Month: May 2015

Backyard Macro Photography Safari

Editor’s Note: This is part a series on macro photography this week. Look for a new one each day. The next newsletter will have them all if you miss any!

As photographers, we often have the opinion that in order to capture a great image we need to head out to an exotic location. But, what if you don’t have the time or opportunity to go to one of those places? Say you have free time some morning, and would like to go outside and capture some stunning images. You might be surprised at what you can find to photograph right in your own backyard!

If you don’t have a backyard, take a trek to a nearby park. Everywhere you look, you will find subjects to photograph in macro. Spring and summer are great seasons to go on a backyard macro photography safari. There are many advantages to such a shoot. For one, you don’t need to be up and at’em before the crack of dawn to travel – though it is beneficial to take full advantage of the early morning light. Also, keep in mind that if you are planning a Backyard Macro Safari for your weekend, you should put off mowing your grass until after your macro adventure, because your mower will likely destroy some potential subject matter in your yard.

New growth on a pine tree creates a unique color burst effect.

New growth on a pine tree creates a unique color burst effect.

Necessary Equipment:

Keep it simple! Start out with your camera and macro lens on a tripod. Other equipment you might find useful includes a mat or knee pads, an off-camera flash, a reflector, and a diffuser. Another great thing about a backyard safari is, if you decide to use another piece of equipment you can just go back in the house and get it!


As with almost every type of photography, the tripod is one of your most important pieces of equipment, for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is to avoid camera shake, But also, in many cases, your depth of field will be very shallow, and keeping your camera still on a tripod will help keep your subject in sharp focus. Another benefit to using a tripod is that to do so will slow you down, which is very helpful with setting up the composition and lighting of your image.

Mat or knee pads

Not every capture will be found at standing level. A mat or knee pads are great tools for helping you get to ground level conveniently and comfortably in your yard.

Off-camera flash

Sometimes you’ll find some of the most interesting subjects in the deep shadows of your yard. In these cases, using an off-camera flash will add some light to better reveal or enhance your subject.

Light Reflectors

Reflectors come in very handy when you need to add some light into the shadowy areas of your image.

Light Diffusers

If you are dealing with very harsh light, diffusers or light modifiers can soften the light.

Black and white

Converting to black and white can bring out the patterns and textures of your images.

Take time to look around

Yogi Berra once said “You can observe a lot by just looking around.” In macro photography, sometimes less is more, so slow down and seek out even the smallest detail that could create a great macro image. Try to find new angles that make even the simplest object interesting. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques such as multiple exposures.

What to look for, subject-wise

There are many objects right in your own backyard that make great macro photography subjects, such as flowers and insects. But don’t just stop there! Look for repeating patterns, textures and leading lines. Water droplets and spider webs can become beautiful subjects if photographed carefully. Just as in any other form of photography, look for the color red to compose a powerful image.


Choose your background wisely

The background is one of the most important elements of a good macro. Setup your camera at the level of your subject. This will allow you to move 360 degrees around it, and carefully choose just the right background to enhance the subject. Be aware that if the background is too busy or too light, it will draw the viewer’s eye away from the subject.


The muted colors of the background causes the subject to stand out sharply.


Avoid harsh lighting or flat lighting. By looking for side light, or even back-lighting, you can create more dramatic images. Adding an off-camera flash is an effective technique to enhance your subject and separate it from the background. By setting your fastest flash sync-speed, and using a small aperture, you can make your subject pop from an otherwise boring background.


Focusing can be the most difficult component of macro photography. Here’s a little trick to help you get the focus result you are looking to achieve: First, set your lens on manual focus. Next, turn the focus ring to the minimum focus length. Now simply move your camera closer to your subject until the part of the image that you want to be sharp is in focus and take the shot.

The wind is not your friend

Windy days make it very difficult to capture sharp macro images, and even harder to compose one if your subject is swaying back and forth in the wind. Try adding a flash to freeze your subject in windy conditions. In some cases the wind can help create interesting effects, but it’s a challenge!

Found this in the under growth in my backyard. Because of very low light I add a off camera flash set to low power on the side. I wanted to add some light to the top so I used my hat to reflect some of the light from the flash to the top of the plant.

