Month: October 2015

3 Body Language Hacks to Improve Your Portrait Photography

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I’m going to ask you to put your camera down for now. I know it’s a lot to ask, but the secret I’ve discovered to better portrait photography has, in fact, very little to do with your camera.

One of the most common mistakes budding portrait photographers make is to be so focused on getting the technical aspects right, they completely forget about the most important feature of a portrait – the person standing in front of their lens.

I’m not saying that your camera and technique aren’t important, they absolutely are. But even when you have the best technique in the world, you will not have a good portrait if your subject feels, and looks, uncomfortable.

The secret to helping your subject be relaxed and look good in pictures is body language – both yours and their’s.

Body Language

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Body language is how our bodies communicate our feelings and intentions, and it makes up for a majority of how we communicate. Some studies found that as much as 92% of our communication is nonverbal, and experts all agree that, as humans, we rely first on what we see and feel, before believing any spoken word.

Why is this important in portrait photography? Because body language is the language spoken in our portraits.

Within one second of seeing a photograph, we make a snap judgment about the person – or people – in the image, and what our brain relies on to make this judgment is their body language. Big cues like slouched shoulders or crossed arms are obvious, but it’s also the small cues like a fake smile, tense hands, slightly pursed lips, or squinting eyes, that tell our brains on an instinctive level, how that person is feeling. Furthermore, if the feelings are negative, it can ruin your portrait.

So, what can you do? Let’s look at three things you can start doing right now to help your subject settle into relaxed and positive body language.

1. Identify discomfort

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It’s pretty uncomfortable for most people to have their portrait taken, even if they are really looking forward to it. This tension appears mainly through blocking and pacifying cues.

Blocking gestures occur when we put something between ourselves and an uncomfortable situation. Crossed or closed arms are the most obvious signs, but the person may also be holding something like a bag or a laptop in front of them, turning their bodies away from you, and even crossing their legs tightly when standing.

Rubbing or pressure movements are called pacifying gestures. You will observe this when she’s playing with her necklace, rubbing her arms or legs, or he’s playing with his clothes, or squeezing his fingers together. Another place to look for pacifying gestures is the mouth. Lip pressing and licking, and tongue movements pressing inside the cheeks or lips show high levels of stress.

When you see this happening before or during the shoot, your subject is feeling uncomfortable and it’s going to show up in your portraits. Let’s look at how you can help them relax.

2. Show, don’t tell

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People feel uncomfortable during a photo shoot mostly because they don’t know what to do. It’s really stressful to be in front of a lens and be told to pose or act natural. They have no idea what you want from them, and telling them doesn’t help.

A client of mine shared this story with me;

At my last photo shoot, the photographer asked me to smile. So I smiled. “No! Not like that!” he said “you know, relax and smile!” All I could think is “Damn, I’m not relaxed, how do I relax?” which made me stress even more, and the more he was telling me to relax, the less I was! It was horrible! I look like I’m growling in all the photos. I hate them!

So if telling them what to do doesn’t help, what can you do? Show them! People can easily mirror what you want them to do. Ask them to mirror you, and show them exactly the pose you want them to take. Not only this will help them relax, it also allows you to get them into the right body language for the picture. When working with children, you can turn this into an imitation game, and they will be playing along with you in seconds.

Mirroring is a key bonding behavior in human body language. This interaction creates an immediate connection between you and your subject, and allows them to shift their attention away from the lens and focus on you instead.

3. Be in control -even when you’re not

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From the minute you meet your subject, until they walk away from the session, it’s vital that you appear in control by using confident body language, keeping your energy up, using positive words, and never showing any signs of stress – even when you’re freaking out because the settings you’re trying aren’t working.

I know this one is tough when you’re starting out, and you have to think of a million things – camera settings, composition, lighting, backgrounds, etc., and now I’m asking you to also think about what your client’s body is saying! But let’s think about this for a minute. How do you think your subject feels when they are working with a silent, stressed out, and fidgety photographer who is focusing all their attention on the camera or the lights? Not so great right? Guess where that’s going to show up? In your pictures.

