Archive for October, 2016


4 Secrets for How to Get Tack Sharp Photos

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We’ve all been here before. You get home from an afternoon with your kids in the park, at the ball game, or even a formal photo session only to load your pictures on the computer and realize that many of them are fuzzy, blurry, or just plain out of focus. It’s a problem that has plagued photographers for years. While new cameras offer all sorts of features like 3D focus tracking and real-time face detection to help make sure to get the ultimate tack sharp photos, the fact remains that out-of-focus images are still an issue for just about everyone with a camera.

It’s an unfortunate reality of the way cameras work with incoming light, and until we are all shooting with Lytro-style light field cameras we are all going to have the occasional out-of-focus picture or two. Fortunately, there are a few relatively simple things you can do to make sure your pictures are indeed as sharp as possible.

tips for getting tack sharp photos

Use a fast shutter speed

The world around you is constantly in motion, and having a camera means you are equipped to freeze that motion into a single frame. Depending on what you are shooting the result can sometimes be a blurry mess, which is often the result of a shutter speed that is simply too slow. There’s an old bit of conventional wisdom that says the minimum shutter speed needed to get a sharp image of a still subject is 1/focal length. So if you are shooting with a 50mm lens you need a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second.

Note: Due to the cropped sensor on cameras like the Canon Rebel series or lower-end Nikons the formula becomes 1/(1.5x focal length), so you would need a minimum shutter speed of 1/75 second.

This might sound fast but it’s actually not, especially if you are shooting in low light conditions or with a small aperture on your lens. It gets even worse when your subject is moving, in which case you need a much faster shutter speed! This is why many mobile phone pictures end up looking blurry, in order to let in enough light to get a photo they often use slower shutter speeds.

This jittery squirrel was moving all over the place, so I shot with a speed of 1/180 second to get a sharp picture. tips for getting tack sharp photos

This jittery squirrel was moving all over the place, so I shot with a speed of 1/180 second to get a sharp picture.

Proper settings

The solution is to use a faster shutter speed, which might sound fairly obvious but it doesn’t always work unless you have your camera configured properly. If you shoot in Auto your camera might not know you want to use a fast shutter speed. So shooting in Program or Shutter Priority is a good way to control the shutter speed to make it as fast as you want.

You can also utilize higher ISO settings like 1600 or 3200, which look just fine from most modern cameras if you need a fast shutter and there isn’t much light. Most photographers would take a slightly grainy (noisy) photo that can often be fixed with software like Lightroom or Photoshop over a blurry photo that can usually not be fixed. If you find that you consistently get blurry pictures of your subjects, try increasing your shutter speed and you just may just be surprised with the outcome.

Use a smaller aperture

The lens on your camera is designed to gather incoming light and focus it so you can take a picture. The amount of light it lets in is largely dependent on the size of the physical lens opening. A bigger opening, or aperture, lets more light pass through than a smaller opening, much in the same way a bigger hole in the bottom of a bucket lets more water leak out than a smaller hole. Wider apertures let you use faster shutter speeds and also help you achieve the type of beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds, called bokeh, that are common in portrait, wildlife, or even sports photography.

tips for getting tack sharp photos - family photo

Even though my 85mm lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.8, I shot this at f/2.8 because I wanted a wider depth of field in order to make sure all three subjects were in focus.

Depth of field

One tradeoff that comes into play when using wide apertures, is that your depth of field is much shallower. That means you have a very narrow section of the image that will actually be in focus or tack sharp.  Under very carefully controlled conditions this can be fine and even quite desirable. But in many situations, a thin depth of field can result in more headaches and frustrations than it’s worth.

Shooting with a wide aperture can result in a depth of field that is so narrow a person’s nose could be in focus but her eye might not. One of the best solutions is to just use a smaller aperture. The tradeoff when using smaller apertures like f/2.8, f/4, etc., is that your background won’t be quite as blurry and you will need a longer shutter speed, but if your lighting is good the latter won’t matter. And as for the former, I like to err on the side of caution and go with a technique that will give me a higher chance of having my subject sharp and focused, even if it means a slightly less blurry background.

tips for getting tack sharp photos

Use cross-type focus points

Almost every interchangeable-lens camera has one or more cross-type focusing points. That means they look along the horizontal and vertical axes to make sure things are tack sharp before taking a picture. These points are the little dots or squares you see when you look through the viewfinder of your camera. The ones that are cross-type are usually a bit faster and give you better results than their single-axis counterparts. Of course, you will need to know which of the points on your particular camera are cross-type but a quick online search of your camera model and “cross type focus points” will usually get you the information you need.

tips for getting tack sharp photos cross-type focus points

The center focusing points on my D750 are all cross-type, so I like to use them whenever possible in order to make sure to get maximum sharpness.

Cross-type focusing points are usually limited to a certain portion of the viewfinder. This can present a bit of a problem since normal-type focusing points are what is commonly used to lock focus on objects along the outer edges. A solution I like to use for these situations is the focus-and-recompose technique. I use a cross-type focusing point, often the one right in the center, to lock focus and then recompose my shot to frame it how I want. This does not always work when shooting wide open since even the smallest amount of movement can affect your shot when the depth of field is razor thin. But as I mentioned earlier, if you want tack sharp pictures you should probably stop your aperture down a little bit anyway.

Sharpness is critical when shooting macro pictures, so I used a wide aperture (f/8) and cross-type focusing points to make sure the foreground tulip was tack sharp.

Sharpness is critical when shooting macro pictures, so I used a small aperture (f/8) and cross-type focusing points to make sure the tips of the petals on the foreground tulip were tack sharp.

Use a tripod and Live View and zoom in to 100%

If you’re like me, you spend 99% of your time looking through the viewfinder of your camera as opposed to using the Live View function (where you use the LCD screen on the back of your camera to compose your shot). DSLRs have traditionally been designed for photographers to use the optical viewfinder which is why this method is generally faster and easier to use. But Live View has some very good features as well depending on the type of photos you want to take. If you are doing a lot of action shots like sporting events the Live View function is quite frustrating. But if you shoot landscapes, products, or other types of pictures where your subject remains relatively still, Live View can be a major advantage in terms of getting the sharpest image possible.

Using Live View helped me get this small wooden duck very sharp and focused.

Using Live View helped me get this small wooden duck tack sharp and focused.

Using Live View

The trick to using Live View for getting sharp images is to frame your shot with your camera on a steady surface such a tripod, then zoom in to 100%, using the controls on your camera. This gives you an ultra-close-up look at your image, and you can then use autofocus or manual focus to make sure everything is perfectly tack sharp.

While the autofocus points in the viewfinder do a good job, this type of 100% magnification shows you precisely how in-focus your image will be and helps you get pixel-perfect images. Landscape (and macro) photographers often use this technique, combined with small apertures for a wide depth of field, to get pictures that are much sharper than they could otherwise. It’s a tip that I highly recommend you try, especially if you don’t often shoot in Live View.

tips for getting tack sharp photos long exposure image

I wanted to get this 30-second exposure as sharp as possible. So I first used Live View and zoomed in to 100% to check that the foliage was focused.

Bonus tip: Use Focus-Peaking on mirrorless cameras

Most of the items in this article are geared towards traditional DSLR shooters, but if you use a mirrorless camera there is one handy tool you probably have that gives you a leg up on your traditional-style camera counterparts.

Focus-Peaking is a way for your camera to show you precisely what is tack sharp as you focus your lens. Many, but not all, mirrorless cameras have this capability and it is a fantastic way of making sure you get everything that should be tack sharp focused properly. With Focus-Peaking enabled, as you turn the focusing ring on your lens you will see a swath of dots (usually red or green) travel across the viewfinder. These dots indicate the spots that are perfectly focused, and when you see an outline of dots around the part of your image that you want focused, you can snap a picture and rest assured that it will show up exactly how you envisioned.

You can even use Focus-Peaking in conjunction with autofocus, so it’s another tool in your repertoire to help make sure you are taking the best possible pictures.

tips for getting tack sharp photos - focus-peaking

The edges of the leaves are all outlined in red by Focus-Peaking, which indicates that they will be in focus. Image by Bautsch (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Over to you

Do you have any favorite tips or tricks for getting sharp photos? Are there things I left off this list that you’d like to share with others? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

The post 4 Secrets for How to Get Tack Sharp Photos by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram or Flickr and seen an incredible close-up photograph of a flower, insect, or even jewelry, you may have wondered how you can get similar photos, especially if you don’t have a camera. Thankfully, you don’t have to buy a DSLR or expensive macro lens to get these kinds of shots. All you need is a mobile phone, a simple accessory, and a bit of curiosity. In this article, I’ll go through some tips to help you get stunning macro photos using your mobile phone.




While some phones have a macro mode, the best way to get amazing macro photos with your phone is to invest in an inexpensive lens (or set of lenses) that work specifically with your device. I have an iPhone 5s and initially purchased the Olloclip 4-in-1 set that includes lenses for wide-angle, fisheye, macro 10x, and macro 15x.

I quickly discovered the 10x was my personal favorite since it best suited most of my subjects. So I also got the Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 that has lenses for 7x, 14x, and 21x, as well as a couple special hoods that diffuse the lighting and make getting a good shot a bit easier. Over time, I’ve discovered that the 7x lens is my go-to for nearly all of my macro photos since it can capture a large enough area while still getting lots of detail. You can experiment and use any of these magnifications to get the types of shots you are not able to take with your phone camera alone.



There are definitely other brands and magnifications available, but make sure that the lens you buy fits with your phone and won’t get in the way of taking photos. Note that most lenses slip over your phone so you cannot typically use them with a phone case. Olloclip has special cases with openings at the camera area for easy access, or you can go without a case.

You never know when you might come across something that will make for a good macro photo. Initially, I suggest taking your lenses with you (they fit in a pocket), especially when you go outside so that you can experiment with different subjects. A garden or another area with flowers or insects is a great place to try out your new lens. Or if it’s winter, use your lens as an excuse to buy a bouquet of flowers.



As with all photography, lighting is critically important for taking good macro pictures. Daylight is probably the best and easiest to work with, but bright sunlight can make for tricky shadows. With macro photography, sometimes you can simply move your subject to decrease shadows by gently bending a flower stem or turning a leaf toward you.


You can also use your body to block bright sunlight or put a hand over your subject to reduce glare. You can play around with sunrise and sunset, and catch lighting in the background of your images. With macro lenses, the light will often turn into a lovely addition to your photos in the form of bokeh, or out-of-focus areas that make your pictures appear to glow.


Note: you can also add light. Read: How to Create Gorgeous Flower Images using a Flashlight and a Reflector

Focus and framing

With macro photos, there are endless ways to frame your subject, but you will be limited in the depth of field or the area of the photo that will remain in focus. You want the subject to remain (mostly) in focus, depending on your magnification. The larger the magnification, the smaller the area of exact focus in your pictures. This can lead to surprisingly beautiful photos which you might not expect to get from just your mobile phone.


