Archive for May, 2016


The Not-So-Obvious Reason for Using HDR

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Get Viktor’s Rapid Editing for HDR eBook, Course & Presets Bundle at 60% off now over at Snapndeals, only until June 7th (AUS time). 

Over the past five years or so, HDR (high dynamic range) has become a huge part of my photography.

Even with the latest advances in camera sensor technology, the dynamic range of the human eye is much wider than any modern camera sensor, and as a result, can only partly interpret the human experience. The goal of HDR photography is to artificially increase the dynamic range of a given photograph, making it as close as possible to the human experience.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 01

I do not consider HDR to be a photography style, but rather, a technology that helps us to extend our creative reach and overcome the limitations of modern photo equipment, specifically a camera’s sensor.

When the dynamic range of the scene we capture exceeds the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor, it results in the loss of information (or details) in both the highlight and shadow areas. HDR technology allows us to separately capture these details from the darker and brighter areas of the scene, and merge that information during the editing process.

Even though every generation of modern camera offers a larger and larger dynamic range that gets even closer to the human experience, HDR technology continues to be an extremely valuable tool to have in your toolkit.

But, those who read my blog and follow me on social media often give me a hard time when I post an HDR processed image with a dynamic range that is not extreme. As a result, I get blamed for using HDR for no reason and am accused of intentionally complicating the editing process.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 02

In this article, I will demonstrate exactly why and how I use HDR when the lighting of a scene is not too extreme.
I took the featured photo in the Eastern Sierra during my driving trip to the Southwest.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 03

Covered by the clouds, the sun diffused the light and made it less dynamic. I could see right away that I did not need HDR processing to capture and preserve the entire light range. However, I took three bracketed shots anyway just to make sure I collected as much information from the scene as possible.

When I started editing the photo in Lightroom, I only used a single RAW image (middle bracket). The challenge was to overcome the mild haze in the air, so I had to apply pretty aggressive edits in Lightroom (contrast, clarity and vibrance) to bring back the contrast and colors of the scene.

Once I was happy with the result, I evaluated the image by zooming in to 100% (1:1 in Lightroom), in order to see what noise reduction setting to use. When I did this, I realized that the image started to break up because of my aggressive editing. The deterioration in the image was beyond digital noise and was almost impossible to fix even using the dedicated noise reduction tool.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 04

This is when HDR came to the rescue. I selected three bracketed shots and merged them to HDR using the HDR Merge module of Lightroom.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 06

After Lightroom produced a brand new HDR image in DNG format, I used the Sync functionality of the program to apply the editing setting of the original RAW file, to the new HDR image.

The effect of the edits were identical to the original RAW file, but the image was much cleaner without any traces of deterioration. The newly created HDR file had much more information and details, which allowed me to push it much harder without producing negative artifacts.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 05

The image is cropped 100% without any noise reduction added.

The digital noise of the image was mild and was completely eliminated using the noise reduction plugin.


By merging multiple images to HDR, it not only helps us overcome the dynamic range limitations of modern photo equipment, but can also to produce images that have more digital information and details, compared to individual out-of-camera RAW files.

Get Viktor’s Rapid Editing for HDR eBook, Course & Presets Bundle at 60% off now over at Snapndeals, only until June 7th (AUS time). 

The post The Not-So-Obvious Reason for Using HDR by Viktor Elizarov appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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One of my favorite subjects to photograph is wildlife, so when asked to review the Sigma 150-600mm lens, I was excited about the opportunity to see how its results compared to my Tamron 150-600mm.

Sigma 150-600mm

In addition, Sigma recently began offering a bundle for their 150-600mm with a 1.4x teleconverter. Since I shoot mainly with a Nikon D750 full frame, the lens bundled with a 1.4x TC interested me very much. The 1.4x TC makes the 600mm, an 840mm on a full frame camera, so in theory this allows my full frame camera to shoot wildlife with nearly the same zoom factor as a crop sensor. (Nikon crop sensors are 1.5 and Canon, 1.6)

There are two things to consider when looking at a new lens:

  1. First is its ease of use
  2. Second is the quality of its optics.

In this article I’ll be applying both of these considerations as I review Sigma’s new bundle, and make comparisons between the Sigma and Tamron lenses. All images in this article were captured with the Sigma 150-600mm with the 1.4x TC.



The Tamron features a larger, thicker focusing ring than the Sigma, which makes it easier to manually focus the lens. As for the Sigma, it has an extra setting on the autofocus switch for manual override (MO) which combines autofocus with an option to manually focus. I did not notice any major difference in the focusing responsiveness between the two lenses. Both did a fair job when grabbing focus, though neither lens is going to focus as quickly as a much more costly 600mm prime lens. The minimum focusing distance on the Tamron is just slightly less than the Sigma – not a game changer, but nevertheless a plus for the Tamron.

Focus Limiter switch

While both lenses have a focus limiter switch, with settings between Full and 10m (Sigma) or 15m (Tamron) to infinity, the Sigma features a third option on the limiter switch for 10m to 2.8m. In my testing, this third option proved very useful and was easy to locate and use, in order to focus on closer objects much quicker.


A feature the Sigma lens offers that the Tamron does not is an extra customization switch, which provides for an optional USB docking station (purchased separately). This allows a photographer to create two customized setting for OS (Optical Stabilization), AF, and focus-distance limits, and can also be used to download firmware updates directly to the lens.


Zoom Lock

Both the Tamron and the Sigma have a locking switch to prevent zoom creep at 150mm. However, the Sigma can also lock at several other focal settings, and what is even better, a quick twist of the zoom ring will unlock the it, without having to fumble around to find the switch. (In some cases this might be the difference between capturing and missing a killer shot!)

I found that my Tamron lens crept more than the Sigma, but this could be caused by the fact that it is an older lens with more use. Still, the lock switch on the Sigma is a great feature, especially since one can “soft lock” at many focal lengths.

Image Stabilization

Both lenses have their own image stabilization systems: Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) and Sigma’s OS (Optical Stabilization). The Tamron has a simple on and off for the VC, while the Sigma has two settings: #1 is the standard setting for normal lens movement, and setting #2 is used for hand-held panning on a vertical plane, which will correct for up and down movement in subjects, such as birds in flight.


Zoom Ring

The zoom ring on the Sigma turns counter clock-wise, which is no big deal for Canon shooters. But for Nikon users, this is opposite from the normal zoom rotation on most Nikon lenses. It’s not a big deal, but does take some getting used to.

Tripod Collar

Both lens come standard with a tripod collar, but the foot on the Sigma collar is much smaller than the Tamron’s. This is only a minor problem, but I found a solution for it. I added a 5 inch quick release plate to the foot, which makes a great handle to carry the Sigma lens, as well as a plate to connect to a tripod.


Image Quality

Here is where the comparison gets tougher, as both lenses are much sharper at the shorter focal lengths, and both are softer at the longer focal lengths. Both are sharper when stopped down to f/8 or f/9, than wide open. In my opinion, the difference in image quality between the two is negligible. There is no clear winner here, both having areas where they are slightly better than the other.

The addition of the 1.4x TC to the Sigma when stopped down, doesn’t seem to affect the image quality. The Sigma seems to have a clear advantage when it comes to chromatic aberration (CA), and even using the 1.4x TC there was noticeably less fringing in high contrast areas, when compared to the Tamron. Of course, CA is very easily corrected in Camera RAW or Lightroom when shooting in RAW.




The advantage for warranty goes to Tamron, which offers a 6 year one, compared to 4 years with the Sigma. Still, in my opinion, both lenses are well constructed, and I am not convinced how much of an advantage that is, as most warranty issues show up early on.

1.4x Teleconverter

Adding the bundle of the 1.4x TC, and the 150-600mm Sigma can get your full frame camera back in the field when it comes to wildlife photography. While adding the teleconverter seems to slow the autofocus a bit, I shot with this bundle on both my crop sensor and full frame sensor cameras, and I believe the autofocus was more responsive on the full frame.

NOTE: Before purchasing the 1.4x TC, make sure the camera will autofocus at f/8. Many entry model DSLRs will not autofocus above f/5.6, so while this bundle may fit those cameras, manual focus will be necessary. Other models may only autofocus on the center focus point, and still others may have a limited number of focus points with the 1.4x TC.

Adding the 1.4x TC did seem to give a softer image when the lens was extended to 600mm (840mm), but if you stop down to f/10 to f/11 the images are nearly as sharp as at 600mm without the TC. Of course, stopping down means either using a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO, which may add some blur or noise to an image. I did find that the OS on the Sigma did a nice job of reducing camera shake, when hand holding at slower shutter speeds.

The above images show the range and extra reach of the Sigma 150-600mm with the last 2 images having the 1.4 TC added for an extra 240mm of reach.

The above images show the range and extra reach of the Sigma 150-600mm with the last two images having the 1.4x TC added for an extra 240mm of reach.