They need to know that you’re in control, even when you’re not! This is a, “fake it until you become it” moment in your life. Talk to them. Explain what you’re doing. You might be concerned that they won’t take you seriously, but really, they are just curious about what’s going on. If they feel that you’re in control, that you know what you’re doing, you will keep the connection with them and help them to relax.

The best part is that you’re also going to feel more in control. Recent studies on body language have found that by changing our posture and behavior, we actually change our feelings too. Not only will you appear more confident, you’re actually going to feel more confident.

What’s next

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This is really just the very beginning of how body language can help you with your portrait photography. The choice of body language cues you’re going to use in your portraits will also have a huge impact on the feeling and quality of your images, and your relationships with your subjects.

Understanding body language is not just an option if you want to be a portrait photographer, it’s a vital skill; as vital as breathing is to a singer, or taste is to a chef. You will not be able to consistently create beautiful portraits of people, or create a fun experience for them if you ignore it.

The good news is that this is a skill you are born with, and have unconsciously practiced since your youngest age. However, most of us simply don’t pay attention to it because nonverbal communication is not part of our training curriculum, at school or later. Just like a musician will be more alert to sounds through practice, and a chef to taste through experience, I’m confident that you will soon become attuned to your subjects body language if you put in a little work.

Soon you will have mastered an amazing skill that will not only be useful in your work as a photographer, but also in everyday life.

Do you have another other tips about body language? Please share in the comments below along with any images demonstrating body language in your portraits.

The post 3 Body Language Hacks to Improve Your Portrait Photography by Dee Libine appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

24 Magical Images of Light Trails

Capturing light trails of something moving, often a vehicle, is somewhat magical because it’s something you cannot see with the naked eye. So only through the use of a camera and the right exposure techniques can this be possible.

Remember that light painting is just that if you show the light source – capturing the light trail.

Let’s look at a few images of light trails and see how these photographers captured the magic:


By x_tine


By JamesHarrison_

Howard Ignatius

By Howard Ignatius

Paulius Malinovskis

By Paulius Malinovskis

Cabrera Photo

By Cabrera Photo

Sam DeLong

By Sam DeLong

Todd Blaisdell

By Todd Blaisdell

VFS Digital Design

By VFS Digital Design

Katie Inglis

By Katie Inglis


By Keith


By jthornett

Jamie McCaffrey

By Jamie McCaffrey

Tom Roeleveld

By Tom Roeleveld

Alex Lin

By Alex Lin

Mike Boening Photography

By Mike Boening Photography

These * Are * My * Photons

By These * Are * My * Photons

Altug Karakoc

By Altug Karakoc

Wilson Lam

By Wilson Lam

Thomas Renken

By Thomas Renken

William Warby

By William Warby

Luc Mercelis

By Luc Mercelis


By aaronisnotcool

Alan Newman -

By Alan Newman –

Scott Griggs

By Scott Griggs

The post 24 Magical Images of Light Trails by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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24 Magical Images of Light Trails 10

Categories: Digital

Creating Ghostly Images for Halloween

While we may never actually see, let alone photograph a real ghost, we can create the illusion of a ghost image with our cameras. There is no exact science to capturing these images, and it sometimes takes some trial and error to create the effect you are looking to achieve. Still, there are several ways this can be accomplished, so let’s take a look at three of them:

  1. Multiple exposures in-camera
  2. Long exposures
  3. Combining images in Photoshop
To create this multiple exposure image, two exposures were captured on one frame. The first exposure captured the ghost and the tree and the second exposure was of the tree only. Notice the dark areas do not reflect light, allowing the tree to show through the ghost.

To create this multiple exposure image, two exposures were captured on one frame. The first exposure captured the ghost and the tree and the second exposure was just of the tree. Notice the dark areas do not reflect light, allowing the tree to show through the ghost.


  • DSLR Camera: or at least a camera that will capture multiple exposures, and allow you to set your shutter speed.
  • Tripod: In most cases this is a must to keep your images aligned and sharp.
  • Remote Shutter Release: Any touch of your camera can cause enough shake to create a blurry image.
  • Neutral Density Filters: If you are trying to create ghost images in the daytime you may need to limit the light entering your camera to get a longer exposure.
  • Flash/Speedlight: While not a necessity for capturing ghost images, one or more flash can be added to light your subject and also will freeze the movement. Which is especially helpful in ghost images done in low light.


