Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

The post Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Photography is an ever evolving medium. New gear, new technology and new ways of seeing the world make it an extremely exciting time to be a photographer right now.

Over the last year or so I’ve become more and more interested in aerial photography and getting new perspectives for my work. And wouldn’t you know it, DJI just released another brand new tool for aerial photography in August of 2018. So when I had the opportunity to test it out, I didn’t hesitate. I give you…

…wait for it…

…the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom.


Out of the box

Sleek, compact and understated; that’s how I would describe the appearance of the Mavic 2 Zoom. DJI has chosen a color scheme that should be familiar to those who have experienced the previous model upon which they have based the Mavic 2 Zoom upon – the Mavic Pro. The drone itself is dark gray with a silver belly and matching silver accents. You’ll notice that while the overall lines have been maintained, the Mavic 2 Zoom is a completely different animal when compared to its predecessor.




The gimbal cover of the Mavic 2 has also been updated to protect the camera during transport. While easy to remove, I have to admit reattaching the gimbal cover was slightly confusing the first time I attempted it. Luckily, DJI has included a quick diagram to help with this.


Who knows, maybe it was just me being clumsy? In any case, once you get the hang of the new gimbal cover, reattaching it becomes essentially like riding a bike.

The Mavic 2 Zoom has incorporated a set of legitimate landing and take-off lights to aid in low-light situations when the bottom-facing obstacle sensors may have difficulty discerning where the ground may be. Speaking of sensors, DJI has enhanced the Mavic 2 Zoom with Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing technology (more on that later) for side, front and rear obstacle avoidance. These sensors are readily visible throughout the breadth of the aircraft yet somehow the body of the drone doesn’t appear overly cluttered.


The controller for the Mavic 2 Zoom has received a light makeover as well. I was happy to see the addition of the fantastic “stow and go” joysticks present on the Mavic AIR controller to this new iteration of Mavic controllers. When not in use, the joysticks can be packed away beneath the folding wings of the controller.

This makes stashing your controller in your bag much easier and less likely to snag or less ideally, break.


Shown with joysticks attached

Most of the contact surfaces are rubberized, and the controller feels great even when using a larger smartphone like my Samsung S8 Active.

Speaking of phones, an incredibly cool feature of the Mavic 2 Zoom controller is that it charges your phone should your phone’s battery level drop to below 40% during flight. How cool is that?

Thanks for having our backs, DJI.

With that said, you will almost certainly need to remove your phone case (should you have one) to make everything fit within the controller. Of course, you might not have to, but keep that in mind before you fly.

Another feature, albeit possibly not as overtly impressive for some as it was to me, is the addition of an integrated charging cable built right into the included battery charger.

This controller is also identical and interchangeable with the controller for the Mavic 2 Zoom

This enables the user to always have a way to charge their controllers should they misplace or not have another cable to charge the controller.

With the introductions complete, let’s get down to business and see how well the Mavic 2 Zoom performs in the air.

Flight performance

In comparison to the Mavic Pro, it’s safe to say that DJI has improved virtually every area of flight performance in the Mavic 2 Zoom. They have increased the maximum speed and the overall flight time and distance capability. Even though descent/ascent speeds have remained the same as the Mavic Pro (impressive in its own right), it’s easy to see that the Mavic 2 Zoom is very much an upgrade in terms of its ability to fly further faster and with more confidence.

  • Dimensions Folded: 214×91×84 mm (length×width×height)
  • Dimensions Unfolded: 322×242×84 mm (length×width×height) with 354mm at diagonal
  • Weight: 1.99 lbs(905g) with battery and propellers attached
  • Maximum flight time: 31 minutes at constant 15.5 mph(25 kph)
  • Maximum hover time: 29 minutes(no wind)
  • Operating temperatures: 14° F to 104° F(-10°C to 40°C)
  • Maximum speed: 44.7 mph(72 kph) (S-mode)
  • Maximum ascent speed: 5 m/s (S-mode), 4 m/s (P-mode)
  • Maximum descent speed: 3 m/s (S-mode), 3 m/s (P-mode)
  • Maximum altitude: 19,685ft above sea level (6000m)

The Mavic 2 Zoom is about 2g lighter in total weight but all other performance statistics regarding speed, dimensions and flight are precisely the same as the new DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone. In fact, it’s safe to say that the Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro use the same drone body. The only difference being their respective camera systems.

Don’t believe me?

Here is the Mavic 2 and Mavic 2 Zoom side by side. If you can’t tell, why should I?


In flight, the Mavic 2 Zoom is nimble with great response time. The propellers have been redesigned to make them quieter when compared to the Mavic Pro. Unfortunately, this also means that the propellers are not interchangeable between the two aircraft. So, you won’t be able to buy a set of Mavic 2 props to quiet down your older Mavic. Sorry folks.

Acceleration is quite impressive, with stops being not overly abrupt. Of course, many of these observations depend on how you have the responsiveness of your controller configured. Speaking of that, DJI has placed the three main flight modes for the Mavic 2 Zoom on the right side of the controller. These modes are Tripod (T), Positioning (P) and Sport (S).


When in T-mode, the speed of the drone becomes greatly reduced as well as the acceleration and deceleration making it great for slow and controlled pans. Also, all of the Mavic 2 Zoom’s Omnidirectional Obstacle sensors are enabled.

P-mode could be called the “standard” flight mode. In P-mode, all of the Intelligent Flight modes are available.

Lastly, we have blazing-fast S-mode. In sport mode, all obstacle avoidance is disabled which means you’re entirely on your own. The fun part? The Mavic 2 Zoom can then hit a top speed of nearly 45mph (72.4kph). The Mavic 2 Zoom can also allow the pilot to select from pre-programmed intelligent flight modes which are great for obtaining footage that would otherwise be difficult for the average user.

