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Tips for Doing Macro Underwater Photography

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Look at the photograph below. What an unreal, alien animal! It could be right out of one of the many upcoming Star Wars sequels. You just don’t see creatures like that in your everyday life. It’s a sea slug (to be scientifically precise: Nembrotha Kubayana) which I photographed 20 meters underwater on a reef in the Philippines. The head of the slug is only about a centimeter across, so the image is quite a close-up (macro photograph).


If it doesn’t sound easy to dive 20, 30 or more meters below the ocean’s surface to take a picture of a slug the size of your pinky – it isn’t. But with the right gear, with the proper knowledge and experience using that gear, and with skills to find those small animals you can do it too. So let’s talk about each of these points one at a time.

The Gear

Naturally, you will need an underwater camera. There are a number of great choices these days. Compact cameras have greatly improved in recent years, and you can get a pretty good deal on a camera plus the fitting underwater housing. Many camera manufacturers make acrylic housings for their own compact camera models, which tend to be a lot cheaper than third party models. To have any chance of taking good macro shots, you need a strobe or a video light as well.


Me with my underwater camera setup. Note the diopter (magnifying lens) attached to the front of the lens port. The strobe is relatively close to the port and aimed slightly forward. The closer the subject, the closer the strobe can be to the port. The farther away the subject is, the further the strobe has to be to avoid backscatter.

If you have a lot of money or if you are obsessed with underwater photography (like myself) you can get yourself a DSLR, and put it in an underwater housing. I have been using a Canon 5DII in a Hugyfot (machined aluminum) housing, with two Inon z-240 strobes for several years now. Camera choice is an interesting and complex issue, but I want to concentrate on the gear you need specifically for underwater macro photography.

Macro lens


Another sea slug, from Botany Bay, Australia.

Modern macro lenses are technological miracles. If you are using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, you can switch lenses. So you need to mount one that is capable of focusing close up, with significant magnifying power. I routinely use the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens(price it on Amazon or B&H Photo), which can focus at 35 centimeters. That distance is measured from the sensor plane, hence I can place the subject only a few centimeters in front of the housing’s lens port. The sharpness this lens achieves when capturing minute animals is simply amazing. Nikon’s 105mm macro (price it on Amazon or at B&H Photo) is a legendary lens as well, and for cameras with cropped sensors (mirrorless cameras and entry to mid-level SLRs) 60mm macro lenses do a great job.

Other options

A small, but clever piece of gear I have been using with quite some success, is an extension tube. It’s simply a spacer inserted between the macro lens and the camera body. The extension tube eliminates the ability of the lens to focus to infinity (not used in macro photography anyway) and adds another 20% of magnification. The fact that no additional lens elements are introduced is a good thing for image quality.

Diopters (also called close-up filters) are also highly recommended. A diopter is simply a magnifying glass which is placed on the front of the camera’s lens. This is not ideal in terms of the optics, and distortions towards the edges are possible. With diopters, it makes sense to invest in a quality product to minimize such distortions. However, the amount of magnification achieved with a good diopter is absolutely mind-boggling. It can turn your underwater camera setup into a field microscope.


Another goby, very well camouflaged on a soft coral.

You can get both dry diopters which are attached to the actual lens, and wet diopters which are attached to the lens port on the outside of the housing. Wet diopters exist for DSLR and compact camera underwater setups. The convenient thing about the wet ones is that you can take them off underwater, and shoot larger animals again.

Tip: Make sure you store your wet diopter in a safe place when it’s not mounted.

Request: If you see a wet diopter for a 10cm diameter macro port, with a gray plastic mount somewhere on the west coast of Cebu, please return it to me.

How to use your macro gear

I’d like to stress two things when it comes to the proper camera technique for macro underwater photography – camera settings and strobe placement.

Almost all the light for your underwater photographs will come from your artificial light source anyway, so the shutter speed is usually not important. It needs to be equal or slower than the maximum speed your camera can synchronize with the strobes. That kind of information will be in the user manual for your camera since it differs between camera models. Otherwise, a shutter speed as fast as possible is beneficial for sharp images.


A small goby on a piece of hard coral, with the entire image in sharp focus. Canon 5DII, Canon USM 100mm f2.8 lens, at f/22.

Aperture considerations

A small aperture helps to keep the whole scene in your image sharp. Macro lenses naturally have a shallower depth of field due to the distance to subject being much smaller. So to photograph a tiny goby and all of the pretty coral it perches on, with all of it in focus, I use an aperture anywhere from f/22 to f/32 (that’s the smallest my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro can do).

There is also the option of using a wider aperture to achieve a Japanese-style effect in your images. Such a photographic style is indeed popular with Japanese underwater photographers these days. It is somewhat reminiscent of the late medieval Japanese painting style where the artists would just hint at a few twigs to depict a tree. How wide you can go depends on your lens, the distance to the subject and its orientation. The aperture of f/4.2 used in the picture below is as wide open as I can go. Whenever I can, I set my camera to approximately correct values before the dive so that I don’t have to find my way around in the menus while already underwater with a cool fish showing up in photographic range.


Only the face of this stick pipefish from Sydney in Australia is in focus. This Japanese style shot gives the image a dreamy atmosphere. Olympus TG-1, at f/4.2.