Different types of ghost images

  • Sharp transparent figure: These ghosts will be sharply focused, which means a faster shutter speed should be used, or your subject must remain motionless during the exposure. Using a short burst of flash (freezes them) on the exposure that includes your ghost will also help to accomplish this.
  • Blurred motion figured: A blurred ghost is accomplished by allowing your ghost subject to move during a longer exposure. The trick here is not to have too long of an exposure or too much movement by your subject, because this may cause your ghost to completely disappear, or become so faint it is not noticeable.

This multiple exposure ghost had three shots combined. In the first exposure, the ghost had her hands over her face, then for the second exposure, the ghost removed her hands. Finally, in the third exposure the ghost was removed from the scene to allow the tree roots to show through her.

Multiple exposures ghosts

Most DSLRs now have a multiple exposure function which will allow you to take two, or more, images on the same frame. This method of shooting ghosts can be used in any lighting, especially in a daylight scene. Here are the simple steps for this method:

  1. Choose a unique location. Though a popular location is a graveyard, be creative in choosing your spot.
  2. Set the exposures for the lighting of the scene. Depending on your camera, this means you may have to compensate your overall exposure to allow for the multiple exposures. Some cameras will have an auto gain setting that will auto correct the exposure to compensate for the multiple exposures (basically it adds them all together).
  3. Set your camera to Multiple Exposures. This function offers various amount of control, depending on the camera model. Choose the number of multiple images you want, a number that also varies among different camera models. At minimum, you will want two exposures.
  4. Placing the camera on a good sturdy tripod is a must, so that the background does not shift from exposure to exposure.
  5. Test your exposure by taking a complete set of images. At this point it is not necessary for your model (ghost) to be present.
  6. Once you have the settings correct for a desirable image, it’s time to add your ghost. Pose your ghost in the scene and take the first exposure.
  7. Remove the ghost from the scene or move the ghost to another location and take as many additional images as you choose.
  8. The final exposure should be taken without the ghost to allow the background to show through the ghost.
  9. Your camera should now display your final image.
  10. Repeat steps 3 through 8 until you get the desired results. It may take some experimentation.


Long exposures ghosts

Taking a long exposure shot while your ghost moves through the image will create a blurred-motion figure. This method is especially useful for ghost images in low-light situations. The best time of day to shoot this type of image outdoors is right around sunset, while there is still enough light to illuminate the background.

  1. Again, choose a unique location. Though a popular location is a graveyard, be creative in choosing your location.
  2. Set your camera to its lowest ISO and set the shutter speed to a slow speed (long exposure), typically around 10 seconds (or more, depending on the light and amount of movement your ghost makes). This means you may need to use a small aperture to achieve a correct exposure. You may even need to add an ND filter to limit the amount of light that is reflecting onto your camera’s sensor.
  3. Placing the camera on a good sturdy tripod is a must, because you don’t want your background to be blurry, only the subject.
  4. Compose your image.
  5. Test your exposure without the ghost so that you are happy with it before you add your ghost.
  6. Have your ghost rehearse the movements you are expecting. Keep in mind that the motion should be smooth and continuous. If the ghost stops moving in multiple spots during the exposure, you may end up with multiple ghosts in your image. Also, if the motion is too fast the ghost may not show up in the image at all.
  7. Begin shooting the long exposure with your ghost in motion in the scene.
  8. Check your results. Review and continue.
  9. Repeat steps 2-7 as necessary until you get the results that you want.
Naveed Dadan

By Naveed Dadan

Creating ghost images in Photoshop

If your camera doesn’t have multiple exposure capability, don’t worry! You can accomplish nearly the same effect in Photoshop. This option works best on black and white images. While it is not impossible to process a ghost image with color, sometimes it is difficult to get the color tones to look right.