Intelligent Flight Modes

  • ActiveTrack 2.0(with improved 3D subject tracking) Capable of identifying up to 16 subjects and track 1
  • Cinematic Mode (dampens the drone’s movements for increased stability) Softens the breaking period for increased video smoothness
  • Hyperlapse Moves the drone through out the acquisition of time lapses
  • QuickShots (outlined below)
  • Points Of Interest (POI 2.0) Allows the user to choose a subject and instruct the drone to keep it in frame based on a predetermined altitude and speed while circling
  • Waypoint Navigation The Mavic 2 Zoom will fly to a series of locations chosen on the map
  • Tap-to-Fly Select a map area and the drone will automatically fly to that spot

QuickShot Intelligent Flight Modes

  • Dolly Zoom An interesting cinematic zoom effect…Hitchcock style
  • Asteroid Essentially contorts your scene into spherical illusion
  • Boomerang The drone will fly in an ellipse around the subject and automatically start and stop filming in the same place
  • Rocket The Mavic 2 Zoom will take off vertically with the camera flowing your subject
  • Circle Enables the drone to fly in a circle around the subject at a predetermined altitude and distance
  • Dronie Pre-programmed upward flight with the drone moving backward all the while tracking the subject
  • Helix The drone will upward and away while maintaining view of your subject

Zoom Zoom

If you’re like me, then I figure you’re extremely interested in the camera of the Mavic 2 Zoom. After all, unless you just like flying a drone around the sky (which is fun too), the real reason you’re doing it all is to get awesome aerial photos and videos.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the zoom feature which is the Mavic 2 Zoom’s namesake. It has a 2x optical zoom plus an additional digital zoom capability (which DJI reports being lossless) when shooting video in FHD 1080p. DJI also reports the Mavic 2 Zoom to be capable of producing images with 13-stops of dynamic range. That’s impressive.

Here’s a rundown of the major camera features from the DJI website:

  • Sensor: 12MP 1/2.3″ CMOS
  • Focal Length: 35 mm equivalent of 24-48 mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8 (24 mm) – f/3.8 (48 mm)
  • Shutter Speed Range: 8–1/8000s
  • ISO Range: 100-3200 for video, 100-1600 (auto) 100-3200 (manual) for photo
  • Internal Memory Storage: 8GB
  • Image Formats: JPEG / DNG (RAW)
  • Video Formats: MP4 / MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, HEVC/H.265)
  • Video Resolution: 4K: 3840×2160 24/25/30p
    2.7K: 2688×1512 24/25/30/48/50/60p
    FHD: 1920×1080 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p

The camera of the Mavic 2 Zoom also incorporates some flashy new in-camera functionalities. It’s “Super Resolution” feature is incredibly interesting. It is essentially an onboard image stitching tool which can create images with a total resolution of approximately 48MP.

Not only that, but the Mavic 2 Zoom also sports DJI’s new “Hyperlight” mode for increasing image quality during extremely lowlight flights.

Here are a few test images made with the Mavic 2 Zoom.




To give a better understanding of what that 24-48mm focal length actually brings you in terms of zoom capability, here are two frames for comparison. The first shot at 24mm….


24mm at f/2.8

…and the second at 48mm


48mm at f/3.8

Why not two more? Each one is a 1-second exposure which speaks to the stabilization of that 3-axis gimbal.


24mm at f/2.8

Then zooming in to 48mm on that tower the distance.


48mm at f/3.8

I feel it’s worth mentioning that those last two nighttime images were made in a well-known and open area with the drone constantly in site. Be extremely cautious should you operate any aircraft in dark conditions.

Lastly, here is a quick bit of video footage shot using the Mavic 2 Zoom and a few of its features.

Final thoughts on the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

The ability to zoom with the camera of the Mavic 2 Zoom adds in a new flavor of excitement to an already exciting drone. The aerobatics of the DJI’s latest entry to the Mavic lineup is impressive for any drone. Especially one marketed as a “consumer grade” aircraft.

With a camera capable of all sorts of high-end feats of imagery, it’s hard to draw the line between consumer and professional performance. From the Intelligent Flight features to the increased flight time and speed, refined obstacle avoidance system and compact form factor, the Mavic 2 Zoom is very much a welcome breath of fresh air to the aerial photography and videography community. Not only does it produce excellent still images and video, but the overall experience of operating this little aircraft is an absolutely enjoyable experience.

Have you used the Mavic 2 Zoom yet? Let us know in the comments how you like it and how it compares to any other drones you might have piloted.


review of the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom Drone

The post Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Lessons from the Masters: Imogen Cunningham

The post Lessons from the Masters: Imogen Cunningham appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

It’s easy enough to develop the illusion that the legendary names venerated throughout the history of photography were somehow so different from ourselves. While’s it’s certainly true that the photographic climate has changed, we still share the same passion for the art as those who clicked shutters fifty years or even a century ago. Many of them faced the same challenges, inspirations, successes and failures as we do. Perhaps that’s why I love learning more about the giants of photography and applying lessons from their work to my photos.

In this installment of “Lessons from the Masters,” we’re going to take a closer look at the work of the estimable Imogen Cunningham. Her determination and herculean achievements placed her working alongside other formative photographers of the 20th century. The contributions she made to photography as an art helped shape the photographic landscape we know today.

Imogen Cunningham


Self Portrait with Korona View, 1933 ©2019 Imogen Cunningham Trust

Named after the heroine of the Shakespearean play Cymbeline, Imogen Cunningham entered this world on April 12th, 1883. Born to rather paradoxical parents (her father a spiritualist and her mother Methodist) in Portland, Oregon she was a self-described “ill-tempered” child.

When she was 18 years old, she saved enough money to purchase (via mail order) her first camera in 1903, a 4×5 type, along with a box of glass plate negatives. She then began teaching herself how to make photographs. Cunningham knew photography would be her life’s work although her path would not be a direct one.

Following her graduation from the University of Washington with a degree in Chemistry in 1907, Imogen worked with Edward Curtis at his Seattle studio. There, she honed her skills in the darkroom while printing his iconic images of Native Americans and the American West.

Two years later, Cunningham received a $500 grant which enabled her to continue her studies abroad in Germany. During this time she developed theories on photographic chemistry still practiced today.

On her return to the west coast from Europe, Imogen made a familiar pilgrimage which other notable artists of the time often made and ventured to New York City for a meeting with the legendary Alfred Stieglitz at his “291” gallery. Stieglitz introduced her to Gertrude Käsebier who was the first professional female commercial photographer at that time.

After this influential meeting, Imogen committed her energy to photography. She opened a studio in Seattle, Washington and soon made a name for herself through portraits.

It was this studio where Imogen made her living while finding time to delve into more personal work before relocating to California in 1917. Unfortunately for us, she left the majority of her photographs and negatives behind, so there isn’t a large wealth of examples from that period of her career. In 1929, the Film und Foto Exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany, included a ten-piece selection of Cunningham’s work. The fabled Group f/64 would form a few years later to which Imogen was a founding member. Other founding members included her friend Edward Weston as well as Henry Swift, John Paul Edwards, Sonja Noskowiak, Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke. Over the years, Imogen Cunningham’s body of work would be as eclectic as it was groundbreaking.