The rule of thumb when shooting with long focal lengths is to set the shutter speed equal to, or greater than the focal length, so remember that when by adding the 1.4x TC to a 600mm, one is now shooting at 840mm on a full frame, and 1260 mm on a crop sensor. For sharp images, a shutter speed over 1/1000th of a second is a must.

When carrying your camera with a large lens such as these 150-600mm lenses, it’s best to hold them by the lens rather than your camera. These lenses weigh much more than your camera and can put a lot of stress on the lens mount if carried by the camera. Likewise, when mounting on a tripod, always use the tripod collar to reduce stress on your camera’s lens mount (it is better balanced using the collar and won’t be front heavy).


Both the Tamron and Sigma lenses are well designed, and for the price range are great equipment investments. As mentioned earlier, I feel the image quality compared very closely. The Sigma does offer some useful extra features, out-weighing the issues of the smaller focusing ring and the counter-clockwise turning of the zoom ring for a Nikon shooter.

If you currently have a Tamron it may not be worth making a switch. But with the addition of the 1.4x TC, the Sigma bundle offers a great setup for full frame cameras, as well as crop sensors for some extra reach. So if you are looking for some extra reach (and we all are) the addition of the 1.4 TC to the Sigma may be a game changer. It was for me!

As a result of my review of the Sigma bundle for this article, I sold my Tamron 150-600mm, and purchased the Sigma 150-600mm bundled with the 1.4 TC, to extend the usage of my full frame Nikon D750, especially for photographing wildlife.

The post Review of the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens Plus TC-1401 Teleconverter Bundle by Bruce Wunderlich appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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In this tutorial, I’m going to share with you some simple and inexpensive ways to create beautiful flower images. You will learn to add light by using a flashlight and a reflector. If you add in some imagination and patience, you will soon be creating gorgeous flower images of your own.

In addition, you will gain insight about seeing light, and how and recreate it on your own.

The techniques I am going to share are reminiscent of light painting and burning (from film days printing negatives), but in this tutorial we are going to take advantage of the ambient light, combined with light from flashlights to create some great effects.

Setting up

You will need to put your camera on a tripod, and find a nice surface near some window light to photograph your flower. Set up to shoot using a shutter speed slower than 1/15th of a second, and it’s much easier if you use a cable release or use your camera’s self-timer feature.


Here’s my set up, above. I chose an easy location, perpendicular to a window, providing some nice light. I used a prop to hold the flower up.


Window light only. Exposure was f/4 at 1/4.

I did a test shot, above, to determine my exposure using just ambient light. I slowed the shutter speed down just a little bit to see what results I would get.


Window light only. Exposure f/4 at 0.40 seconds.

Add a reflector

It’s a little brighter at this exposure, but notice that the shadows are still quite strong.


To soften the light, I added a white fill card below, and to the side of the flower. It’s also called a reflector. Almost anything white can be used as a reflector. The idea is to fill in the shadows, and to make the light feel softer.


Window light with fill card. Exposure f/4 at 1/4.

This exposure above was taken with the fill cards in place. Compare it with the two above, and notice that the lightness/darkness is similar to the longer exposure. It’s pretty amazing how much light can be added to a photo just by using reflectors.

More importantly, note the quality of light. By that I mean, notice how the shadows are still present to the left of the center of the flower but are not as prominent. Also be aware of how  nicely the shadows are filled in from the bottom.

Create a feeling that matches your subject

Flowers are soft. They are feminine. When we tell stories about our subject, we want to convey that feeling. One of the ways we convey feelings in photographs is in how we use light. Notice how the feel is different in the photos with the fill card and without. The second exposure feels softer and more feminine, and thus, supports the story of a feminine flower.

Add light from a flashlight for more drama

Now, to add a backlight with a flashlight. Make sure to position the flashlight in such a way that it doesn’t cause lens flare (the light isn’t hitting the lens directly). Make sure the light is pointing entirely at the flower, and not reaching your camera lens.



Flashlight with backlight, no fill cards or reflectors. Exposure f/4 at 1/4.

This is with a strong backlight. Notice how dark the center of the flower seems.


We can use a second light to fill in the center of the flower. I recommend using a slower shutter speed, 1/15th or less, and moving the flashlight while the exposure is made. If you don’t move the light, it will appear too strong and create harsh shadows.


If the light appears too strong and too direct, use a diffuser over your flashlight. I used a kleenex to soften the light.


Flashlight as a backlight, with a second flashlight as a fill light in the front. Exposure f/4 at 1/4.

How does this feel to you now? Notice how I brought the exposure of center of the flower up, just by doing a little light painting. If you ever worked in a darkroom, you will notice this is similar to manipulating an image in an enlarger called, burning, but we are doing it live at the capture stage.


Let’s see what our flower looks like with a backlight that isn’t as strong. I used a kleenex diffuser on the flashlight in the back.


Using a softer backlight by diffusing with tissue.

Can you see how much softer the backlight is?


In this image, I added a little bit of fill with a flashlight and kleenex diffuser.

This is very, very subtle. But move your eye back and forth between the two. Can you see the one directly above is a little bit softer? The difference isn’t huge on a computer screen, but makes a big difference in a large print.

Get creative with light and composition


At this point, it’s time to get creative with your framing and play with light.

In composition, you want to decide what your center of interest is in the photograph, and draw the eye to that point. Notice how dark the center of the flower is in the top image, so let’s add some fill.


The center of the flower is lighter now (above). Which image do you like better?


Notice the stamen of the flower above. Can you see it’s just a black blob? What happens when we add just a little bit of fill with a flashlight?


The center of interest becomes more pronounced.

Let’s try another one.


Dark stamen.


A little bit of fill.


A new angle with no fill.


A little bit of fill light, highlighting the center of interest.

A few more examples

Let’s go back to this simple lighting setup.


I used this setup on several different kinds of flower and I likde this white rose the best.


Can you see the beautiful light and how translucent the rose looks?

I like the overall feel to the image, however, there is a lot of contrast between the center of the flower and the outer petals. You want your viewer’s eye to go toward the center of interest, which is the middle of the flower, so I placed a reflector right in front of the flower.


You can see how the light reflects back in, and brightens up center of the flower. I also like this frame better because it feels softer.

This technique can work outdoors, too. Just use your reflector and your flashlight, and see what works.


There is no right or wrong when deciding where to put your light, but it’s usually best not to shine your main light from the camera angle. In this photo, the light is to the right and it feels to harsh to me. There are strong shadows on the flower that don’t add to the feel of the photograph. I moved myself in order to move the position of the light source, the sun.


I added a fill card, and see how the stamen starts to stand out. This is much better, but I decided to play with camera angles to see what that would look like.


I liked this better, especially how the light created patterns on the petals of the flower, but I wanted my interest in the center of the flower. It still just seemed to dark.


In the photo above, I used a reflector to fill in the shadows and used my flashlight to add a little bit of light.


Then, I changed the angle just a little bit. This is with no fill (above).


Here is the same flower with a reflector and flashlight filling in the dark areas.

There is no science to this. It’s all about playing to see what works. Here are a few more example that I shot, these images have no corrections. They are straight from the camera to help you see my process better.


Without a fill.


With a fill.


This final photo used several reflectors, as well as using a flashlight in the center of the flower.

Now you have some great tips, and inspiration to create a gorgeous floral photo of your own. You’ve seen how you can use simple fill cards to add light and soften an image. You’ve learned how light impacts the story you are telling, and you’ve learned how a simple flashlight or two, plus a kleenex, can take your photos to a new level.

Let’s see your floral photos, please share in the comments below.

The post How to Create Gorgeous Flower Images using a Flashlight and a Reflector by Vickie Lewis appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Step by Step How to do Cloud Stacking

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The effect of the clouds streaking across the sky is a very popular look now, but not everyone has ND filters and can get those photos. However, there are other ways of getting similar results. Cloud stacking can give a similar look. The process is much like what you do for stacking car light trails. You have to be more careful with how you take the original images, but you can get some wonderful results if you follow these steps.


One of the original images.

You need a lot of photos for cloud stacking, and the best way to get them is by doing time lapse photography. Take a series of images over time, then try stacking them to see if they will work. Unfortunately, you don’t always get enough movement in the sky to get a good cloud stacking image, but others will be fantastic.

How to do Time Lapse Photography to get the images for stacking

Time lapse is about taking a series of images, one after another with a break in between, to capture the movement of a scene. Normally, once they are taken, you would put them on your computer and make a video from them to show that movement, however for cloud stacking you will be doing something else.

There are several ways of capturing your photos for a time lapse sequence. Many Nikon cameras come with a feature that allows you to do some, called Time Lapse Interval. You can set it up so that it will take the images at certain intervals, how many shots to take each time, and the final number of images you want. Basically, you can tell your camera to take a photo every 5 seconds, and to stop when you have 300 images.