  1. Open both images in Photoshop – your background image and your ghost one.
  2. Outline the ghost image.
  3. Copy and paste the ghost image onto the background image, which will place your ghost on a separate layer.
  4. Select the ghost layer.
  5. Move the ghost image into place in the image using the Move tool. You may need to enlarge or reduce the size of the ghost (use Transform) to match the proportions of your background image.
  6. In the layer palate, change the transparency of the ghost layer until you get the ghostly effect you want.
  7. You may want to add a layer mask to the ghost to hide sections of the ghost, especially if you want them to appear behind objects in your background image. You could also use some special effects such as motion blur to add mystery to the image.
  8. Save the image as a Photoshop file (.psd) so if you want to edit the image later you still have the layers to edit.
  9. Flatten layers and save the final image as JPG or Tiff, whichever is your preferred file type.
This ghost image was created in Photoshop by combining an image of an old ghost town and scanning some old family photos to use as ghost images.

This ghost image was created in Photoshop by combining a photo of an old ghost town with scans of some old family portraits to appear as ghosts.

Get out and try it

It may take a good deal of experimentation to come up with results you are looking for, but hopefully the steps above will kick-start your imagination. There are so many possibilities, so don’t be afraid to try creative methods, sometimes the best results happen when you least expect them!

Another aspect of the shot: the color of your ghost’s clothing may make a big difference in your result. Light colored clothing will reflect light, and reversely, darker clothing will not reflect much light, which will create an almost invisible effect for the ghost figure.

One reminder I’d like to pass on to you is to not trust your LED screen in low light for proper exposure. Learn to use your camera’s histogram, because in low-light an image may look really bright on the back of your camera, but still be extremely underexposed.

Now get out there and shoot, and don’t be afraid of the ghosts! (Unless, of course, you see a real one!) If you try one or more of these techniques please share your images in the comment below, I’d love to see what you come up with.

The post Creating Ghostly Images for Halloween by Bruce Wunderlich appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

How to Light Creepy Halloween Masks for Added Drama

It’s October again and that means Halloween is around the corner. This is good news for you as a photographer, Halloween is a visual holiday like no other. With all of the decorations, theme shaped food, Jack-o-lanterns and costumes you have more potential for photography than you can shake a selfie stick at.

One of my favorite parts of Halloween are the masks. Many of the better quality masks available are extremely detailed and creepy, lending themselves well to visceral imagery.


Because of the monsters they often portray, they also tend to be suited for a more cinematic approach to lighting, which will give you the opportunity to explore ways to create mood and drama in your images. This tutorial covers how to light using a basic side-lighting technique that will allow you to create heavy shadows, to shape and accentuate the creepiness in your masks.

What you need:

  • Studio strobe or speedlight fitted with a softbox or a window
  • Black paper – enough to cover the edges of the softbox (heavy, non-transparent curtains will work with a window)

Optional but useful extras:

  • Seamless paper, black background
  • Black reflector/ flag or a piece of black poster board

Setting it up

The first thing you need to do is turn your light source into a strip light. This will create a very narrow shaft of light that will skim the front of your subject, creating a lot of contrast that will emphasize all of the fine details.

To do this with a softbox, tape a few pieces of black paper over the sides leaving only about 6” (15cm) of white showing. You can make the gap smaller if you like, but for this technique you shouldn’t go for more than 6”.


Tip: If you use seamless paper backgrounds, save the scraps whenever you trim the ends. They always come in handy at times like these.

If you’re using a window with curtains, simply draw them closed until you have a six inch gap.


Once your light source is modified, you’re ready to go. To side-light, place your light so that it is pointed directly at the side of subject. If you start with the light aimed at the front of the mask, you can then fine-tune as your images require, by moving it an inch or two forward or backwards. Because the light source is so narrow, moving it in tiny increments will result in drastic changes to the final images.


Pay careful attention to any light falling on the background. The narrow beam of light shouldn’t allow much light to spill over, but if it does, try moving your subject and light source a few inches forward (away from the background).

When working with detailed subjects like this, I like to use a smallish aperture like f/11. This ensures that all of the fine details are sharp in the final images. However, if you’re working with window light it may be a struggle to stop down that far without setting a high ISO (or using a tripod, which is a good idea for maximum sharpness anyway). Feel free to use whatever aperture provides you with the best quality results.