Sometimes your intended subject will be too large to fully capture, even with the smaller magnification (like the 7x lens), so you may have to focus on only a part of the subject like the center of the flower, or a few petals. This is the fun part of macro photography! You can shoot the subject from directly above, from the side, or even from below. Experiment with different angles for the same subject.


Other notes

When taking macro photos, any movement is your enemy. Even slight movement while shooting will result in blurriness. You will need to remain very still, and do everything you can to keep your subject from moving. A tripod for your phone can help but isn’t necessary. Just find a position that’s comfortable, stay as still as possible, and steady your phone with two hands.

Sometimes, like on a breezy day, it’s impossible to keep your subject in one place. You can sometimes hold your subject still (as with a flower), but other times you can’t, as with shooting insect photos. One helpful tip for these situations is to use the burst mode on your phone’s camera which takes many shots in rapid succession. On an iPhone, you can hold down the camera button on the side of the phone or on-screen to shoot multiple photos very quickly. Android phones usually have a way to do this, too. If you don’t have built-in burst most, just take many photos while staying as still as possible. This is how I get most of my insect photos, patience and taking many shots. It’s easy to weed out the blurry photos later.


Editing – especially for Instagram users

Since many people who use their mobile phones for photography also use Instagram to share them, here are a couple extra tips for Instagram users.

1. You don’t need to use Instagram’s filters to make great photos.

Adjusting color or warmth slightly can make your photos look more like real life. In the image below, the only adjustment has been to crop the image.


2. Turn up the Lux

This is the little light/dark option at the top of the screen when you are on the Filter or Edit pages in the Instagram app. Using this editing trick (try moving it to the right to 50 or even 100), you increase the intensity of your images. This makes the photo a little less washed out, which can help if you’re taking photos on a very bright day. In the image below, this is turned up slightly and adds more depth to the petals.


3. Sharpen your macro photos

Using Instagram’s own built-in sharpen edit, you can bring a bit more detail out of your macro photos. In the image below, this has been adjusted and brings out the detail in the center of the photo.


Conclusion – your turn

Do you have any tips for getting good macro shots with a mobile phone, or with other gear that doesn’t cost a lot of money? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and feel free to share your own macro shots, too. I’d love to see your photos.


The post How to Get Stunning Macro Photos with Your Mobile Phone by Beth Ringsmuth Stolpman appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Frustrating, isn’t it? You are ready to go out, your camera is in your hands, it’s a nice day outside and once you actually go where people are….panic starts settling in. It’s that old fear of street photography.

It’s almost like, as soon as you start putting the camera to your eye, your heart starts beating faster and you start sweating. You can’t think about the picture anymore, it’s gone. You are pretty sure you can get a nice shot if only you could get close enough. But you chose to play it safe and settle for some wide angles where everyone is pretty far away.


That, my friends, is called the fear of street photography. And if you are reading this, I am pretty sure you want to get rid of it, right? The good news is, you not only can, it’s actually probably not the way you think. Oh, and take it from a guy that couldn’t even look his own older brother in the eye.

But before diving into the logistics of fear, let’s get two things straight and out of the way first.

1 – Getting closer means nothing

There’s an unspoken creed amongst street photographers, it’s the notion that that you always need to be close for it to be a good image. While it is probably better to be closer than not, that’s just one thing. A bad image is a bad image, whether it’s close or far away. Just getting close won’t magically make an image good. Look at the image below, I’m not particularly close to the guy in the middle and he’s not even facing me!

fear-street-photography-3It’s not just about getting close. There are far away images that are great and very close images that are the epitome of boring. If anything, you might NOT want to get too close to people, so that you can include them and their surroundings. All of this to say what? Street photography is an art form, it’s about images, and getting closer sometimes has no bearing on the final results!

2 – A smaller camera is better

Some cameras bring more attention to them than others. No one would really notice a pocket camera, but pull out a double battery DSLR with a large lens and you will be noticed. So, use a small camera, it’s de facto less attention on you, at least for the time being.

With that being said, let’s get to the nitty gritty of fear!


People don’t really care about what you do

Sorry to break it to you. You are not so important that all the people in the street want to do is to notice you. Except if you are Brad Pitt, or Beyonce. If you are, call me! If you are just a regular Joe like the rest of us, the bottom line is this; people just don’t care about you. They care about themselves, and it’s easy to prove. Just go out in the streets without a camera and ask yourself how many of these people actually notice you.

Hint: Very few, most likely none will notice you.

Psychology tells us we all have something called the spotlight effect, where we believe a spotlight on us, that everyone notices us, but that is not the case, it’s just how we feel. But it’s not the same when you have a camera with you and near, right? Yes and no. Again, most people won’t notice you with a camera, but even if they do, what’s the problem?


Why you fear street photography

What’s the problem if people notice you taking a picture of them? Well, let me ask you a question. Don’t worry, it relates to the matter at hand. Do you feel guilty when your boss pays you? The answer (except if you are doing something fishy) is probably NO. Because you exchanged value for it. Your time and skills in exchange for his/her money, nothing wrong there.

But it’s not the same on the streets. There you feel like you are TAKING something from the person you are photographing. Something that is theirs, and you took it. That’s called stealing, right? So doesn’t it logically follow that you feel fear because you fear being caught at thievery? It’s easily proven. As soon as you ask for permission the fear dissipates because there is no more tension.


You fear because you think you are doing something inherently wrong. Let’s look at it in another way, do you feel any fear when just walking down the street? No, because you don’t feel you are doing anything wrong. Fear in street photography comes from fearing the reaction of others to your perceived wrong-doing. And between me and you, if I was stealing, I would feel fearful!

The cure for fear

The answer then is understanding the value exchange that happens on the street. You are not taking anything, you are making a photograph. You are creating something. Of all the people and things to photograph, you have chosen one person to make an image of them. You have acknowledged that person’s existence and importance.


Sounds cheesy? The photograph is the ultimate ego tool. Check your Facebook, everyone is clamoring for attention through their selfies. Why can’t you be the one that bestows that attention on them with your lens?
Images are so powerful, that a Japanese photographer got carte blanche to photograph Yakuzas, Japanese mafia. Quite powerful, no?

By making a photograph of someone, you are acknowledging their existence, something that every one of us needs and desires at a deep level of our psyche.


The exchange between you and the subject

Go down the street, give a nod to someone. Smile, and say hello. You have just altered someone’s day with your acknowledgment. Images are like that, they are visual acknowledgment. Once you stop seeing what you’re doing (photographing them) as something that’s wrong and actually see it as something good by exchanging value (they get to participate in the making of an art piece in exchange for their photo) your outlook will start to change. And by doing so you change your way of approaching street photography and the fear will dissipate.

The street photographer’s posture

This is truly where the magic happens because here’s a truth – the street reacts to you. The way you are in the street will dictate how people react to you. That’s the whole secret. But wait. If that was the whole secret, why then did I write all of the stuff above? Couldn’t I just cut to the chase, get right to this part? The streets react to you, so it’s all about appearing confident, right?


Well, not really because I don’t believe you can fake it. I could tell you to go up and down the streets and act confident, to fake it till you make it so to speak. But I think people smell these things like a dog smells fear. If you think you are doing something wrong, it’s probably going to show in your posture and people will react accordingly.

Street Karma

Think about this with me – you look out your window and this guy is just strolling by your house, all happy go lucky. Then you look out your window once again and see this shady looking guy, looking right and left, as if he is doing something wrong. How are you going to react towards each one? Towards the first one you might even smile, but to the other, you may be ready to call the police.

The same rule applies on the street, it’s called street karma. You will get out of it the energy that you put into it. And it’s no woo-woo stuff either. It’s because of mirror neurons, those things in your brain that make you tend to mimic others. The street reacts to you. That’s what makes the difference between getting a dirty look and a smile of amusement.



As you have seen, people care less about you than you may think, and the streets react according to how you hold yourself. Act like a thief, be treated like one. But act like you are enriching the world, and people will react differently.

Such things can be faked. It all comes from knowing that what we are doing in the street isn’t anything wrong. Indeed we are not thieves because as photographers we seek to simply interpret the reality that is in front of us with our lens. Now go out there and shine forth. Be yourself, stay focused, and keep on shooting.

The post A Simple Way to Conquer Your Fear of Street Photography by Olivier Duong appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Good photography is really about telling stories, and that’s where all the lessons of composition, juxtaposition, lines, and focus fall short. Compelling images tell compelling stories, but the hard part is recognizing that story. I’ll tell you a story of how I missed the opportunity to do that, and look at some ways you can add more storytelling into your photography.

A bear story with a moral

I was camped on a low tundra bench above a swift blue river in Alaska’s western Arctic. Our green canoes lay upside down next to the kitchen tent, and the willows along the river were flecked with the first autumn yellow. It was early when I crawled from my tent, stood and stretched. While still reaching skyward I saw another form rise from the tundra a stone’s throw away, a young grizzly giving me a curious look. I dropped my arms and turned just in time to see its sibling offering me a similar stare from a bit farther back. These bears were three-year-olds, spending their first summer away from their mother, ursine-teenagers, and just as troublesome. Unlike the many adult bears we’d encountered on our journey down the river, these two didn’t yet know to give humans a wide berth.

In Katmai National Park at the famous Brooks Falls tourists are inescapable. In this image, I embraced that part of the story of being there.

In Katmai National Park at the famous Brooks Falls tourists are inescapable. In this image, I embraced that part of the story.

Safety first

They backed off, after I shooed them with a wave of the arms, though not far enough. I woke my co-guide, and together we herded them away from camp and down onto the gravel bar below. One of the two young bears, rather than wandering off, decided to push my buttons and walked straight over. When off hiking or away from camp, you always give bears the right of way, but in camp, you can’t do that. Bears cannot learn that camps are places to explore.

Standing on the low bench, I knew that I could not let this mischievous youngster enter our camp. I stepped forward as he approached, right to the edge of the cut bank, and started speaking to the bear in a low steady voice. “I can’t let you up here, you have to back off. Back off. Now.” The bear paused in its approach, then stepped forward again. I raised a can of strong pepper spray, and held it up, ready to fire. The bear took another step forward, and then another until he was just eight feet away.

Hard lesson learned

And that’s when I felt a sudden moment of regret. Not for my behavior around this young, dumb bear, (in that, I knew I was doing the right thing) but for the fact that my camera lay in my tent. This beautiful (if troublesome) beast was so close I could count his whiskers. What a photo-op I was missing! But I pushed that aside, and spoke again, “One more step and you are getting it in the face. Don’t do it”, I said. “I’ll give you a count of three, then you are getting sprayed. One. Two…” before I could say three the young bear thought better of his situation, turned and ambled back to the river, swam across with his sibling, and disappeared.

Similar to the story I related above, this bear approached a group of photographers I was a part of on Admiralty Island, Alaska. He came very close, and I regret not taking a moment to show a wider shot with the group of us in the frame.