The Interval Timer Shooting on a Nikon Camera

If you have an intervalometer it will do the same sort of thing. Set what the interval will be, and how many shots to take. If you have neither of those options you can still do them, but it will mean you will have to keep an eye on the time and remember to press the shutter button at the intervals.


The Nikon Intervalometer, but you can also purchase other ones as well, get the one that works with your camera.

Usually what you do first is determine what the interval (time between shots) needs to be. Look at the sky and see how fast the clouds are moving. If they are moving fast, then the interval in between shots might need to be shorter. If the clouds are slower moving, then longer times will be needed. It does take experience, and the more you do it the better you get at figuring out the time between the shots you need.

The images for this tutorial were done at sunset, and the clouds were moving moderately fast. The camera was set to take an image every 10 seconds. A total of 122 photos were taken, but only 54 frames were used for the final image.

Direction of the Clouds

Cloud stacking seems to work best if the clouds are moving towards or away from you. Look for the clouds that appear to flow in a V shape. The base of the V is on the horizon and the arms come out over the top.

Using the photos

Once you have the photos on your computer, you need to work out which ones to use. The photos do need to be loaded into Adobe Photoshop as layers, the first consideration has to be the size of the images. If they are raw files they are likely to be too large to do this, so they will need to made smaller.

You can process the images in Lightroom first. Do a basic edit, and then sync, so that all the images have been treated the same. Resize the images when you export them from Lightroom, saving as smaller jpegs. (As this was going to be a tutorial for dPS the images were resized so the long side was 1500 pixels – if you want to print your image make sure you size appropriately, but do a test smaller first.)

Loading the images

For this tutorial I used Adobe Bridge, but you can also do it in Lightroom.


All the images to be used for the cloud stacking.

Select all the images you want to stack, using either Ctrl+A, or click on the first one, press the Shift key and hold, and click on the final image. Load all the images into Photoshop as layers. Select Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers (in Lightroom right click and select Edit in > Open as layers in Photoshop).


Select all the images and open them as layers in Photoshop.

This can take a while, depending on how many images you are using, and how large the files are. Once they are loaded select all again. Click on the top layer, hold the shift key down, then click on the bottom layer and it should select them all.


In Photoshop select all the layers.

Stacking the clouds

Go to the layer blending options, at the top of the layers panel and select Lighten.


Go to the Blending options and select Lighten.

You should notice a difference straight away.

LeanneCole-cloudstack-first stack

The image after the stacking process.

You could leave the image there and be happy with your stack, but for this tutorial I’ve added some extra ideas on processing . They are relevant to this image, but you can try some ,or all of these ideas for your own image.

Some Additional Processing Tips

There are no hard and fast rules with what you can do when processing an image, it is up to you how you want to go. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Select all the layers, except for the bottom one, and put them into a group. This will make it easier to process the images. In this image it was windy, and the trees moved around, so in the final image they look blurry. By adding a mask to the groups you can carefully use the brush tool, painting with black, to go over the trees so only one is seen and they appear sharper.


Add a mask to the Group layer and remove anything unwanted, like the trees in this image so only layer one is seen.

The silos appear a bit too dark, and lightening them up a bit would make them stand out a little more as well.

Select the Lasso Tool, and draw a line just inside the silos. Press Shift F6 to get the feather tool. For this image a small amount of feathering was chosen as it is a small image, but on larger sized ones you may prefer to use a feathering of around 200 pixels.


Use lasso tool to draw a selection, and then feather it.

Go to the Adjustments above the layers panel and click on Curves. Try to always use these ones as they do the adjustment as a layer, and if you decide you don’t like it later you can simply edit it, lower the opacity of the layer, or delete the layer (this is non-destructive editing).

Add some light or dark depending on what the image needs. For this one the silos were made brighter.


For this selection curves was used to lighten up the silos.

The final bit of processing will be to add a little vignetting or gradient. Add a blank layer to the image, click on the symbol at the bottom of the layers panel, it is the one next to the rubbish bin. Make sure it is selected, then select the gradient tool from the toolbar.


Use the gradient tool to add some darkness to the sky.

At the top under the menu bar you will see the options for the gradient tool. Make sure the tool selected is the Foreground to Transparent is the one you are using (make sure the foreground color is set to black).


Make sure you have the right tool option for what you want to do.

You don’t want this to be 100%, it’s best to use it at around 50%. You can build it up, but start with that. You can change that by going to the tool options and changing the 100 to 50.


Add some gradient to the sky to darken it slightly.

To use the tool, click and hold outside the image then move inside the image and release. It will do a gradual lightening of the colour, so the darkest area is where you did the first click.

If you want it darker you can repeat until you get the desired effect. The image here it was done twice.


The final image

That is a very basic edit on this image, but is enough for now. The image is fine as it is, but, as with all images, the only thing stopping what you can do, is your imagination.


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If you are looking for a quick, simple, hassle-free way to make your images pop more and stand out, this is the article for you!

You don’t have to be a Photoshop genius – in fact, this may help you spend less time in Photoshop. These simple tips can elevate the photos you take. If there was one element in many images I see that could greatly improve it, it would have to be this: backgrounds. An ugly or distracting background can easily reduce the impact of even the best subjects. A clean, un-distracting background will help improve your images and make your subjects stand out even more. The best past is, you wont even have to spend a cent to do this.

Even though the background here works quite well with the subjects, using a wider aperture has ensured that the subjects do not get lost, but stand out. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

Even though the background here works quite well with the subjects, using a wider aperture has ensured that the subjects do not get lost, but stand out. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

All too often we overlook the background and what is in it. You swear that those power lines weren’t in the viewfinder when you took that picture, and that post, where did that post come from?! That surely wasn’t protruding from your partner’s head when you clicked the shutter button. This occurs for a number of reasons:

  • You’re too focussed on the subject alone that it’s almost like you have blinders on and the subject is all you can see.
  • You may get too obsessed with the camera settings and making sure you nail the photo that you miss all those little annoying things that pop in to the frame.
  • Or you are simply unaware of the importance that a good background can make.

So how can you improve your backgrounds, or at the very least, reduce the negative impact they can have on your images? By following these simple strategies, you’ll be well on your way to a better background and improving your images.

#1 – Location, Location, Location

If you have the option, do try and choose a location that has a nice background – that will make it as easy as it can get. What defines a nice background will depend on your subject, but as a very general guide, look for a spot that has a uniform look to it. Brick walls, corrugated iron roller doors, metal cladding on walls, or even something as simple as a painted white wall, can all make for a nice clean background. Ultimately, what you are not looking for is something that has a lot of other elements in the frame, that do not add to your subject.

If you cannot find a location that has a clean background, looking for somewhere where the background complements – or works with – your subject will also work, too. An example of this would be with sport photography. You simply cannot decide where the game will be played, so you have to work with what you have. In this situation, think about what would look good as a background. Would a stand full of supporters look better than a car park full of cars or a building site? I think it would. The stand full of supports, while not clean, works with your subjects and in fact, has more impact as the supporters add a nice element of atmosphere to the image.

Cluttered BG 1

Even though this image has the stadium in the background, it is a little cluttered. The seats are mostly empty, so it’s not really portraying any sense of atmosphere in the sport.

Clean BG 5

By changing my position, I was able to use a the large black cloth in the background to make the athlete stand out much more. Nothing more than moving was required; much easier.

Here, the backgrounds in these two images are quite plane. They help make the subjects the heroes of the images, as there is nothing else to compete with them.

With this image, the stands in the background have much more people in them. This works nicely to complement the subjects which, in this case, are the players. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

While this is a nice action frame, the background is not that fantastic. It’s in between areas of the different stands at this venue. It would look much better if it were against the full stadium, as in the previous image. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

You’ve found your location, but a clean background just cannot be had. What do you do?

#2 – It’s All About Perspective

A good backgrounds can be anywhere, and it can change quite a lot depending on the angle at which you photograph your subject. You may be in a very busy space, but within that space will exist areas of calm and peace. By this I mean that your backgrounds can be clean; even when it just looks cluttered in all directions.

When this happens, consider photographing from a different perspective. Photographing your subject from down low will make the sky your background. Conversely, if you’re looking down on your subject, whatever is below them will be the background. So if you cannot find an ideal background, don’t forget to look up and down – that’s where the best one may be hiding.

Relevant BG 1

This rower was photographed from a bridge, making the water the background. in this case, the background works quite well with the subject.

Clean BG 7

This time, I was photographing this plane landing. This meant that I would be looking up, and the sky became the background here. The complementary colour set of the blue sky and yellow light on the plane also help to make the subject stand out more.

You may have the best background sorted. But it’s not always possible to be lucky enough to have that perfect background all the time. So what else can you do to help your subject?

#3 – Camera Craft

There will be times – more often than not – where you simply cannot win with your background. No matter which way you stand, you just can’t seem to find a nice clean backdrop. What now? Here’s where a little camera craft comes in to play and you have a couple of tricks up your sleeve with this.

