur or Bokeh by Yacine Bessekhouad appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Everybody loves to get it right in camera. But if you don’t, you have plenty of tools to help you make it right. Lightroom is one of the best available, and the easiest to use. In this article I’ll show you how you can use Lightroom’s Transform and Crop Tools to improve your composition.

The Transform Tab

First, let’s talk about the Transform tab, in the Develop module. Transform is relatively new to Lightroom. It’s an improved version, split-off of the Lens Correction tab. Essentially, Transform helps you straighten crooked or skewed images.


Here, in the first example above – a lovely seascape – there is a crooked horizon. Before opening the Transform tab, press the R key to activate the Crop Tool. Now press the O key (letter not number) to toggle the Grid overlay. With the Crop Tool still activated, click on the Transform tab in Lightroom and choose Level.


The Level option is perfect for images like this, when there are no strong vertical lines that need correction. It simply straightens the horizon so it no longer slopes crookedly. With the Grid overlay turned on, it’s easy to verify that the horizon is now straight. Here’s the image after the crop is applied.


In this next example (below) – an interior image of an old Italian mansion – the windows are falling over backwards.


Here the Vertical option in the Transform tab does a great job of straightening the perspective. The windows align perfectly with the horizontal and vertical lines of the Grid overlay.


But as you can see, straightening the image has created a few problems. The image was so crooked (perspective distortion) that now there is a lot of white space to crop out. The good news is that when fixing these issues, composition can be improved too.

Composing with the Crop Tool in Lightroom

The white space can be eliminated, and the composition strengthened, by creatively using the Crop Tool in Lightroom. The next step is to adjust the composition with the Crop Tool by moving it around the image.


In this image, to eliminate all of the white space and direct the viewer’s focus to the chandelier and windows, grab the Crop Tool at the top centre point, and draw down. This eliminates both the unnecessary ceiling, and the white spaces on either side of the image.

Now that the image is starting to look better, scroll through the Crop Tool overlays and review the newly cropped image to see which ones work. By reviewing your images with different Crop Tool overlays, you can strengthen your intuitive sense of strong composition.

To review each of the overlays, press the O (oh not zero)) key. You’ll toggle through the following:

  • Rule of Thirds (below left)
  • Diagonal (below right)
  • Golden Triangle
  • Golden Ratio (similar to the Rule of Thirds overlay)
  • Golden Spiral
  • Aspect Ratios
  • Grid

In the example images above, both the Rule of Thirds and the Diagonal overlays clearly show that the composition is strong.




Final image.


Here’s the final image (before correction is above left, after is on the right). Now let’s take a quick peek at one more image, and one more feature in Lightroom.

Flipping the Golden Spiral and Golden Triangle Overlays

You’ve probably toggled through the overlays and disregarded both the Golden Triangle and the Golden Spiral because they just never work. Unlike most of the overlays, neither the Golden Spiral nor the Golden Triangle is symmetrical. That means that you need to flip the overlays around a few times to find the orientation that aligns with your image. By pressing the Shift key and the O key at the same time, you can change the orientation of both the Golden Spiral and the Golden Triangle. Changing the orientation makes those overlays a lot more useful.

Here, in this image of a wild stallion (below), before flipping the Golden Triangle orientation, this overlay doesn’t work at all. Looking at it you might question whether or not the image had a strong enough composition to start with.


By pressing Shift plus the O key, and flipping the overlay orientation, the stallion fits neatly into his own triangle. His legs and nose are also no longer bisected by one of the diagonals. In addition, he’s positioned towards the back of the triangle. The top diagonal edge of the triangle that contains the stallion shows us that he is moving forward into the composition, towards the viewer, which is naturally pleasing to the eye. The other triangles neatly organize the foliage surrounding the stallion. Even the beam of sunlight highlighting the stallion falls within the main triangle, further confirming that this image is well composed.


With a little practice, some judicious use of the Transform tab and Crop Tool, you’ll master composition in no time. How do you use these tools to help you? Please share in the comments below.

The post Using Lightroom’s Transform and Crop Tools to Improve Composition by Lara Joy Brynildssen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Weekly Photography Challenge – Speed

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Earlier I shared a collection of images that show speedy subjects.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Speed

Dave Young

By Dave Young

Chester Lam

By Chester Lam

Your job this week is to find and photograph a subject that is fast. Try and capture speed in whichever way you want – freeze it or blur it. Remember shutter speed controls motion in your image.

Share your images below:

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 favourite photo sharing site and leave the link to them. Show me your best images in this week’s challenge. Sometimes it takes a while for an image to appear so be patient and try not to post the same image twice.

Fred Dawson

By Fred Dawson

Nuno Sousa

By Nuno Sousa

Moyan Brenn

By Moyan Brenn

Derek Raugh

By derek raugh

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Speed by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How you photograph a moving subject really depends on two things:

  1. Your intentions (to blur or freeze it)
  2. The lighting conditions (it may be low light)

You could decide to blur the object, adding a sense of motion to your image. Or make a complete abstract.