Similar to the story I related above, this bear approached a group of photographers I was a part of on Admiralty Island, Alaska. He came very close, and I regret not taking a moment to show a wider shot with the group of us in the frame.

Think outside the frame – the moral

In retrospect, as I thought about the images I missed, I realized that it wasn’t the frame-filling portraits of the bear that would have been so spectacular about that moment. It was the story that went with it. Facing the bear down with a can of pepper spray, the bear testing us, and his eventual retreat. That’s where the compelling images were, not in the missed photos of the bear, but in the missed story that went with it.

If I had a camera in that moment with the bear, even if I’d been on the sidelines, I know I would have blown it and gone for the wildlife portraits, missing the much more interesting interaction that was taking place.

Here a herd of caribou is seen migrating across the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This image tells a more important story of movement, landscape, and perspective than a more typical portrait of an animal would.

Here a herd of caribou is seen migrating across the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This image tells a more important story of movement, landscape, and perspective than a more typical portrait of just an animal would.

Learn from the best

Take a look at any issue of National Geographic. Many, even most, of images that are selected are storytelling images, not illustrations. The compositions are atypical, often showing the interaction of people or animals within the scene. Those photographers stepped back from a typical composition and explored their surroundings in a way that most of us, myself included, usually forget to do.

This image of an Adelie Penguin on an iceberg, I made in Antarctica. Getting close to wildlife is easy there, and the following image provides information to see just how easy.

This image of an Adelie Penguin on an iceberg, I made in Antarctica. Getting close to wildlife is easy there, and the following image provides information to see just how easy.

A zodiac pull right up to an iceberg with Adelie Penguins.

A zodiac pulled right up to an iceberg with Adelie Penguins.

Look around

This is an easy lesson to say, a much harder one to perform in the field because the real story is often easy to miss.

Another example: I was photographing the start of the Yukon Quest sled dog Race in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I live, a few years ago. I’d been concentrating on the passing dogs, the smiling mushers, and been studiously avoiding the crowds of people that surrounded me. At one point a spectator raised a point and shoot in front of my shot, I was irritated, but in that moment I was forced to pause. It clicked, and I realized that the real story was the crowd of mushing fans, out on a cold morning to watch the race. I changed my composition and made an image of the spectator’s camera. That shot is much more telling of the experience than any of my previous photos.

Here, the scene of the dog teams seen through a spectator's camera is more telling of the experience of the start of the Yukon Quest.

Here, the scene of the dog teams seen through a spectator’s camera is more telling of the experience of the start of the Yukon Quest.

This broad perspective is also an effective way to tell the story, showing the rows of spectators and the buildings of Fairbanks in the background.

This broad perspective is also an effective way to tell the story, showing the rows of spectators and the buildings of Fairbanks in the background.

Sometimes it’s a sudden realization like mine at the mushing race, but often, you have to put some effort into the real story. You need to break away from the scene you think you should be photographing, pause, and look around. Consider not just the scene, but the experience. What are you, or those around you, feeling, seeing, and doing?

Stay open to your surroundings

While being focused on your subject is vital to creating good images, it’s important not to close yourself off too much. Take the time to look around. Literally step away from your tripod, and turn 360 degrees while paying attention. What else is out there? Have you been missing anything as you’ve been staring through your viewfinder? What happens if you back up and show the surroundings?

While an image of single bird, in this case a Least Sandpiper is nice portrait, it is more of an illustration than a story.

While an image of a single bird, in this case, a Least Sandpiper is a nice portrait, it is more of an illustration than a story.

A large flock of shorebirds, when compared to the single-bird portrait, is more telling of the lives of the birds, and their epic migrations.

A large flock of shorebirds, when compared to the single-bird portrait, is more telling of the lives of the birds, and their epic migrations.

Think in terms of stories

That real story can be told within a single image, but there are also other strategies. Though an entire article is required to discuss the photo essay (5 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay with a Purpose), I do want to note that you can always think through your story using a series of images. This is also a good way to make the classic images you strive for while simultaneously capturing the storytelling ones as well.

Telling the real story is important not just for the quality of our images, but also for the quality of our experience. These storytelling images may not have the flash and glamor of a bear portrait or a sprinting sled dog, but it will help your viewers know the story, and that really is where the real excitement lies.

The post How to Go Beyond the Hero Image and Get Real Storytelling Photos by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Five Photography Rules You May Want to Ignore

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A few years ago when I purchased my first Canon dSLR I took a free 2-hour class on digital photography from a local school. They offered free seminars as a way to market their series of intensive 6-week photography courses. I was new to digital photography at the time, having learned on 35mm film. During the class I scribbled away in the notebook the instructor handed out. I was given several photography rules to follow, but is that the best advice?

My camera-loving orange tabby Carter, shot in low light, requiring a relatively high ISO of 1600 to get a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold.  ISO 1600, 1/125th, F4 @ 105mm.

My camera-loving orange tabby Carter, shot in low light, requiring a relatively high ISO of 1600 to get a fast enough shutter speed to hand-hold. ISO 1600, 1/125th, f/4 @ 105mm.

The thing about photography is that it’s a series of decisions starting with the brand of gear you choose and it funnels down to your favorite subject, your preferred shooting mode, your shutter speed, aperture and ISO. By applying popular advice to all situations, you eliminate too many of the key creative decision about how your images look. Go ahead and disagree with or ignore rule-of-thumb photography advice. The choices you make allow you to create images that feel right to you – and that’s the real sweet spot.

So let’s look at five supposed photography rules and see if you agree or disagree with them.

1. Set the ISO at 400

One of my instructor’s key points was to set the ISO at 400 and forget it.”

Since I didn’t know anything about digital photography, it like pretty good advice, so I tried it. I also made a lot of blurry images. Set at ISO 400, and limited by a wide open aperture of f/3.5 on my kit lens, I often couldn’t gather enough light for a shutter speed fast enough to prevent motion blur. I flipped back to Auto Shooting Mode (Full Auto or Program) and suddenly my images were sharp again.

I dissected the settings on the Auto Mode shots and – you’ve probably guessed this already – the main difference while in Auto Mode was that the ISO was higher, enabling a faster shutter speed and reducing motion blur.


While this image wouldn’t have made the cut because of the awkward composition, the horse is also a bit blurry because my ISO was too low, allowing my shutter speed to lag. It wasn’t fast enough to freeze the motion of the moving horse. ISO 800, 1/160th, f/5.6, 176mm.

Increasing your digital ISO makes your camera’s sensor more sensitive to light, meaning you can shoot at smaller apertures and/or faster shutter speeds in low light conditions. Like film, increasing your ISO can create a grainier, noisier image. But unlike film, digital cameras have extraordinary ISO capacity. High-end cameras like the Canon 1Dx Mark II have an ISO capability of 51,200 expandable to 409,600! Sticking to ISO 400 is like pretending you’re still shooting film and disregarding all the recent digital technology advances.

Earlier this year I was in Mesa, AZ photographing the Salt River Wild horses at dawn. During blue hour, I started with my ISO too low, my shutter speed lagged, and I shot a whole series of blurry images (see image above). Purely by luck, at ISO 800, only this one didn’t have motion blur.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore A

ISO 800

The next day, I started at ISO 12,800 to keep my shutter high enough to prevent motion blur, gradually decreasing my ISO was the sun grew brighter.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore B

ISO 12,800

Five Photography Tips to Ignore C

ISO 1250

While these images might be noisier than those shot at ISO 400, noise is almost always preferred to motion blur. Digital noise can be managed, while an unintentionally blurry picture can rarely be saved.

Setting your ISO to an unrealistically low value and leaving it there is the sort of advice or rule I’d encourage you to ignore.

2. You never need to shoot faster than 1/500th of a second

There’s a famous teaching photographer (I mentioned him here too) who says that you never need to shoot faster than 1/500th of a second. I ignore his advice too. Here’s why.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore D

Shutter speed 1/500th

This image, shot at 1/500th of a second, shows motion blur in the horse’s legs. Sometimes you may want to intentionally include motion blur in your images because it shows speed in a dynamic way, and in this case, that’s what I wanted. If I wanted no motion blur, I would need to have chosen a faster shutter speed.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore E

Shutter speed 1/640th

This image, shot at 1/640th of a second, is sharper. It has very minimal motion blur in the legs but again, it still shows motion blur.

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Shutter speed 1/1000th

If you shoot at 1/1000th and above, you can get crisp, blur-free images of fast-moving objects or animals in motion. In this image, even the water droplets are frozen in time.

Depending on your creative goals, you may want to experiment and shoot from 1/100th, all the way up to 1/8000th of a second. That’s the reason to ignore this rule. Adhering to 1/500th of a second as your maximum shutter speed takes too many of your creative choices away from you.

3. Serious photographers always use tripods

Has your instructor or mentor told you that to be serious about making images, you must always use a tripod? That’s another piece of advice you might want to ignore, unless the type of work you make truly requires a tripod. Night photography, for example, typically requires a tripod because of the longer shutter speeds.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore G

Night photography – with a tripod

Long exposure photography, astrophotography and shooting landscapes at dusk or dawn are all good examples of when to use a tripod in order to make excellent images.

Macro photography often requires a tripod but sometimes doesn’t. This image was made hand-held.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore H

Macro photography – handheld

Street photography never requires a tripod. The most serious street photographers I know use small camera bodies with prime lenses. What makes them serious is that they carry their cameras all the time and are always ready to shoot. For a street photographer, lugging around a tripod actually seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Five Photography Tips to Ignore I

Street photography – handheld

I’m a very serious photographer and I almost never use a tripod. I have two: a Travel Flat Benro tripod and a Gitzo with a Really Right Stuff BH 40 Ball Head. I always have one in the car or in my suitcase, but I rarely use either one anymore.

Does that mean I’m no longer a serious photographer? No, of course not. I travel all over the world to photograph horses and wildlife. I’m very serious about the images I make. The thing is, my images don’t usually require a tripod. Using one is sometimes even counterproductive when photographing fast bursts of action.

When two wild stallions start to fight out in the desert, I begin to shoot while adjusting my body position to look for the best angles for the scene to improve my composition. Sometimes a wild stallion spat can last for mere seconds. If you had to pause to adjust your tripod, you’d likely miss the action.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore J

Wild stallions – hand-held. ISO 250, 1/800th, f/8 @ 98mm

Being a serious photographer isn’t about the gear you choose to use or not use. Being serious is about making images with intention. Your intention might be totally different than the photographer using the tripod. If it is, ignore his advice to use one.

4. Only shoot in Manual Mode

Most of the professional, money-making photographers I know actually shoot in Aperture Priority so I think this rule is more the advice of old-fashioned, learned-on-film photographers. These photographers grew up using Manual Mode since that’s the only option that was available. They didn’t have the choice of Auto, Aperture or Shutter Priority Modes.

So that’s the rub. You do have a choice. You also have stellar gear that is going to make the right exposure choice 90% of the time. Why not learn to use all the modes on your camera?