First point of call is aperture. You know that you can simply open your aperture up a little more, and give that background some nice bokeh (or blur) to reduce its impact. Even when you do have a nice complementary background, it’s still a good idea to use a wider aperture to blur it out a bit and make your subject stand out against it more.

What if you can’t open your aperture any further, though? There’s still hope. Our next strategy is to play with shutter speed and use a panning technique. This can help greatly in rendering a busy background into a nice blurry mess. It also helps to add a great sense of movement and action, as well as give a sense of excitement to an image. If you’re unsure about how to do panning, have a read of this article – it will help greatly. But in a nutshell, panning is the technique of using a slower shutter speed (usually around 1/60th or slower) while tracking a moving subject. The combination of a slow shutter speed, coupled with the panning action, will result in a nice motion blur affecting the background, and if done correctly, the subject will remain sharp.

Cluttered BG 2

This background is clean; there are no real distractions in it, but it could be improved upon.

Clean BG 6

Here’s a different frame but this time, a panning technique has been used to remove all the creases in the blue backdrop. This has made the background cleaner again, and the added motion blur gives a sense of speed which works well with the subject.

Clean BG 8

The use of a wide aperture here has dramatically blurred out the background making it much cleaner. The result is that the subject stands out much more. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

#4 – Can You See the Light?

Something that seems to always be overlooked in photography is light. This seems to me like quite a remarkable thing since without light, we don’t have much of a photo. But using light, and the contrast it can provide, is another way to reduce the appearance of a distracting background. With this strategy you need to look for a higher amount of contrast between your subject and the background; that is, you’re subject is (ideally) brighter than the background. By exposing for your subject (the brightest area) you effectively make shadowed areas in the frame darker, thereby affecting your background. This can be achieved with both natural light and flash.


In this image, the flower was in the daylight; whereas the background was in the shade. I exposed for the flower and this made the background darker.

Again, the background here is much darker than the subject; helping to isolate the subject more. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

Again, the background here is much darker than the subject; helping to isolate the subject more. © Daniel Smith / Getty Images.

Clean BG 2 Clean BG 1

These photographs were taken in an undercover car park. I used two flashes (both off-camera) as my only light source. This removed any ambient light affecting the image.

#5 – The Final Stop

You’ve done what you can with the background. You’ve tried everything, but your background still doesn’t want to play ball. There will be times when you simply cannot control any of the aspects that have been mentioned. Don’t worry – it isn’t uncommon. Now all you can do is hope that there is something that can be done later, and there is!

If you’ve done everything you can to help improve your background and you’re still not winning, the last port of call is post-processing. You may be thinking, “Hold on, I’m not that great with selecting and masking in Photoshop yet.” but you needn’t worry. There is no selecting or masking with this one. (As a side note, if you intend on making a selection around your subject and replacing the background, you will need to photograph your subject accordingly to make this much easier and more natural).

All you need do is crop your image. That’s it. Cropping is about all you can do now. By cropping, you are effectively removing as much of the background as possible without cropping into your subject. Don’t worry about how much you are cropping out – unless of course you intend on doing a large print. You’d be surprised at how much many photographers are willing to crop.

Do you have any other tips for making the subject stand out, or improving the background? Please share your thoughts and images in the comments below.

The post 5 Tips to Improve Your Background and Make the Subject Stand Out More by Daniel Smith appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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As photographers, many of us become infatuated with new gear, such as a new flash, tripod, or lens. We scrimp and save our money, and go off to the camera store to purchase that new lens we’ve had our eye on, most times satisfied with whatever new piece of kit has found its way into our bag. Sometimes, though, it happens that for some reason that new gear we’ve spent our hard-earned money on doesn’t live up to our expectations.

Shallow depth of field

Fast lenses enable the photographer to use shallow depth of field creatively. A 24mm f/1.4 lens, shot at f/1.4 was used for this image.

It may be that it was overhyped, or it doesn’t suit your workflow. There are occasions, however, when a piece of gear has a learning curve attached to it that needs to be solved before you can fully enjoy it. One such item that seems to have that learning curve attached, is a fast lens (one with large maximum aperture).

At some point, we all begin dreaming of fast (large aperture) lenses. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to define fast lenses as ones with maximum apertures wider than f/4.

Fast lenses are great for a lot of things, shooting in low light being one of the major advantages, because the wider aperture allows more light into the imaging sensor, which in turn allows you to use a faster shutter speed. This is why lenses like the 70-200mm f/2.8 are such a workhorse in a photojournalist’s camera bag. Another advantage to the wider aperture is the ability to create shallow depth of field in your image, which can make your subject really stand out from the background. The 85mm f/1.4 is one of my go-to lenses for almost any portrait situation for just that ability.

Focus on the eye

When photographing portraits, focusing on the closest eye is ideal when using shallow depth of field.

That all sounds great, right? But it’s that last point regarding shallow depth of field which seems to create the biggest problems for most photographers, who are new to using a fast lens. I often hear of photographers complaining about a lack of sharpness in their lenses, and more often than not, the issue crops up when the photographer is using a fast lens.

It may be a portrait photographer trying to use an 85mm f/1.8 wide open, or someone doing street photography with a 35mm f/1.4, and for some reason there’s a lack of sharpness to the image that will invariably be blamed on the lens. In my 20 years in photography, I’ve owned and worked with a lot of gear – 0ver a dozen different camera bodies, and several dozen lenses I’ve used at one point or another. I can honestly say that I have never once had one come straight out of the box brand new, and not be in perfect working order, so treat that option (that the lens is faulty) as a last resort for now.

Understanding Depth of Field

In addition to their low light capabilities, many photographers purchase fast lenses simply because of the ability to shoot with a shallow depth of field. When used creatively, a lens with a large aperture used wide open, allows you to be very selective in what you show the viewer, and what you hide in soft out of focus areas, known as bokeh.

However, it’s very important to understand that depth of field works differently dependent on the lens you are using. For instance, a lens such as the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 will have paper thin depth of field when used at f/1.4, at close distances to the subject. As the subject moves further away from the camera, that depth of field becomes a little greater. But at the minimum focusing distance, you could focus on an eyelash on your subject, and still have the eyeball be out of focus, despite the fact it’s only half an inch behind the eyelash. Assuming you don’t want to back up and change the framing on your subject, the best way to ensure sharp focus on the eye, is to choose a focus point on the eye and be careful it does not accidentally focus on an eyelash.

If you are willing to sacrifice a bit of that shallow depth of field, simply stop down a bit to give yourself some leeway on where you focus. While at f/1.4 or f/1.8 you may not be able to get both the eyelash and the eye in focus, but at f/2.2 or f/2.8, you’ll likely have enough depth of field to achieve sharp focus on both.

hyperfocal distance

Using a 24mm f/1.4 lens wide open, setting the focus distance to the hyperfocal distance, allows you to get greater depth of field even when photographing wide open.

Even on wide angle lenses, such as a 24mm f/1.4 or 35mm f/1.4, which have inherently (seemingly) greater depth of field due to the nature of wide angle lenses, you’ll still notice some issues arising due to the use of a wide open aperture. If you can step back from the subject, you can increase the perceived depth of field since you’ll be focusing further away. You can calculate how far away you need to be by using a hyperfocal distance calculator.

The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused, while still keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp. In the shot of the upended bus at night, knowing the bus was about 30 feet away, I calculated the near limit of focus for the lens I was using at about 18 feet and the far limit was 91 feet, meaning anything past that distance would still be out of focus at f/1.4. By focusing at the hyperfocal distance of 44 feet, I knew the bus would fall into the area of sharp focus, while still keeping the stars in sharp focus. This is true because the hyperfocal distance is where everything from that distance to infinity falls within your depth of field, and everything from the hyperfocal distance to the point halfway between the camera and that distance, also falls within your depth of field.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to focus at the hyperfocal distance. For instance, photographing at a party in a dimly lit room, you may notice some areas out of focus due to the shallow depth of field. The fix here is to  stop down a bit if you can. If you need more light, consider using a flash if appropriate, and stopping down the lens to give greater depth of field. Another option is to raise the ISO a bit to allow you to stop down the aperture more.

You may find yourself saying, “I didn’t purchase a fast lens to use it at a smaller aperture!” While that may be true, if you find yourself unable to capture sharp images due to the shallow depth of field, stopping down is the best solution. Please keep in mind, I’m not talking about a lens that just isn’t sharp. I’m talking about a lens that, due to its fast aperture, isn’t capable of capturing the depth of field needed to keep everything that you want sharp in focus.

Choosing Your Focus Point

choose a focus point

When it is critical to focus on a specific area in the image, choosing the correct focus point will ensure sharp focus where you want it, even when using a wide aperture with shallow depth of field.