Imogen photographing Ansel Adams…photographing Half Dome in 1953. ©2019 Imogen Cunningham Trust

After living an extraordinary life of photography, Imogen Cunningham passed away on June 23rd, 1976 in San Francisco, California at the age of 93.

Now that you know a little bit about the person, let’s dig a little deeper. We’ll look at a few of the many the lessons you can learn from the life, work, and attitude of Imogen Cunningham which can help to improve your photography.

Extend your range

Imogen Cunningham’s choice in subject matter was ‘diverse’ to say the least. From her earliest pictorial work to her self portraits and nudes, it’s safe to say that the idea of sticking to one subject or even one genre for that matter was not something that held back the creative spirit of Imogen Cunningham. She believed that photographs presented themselves to her organically.

She seldom went “looking for things to shoot,” instead preferring to allow the subject matter to appeal to her aesthetic awareness. I mean, come on, she was even one of the early practitioners of street photography before there was street photography!


Hashbury, 1967. ©2019 Imogen Cunningham Trust

Many of Imogen’s most iconic photographs gravitated towards the use of light and shadow to present common scenes in an extraordinary way by accentuating texture and shapes. She could look past what a subject was to see what it could be. This beautifully simplistic aesthetic is one of the reasons so many Cunningham prints carry a timeless appeal.


The Unmade Bed, 1957. ©2019 Imogen Cunningham Trust

Sometimes we find ourselves concentrating so vigorously on obtaining a particular photograph that we overlook other opportunities to produce great work. While it’s true that we can and should visualize how we want the final image to appear, the process is often helped along if we remain flexible.


One of my favorite photographs by Imogen Cunningham, “Callas” from around 1925. ©2019 Imogen Cunningham Trust

Don’t allow yourself to be mired down by one particular subject or location. This is especially true for us today while bombarded by social media accounts producing visually similar photos according to a theme rather than personal expression. This leads to an almost unconscious dulling down of creativity.


My own still life photo of lilies making use of light and texture to bring out the subtle elegance of a simple subject.

Photograph anything and everything that you please – even if might not fit with what you generally shoot.

Feel the fear…then do it anyway

One of my favorite quotes from Imogen Cunningham goes like this:

“…you can’t expect things to be smooth and easy and beautiful. You just have to work, find your way out, and do anything you can yourself.”

Without a doubt, Imogen was a strongly independent, capable and witty woman who pursued her work with an intensity of purpose. At the same time, she was human. She faced challenges, hardships, and fear just as we all do.


The key to overcoming your self-doubt is to keep moving forward. I think that’s what Cunningham was getting at here. It’s not that we should strive to be fearless but instead work to be tireless in the face of fear or our lack of confidence.

When it comes to photography, there will always be areas where we don’t feel as knowledgeable or proficient as we would like. However, that shouldn’t reduce you to thinking you will always feel that way. Take it from Imogen. Work hard and accept that you won’t always find yourself in easy situations. But never, never, never give up.

Interface with other photographers

Surrounded by other photographers, like many other defining artists of her time, Imogen loved discussing all aspects of photo work. As a founding member of Group f/64, she understood the value of sharing ideas and concepts with other photographers who approached the medium with the same zeal as she did. They learned from one another and worked to further the craft.

One of the most enlightening and enjoyable things I have ever done in this regard was to start the ongoing ITOW (In Their Own Words) Project. This project consists of interviewing other photographers that I either know personally or interact with on social media. The insights gained through these discussions continue to help deepen my own appreciation for the way other people see photography.


By Seth Doyle via Unsplash

Whenever possible, take the time to get to know other photographers and discuss photography openly and honestly. This doesn’t mean you have to strike up a conversation with anyone you see is carrying a camera, but it’s always interesting to examine how other people go about making their images and why.

Worldwide communication has never been more extensive or readily available. We have the capability of connecting with people whom we would have never known existed otherwise. One of the greatest assets we have for growth in our work is by interacting with other people who appreciate the value of photography.

Parting thoughts on Imogen Cunningham

Having been fortunate enough to view some of Imogen’s original prints, it’s easy for me to understand why she was, and still is, one of the most influential and accomplished photographers of all time. Along with other pioneering photographers, we owe a debt of gratitude to Imogen for helping advance photography to the incredible medium we know today.

The lessons we can learn from her work extend well beyond the photographic. She helped show that beauty is found in places and objects we see every day and that we can accomplish almost any goal – no matter how distant it may seem.

I urge you to learn more about Imogen Cunningham, her photographs and her wonderful example of living a full life.

Author’s Note: I would like to extend my immense appreciation to The Imogen Cunningham Trust for permitting the use of many of the photographs presented in this article. 


The post Lessons from the Masters: Imogen Cunningham appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Using Color Temperature in Black and White Conversions

The post Using Color Temperature in Black and White Conversions appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Digital photography has opened up enormous possibilities for black and white photography. The ability to first shoot in color and then convert the image to black and white offers photographers a way to express themselves in ways that reach beyond the influence of color. Well, for the most part.

You see, advanced black and white conversions take advantage of the different luminance values present in our RAW files so that we can individually manipulate those values after we have converted the color image to black and white. Usually, this is done via the HSL (BW) Panel in Lightroom or other processing software.


But there is one ingredient of the black and white pie that gets constantly overlooked during the average photographers (let’s pretend) black and white conversion process; color temperature. I know, the operative word here is COLOR and black and white photos…you know…don’t really have a lot of color.

In this article, we’re going to take a cruise aimed at getting a little closer to understanding how much of a role color temperature plays in our digital black and white conversions. We’ll look at how we can leverage this constantly neglected aspect of digital black and white photography so that we have many more opportunities to make even more impressive monochromatic images.

I also intend to make at least one black and white related pun before the end.

Let’s get started!

A quick refresher on color temperature

When we talk about color temperature, we are referring to the hue-based Kelvin scale (there’s a temperature-based one too) which measures the hue of color and thus relates to white balance; which is the theoretical absence of color cast within an image. More blue or “cool” colors have a higher Kelvin number, and more red or “warmer” colors have a lower Kelvin number.

“Adam…but wait! Most image processing software shows lower Kelvin color temperatures as blue and warmer colors as red!”

Yes, you are precisely correct. You paid excellent attention in science class!


In short, the color temperature sliders in most photo editors are in fact reversed from the true Kelvin scale. From what I’ve gathered, this inversion is due to the approach that white balance adjustments in digital photography are based on “compensation” rather than direct cooling or warming of colors. This means that if a photo is “cool” out of the camera, we will tell the software to “warm it up” by increasing the Kelvin value to bring the white balance closer to the original scene. Thereby, making the photo perceptibly warmer.