At a cocktail party for your bestie’s 40th? Use Auto Mode to make sure you get the shot. Shooting fast action? Use Shutter Priority. Shooting in quickly shifting light? Use Manual Mode and set your ISO to Auto. Shooting a portrait? Experiment with Aperture Priority and then give your camera’s Portrait Mode a try.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore K

Self-portrait shot in Portrait Program Mode. 100, 1/100th, f/3.5 @ 50mm

Cameras today have amazing functionality. Anyone telling you to exclusively use Manual Mode may have different photography goals than you do. If your goal is to make sure you make the best images possible, ignore their advice and learn all of your camera’s capabilities backwards and forwards.

5. Only shoot in your lens’s sweet spot

If you’re keeping track, by heeding all of this well-intentioned advice, your camera is in Manual Mode and attached to a tripod. Your ISO is set at 400 and you’re using a maximum shutter speed of 1/500th. There has to be a rule about aperture and focal length too, right? There is.

The sweet spot is a combination of the aperture and focal length where your lens functions at its absolute best. If you’ve read reviews about zoom lenses you may have read something along the lines of; “Wide open at f/5.6 at the maximum focal length of 400mm, the corners get soft and there’s a noticeable loss of sharpness throughout.” Photographers write reviews like that so that you can avoid shooting in the so-called soft end of your lens and gravitate towards its sweet spot.

You can evaluate the sweet spot of your lens by making a series of images of the same subject, in the same lighting conditions, using each aperture at every focal length and comparing the results. (Read: How To Find Your Lens’ Sweet Spot: A Beginner’s Guide to Sharper Images for a full description of how to do this.) That sort of evaluation sounds soul-crushing and unnecessary to me. If you buy a zoom lens, you’re buying it because you need that focal length in your bag. Why run a test on your lens that might make you hesitate to use it at its maximum focal length?

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The real sweet spot is making images that feel right to you. ISO 2500, 1/80th, f/4.5 @73mm

Instead how about learning the capabilities of your lens by truly using it? Over time, you may gradually learn that the sweet spot is 100mm at f/8, because every image you shoot at that aperture and focal length is amazing. Rather than avoiding the rest of your lens’ focal length range and aperture combinations, you can shoot a second image using the sweet spot. If there isn’t time to shoot a second image, that’s okay. Just be grateful you had a lens capable of capturing the image at all.

Bottom line

The bottom line is that as you progress in your photography journey, you get to make the decisions. What advice and rules will you follow, and which will you toss out?

Be disagreeable with me! What photography rules have you been taught that you ignore now? Please share your experience in the comments below.

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Photography is an art form and like every art form, it goes through its fair share of evolution. Hence, it is only fair that as photographers (artists of this trade), we too go through an evolution process of defining and redefining our artistic flair. This redefinition can take place in many different ways. It can be technical (going from digital to film or vice-versa) or it can be business (changing genres of what you photograph). Another way you can evolve as a photographer is with your editing style. And it is perfectly okay and acceptable to make one or all of these changes in your personal photographic journey.


For a photographer, his or her images are the art form. Experimenting with the images is creatively satisfying.

There comes a point in one’s career when you really take a hard look at what your journey has been. What you have been through to get here and where you are headed. While you may call this a mid-life crisis of some sort, I call it reassessing your strengths, talents, and goals.

A few years ago, while I was searching for what style of photography appealed to me, I was instantly drawn to bright and airy images with lots of light and emotion. This kind of images really inspire me and make me happy. But of late, I have been drawn to more moody contrasty images that are still full of emotion. I don’t consider this a flaw or a failure of my part but instead, choose to look at it as a natural evolution in my journey as an artist.


The same subject shot two different ways. I love them both equally and feel like both represent the message/story I wanted to convey about summer’s favorite produce – blueberries!

If you are at such crossroads, I encourage you to fully explore each of these paths and find a way to integrate it with your existing work. I have found that, if done correctly, your clients (or fans) will also value this evolution process as a sign of internal growth of your talent.

There are a few ways to go about this discovery.

1 – Identify your personal editing style

What style of images are you most drawn to? In other words, when you seek inspiration what sort of images do you gravitate towards? For me, images that are full of emotion and personality really call out my name! That is my first requirement; what story is the photographer trying to communicate.

Then I look for processing – is it dark and moody, or full of light and crisp? I like airy, light images just slightly more than dark and moody ones but they both appeal to me. My personal opinion – I am not inspired by sepia or warmer toned black and white, it’s just my personal preference. If that is what moves and motivates you, you own it and rock that style!


A clean, crisp, bright edit brings out the freshness of the florals against the blue backdrop of the chairs.

2 – Research all other styles that inspire you

There are a few common editing styles that seems to surface over time. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just some that I noticed as I browsed through the internet and Pinterest for inspiration.

Matte Finish

Those images that appear as if a slight hazy filter has been placed consistently over the image.

Matt style typically has black which is not sure 100% as it it were printed on matt paper.

Matte style typically has blacks which are not sure 100% as if the image was printed on matte paper. (see original image below)

Original image

Original image


A slight haze like finish that is predominately seen over the florals (especially comparing to the earlier image).

Desaturated Look

Images where all the colors are very muted. This style seems to be quite popular lately, especially images where the greenery (i.e. trees and brushes) are toned down in the saturation of green tones.


A desaturated look where all the colors are muted from the original vibrancy seen in the first image of this series. The reds are toned down, the greens and blues are also muted (reduced in intensity).


As Per Wikipedia, HDR or High Dynamic Range is the effect to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than what is typical of standard digital imagery. I have seen this typically with urban night shots but in theory, this effect can be applied to any image.


HDR here almost has the opposite effect of desaturated colors…the greens, reds, and pinks seem to pop in this image.


This quite simply means single color and is most commonly used in black and white images.


3 – Identify artists that do these things well and follow them

There are many artists that excel at one or more of these types of editing styles. Once you have identified the ones you want to experiment with, find those artists and follow their work. You will begin to see a pattern in their shooting and editing style that may provide you with the right amount of motivation to try and achieve a certain look for your own portfolio and images.

4 – Shoot for a particular style and close to your vision

This ties in with the above two points. Once you have identified the type of look you want to achieve, take the time and effort to set up all the parameters needed to achieve it. For example, if I am aiming for a dark and moody look to my image I will look for lighting, textures, and tones that will support that type of imagery. I will not set up the shoot in the brightest part of my house where sunlight fills the room.


This food editorial shot was set up in my basement studio on a dark cloudy day to minimize the amount of light hitting the overall scene. Additionally the dark tones of the bread and the wood board compliment the look, feel, and tone of this image.

5 – Invest in LR presets or PS actions or experiment

There are numerous editing aids out there for almost every style of photography. Just google the kind of look you want to achieve and chances are someone has created a template/preset/action for that effect. Some editing aids are free while others cost money. Depending on your personal preference, you can choose to use these aids or not. My primary editing software is Lightroom and sometimes I will use a free preset just to see if I like that style of editing before I go down the path of additional research and experimentation with my own shooting style.


At the end of the day, there are many different ways to look at your creativity and your photography style. There will always be those of us who go through life with the mindset of – Don’t fix what isn’t broken – while others follow the logic of – Change it up, mix it up, rock that boat…fall in the water and you will learn to swim! No matter what camp you belong to, the message I want to leave with you is that do that what makes photography fun, interesting and creatively challenging for you!

The post How to Experiment with Different Editing Styles to Find Your Own by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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26 Spooky Images for Halloween Week

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It’s that time of year again when the ghosts and goblins take over and the timid and meek take shelter and hide. Yes, it’s Halloween this coming week.

Depending on where you live, this may be a holiday the kids enjoy, but we adults can have a little fun too. Spooky images of ghosts in the night, apparitions, scary pumpkins and more. Let’s see what these photographers found spooky and captured for Halloween.

Krystian Olszanski

By Krystian Olszanski

Anne Marthe Widvey

By Anne Marthe Widvey


By Rachel.Adams

Chris JL

By Chris JL


By jader56


By micadew


By MattysFlicks

Stefano Corso

By Stefano Corso

Moyan Brenn

By Moyan Brenn

Thomas Hawk

By Thomas Hawk


By WxMom


By jpellgen

Darlene Hildebrandt

By Darlene Hildebrandt


By Craig

Kevin Dooley

By Kevin Dooley

JLS Photography - Alaska

By JLS Photography – Alaska

Kris Williams

By Kris Williams


By Nesster

Thomas Hawk

By Thomas Hawk

Flood G.

By Flood G.

Neil Howard

By Neil Howard

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

By Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Andrew Kuznetsov

By Andrew Kuznetsov

Christopher Bligh

By Christopher Bligh

Dan Castleberry

By Dan Castleberry


By hjl

The post 26 Spooky Images for Halloween Week by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Photography is like any other pastime or profession. You need to constantly improve your skills and work on areas where you feel there is room for improvement. It doesn’t matter if you are a pro or an amateur, you are never too good to learn. But people often find it difficult to improve their photography skills as you can get into a habit of a particular style or working in a specific way that becomes difficult to change. Here are a few training methods and ideas that can help you improve your photography.


1 – Only Use Prime Lenses

Prime lenses are ones that have a fixed focal length, unlike zoom lenses that allow you to change the focal length by zooming in or out. Although most people tend to avoid prime lenses simply because zoom lenses offer greater flexibility, the real benefit of prime lenses is that it means you have to actively move around to get the photo you want to capture. This often means moving in closer to your subject which also means you have to engage with them.

So next time you are heading out for the day to photograph, just take a prime lens with your camera and nothing else, so you are not tempted to switch half way through. You may learn a lot about yourself and your photography, and you might surprise yourself with the photos you come back with.


This photo was taken in Turkey with a 50mm prime lens.

2 – Photograph in the Worst Conditions

This is a bit of a contradiction because, as a photographer, you should always look to photograph everything in the best possible way and in the best possible light. However, as a way of training yourself to deal with different conditions, this is a great way to learn to adapt because sometimes you won’t have the luxury of time. If you are required to photograph something specific you may not get another chance so you would need to find a way around the problem.


For example, if you are interested in photographing landscapes, go out at midday or cloudy weather when the conditions might not be ideal. This may mean that you won’t be able to capture the usual vistas that you would normally during the golden hour. So you will have to get creative find other things to capture that still tell the story.


3 – Take Limited Memory Card Space

One of the great advantages of digital photography is that you don’t have to worry about wasting film when taking a photo. Often with enough memory cards, you can capture as many photos as you want and still have room to spare. However, this has also led to people snapping away in the hope that one of the photos they have taken has turned out okay rather than thinking about each individual photo. If you could only take 24 photos in a day, you would be much more selective about when you click the shutter.

But this is also a great way to train yourself to really think about composition, lighting, and focus before taking a photo. Simply either take a small memory card that only holds a few photos, or set yourself a limit of 20 photos that you are allowed to come home with. You will have to delete one to add another when you have reached your limit.