One of the best things you can do when using a fast lens, is to ensure you’re focusing precisely where you think you are focusing. You want to be sure your camera is set to allow you to manually choose a focus point. By manually selecting a focus point, you can ensure the camera focuses on what you think it should. Most cameras default focus point selection method is automatic. In this mode, the camera will generally try to focus on the nearest object with detail that is covered by one of the focus points. Allowing the camera to choose can be a recipe for disaster, since quite often, the nearest object with detail is not what you want to focus on.

One of the best things you can do as a photographer is take control of where your camera is focusing by selecting the focus point that you want, and ensuring that the focus point you choose is on the subject you want to be sharp. Cameras today have multiple focus points, with some having as many as 61 AF points. While it’s true that generally speaking the center point will be the most accurate of those points, technological advances have made the points along the outer edge much more accurate than in the past. This means that you can choose those outer focus points with confidence when composing your image.

Focus on the eyes

Using shallow depth of field on a portrait allows the photographer to focus on the eyes, and lets the rest of the body fall out of focus. An 85mm f/1.2 lens was used here.

Another related problem to the camera choosing the wrong AF point, is photographers employing a technique known as focus and recompose. This technique came about back when cameras only had a few AF points bunched around the center of the viewfinder. In many situations, it’s not a problem, as long as you are using an aperture that will provide adequate depth of field to maintain focus on the object or person you’ve focused on.

However, when using a fast lens, at a wide open aperture, focusing and then recomposing your shot becomes a real problem. This is because when using a fast lens at a wide aperture, the depth of field is so thin, that recomposing the shot will actually shift the plane of sharp focus away from the subject you initially focused on. So while you may have focused on the correct subject, using the center AF point, in adjusting your composition you knocked your subject right out of focus again. The solution for this issue is the same as above: manually select an AF point that you can place right on top of your subject, without recomposing your shot.

Embrace the Bokeh

shallow depth of field

Shallow depth of field can be used to create interesting effects and force your viewers to look where you want them. This image was made with a 70-200mm lens at f/2.8.

Lastly, in answer to those who bought fast glass to shoot it wide open, I say – embrace the bokeh! Bokeh is defined as the visual quality of the out of focus areas of an image, and each lens renders these areas a bit differently. Fast lenses typically have beautifully smooth bokeh.

Compose your shots so that the shallow depth of field is used creatively. To do this, you’ll need to understand what you can and can’t do when shooting wide open. Knowing that you will have a shallow depth of field, you’ll want to avoid stacking subjects at different distances. Create compositions that contrast sharp areas, with out of focus areas. Use that contrast to highlight certain objects within your frame, and by the same token, hide other objects by causing them to be drastically out of focus.

Highlight an object using shallow depth of field

Using shallow depth of field allows you to highlight one object in sharp focus against a blurry background. This image was made with an 85mm f/1.2 lens.

Images created using shallow depth of field force your viewers to look where you want them to, because the eye is naturally drawn to areas of sharp focus. By using proper focusing techniques, you can ensure the image you see in your mind is the one you capture, and by understanding how the lens will handle depth of field, you can ensure that you’ll know to stop down when you need to for added depth of field, avoiding the mistake of having an important part of your image out of focus.

What’s your favorite fast lens to work with and why?

The post Fast Glass: Tips for Working With Wide Aperture Lenses by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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23 Moving Images of Flowing Water

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Water, especially that which is flowing, is a popular subject for photographers. You get to make artistic choices about whether to freeze or blur the water, and to what degree. That will affect how the final image looks.

Take a look at these images of flowing water and see how the photographers chose to capture the scene.

David Kingham

By David Kingham

Darlene Hildebrandt

By Darlene Hildebrandt

Little Shiva

By little shiva


By Christopher

Kamil Porembi?ski

By Kamil Porembi?ski

~ Lzee. . . Mostly Out

By ~ lzee. . . mostly out

James Bremner

By James Bremner

Nick Kenrick

By Nick Kenrick

Andi Campbell-Jones

By Andi Campbell-Jones

Andy Rothwell

By Andy Rothwell


By Crouchy69


By Crouchy69

Christian Barrette

By Christian Barrette

Billy Wilson

By Billy Wilson

Neil Howard

By Neil Howard

Christian Ronnel

By Christian Ronnel

Dirk Dittmar

By Dirk Dittmar

Nicole Quevillon

By Nicole Quevillon


By Jonathan

Marjan Lazarevski

By Marjan Lazarevski

John Fowler

By John Fowler

Susanne Nilsson

By Susanne Nilsson

Louis Du Mont

By Louis du Mont

The post 23 Moving Images of Flowing Water by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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If you have read a few of my previous pieces here on the Digital Photography School like “5 Uncomfortable Truths about Photography“, or “How Making Horrible Photos Will Lead to More Keepers“, you’ll know that I have a much greater respect for learning, effort, and practice than I have for the latest and greatest gear. Good photography does not rely on equipment or rules.

But what happens if you lose your will to produce? What happens when the desire to make images simply slips away?

It happened to me last year, I just stopped wanting to make images. For most of the summer, my busiest and usually most productive season, I had no desire to shoot. Out of habit I still carried a camera on the wilderness trips I guide, and on personal trips across Alaska, but the images I made were few and lackluster. Now, a year later, I cringe to look through those, at the missed opportunities.

I broke out of the funk, but not the way I expected. Tired of carrying along gear I wasn’t using, for the final trip of my summer season, a 17 day pack-rafting trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I carried only a camera body and one single 24mm f/2.8 prime lens.


It wasn’t a creative decision, I took that combo because it was the best way to make my kit as light possible and still get the quality I wanted, and the lens and camera fit easily in a small holster style case that I carried, attached to the chest straps of my pack.

Toward the end of August my two clients and I flew from Fairbanks, Alaska north toward the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We passed little ranges of mountains in the interior, above the Yukon Flats, and over the rugged high peaks of the Brooks Range. Just to the north of the mountains on the arctic coastal plain of the refuge, the pilot descended, picked the unmarked strip out of the landscape, and settled the oversize wheels of the bush plane down onto the autumn tundra.

Within a few minutes of landing, we’d unloaded our heavy packs and the pilot was rocketing down the grass and into the air. He was the last person we’d see for more than two weeks.

The first 10 days of the trip were dedicating to hiking, though the mileage was such that we could take a day or two off periodically, which was good, because when the first snow storms of autumn hit a week into the trip, we were in no mood to walk.


The route carried us through a narrow gap in the mountains cut by a small river. We walked through that gap on a cold, windy day when low clouds obscured the tops of the mountains. We had to criss-cross the river, and our feet were constantly soggy. But the willows along the creek and the small patches of tundra were bright with autumn colors, and a much-needed distraction from the cold.

Once on that first day, just once, I was stopped in my tracks by a scene that had to be photographed. I’d made photos earlier in the trip, but they’d been snapshots. This was a scene that inspired me; a rare thing.

The simple camera and lens setup removed much of the tedious decision making. There was no easy compositional escape in the form of a zoom lens, rather I had to move about to make the scene come together. I worked within the restraints of the lens (which were numerous), and it was utterly liberating.


I gave the image five whole minutes before the chill forced us on, and for the first time all summer, five minutes wasn’t enough.

The following day, we woke to clouds, shredded by the previous day’s winds, and big patches of blue shone through, bright and optimistic. We hiked over a low pass, and watched a Grizzly sow and two young cubs graze in a sedge meadow a quarter mile and two hundred vertical feet below. My little lens didn’t have a prayer of making anything more than a token image of the brown specks on the tundra below. Instead I peered down through binoculars as the bears dug up sedges and combed berries from the bushes with their teeth.


On the sixth day, the storm hit. We were camped on a meadow of soft, dry tundra above a small creek when the winds shifted from a pleasing breeze from the east, to a howling gale from the west. It happened in moments, the speed of the weather change taking me completely by surprise. Rain, then pelletized snow arrived, followed by a genuine snow storm in the night. For two solid days we were battered by the strongest winds and most intense storm I’ve ever experienced in the Brooks Range. Just keeping our tents standing was a constant battle.


Yet in that time, my clients and I managed a few excursions away from camp. We climbed up to a low ridge where the full brunt of the west wind hit us hard. There, we leaned into the gale and watched the falling snow tear across the tundra.

It wasn’t a photogenic scene, at least not by traditional standards, and yet I made images because I wanted to. Creativity, quite suddenly, brightened up like a cartoon bulb over my head.


On the third morning, before I even opened my eyes, I knew the storm had passed. My tent wasn’t shuddering in the wind, and when I did lift my eyelids, I could see the day was too bright to be dominated by clouds.

Emerging from my tent, I saw that fresh snow cloaked the mountains and dusted the tundra around our camp, but blue dominated the sky above. I went for my camera and spent a happy hour making images as the drenched tents and rain gear steamed in the rising sun.


Two days later we reached the river and our cache of food and boating gear that had been waiting for us. In those two final days before we traded in our hiking boots for pack-rafts, I think I made more images than I had in the previous three months combined. I couldn’t get enough of it.