Yeah, it’s confusing.

Luckily, we don’t have to worry about any of that.

For our purposes, we are just concerned with how the cool or warm the colors are within the image regardless of actual numeric Kelvin temperature.

Thank goodness for that.

How color temperature affects black and white photos

The remainder of this article assumes that you are shooting in RAW format or at the very least in color JPEG.

We need the color information from the image file to exploit the impact of color temperature on luminance values after the black and white conversion. This means it is imperative that you do not shoot in a dedicated monochromatic mode.

Got it? Good.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way it’s time to experiment.

Let’s first convert an image to black and white in Lightroom Classic CC and see what happens when we begin to adjust the color temperature. I just happen to have a photo ready to go right here. It is a RAW file with a relatively well-balanced color temperature that I converted to black and white.


Color temperature slider set to 5050K in Lightroom

First, let’s slide the color temperature slider entirely to the left and “cool” the image.


Color temperature slider at 2000K in Lightroom

Next, we’ll move the color temperature slider all the way to the right to “warm” the image.


Color temperature slider set to 50000K in Lightroom

From this, we can see that there are some readily apparent changes in contrast based solely on the adjustments in color temperature.

So, what exactly is happening here?

Let me show you.

Have a look at the original histogram with conventional white balance:


HIstogram with normal white balance

Now with a much cooler color temperature…


Histogram at 2000K

And lastly, with warmer color temperature.


Histogram at 50000K

When we cool down the image we are causing the colors to become more blue, purple and magenta in hue; hence the shift in the histogram and resulting contrast change. The same is true for the warmer color temperature where the photo becomes more red, orange and yellow.

What we are doing is setting a bias towards certain colors which in turn augments their luminosity when converted to black and white. The benefit here is that these drastic changes in color temperature allow us to make some impressive adjustments to the luminance values beyond what might usually be possible once you have converted it to black and white.

Practical applications

Advanced digital black and white conversions rely heavily on specific adjustments in luminance values based on color information contained within the image file. If we increase the amount of a particular color within an image, we then have more latitude in manipulating the brightness values of that color in relation to the other colors within the photo.

Here are three separate versions of the Golden Gate Bridge photo from earlier. The first photo was processed using the HSL/BW Panel to brighten the bridge and darken the sky.


Next, I went to work on the 2000K version from earlier. Seeing as the blue tones had skyrocketed, I was able to achieve some interesting results.


Last but not least is the warm-toned version which clocked in at 50000K. Which if you recall, would make the photo cooler instead of warmer if we were operating in the world. However, we’re not. This is photography.


These extreme swings in color temperature are useful almost exclusively in the domain of black and white digital photography. Outside of that, the only result will be gruesomely unappealing white balance.


I mean really unappealing (caption)


Just look at it…terrible.

Ok, I’ll admit that maybe I low-key like that last one.

Final thoughts on color temperature and black and white photos

We can get caught up with the idea that there are certain “rules” which must always be adhered to when we process our photos.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it’s true that color temperature plays an important role in rendering colors within your image accurately, we must remember that we are still allowed to paint outside the lines whenever we choose. Perhaps the benefit of this free-thinking mentality is no more apparent than when it comes to working with our black and white photos.

Making drastic changes to the white balance of your black and white images is not only allowed, but it can make for some exciting outcomes and boost your creative thinking.

Even though your mind may not immediately jump to color when you think of black and white photography, the fact remains that even though we may not see color within a photo, the inherent color information remains (as long as you shoot RAW) and that information is still wholly adjustable, including white balance. The role color temperature plays in processing your photographs is never black and white. See, I told you I would work that pun in there somewhere.

Experimenting with some interesting black and white conversions using color temperature? As always, we’d love to see what you’ve been up to, so feel free to post your photos in the comments below!

The post Using Color Temperature in Black and White Conversions appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

How to Create Simulated Light Leaks Using Lightroom

The post How to Create Simulated Light Leaks Using Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Recently, we discussed how easy (and cool) it can be to reproduce the basic looks of vintage film stocks with our digital photographs. Sure, this style is not for everyone, but it’s undeniable that the “film look” has made a resurgence in recent years. There’s an especially organic feel to a photograph that has muted tones and funky contrasts which carries an inherent interest that makes people look twice. To go a step further, if you truly want to push the envelope of your digital vintage film simulations, you can go as far as to introduce something which is generally considered to be the sworn enemy of photographers everywhere: light leaks. I know, I know…the horror, right?


Light leaks

Light leaks are less of a problem in digital photography and seldom occur. Still, it can happen. Unwanted light rays can weasel their way into your photos through damaged camera bodies or poor lens fitment in digital and analog cameras alike.

However, when shooting with film the incidence of light leaks skyrocket. Causes range from accidental openings of the camera back to damaged film canisters and general mishandling of the film either before or during processing.


Why make an intentional mistake?

Now, you might be wondering ‘why, oh why, might we want to simulate light leaks in our digital photographs if they are so loathed and avoided in general photography?’ The answer to that lies in the very nature of light leaks themselves; they add uniqueness.

While technically flawed, light leaks can impart a vibe of beautiful realism to a photograph. Because the chances of light leaks increase with the age of a film, it makes perfect sense to learn how to introduce them alongside your digital vintage film simulations in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC.


Don’t get me wrong; light leaks are not practical or even warranted for every one of your vintage film simulations. That said, a judicially placed light leak on the right photo can boost it’s aesthetic appeal tremendously. What’s more, being able to create digital light leaks at will is a handy skill to have in your mental post-processing tool kit.

How to make a Light Leak

The cause of light leaks is the intrusion of light of various intensities interacting with the film. To reproduce this effect digitally in Lightroom we’ll make use of some cleverly simple local adjustments. The graduated and radial filters are the primary local adjustment tools we’ll use for our light leak simulations.


We’ll also use the local adjustment brush – but not in the way you might think. I’ll show you what I mean in just a second.

To get started, we’ll use a photo I have already processed using some of my vintage film presets. It has a faded vibe and a mellow tone. This should work well with our light leak simulations. It’s always a good practice to add your light leaks AFTER you have completed processing your photo.


1. Deciding where to place your light leaks

There are no rules when it comes to creating your light leak simulations but if you’re going for realism remember that your light leaks should look as if they are – well – caused by light leaking onto the film.

Consider where the light might be intruding from when determining where they appear. Is there a crack in the camera housing? Was there a pinhole in the film canister? Perhaps the dark slide accidentally slid back just a tiny bit in the film holder?