An off camera flash was used here to add side light to this Jack-in-the-Pulpit. A light colored hat was used as an impromptu reflector to add light to the top of the wild flower.


Capturing images of nature in your own backyard is rewarding and convenient. One of the best things about a Backyard Macro Safari is that you don’t have to go anywhere for the shooting experience, so if things don’t work out, you don’t have that long disappointing ride home with nothing to show for it. If it was successful, you can kick back and celebrate right away, though you may still have to face mowing the lawn! What macro images can you capture in your backyard safari?

macro-coverWant to learn more about macro photography? Check out Ed Versosky’s Introduction to Close-Up & Macro Photography ebook – just $10 (over 30% off) this week with coupon code: DPS. You will need to enter the code to apply the discount.

The post Backyard Macro Photography Safari by Bruce Wunderlich appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Getting Started with Abstract Macro Photography

Editor’s Note: This is part a series on macro photography this week. Look for a new one each day. The next newsletter will have them all if you miss any!

Lines and light can emphasise your subject

Lines and light can emphasize your subject

Macro photography truly is a unique genre of photography. In most of the other types of photography (landscape, portrait, sport, etc.) you want to get the context of your scene in the image. In macro photography, you can literally focus in on what’s important and remove any distractions by simply getting closer. One of the best things about macro photography is that you can do it anywhere, all you need is something to photograph. In my previous article: Getting Started Guide to Macro or Close-Up Photography, I went into some details about what you will need to get started in macro photography. Take a look at that article to be sure that you understand more about the genre of macro photography.

In this article we are going to be looking at getting great abstract images using macro photography.

Look for shape and colour

Look for shape and colour

What is abstract macro photography?

Abstract photography in general is about representing a subject in a non-literal way. The focus of abstract photography is more about colour, shape, and texture as opposed to the literal representation of the subject. Abstract macro photography, takes this to the next level by enabling you to get even closer to your subject, and therefore also able to be more abstract in a sense.

The same guidelines around composition apply, you can use the rule of thirds, curves, and lines to draw the viewer into the image. The difference is, the subject may not be immediately recognizable, your centre of interest might be a colour or a curve of a flower. So for abstract macro photography, you will need to think a little differently.

Abstract close up of a lily

Abstract close up of a lily

What will I need?

You will need a macro lens if you want to get in really close. You can use a prime lens like a 50mm, or even an 85mm lens, but for this type of work, a macro lens will work best. The reason is that you want be able to get in close enough to remove all distractions; in other words, you want to fill the frame with your subject. With a macro lens, you can do this. Most macro lenses have the ability to focus on subjects that are really close to the lens. The prime lenses can focus on subjects that are reasonably close, but you may not be able to get in close enough to remove the background.

You will also need to use a tripod. The close focusing ability of the macro lens means that it is very easy for your subject to become out of focus with the slightest movement. Ideally, you will want to have you camera set up with your macro lens mounted, then get that in as close as possible to your subject. Next, you will want to set your aperture to f/8, or higher, and then click onto manual focus to get your subject good and sharp in the frame.

Frayed rope abstract

Frayed rope abstract

What can I photograph?

For abstract macro photography, I find that organic items work best. By organic I mean flowers, wood, fruit, vegetables, and so on. That does not mean you can’t photograph an abstract macro image of a computer keyboard or a coffee cup, but sometimes, these well known shapes are difficult to transform into abstract images. If you are going to photograph a product like a computer or another manufactured product, try shooting it from a different angle or get in very close so that any telltale signs of what it is, will be lost. Ultimately, you can photograph anything that you think will work, but start out with some easy subjects first,  then move on to the trickier ones.

Buds about to bloom

Buds about to bloom

Try this…

Set up your subject and get your camera in position. Look through the viewfinder and start working on your composition. Try some of these pointers to get started and work from there:

  • Work on building your composition – are there any curves, lines, shapes ,or colours that you want to emphasize?
  • Use manual focus to bring even a small part of your image into sharp focus, this will be your centre of interest.
  • Make sure your centre of interest is obvious. In other words it should be in focus, it can be a different colour to the rest of the frame, or it can even be a well defined line or shape in the image
  • Check the exposure to make sure that you are exposing your scene correctly.
  • You can even overexpose slightly. In abstract macro photography, some slight overexposure is okay, as long as it does not distract from the rest of the image
  • Capture the shot
  • Try shooting the same image from a different angle and maybe even a different centre of interest.
  • Take as many images as possible, from different angles, with different focal points.
  • Choose the best three images and edit them in your chosen image editing software.