The 50 miles of paddling stole some of my photographic productivity. (It’s hard to paddle a small bouncing raft through swift, splashing water while taking photos). Nonetheless, as we descended the river out of the mountains and onto the coastal plain, my renewed love for photography stuck with me. Even when another storm hit and we were pinned down for two more days, even when the snow fell in heavy wet flakes, and when the wind tore the autumn colors from the vegetation and shifted the landscape from red and yellow to brown.


Our final camp lay where the river met its coastal delta. Caribou criss-crossed the plain in small bands, and migrant birds were congregating in the many lakes. My little lens was no match for the distant wildlife, but it didn’t matter. I’d rediscovered photography, which meant that I was more aware of my surroundings, and the images that lay in it, than I had been for some time. Even if I didn’t have the right equipment to capture some of the photos I found, I recorded them mentally in sharp detail. As it turns out, those mental images are just as rewarding as the ones glowing on my computer screen.

Paging through the images from the trip, I see an interesting evolution. The first images are mostly snapshots, but as time passed, and my inspiration picked up steam, the images become more purposeful, more composed… better, even.


Purposefully restricting yourself can be a great tool to boost creativity. It’s a little like playing charades: using limited tools to effectively get your message across. It can be fun, and a bit frustrating. It forces your mind outside its comfortable box, and into a place where creativity is far more important than gear. When, and if, you return to your diverse array of lenses and cameras, you will no longer take all those compositional possibilities for granted.

If you are stuck in a rut, or just want to try something new, give up your zooms for a couple of weeks, only shoot black and white, use your camera exclusively in manual mode, or shoot some film. After, share your experiences in the comments below, I’d love to hear what happens.

The post How Two Weeks in the Wilderness with One Prime Lens Restored My Love for Photography by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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If you are struggling with getting your photos of cities and architecture to pop out, chances are that you are underestimating the power of lines in your images. Lines help you structure your images in ways that lead your viewers to look at different parts of the picture, and create interest in both your main objects and the surroundings.

using lines for more impact in your images

The image above shows an example of how you can use lines to create a visual guidance within your city and architecture images, that will help your viewers find multiple points of interest and take a closer look.

using lines for more impact in your images

To help you understand how the lines work in a rather complex image like this, reducing the image to a black and white version with high contrast, can help visualize the structures of the image without getting distracted by the color elements.

Why lines are important especially for urban images

While in many areas of photography, using depth of field and blurred backgrounds is a good way to lead the viewers’ eyes to the most important element, and add a sense of perspective, as city photographers we rarely have this choice. In architecture images, you want most elements to be in focus.

When taking pictures of city scenes, you need to structure your images in different ways to provide perspective and a feel of scale. The conscious use of lines in your images can divide a photo into smaller pieces, separate elements from each other, provide a sense of perspective and lead your viewers’ eyes to where you want them to focus.

using lines for more impact in your images

The image above shows an example of a random shot without considerations for the use of lines. With its grey stones, the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin on a cloudy day, doesn’t offer much to work with when trying to create an interesting image. This is merely a documentation of the place, but probably wouldn’t make it as a header image.

using lines for more impact in your images

However, beyond the documentary aspect, the use of lines to create perspective, orientation and symmetry can increase the impact, even of an otherwise dull looking image.

Which lines can you use to increase impact?

You can separate the lines in three categories which I call:

  • Dividing lines
  • Leading lines
  • Symmetrical lines

A dividing line structures your images into separate areas of interest. It can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. You can use it to make a clear difference between bottom and top of an image, but also make sure to use dividing lines to show near and far. In many outdoor images, the horizon line is a natural dividing line.

using lines for more impact in your images

In this image, I am using a major dividing line to clearly separate the floor and the wall. Less noticeable, the additional line in the wall serves as another separation in the photo. Without the addition of this line, the right half of the image would be rather boring. By adding a simple line into the frame, it helps dividing the image into a left and right.

Make sure that your dividing lines are in the right place. With very few exceptions, make sure to place your lines outside of the center of the image (both horizontally or vertically) but also not too close to the borders. The well known Rule of Thirds is good guidance, in many cases dividing images into a two-thirds and a one-third part works best.

Leading lines are an important way to provide your viewers with an idea of perspective. They will lead the eyes into, and around the image. Leading lines often come in pairs, slowly merging into the distant part of the picture. But in fact, you can use multiple leading lines, even one can help the viewer find orientation. Leading lines don’t even have to be straight, you can use curves and angles just as well.

using lines for more impact in your images

The main street in this image serves as a single leading line, it helps the eye find orientation from the interesting space in the foreground, and puts it into the context of the big city.

The third way of using lines to increase impact, is the use of symmetries. When looking for interesting images to capture in a city, try to find symmetrical lines in the architecture around you. Thankfully, architects also know the visual impacts of symmetries, and use them to create the buildings around us.


Bürogebäude des Deutschen Bundestages in Berlin,, Deutschland.

Buildings like this lend themselves to be taken in symmetries. While the content is not perfectly symmetrical due to the individual office decorations on the inside, the structure of the building makes an interesting frame for these individual elements. The symmetry helps to create interest, as you subconsciously start looking for the differences between the halves.

Learn to focus on lines

If you are shooting with a camera capable of RAW images, there is an easy way to train yourself to look out for lines: Use your camera settings, and change your camera to shoot in black and white!

When shooting RAW, the camera will still capture and store all the data from the sensor, including the color information. So when you are back at your computer to edit images, you will find all the options to create color images as well. But while shooting, you can look at your images at the screen in black and white, which will eliminate distractions from the forms in your image.

using lines for more impact in your images

Going a step further, in most cameras you can set up your own image processing profile in camera: Increase the contrast and sharpness of the image as far as possible, and you will end up with a preview image on the camera screen that is mostly reduced to the lines.

Additional ways to use lines

using lines for more impact in your images

Probably one of the most photographed objects in the world, the houses of parliament and the tower with Big Ben in London, UK, it is hard to come up with a unique version. In this image above, I added the light trails created by the passing traffic to add an interesting element. The light trails serve both a dividing lines between the other photographers in the foreground and the architecture in the background, as well as leading lines providing perspective from the left to the right part of the picture.

using lines for more impact in your images

When taking images of tall buildings, like in this case the tower of Westminster, the borders of the building will typically provide leading lines from the bottom (near) to the top (far). To generate an additional element of interest, I used a long exposure image to create another set of lines, through the moving clouds in the sky above the building. This helps add a dynamic element and interest, to an otherwise static and often boring background.

curved leading lines

Do not limit yourself to using only straight lines. While a horizon should always be straight and strictly horizontal, others, especially leading lines, can also be curved. In this image above, the cable car tracks take two turns that lead the viewer’s eyes from the bottom (near) to the center (far) part of the image.

Even complex scenes win from the use of lines

Once you become aware of the lines in your images, you can use them to structure even more complex scenes.

using lines for more impact in your images

While the above example might show the lines all that obvious, you will most likely see the curb of the street easily as a (curved) leading line into the image.

using lines for more impact in your images

However, upon a closer look, you can also note the use of a dividing line separating the photo into a top and bottom part to provide additional perspective and scale. Finally, a use of lines as a frame puts more emphasis on the silhouetted person crossing the scene, adding further scale to the size of the elements contained.

These lines help the viewers structure the image into separate parts and make it easier for the brain to digest all the elements contained.

How do you use lines in your compositions? Please share in the comments below.

The post How to Improve the Impact of Your Urban Images Using Lines by Michael Zwahlen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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ISO is one of the three critical elements of exposure, and yet among the people I have talked to it seems to cause the most confusion. Aperture can be physically represented by simply making a circle with your fingers to represent the size of the opening in your camera lens, and shutter speed can be mimicked by closing your eyes, opening them briefly, and then shutting them. Neither one is a perfect comparison but it helps get the point across, especially to those who are new to photography.

ISO, in my experience, is a bit trickier to explain, and yet it can make or break a picture, even if you have the other two elements set just right. Or…it could make or break a picture in days gone by.

We have reached somewhat of a unique time in the history of photography in that ISO is, to some degree, no longer relevant in the same way that aperture and shutter speed still are. While I certainly would not let my camera choose the aperture and shutter speed for most of my shots, I have all but abandoned my misgivings about Auto ISO, and now almost always let the camera choose for me. As a photographer it has not been an easy leap for me to make, but it has been incredibly liberating, and I think it could be for you too.

A tack-sharp picture shot at ISO 4000 with minimal digital noise.

A tack-sharp picture I shot at ISO 4000 with minimal digital noise.

