Archive for October, 2015

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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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24 Magical Images of Light Trails

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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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Creating Ghostly Images for Halloween

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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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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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6 Ways to Use Live View to Get Sharper Images

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The LED monitor on the back of a camera is most often used to review captured images. But here’s a tip: Live View can also be a useful tool, helping you to focus your camera before taking the shot. In fact, Live View may be the most accurate means of focusing a camera. Let’s take a look at six ways you might use Live View to focus.

1 – Focus Stacking

Use live view to focus on different depths of field to use for focus stacking

Use Live View to focus at different distances for focus stacking.

Focus Stacking is similar in principle to HDR. However, when doing Focus Stacking, images are captured with different parts of the image in focus, then combined in Photoshop to create an image with more depth of field than would be possible with a single exposure. This method is a useful tool when doing macro photography. Calm winds are a must to capture focus stacking images. Use Live View to accurately focus each image. Here is the step-by-step outline of the process:

  1. Set up your camera on a sturdy tripod (a must!)
  2. Frame or compose the image
  3. Turn on Live View
  4. Zoom the Live View in so you can adjust the focus of each image to different distances
  5. Use Photoshop to process and blend the stacked images

2 – Manual Trap Focus for Macro Photography

Use live view to manually trap focus a macro photography subject.

Use Live View to manually trap focus a macro photography subject.

Manual Trap Focus can also be useful in macro photography. Set your camera to manual focus, and using Live View move the camera until the subject is in focus. Used in conjunction with a focusing rail on a tripod, or hand held, move the camera to focus the image. Another benefit of this method is that it also gives you a Live View of the depth of field for the image you plan to capture. See steps below to give this method a try:

  1. Set camera to manual focus
  2. Turn the focus ring on your lens to the closest focus distance
  3. Turn on Live View
  4. Move your camera closer to your subject until it is in focus. (Using a focusing rail can help you master this method.)

To fine-tune the focus, use the zoom feature in Live View to get the most accurate focus point possible.

3 – Focus on any point in your scene

Live View is not restricted to the usual focusing points in your camera’s main focusing system. Most newer camera models will have 51 or more focusing points. However, these points are clustered around the center of the image. In Live View, you can move your focusing point all the way out to the edge of the image.

4 – More Accurate Focus

Use live focus to zoom in for a more accurate focus on waterfalls.

Use Live View focus to zoom-in for a more accurate focus on waterfalls.

Live View also provides a more accurate focus than a camera’s main auto focusing system. The Live View system is based on the contrast of the image actually captured by the camera’s sensor. It is slower-focusing than your camera’s regular phase detection autofocus system, but it is more accurate. This works great for focusing in on subjects within landscape, and portraiture where a slower-focusing method doesn’t affect the ability to capture the shot.

5 – Manual Focus in Low Light

When photographing in low light situations, such as astrophotography, auto focusing often fails to provide a desirable result. Using Live View, in conjunction with manual focusing, can help obtain a sharp image. While in Live View, use the zoom to enlarge the subject’s image and then use manual focus to tweak the photo’s sharpness.

Use live view to focus when capturing low light images.

Use live view to focus when capturing low light images.

6 – Focusing on the Eyes

For the most compelling portraiture and wildlife photography, the most important focus is on the eye(s) of the subject. Using Live View, it is possible to isolate the eye for either auto focus or a manual focus. This method is limited to images that are posed, or with little movement.

Use live view to focus on the eye to fine-tune the focus in select wildlife images.

Use Live View to focus on the eye to fine-tune the focus in select wildlife images.


These are just a few ways that you can use Live View mode to focus your camera. Remember that using these methods will be much harder on your battery life. Always keep a spare, fully charged, battery with you when you are shooting. If you have any other ideas for using Live View for focusing, please leave them in the comments below.

The post 6 Ways to Use Live View to Get Sharper Images by Bruce Wunderlich appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Astrophotography Made Simple

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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!

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You have finally arrived. After all the planning and decisions you are in one of the most beautiful places in the world. You have rested, and now you’re ready to go out to see what you can photograph.

You look around and realize you’re overwhelmed, and you’re experiencing sensory overload. You can’t figure out what to photograph, as there are too many options, and you don’t know what will make a good image.