Diana Robinson

By Diana Robinson

Manfred Majer

By manfred majer

Or you could freeze motion using a fast shutter speed.

René Something Something

By René something something

Chris Chabot

By Chris Chabot

Here are 21 more images that show speed:



Jasper Nance

By Jasper Nance

Marc Forrest

By Marc Forrest

Pierre Anquet

By Pierre Anquet


By Elvin

Nikos Koutoulas

By Nikos Koutoulas

Curtis John

By Curtis John

Bryce Bradford

By Bryce Bradford


By houman_thebrave


By E01

Damianos  Chronakis

By Damianos Chronakis

Loïc Lagarde

By Loïc Lagarde


By sama093

Lena Vasiljeva

By Lena Vasiljeva


Howard Ignatius

By Howard Ignatius

Renato Carvalho

By Renato Carvalho


By photophilde


Stephanie Wallace

By Stephanie Wallace

Greg Heo

By Greg Heo

The post 25 Speedy Images That May Leave You in the Dust by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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7 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

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Travel photography has been captivating people for years. But capturing unique travel photos isn’t easy, and often people who are starting out make the same mistakes several times. There’s no doubt that a well composed, and well lit travel photograph, with an interesting subject, has the power to convince someone to head to a destination.

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when doing travel photography:

#1 – Taking Tourist Photos

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If you type any famous landmark or location in the world into Google, or any image library, you will likely get thousands of images showing up in the search results. So the reality is that it is becoming more and more difficult to capture unique photos. But that is the challenge for you as a photographer. Most photography editors will tell you that they do not want photos that are the typical tourist photos that you see, simply because most people have seen those hundreds of times. But how do you make yours unique?

This comes down to three things.

  1. Do your research so that you know what already exists. It’s not enough to simply look at a handful of photos; you need to understand everything from the angles, to the weather and the lighting.
  2. Be creative and think of a unique way to showcase the subject. This part comes down to your creativity, and largely to the amount of research you have done.
  3. Commitment to ensuring that you capture the photo, even if that means waiting around somewhere for hours for the perfect conditions, or having to return later until you can get the shot.

Beyond these there is also a fourth way, which is to get lucky. Sometimes, you will get to a location and find something happening – be it with people, animals, or even the weather – that will give you a stunning, but different photo. Unfortunately, those days are few and far between.

#2 – Avoiding People

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A location’s people are as integral to our experience of it as the famous buildings or landmarks. But unfortunately many new photography who are starting out in the travel genre, avoid photographing people because of shyness. Most people are friendly, and if you make the effort and spend the time to get to know them, they will be more than happy to accommodate you taking their photo. So don’t be shy, because all you are doing is denying the viewer a crucial part of the story.

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#3 – Being Lazy or Impatient

I’m always amazed when I see people come to location, take a snapshot and move on. Removing the photography element all together, how can you possibly enjoy and experience a location, if you are simply jumping from one place to another?

As a travel photographer sometimes it’s easy to be lazy and impatient. After all, why wait for two hours for the perfect light, when you can take a photo and head back to the hotel and sit by the swimming pool? But part of the reason that we are fascinated by travel photos is because they show us a glimpse into another culture. The only way to do this is to make the effort and spend the time, not only to understand and appreciate it, but also to execute taking the photo.

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#4 – Photographing from the Viewpoints

This way to “sunset point”. Every traveller and photographer has seen these signs wherever they have gone. Sometimes these “viewpoints” are magnificent, and in some circumstances and conditions they are absolutely the place you should visit and photograph from. But the majority of the time they are simply the most accessible place for the masses, and as a result, a view most people have seen.

So you have two choices, either try to capture a unique photo from that point, or find a unique view. The latter will require more effort, hard work, and sometimes cost more to achieve. The decision will ultimately rest with you.

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#5 – Forgetting the Small Details

One of the great things about photography is that it allows us to capture the small details that are often missed with the naked eye. After all, it’s so easy to get caught up in the big beautiful scenery, and miss the smaller details that often sit around it.

Sometimes, it’s these small details that actually enhance the experience of a location through photos. So always remember to look around for unique moments or details that you can capture on your travels. They will help diversify your portfolio and give a much more intriguing angle to your destination.

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#6 – Travelling with Others

One thing that I learned a long time ago is that photographing while travelling is completely different to travelling to take photos. However hard the latter is, it’s even more difficult when you are travelling with other people. Be it, friends, family, or a tour group, most people don’t have the patience, or the interest, to wait around for you to take photos. You soon end up in a tense situation, which means you can’t get what you want done and other people don’t enjoy their trip.

The best way is to separate the two completely, and either use a trip as a holiday with the focus being on relaxing and enjoying yourself, or consider it work. If you do find yourself in a situation where you are travelling with other people, try setting yourself a few days or even a few hours where you can go off on your own.