You can then take this exercise further by replicating the days of film photography by not allowing yourself to delete anything, so when you have reached your limit, then that’s it. Do this enough times and you will become incredibly efficient in taking great photos.


4 – Ask Someone Else to Give You an Assignment

Photographing for your own pleasure is completely different to photographing for a client. But trying to capture someone else’s vision, or photographing for a story can really help you improve your photography. Not only will you have to ensure that you capture their vision, but you also have to ensure to cover off everything on their shot list.

As an exercise, get a family member or friend to give you an assignment to photograph something in the genre that most interests you. Treat it as a real job and present the work to the person who has sent it. Remember that they are the client and they may not necessarily agree with you on some photos, but the exercise is in ensuring that you cover all the necessities of the job.


5 – Shoot Film

Imagine if you couldn’t review your photos on the back of your camera. How would you know if they were any good or if you had composed them properly? The answer is that you can’t until the film has been developed.

There’s no doubt that digital photography has made it much easier to capture great photos, but if you really want to test yourself as a photographer then using film is the ultimate test. Besides the fact that with film you can only shoot a limited number of photos, but because you can’t see the photos you have taken you have to rely on your instinct, eye, skill, and technical ability as a photographer to capture great photos.


6 – Work to a Time Limit

Another great way to improve your efficiency as a photographer is to set yourself a time limit. Give yourself a certain amount of time and you’ll suddenly become much more organized and efficient at getting around and doing things. You need to have an idea of what you want to photograph (i.e. photograph a specific market in an hour) and with practice, you will become faster and better at capturing great photos every time.


7 – Try Something New

If you have been photographing for a while, you might find yourself falling into the tedious mindset of going through the motions and not really experimenting. One of the great things about photography is that everyone is different and has their own taste and style. So instead of doing the same thing every day, try something completely different for a while. If you are a wedding photographer, take landscapes, if you are a street photographer, photograph sports. Not only will you learn new skills, but you may also find that you find a new passion in something.


8 – Don’t do any Post-Production

There’s no doubt that every photo does benefit from some level of post-production. Sometimes that might just be cropping and straightening, other times to more extensive retouching and colour corrections. But a lot of photographers also use post-production as a get out of jail free card in that they take a photo with the thought of fixing it later in post-production.

But if you really want to improve your photography, you need to learn to take great photos, not create them. The reality is that a great photo should only need a small bit of post-production to enhance it. So set yourself a task of showcasing your work without doing any processing.

This will test you as a photographer and it will mean that you won’t be able to rely on that phrase, “I’ll fix it later in post-production”.

Here is a recent photo without any post production.

Here is a recent photo without any post-production.


Photography is a great profession to be involved in. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a beginner you should never stop learning and improving. These techniques are to test and push you. With enough hard work and dedication, not to mention practice, you will see vast improvements in your photography.

Do you have any training methods you would like to share? Tell us below.

The post 8 Photography Training Tips You Can Do To Help Improve Your Work by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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When we think about what goes into making a photograph most often our thoughts leap to camera settings like aperture and shutter speed. “What ISO should I use? Should I incorporate more or less of the foreground and is that tree branch really in the way?” We burden ourselves with the technical, while unfortunately overlooking other elements of the shot which potentially mean more to the outcome of the finished image. In this article, I will share a few of my own images and then break down a few key points that you can use to make your own images more consistently extraordinary. I won’t even mention the word exposure…well, maybe just that once.


Don’t worry, this will not be an overly introspective study of the all the “feelings” which we might pour into making a photo. Instead, this is an examination of the how and why we include what we do in our images and it covers some of the thought processes which drive our own creative visions. Once we begin to have a general understanding of how our artistic nature approaches composition the better we can work towards refining our own techniques.

Photo #1: The Brooding

The Brooding

This is one of my personal favorite images. It came about very unexpectedly but it would turn out to be one of the most successful photographs of my career thus far. But why? There must be a reason this image was so well received. So let’s break it down and see what can be learned from the composition.

Use leading lines

This is a photographic methodology that has been mentioned many times. Leading lines are simply guideposts within a frame which lead the attention of the viewer to certain elements and essentially direct their attention within the photo itself. Oddly enough, leading lines can be worked into your composition in many ways and there are no set “rules” for using them. But generally, they originate in the foreground and extend into the frame. That isn’t to say that leading lines can’t be horizontal, diagonal, or anywhere in between.

In the case of this image, the lines of the fence and road move from the foreground to the background thereby creating a sense of depth in the mountains. Meanwhile, the horizontal line of the mountains converges with the vertical lines of the road. This helps to highlight the central element of the photo which is the tree.

The Brooding Notes

Don’t fear the weather

It goes without saying that this photo was made during some less than hospitable weather. An incredibly strong mountain thunderstorm had moved through the valley the night before and the rain had just stopped as I made my way out to shoot. Normally, bad weather deters many photographers from venturing out to make images. This is wrong.

When the weather gets rough it brings with it interesting cloud patterns and awesome light that you wouldn’t encounter on clearer days. Not only do the clouds add a sense of moodiness to the photo but the wet asphalt imparts the feeling of the dankness in the morning air after the storm passed. The yellowish post-storm light works well with the hazy mist in the valley which was hanging low after the rain.

Work with proportions

Whenever you begin mentioning words such as proportions, scale, or ratio as they relate to photography – you lose people’s attention. Usually, because it can seem complicated. Stay with me here! Composing your images based on certain aesthetic ratios and proportions isn’t as difficult as it sounds and I’m about to prove it to you. Ratios don’t have to be exact or perfect in every case but can really add that something extra to your photographs.

Golden Spiral Overlay

The image we have here incorporates what’s called the Golden Spiral or a Fibonacci Spiral to add interest and draw attention to the main elements of the composition. It’s a proportion based on the Fibonacci Sequence and it occurs in nature frequently. In this case, the spiral has been tweaked (flipped horizontally) to guide the viewer, yet again, towards the tree and into the distant mountains. Have a look at this overlay set on top of the flipped photo above and you can see how it lines up.

Pretty cool, huh? Try the Golden Spiral or the simpler Rule of Thirds for yourself to see an immediate boost in your compositions.

Photo #2: Summertime


When most people see this photo they either love it, hate it, or say “Adam, your feet are really, really dirty”. It’s true, this was a very impromptu and unorthodox exposure of yours truly as I swayed in my hammock during a hiking trip last summer. Unbelievably, it went on to win First Place Professional in a state magazine a couple months ago. No matter your initial impressions of this image there are still a few important lessons that can be gleaned to help you with your own work.

Find natural framing

This is a close cousin to using leading lines to enhance the viewability of an image. There are many cases when a strong composition makes use of what is referred to as natural framing. This is when a photographer composes certain elements (not always the main subject) in a way so that they are framed by other elements within the shot. Sometimes this framing is obvious, such as when a portrait photographer positions the client in a doorway or when a landscapist places the sunset between two mountain peaks. Other times natural framing is less obvious, as is the case with this image. Look closely.

Summertime Notes

You’ll notice that my beautiful feet occupy the empty space between the hammock at the left and the trees to the right. The empty space created between the structures offers a place for the central subject to really stand out from the rest of the elements of the photo. The lines created by the hammock also help with the overall framing of the image and gives it a very anchored perspective. Speaking of perspective…

Use perspective

This photo was shot using a Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 super wide-angle lens, mounted on a full-frame mirrorless camera. The 14mm focal length bulges the exterior aspects of the frame. This causes the trees to bend in towards the center of the frame. The camera was held relatively close to my feet so that the entire scene seems relatively compressed around them. The overall effect is one of first-hand perspective and allows the viewer feel as if they themselves are swinging in the hammock on a warm summer afternoon…with dirty feet.


Shoot what you want

When I was about to enter this photo into the contest (in which it eventually took first prize from among 2,000 other entries) there were some politely well-worded reservations expressed by some of my friends. Why would anyone want an image of some dirtbag hiker’s feet? Well, when I shot the image I knew it carried the feeling of summer. The earthy remnants of a day’s trek and the welcomed relaxation of a swinging hammock that chases away all worries. I knew the photo fit the theme of the contest which was Summertime. It was an image which I felt was worth entering even though it was slightly unorthodox.

Shoot the images you want to shoot. Hopefully, this is a lesson you already know and have been putting into practice for some time now. If not, now is the perfect time to start.

Photo# 3: The Stars Fell

Falling Stars

On the night this image was made my girlfriend and I had been out chasing the Milky Way through the mountains. There was nothing planned as far as a self-portrait was concerned. This was one of the last photos to be made that night and it came about completely by accident. It is the only exposure I made of us under the stars, which to me makes it even more special, but I digress.

Incorporate the environment

Consider your environment as another subject and use it to enhance the image. This may go without saying when working with landscapes or nature photography, but it can’t be overstated when it comes to portraiture and working with human subjects in general. In the case of this image, the stars wheeling overhead become almost a completely separate subject. Add in the human element and it produces a wonderful duality between man (or woman) and nature.

Here we see a few of the environmental elements which came together in the photo. Some of them may be familiar.

Falling Stars Notes

Open yourself up

Let’s face it, not everything goes to plan. There have likely been many times a shot didn’t pan out, your camera wasn’t set on the ISO you needed, or the light faded before you could click the shutter. Other times everything goes completely to plan. So much goes to plan in fact, that you consider it a job well done and stop thinking creatively.

While it’s great when everything goes right, we shouldn’t stop looking for the next exceptional image. Be open to those great moments that produce great work even if they go beyond what you had set out to do originally.

We were on the verge of packing up and heading back to camp when I had the idea for our spur of the moment self-portrait. I had already produced all the images I wanted to make so we had chalked it up as a success. But as it turns out, the image I never intended to make that night ended up being the best.


Trust your instincts

The reason this photo came about was due to a feeling I had that the image was there before I made the exposure. I was told later that my exact words were, “Want to try something weird?”

Even though it had already been a successful night of shooting the stars I knew there was one more frame to take and that frame should include us. It wasn’t something that was planned but it turned out being one my most cherished images to date.

When shooting any type of image it always pays to go with your gut. More often than not, your instincts will be right. If it feels like a photographic opportunity is presenting itself then it’s usually a good idea to follow your intuition and pursue the idea. Don’t think you have astute instincts? Don’t worry. They will develop and mature as you do as a photographer.



Remember, strong images are made by more than just perfect camera settings. Begin looking beyond your exposure and aperture to understand how your photos impact you and ultimately the viewer. The methods mentioned above will give you a great start to producing consistently better images time and time again.

The post How to Compose Better Images and Make your Images More Extraordinary by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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3 Tips for Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

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One of the first things that new photographers often hear is “your kit lens is garbage.” While there are certainly benefits to upgrading your glass as your budget allows, it’s also important to know that there is so much you can do with your kit lens if you understand how to use it to your advantage! In this case, let’s talk about portraits.

Most photographers quickly upgrade to a 50mm or 85mm prime lens for portraits, and with good reason. These lenses are sharp, and can typically shoot as wide as f/1.4 or f/1.8, which means that it’s easier to achieve that nice blurred background in portraits.