Manhattan at dusk from Brooklyn Park

This is a common problem when you find yourself somewhere that has so many amazing places to look at, and to photograph. It happened recently in New York to someone I was travelling with. She couldn’t work out what to do and how to approach where she was. She felt lost in a world of so many beautiful things to take photos of.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips to help you get past that.

Figure out what you want to see

Think about why you have travelled to this destination. There have to be reasons why you wanted to go there. It might be a good idea to do some research and get an idea of what you would like to see ahead of time.

Make a list

Once you have that, the next thing to do is to make a list of the places you want to visit. For example let’s say you are in New York City. Some examples of places to visit and things to do include:

  • Empire State Building
  • The Flatiron Building
  • Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Times Square
  • Take a ride on the subway
  • Explore Central Park
  • Pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial

Of course a city like New York is full of amazing places to go and photograph, these are just a few.

Work out on a map, or, if you have internet access, Google Maps, where they all are and how many of them are near one another. You don’t want to see them all on the same day, so divide them up over a few days.

What is the best time of day to shoot your chosen locations?


The Flatiron Building in New York just after sunrise.

It’s good to see where they are on the map as well for orientation. Can you see where they will be according the position of the sun each day? Take the Flatiron Building for example, would it be better to photograph it in the early morning, or in the late afternoon. Early morning during the sunrise could give you a lovely colour in the sky, but it will also mean that there will be less people around. If you are anything like me and don’t like people in your photos, then early morning can be the best time to see and photograph places.

Then again, if you want to photograph Manhattan after walking over the Brooklyn Bridge then late afternoon is going to be a better time. You get the sunset and then the lights coming on in the city.

The number of people at these places is also something to consider. New York is full of tourists, though many popular cities around the world are the same, so you need to think about whether or not you want them in your images. You can get photos without them, but that can take patience.

How are you going to photograph your chosen spots?

This is the part that can baffle a lot of people. Once you have narrowed down what you want to take photos, next you have to decide how to do it. There are several options, these might help you decide.

It is very easy to walk up to a building, hold the camera up to your face, click, and then you’re done. That is often what you see tourists doing, the “I’ve been here and done that” type of image, but as photographers we usually want more than that. You can get a lot more from a location- here are some tips to help you get better images:

1 – Photograph everything


A close-up of the clock at Grand Central Station or Terminal

With the age of digital, not having to worry about how much film is going to cost to buy or process, you really can photograph everything. If something catches your eye, then take a photo of it.

Don’t analyze why, just do it. You can think about things too much, but keep in mind that you are there to take photos and it doesn’t matter, just snap away.

2 – Focus on the details


Detail of the Flatiron Building in New York.

Sometimes if you just look for the little things, the shape of a door, or some ornate decoration above a window, it can make a big difference.

Old buildings are great for giving you lots of details. They were often built using heaps of ornamental decorations around doors or windows. Besides taking photos of the whole building or location, think about smaller things, and how a close-up of a certain aspect can help give more of an idea of what it looks like.

If you look at the Flatiron Building, first you see the oddity of its shape, how it is placed within its environment, and then you start to see the stonemason’s work on the sides. It is covered in lacework and small sculptures.

New buildings don’t have the type of stonework as the older ones, but you can still get some interesting images. Often instead of small things, the buildings themselves are one large shape. It can be good to find that shape and the best way to take an image of it.

Take the new World Trade Centre, or, as it is commonly called, the Freedom Tower. It is an incredible shape which stands out all over the city. There is no denying it when you see it. Look at its form, and see if there is anything unique about it.

3 – Consider its position in the environment


Looking through Manhattan Bridge to the Empire State Building.

The situation of the object you are photographing can help tell the story of it. Look around and see what else is there. Is it a busy street? Do people use it a lot? Is there a strange juxtaposition of what it is and where it is located?

Central Park is so big, yet it seems almost a contradiction to see it inside a city of steel and glass. It can be seen as an escape, yet in certain places you can see the city above the line of trees.

4- Look inside


The staircase and ceiling in the New York Public Library.

There are many buildings that you can also photograph inside. Just make sure you have permission to do so first.