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#7 – Forgetting to Enjoy Yourself

As much as you need to dedicate yourself to the photo when travelling, you still need to remember to actually enjoy yourself as well. Like any job or hobby, if it starts to become a chore and you no longer enjoy it, this will reflect in your work.

Ultimately you are in a place that is new exciting so make sure you allow yourself some time – even if it is just small windows – to enjoy the experience of being there.

KD-2016-Travel Photography-14

Travel photography is a wonderful job or hobby, and most people have a list of destinations that they would happily travel to, and photograph. This means that motivation to photograph it well is usually not an issue, so with a bit of hard work and by avoiding some of the mistakes, you can capture wonderful photographs.

Have you learned from any of your travel experiences? Please share them below.

The post 7 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Jay Maisel has to be one of the most interesting photographers alive today. He is 85 years old and he still makes a point of carrying his camera with him every day, everywhere he goes. I recently watched a few videos where Scott Kelby spent a few days with Jay, just wandering through the streets of New York and later, walking through Paris.

In these two different videos, Jay imparts his photography philosophy, and how he makes his images. The remarkable thing I noticed is that Jay almost never talks about photography equipment. Rather, he speaks about technique, about getting it right in camera, and making sure you spend time getting the best shot possible.

This article is a follow on from an article I did a while ago, which had a similar title to this one – 5 Ways to Create Better Images Without Buying More Gear. I now want to expand on that and add 5 more things you can do to improve your photography without buying more gear.

#1 Show the viewer something different

This is something really important that, but we don’t often think about. There are so many things being photographed every day.

5 more things image 8

Think about this: if you go to Paris, you will no doubt want a photo of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, every photographer does. The challenge is, we have all seen photographs of the Eiffel Tower, so, how will your image be different from anyone else’s? Better still, how will you make the image look like it is taken from a new vantage point or angle.

These are the tough questions, the things that we need to think about as photographers. You could try a few things, go in really close and get some detailed shots of the metal structure, find an area of it that is looking old and grungy, maybe try and shoot it from a very extreme angle, work hard to show your viewer something they haven’t seen before.

Think of the photos you have seen of the Eiffel Tower. If your image looks like any of those shots, then you need to try something different. The goal here is not to be different for the sake of being so, but to try and be unique.

Of course, you should shoot the usual postcard shot, at least you have that, but then play around, walk around, lie on the ground, shoot straight up, put your camera lens against the structure, try anything to get an angle that you have never seen before.

Show me something I have never seen before. – Jay Maisel

Look for something you have not seen before

This is one of Jay Maisel’s key messages, “Show me something I have never seen before”. He is not being flippant, we have all seen a car, a tree, a glass building, and people on the street. What he is looking for is to be shown these everyday subjects in a different way, that’s the key to this principle.

#2 Practice patience

In the video with Jay Maisel, he mentions that he was once out doing street photography with another well known photographer. As a typical New Yorker, he was walking at a pretty quick pace. After some time, the other photographer turned to him and said, “Jay, do you know why you aren’t getting any good shots? You’re walking too quickly”.

That comment caused Jay to slow down. Not only did he slow down his walking pace, but he slowed everything. He would stop in a place for five or 10 minutes. He would find a scene he liked and then, like a theatre stage, he would wait for the actors to appear, the people on the street. So he stands in a particular spot sometimes, for up to 20 minutes, and just waits for something to happen.

Sitting and waiting can result in some great images

Sitting and waiting can result in some great images

Give it a try. Next time you are out photographing in your city, stop for a while. Observe the scene in front of you. Make note of how people are moving through that scene, and start looking for an opportunity to make an image. It may take a while, if you can, sit down and just watch, pretty soon, the right person will enter your “stage” and you will have your image.

#3 Change your composition

We all know about the rule of thirds, very often it is our first introduction to composition. It’s a good starting point for creating good composition, but there are many other ways to make your images look compelling.

Composition is one area of photography that can make a vast difference in your images. Simply changing from landscape to portrait orientation for example. More than that, look a little deeper. There are some great techniques you can use to enhance your composition.

5 more things image 10

One of these is using depth of field. A shallow depth of field will isolate your subject and make the background less distracting. Speaking of backgrounds, make sure that you have looked at the background in your image and that there is nothing distracting that will take the viewer’s eye off the subject.

You could also try and frame your subject using a door frame, a window, or some overarching trees. The frame will point the viewer to the subject and, if done correctly, framing can be a very powerful compositional tool.

Remember to change your viewpoint. Lie on the ground, get as low as you can, or maybe get up as high as possible. If your viewpoint is unusual, your subject will benefit immensely.

Shooting from a different viewpoint can make all the difference

Shooting from a different viewpoint can make all the difference

#4 Go out empty

Another piece of Jay Maisel wisdom is to go out empty, and let your images fill you up. What does that mean?