You will need to use artificial light for most of your macro shots. Light-hungry macro lenses will not make good images with sunlight in many situations on land, and underwater, with so much sunlight absorbed by the water above you, they do even worse. The internal flash of most cameras is not strong enough and it’s in a less-than-ideal position just above the lens.

Avoid back-scatter

The external strobes you use should be mounted on some kind of adjustable or bendable arm. Keep them positioned moderately close to your lens, and a bit behind it. In underwater photography, you are always aiming to avoid back-scatter. Your strobe will light up the suspended particles in the stretch of water between your lens and the sea slug, and this will make your image look as if taken in a snow storm. There is nothing quite as annoying in underwater photography than a well composed, well lit shot, with a lot of back-scatter ruining it. You can take care of back-scatter in post-processing to some degree in some shots, but it’s a pain and better avoided, to begin with. Back-scatter is to underwater photography what blisters are to hiking.

A diver on a shipwreck in the Philippines. These are harsh conditions for underwater photography. I had my strobes turned outwards, and placed away from the camera, but not enough. The illuminated particles (the backscatter) stand out especially in front of the darker part of the wreck.

A diver on a shipwreck in the Philippines. These are harsh conditions for underwater photography. I had my strobes turned outwards, and placed away from the camera, but not enough. The illuminated particles (the back-scatter) stand out especially in front of the darker part of the wreck.

When shooting wide-angle underwater, you need to place your strobes far away from your lens and slightly outward-oriented to avoid illuminating any particles in front of the lens’s wide field of view. This minimizes the amount of light reaching the space between your lens and the subject.

Positioning your strobes

In underwater macro photography, the situation is not quite as difficult. Still, the further away you are from the subject (the distance may vary between the subject almost touching the front of the lens port to no more than 30cm) the more you need to move your strobes away from the lens. When I am really close, I try to mimic a ring-flash with my two underwater strobes. In case you haven’t seen one, a ring-flash is a circular light source which is mounted on the front of a macro lens. Such a strobe is often used in land-based macro photography. It provides very even illumination. Putting one of my underwater strobes close to each side of my camera’s lens port gives me a similar type of direct, smooth illumination.

How to find good underwater macro subjects

Photo legend Jim Richardson is quoted as saying that, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”. Underwater, that’s not quite true. You need to hover in the water in front of more interesting stuff, or at least lay in the sand in front of more interesting stuff, but that doesn’t look quite as stylish. And you should definitely not lay on corals in front of more interesting stuff because you may break them and it will evoke the rightful anger of a lot of other divers!


A flamboyant cuttlefish hunting in the Philippines. This animal is about 5cm long.

Good buoyancy will have other advantages besides not breaking corals (thank you again for not doing that). If you are stable in the water, you will be able to position yourself in a proper position in front of the animal you’d like to shoot. You will also not stir up silt or sand from the bottom, which would then cloud the image you are about to capture and cause the aforementioned dreaded back-scatter.


Whip coral goby, Moalboal, Philippines.

Back-scatter happens, to the best of us, including myself (above).

In the bottom image (before) we see way too much backscatter. I did two things. First I corrected the exposure of the image, cutting off the darkest part. This eliminated some of the unsightly dots. The remaining white dots I removed with the healing brush in my image processing program. The resulting image on top is vastly improved by these two post-processing manipulations.

Don’t spook your subjects

A neutrally buoyant, controlled, and calm approach towards your photo subjects will also reduce the chance of spooking them. There is a lot to be said for good buoyancy when photographing underwater. If you are not quite there yet with your positional control while diving, try photographing less easily spooked animals like slugs and sea urchins, and save the shrimp (very nervous) or the blennies (very fast) for the future once you have improved your buoyancy.


A blenny. Not easy to catch!

Hunting subjects

What you have to figure out next is where to find those psychedelic slugs and the fish straight out of Salvador Dali’s sketchbook. If you are on a diving vacation in some foreign tropical land, just follow your guide, and pay good attention to what he points at. The guys and gals guiding every day, year in and out, in the same location, usually know their reefs really well and are proud to show off the unusual animals on it. It also helps to have a quick chat with your dive guide beforehand and to tell him that you are out to find interesting macro subjects.

If you are diving on your own, things will move a bit slower. You will have to become that expert guide yourself. Study the reef when you are diving and study marine life books and web resources on land to figure out what to look for, where, and when. Certain animals will only be active at night, or at sunset (like the famous mandarin fish shown below). Some crabs will only live on one species of soft coral, and some shrimps will only live on the skin of certain sea cucumbers. If you don’t know where to look for them, it’ll be near impossible to find them. It’s a curious psychological effect that you will find such animals over and over again after you have spotted them once for the first time.


A mandarin fish! So pretty!


Sea slug laying its eggs (these slugs called nudibranchs are hermaphrodites, functioning as males and females at the same time). It was magic moments of animal behavior like these that got me addicted to macro photography underwater.


To become a skilled macro underwater photographer you need patience. Go for a dive, take some shots, come back, look at them, and think about them. Rinse (your camera gear, and yourself) and repeat. Take your time to inspect your work, and to reflect on what you could do differently next time. I recommend that you consider the points above during each and every iteration and the following questions:

Did I bring the right gear? Did I use it properly? Did I do a good job in finding that fascinating new sea slug?