Once inside don’t use the flash on your camera, it will give your a strange look and, if it is a big room, will have little affect. Most public buildings frown on the use of flash as well.

Once you go into a building you will need to make your ISO higher, so don’t forget to raise it when you go inside.

Staircases are wonderful to photograph in both directions. Old buildings often have wonderful light fittings and very ornate ceilings, try to capture those.


New York appearing above the trees in Central Park and the Bow Bridge.

Before you head out the door

Remember what you want to do when you are out taking photos. If you make a list of what you want to photograph, or a summary of this list, then you will get what you want.

If you are going to the Flatiron Building your list might look like this:

  • From across the street and straight on
  • From the left looking down the side street
  • Do the same on the right
  • Stand at the bottom and look straight up
  • Zoom-in on some of the different details on the building
  • Move to one side and have the building on the left or right and then show the street it is on

This can be a good way to get the shots you want. You don’t want to get back home and wish you had done something else.

If you think about all of these aspects of travel photography then it should help you to get over your feelings of being overwhelmed. It will help you focus on what you want to photograph, and how you want to see the city through your camera.

The post Tips for Pre-Planning City Photography When Travelling by Leanne Cole appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to do a Head Swap using Photoshop

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When looking through your pictures, have you ever had that sinking feeling of seeing everyone in a single image perfectly happy and smiling except for one person who was sneezing, sniffling, or looking at a squirrel? I can recall several times when I have returned from photo shoots being all optimistic about the experience, but realized as I combed through my images, that while I had several good shots where most people were perfectly posed, I didn’t have any shots where everyone looked just right.

It can be intensely frustrating, especially if you know you did everything in your power to get just the right shot. Fortunately Photoshop can help. With a few simple steps, you can learn how to load up a couple of images and perform a face or head-swapping maneuver with surgical precision, that would make Nicolas Cage blush (as in from the movie: Face Off). If it’s done correctly, no one will ever be able to tell that the final image has been altered.

Face-swapping can be incredibly useful when dealing with squirmy kids. This impromptu photo at a birthday party is actually a composite of three separate pictures.

Heade-swapping can be incredibly useful when dealing with squirmy kids. This impromptu photo at a birthday party is actually a composite of three separate pictures.

When going through my pictures, I always start with Lightroom to cull the images down to the best ones, and do initial edits, such as exposure and color adjustments. If I come across a situation where I need to take a face from one photo, and put it in another, I open both pictures in Photoshop (which is a simple matter of right-clicking and choosing: Open as Layers in Photoshop). For example, the following picture turned out fine except for the boy who was distracted by something off to the side.

This family picture I took on July 4 is fine, but the boy's expression is not the greatest.

This family picture I took on July 4th is fine, but the boy’s expression is not the greatest.

Fortunately I had another picture that looked great, but in this one the mother was blinking. No worries though – Photoshop was there to save the day!

He has a much better expression in this photo, but his mother was blinking.

The little guy has a much better expression in this photo, but his mother was blinking. Photoshop to the rescue!

When working with edits like this it’s a good idea to use as high-resolution of pictures as possible, so you have the maximum amount of data to work with. Do not export your images from Lightroom as low-res JPG files, and then import them into Photoshop. Instead use full-size originals, though I do like to make sure the exposures are as closely matched in each picture first. Edit your white balance, color adjustments, and other parameters such that both images are as close as possible before going into Photoshop, or your composite will look painfully obvious. (Some photographers take the exact opposite approach and do all the Photoshop work first, and then do color adjustments and cropping in Lightroom. Either way works, but I prefer the former method.)

If you’re unfamiliar with Photoshop, and it seems a bit overwhelming at first, don’t think about all the buttons, menus and options available to you just yet. This face compositing really only requires two sections: the Layers panel in the bottom right corner, and the Brush tool on the left side.


Open both images as layers in Photoshop

Select both images in Lightroom and right click, then choose: Open as Layers in Photoshop. Once your images are open in Photoshop, rename one or both so you can tell which is the one to use most people, and which is to copy the new head from.



You now have two layers in one image: the background (in this case, the one where everyone but the mother is smiling) and the layer you just copied over (in this case, the one where only the mother is smiling).