Very often, you may go out on a shoot and are “hunting” for a particular image. Maybe you are looking for a man with a blue shirt riding a red bicycle, which is pretty specific, and really difficult to find. The challenge is that if you are looking for only that one type of shot, you may miss all the others that are out there.

By going out empty, you are open to whatever comes into your viewfinder. You may get a shot that you never thought of before or have seen before, that’s the point. Sometimes it is good to shoot with constraints, it forces you to be creative.


By going out empty, you may be surprised at what you will see

By going out empty, you may be surprised at what you will see

At other times, go out without any limitations, simply look at what unfolds in front of you and shoot whatever you find interesting. That’s one way to get some great shots. Also, be open to what happens while you are out shooting.

I was photographing in an old area in the East Side of Vancouver. A lady came up to me and asked what I was doing, and I told her I was looking for some great shots of the homes in the area. She asked if I wanted to see inside her home, I am so glad she invited me. Her home was amazing, and it was a great opportunity to see inside a true heritage home.

#5 It’s not about cropping, but about framing

As photographers, we can become a little lazy. We will compose the shot, look at the scene, and realize we need to move a little to the left because there is something distracting in the shot. Many times, we might think, “It’s okay, I can crop that out later”.

5 more things image 9

Yes, that is true, you can crop it out later, but it may change the whole perspective of the shot. I might mean that you lose another important piece of information.

Jay Maisel reminds us that it’s about framing, not cropping. He says that it is the photographer’s responsibility for what is in the frame and, sometimes more importantly, what is NOT in the frame. Instead of assuming you can crop something out later, maybe move around the subject a bit, look at it from different angles, and then decide what needs to be in the frame and what doesn’t.

As Jay says, “The photographer is responsible for everything in the frame”. Make sure that everything that’s in the frame is there for a reason, otherwise, change it.

5 more things image 5

You are responsible for everything in the frame.

Of course there are no rules in photography, there are only guidelines. These ideas are simply suggestions that can help you improve your images, and to see more clearly. Once you begin practicing these things, you won’t have to think about them as much. You will do them instinctively, and that’s when your photography will change and become more mature.

So get out there and give these ideas a try, practice one of these suggestions on each photoshoot or photowalk you do. Keep making the changes and slowly working on your craft, and you may look back in a year and be astounded at how much your work has improved.

The post More Ways to Create Better Images Without Buying More Gear by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Tips for Taking Candid Portraits of People

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Get Andrew’s ebook The Candid Portrait at 43% off, now over at Snapndeals, for a limited time only (August 9, 2016 AUS time).

A candid portrait is often defined as one which you take without the subject being aware that you have done so. The idea is to capture a natural moment, that shows the person’s character or something interesting about them.

A candid portrait

Wedding and portrait photographers often strive to capture candid portraits, so do street photographers. It is the latter form of candid portrait photography that I will concentrate on in this article.

I prefer to take candid portraits when I am travelling, it is rare that I do so at home. There is something about the excitement of travelling and seeing a new place with fresh eyes, that makes me want to take photos that capture life in the streets.

The question is, how do you take photos of other people safely when you are travelling, and how do you create evocative images that capture the spirit of that place? Good photos aren’t taken, they are made by the photographer. The following tips will help you create candid portraits.

All the photos in this article were taken while I was traveling, but you’ll find the principles hold true when you are working close to home as well.

1 – Think about your equipment

Part of the craft of photography is selecting the most appropriate tool for the job. There are two approaches you can take here. One is to use a telephoto lens and take photos from distance. You are unlikely to be spotted by your subject, especially if you are quick, but your photos may also have a lack of involvement in the scene as they are taken from some distance away. Having said that, you can use a telephoto lens to create a cinematic look that pulls the background in closer to the subject, or throw it out of focus.

A candid portrait

I took this photo with a 50-150mm Sigma lens. It’s an enormous lens that I no longer own, but it enabled me to take photos like this from a distance, without being noticed.

The second approach is to use a small camera with a small lens, and get in much closer to the action. The idea here is that the small camera gives you the perception that you are less intimidating, than somebody using a large digital SLR and lens setup. You are much more likely to be able to take photos without being noticed, or to be ignored if you are.

A candid portrait

I used a small 35mm lens on a Fujifilm camera to take this photo. The smaller size of this gear lets me get much closer to people than I ever could with the Sigma 50-150mm lens.

The ideal small camera could be a small digital SLR (such as the Canon EOS 100D), a mirrorless camera (such as the Fujifilm X-T1, my personal favorite), a compact camera (like the Ricoh GR II) or a smartphone.

If you are using an interchangeable lens camera, then a prime lens may be a good choice. Primes are usually smaller than zooms, and the wide apertures come in handy in low light.