When you’re attempting to get really deep shadows with a technique like this, sometimes things like white walls reflect a lot of light back onto the shadow side of your subject. This is where having a black reflector, known as a flag, comes in handy. By holding your flag to the side of your subject, you are blocking the light from reflecting off of other objects that can affect your images.

In the end

Even though this an easy technique, hopefully you can see that with some simple, but careful manipulation, you can take control of even the most basic lighting equipment to create bold and evocative imagery.

If you do decide to give this technique a go, I’d love to see the results you get with your masks. Happy Halloween!

The post How to Light Creepy Halloween Masks for Added Drama by John McIntire appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Astrophotography Made Simple

There may not be a more challenging subject matter for photographers than astrophotography. When I first began making photographs, I had an elusive and challenging goal which was to make a photograph of the moon.


13 years later (has it really been that long?) I think back and smile at how impossible capturing that photograph of the night sky seemed to me at the time. Back then, the idea of making an image that captured the moon or the stars, and even a galaxy, seemed impossible. I assumed the images would require an expensive camera or some kind of magical photo gear. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In reality, you probably have everything you need to get started in astrophotography right now!

Astrophotography is simply a name for the realm of photography which images astronomical objects and the night sky itself. The moon, stars, constellations, galaxies, and even the sun, are all considered astronomical objects. In this article, you’ll learn just how easy it is to make great single exposure photographs of the wonders to be found in the expanses of the night sky.

You will only need some basic photographic gear and a small dose of patience. Complicated image stacking software and astronomically priced lenses and professional cameras not required. Now let’s get started!

Cade's Cove Moon


Let’s talk about some of the bare bones gear that you will need in order to make your astro photos.

1 – A camera capable of shooting in full manual mode

You need to be able to control as many variables as possible, so shooting in Manual Mode is essential. Bulb capability is a plus, but not required. Bulb mode means that the exposure begins when you open the shutter and continues until you choose to end it by closing the shutter. Bulb mode is a setting which is now available on even the most budget friendly dSLR’s and mirrorless cameras (even some point and shoots have it).

2 – The fastest (largest aperture) lens you have in your bag

Fast Lens

Wide angle lenses are sometimes viewed as the only focal length to use for astrophotography, but that is most definitely not true. The key to solid astrophotography is to use a lens which can let in the most light. These lenses will be rated with a small f-number and are often prime (fixed focal length). While wide angle lenses will give you a sweeping vista of the sky, don’t count out your medium-telephoto lenses.

3 – A solid tripod


You simply cannot escape the fact that a reliably sturdy tripod is the foundation on which all strong astrophotographs are built. Unwanted motion is your enemy. You will need a tripod that can support the weight of your camera and keep it completely motionless. Also, the mount on which the camera physically attaches will play a key role in the outcome of your images. Low quality ball-head mounts can sometimes drift under the weight of your camera during long exposures, so keep that in mind as well when choosing your tripod head.

4 – A microfiber lens cloth


You will have your lens tilted upward for many of your shots, so settling dew can become a problem, especially in the summer months. Be sure to pack at least one clean micro-fibre lens cloth to wipe off any moisture which can accumulate on your lens’ front element during long exposures. This is a small piece of gear that can make or break your photo outing.

5 – Optional remote shutter release

Unless you are shooting in Bulb mode, a remote shutter release in not necessary. However, it makes your shooting a little easier, and helps to ensure less camera shake. When not using a remote, set your shutter release on the 2-second timer so that you will not shake the camera by pressing the shutter button.

Camera settings

Now that you know what gear you will need, let’s look at how to go about making your astrophotographs.

Shutter speed

Without a doubt, the biggest question about astrophotography is, “How long should I expose my image?” The answer depends on what kind of photograph are you planning to make. The night sky is dynamic. Everything we see is moving, although it may not appear that way to our eyes. I often relate making photos of the night sky to making photos of water. If you want motion blur (star trails) you will need a longer exposure time. If you want to freeze motion (constellations and galaxies) you will need a shorter exposure time.