Make a layer with just the new head to be added

From here there’s a couple different ways to go about combining them, but when doing a simple head swap the method I prefer is to get rid of everything in the second layer except the face I want to put into the first image. To do this, use the Lasso tool to draw an active selection around the face, and create a new layer which consists of just the face itself. I like to use New Layer via Copy just in case I want to go back to the original for something, but it’s up to you. Make sure to leave plenty of padding around the face so you have enough room to blend it in as you make your adjustments.


You now have three layers in the side panel: the original background, the new one you copied over, and the face itself. Since you only need the face, you can click the eye icon just to the left of the layer you copied over, which leaves it intact but invisible (hidden layer).


Compositing or blending them together

Now comes the fun part – compositing the face! I like this step because I get to be a little creative, and play around with exactly how I want the final image to look. The first thing you’ll notice is the face you are working with is probably going to be out of place, unless your camera was on a tripod, and everyone was perfectly still.


To get the face into the proper position, select it in the Layers panel and change its opacity to about 50%. That way you can see both faces at the same time, which will help you as you start lining them up. (Note: alternatively you can change the face layer’s blend mode to Difference. That will show it sort of inverted (negative) and it makes it easy to position them or align the layers. Then just change it back to normal when done.)


With the face layer still selected, choose “Transform” from the “Edit” menu, or press command-T on a Mac (control-T on Windows). Use your mouse to drag the face into the proper position, and press the arrow keys on your computer to fine-tune your movements on a per-pixel basis. You can also use the Transform command to rotate the face in case the person has turned his or head slightly. To do this, put your mouse cursor just outside the border near one of the corners, where it will change to a rounded arrow which means you can now click and drag to rotate.


Once you that have the second face lined up properly over the first one, press the [Enter] key to lock it in place, then bring the layer opacity of the face back up to 100%. Don’t worry if you didn’t get things just right: you can always made additional Transformations later by selecting the layer and choosing “Transform” just like before.

At this point things are looking pretty good, but right away you will notice a harsh border around the face where your selection box was. This needs to be eliminated so you only have the facial features you want, and not the person’s hair or any background elements that might have changed between the shots.


At this point you might be thinking “No problem! I’ll just use the eraser tool to get rid of the parts I don’t need,” but that’s a rookie mistake you will soon regret. The eraser tool is permanent, so instead we’ll use what’s called a layer mask to get rid of any parts we don’t want. It works similar to the eraser tool, but is fully adjustable and even altogether reversible (it’s called non-destructive editing) so that any edits you make can easily be undone at any point. With the face layer selected, click the “Add Layer Mask” button at the bottom of the Layers panel.


Now you can use the brush tool to paint out (using black) any areas of the face layer you do not want, or paint them back (paint with white) in if you do decide to keep them. This layer mask method is far more flexible than using the eraser tool, and it allows you to use varying levels of opacity as well. You can partially erase something, while retaining just enough to allow for a smooth transition, instead of a harsh line. Select the brush tool and choose a brush with soft edges. Play around with your flow rate and opacity settings too. I don’t like to go all the way to 100% opacity right away, so I usually start with 50%-70% to leave some wiggle room. Remember, you can always change your adjustments later.


Now you can start blurring the line between the background photo and the face you are compositing onto it. Use the brush tool to gradually erase around the edges of the face, and if you find yourself wanting to brush anything back in just press the X key to reverse the process (X switches your foreground and background colors, in this case black and white) as you apply the brush. Notice that you’re not actually painting on the image of the face, but on a mask that has been applied to the layer. You are basically telling Photoshop which parts of the face layer you want to see, and which parts you want to erase (hide) or mask out. In the Layers panel you will see this mask show up to the right of the original layer as a mostly white box with some dark spots that indicate where you have painted with the brush.


Using brushes on the layer mask is the most part of this whole process as I get to see my edits in realtime, and get as detailed as I want with brushing in the smiling face.


The final image

You can use this technique to composite as much as you want, including background elements, multiple faces, or even individual features such as eyes or teeth. Learning this simple head swapping technique is not only handy for creating the perfect group portrait, but can also be your gateway into a much broader world of Photoshop editing in general.