2 – Slow down and explore

Become an observer of life. Go somewhere interesting and just watch what happens. Every city and town have their own rhythms. The tide of people ebbs and flows as the hours pass by. Where are the most interesting parts of the city? The most picturesque? Where is life lived on the streets?

What are the unique aspects of that city? A photo of somebody taken in front of a shop could be created almost anywhere, but a photo taken with a well known landmark or typical building in the background (such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Forbidden City in Beijing) has the potential to be much more evocative.

The key is to relax, take things slowly, and enjoy yourself. A small camera helps because it is easier to carry around all day than a large system.

A candid portrait

This photo could only have been taken in Beijing. The ancient buildings in the background are unique to this city.

3 – Enjoy the process

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. An empty memory card can be as terrifying for a photographer as a blank piece of paper (or empty computer screen) is for a writer.

One way to get started is to take a photo of anything remotely interesting. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but I find that taking the first photo gets my creativity going and puts me in the right frame of mind to start seeing other images. Remember that you are there to enjoy the day, the sights, and the process of exploration and meeting new people, as well as photography.

4 – Don’t be afraid to talk to people

Talk to people, not necessarily only the people that you want to photograph, but anybody, particularly in shops, markets or working in cafes, who may be open to a conversation. You may have to forget about this option if you don’t speak the language. But don’t let that stop you from using non-verbal communication. Smile, and be open and friendly.

Talking to people lets you get to know the area, and the people who live there. Afterwards, you may be able to ask the person you spoke to if you can take a photo of them, or if there is anywhere that is a good place to take photos. Local people often like to make recommendations, especially if they are proud of their city.

If you can’t speak the language don’t let that put you off even rudimentary attempts at communication. Last year in China, I came across a group of men playing a game of Xiangqi (Chinese chess). I stopped to watch, and held up my camera with a questioning look. One of them nodded to say yes, and I took a few photos before saying thank you and moving on. This is my favorite photo from the set.

A candid portrait

5 – Use a wide-angle lens

The beauty of wide-angle lenses is that you can get in close and photograph somebody, without them even being aware that you are doing so. How? Simply place them at the edge of the frame, or on one of the thirds. The camera will point away from them and they may not even be aware that they are being photographed.

As long as you don’t look at them or make eye contact they will think you are photographing whatever is behind them. This works best when there is something interesting there that a tourist would naturally take a photo of.

A candid portrait

I was taking a photo of the church when I noticed the man was about to walk in front of me. The wide-angle focal length (14mm, APS-C camera) meant that he became part of the photo without realizing it.

6 – Find a rich environment

Sometimes all you have to do is find an interesting location, and observe how the local people behave as they pass through. While in Beijing last year, I became fascinated at the different ways that the local people interacted with the city’s historical buildings. All I had to do was wait, observe, and take photos of interesting moments.

A candid portrait

While visiting Prince Gong’s mansion, a historical building in Beijing, I noticed that people like to walk by these Tibetan style prayer wheels. I stayed there for a while and took photos as people passed by. The incongruous message on the woman’s bag adds a little extra to this photo.

7 – Go when the light is beautiful

Beautiful light is key to creating evocative portraits that capture the spirit and atmosphere of a place. You’ll increase your chances of creating beautiful images exponentially by going out when the light is beautiful. That means getting out at the end of the day during the golden hour. There is also lots of potential during dusk, especially with the mix of artificial and natural light that you find in urban environments.

A candid portrait

The orange light cast by tungsten light bulbs adds atmosphere to this photo taken in Xi’an, China.

Can you think of any other tips for taking candid portraits of people in the street? Please let us know in the comments, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Get Andrew’s ebook The Candid Portrait at 43% off, now over at Snapndeals, for a limited time only (August 9, 2016 AUS time).

The post Tips for Taking Candid Portraits of People by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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I know you’ve done it. It’s okay to admit it. I’ve done it too! We all have! You’ve shot some terrible photographs.

Perhaps you shot the whole time in the wrong white balance, or you didn’t pay attention to shutter speed and everything is blurry. When this happens it’s incredibly disappointing. Frustrated and angry with yourself, you consider the experience a write-off, and delete the images. Then you head for the snack cupboard searching for some kind of solace.

But, everyone makes mistakes when they shoot, even professionals. There are times when we get excited and forget to check our settings, or make sure we are using the right lens for the right moment. It happens.

Image 1

We were canoeing and in my rush to get an image of a small bird I underexposed the shot.

These failures don’t have to be a complete waste though. There’s nothing negative about making mistakes. Willie Nelson once said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”

So with that in mind, start looking at every photograph you take, as a step forward. Don’t delete those mistakes right away. You can learn a lot about taking good photographs from the missteps you make. I’ve met some photographers who have created a special file for all of their failures. Then when they have a little bit of time, they peruse through the collection and reflect upon them. This type of exercise can help you grow as a photographer.