This is a great indoor project, but you can try this outside too. Shooting macro images outside can be more challenging as the subject may be affected by changes in lighting. If it is a flower or a plant, there may be a slight breeze which can move the flower as you are trying to photograph it. The most important thing is to try this type of photography if you can. It will cause you to think creatively and to look for different things in your image setup. Give it a try and load up your results below – let’s see what you get.

Abstract of a lily leaf

Abstract of a lily leaf

macro-coverWant to learn more about macro photography? Check out Ed Versosky’s Introduction to Close-Up & Macro Photography ebook – just $10 (over 30% off) this week with coupon code: DPS. You will need to enter the code to apply the discount.

The post Getting Started with Abstract Macro Photography by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Getting Started with Abstract Macro Photography 10

Categories: Digital

5 Creative Macro Photography Ideas that Really Work

Editor’s Note: This is part a series on macro photography this week. Look for a new one each day. The next newsletter will have them all if you miss any!

Here are 5 quick creative tips to help you with your macro photography:

1) Use Flash for Tiny Details

While a macro lens with a 1:1 (one to one) ratio is a terrific tool for close-up work, so too is an external flash. Contrary to what some photographers will tell you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a ring light for successful results. The trick is to reduce the flash output to approximately -1.75 in TTL mode. This will illuminate the finer detail in your macro work such as a butterfly’s antennae. Should you need even less light, cut the flash intensity further to -2 or -3 stops.

There are times when you’ll want more depth of field to keep the entire subject sharp. This can be problematic, however, as more of the scene remains in focus and can be distracting. Rather than opting for a shallow depth of field, consider using flash. With it, you can illuminate the subject, enjoy great depth of field, and render the background really dark, or even black. To do this, position yourself so there is at least six to 12 inches of separation between the subject and the background. Your reduced flash will effectively expose your macro subject without reaching what’s behind it.


2) Shoot Through a Flower Petal

Go beyond the routine snapshot by adding a layer of visual interest to your macro captures. By shooting through a flower petal or leaf, you can create a soft wash of color while keeping the main subject in sharp focus. The technique is simple but yields a sophisticated look that’s reminiscent of an impressionist painting. For this particular method, you may prefer the freedom of shooting without a tripod. By working handheld, it’s easier to position the camera directly into the patch of flowers.


Start with your widest aperture, preferably around f/2.8. Locate a flower that’s in front of your subject, and place your lens approximately one inch away from it. Don’t worry if it largely blocks the main subject, as the extremely shallow depth of field will render it nearly transparent. The closer your lens is to the front flower, the more out of focus it will become. Carefully compose so that you can still see your subject in the background. Finally, move your single active autofocus point to the flower you want sharpest.


3) Switch to Manual Focus

Autofocus is highly effective for the majority of shooting opportunities. In extreme close-up situations however, it can struggle to find its mark. This is particularly true with ultra fine details such as a delicate spider web. A better alternative is to use manual focus aided by Live View or focus peaking. These options take the guess work out of manual focus, allowing you to view the scene at extreme magnifications. At 5x or 10x magnification, it leaves no doubt that something is sharp. On some camera models you can even couple the enlarged view with focus peaking. This works by outlining the portion of subject that’s in focus. While it’s possible to do this handheld, a stable tripod will improve your accuracy.


4) Mind the Background

When shooting macro images, the importance of clean background can not stressed enough. If the area behind your subject is cluttered, it draws attention away from your main point of focus. Rather than taking the first vantage point offered, try composing with your feet. This is a deliberate process that forces you to slow down and explore the subject from all possible angles.


Filling the frame with your subject can be an effective way to eliminate distracting backgrounds. With the close focusing ability of a macro lens, you can carefully arrange the scene to only include the flower. This enables you to work with small apertures such as f/16 for maximum depth of field. With sharp detail throughout the frame, there are no areas of soft focus to detract from the subject. For a more dynamic look, try using the rule of thirds instead of a bulls-eyed composition.