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Canon 50mm lens at f/2.0, 1/160th sec, ISO 100.

If you plan to spend any significant amount of time taking portraits, I would absolutely recommend upgrading to at least a Nifty Fifty lens. When it comes to portraits, I almost always find myself reaching for my 50mm prime lens, and I really do think it’s worth the money. That said, when we’re living in the real world, there are a whole plethora of reasons why you might not upgrade lenses right away. Perhaps it’s a budget issue. Perhaps you’re still trying to decide which type of photography really interests you. Or maybe you just opened the camera box for the first time today and want to have a better understanding of your camera before you purchase anything else. Regardless of the reason, I’ve got good news for you–you can take great portraits with a kit lens!

In this article, we’ll explore a couple of limitations when it comes to taking portraits with a kit lens, as well as some tips for working around those limitations and capturing the best portraits possible with the equipment you already have.

1. Use Depth of Field to your advantage

As I mentioned before, one of the benefits of using a prime lens for portraits is the ability to shoot as wide as f/1.4 or f/1.8 to easily achieve that nice blurry background (called bokeh) in almost any location. Most kit lenses can only shoot as wide as f/3.5 (at 18mm) and f/5.6 (at 55mm) which won’t blur the background as much as new photographers are typically hoping. That is unless they understand that aperture isn’t the only important factor in creating that nice blurry background for portraits.

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Another key aspect in creating a blurry background is the distance from the subject to the background. The further the subject is from the background, the blurrier the background will be in the photograph.  So, to create the blurry background when using your kit lens, one of the easiest things to do is to position your subject as far away from the background as possible.

Typically, when I use a 50mm lens to photograph my kids in the backyard, I have them sit on the grass about two or three feet away from our back fence. When using a kit lens, I have them sit about 30 feet away from the fence, as you can see in the image above. Then, I zoom-in to somewhere between 35-55mm, and shoot at the widest aperture the lens will allow for that focal length, in order to produce the most blur in the background possible.

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Canon Kit Lens that came bundled with the Rebel XS. This image was shot at 37mm and f/4.5.

2. Change your perspective

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Both images were taken with a kit lens at f/5.6.

If you can’t place your subject far away from the background and/or the background isn’t something you’d like to incorporate into your photograph, another option to consider is to change your perspective. Stand up, and have your subject sit on the ground, photographing them from above. Grass, cement, asphalt, and sand all photograph well from above, and can often be more visually pleasing in a portrait than a background that cannot be blurred as much as you’d like.

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Shot with a kit lens at 55mm, f/5.6.

Bonus Tip: When shooting from above, try converting to black and white! When converted to black and white, grass reads as a dark background that can be a nice contrast for lighter skin tones. Likewise, concrete often reads as a light background that can be a nice contrast for darker skin tones. Converting to black and white when shooting from above can be a great way to work around the inability to blur a background as much as you’d like in portraits.

3. Try candid or semi-posed portraits

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Shooting at f/4 or f/5.6 means that more of each image is going to be in focus than it would be if you were shooting at f/1.4 or f/1.8. Rather than consider this a disadvantage, think about the things that are easier to capture at those apertures.

For example, at f/5.6, you have the freedom to capture images with a little more movement without risking a lot of blur from motion. This is a great opportunity to try taking portrait-style images that are candid or semi-posed. Try photographing kids running toward you or siblings mid-hug. Have your subject twirl or jump. Ask mom or dad to tickle their child. Though these images may be slightly different than the head-and-shoulders images that the word “portrait” often brings to mind, they often invoke emotion and movement in a way that is really compelling and valuable in photographs.

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Shooting from a slightly wider angle than just head and shoulders also allows you to incorporate aspects of the surroundings into your images to tell a story. Perhaps it’s a handful of flowers at the park, a bunch of balloons for a child’s birthday, or even an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. The cold hard facts are that the story and emotion make the portrait, not the bokeh in the background.

Using a kit lens in a nutshell

My suggestion to you is to fudge the expectation of head-and-shoulders images when it comes to kit lens portraits. Instead, focus on capturing emotions and telling a story, while getting as close as you reasonably can. If you can move the subject far away from the background in order to create a nice blur, absolutely do so. If you can’t, consider changing your perspective to create a more uniform background that’s reasonably free from distractions so that the viewer will be able to focus solely on your subject.

Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens

Does a kit lens have limitations when it comes to portraiture? Absolutely. However, recognizing the limits of a kit lens when it comes to portrait photography isn’t prohibitive. Rather, it allows you to recognize the situations and applications that will be most effective in creating the images you want with the equipment you already have, and that’s always a good thing!

Do you have a great portrait taken with a kit lens? Please share it in the comments below!

The post 3 Tips for Taking Portraits with a Kit Lens by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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The Ultimate Guide to Street Photography

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Phil Steele is a well-known and respected photography educator. In this video tutorial he walks you through exactly how he works through the post-processing of an event he has just shot.

Learn tips on importing, rating, culling, organizing in Collections, exporting, and delivering the photos as Phil goes through his entire event photography workflow step by step.

If you enjoyed that and want more you can check out Phil’s courses here:

In this extensive article, I will help you understand more about street photography, how to do it, and all the things you need to think about including equipment, ethics, and even legalities. This is the ultimate guide to street photography to help get you started in this genre of photography.



  1. What is street photography?
  2. Ethics and overcoming your fear.
  3. The law and street photography.
  4. A few of the most important tips to get you started.
  5. Equipment.
  6. Camera settings.
  7. Composition and light.
  8. Advanced tips.
  9. Content and concepts of street photography.
  10. Editing.
  11. Master street photographer research.

1 dior 5th avenue nyc


Street photography is an inherently clunky term, and because of this, there are many street photographers that dislike it. They consider themselves photographers, plain and simple.

The first image that typically comes to mind for the term street photography, is an image of a stranger just walking down the street in a city like New York, London, or Tokyo. This is a huge part of street photography of course, but it is only one part, and it can cause confusion over the true meaning of what street photography really is all about, and how it can be done.

Street photography is candid photography of life and human nature. It is a way for us to show our surroundings, and how we as photographers relate to them. We are filtering what we see, to find the moments that intrigue us, and to then share them with others. It’s like daydreaming with a camera.

2 prince and broadway

People do not need to be present for an image to be considered a street photograph. The photograph does not need to be taken in a city, or in a busy market. It can be taken anywhere and can portray nearly anything, as long as it isn’t posed or manipulated. It can be shot at a family barbecue, or in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York City.

While many may consider the term clunky, there is an elegant side to it as well; that I think is often missed. The street is the most public and accessible of places. Street photography is the most public and accessible form of photography. Anyone can do it. You do not need an expensive camera. You do not need a big studio, professional lighting, or beautiful models. We all have the same content out there, and it’s up to us to figure out how to capture that and bring it home.

In addition, while technical quality is always important to every form of photography, it is not celebrated in street photography in quite the same way. A nature or landscape image needs to be sharp. It usually needs to be able to be printed at large sizes with great technical quality. In these genres, you can pick the perfect location, frame it the perfect way, choose the perfect equipment and settings, and continue to come back until you get the perfect lighting.


With street photography, on the other hand, the best image of your life can pop right in front of you on the way to get your morning coffee. This spontaneity is what’s celebrated. That is why grainy images, slightly off-kilter framing a-la Garry Winogrand, or imperfect focus will not always ruin a street photograph. Sometimes they will, and we must aim for technical mastery, but other times they can add to the realness of the moment. Sometimes these deficiencies may actually improve the image.

But these are decisions that can’t be taught. Many of them are spontaneous and instinctive. That is why you can’t buy or read your way into mastery of street photography. You are on the same plane as every other photographer. The only thing standing between you and them is the time spent out there paying your dues, waiting for those intriguing moments to occur, and improving your ability to notice and bring them back with you.


Let’s not sugarcoat this – street photography is an intrusive form of photography, and sometimes it can be creepy to the subjects. Photographing people candidly usually means that you do not have their permission beforehand.

3 smiley face soho

This is something that you will have to come to terms with to do street photography. For every image you capture, no matter how beautiful or interesting, there is the chance that the subject may not like seeing it. Some will, but there are some that will not.

This is the moral cost of doing this type of photography. Most of us do this because we like people, and we like exploring, and capturing culture. The camera is just a way to bring back moments that we see and enjoy. These images have value – both current, and historical value. When you look at images from the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s, or even from fifteen years ago, what are the most interesting images? Usually, it’s the ones that people and culture. These are the photographs that so many find fascinating because there is a lot of cultural value to them.

Fear is one of the toughest obstacles to overcome for beginners, and these moral quandaries can make it even tougher. The main idea to keep in mind is that getting caught does not have to be that bad.

4 shades of red

Think about the first time that a comedian bombs on stage, and how important it is to get that out of the way for the first time so that they no longer have to worry about it. Similarly, it’s an important moment when you speak to someone, after having taken his or her candid photograph for the first time.

Keep in mind that when done right, this will usually happen infrequently. But, you want to be confident, and comfortable in what you will say if someone asks you what you are doing. I will say that I am a photographer who is doing a project capturing the culture and people of New York, and I thought they looked fabulous (flattery is key). If they ask further, I will explain more and tell them that I did not mean to make them uncomfortable and that I’m happy to delete the image if they prefer. Only twice, have I ever had to delete a photograph when the person asked me nicely. Those are pretty good odds.

You do not need to delete the photograph of course; that’s a decision you need to make for yourself. I do this type of photography because I like people, and if they seem truly uncomfortable in the moment, then I have decided to delete the images for their benefit and my conscience.

Joe soho

If someone catches you, own up to it. Do not be combative. Even if it is in your legal right, you do not need to use that as your argument. You don’t need to argue at all. Make sure to keep a smile on your face no matter what.

Stealth is obviously good for street photography, since if every single person noticed you taking their photo, it would just make things immensely time-consuming and difficult. However, keep in mind that the stealthier you try to act, the weirder you can actually look. Sometimes, being obvious and taking photos in a direct way can be the least confrontational strategy. The more obvious you look, the less people will think that you could possibly be doing anything wrong. If so, why be so obvious?

Finally, consider starting somewhere busy, such as at a fair or a market. If you are just learning, go where there are a lot of people, so that you will be less noticeable. This is a great way to get over the initial hump, and as you improve, you can then maneuver to completely different places.


5 police manhattan and brooklyn bridges

Disclaimer: Regarding the law and street photography, do your own research into your local laws, as I am not an expert in this matter. Do not hold me (or dPS) accountable for what is said here, but these are just my own beliefs, based on my research. Do your own due diligence, and get familiar with the laws in your area, or places where you travel.

All countries have different laws, and street photography without permission is illegal in some places. Some make it impossible to do street photography at all, while in other areas photographers may decide to ignore the laws. In some countries, street photographers will continue to take candid images, but only images where the person’s face is unrecognizable.