What are your favorite tips for doing simple edits in Photoshop? Do you have any other techniques that have worked for you over the years? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

The post How to do a Head Swap using Photoshop by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Tripod Review: Gorillapod Focus Field Test

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I personally have one of these guys and find it extremely handy for travel and using in places where you either aren’t allowed to have a tripod, or don’t want to haul a big heavy one around. Check out what you can do with the Gorillapod Focus with X ball head kit in this video from Big Iris Productions.

They put it in some pretty challenging situations and gave it a mixed review. I would add that I find it to work great just to put your DSLR onto and walk around with. I did that while travelling in Spain – put the camera on Gorillapod, and the strap around my neck as usual  – but then just rested the legs of the tripod on my hip. It takes all the weight off your neck and I found it really comfortable to walk around that way, ready to shoot.

The post Tripod Review: Gorillapod Focus Field Test by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Whether you are new to photography, or have been photographing for a while, I’m sure you’ve gone through times when the ideas weren’t flowing, and inspiration was nowhere to be found. This happens to all of us. So how do you find ways to stay inspired and get the creative juices flowing again? Try abstract or impressionist photography. Finding inspiration isn’t about stepping outside of your box, it’s about stretching your limits, and abstract photography is the best way to learn to see things in a completely new and different way.

1 Look for shapes Irys by Eva Polak

Abstract and impressionist photography leave things to the imagination and help you concentrate on texture, form, and colour. Instead of making everything look real, I invite you to use bold colours, shapes, and lines to make exciting images.

So let’s start exploring the creative process of abstract photography. Here are five easy techniques that will help you to learn new skills and get your creative juices flowing.

1. Look for shapes, patterns and textures

As you go about your daily activities, notice the shapes around you. Your house is full of interesting shapes, patterns and textures that can be used to make abstract photos. Look closely at different objects around you and consider whether there are any reoccurring shapes or themes within the object – then use them to your advantage. Lines can be used very effectively in a photograph, as the eye will tend to follow a line through a shot. Look at the undulating pattern the wave makes (see below), as it breaks into shore. In the city, look for patterns formed by the buildings. Discover different textures in flowers arrangements in the park (see photo above).

1 Look for shapes Waves by Eva Polak

2. Look for reflections

Reflections are one of the best ways to create abstract and impressionist photography. If you look carefully, you’ll see they are everywhere. As you walk around, look for smooth surfaces. Think about how you can use reflections to capture a viewpoint that you simply couldn’t have shot otherwise. Pay attention for colourful reflections in rain-soaked streets, they will create shimmering images with an impressionistic quality. Also, still lakes and rivers can create some wonderful reflective surfaces. When a surface is textured or shaped, unusual and interesting reflections can appear.

2 Reflection Seagull by Eva Polak

2 Reflections Rainy streets by Eva Polak

3. Defocus

Pulling the lens out of focus is a quick way to give a scene an impressionistic look. Use Aperture Priority mode that allows you to set your lens to the widest aperture (small numbers such as f/2.4 or f/4). This is critical because you want a very shallow depth of field. Switch your lens to manual focus and start looking at things through the camera. Turn the focus ring until everything is blurry. Try varying the focus on the same scene to find out how much blur suits your subject best.

3 Defocus Lonly  by Eva Polak

3 Defocus Swimmers by Eva Polak

4. Pan your camera

Panning is a fun technique to learn, and although it takes some practice, it is relatively easy to get started. You can pan running people, bicycles, cars, or just about anything that is moving. Once you have your subject, set the camera to shutter priority with the shutter speed between 1/10th and 1/60th of a second. As your subject approaches, focus on it and start tracking with your camera until you are confident that you are moving in sync with the subject.

4 Pan your camera Flight by Eva Polak

The trick to a successful camera-panning image is in finding a suitable subject. Strong vibrant colours are ideal, and lines through the frame will keep the colours distinct and separated. Apart from panning moving subjects you can use this technique to create beautiful seascapes and landscapes. The subject distortion will emphasize horizontal lines when panning horizontally, and vertical lines when panning vertically.

4 Pan you Camera  Wattle Bay  Eva Polak

5. Zoom

A zoom burst, or zoom blur, is another technique which is simple, fun, and easy to achieve. It involves changing the focal length of your lens (zooming in or out) while you take a photo, causing the shot to blur from the centre outwards, as if the scene is bursting towards you.