5) Experiment

There is something serendipitous about in-camera double exposures that is lost when methodically stacking images in Photoshop. Making exposures this way builds a sense of anticipation that is normally not present in digital photography, with today’s camera’s featuring “instant everything”. Instead, you take the first image, look at it on the LCD and hold that visual in your mind while searching for a second scene to best compliment it. After capturing that, you have to wait a few seconds for the camera to reveal your creation. In that brief pause, suspense builds, and anything seems possible, much like the days of waiting for your film to be processed. Of course with a technique like this, there will be a few misses. Nevertheless, the results can be quite interesting when you get it just right.


Another creative option is to experiment with slow shutter speeds and intentional camera movement. You don’t even need a macro lens to try it, just a basic zoom. Start by filling the frame with the flower and make sure it’s in focus. For this you can be at the longer end of your focal range. Press the shutter all the way down and start the exposure, then immediately zoom out to a wide-angle perspective. You can also reverse the process, starting with a wide angle and zooming in. The following settings are a baseline to get you started.

  • 1/6th of a second for the shutter speed.
  • f/22 on the aperture.
  • A very low ISO around 100.
  • Based on the existing light you may have to adjust these for the best results.


Do you have any additional creative tricks to share? Please do so in the comments.

macro-coverWant to learn more about macro photography? Check out Ed Versosky’s Introduction to Close-Up & Macro Photography ebook – just $10 (over 30% off) this week with coupon code: DPS. You will need to enter the code to apply the discount.

The post 5 Creative Macro Photography Ideas that Really Work by Chris Corradino appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Macphun Noiseless Pro Software Review

I hate digital noise. I’ve been a stickler about keeping it out of my images for years and have tried just about everything under the sun to aid in that process. So when Macphun offered to send over their new Noiseless Pro app I jumped at the opportunity (especially after seeing the promo video for it).

Before we get started, let’s go over the basics of noise for those who are just dipping their toes in this area of post-processing. Noise is basically an unwanted side effect of shooting at high ISO levels or super long shutter speeds (long exposures). Without getting into photodiode leakage currents and other super-techy jargon, just know that noise is the little salt and pepper type specs that show up in your low light images.

Noise reduction is a give-and-take process, just like anything else in photography. It comes at a cost most of the time, and the cost is some amount of detail. Because of the way the noise reduction algorithms work, and because of the nature of high noise images, you just can’t remove noise without losing some of the sharpness in your photo. So the task at hand for software companies who want to tackle noise is to eliminate as much as possible, without screwing up the image and making it unusable.

Enter Macphun

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.32.00 PMMacphun came onto the photography scene fairly recently; although only for the Macintosh users as evidenced by the first three letters of their name. Each app they have created comes in two versions: A simple, easy to use version that usually goes for around $20, and a pro version with more features that goes for around $60. With any software that has the word “pro” in it, I am going to expect it to perform at a pro level. So with that said, let’s go over some of the key features that I personally expect to see in a brand new noise reduction program, as well as how Noiseless Pro measured up.

Video Review

For those who prefer video content over reading, here’s a walkthrough of Noiseless Pro and how it stacked up to DeNoise from Topaz Labs with a couple different images. For those who prefer reading, or can’t watch the video at the moment, read on below!

Differences Between Noiseless and Noiseless Pro

Each product that Macphun offers comes in a basic version as well as a pro version. The base version of Noiseless is $17.99 and the pro version is $49.99. So what does the extra $32 get you?

Each version comes with all the algorithms that were created to reduce noise in your images, as well as advanced algorithms for smart phones and GoPro cameras. The pro version comes with a few extra noise reduction presets, Adobe RGB/ProPhoto color space support, a navigator view to easily peruse the image when zoomed in, more advanced controls in the Adjust panel, as well as the ability to use the app as a plugin with programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (this is how I use it).

So, in my opinion, it’s well worth the extra bit of cash to go with the pro version. Photo editing software has come down in price by leaps and bounds over the past several years, so $49.99 seems like a great deal to me.