In the U.S. and U.K., there is no right to privacy in public. This means that you can legally take photographs of anyone in a public place. On private property, that right goes away, but many street photographers choose to ignore that and do not differentiate.

Graffiti selfie

Note: the very definition of that term, public place, may vary from one country to the next – but generally includes things such as’ parks, sidewalks, roads, outdoor common areas of office buildings, and other similar places. Most indoor locations would be considered private spaces such as; shops, churches, schools, and office buildings.

You can use photographs taken in public places for artistic purposes, without the need for a model release. This means you can sell them as fine art prints, or as illustrations for books or cards. However, you cannot use these images for commercial or advertising purposes without a model release of any person in the image. You cannot use the image to promote a product, and you cannot use it in any way that may insinuate something against the person that is untrue.

Legal rights aside, it can also be smart to research an area that you are traveling to so that you can find out what practicing street photography is like there. In some places, it is much easier to do this type of photography, while in others people may be much more confrontational. One of the reasons that New York is a great mecca for street photography is because the people are very used to seeing cameras.

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You also want to assess people before you decide to take a photograph of them. It’s usually not worth it to photograph anyone who looks very angry, or who might have some mental disability. Use your judgment, and if your gut says no, then wait for the next one. There are a lot of opportunities out there.


We will cover more technical concepts regarding street photography later on, but I want to start you off with a few of the most important tips to consider when you walk out the door. These are the ones that I think can help you out the most.

The best tip I can possibly give you is to find a good spot and just wait there. If you only shoot while you are walking, you will come across many wonderful locations, but will only give yourself a brief moment to capture the right image there. Instead, find the right location, and then just wait for the right moment to happen. By hanging out in one area, you will be able to funnel more of your attention towards observing, and your coordination with your camera will be faster. Finally, people will be entering your personal space instead of you entering their space. It makes a big difference to capturing good shots, in a way that is comfortable for both parties.

7 pushups rucker park

The next very simple tip refers to the camera snap, which is something that most photographers do instinctually. Try it, and take a photo. The second you take a photograph; you will likely immediately move the camera away from your eye slightly. This is what tips off people, to the fact that you have taken their photo. Instead, after you capture an image, hold the camera there until the subject leaves your scene. It will lead the person to think that you were just photographing the background and that they were in the way, or will confuse them enough to leave you alone.

Next, consider photographing within your everyday life, near where you live. It’s a common misconception to think that you can only do street photography well in the most interesting of areas, or that you will get better photographs if you travel to New York. That is not true. The best photographers can take good images anywhere, and it doesn’t have to be a highly populated area for you to be able to take interesting images. In fact, it may give you an advantage, because you do not have as much competition.

I want to take this point further and have you try an exercise. Think about the least interesting areas, near where you live to photograph. Go there and force yourself to figure out how to take good photographs.


8 yosemite soho

You can do street photography well, with really any type of camera. You can do it with an SLR and a long zoom lens, and you can do it well with a camera phone.

However, different equipment will have different advantages. A zoom lens will give you more obvious opportunities at different distances but will be heavier, more noticeable, and more cumbersome. A prime lens will constrict you to images at a specific distance from the camera, but will also be light, freeing, and fun to use.

Traveling light will give you a lot more flexibility. Mirrorless, micro four thirds cameras, or even a camera phone, will allow you to take images more easily, in places where a large camera would stand out too much. They are lighter and thus more fun to shoot with, which will allow you to enjoy photography in situations where you normally wouldn’t take your SLR.

Prime lenses, while constricting you to a specific focal length, will actually give you a big advantage. You will begin to see the world more intuitively with that focal length, and while the limitation will stop you from being able to capture certain shots, you will become even better at capturing images within the constraints of that focal length. Because of this, you will become quicker, and more spontaneous with your camera.


9 sample sale

Many photographers shoot in completely different ways for street photography. There is no correct way, but there are some factors to consider. Also, if you have photographed in the same manner for a long time, I would consider being open to trying other ways of shooting to get out of your comfort zone. It can be good to switch things up every once in awhile.

Some photographers choose to have a lot of bokeh in all of their images. This is a fine way to shoot, but you also have to consider that in the fast moving genre of candid photography, if you are photographing at f/2.8 and you miss the focus slightly, you will probably ruin the shot. It will be tougher to capture images with multiple subjects at different depths shooting wide opened. By choosing to blur the surroundings; you will also remove some of the context and background from the image, which can take away some of the meaning or storytelling.

For these reasons, I usually try to shoot with as much depth of field as possible. I find that with the variety of situations that you can come across suddenly in street photography, this strategy allows you to succeed more often than not.

10 bike messenger

It is important to pay strict attention to your shutter speed, much more than you would for genres of photography where your subject is not moving. You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of people. I prefer to use 1/250th in the shade and 1/400 or 1/500th in direct sunlight. In darker situations, I will go to 1/160th and sometimes 1/125th.

Now imagine that you are trying to squeeze as much depth of field as possible out of your camera. What is the ideal way to set up your camera to achieve this? The first thing to do is to set your ISO. You should not be afraid to raise your ISO up to high numbers. Grain (or noise if you prefer) is good here. Test your camera out to see how it looks at high ISOs, not just on the monitor, but in different sized prints. With newer cameras, you can easily go to ISO 1600, 3200, and for some even 6400.

With a digital camera on the more advanced of the spectrum (e.g. the Fuji X100 line), I will typically set my camera at ISO 400 in sunlight, 800 in light shade, 1600 in dark shade, 3200 at dusk, and 6400 at night. With entry-level digital cameras, I would probably cut a stop out of that, so 3200 at night, 1600 at dusk, and so on.

11 canal street

The reason for a higher ISO is that it will allow you to have both a fast shutter speed to freeze motion and a smaller (higher numbered like f/8 or f/11) aperture, so that there is as much depth of field as possible in the image.

Finally, I will set my camera to shutter priority mode. You can shoot manual, but I prefer shutter priority because you will often be shooting into the sun one moment, and away from it the next, so the necessary settings will be completely different. I prefer not to have to change my settings every time I turn my body. In consistent lighting situations, indoors, or at night, I will go to manual mode, and for the photos where I want a very shallow depth of field, I will shoot on aperture priority at a low number (like f/2.8), and choose a much lower ISO.


12 blonde soho

Composition for street photography works the same way that it does for every other genre, but there are a few things that I want you to consider. Compose your street photographs the same way that you would compose your landscape images. Assess the scene and arrange all of the elements together. Instead of a tree here and a mountain there, you might place a fire hydrant here and a ladder there. Every element counts just as much as they do in a traditional landscape, no matter what it is, and the best street photographers have a way of bringing everything together in just the right way.

Sometimes, the subject alone is all that counts, and you will want to frame it, or blur the background away, forgetting about everything else. But that’s only sometimes. A lot of photographers will shoot this way 100% of the time, especially when first starting out, but that’s a mistake. Try to see beyond the main subject, and see if you can combine it with other elements to create a more complex scene. Can you create relationships between subjects to add new meaning to an image? Whether or not you decide to make the surroundings prominent, you always need to be aware of them. I would prefer that you intentionally decide to not include elements of the background, rather than to not notice them at all.

Construction workers

You always want to keep an eye out for your main light sources. How does the light hit your subject, and where is it located in relationship to that subject? How is it hitting the background? What color is the light, and are there multiple light sources? These are ideas that you will usually pay attention to for every type of photography, but it is important to understand for street photography that there is no best time or lighting. The harsh midday light will be just as beautiful and interesting as the warm, even dawn or dusk light. Since you are at the whim of your environment, it is very important to be able to see and maneuver yourself to get the most out of the light in any location. The beauty of street photography, though, is that it will teach you how to work with light very quickly.

Some photographers will use a portable flash to illuminate their subjects and separate them from the background. This can create a great look, but also keep in mind that flashing a stranger in the face can be very confrontational. Also, when the flash is too strong, it can take away from the feeling of reality in the photograph, which is a look that some photographers desire, so it is a decision you will have to make. A surreal look might be something that you are going for, and in that case, a flash could be a big asset.


13 youth soho

Facial expressions and gestures

When capturing images of people, photographing them just walking down the street, or standing in place, is not enough. To take your image to the next level, that person needs to have a strong facial expression or gesture in their body.

As humans, we feel what another person is feeling, through their facial expressions. When you’re out shooting, one of the first things you should be doing is paying attention to people’s eyes and the expressions they show. Similarly, you can see subtle cues from a person’s body, so keep an eye out for how a person may be expressing themselves through their body, hands, legs, and feet.

The beauty of street photography is often in its imperfections. You do not need to try and make a photograph perfect in every way. Strong grain (or digital noise), an image that is slightly askew, an element that is slightly in the way, or imperfect lighting, are all examples of what can make an image feel real. While any of these things have the ability to ruin a photo, sometimes they can get in the way just enough to make it feel like a natural moment. So while you should always aim for technical mastery, realize that imperfections can be beneficial, and even necessary.

14 selfie soho

Zone Focusing

Zone focusing is simple to learn, fairly difficult to master, and agonizing to explain in writing (it’s much easier to just show someone how to do it). Basically, zone focusing is the strategy of turning your autofocus off and using manual focus. When done well, it can allow you to capture consistently sharper images in a variety of situations.

The goal is to pre-focus your camera to a certain distance. I typically choose between eight and 10 feet away, which is the most common distance where I like to capture my subjects. Then, when subjects enter the range that you are pre-focused for, you can click the shutter without having to waste any time focusing. The fraction of a second that it will save, and the added freedom this allows, will take you a long way.

I usually only zone focus at 35mm and wider, although sometimes I will do it up to 50mm on bright days. The reason for this is because the further you zoom in, the more accurate you have to be with your focus to get your subject sharp. It becomes very difficult to zone focus over 50mm.

Jerry delakas astor newsman

Zone focusing is very easy to screw up at first. If you do not gauge the distance correctly, you can easily miss the focus entirely. It is much easier to start off in bright sunlight, because with a 35mm or wider focal length, and an aperture of f/11 to f/16, there will be a huge depth of field. So if you miss the focus by a bit, your important subjects will still be sharp.

You can, and should learn to zone focus in darker situations, and at apertures up to f/2. It’s much more difficult, though, so take your time getting there, but it’s very possible and it just takes practice. When zone focusing at shallower apertures, you can even learn to move the focus ring without looking, so if you are focused at 10 feet and a subject appears five feet away, you can move the focus instinctively to that distance without even looking (this is how sports shooters did it before autofocus existed). This is the pinnacle of skill with zone focusing and takes a lot of practice, but it is very possible to learn to do well.


15 cellphones

The toughest step in all of this is to figure out what it is that you actually want to capture and create. What do you want your photographs to be of, and what do you want them to look like?

If you look at the works of any great street photographer who has done it for long enough, there will be many consistencies in their work. Maybe these consistencies last throughout their entire lifetime, or maybe it changes in different bodies of work, but they are there and should be studied to help you find your own.