There are lots of ways to reflect on your images. Some people make mental notes about their images. Others like to use a written journal format. I know of a few photographers who use the keyword section in Lightroom to make notes. I’ve even seen a detailed scrapbook in which the photographer printed out his failures and scribbled notes beside each. Just be sure to pick a format that works for you. Regularly reflecting on your work is important.

To start you down the path here’s a list of questions that you can use to help you reflect on your images.

Reflection Tips

  • In the first few seconds of viewing the photograph, what was the first emotion you experienced? Why? Now let it go. Detach from the emotion and be critical.
  • Why do you consider this image a failure? Don’t analyze too much just scribble down the first thought that comes to your mind. Try to make this part of the analysis a stream of consciousness.
  • What were your goals or intentions when you shot this image? Why were you unable to meet those goals?
  • If you could turn back time and reshoot the image what would you do differently?
  • Think carefully about the image and come up with one key piece of learning that you can take away from this experience.

Now let’s practice your reflection skills. It’s not easy to analyze your own photographs; it can take some time to perfect. Let’s analyze some of my failures, and some successes.

View each image, and really look at it in a critical sense. You can use the guiding questions from above to help you. After you’ve finished your reflection, scroll down and take a look at my notes, see if you agree with my thoughts. Perhaps you noticed something different then I did.

Image 2

What did you come up with? Keep in mind there’s no right or wrong to this whole process. Some people might argue the image isn’t a failure. I personally, hate it.

Notes about the image

  • I cut off the hockey stick, it’s bad framing.
  • She’s looking down at the puck, there is no eye contact.
  • Loss of impact or connection with the viewer.
  • The edge vignette makes it too dark.

Ways to improve

  • Mark out the ice and give players a guideline for where to stop.
  • Remind players to look at the camera at all times.
  • Remove one complication by having kids skate without the puck (Photoshop the puck into the image in post-processing).

Image 3

Compare the shot above, with the previous image. It was taken in the same arena a few months later. Do you think there’s a difference? The framing is certainly better and he makes eye contact with the camera. Have I improved over the first shot?

Let’s consider another mistake. This image was shot for a magazine article. Can you tell why it’s a fail?

Image 4

Notes about the image

  • Her face is slightly out of focus.
  • The client wanted a unique angle for the shot but the focus is on the ball.
  • The houses behind in the background don’t suggest or support that we are on a soccer field.

Ways to improve

  • Ensure the focus is on the correct part of the scene by using back button focus.
  • Always take the time to set up the scene. Remember that the background is as important as the foreground.
  • Direct the player more to remain in a certain area.

Here’s the image the magazine chose to use for the article. You can see how the background gives this image more context than the previous shot.

Image 5

The more you reflect upon your images, the more you will grow as a photographer. If you find you are stuck in a rut, this kind of activity may just be a way to move forward. Coming back to images after a few days, or weeks, is always a good idea. By separating yourself from the image it will help you to analyze it more carefully.

I’ve posted a few more images here for you to reflect upon below. Once you’ve finished analyzing my work, try it on some of your own shots. Leave some examples in the comments below, and include your reflections.

Image 6

Image 7

Image 8

This is an opportunity to grow and become a stronger photographer. I expect that everyone who shares will be heartened by the fact that they are not the only ones to have taken a bad photograph. If you choose to reply to other people’s posts, please be kind and be constructive. This is all in the name of learning, we are not here to criticize each other.

Keep in mind, even geniuses have some failures!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

The post Don’t Delete Your Failed Images – Instead Learn from Your Mistakes with These Tips by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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In their latest release of Lightroom 6.6 (or CC 2015.6 if you are using the Creative Cloud subscription package), Adobe has added a new feature, allowing us photographers to straighten our images even easier than before.

Dps LR Transform 01

The image above is a typical example of a photo that can use some straightening. A tall building, shot from the ground, will always look tilted or skewed (unless you have the budget to buy a tilt-shift lens, designed to overcome these issues right in camera).

The latest update of Lightroom comes with a new Transform section

For these purposes, Adobe Lightroom had already offered an Upright feature within the Lens Corrections tab in its Develop module. In the newest version 6.6/CC 2015.6, this feature was extended, and is now in its own section called Transform.

Tansform panel LR

In this new Transform section, some of the known Upright features from the old Manual section can be found again. The image shown below is a good and easy sample to test the new features. I shot it slightly tilted against the wall, and there is also a slight barrel distortion visible, due to the mild wide angle lens used.

Dps LR Transform 03

Most interesting for us is the new Guided button, that allows us to show Lightroom which lines we want to have straightened. When you click on this button, Lightroom allows you to draw lines on the image, that show the software where and how you think your image is supposed to look straight.


When you turn on the Show Loupe checkbox below the image (if you don’t see that on your screen hit T on your keyboard to toggle the toolbar), you can now move the mouse over the image, and Lightroom will close in on the details you are hovering over. This can help you find the perfect spots to click on, and make your lines.