Ease of Use/User Interface

This is where all of Macphun’s programs shine. By targeting a Mac-specific audience, they had to kill it in the UI department, and they have with each product I’ve seen. The program is both incredibly fast and incredibly clean in its layout.


You can either drag an image right into Noiseless Pro, or you can use the program as a plug-in with Photoshop or Lightroom. The program opens immediately, and by default, opens up with the image zoomed in to 200%. This works well because it really lets you see what the noise looks like in the image, so you can see what needs to be done to combat it. It does throw you off a bit at first, but I think I like it.

From there, all you have to do is choose a preset on the right hand side (which couldn’t be easier). Just select the strength level that your image needs and make fine adjustments if needed. Each preset you select will have an “amount” slider appear once it’s been selected. Just use that to dial back the noise reduction strength if needed.

If you need to make even finer adjustments, just click the “Adjust” button up in the top right corner. Here you can adjust color noise, luminance noise, structure, details, etc.

Clouds and Skies

This is where Noiseless Pro exceeded my expectations. It really does a great job at reducing noise while still managing to maintain some detail in your clouds. Skies are the main thing I use noise reduction on and this is an important tip to those who are new to the idea of reducing noise in your images: Never do it globally! This is the problem with noise reduction in programs like Lightroom. They apply the reduction to the entire image, sacrificing detail in every single pixel of your image. Sure, they have some sort of intelligence built-in to preserve some details, but you’re still make a global change to the image.

Monstrosity | Somewhere Near Ardmore, OK

Using Noiseless Pro side by side against Topaz Labs DeNoise was pretty impressive. I’ve been using DeNoise exclusively for years now really wasn’t expecting Noiseless Pro to outperform it, or even come close. After all, Topaz has been in this game for years. However, after running the minimal amount of noise reduction necessary to get rid of the noise with both programs, I was stunned to see how much more detail Macphun retained in the clouds beneath the storm.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.11.16 PM


This is one of the less common areas where I apply noise reduction. It really just depends on the image, but if I’m going to reduce noise in a foreground area, it’s usually going to be a body of water, windows on a building, the finish on a car or some other kind of flat surface that should be smooth.

Noiseless did a great job in this area, and again, it’s so fast and easy to use. It literally just works like a breeze right out of the box.

Mobile Photography

One of the pro features mentioned in the marketing materials for Noiseless is “advanced algorithms for mobile photography.” I ran a few of my random mobile images through the program and it did seem to do pretty well. I think the biggest question here is, “Why?” I mean, it’s a nice feature and all but I doubt that personally will ever care enough about a mobile photo to reduce noise in it. That could of course change in the future, as our phones will likely continue to get closer to being capable of what our SLR’s do, but that’s not going to truly be the case any time soon (no, not even with the new LG phone that shoots RAW and offers manual controls). Of course, this is just my opinion.

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Astro Images

Well, every fairy tale has its villain and astro photography, unfortunately, seems to be the enemy of Noiseless at this point in the game. I was really bummed to see this, but it’s true. Here’s one of the high ISO images containing stars that I used.

Kilauea's Glow | Volcanos National Park

Using Noiseless side by side with Topaz Labs DeNoise was pretty telling to say the least. But then again, Noiseless also did surprisingly better with clouds and skies. DeNoise seems to have something built into their software that detects the stars in an astro/night sky image and masks around them. Noiseless, on the other hand, just completely degraded the stars in every night sky image I threw at it. The good news is this is a known issue and one that has already been brought up to the team at Macphun by several other photographers/beta testers. Macphun seems to be a solid company with solid people running it, so I am pretty confident they will address this and create something for the astro photography community in a future iteration. Fingers crossed.



While Noiseless may not perform as well as I’d like with astro/night sky images, it has still found a home in my post-processing workflow, especially for images containing clouds (which tends to happen quite often with landscapes). I’m certainly looking forward to where this program goes in the future, and really hope they will incorporate some better algorithms to handle stars.

The post Macphun Noiseless Pro Software Review by James Brandon appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

5 Secrets to Create a Perfect Silhouette Portrait Outdoors

DPS Silhouette 1


Place the subject’s entire body, from head to toe, against the sky. In order to do this, you will need to be lower than the subject. You can do this by laying on your back, or stomach, while taking the shot.