Please put your comments and questions below, and do please share your underwater photos there too. We’d love to see them.

The post Tips for Doing Macro Underwater Photography by Dr. Klaus M. Stiefel appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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I’m a strong believer that setting yourself photo projects is the best way to improve your photography skills. Projects give you focus and help you build a cohesive body of work. A photo project can last for years, and set a theme that helps you find new people and subjects to photograph.

Of course, you may be wondering what sort of project you could set yourself that would achieve these aims. A project can be simple, like photographing flowers in your back yard, or it can be more complex, such as travelling to a foreign country and photographing the people you find there.


Getting ideas for a photo project

You’ll find lots of inspiration at websites like Feature Shoot that regularly publish photo projects.

I’m going to give you some advice on tackling a project by giving you some examples from a project that I undertook to photograph artists and craftspeople. I have learned a number of things from this project.

Here are some of the most important:

  • Meeting new people and learning about their crafts is interesting. I like meeting and talking to new people and learning about their lives. The brief window I have during the shoot is a chance to connect and talk about art and creativity, as well as the work of the artist or craftsperson. Some of those people have become friends. This project has rewarded me on a personal level as well as on a photographic one.
  • It helps me find something interesting to photograph. For example, 18 months ago I spent three days in Raglan, a small town on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Before I went, I contacted two local craftspeople and asked if I could drop by and take some photos. Both said yes – and I made my most interesting photos on the trip during those two shoots.
  • The project grows by itself. I send photos to the people I photograph, then ask them if they know of anybody else who may be interested. These personal introductions and recommendations help me find new artists and craftspeople to photograph.
  • My portraiture skills have improved. Practice makes perfect, and every shoot means I get a little better at this documentary style of portraiture.

Here’s a portrait I made of artist Chris Meek, one of the artists I photographed in Raglan. We had a great conversation about art, creativity, and life. I’d never have had this experience if I hadn’t embarked on the project.


So, once you’ve decided on a project, how do you make it a success? These ideas will help.

1. Shoot a variety of images

This is important because it adds interest and variety to the photos you get from the shoot. But I’d like to add a proviso, because I think in general there are two ways to approach a project shoot.

Firstly, is to concentrate all your resources on getting one great photo. The second is to create a set of varied photos that collectively give a better interpretation and tell a story.

My suggestion is to combine these two approaches. Aim to create a variety of photos, but give each photo your best effort. In other words, when you see the possibility of an image, give it your full attention and make it as good as you can before you move on to the next.


How do you create variety? Here are two ways:

1. Vary your viewpoint. Get closer to your subject, or farther away. Take photos from below, or from above. Of course, the best viewpoint depends a lot on the subject of your project, the light, and the lenses you are using. But the key is to always be thinking about how you can add variety by moving around and taking photos from different angles.

2. Take scene setting shots and close-ups. You could start with a scene-setting photo that captures everything, then move on and create a variety of photos from closer viewpoints showing details.

This works well for projects like mine, where you can take a photo of the artist or craftsperson at work in their studio, along with a series of tighter images and close-ups that show them at work. In this example, you can also take photos of the product the craftsperson makes as well as photos of the craftsperson themselves.

These two photos show Todd, a flute maker, working in his garage. Both were taken with the same lens, but I got a lot closer to make the second image.

Story telling and doing a creative photo project

This also applies to more static subjects like landscapes. If you have a landscape related project, you can create variety with photos that show the entire scene, mixed with some that show close-ups of details that you noticed within the scene.

2. Tell a story

It’s often hard to a story with a single image, but it’s much easier with a sequence of photos because you can show different aspects of the same story in each one.

For example, with my photos of craftsmen I like to show images taken at different stages of the creation process. Put together they show how a certain item was made. That’s the story. These three photos show different stages in the creation of an artwork by Chris Meek.


storytelling-projects-5 storytelling-projects-7

You can also tell a story by paying attention to detail. While taking photos of Eoin, a glass blower, I noticed that his hands gave away a lot about his profession. So I made sure that I took photos like this, that shows the dirt on his hands and the tattoo on his thumb.

Story telling and doing a creative photo project

3. Find commonalities that link the photos

While photo stories need variety amongst the images to create interest, it is helpful if the photos are also linked in some way. For example, you could process all the photos from a shoot in black and white. Or they could be processed in a similar style, perhaps by using the same Lightroom Develop Preset as the basis for the processing.

Or, if you have a project that involves portraits, you could use light to link the photos. Using the same lighting setup for each portrait is one way to to do that.

These photos of Jasmin, a weaver who makes hats, are linked by the lighting and the processing. Each is lit by natural light coming through a window in her home, and given the same color treatment in Lightroom.



4. Show genuine interest in people

If your project involves people it is important to be genuinely interested in them and what they are doing. Let’s say, for example, you undertake a project taking portraits of surfers. You’ll get the best results if you are genuinely interested in surfing and enjoy talking with surfers.

It’s all about authenticity. If you’re genuinely interested in people, you will have plenty in common and find it easy to talk with them. But, if you’re not, then you won’t make the connection that is essential for good portraiture.