5 Zoom Water lily by Eva polak

To use this technique you’ll need a DSLR (or mirrorless camera) with a zoom lens. Set your camera to Shutter Priority. A shutter speed of 1/10th of a second is a good starting point. Compose your photo as you normally would, then just zoom the lens as you press the shutter. The key to success with this technique is to get the amount of zoom burst right. Experiment with zooming speed and direction.

5 Zoom Autumn Leaves by Eva Polak

Spend some time with each technique to discover its full potential. Photograph a lot and often. Don’t judge what you do. Analyze your images and try to improve upon them. But, most of all, have fun!

Tips to remember:

  • Keep an open mind; abstract photography is about seeing the potential in things that other people miss.
  • Spend time exploring everyday subjects and scenes; it’s surprising how many interesting abstracts you will find.
  • Look at familiar things from unfamiliar angles, and you will see them in a completely different light.
  • Forget about what something really is and concentrate on its shape and colour.

The post Five Techniques for Creating Impressionist or Abstract Photography by Eva Polak appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Most of the time your equipment does a great job, but every once in a while you may find that under certain circumstances, your photos may seem a little soft. Although there are no less than a million reasons why this might be, it may simply be that your lens isn’t focusing where it’s supposed to.

You may be thinking that if this is the case, isn’t something seriously wrong? Not necessarily.

Some cameras are equipped with a feature to tweak the accuracy of its autofocus – Nikon calls this autofocus fine tuning.

Depth of field

Autofocus fine tuning allows you to dial in the autofocus accuracy of a camera/lens combination.

What is autofocus fine tuning?

Camera lenses are built, and tuned, to fairly exacting standards and do what they are supposed to pretty well, even lower-end lenses. However, there is a window, albeit fairly minute, that focus tuning parameters fit into. If the lens’ tuning falls right in the middle of that window, the focus will be spot on, but it’s not uncommon for the focus to be at either end of that window while still meeting quality control standards.

What this means is that in the majority of shooting situations you are going to end up with sharp results. In some situations when you are pushing the accuracy limits of the lens, such as macro photography or shooting at wide apertures, you may discover that the lens focuses a little in front or behind the focus point you’ve chosen. Maybe you’ve seen this shooting a close-up portrait at a wide aperture – although you are trying to get the subject’s eyes in the focus plane, you keep getting their eyebrows or ears sharp instead.

Why use it?

This is where lens fine tuning comes into play. What this feature does is allow you to dial in the accuracy of the lens/camera focus point even more precisely than it already is. If you haven’t noticed any problems with your setup, or mostly shoot at smaller apertures, going through this process may be unnecessary.

This feature can be found on Nikon bodies from the D7000 up and Canon bodies from the 50D and up, as well as several Sony, Olympus, and Pentax cameras.

Fine tuning settings are specific to the lens/camera combination and once you tune a lens, the camera saves the setting, which it reverts to anytime you mount that lens. Although you need to use a CPU lens to reap the full benefits of autofocus fine tuning, older analog or third party lenses can be fine tuned, and the settings saved manually on Nikon DSLRs.

What you need

  • A tripod
  • A newspaper or magazine printed with a small font
  • A table
  • A well lit room

How to do it

Step 1 – Mount your camera on the tripod and adjust it so the lens is about two feet above table level. The idea is to have the lens pointed at the newspaper at about a 30-degree angle.

Set up for autofocus fine tuning.

The setup to adjust autofocus fine tuning is fairly simple.

Step 2 – It is recommended to set the zoom (if using a zoom lens) to the focal length and distance which you use most often.

Step 3 – Set the camera to single-point, single-servo autofocus (AF-S for Nikon, One-Shot for Canon)

Step 4 – Open the lens to one stop down from its widest aperture (e.g. set an f/2.8 lens to f/4) and the middle of its zoom range (if it’s a zoom lens).

Step 5 – Place the focus point in the middle of the frame (center dot). I prefer to align the focus point with something recognizable like a letter of bold text among normal text.