Startrail Trees

In my experience, the sweet spot for obtaining workable images of stars and the Milky Way without star trails, is around 15-20 seconds depending on the ISO and aperture (more on that shortly) settings. While there are of course no absolute formulas, a good guideline is called the 600 Rule. It is very similar to the reciprocity rule used for avoiding camera shake during hand-held shooting.

The 600 Rule states that to reduce celestial motion blur, the exposure time should be no longer than the equivalent of 600 divided by a given focal length. Meaning that the maximum shutter time in order to reduce star streaking for a 50mm lens would be 12 seconds (600 / 50 = 12), for a 14mm focal length it would be 42 seconds (600 / 14 = 42), and for a 24mm focal length it would be 25 seconds (600/24). This rule is based on full-frame digital image sensors and will keep star trailing less than 8 pixels wide. If you’re shooting an APS-C(cropped sensor) camera, try using 400 instead of 600 in order to obtain similar results.

The important thing to understand about shutter speed as it relates to astrophotography is that, just as in any other type of photography, longer shutter speeds will result with increased motion blur.



Aperture controls how much light is allowed to enter your camera, and in astrophotography the more light you have to work with, the better your images will be. Shoot your scene at the widest aperture possible. Keep in mind though, that all lenses have ideal apertures, and opening a lens all the way up (largest aperture) often affects overall sharpness. That being said, using a large aperture is almost always desirable, because it allows in the maximum amount of light, which will make your stars brighter and small celestial details more visible.

I shoot the majority of my astrophotography from f/1.8 down to f/3.5 and even f/4. Remember too, that with a wider aperture, precise focusing becomes very important due to the decreased depth of field. Manual focusing is very useful. If your camera has a focus magnification option, use it to zoom in on pinpoint stars or the moon, so that you can obtain the sharpest focus possible. Don’t rely on the infinity focus markings on your lens (they are often not accurate).

ISO settings

Selecting the ISO for your astrophotography is an exercise in compromise. High ISOs are better for shooting in low light conditions, but will also result in more grain and noise in your final photograph. Finding a comfortable medium can be difficult. Shoot with the highest ISO that you feel gives you the least amount of noise, but still allows you to use your desired shutter and aperture settings.

Mother Moon

Most cameras now have high ISO noise reduction built into the their on-board software. I find it is almost always helpful to turn this function off – stay with me here. The reason being, is that image post-processing software today almost always does a better job of reducing noise than does in-camera high ISO noise reduction, which can sometimes reduce contrast and image sharpness. I highly recommend that you experiment with your particular camera and find out what you prefer for your own needs.

Shoot RAW

You may have heard the benefits of shooting in RAW format. In astrophotography, shooting your images in RAW format becomes extremely helpful. The extra information gathered from these larger files will add a huge amount of dynamic range, which will allow you to process the images to a greater degree. Noise reduction will also work more effectively when coupled with the RAW image format.

Tips to make your astrophotography stand out

Incorporate external elements within the scene

Milky Way Fire

While the objects found in the night sky are incredibly beautiful on their own, adding additional points of interest will often make your astrophotography even stronger. Add reference points such as trees or buildings. Look for a elements that bring harmony within the composition, and flow well with your astrological subject.

Light pollution can be useful

Boat Trail

While dark skies are certainly ideal for astrophotography, don’t feel that that all external light sources are a bad thing. Sometimes having city lights, or other luminance, interact with your scene can heighten the impact of your composition and add contrast within the image.

Experiment with color

Red Galaxy

Astrophotography loves color. Don’t be afraid to increase, and manipulate saturation and hues in your post-processing workflow. Experimenting with colors will make your photograph a piece of personal art, rather than just a representation. Still, it is advisable not to over process your images so much that you lose detail, and/or make the entire image gaudy and unrealistic (which of course is very subjective). As always, less can sometimes be more.

Astrophotography is challenging, fun, rewarding, and educational. Making images of the heavens is a great way to develop your skills as a photographer, while at the same time producing beautiful images of things that most people may not have noticed before. Today, cameras and imaging software make it easy for us to make great photographs of the night sky. The information you have read here will put you well on the way to producing exciting astrophotos. Shoot for the moon!

The post Astrophotography Made Simple by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

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