The longer you shoot, the more you will begin to understand what you are drawn to. You will begin to see types of photographs that you are attracted to, and you will begin to seek them out when you are photographing. Think about what you are trying to portray with your photography. Occasionally, you will have big ideas right away, but often it will take a lot of time for these ideas to grow and develop naturally.

Sequencing is also important to many photographers. While it is not a necessary aspect of street photography, it is a way to place unrelated images together, to create a larger narrative. This is why the book has become, in my opinion, the best way to show street photography. Each image takes on even more importance and meaning when surrounding by other photos. There is a lot of power in how you decide to display your work.


16 soaring eagle grand central

Editing is half of the battle for becoming a good street photographer. When you are out photographing, it is best to be spontaneous and to get lost in the moment, but editing is when you begin to really think about your work in a larger setting. It is where you can explore themes and ideas as they start to pop up in your photography. It is when you can combine similar images to create a larger story. It is where you can develop a style in both look and content. Because of all of this, the time that you put in editing will then help you when you are out shooting. You will notice more because you will have a better idea of what you are looking for, and this will make you a much better photographer.

Consider using Lightroom’s star rating and collection system to organize your best work, and to put photographs with similar themes together. Find consistencies in your work, and images that play well off each other, and create collections for them. Constantly tinker, add, remove photos, and change the order in these collections.

Technically, when editing your work it is important to consider how vital realism is to the genre. Yes, many photographers celebrate the surreal and the extraordinary moment, but they do this only if those moments actually happened. Street photography obsesses over realism, and a made up moment is not a true street photograph. Similarly, an image that is over-edited, so as to make it look fake, will kill the spirit of street photography. The image does not have to be perfect. You do not have to have every detail in the shadows and highlights. While you should do enough post-production to make it look right, always take a step back and consider whether or not you’ve overcooked it.


17 bubble soho

The final step is to research the work of other street photographers. This is something that you should start from the very beginning to gain inspiration and to understand more about what you are capable of achieving in this genre. Consider the work of photographers who shoot in a variety of locations, including big city, rural, and suburban. Purchase books on a consistent basis, as learning from the book format is still very important. There are many affordable street photography books, to go alongside the expensive ones.

Take special notice to the street photographers whose work you do not like at first. Many people will immediately disregard a photographer at first glance, without delving deeper. The issue with street photographs is that they are often different and weird, and it can be impossible to truly get a sense of what a photographer is trying to portray by seeing just a few photographs. Read about the history and location of the photographer, look through as much of their portfolio as you can, and then try to figure out what they were trying to say. Sometimes you will find yourself with a completely new appreciation for the photographer, and see things in their work that went right over your head with your first look.

18 mona 5th

Here is a list of photographers to start off with for your research. It is not an exhaustive list, but it will help get you going:

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Garry Winogrand
  • Robert Frank
  • Helen Levitt
  • Lee Friedlander
  • William Eggleston
  • Walker Evans
  • Daid? Moriyama
  • Martin Parr
  • Elliot Erwitt
  • Joel Meyerowitz
  • Mary Ellen Mark
  • Bruce Davidson
  • Saul Leiter
  • Trent Parke
  • Alex Webb
  • Vivian Maier
  • Bruce Gilden

19 polka dots and pink shoes

I hope this ultimate guide to street photography has answered some of your questions about this genre of the craft. If you have any others that haven’t been answered or have some comments to add, please do so below.

Now go out and photograph as frequently as possible, and have fun with it.


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The post The Ultimate Guide to Street Photography by James Maher appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Being a landscape or nature photographer is like enjoying ice cream and having unlimited choice in the ice cream shop. There are so many different kinds of images to make, and different ways of making them in the outdoors, that having a wide variety of gear to choose from is important. This article will take you on a little journey through what’s in my bag. From my own camera gear to the different tools that I use to help me photograph the scenes in nature that capture my attention, and turn ordinary life into extraordinary art.


sunset reflected in water

Hudson Bay Mountain Sunset

The Backpack


The biggest piece of gear I use is the Tilopa backpack from f-stop. It’s a rugged 50L pack that’s well suited for a wide variety of outdoor scenarios. There are all manner of straps and zippered compartments both outside and inside the pack that are useful for attaching and storing both large and small pieces of equipment. There are three things however that have proven to be especially valuable to me:

  1. Rear Panel Access – instead of just having access to the inside from the top, the Tilopa has a zippered section that allows you access to the bag when you lay it on the ground. This is helpful when you have gear at the bottom of the pack and you don’t want to excavate everything on top of it to get access (as you’d have to do when going in from the top as is typical in a lot of other backpacks).
  2. Internal control unit (ICU) – ICU’s come in different sizes and shapes and allow you to organize and protect your camera equipment. My Tilopa allows for a large ICU with space at the top of the pack for a jacket or food depending on my needs. The backpack also has attachment points that you can use to secure your ICU to the inside of the pack. One really nice feature is that the ICU itself can be zippered shut and removed or carried. If you fly a lot and find that your pack is overweight, you can remove the ICU with your valuable gear and take it with you on the plane while checking the rest of the bag.
  3. Padded Hip Belt – to carry some of the weight on my hips.

Backup Camera Bodies


The first digital SLR I owned was the Canon 5D. It was such a huge step up, both in price and quality from its predecessor (a film Canon Rebel). I remember being amazed at how much more of the scene I saw when looking through the viewfinder (thanks to the full-frame sensor). In 2007 I purchased an additional body (Canon 5D Mark II), which meant that I now had a backup. Having two cameras available for use provides a nice sense of security, knowing if one has issues, there won’t be any loss of productivity. The main differences between the two bodies that I appreciate are the live view, greater dynamic range, and higher resolution screen that the 5D MK II provides.

Extra Batteries – Charging Devices

Having spare batteries is especially important when I am out shooting for extended periods of time, or I am photographing winter scenes. I also appreciate having grips for each of my camera bodies that gives me the option of going out with two batteries at a time.

Another situation where a longer battery life is appreciated is when I shoot time-lapse sequences. I can shoot several thousand images at a time and it’s nice to know that I can leave the camera firing away with ample power, and not have to continually come back and check to make sure the battery hasn’t died.

Not only do I have backup camera batteries, but I also had a portable battery charger (Goal Zero Switch 8) for my phone. I say HAD because I used it so much it’s worn out. I am planning on purchasing an upgraded power charger soon. This device can be charged at home by plugging it into a USB port, and then used in the field to recharge a phone (or other devices such as headlamps).

Image Storage


Apart from the Compact Flash (CF) cards in the cameras, I also carry a small (older model) Pelican case with room for 4 CF cards. The majority of my cards are 16GB, but I also carry a 2GB one as an emergency backup in a small pocket in my backpack.

Apart from the flexibility that having multiple cards provides, I sincerely believe in redundancy. You never know when a card might fail, and so to be ready on the occasion that one does, it’s nice to know you can keep shooting. Most of the time I don’t fill the 16GB cards to capacity when I’m out for the day on a photo-adventure. There are occasions however when I’m on a commercial job where having multiple cards is an absolute must.



The three lenses I have are all Canon L-series glass.

  • 14mm, f/2.8: This wide-angle prime lens is really useful for capturing wide open vistas. It also comes in handy when you find yourself in tight quarters and don’t have a lot of physical depth between you and your subject. The trick when you’re really close though, is to make sure your main subject is near the center of the frame. Because of the nature of this almost fish-eye lens, objects near the corners of the frame have exaggerated perspectives. It’s almost as if they are unnaturally stretched. (Price it out on Amazon or at B&H)
  • Canon 24-105mm, f/4: This is the lens that I have on my camera the most, primarily because it has the greatest degree of flexibility when it comes to focal length.
  • 70-200mm, f/2.8: Every once and while I go out with the goal of focusing on more detailed aspects of nature, rather than a wide-angle view of a scene. The added focal length as compared to the 24-105mm lens helps me to do that. The large aperture can also provide a nicely blurred background when the need arises.



My current tripod is the carbon-fibre Feisol CT-3342 with a Feisol CB-50DC ball head. This allows for flexibility when composing your image and also has the capability to rotate when the camera is locked in place (there are degree markings to help when specific movements are required, for example when doing panoramas). There is a tiny removable hook (which you can hang things from) that screws in underneath the head which is useful when it’s windy and you need that extra measure of stability.

The tripod has 3-section adjustable legs that extend or contract with the simple twist of a rubber ring. One of my favourite features (as I do a lot of winter photography), is the screw-in metal spikes that attach to the bottom of the tripod legs. These come in handy when I’m out on ice, or other slippery situations, to keep the tripod secure during each exposure the camera makes.

I also have a small tripod clamp that comes in handy in situations where using a tripod simply isn’t possible.

A relatively new purchase has been the Capture Pro from Peak Design. This is a device that I attach to the shoulder strap of my backpack and then click my camera (with the appropriate shoe) into it. So the camera is always close at hand when I go out on my adventures. It means every time I want to make a photograph, I can just reach down and release the camera from the clip instead of stopping and getting the camera out of the backpack.

Shutter Release Mechanisms


There are two different ways that the shutter on the camera can be activated. First of all, a wired shutter release can be plugged into the side of the camera.

You can accomplish hands-free shutter release wirelessly as well. The Pocket Wizard PlusX transceivers are the ones that I use. One gets attached on your camera’s hot-shoe and plugged into the appropriate port on the side of the camera. Then as long as that device and the second one you can hold in your hand (or even on another camera) are both set to the same channel, when the remote device is triggered, the transceiver on the hot-shoe will fire the camera.

Why remote triggering? It’s very useful in low-light situations where a sharp image is required and hand-holding the camera is not possible. It’s also absolutely essential when doing long exposures.

Promote Control


This remote control device can be used for a number of different things, including bulb-ramping and focus stacking. However the most commons things I use it for are my time-lapse sequences and HDR bracketing.

LEE Big Stopper


Essentially this is a piece of glass that allows me to make long exposures beyond the normal capabilities of my camera. Practically, it’s a 10-stop neutral density filter that allows me to make a long exposure of a waterfall and turn raging water into silky smoothness. I also use it to capture the motion of clouds in the sky. There is the 4″x4″ piece of glass that slides into a holder, which itself attaches to the camera via a ring that screws into the end of the lens.

Waterfall: 30 seconds, f/4, 12:36pm
Clouds: 30 seconds, f/14, 12:03pm

Other Equipment

There are a few other pieces of equipment that find their way into my pack every once and a while:


Final Thoughts on Camera Gear

There you go, a fully-loaded backpack that weighs 35 pounds (15.9 kg). Thankfully not everything comes with me all the time, my back would definitely have something to say about that. With the years I’ve been doing photography, picking and choosing the tools that best suit the goals I have on any given day is what helps me turn ordinary life into extraordinary art.

What tools do you use? Please share in the comments below.

The post What’s In My Bag: A Look at the Camera Gear of a Nature Photographer by Curtis Cunningham appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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