Focus point in the center of the frame

With autofocus set to AF-S (one-shot), single-point, place the focus point in the center of the frame.

TIP: A helpful method is to turn on Live View and place the small dot in the middle of the focus box on a letter of text. Zoom in the view (NOT the lens) which gives you a more precise center point than the small box seen through the view finder. Turn off Live View to continue.

Using live view to align focus point

Using Live View helps to line up your focus point more precisely.

Step 6 – Set the self-timer on the camera to at least five seconds to allow the camera to stabilize after pressing the shutter button.

Step 7 – Turn off any stabilization either in-lens or in-camera.

Step 8 – Make sure focus points are enabled on playback: Menu>Playback Menu>Playback display options>Focus point>Done>OK

Focus point on preview

Enabling focus point on image preview allows you to see where the focus was set when the picture was taken.

Step 9 – Defocus the lens manually and then engage autofocus until it locks onto the focus point and press the shutter button.

Step 10 – Review the image and zoom in to check the accuracy of the focus point. Do this a few times for verification.

Checking focus point accuracy

Preview the image and zoom in to check the accuracy of the focus point.

If it appears that sharpness is centered on the focus point, great, your lens’ focus is accurate and you’re good to go. If not, continue reading.

Step 11 – To adjust the autofocus fine tune go to: Menu>Setup menu>AF fine-tune>AF fine-tune (On/Off) and turn it on. Go back and select Saved value.

Fine tuning autofocus

The menu location of autofocus fine tuning.

Your lens’ information should be displayed in the upper left corner and the fine-tune adjust on the right.

Step 12 – Positive numbers correct for back-focusing (focusing behind the focus point) and negative numbers correct for front-focusing.

Adjusting autofocus fine tuning

Positive values adjust the focus point away from the camera while negative values move it closer.

Remember, this is called “fine-tuning” so the increments are pretty small – a +1 is hardly noticeable.

Step 13 – After each adjustment, defocus the lens manually and repeat the steps above until you hit the sweet spot.

The settings you have applied to a specific CPU lens are saved, and are loaded automatically anytime that lens is mounted to your camera. With non-CPU lenses, you can create a profile for that lens which you can then save and revert to manually when that lens is used.

If your lens’ focus still fails to hit the mark after attempting autofocus fine-tuning, either go old-school and use manual focus if it’s practical, or you will need to send your lens in to have it calibrated with a special machine.

If you use a brand other than Nikon check your camera manual to see if your model has this feature and how to use it.

Good luck and may your images be as sharp as my witticisms – hopefully much sharper.

The post How to do Autofocus Fine Tuning on Your Nikon DSLR by Jeremie Schatz appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Photography, as an art form, is simply the capture of light on either a sensitive physical medium or, in more recent times, an electronic sensor.

What makes a photograph unique and attractive to the eyes is the distribution of that light. Shadows, highlights, and varying levels of warmth and tone evoke emotion when viewing them, emotionally investing you to the picture you’re viewing.

One of the most dramatic instances of light that can occur in a photo is flare, and more specifically, a sun flare. You’ve no doubt seen spectacular images with beams of light radiating through the photo, giving you a wonderful sense of warmth and brilliance.


I remember about three years back, a friend asked me to how to produce the warm flares that were visible in many of my photographs. I tried to explain, but realized I really didn’t know the exact combination of properties that worked. I just knew the sunlight coming through a camera lens at the right angle created a beautiful artifact, and that I was able to achieve it pretty consistently in my beach, landscape, and nature shots taken at sunset.

Over time, I learned the details of what it takes to incorporate this effect, and how to use it to my advantage to get a warm, dreamy feel that amps up the viewer’s connection with the photo. This is what I’d like to share with you, as it’s one of the easiest ways to inject emotion into your photography.

In this article, we’ll cover what flare is, what artistic and aesthetic benefits you can derive from it, and finally, how to produce and use it effectively in your photography.

What is sun flare?

Lens flare, as described in its most basic form, is the result of a bright light source entering the lens and producing artifacts, shapes, and effects in the resulting image.

Technically, lens flare and sun flare are different entities, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll treat them the same. We will be talking about the effect created in-camera by having bright sun as a light source in, or near, the edge of the frame.