For our particular example, we’ll be going for a sort of “first frame” light leak. This simulates a 35mm frame having been exposed to light on one of the first sections of the film while being loaded into the camera. Virtually all 35mm cameras wind the film from the spool to the spindle from left to right, so the light leak will always appear at the right side of the frame. So, that’s exactly where we’re going to put our digital light leak simulation.


2. The Graduated Filter

We’ll use a single graduated filter to produce the light leak. Create the filter and make it wide enough to rotate easily.

It doesn’t matter where it is created on the photo because we will re-position it after we’ve added the adjustments.

For most photos, the core effect is caused but the Exposure and Whites sliders. Begin by increasing the Exposure slider considerably until you lose detail in the highlight areas of the image.


Depending on the overall brightness of your photo even +100 exposure increase might not be adequate. If this is the case, make use of the Whites slider to increase the intensity of the leak. We can always dial back the brightness after the next step.

3. Placing and feathering the Graduated Filter

Now it’s time to re-position the graduated filter and compress it to the appropriate feathering.

Grab the center point and pull the filter to the right of the photo. A good rule of thumb is to place the far edge of the filter even with the edge of the frame.

Next, click and drag the left side of the filter to reduce the feathering. This is when the light leak will begin to really look like a light leak.

The feathering is important in reproducing the circumstances of the particular light leak effect you’re after.

In our case, the light would have interacted with our film up to the point where it was shielded by the film canister. Modern 35mm canisters feature felt lining on the mouth of the canister where the film enters. This will produce a very slight feathering effect in the light leak. So we will reflect this minute amount of feathering with our simulation.


4. Adding fine adjustments

With our light leak placed we can now go to work applying some fine adjustments. Anything is possible! Adjust the intensity of the leak by increasing or decreasing the Exposure and Whites sliders or amplify the color (or take it away) using the Saturation slider. You can even add in custom colors using the color swatch selector. For our example, we’ll add in some yellow.


What a beautiful mistake we’ve made! But we’re not finished yet.

5. The Adjustment Brush

You’ll recall earlier I mentioned we would use the adjustment brush tool but not actually to create the leaks. Instead, we will make use of the Adjustment Brush to ERASE areas of our light leaks. That way, we can selectively control how they appear with more precision.

In our example, we’ll dial back the light in the area of the sky to make it flow more naturally with the rest of the adjustment.


Now that we’ve placed our primary light leak let’s kick things up a notch by adding in some additional ones. Remember that less is usually more when it comes to light leaks. But since we’re having fun, let’s pretend our camera was having a terrible day.

6. Adding extra light leaks with the Radial Filter

Our next light leak will simulate an intrusion at one of the ends of our film canister. Leaks of this type generally manifest themselves at the edges of the film around the sprocket holes. Depending on the severity, the leak bleeds down towards the midline of the film. We’ll pull off this effect using the radial filter tool with the same slider adjustments we used earlier. Again, create the filter anywhere you please in the beginning and then re-position.


Drag the center point of the filter to the top edge of the photo being careful to leave the point itself within reach for easier re-positioning. Once you roughly position the filter, pull the bottom of it downward (or upward depending on position) until it reaches the desired location.


Since this type of leak usually occurs very close to the film, they will exhibit more clearly defined edges which means we’ll use less feathering of the filter.

Of course, this is entirely a judgment call so feel free to adjust the feathering to suit your taste. Add in more radial filters to complete the effect by right-clicking the center point and selecting ‘Duplicate.’


Congratulations! We’re finished making our light leak simulations and we did it all right inside of Lightroom Classic CC using a few simple tools that anyone can use.


But wait, there’s more….

Saving your light leaks as Local Adjustment Presets

As you’ve seen, most light leaks are incredibly easy to make once you understand the basic concepts involved with the effect. Still, it’s a good idea to save yourself some time by saving your favorite light leak simulations as Local Adjustment Presets. That way, you don’t need to create each one anew every time you’re feeling like adding in a leak or two.

Saving your light leaks as presets is as simple as a couple of mouse clicks.

First, select the control point of the filter you wish to save as a preset. Once the filter is active, click the ‘Custom’ drop-down arrow at the top of the filter adjustment section.


Next, select ‘Save Current Settings as New Preset’ from the bottom of the menu.


It’s a good idea to name your preset something that will help you know exactly what effect it produces. In our case, I’ll name this one “Tina”.

Just kidding.

We’ll go with “35mm Canister Leak-Yellow”.


Your new light leak preset will then be available from the local adjustment presets list.

Final thoughts on Leaking Light…

When you think about it, introducing simulated light leaks to your photos is a very funny thing to do. We are purposefully introducing problems to a photograph. With that being said, sometimes beauty can in fact lie within the very flaws we might otherwise avoid. Depending on the type of photograph and the final aesthetic you’re going for, adding in some judicious light leak simulations to your digital photographs can go a long way to enhance their “vintage feel”.

Have you tried your hand at simulating your own light leaks? Feel free to share your work in the comments!

And if you want to learn more about how to add a vintage film look to your photos be sure to check out my other article The Basics of Simulating Vintage Film in Lightroom.

The post How to Create Simulated Light Leaks Using Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

How to Push Past Fear in Photography: A Retrospect

The post How to Push Past Fear in Photography: A Retrospect appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Five years. It doesn’t seem like so long ago that I first sat down to write an article which I hoped would help other photographers overcome some of the fears that we all face at one time or another. So much can change in five years. As I sit here and read back through that piece, “How to Overcome Fear in Photography,” I feel uniquely placed to add some insightful commentary on the things I’ve learned over the years about combating the oddly universal apprehensions that we all have to overcome from time to time as photographers. At the very least, I hope it lends a measure of solidarity to you no matter what stage you happen to find yourself at on your journey on the path of photography.

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Fear #1: My work isn’t good enough

Ah, yes. I can personally guarantee that no matter how experienced or accomplished you may become in making photographs there is always concealed within yourself a secret doubt about whether or not your photos are good enough. The idea that we somehow fall short in our efforts is something that is forever in the back of your mind to one degree or another. Good photographers consistently are their own worst critics.

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How to beat it:

Like all facts of life, the remedy to this lies not in solving the problem but rather in controlling our reaction. The recognition that we all strive towards an unattainable perfection with our work should not be a source of anxiety but instead should fill us with a sense that there are always new ways to improve. An assurance that we can do better gives us something to aspire to and through our aspirations lies creative growth.