5. Give it time

Give your projects time to evolve and mature. For example, if you have a project photographing your local landscape, giving it time lets you create a series of photos that show the variation created by weather and seasons. Showing the changes that happen over a period of time is also another way of telling a story.

6. Compare and evolve

The reason why projects are such a good learning experience is because they give you the opportunity to compare your current work with your earlier photos. You will see how your ideas and techniques have evolved over time. You’ll also benefit by building a body of work and learning to edit a portfolio by selecting the strong images that work together.

Story telling and doing a creative photo project

Your turn

Have you undertaken any photography projects? Did they help you become a better photographer? Please share your thoughts and project in the comments below.

The Creative Image

If you found this article interesting then please download my free ebook, The Creative Image for 10 brilliant ideas for creative photography projects you can do.

The post 6 Tips for How to Build a Story and Shoot a Photo Project by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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The scene: Outdoors with full sunlight. The gear: Your camera, lens, and flash. The problem: You find that your flash only works at 1/200th or below so you need to be at f/16 or f/22 to get the shot. Everything is in focus, including all the cars and other distractions in the background. Those dust spots you keep meaning to clean are also perfectly visible. Why won’t it work with a higher shutter speed so you can have a wider aperture? Well, it’s all down to the issue of sync speed, more specifically using flash and high-speed sync.

A typical portrait shot with off camera flash. To overpower the sun and stay below the camera’s sync speed, you’re forced to use a narrow aperture. Here we’re at f20 just to stop the backlight overpowering the hair and stop the sky blowing out. The resulting aperture means that everything is pretty much in focus, leaving the background looking cluttered. This shot is for example only, you should generally make a point of choosing clutter free backgrounds

A typical portrait shot with off-camera flash. 

To overpower the sun and stay below the camera’s sync speed, you’re forced to use a narrow aperture. Here I’m at f/20 just to stop the backlight overpowering the hair and the sky from blowing out. The resulting aperture means that everything is pretty much in focus, leaving the background looking cluttered. This shot is for example only, you should generally make a point of choosing clutter-free backgrounds

Sync Speed

Sync Speed is the fastest shutter speed where the camera exposes the whole frame at once. When you fire any shot below this speed, the first shutter curtain opens fully, revealing the entire sensor to light. At the end of the exposure time, the second shutter curtain moves across the frame to finish the capture. Both curtains then reset together (this means you get no light leaking in).

Generally, the sync speed varies between 1/125th and 1/250th, depending on your camera. You’ll find some quoted sync speeds are not indicated correctly. For instance, the Canon 5D series are rated at 1/200th but often show a black band at the bottom of the screen at this speed when it’s used with flash.

When you go above the sync speed, the second curtain starts to move before the first one has completed its journey. As your shutter speed gets shorter and shorter, the gap between these curtains narrows to a tiny slit. Despite this, all parts of the sensor receive light, and a full exposure is made. On a bright day, with a prime lens, you can easily shoot at 1/8000th at f/1.4 and have a perfect exposure. All parts of the frame still receive light, because it’s continuous throughout the exposure.

The Sync Speed Problem

It’s when you introduce flash that you start to have problems. You see, when a flash is fired (usually when the first curtain is opened) all the light from it comes out in a very short space of time (in order of milliseconds). When you go above (faster than) the sync speed, the position of the curtains doesn’t reveal the entire frame at the time the flash fires. The means the shutter curtain blocks part of the flash and prevents it from reaching the sensor. Any ambient light will expose normally, but the flash gets hidden in part of the frame. As your shutter speed gets faster and faster, more and more of the flash is blocked until it’s no longer visible in the shot.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

Here’s a set of images taken at 1/3 stop increments with a flash. Shot on the Fuji X-T2, the first is at 1/250th, the native sync speed of the camera. In order (left to right, top to bottom) 1/250th, 1/320th, 1/400th, 1/500th, 1/630th, 1/800th, 1/1000th, and 1/1250th. Even 1/320 is useable if the subject being lit is away from the edge.

Everything in Focus

Normally when you use flash outside in daylight, you end up having everything in focus. Remember the Sunny f/16 Rule? If your subject is in direct sunlight during the day, you can set your aperture to f/16 and your shutter speed will be one over your ISO value. So if your ISO is set to 100, your shutter speed would be 1/100sth (and f/16). As another example, if your ISO is 200, then the shutter speed would be 1/200th. To get a richer sky, you’d really need to be at f/22, making it a tough job for your flash. Because you can’t get faster than 1/250 (sync speed), you have to increase the aperture to expose the shot correctly.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

Shooting at f/20, 1/160 to get a richer sky for this band promo shot. It’s quite an old shot, so there were few options for reducing the aperture at the time. Even the hills in the background are in clear focus. The beach isn’t exactly pretty either.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

A behind the scenes shot – two flashes on full power.