The first click (click and hold it down) starts a new line that now moves along with your mouse. Move the line to a second spot in the image (and let go of the mouse) and Lightroom will have drawn the first line. You can click on both of the endpoints of this line if you want to correct it.


As soon as you draw a second line, Lightroom starts correcting the image. The best way to use this tool is to draw one vertical, and one horizontal line at the start. You may notice the improvement already in this but if you look closely, not all of the tilt, nor the distortion, has been corrected yet.

You can then draw two more lines (it accepts up to four guide lines in total) to help Lightroom catch the last perspective issues and resolve them.

Dps LR Transform 06

Bonus tip: To make the lines more visible, I have temporarily reduced the Exposure value for the image, as you may notice in the last image (above). As the lines are thin and white, I found it easier to use when I darkened the photo to allow for good contrast with the tool.

Example image – correct a building tilt

Now, I will show you how I used the guides in the architectural image I showed on top of this article. Once again I have lowered the exposure to show the lines. As you can see, I have used two vertical and two horizontal lines, each of them way off the center of the image, to get the best results of this new feature.

Dps LR Transform 07

Finally, you might want to use the sliders to change the Aspect, Scale and the X and Y Offset to compensate for the changes in perspective that might turn the objects in your image into looking slightly wider or slimmer form, than would be seen in real life.

Additional tool tips for using Guided Upright

Adobe found the Guided Upright tool to be valuable enough to define a keyboard short cut for it. Shift-T will bring you to this tool directly from either the Develop module or even from the Library.

If you ever wish to reset the upright guides, or the whole Transform section, you can right-click into the image while using this tool. Lightroom will show two settings on top of the context menu offering you the option to reset the guides only, or all Transform settings.

Dps LR Transform 08

Do you shoot architecture? Has this been a feature you’ve found useful? How have you applied it to your images? Let us know in the comments below. If you have any questions post them there as well.

The post How to Use Upright Guided Tools in Lightroom’s New Transform Section by Michael Zwahlen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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An on-camera flash (or speedlight) is the tool many photographers own, but few know how to use. Every day I see this amazing piece of equipment go to waste, slamming harsh light into a subject, when it could be caressing it with soft, directional illumination. The flash is a sculptor’s chisel, not a sledgehammer. You just need to know some basic technique.


In the 400-plus weddings I’ve photographed over the years, much of what I shoot indoors is lit with a speedlight. I have a trunk full of studio lights that I’ll set up and use sometimes at events, but more often than not, I end up preferring the photos from my little on-camera flash (not to be confused with the built-in one). You can create beautiful light bouncing your flash off of walls, ceilings, mirrors, professional wrestlers or herds of sheep.

Let me illustrate with a few examples, using my favorite model, my wife Karen. Every photo below is taken with the same lens (50mm), shutter speed (1/180), and aperture (f/4). We also don’t move at all. We are about 10 feet in front of a gray paper backdrop, white walls to the left and right are about seven feet away. The ceiling is also white. The only thing that changes in these photos is that I am spinning my flash head into different positions.



In our first example, I’ve photographed Karen with direct flash. (She is laughing because she thinks I’m incompetent for having my flash in that position).

This is harsh, flat light. There is a nasty shadow on the background. This is the opposite of bounce flash, and typically a last resort flash position. Let’s move on.



Here I’ve improved things a bit by bouncing my flash off the ceiling. This has softened the light, but it is still coming from overhead, creating unattractive shadows under her eyes, and a lack of catchlights. We can do better!



Here I’ve pointed my flash to the side, so it bounces off the wall to my left, giving me some softness and better directionality and volume of light. I think this is a keeper!



Just for fun, I turned my camera upside down here and pointed the flash at the floor, so the light is coming up from below. We call this Franken-light (monster lighting). Not something you are going to do a lot, but if you ever get hired to photograph a vampire, this is a good one to have in your toolkit.

All of these photos illustrate the two main factors I think about when shooting bounce flash: light direction and light quality (softness).


This just refers to the direction the light is coming from, something that is very easy to control with a bounce flash. If you point your flash up at the ceiling, it will hit your subject coming from above. If you bounce your light off a wall to the right, the light will come back from the right, etc.


Check out this simple portrait of a wedding guest (above). She was looking to her right in the photo, so I bounced the light off a wall on that side to get some beautiful light into her face. If the next person I want to photograph is facing the other way, all I have to do it spin my flash 180 degrees and bounce it off the opposite wall. This sort of versatility is wonderful when shooting live events.


In this photo of a just married couple walking down the aisle, I bounced my flash off a wall to the left again, to get some wonderful light on them. If you look at the people in the background, you can get an idea of the ambient illumination in the room.

The nicest light often comes more from the side than from above. If you fire your flash 90 degrees to your left, the light will come back from the left at 90 degrees. Incidentally, this is a similar angle to the great light you can get at dusk and dawn.