My first real digital camera, not counting a few point-and-shoot models I had in the early part of the previous decade, was a Nikon D200. It was a beast of a camera, with some features that outclassed even most modern models, like a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 second and a weather-sealed body. One thing it did not do so well was high ISO values, specifically anything past 400. I could shoot at 800 in a pinch, but going all the way up to 1600 resulted in pictures that were a muddy mess and 3200, its maximum possible value, was an unmitigated disaster. This trained me to use the following thought process in virtually all shooting situations:

  • Shoot in Aperture Priority (I set the aperture and let my camera set the shutter speed)
  • Set the ISO to 100, 200, or 400 depending on the lighting
  • Select an aperture that would give me the depth of field or overall image sharpness I wanted
  • Hope the shutter speed wasn’t too slow so I didn’t get a blurry picture
  • If the shutter speed was too slow, raise the ISO to no more than 800
  • If the shutter speed was still too slow, compromise my artistic vision by opening up the aperture

Even my old D200 could produce some fine images, though things quickly went south above ISO 400.

It was a process that worked somewhat successfully, but often resulted in images that were compromised in one way or another. When I finally upgraded to a much newer camera, a Nikon D7100, I still had the same mindset when it came to setting the ISO. I wanted to do it myself, lest my camera make some kind of silly decision on its own, that resulted in a picture with way too much noise for my taste. For a while I used the same thought process as shooting with my D200, even though the D7100 had vastly superior high ISO capabilities (which have since been surpassed by nearly every modern camera on the market today including its own successor, the D7200).

At first I used the old rule that had been burned in my mind regarding anything higher than ISO 400, which was to avoid it at all costs. Despite the evidence right in front of my eyes I was still used to the old way of doing things, and mentally set my maximum threshold at ISO 800, which I told myself, could only be exceeded in the most dire of circumstances. It took me far too long to discard this line of thinking, and I’m hoping you won’t have to make the same mistakes I did to get there.

Shot on my D200 at ISO 400.

Shot on my D200 at ISO 400.

A Brief History Lesson

The term ISO is somewhat of a holdover from the days of analogue film, when you would go to a camera store and buy an entire roll of film with an ASA value of 100, 200, or 400. ASA 200 was twice as sensitive to light as 100, 400 was twice as sensitive as 200 (which made it four times as sensitive as 100), and so on. Once the film was loaded in your camera you could not simply change your mind and use a different value; you had to shoot the entire roll before changing to another ASA for different lighting conditions.

ASA 100 film was great for outdoor situations or other scenarios where there was a lot of light, just like shooting at ISO 100 on a digital camera. ASA 400 was better for indoor situations when you needed film that was more sensitive to light, if there was simply not much to work with. If you looked hard enough you could get film that went up to ASA 800 or 1000, but anything beyond that was about as common as a polycephalous bos taurus (two-headed cow).

I took this photo of a champion marksman on my old D200 at ISO 400. If you look super close at the trees you will see some noise in the image, but doing that kind of misses the point of the photo.

I took this photo of a champion marksman on my old D200 at ISO 400. If you look super close at the trees you will see some noise in the image, but doing that kind of misses the point of the photo.

Early digital cameras, not unlike my world-weary Nikon D200, did not offer much in the way of low-light shooting capabilities that their film-based counterparts didn’t already have. Even as recently as a decade ago if you wanted to shoot in a low-light situation you might as well just grab a roll of high-ASA film, since most digital cameras just weren’t very good at their (roughly) equivalent high ISO values. (ISO and ASA are not directly 1:1 equivalent, but the measurements can be treated as fairly similar for the purposes of comparison.)

However, all this started to change rapidly as digital sensor technology advanced over the years, and now we are at the point where virtually any consumer camera can shoot up to ISO 3200 or even 6400 (a value that was unheard of with analog film) without much of a penalty in terms of overall color and luminance noise. In fact, most digital cameras are so good they can set the ISO automatically (hence the term Auto ISO), essentially removing a critical element of the exposure equation altogether, and freeing you so you only have to think about aperture and shutter speed.

Why I Use Auto ISO

This line of thinking was what used to stop me dead in my tracks as a photographer. The whole reason I learned to shoot in Manual mode was so I could have more control over my photos! Why on earth would I want to give control back to my camera, as if it knows better than I do what settings I want? The answer, I discovered over several years of shooting, is not as black and white as I once thought.

In most situations, the primary element of exposure that concerns me is the aperture, since it dramatically affects things such as depth of field and image sharpness. Of course I also have to pay attention to the shutter speed, since I generally don’t want motion blur, which then leaves the question of ISO. After shooting with my D7100, and subsequently my full-frame D750, I have realized that in most cases, I’m happy to let my camera decide the ISO for me, because I simply don’t care about it anymore. This might sound a bit extreme, but I humbly submit that perhaps you shouldn’t either.

Shot at ISO 2000 on a three-year-old Canon SL1 (EOS 100D)

Shot at ISO 2000 on a three-year-old Canon SL1 (EOS 100D)

Some photographers are prone to pixel-peeping, and I must admit I am certainly one of them. Zooming in on a picture to 100% magnification, in order to take note of barely-visible imperfections is a great way to compare various aspects of cameras, lenses, and even similar photographs. Shooting at high ISO values will often reveal noisy blemishes that stick out like a sore thumb when viewed up close. However, what I have come to realize, even when shooting with my D7100 which is over three years old, is that I simply don’t need to view my photos at ultra-close range to enjoy them, and for the most part don’t care about the noise that shows up when I see those ISO values skyrocketing. If I have to choose between a blurry picture and a noisy picture, I’ll take the latter every time, and twice on Sunday.

How to Use Auto ISO

The exact mechanics of enabling Auto ISO vary from one camera to the next, but on most models from major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus and their peers, there is usually an option in one of the menus that allows you to do a few things:

  • Enable Auto ISO
  • Choose a maximum ISO value
  • Choose a minimum shutter speed

Once you learn to find your comfort zone with these settings, you might find yourself thinking less about ISO, and more about things like framing and composition. On my D7100 I’m comfortable shooting up to ISO 3200, so I set that as the maximum value. I have the minimum shutter speed set to 1/(2x lens focal length). This means if I’m using a 50mm lens and shooting in Aperture Priority, my camera will lower the shutter speed to no less than 1/100th in order to get a properly-exposed picture, and if that still doesn’t do the trick it will then automatically raise the ISO clear up to 3200.

Learning to relinquish this amount of control has been incredibly freeing, so much so that for a while it actually felt like I was cheating because I was not manually selecting the ISO for every single shot. On my D750 I use similar settings but set the maximum value at 6400.

As you play around with this on your gear you are going to have to find a solution that works for your individual needs and photographic taste. Some cameras only let you specify one single value for the minimum shutter speed (as opposed to calculating it based on the focal length of your lens) and your mileage for how effective this technique is may vary, but if you can learn to embrace Auto ISO and let your camera do some of this heavy lifting, you might find yourself getting a lot more keepers on your memory card.

For this impromptu Easter photo I set the aperture at f/3.3 and let my camera do the rest. It chose a shutter speed of 1/100 and then raised the ISO as high as it needed to (2800) in order to get a good exposure.

For this impromptu Easter photo I set the aperture at f/3.3 and let my camera do the rest. It chose a shutter speed of 1/100 and then raised the ISO as high as it needed to (2800) in order to get a good exposure.

I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the downsides of Auto ISO as well, as not all is bright and sunny, and warm and fuzzy on this side of the fence.

One of the most significant limitations of shooting at high ISO values is the lack of dynamic range – basically, how much data your image sensor is able to capture in a given picture. If you have a RAW file that was shot at ISO 5000, and you need to use Lightroom to recover detail from the shadows, or raise the exposure of the whole image, you will find you have much less room to work with than if you shot the photo at ISO 100.

Also, depending on your camera, you may also find cases of severe banding, or ugly horizontal lines, that show up when you try to recover shadow detail at high ISO values. Finally, all things being equal a picture shot at ISO 4000 will generally have less vibrant colors, and skin tones will seem a little more artificial and false, than a similar picture shot at ISO 400.

Selecting the ISO was the last thing on my mind; I used an aperture of f/4 and a minimum shutter speed of 1/100. My camera selected an ISO of 5000 and I could not be more pleased with the result. A year ago I would have never gone that high, and would have had a blurry photo instead.

Selecting the ISO was the last thing on my mind when I made this image. I used an aperture of f/4 and a minimum shutter speed of 1/100, my camera selected an ISO of 5000, and I could not be more pleased with the result. A year ago I would have never gone that high, and would have had a blurry photo instead.

Despite these limitations, shooting with Auto ISO has been a huge boon for me, and I think it could be for you too. If you have never tried Auto ISO, I recommend giving it a chance and see how you like the results. For me it was a little like enabling back-button focus, in that I was highly skeptical at first, but after a few weeks I was hooked and now I don’t think I could ever go back.

Do you use Auto ISO? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I’d love to see some of your favorite high-ISO images as well. Cameras today really are incredible imaging machines, and it’s fun to see what they can do if we push them a little bit.