Softer light

Most speedlights at full power, bare bulb, in close, can give you just enough power to look natural at these settings. Bare flash is not flattering, though it can add character. If you want softer, more flattering, light, you need more power. Most modifiers that give soft light will take two stops of power compared to the bare flash. That’s a lot of power. You could use a more powerful light, like the Godox AD360, the Elinchrom Quadra, or the Profoto B1. Alternatively, you could use a bracket that takes multiple speedlights. Either option allows you to get soft, flattering, light while outdoors.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

A higher power option is the Godox AD360. This is coupled with the Godox 120cm Octa for softer light. This is shot at f/2.8, ISO200 and 1/125th. Because it’s after sunset, you can easily get wider apertures. just one of the options you have for the shallow depth of field look.

This solves the soft light issue, but it doesn’t solve your aperture issue. For creamy bokeh (the soft out of focus background look), you need to get our aperture down. If you’re shooting in the early morning or late evening, you can do this easily, but during the day it’s an issue.

The Solution: High-Speed Sync

You’ll need to find a way to get around the issue of sync speed for daytime shooting. Fortunately, there is a solution. It’s not perfect, but it does work. It’s called High-Speed Sync, also known as Focal Plane Sync. High-Speed Sync (HSS) works in a unique way. Instead of firing the flash at the start of the shot, HSS pulses the flash throughout the whole exposure, trying to simulate the effects of a continuous light.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

The AD360 set to High-Speed Sync. Usually, there’s a single button hold, or a double button combination to turn HSS on.

It works well, but it comes at the expense of power, and heat. HSS works the flash really hard. After a few shots, the flash may even shut down for cooling. For HSS to work, you need the camera to transmit HSS to flash, and for the flash have HSS built-in. All major brands allow it, though Fuji only just introduced it. Cactus Image makes a trigger called the V6II which allows you to use any HSS flash with any camera. Read my review of the Cactus V6II trigger here.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

The Cactus Image V6II allows power and zoom control over a wide range of speedlights, as well as offering High-Speed Sync abilities.

The Look of HSS

You can use HSS to go over the sync speed barrier, so settings like 1/4000th at f/1.4 are achievable with flash. You get the complete control of the light using flash, but with the wide aperture you usually associate with natural light photographs. Yes, please!

Photographers like Dylan Patrick use this technique to create cinematic portraits. By shooting wide shots with shallow depth of field, you really have the option to create images that look like they were stills from the silver screen.

Settings for High-Speed Sync

Let’s look at a typical setup and settings for a shoot using HSS. This shoot happened to be done on an evening, but I really wanted shallow focus. The camera was set to f/1.4 for super shallow depth of field. To get the clouds properly exposed, I had to drop the shutter speed to 1/4000th. To get the flash (an AD360) to work I had to set it to HSS. Using a Cactus V6II trigger, I could easily get my Fuji X-T10 to shoot with HSS.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

An evening HSS photo shot at 1/4000th, ISO200, f/1.4. Notice the shallow depth of field in the image.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

The BTS, an AD360 with 120cm Octa, shot by my assistant Ola.

If you use Canon, the Cells II trigger provides HSS with the AD360. It would also work speedlights like the v850.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

Using HSS on the AD360, I captured this shot at about 3:00 in the afternoon with the sun high in the sky. Shot with an 85mm lens at 1/2000th at f/2.5, ISO100 on a Canon 5DIII. The sun acts as a second light in the shot. Again the background is nicely out of focus.

Another High-Speed Sync portrait example.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

1/1000th, f/4, ISO800. An issue with shooting outdoors on overcast days is your shutter speeds can be low enough to cause camera shake. By bumping up the ISO, you can get a faster shutter speed, keeping you safe from camera shake. Using HSS then lets the flash do the work. I’ve shot to keep the flash looking as natural as possible here.

The Alternative

High-Speed Sync isn’t the only way, you’ve got other options. The first has been mentioned. Shoot at the beginning or end of the day. You can get great sky color and you’re not fighting strong sunlight. Of course, if you’re doing any work, even as favors, you often have to work to the subjects schedule rather than your own. So, you may have to shoot at midday to suit them. That leads to the next option.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

A shot of the band Drown for The Thin Air magazine. The evening light makes the shot. I needed a higher aperture to get the whole band in focus, so opted not to use HSS here.

Using Neutral Density Filter

If you shoot landscape photography, you will be familiar with Neutral Density (ND) filters. This filter allows you to slow the shutter speed down to get nice silky water. Neutral means that it adds no color, while the density part refers to blocking light. You can get them in a range of values from 1 stop to 16 stops.

For portraits, these allow you to drop the aperture down instead of shutter speed. So a 4 stop ND would take you from f/16 to f/4. The drawback is that as you block light, focusing can become harder. Another potential issue is that not all ND filters are actually neutral. Some tend to have a color cast. I have a Firecrest 10-stop for landscapes, which is neutral, but the older 4-stop I have from the same company is slightly pink.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

Without the ND filter applied, the entire scene is in focus. ISO 200, f/16, 1/250th.

portraits with flash and high-speed sync

With the 4-stop ND filter applied, the background can be rendered out of focus. The flash is still at the same power as the shot above without the filter. The filter does have a color cast, which is hard to remove completely. ISO 200, f/4, 1/250th.


I hope this gives you some options and ideas for how you can make portraits outdoors even when the sun is bright, by using flash and high-speed sync. Please put your questions and comments below, and share your high-speed sync portraits as well.

