Month: 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.

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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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Categories: Digital

How to Create Gorgeous Flower Images using a Flashlight and a Reflector

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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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Categories: Digital

5 Tips to Improve Your Background and Make the Subject Stand Out More

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Categories: Digital

Fast Glass: Tips for Working With Wide Aperture Lenses

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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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Categories: Digital

How Two Weeks in the Wilderness with One Prime Lens Restored My Love for Photography

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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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Categories: Digital

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