Fear #2: I’ll never “make it” as a photographer

When you think about it, the idea of relying on photography to pay all of your bills is a scary thing. Let’s face it, going “all-in” on any endeavor drags us through all sorts of anxiety and fear. This is especially true if you happen to be leaving an established career which lies outside of photography as I did. Confounding the problem further is if you do decide to make a go of it as a photographer, you may be met with quiet disbelief and polite warnings of caution from your coworkers, your friends, and even your family.

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I never saw myself as being anything resembling a teacher…yet here we are.

How to beat it:

Alright, let’s get one thing out of the way first: no one can tell you if you’re ready to be a full-time photographer except for you. However, the point I want to get across to you is that you CAN make it happen if you are willing to put in the work, accept failures with renewed vigor and never give up if it’s something you truly want to accomplish.

I’ll also let you in on another secret: photographers today seldom “make it” solely on income from their photographs alone, although some do. Many lead photography workshops and teach courses, sell books, produce editing presets and otherwise diversify themselves in many creative ways to keep the ball rolling. Sure, carving out a career in photography today is more competitive than ever.

The key to overcoming the fear of not being able to survive is by realizing that being a skilled photographer is not enough. You need to be flexible, persistent and resourceful in creating different sources of income based on your love of photography.

Fear #3: “I don’t know how to do…”

Closely related to that nagging fear of your work not being on par with other photographers lies the dreaded idea that you don’t possess a particular photographic skill which you’re convinced you need to master to take your work to the next level. Whether it’s working with strobes or filters, posing people for portraits, working with particular post-processing software, or simply learning what all those buttons do on your new camera; we all feel a little outmatched at times by our own ignorance.

How to beat it:

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Luckily, of all the fears we’ve talked about, this one is the easiest to push past. It’s also the one which requires the highest level of tough love in order to overcome. Here goes…*clears throat*. The only thing standing in the way of you learning a new photographic technique or skill is you. Now, I know that’s a hard pill to swallow but stay with me. We live in a world today which offers arguably infinite knowledge right at our fingertips. The internet, eBooks, YouTube videos, online discussion groups, and photography courses have enabled us to learn virtually anything in the privacy of our homes.

Furthermore, the majority of this enormous wealth of knowledge is available for free!  There is virtually no excuse for us to be worried about not knowing how to do something. Knowledge truly is power.

Fear #4: The great unknown

If there’s one all-encompassing fear that eats at both new and established photographers, it is the fear of uncertainty. I remember back when Instagram changed its algorithm a couple of years ago. Many people, photographers and otherwise, suddenly realized that one of their primary sources of client exposure (and income) could be taken from them overnight. The fear crept in.

The same was true when YouTube reorganized it’s video monetization guidelines for creators causing widespread panic for those who depended on the outlet for a large slice of their work. I make and sell a large number of develop presets for Lightroom. When Adobe changed their file formats for develop presets a couple of years ago, there was a brief moment when I thought that all of the presets I had made thus far would no longer work with the new versions of Lightroom. Do you think that scared me? Absolutely it did. The harsh and inevitable reality of situations occurring which are wholly beyond our control can terrify us.

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How to beat it:

There are two ways we can deal with the fear of the unknown. The first is that we can curl up into a ball and hope that nothing negative happens. I don’t recommend that option. Alternatively, we can accept that there are always things that can happen to us that we don’t see coming which spark fear and apprehension in our hearts. For example, your camera battery may die just as the sun breaks over that mountain top. Alternatively, your lens may malfunction just as the bride and groom kiss, or three clients might cancel their engagement sessions in one month.

Moreover, Instagram could change the algorithm for the 100th time, and your connecting flight for that incredibly expensive photo workshop in Patagonia may get delayed. Any number of a trillion problems may arise at any given time. We can’t control everything, especially when it comes to photography. Whatever happens, the only weapons we have to combat the fear of the unknown is preparation and acceptance. Prepare yourself for as many scenarios as you can and then just let go. “Be the ball” as Ty Webb might say. If you continuously operate under the notion that the future holds nothing but bad things not only will your photography suffer but so will you.

Pushing Past the Fear

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. As photographers, we base much of our learning on experience and experimentation. Trial and error is often our best teacher. We grow and evolve in our work as much through failure as we do by our success. The idea that there can be a day when you walk out with your camera without a doubt in your mind and feeling completely free of any degrees of photographic angst may likely never happen. You gain confidence through constant practice. You make gains, take losses and learn new skills by making mistakes. At times the future may hold much uncertainty, but being able to push past your fears is the key to reaching your potential in photography.

The hope I had five years ago when I wrote the first article on overcoming fear in photography is the same hope I carry now. I hope you now know that whatever fear you might be facing with your photography is likely shared by others. Moreover, it is entirely beatable. Push past your fears and allow yourself to be the photographer you know you can be.


The post How to Push Past Fear in Photography: A Retrospect appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

The Basics of Simulating Vintage Film in Lightroom

The post The Basics of Simulating Vintage Film in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Like all forms of art, photography can be a complex and contradictory medium. It’s straightforward yet complicated; personal but at the same time wholly based in exhibitionism. In recent years perhaps the weirdest and paradoxical event to happen in the world of photography is the idea of simulating film photographs with our digital photography. Think about it for a second or two. We’ve moved (for the majority) from using physical photographic film to digital sensors, and still, we are searching for the feel and aesthetic quality of the very process we left behind.

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A digital photo split toned for yellow in the shadows and blue in the highlights. Faded and then finally grain added to approximately simulate ISO 800 film.

We’ll leave the discussion of the currently popular “analog renaissance” for another day. For now, let’s talk about how you can go about simulating the look of a photographic film. More specifically, creating vintage or expired film looks using Adobe Lightroom. Adobe has made a couple of big updates to Lightroom lately that make working towards that “vintage film look” more effective and easier than ever before! Simulating the look of any film consists of four core dimensions: color, contrast, and grain. Before we get into the “how” of simulating film in Lightroom, let’s first briefly talk about some of the confusion surrounding film photography in general.

Film photography is full of variables

There’s a misconception that the look of film is set in stone; meaning that “XXX type of film always looks like this and XXXX type of film always looks like this.” Nothing could be further from the truth! There are all kinds of factors which play a roll (film humor) in how the final negative or print appears to the viewer.


A Nikon F3 35mm film camera. Shot with a digital camera…made to look like a vintage film. Ironic.