The post How to Make Beautiful Portraits Using Flash and High-Speed Sync by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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When it comes to photography, there can sometimes be this strange assumption that we are (or should be) experts in all types of photography. Photography is essentially painting with light, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do newborn photography, astrophotography, weddings, family portraits, landscape photography, and food photography, right? Light is light, whether it’s on a newborn or a spider, right? The simple answer is yes, and no. But, there’s good news, you don’t have to master it all. Let’s talk about how to find your photography niche.


Different strokes for different folks

Much like a chef benefits from learning about cooking as a whole, photographers benefit from learning the fundamentals that apply across all types of photography: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, finding light, capturing movement and emotion, and focus. However, much like chefs often break off into different specialties, photographers also tend to break off into different niches. Some photographers find that they love newborns, but hate weddings (raises hand). Others love landscapes, but don’t enjoy photographing humans ever. Some photographers love to work in a studio, while others prefer to work only outdoors with natural light. Finally, some photographers prefer to shoot in digital, while others prefer film.


Do what you enjoy

Whichever type of photography sparks your passion and fills you with joy? Do that. Whether that’s black and white portraits, lifestyle newborn images, macro photography of spiders, or architecture – do what you love.

Then when it comes to post-processing, if there’s a method that transforms your image the way that you’ve always pictured it in your head, do that. If it’s a hipster vintage wash, do it. If it’s a quick curves adjustment and nothing else, do that too. Heck, if it’s black and white with selective coloring that makes you happy when it comes to post-processing, by all means, do that.

Do it even if it isn’t cool, and no one else is doing it. Whether you consider photography to be a craft or an art, it is most certainly an opportunity to have a creative voice. And as corny as it may sound, your authentic voice, whether expressed in cooking or in photography, is important.


It’s okay not to do it all

Just in case no one has ever told you before, it’s okay not to do it all. If you specialize in food photography and someone calls you up and asks if you’ll consider accepting a wedding booking, it’s okay to say, ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me, but no.” It’s okay to love photographing families and have absolutely zero interest in doing macro photography of insects.

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, it’s really hard sometimes to admit that a particular area of photography isn’t your preference or your strong suit. No one wants to feel incompetent. On the other hand, there’s no shame in telling someone that you are unable to accept a newborn booking because it isn’t your specialty and consequently you aren’t familiar enough with newborn posing safety to feel comfortable with accepting that job.

Say it with me – I do not have to master it all.


Finding your niche

If you’re reading this article and thinking, “Okay great, so how do I find my niche?’ The answer is simply to try everything you can. Trying different types of photography is very different than feeling compelled to master every type of photography. Giving different genres of photography a try in low stakes (often unpaid) environments allows you to experiment, and to discover what it is that you really love.

It also requires possibly humbling yourself a bit and allowing yourself to be taught by someone else. Even if you’re the best wedding photographer in your state or area, you may not know the first thing about being a wildlife photographer. So if you really want to learn, you have to be ready and willing to be taught.


Benefits of trying things

My personal niche in photography is newborns and families. It’s what really makes me excited, and what I really enjoy most. However, every time that I’ve stepped outside that comfort zone, with the goal of learning about another genre of photography, it’s been worth it.

I’ve not been a master of every genre that I’ve tried, nor have I enjoyed them all, but I’ve learned something valuable in every case. When I buckled down and focused on landscape photography, it gave me an opportunity to review techniques of composition, metering, and shooting with a relatively small aperture in ways that I don’t typically use on a daily basis when it comes to people photography.


When I made an attempt to learn about astrophotography (a genre of photography that had always greatly intimidated me) I had the opportunity to learn more about long exposures, and the technique of shooting with a wide open aperture in a different application than portraits. Are my astrophotography images perfect? Absolutely not! I’m not an astrophotography expert, and probably never will be. I have two kids, so staying up all night to photograph the stars is a special kind of sleep deprivation torture that I have no interest in repeating with any frequency.

Yet, there’s also a certain importance in taking something that you have no idea how to do and learning the steps necessary to make it happen. When all the pieces finally fall into place, and you have an image that sort of resembles the gorgeous astrophotography images that you see in magazines, it’s a pretty amazing feeling. Like creating something out of thin air.



The more types of photography you try, the more you’ll find yourself saying both “Yes!” and “Nope, I don’t need to do that ever again.” You may also find that there are several types of photography that you enjoy, which is fine. When I suggest finding your niche, I’m not suggesting that you choose one photography genre and one post-processing style and stick to those for the rest of your life and career.

Your niche in the photography world should grow, shrink, and evolve over time. Give yourself the freedom to identify the types of photography that you really enjoy, and forget the rest of it. You do not have to master it all.

What’s your photography niche? What types of photography do you love? Are there any types of photography that you hate? Chime in below!