The post How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Auto ISO by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to do Bulk Resize and Edit in Photoshop

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Have you ever found yourself with a batch of photos that you needed to have edited in the same way? Rather than editing each image one-by-one, Adobe Photoshop offers batch editing processes that can help you save time, while preserving consistent quality among your images.

This tutorial will show you how to use Photoshop Actions to resize and edit multiple photos, along with a quick tip on how to replicate this process in Lightroom.

What You Need

The bulk editing process is pretty easy and straightforward, requiring just a handful of things:

  • A batch of images you want to bulk edit
  • Adobe Bridge
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Basic Photoshop working knowledge

Get Started: Record an Action in Photoshop

The very first step is to determine the process or edit that you wish to have automated, and record it as an Action in Photoshop. In this case, let’s use the example of resizing an image. Then you’ll use Bridge to select your set of images and apply the Action to all of them at once.

Step 1: Open Photoshop and have a sample image open to perform this action on. Go to the main menu bar and click Window > Actions.

Photoshop bulk resizing edits


Step 2: When the Actions panel pops up, click the bottom right button next to the trash can icon that says “Create New Action.” Enter a name for your action, such as “Image Resizing.” Then start recording your new action by clicking the “Record” button.

Bulk edits new action

Step 3: Now begin the series of steps that you want to have recorded. For resizing, head up to the main Photoshop menu bar and go to Image > Image Size. Input your ideal photo size, such as 800 pixels wide.

Photoshop bulk resizing edits

Step 4: After you’ve completed all of the steps for your action, go back to the Actions panel and click on the Stop button to end recording. You should now see your saved action within the panel.

Bulk edits image resizing

Run A Batch of Images Through Photoshop

After you’ve created your action, it’s time to apply it to your batch of images.

Step 1: Put all of the photos you want to batch edit into one folder. Open Adobe Bridge and find your folder of images. Click on the folder and select all of the content.

Step 2: Within Bridge, go to Tools > Photoshop > Batch.

Photoshop bulk resizing edits

Step 3: A Batch dialogue box will appear and you’ll want to adjust these settings in particular.

  • In the top left corner, select the action that you want applied to your images (in our case, “Image Resizing.”).
  • In the middle of the dialogue box, specify the folder where your bulk edits should end up. I always have a folder called *Bulk Edits* where I automatically have all of my bulk edited images saved.
  • Finally, you can specify a particular image name that you want to give to your batch of images, as well as assign unique identifiers, such as numeric order. Then click OK to have the action applied to your batch of photos.

Photoshop bulk resizing edits

Step 4: After your batch of images are processed, go to your specified folder to check out the results.

Photoshop bulk resizing edits

Making bulk edits in Lightroom

While doing bulk edits in Photoshop is relatively easy to do, it’s even quicker in Adobe Lightroom. If using Lightroom, import your images and select them all. Then go to File > Export. A pop up dialogue box will then appear with fields where you can specify where to save the images and also rename, resize, and watermark the images (you can also save that as an export preset)

Lightroom bulk resizing edits

Over to You

Do you perform many bulk edits in Photoshop or Lightroom? If so, what are the types of processes you tend to bulk edit? Let me know in the comments below!

The post How to do Bulk Resize and Edit in Photoshop by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use the Healing Tool in Photoshop

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We all have those moments in our photographic careers where things just don’t pan out exactly how we imagined them. Our image is almost exactly as we imagined it to be, but perhaps there are some spots, blemishes, marks or distractions that just don’t fit in the frame.

In most cases, all the elements of the image tend to work together to tell the story, but sometimes we just to clean the image up a tad, to get rid of some of the distracting elements that take away from that story. Luckily, most editing software, including Photoshop, have very easy, yet powerful tools, that you can use to clean up your image and get rid of the distractions.

Memorable Jaunts Landscape Image cleaned using healing brush tools Artcile for DPS 01

The Healing Tool in Photoshop

This article provides a basic explanation of the Healing Tool in Photoshop, that is very effective in removing or cleaning out distracting elements in an image. For the purposes of this article, I am using Photoshop version CS6. The Healing Brush Tool in Photoshop is made of three parts. These are probably the most used tools in the healing tool family, and 90% of the time they get the job done.

  • Spot Healing Brush Tool
  • Healing Brush Tool
  • Patch Tool
Memorable Jaunts Landscape Image cleaned using healing brush tools Artcile for DPS 07

The Healing tool in PS has the bandaid icon. When clicked, it opens up this menu. You can also click the J key on your keyboard to access this tool.

Here is an example of a simple landscape image that was cleaned up using the Spot Healing Brush Tool, and the Healing Brush Tool.

Memorable Jaunts Landscape Image cleaned using healing brush tools Artcile for DPS 02

Original Image – SOOC. I am looking to clean out some of the distracting elements here like the ‘Road curves’ sign on the right, the dead bushes on the left and the little tree on the top of the hill to the left of the image.

The first step, before any cleanup is done, is to perform any basic edits to the image. I consider adjustments in exposure, contrast and temperature to be basic adjustments. For this image, I increased the exposure and added some contrast, to highlight the browns in the hillside. This image was taken from a stopped car because I really liked the curve in the road along the small hill on the top right side. But I wanted to get rid of the road sign and the dead branches on the sides of the road leading up to the hill.

Once I brightened and adjusted the contrast of the image, I created a new layer in PS to add my cleanup edits. I called it, “Clean up layer” for easy identification. This keeps all the cleanup elements together, so I can toggle between the On and Off to see the affects of the cleanup at any time (toggling a layer On and Off is done by clicking on the eyeball symbol to the left of the layer.)

Memorable Jaunts Landscape Image cleaned using healing brush tools Artcile for DPS 06

The Spot Healing Brush Tool is used for quick, easy cleanups. Once you select the it, and adjust the size of the brush (use the left square bracket key [ to decrease size of the brush and right square bracket key ] to increase the size), you simply click on the blemish to remove it. Also set Sample to “Current & Below” or “All Layers” so it will pull pixels from your base layer (otherwise you’re just healing with a blank layer).

The Spot Healing Brush automatically selects the source area from which to clone. So sometimes it might not be completely accurate, because the software is making the judgement on where is the best source to take a sample. A good tip is to zoom in to the specific area and watch the pixels closely while making the adjustments. The Spot Healing Brush works best on small areas and easy cleanups.

Memorable Jaunts Landscape Image cleaned using healing brush tools Artcile for DPS 05

The Healing Brush Tool

I use the Healing Brush Tool is for slightly more complex cleanups, especially areas that have sharp edges, curved, or straight lines that separate areas of different textures and color. As you can see here, the top of the hill has a small tree which sticks out against the overcast sky. For more accurate editing, zoom in to the area that needs to be edited, so as to eliminate any errors. It is hard to be completely accurate if you are not zoomed in accurately to the specific area that needs to be edited.

Once selected, theHealing Brush Tool requires you to set a source point from which to heal the affected area (that is the easiest way to think about the healing action, in my opinion). I set the right size of the brush (use the [ ]  keys to increase or decrease brush size, OR click on the slider as shown in the image below), then I select the edge of the line closest in texture to the source area. Holding my cursor down (holding down the mouse button), I drag the cursor from start to finish over the object to be removed.

Memorable Jaunts Landscape Image cleaned using healing brush tools Artcile for DPS 04


After cleanup

The Patch Tool

I use the Patch Tool in Photoshop for any bigger areas that need to be adjusted. For example, in the image below, there are many sign posts along the road that are larger. I could use the healing brush tool but it would be a little bit more time-consuming as I would have to go over the adjustments several times, to clean it out completely. Instead I used the Patch Tool to fix the affected spot, and replace it with another area sampled from the surrounding landscape. Using the Patch Tool, select the area to be cleaned up, then select the area close to it to sample from, to do the patch.

Notes about the Patch Tool:

  • To do your editing non-destructively use the patch tool on a duplicate layer (it cannot be an empty layer).
  • You must select a Patch type as Normal or Content Aware. For most things Content Aware does a better job, so try that first and resort to Normal if it doesn’t work.
  • If you select Normal you have to choose either Source or Destination. The difference is that when Source is highlighted, the area you select will be Patched with the area you drag it over to. When Destination is highlighted the area you select will be cloned over to the area you move it to.

Final image where all the posts, signs and snow measurement sticks have been removed using a combination of patch tool, spot healing brush and healing brush tool.

As you can see, the healing tools in Photoshop are quite effective. With such a wide variety of options, any cleanup is easy and effective. One tip that I have learnt from experience is to do all the adjustments while zooming in to the affected area. This ensures that right amount of cleanup is done to all the pixels. If you find that the cleanup effect is too stark and harsh, an easy fix is to adjust the Opacity (i.e. visibility) of the cleanup layer. Especially when cleaning up blemishes on the face, this gives a more natural, blended effect. There is no right opacity percentage, simply choose the value that seems more natural to the eye.

How do you use the Healing Tools in Photoshop? Please share in the comments below.

The post How to Use the Healing Tool in Photoshop by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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