The age of the film, how it was stored, type and temperature of chemicals used in development, the duration of development, even how we agitate the chemicals around the film all play a major part in how the finished film appears. Also, when it comes to the final print, there are even more variables that can affect the look of the picture. The reason I’m saying all of this is to make sure you understand that simulating the look of vintage films has just as much to do with your creativity as it does with understanding the basics of how film works. There is no explicit right or wrong! So relax and let’s get to work learning how to simulate the look of vintage film in Lightroom.


Color is the most effective part of the simulation process and there are many routes we can take to manipulate the colors of our vintage film simulations. The “vintage look” comes about literally by the progression of time. As the light-sensitive emulsion of the film degrades, it produces all sorts of funky color tones and nuances. To simulate this effect of color aging, we will use the tried and true Split Toning Panel and also one of the biggest and newest features to come along for Lightroom: Creative Profiles.

Split Toning

Don’t worry, split toning can look a little intimidating but it’s really not! Split toning is just a way for us to add in specific color tones to the shadows and highlights within our photo.


To change the color tone of the highlights move the highlights color slider to the color tone you like or select it from the color palette.


You can also change the saturation of the highlight colors by using the saturation slider. The same goes for the color toning of the shadows as well.

The balance slider is just a way for us to control the bias of the split toning to favor either the highlights or the shadows. Moving the balance slider towards the left makes the shadow toning more prominent while sliding it to the right makes the highlight color stand out. There are limitless combinations of colors and saturation balances so feel free to experiment. Just remember that using complementary colors for the shadows and highlights (blue and orange, yellow and violet) are always a good choice when it comes to split toning. Also, color changes in an expired film are usually quite subtle so keep that in mind as well as your tone.

Creative Profiles

One of the coolest and most versatile new features to come along for Lightroom recently is the introduction of “Creative Profiles.” Profiles have long been a part of Lightroom, but now we have the option to apply our own custom profiles that we’ve either bought or made ourselves. To learn more about the full power of Adobe’s Creative Profiles check out another one of my articles here. For our purposes, Creative Profiles allow us to introduce color grading to our vintage film simulations.


The great things about creative profiles are that they apply themselves without disrupting any of your development settings. What’s more, you can dial in the strength of the profile using the density slider. Being able to use controllable color grading with creative profiles not only opens up a whole new world when it comes to simulating vintage film but in all areas of your post-processing workflow.


Unlike color, simulating the contrast of vintage film in Lightroom is more or less a straightforward idea. Generally, as the emulsion of a photographic film ages its contrast usually decreases. This is due to the breakdown of the light sensitivity of the film.

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A 4×5 large format negative

The amount of contrast lost depends on a number of things such as the age of the film, the way it was stored, and the actual type of the film itself. The take away from this is that a good guideline for vintage film simulations is to essentially “fade” the image by decreasing its contrast. You can achieve this in a few ways. The most simple being to use the contrast slider to lessen the contrast. However, there’s a more precise and arguably more appealing way to fade the photo; by using the tone curve.


To decrease the contrast and ultimately simulate the fading of an image all we need to do is take the control point at the bottom left of the tone curve and move it directly upwards. This controls the luminance values of the darks in the photo and makes those areas appear lighter which in turn makes them less contrasted. In most cases, you’ll want to add at least one more control point to the right of the one you’re adjusting and pull the rest of the tone curve back down. Of course, this is completely subjective. Feel free to add other control points and play around with the tone curve to really control the way your fades appear within your photo. Remember, there is no correct amount of fading so experiment as much as you like!



The final facet of our vintage film simulation routine is to add in and control simulated grain to our photos. Not to be confused with digital noise, film grain is a direct result of the visibility of the individual silver crystals present in the films light-sensitive emulsion. The more/larger the crystals which present in the emulsion, the more sensitive the film to light and the higher it’s ISO rating. While the overall appearance of grain depends on a vast array of variables, a general rule is that the higher the ISO of the film the more pronounced the film grain becomes. So if you are attempting to make your simulations appear as a highly light-sensitive film such as ISO 1200 or ISO 3200, the more grain needs to be added to your simulations. If you are shooting for a lower ISO film for your vintage film simulation, say an ISO 80 or ISO 100 speed, you add less grain or even none at all. Here’s an image from a medium speed expired 35mm film, Kodak Tri-X 400. It was developed at a higher temperature and agitated quite a bit to bring out more of the grain.


To control the presence of the grain we add in Lightroom we are presented with three sliders: amount, roughness and size.


When you think about each of these sliders, it’s easy to visualize how they affect your image if you imagine them as physically controlling characteristics of the light-sensitive silver crystals of the film’s emulsion. The Amount slider would add in more or less crystals. Roughness is how raised or bumpy those crystals appear. Lastly, the Size slider controls how large or small those crystals seem. I know…that might still be a little confusing. So I’ve made up a quick guide for adding in your grain and given a couple of common real-world 35mm film stocks as reference points:

  • ISO 50-100(Kodak Ektar 100, Ilford FP4 Plus, Fujichrome Velvia 50)
    Amount: 15
    Size: 10
    Roughness: 10
  • ISO 200-400(Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford HP5 Plus)
    Amount: 30
    Size: 10
    Roughness: 10
  • ISO 800-1600(Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 800, Fujifilm Superia 1600, Kodak Portra 800)
    Amount: 45
    Size: 40
    Roughness: 15
  • ISO 3200 and above(Kodak T-Max P3200, Ilford Delta 3200)
    Amount: 60
    Size: 40
    Roughness: 45

Lightroom automatically sets the “size” and “roughness” sliders to 25 and 50 respectively. If you add ANY amount of grain to your photo remember that those defaults are set out of the gate. Also, something to keep in mind, the amount of grain added largely depends on the original digital ISO of your photo. The values listed above are merely baseline approximations.

Vintage film simulations: Why?

Even as we steep in the digital waters of today’s modern photography world, I still have a love and lust for shooting film. Film, especially expired and vintage film, carries an aesthetic that goes beyond digitized image files of “1’s” and “0’s”. Speaking just for myself, the majority of my professional work consists of digital photography – not film. To that end, I’m sure that some of you are still thinking, “If you want the look of film, just shoot film.” Yes, I understand that even at its most basic applications, film photography isn’t for everyone. That’s why being able to approximate the looks of so many different types of film in Lightroom is such a wonderfully paradoxical thing. We can still enjoy the accessibility and convenience of digital photography without wholly sacrificing the “feel” of film. What’s more is that thanks to the recent advances of color profiles in Lightroom, we can now blend and mix our settings until we reach that perfect imperfectness which captures the organic unpredictability of vintage film. Which, when you think about it, should grant each of us the realization of how extremely fortunate we are to be living in such a cool time to be photographers.