The post How to Find Your Photography Niche: You Don’t Have To Master It All by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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The camera strap is one accessory that has definitely evolved along with the photography industry. While the default strap that comes with every camera might suit your basic shooting needs, there are plenty of options available with enhanced features (and style). Some help you shoot more ergonomically by better balancing heavy gear across your body, and some just give you the appearance of looking like a more polished professional. This product review is a camera strap that meets both ergonomic and stylistic needs of today’s photographers: the Money Maker leather camera strap by HoldFast Gear.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

About the MoneyMaker strap

The MoneyMaker is one of several camera strap products created by HoldFast Gear founder Matthew Swaggart. As a photographer himself, Swaggart created his line of camera straps to efficiently carry his own camera gear and pocket items, while also maintaining a nice aesthetic. Beginning with his very first product, the RuckStrap, Swaggart’s brand is perhaps best known for the MoneyMaker leather dual camera strap. Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, every single HoldFast product is made in the USA, and Swaggart has been known to openly collaborate with customers to design custom straps.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

Benefits of Dual (or Double) Camera Straps

While dual (or double) camera straps are already very popular among photographers who carry multiple camera bodies, many of them such as the popular Black Rapid Double have designs that resemble tactical SWAT team gear. As a petite female photographer using these dual camera straps, I’m frequently met with raised eyebrows and asked if I’m getting ready for battle.

This is where the HoldFast MoneyMaker comes into play. Once I switched from Black Rapid to the MoneyMaker, I noticed even more raised eyebrows, but this time with the question, “Where did you get that beautiful camera strap?”

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

MoneyMaker Basics

Crafted from high-grade leather and metal fasteners and buckles, the MoneyMaker is worn like suspenders, with a camera suspended from each end. The design balances the weight of the cameras so they both hang down by your hips, and you can even attach a third camera to the front by using an optional attachment leash. One of the best features, that is lacking from competitors such as BlackRapid, is the MoneyMaker’s inclusion of a Safety Catch clip that adds an extra layer of security to your camera.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

If you’ve ever used a Black Rapid camera strap, the mechanics of the MoneyMaker will be very similar.

  1. Start by first putting on the MoneyMaker Straps, then fasten the HoldFast screws to the tripod mount of your camera.
  2. Next, attach the circular split ring from the Safety Catch to your camera. This can be a bit tricky for Canon DSLRs.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

MoneyMaker Options and Variations


There are several standard variations you can choose from with the MoneyMaker to make it more comfortable and stylish. First, the MoneyMaker comes in several different materials including English Bridle, Water Buffalo, Great American Bison, and even Genuine Python. Prices and color options vary according to the material you choose, with Bridle Leather being the lowest priced, and Genuine Python costing the most.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

For those preferring camera straps not made of leather, HoldFast offers the Camera Swagg collection featuring the same MoneyMaker design crafted from high-grade nylon. Slightly lighter in weight and more affordable in price compared to leather options, this ultra-light option also comes in a wider array of colors including copper, navy, red, and black.


If you want a truly unique, one-of-a-kind camera strap, you can even opt for the hand tooled, hand painted leather MoneyMaker. Each is custom made to order and results in a beautiful, functional piece of art that embodies the art of leather craftsmanship.


All of the leather straps can be ordered in the Original (1 1/2″ wide) or Skinny (1″ wide with 1 1/2 inch removable shoulder pads) version. They also come in Small, Medium, or Large, depending mainly on your height and build, with optional D-ring metal loops that can add extra attachment options. As a 5’2″ petite female, I opted for the Bridle Leather MoneyMaker in Chestnut color, size Small, and the Skinny version with no D-rings (they are’t recommended if you have long hair). It was a perfect fit!

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

My Experience Shooting with the MoneyMaker

While the MoneyMaker is very popular among wedding photographers, I found it to be perfect for shooting concerts and corporate events as well. At concerts and music festivals, in particular, where leather camera straps aren’t yet prevalent, the MoneyMaker proved to be an excellent conversation starter among other photographers and concert-goers.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

When I shoot big concerts and events, I typically have the following camera setup:

  • (1) Canon 5D Mark III (B&H or Amazon pricing) with a 70-200mm f/2.8 attached  (B&H or Amazon pricing)
  • (1) Canon 6D (B&H or Amazon pricing) with a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached (B&H or Amazon pricing)
  • (1) 580 EXII Flash (B&H or Amazon pricing)
  • (1) Wallet with extra memory cards, batteries, and business cards

Using the MoneyMaker to carry my two camera bodies, I also used a lightweight ThinkTank belt pack to carry my flash and wallet. This combination helps balance the weight in my upper body and allows me to emerge with zero back and shoulder pain after shooting a multi-day music festival and two corporate conferences.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

Things to Note

While my experience with the MoneyMaker was highly positive, there are a couple things about this camera strap system to note.

First, the use of all authentic leather makes the MoneyMaker heavy compared to the all-nylon systems of Black Rapid and other competitors. This isn’t a problem when you’re wearing and using the camera straps, but it can feel and appear somewhat intimidating right out of the box.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

Second, leather takes some time to break in, so the straps aren’t the softest and most supple at first. That doesn’t mean the straps aren’t comfortable, but you’ll need to use them frequently over time to get them to loosen up. Also, you’ll want to take extra care of the material if you go with a genuine leather camera strap option so it retains high quality.

Over to you

Do you have a certain camera strap that you prefer to use other than the default strap you automatically receive when you buy a camera? Is style as important as function when it comes to your ideal camera strap? What do you look for in a strap?