If you are unable to get low enough, you may need to have your subjects get higher, such as on the very top of a rock, small hill or sand dune. This will hopefully allow you, in most circumstances, to get an angle that places the subject’s entire outline against the sky. You can see a variety of landscapes utilized in the examples below.

DPS Silhouette 2

Hint: It’s so, so, SO important that their feet are against the sky! Legs in a silhouette portrait that are cut off above the feet look like weird, short stumps. If you can’t find a suitably spot at a location, you can play with silhouettes of a closer composition.

DPS Silhouette 3


Silhouettes work best around 20-30 minutes before sunset. However, it does vary with the angle you are able to achieve – the greater the height difference between you and the subject(s), the earlier you will need to take the shot.

If you wait any longer, the sun will be hidden behind whatever your subjects are standing on, and the sky might not be bright enough to make a silhouette. If you do it too early, the sky’s colours can be a bit boring and you will be dealing with other issues, such as sun flare.

DPS Silhouette 4

Tip: Silhouettes can be taken earlier before sunset if the sun is partially blocked or filtered through strong clouds.


Set your camera to Aperture Priority (AV) mode, with an aperture of f/2.8, and ISO of 400. Have Evaluative Metering selected, which means that the camera will take into account the whole scene when deciding how to find a balanced exposure.

If you fill the frame with your subjects’ faces or bodies, then the camera will expose for their skin, even with a bright background (see example below).

If you fill the frame mostly with a very bright sky, than the camera will expose for the bright sky, brining out the natural sunset colors and making everything else in the photograph dark.

So, if you place your subject directly against the sky (bright), than the subject (which is darker) will be heavily underexposed. The result – a silhouette!

DPS Silhouette 5 DPS Silhouette 6

Both photographs were taken on the exact same setting mentioned above, only seconds apart. The difference? Composition, and what is filling the frame – subject or sky.


Silhouettes are very forgiving of poor facial expressions (simply because you cannot see them), but very harsh when it comes to outlines. After taking each shot, check to make sure that nothing looks odd in the photograph.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when posing subjects in a silhouette:

  1. Hugging poses do not work – A hug silhouette looks like a great big blob monster. All subjects need to be clearly defined, which means they need to be at least a couple of inches apart from each other. It’s nice for subjects to still be connected, through holding hands, or kissing, but their bodies should still be defined.
  2. Have your clients look away from camera – It’s much nicer and more natural to have poses where the faces are profiled.
  3. Watch the clothing – Very baggy clothing will not work as well for a silhouette, as the shape can become unflattering. It is best for females to wear dresses or skirts in silhouettes, as it brings a feminine shape and helps clearly define them against the male’s figure. – Very baggy clothing will not work as well for a silhouette, as the shape can become unflattering. It is best for females to wear dresses or skirts in silhouettes, as it brings a feminine shape and helps clearly define them against the male’s figure.

DPS Silhouette 7


Try to capture at least one silhouette at every photo shoot, whether it is a family portrait, maternity, engagement or wedding. Why? Because they sell!

Here are some reasons why clients love to purchase silhouettes:

  • Silhouettes add variety to your shoot. Silhouettes are so different in nature, in their colouring and style, that the variety they give instantly makes any shoot more interesting and saleable. As the silhouette is quite unique from all other photographs, it also makes it easy to sell individually as a unique piece of artwork.
  • Silhouettes are perfect for shy clients. Some clients hate the idea of their faces hanging up on their walls, making silhouettes the perfect objection handler. As the focus of the photograph is not on the subjects’ faces at all, it can be marketed to them as the perfect piece of personalized artwork, without battling their self-conscious nature.
  • Silhouettes look better bigger! If you capture silhouettes on a wide composition, it’s all too easy to sell them as very large piece of artwork. Because the subjects are relatively small within the frame, silhouettes can encourage a larger, more impressive piece of artwork for the client and a more profitable sale for you.

DPS Silhouette 8

We hope this guide gives you the confidence to go out and try your own silhouettes.

The post 5 Secrets to Create a Perfect Silhouette Portrait Outdoors by Alana Orth appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

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