The softness of your light is mainly affected by the size of your light source. With bounce flash that is the section of wall or ceiling illuminated by your flash. I think this is the hardest concept for people to get with bounce flash. Just think of your light source as the surface that is illuminated by your flash (rather than the flash itself).

The bigger the light source, the softer the light. In other words, the larger the area you cover with your flash, the softer the light coming back. To cover a larger area with bounce flash, simply move farther from your bounce surface, to allow the light from the flash to spread out more. A lot of flashes also allow you to zoom the flash head in and out, creating a narrower or wider beam (a wider beam allows the flash to spread out faster, and vice versa).

Bounce sample 1

This can be a little hard to visualize, so I’ve taken a couple of photos to help illustrate how it works. In the first photo (above), I have my flash head zoomed all the way out, to create the widest beam possible. I then fired it at a wall in my studio about 10 feet away. As you can see, the flash lights up most of the wall. This would makes for some nice soft light bouncing back towards us.

In the second photo (below), I have moved my flash closer to the wall with the same amount of zoom. As you can see, it is lighting up less wall now, meaning the light source is getting a bit smaller (more harsh/hard – less soft).

Bounce sample 2

In the third photo, I’ve kept the flash in the same position, but zoomed in the flash head all the way. So the light source is now smaller still (the area on the wall which is reflecting light is the light source).

Bounce sample 3

What you may not realize is that you can send your light all the way across a massive hotel ballroom, for example, and have it come back nice and soft. In the photo below of adoring parents listening to a wedding speech, the light from my flash is traveling 20 or 30 feet to the wall and back. The farther it goes, the more it spreads out, and the softer the resulting light. Beautiful!



Now there is a limit to your flash power, and therefore, to how far away you can be from your bounce surface. Fortunately with digital cameras it’s easy to do some quick tests to see what you can get away with.

For example, let’s say you find yourself in a huge convention space photographing the keynote speaker at the annual prune sellers convention. The lighting in the room is from horrible overhead spotlights, and if you don’t improve upon it you’ll never get another job from this plum client. So you try bouncing your flash off a wall to the speaker’s left, but your flash just isn’t powerful enough. Your image is underexposed and your camera batteries are straining to recharge the flash.

In this situation, you can try a couple of different things to fix your problem:

  1. Ramp up your ISO as high as you can.
  2. Open your aperture up as much as possible.
  3. Zoom your flash head in as far as it will go, to narrow the light beam you are firing at the wall.

If nothing works, you may have to resort to shooting direct flash, but that should be a last resort.

Off course you won’t always be in white-walled rooms, but you can usually find something to bounce off if you look around. White ceilings and dark wood walls? Bounce off that ceiling (but try to point your flash slightly to one side or the other to give some better directionality to your light). You can also bounce off of darker surfaces. If the surface isn’t black, that means it is still reflecting some light and you can bounce a flash off it.

I’ve bounced off of everything from brick to wood paneling, though admittedly these surfaces do suck up a lot of your flash output and drain your batteries faster, so they aren’t ideal (they will also add a color cast to your image).

When I walk into a space where I’m going to use bounce flash, I immediately look around and think about what my bounce surfaces (light sources) could be. I’ll identify the surfaces that look good (generally light colored/reflective things), and position myself so I can use them to my advantage.

Let’s look at some more examples:


This wedding couple is having their first dance at the Peabody Library in Baltimore, a very large space that doesn’t even have complete walls to bounce off, just columns, because of the way the library stacks are arranged. But I cranked my ISO up to 4000 and was able to bounce my flash and get some nice light for the photo.


I’ve also included a photo above showing the entire space so you can get a better idea what I was dealing with.


This sleepy little girl was photographed at a wedding reception at a country club in Virginia. I bounced my flash off a wall about 30 feet to my left, and got a little help from the purple lighting in the background.


This wedding portrait was made at night at Camden Yards baseball stadium in Baltimore. This was outside and there was nothing to bounce a flash off, so I had an assistant hold a white reflector behind me to camera left, and I bounced my flash into that.

As I write this article, I’m sitting in a dark restaurant with a black ceiling, dark walls, dark carpet and dark furniture. It’s a real light-sucking pit, but there are a bunch of framed photos on the wall, and also a mirror. I’m pretty sure I could bounce a flash off of those and get some decent light if I needed to.

You can get really good at bounce flash fast. Once you are aware of the possibilities, it’s just a matter of experimenting, and refining your technique. Look around your environment and ask yourself what you can use as a bounce surface. Look at your subject and think, “Where do I want the light to come from?”

Then experiment, point your flash to the right, to the left, behind you. Before you know it, you’ll be a bounce flash master!

Please share your bounce flash tips and images in the comments below.

The post How to Use Your On-Camera Speedlight to do Bounce Flash Effectively by Dennis Drenner appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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