Please share in the comments below.

best leather camera strap Holdfast Moneymaker Review

The post Overview and Field Test of HoldFast Gear’s Money Maker Leather Camera Strap by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Do you want to take razor sharp photos? One of the best methods for creating tack sharp images is what I call The 20/20 Technique. It’s a process that combines the editing power of Adobe Lightroom and Nik Efex to sharpen your images.

sharpen, photos, tips, photography, Lightroom, Nik Efex

Lotus Temple, Delhi: Bringing out sharpness in architectural photos can really make them pop. © Pete DeMarco

Is sharpness overrated?

The godfather of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, once quipped, “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” It’s true that sharpness does not turn a bad photo into a good one. In fact, some of the greatest photographs of our time aren’t that sharp. A picture that evokes emotion will always win over an image that is technically great but lacks feeling.

In the digital age, however, sharpness is another tool in the photographer’s kit that can transform an image from good to great. Have you ever seen a photo so clear that it makes you feel as if you could reach through the screen? It’s almost as if it’s not even a photograph at all but a window into another world.

sharpen, sharper photos, tips, photography, Lightroom, Nik Efex

Bundi, India: Be careful not to sharpen people too much. © Pete DeMarco

Popular advice about getting sharp images usually centers around buying expensive lenses or having the proper settings in camera, as is explained in this article; How to Take Sharp Images. Although those two factors have a major impact on the overall sharpness of the image, today’s top photographers take an additional step. They enhance the sharpness in post-processing.

Sharpen Using The 20/20 Technique

In the modern digital darkroom, there are a number of ways you can add a superior amount of sharpness to your images. I’m going to explain one of the most simple and effective methods you can use to get incredible results. Here is my 20/20 Technique workflow:

sharpen, photos, tips, photography, Lightroom, Nik Efex

Burj Khalifa Reflection, Dubai: Nik Efex is a powerful photo editing suite you can download for free. © Pete DeMarco

Step 1. Open your image in LR

Import your image into Adobe Lightroom (or the editing software of your choice). Open the Develop Module and go to the Detail Panel, then to Sharpening. Increase the sliders up to somewhere between 40 – 50. This is just a general number to start. You’ll have to decide what works best for your image (make sure to view it full size or 1:1). Then finish editing your photo (correcting the white balance, exposure, etc.).

Step 2. Open the image in Nik Efex

For the next step, you will need a piece of software called NIK Efex. You can download NIK Efex for free here. Look for the blue download button in the top-right corner.

NIK Software is a company that develops image editing tools for others like Adobe and Google. In fact, Google bought the company in 2012. Then they copied the best editing algorithms from NIK Efex and created the photo editing app Snapseed. Sadly, NIK Efex has not been updated since then. Most assume it will die a slow death, especially after Google announced the software is now free.

sharpen, photos, tips, photography, Lightroom, Nik Efex

Busan, South Korea: Adding a slight tilt-shift blur effect to the edges of your photo can accentuate the sharpened areas. © Pete DeMarco

Anyways, once you install Nik Efex, right click on your photo in the Lightroom Develop Module > Edit in Nik Output Sharpener, and choose; Edit a copy with Lightroom Adjustments. Your photo will then open in a new Nik Output Sharpener window.

Step 3. Adjust using the Nik filters

From the Nik Output Sharpener window, move the sliders until you get the look and sharpness you are after. For me, I usually leave the “Adaptive Sharpening” at 50%. Then I increase the “Local Contrast” and “Focus” sliders up to around 15-20%.

Google, Nik Efex, sharpen, photograph, output

The Nik Efex Output Sharpener interface.

Step 4. Save and head back to Lightroom

Click on “Save” and the final version of your image will import as a new file back in Lightroom. That’s it!

Here is a video from Nik showing how to use this filter:

Words of warning

Don’t sharpen too much. Know when to pump it up or turn it down. For instance, clouds are soft so you usually don’t want to apply a lot of sharpening to them. Nature scenes usually call for less sharpening. With architecture, some extra sharpening really makes it pop (try adding a little “Structure” sharpening to those). Sharpening people can be hit or miss. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

sharp, photos, tips, photography, Lightroom, Nik Efex

Xingping, China: Selectively sharpening parts of your image, like the houses in the foreground of this photo, helps to lead the viewer’s eye. © Pete DeMarco

Watch out for noise. The more digital sharpening you apply, the greater the noise in your photo. Just zoom in on your photo to see it more clearly. You can apply some Noise Reduction in Lightroom if need be. I don’t like to use it much though because it softens the image. Some noise really doesn’t matter anyways, especially if you are sharing your photo as a smaller size online.

Make sure you’re using a good monitor. If you are viewing or editing your photos on an old monitor, it’s possible that you will not see much difference in sharpness. You can get the best results on a retina display or by printing your photos.

sharpen, photos, tips, photography, Lightroom, Nik Efex

Sipisopiso Waterfall, Indonesia: Transform your images by combining the 20/20 Technique with split toning. © Pete DeMarco

Share your work

Try the 20/20 Technique and share your photo in the comments below. I’d love to see what you do with it. And if you enjoyed this article, you might also like my previous article: How To Use Split Toning to Make Your Photos Stand Out.

The post How to Sharpen Your Photos using Lightroom and Nik Efex by Pete DeMarco appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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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.

Five Photography Tips to Ignore F

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?

Five Photography Tips to Ignore L

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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