On many occasions this is an unwanted effect. For this reason a lens hood is often used to prevent flare, when bright light shines on the lens opening from outside the frame. Flare often reduces cleanliness and clarity in a scene that requires it, such as with architectural or commercial photography.

But flaring has a beautiful side as well, as you know. Some of us strive for the warmth and haziness that flared light from the sun can provide. Environmental portraiture is an example of an area that utilizes this effect. So how can we create and use flare to our advantage?


Creating the flare

1. Don’t try this on a cloudy day

The main requirement to create flare is of course, the sun. If you’re shooting on an overcast day and there isn’t any sun poking through, you won’t be able to create a flare.

2. A low angle is best

Although you can create flare at any time during the day, it’s much easier, and much more dramatic, to shoot the sun when its low on the horizon – in other words, at sunrise or sunset, during the golden hours.

This is because you’ll need the sun in the frame, or just outside the frame, and this will usually coincide with your subject positioning.


3. Drop the lens hood and pick your lens

If you’re using a lens hood, remove it. Lens hoods are intended to reduce glare and flare from light sources outside the frame, which is exactly opposite of what you’re looking for in this case..

To amplify the chances of getting a good flare, try using a zoom lens, as opposed to a prime. The additional spaces and mechanical parts inside the zoom give the sunlight more room to bounce around and do its thing.

4. Shoot in Manual Mode

This particular discipline is based on the principle that the slightest change in orientation, composition, or aperture can make a pretty big difference in the end result. Shooting manually will allow you to have finer control over these factors and make things much easier for you.

Shooting with Live View can help even more, as you’ll be able to monitor changes in your scene in real time.

5. Settings: Aperture and more

You can use any aperture you wish when creating flare effects, but the look will differ depending on what setting you choose. At smaller apertures (f/11 and smaller), any visible part of the light source will create more of a starburst effect, while a larger aperture (f/8 and larger) will diffuse and disperse the effect, and you’ll end up with a much smoother distribution of the light.

Shutter speed also affects the final result, as more light streams into the lens when using slower speeds; therefore, you’ll have more of a flaring effect.


6. Focus first

The large amount of light coming into your sensor will affect the autofocus on your camera if you’re using it. So, focus on your subject first by blocking the sun somehow, whether it be your hand, a reflector or a piece of cardboard. Then, once you’ve focused (and lock it or use back button focus), you can shoot normally knowing you are focused correctly for the given distance.

7. Don’t forget to light your subject

If you’re photographing a portrait, don’t forget the negative effect the flare can have on the proper lighting of the face and body. If you find the subject’s face, or other important areas, are washed out too much from the high light levels, use a reflector or other methods of fill light to compensate, and ensure your subject is well illuminated.

Alright, let’s get to shooting!

8. Method one:  In the frame

There are two primary methods of creating the flare effect. The first is by having the sun actually within the frame of the image. Naturally, just having it centered and completely uncovered will result in a washed out photo. You’ll want to have something to partially block the light, so that a flare can be achieved without washing out the subject of your photo. Trees, a distant treeline or building, and your subject can all provide enough cover to produce the desired effect.


Take care not to capture too much light. Sometimes the resulting flare can be so pronounced that your image is completely washed out. Shoot several frames, and check the amount of flare you’re getting. If it’s too much, compose the sun a little more out of frame (or more hidden) to reduce the effect.

9. Method two: out of the frame

For an even more pronounced and diffused flare, you can compose your image with the sun partially, or completely out of frame. Usually the best results come from having the sun just outside the camera’s view. Experiment with position to find the correct angle and amount of flare necessary for the shot you’re after.

This method produces more a diffused and smooth flare, especially in the early morning and late evening hours, when the sun is very low on the horizon.


That’s it! 

Adding a nice looking sun flare to your image really isn’t tough at all. Following a few rules is all you have to do, and like everything else in our wonderful world of photography, the result is always subjective. Add a little, add a lot, all that matters is that you’re happy with the final image! There’s no wrong way to do it.

So get out there and get your flare on! Of course, we’d love to see some examples of what you can do with this effect, let’s see your best shots!

The post 9 Tips for Adding a Warm Sun Flare to Your Image by Tim Gilbreath appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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