Test out the ideas in this article and try some vintage film simulations of your own. Be sure to post your results in the comments. We’d love to see them!


You may also find these articles on vintage techniques helpful:

How to Add a Toy Camera Effect to Your Digital Images Using Photoshop

How to Mimic a Digital Cyanotype Using Photoshop with Ease

How to Create a Lithography Effect Using Photoshop

How To Mimic a Cross-Processing Effect in Photoshop

How to Mimic Lomography in Photoshop with Ease

The post The Basics of Simulating Vintage Film in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Lessons from the Masters: Morley Baer

The post Lessons from the Masters: Morley Baer appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Portrait of Morley Baer

Each time I find myself cruising down Highway 1 in California between Big Sur and San Francisco, the urge to make photographs instantly strikes me. It’s an easy feeling to encounter. The rocky beaches and rolling hills tend to beg for a lens. Accompanying this sense of photographic wanderlust is a recognition of walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest American photographers that the twentieth century ever produced. Names like Weston, Adams, and Cunningham all seem to linger in this area of the country. However, there’s another name connected to the deep photographic past of the west coast that you might not know quite so well but should: Morley Baer. In this installment of “Lessons from the Masters,” we’re going to take a closer look at the prolific work of Morley Baer and learn some valuable lessons about how he went about the business of photography that you can use to improve your images.

Morley Baer

Morley Baer came into this world on April 5th, 1916 in Toledo, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a BA in English and an MA in Theatre Arts, he briefly worked in advertising in Chicago until fate pressed him into his life’s work. After seeing an exhibition of Edward Weston’s work, Baer became captivated by the medium of photography. He left his position with the advertising firm he worked to educate himself in the art of photography. After working in commercial photography briefly, he soon made the journey to Carmel, California to track down Edward Weston.

After serving in the Navy as war photographer from 1941 to 1946, Morley and his now wife Frances (also an artist and photographer) embarked on a decades-long exploration into photography in and around the Bay Area of California until finally settling in their home/studio near Garrapata Beach. Baer became one of the most desirable architectural photographers of his time. His landscape and seascape works are also still widely regarded as some of the finest photographic representations of the west coast of California ever to be recorded on film.

Here are some, but certainly not all, of the lessons you can’t learn from Morley Baer.

Total proficiency with the tools you use

For the main body of his landscape and architectural studies, Baer used one camera and one camera only; the Ansco 8x10S view camera. In our modern day photography jungle, we are constantly harangued by the marketing mentality that if our cameras are not the newest, then they are somehow lacking. Of course, that’s just an opinion.

In any case, Morley was an expert operator of his Ansco to the point when it became almost an appendage and an extension of his physicality. Similar in practice to Ed Weston, the fact that Baer became so monogamous with his singular 8×10 view camera speaks volumes to us today.

Portrait of Morley Baer and his Ansco by David Fullagar

Whatever your camera or tools, make yourself so familiar with their functions that you can control them without hesitation. The adage “the best camera is the one you have with you” is not enough. We must strive to become absolute masters of the tools we use to make our photographs. The tool is secondary to the ability of the user. No matter what gear you happen to be using it is essential that you understand how to use it and use it well.

Find what works best for you

Not only was Baer’s proficiency of his 8×10 camera finely tuned in, but he was also quite fixed in the way he presented his photographs. Morley was a darkroom master printer, and he virtually always printed his photographs using the contact method and seldom used an enlarger. This meant the negative was exposed directly in contact with the paper resulting in an image the same size as the negative. Contact printing remains one of the most simple and pure forms of printing even today. Regardless of its merits or limitations, this was the vehicle Baer found worked best for him and his creative expression.

By Morley Baer

While we should all continue to learn and grow with our photography, there must also be a conscious recognition of the methods and techniques that tend to produce the best results time and time again. Hone in on the processes that allow you to reach your fullest potential and pay no mind to whether or not they are popular or follow certain “rules.” When it comes to photography the so-called “rules” are there to guide us, not limit our flight.

Healthy competition can help you grow

Every so often I get an email or a Facebook message from someone asking whether or not they should enter a particular photography contest. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the idea of grading one photograph against another. This is because I feel it causes us to miss the purpose of photography altogether. At the same time, a photograph is a visual medium, and as photographers possess an inescapably inherent narcissism; we want our work seen by others.

By Adam Welch

I mentioned earlier that Baer’s wife, Frances, was also a camera jockey. Not only did she make photographs herself, but she was also remarkably accomplished in her own right to the point where Morley and Frances were essentially domestic competitors with their photography. There is a famous tale of them reaching an agreement for rights to photograph scenes when they were on road trips. The agreement they reached thereby declared that everything on the left side of the road belonged to the driver while everything on the right belonged to the passenger.

It’s important for us to reach a certain level of catharsis with our photography so that we produce work that is representative of our vision. At the same time, healthy (and I do stress the “healthy” part) competition with other photographers not only keeps our creative juices flowing but also serves to engage us with our fellow shooters. We learn and better ourselves through interaction with the work we love and respect. With the correct perspective, competition with our peers promotes dynamic artistic growth.

Parting words on Morley Baer

As with all esteemed photographers, seeing the work in person brings about a level of appreciation that cannot be obtained by merely viewing a photograph on a computer screen. I’ve recently been fortunate enough to visit select galleries in and around the areas where Morley Baer lived and operated. As usual, it’s easy to look and see the beauty of Baer’s photographs, but as perpetual students of photography, we should always seek to find what we can learn from those whose work we admire.

The lessons listed here are just a few to glean from Morley. Digest them and put them into practice with your own work. However, don’t stop there. Learn all you can, when you can and where you can. Never stop exploring the incredible world of photography.


You may also find the following articles interesting:

Lessons you can learn from master photographers – Minor White, Ansel Adams, and Syl Arena

More Lessons from the Masters of Photography: Edward Weston

Lessons from the Masters: Robert Capa and Jerry Uelsmann

More Lessons from the Photography Masters: David Burnett and Vivian Maier

Cartier-Bresson and Stieglitz – Study the Masters of Photography to Become a Better Photographer

Masters of Photography: Bruce Davidson, Master of the Subway

The post Lessons from the Masters: Morley Baer appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Create Powerful Black and White Photos with the Photoshop Gradient Map

The post Create Powerful Black and White Photos with the Photoshop Gradient Map appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

In this article, you will learn how to use the Photoshop Gradient Map tool to transform your “meh” color images into incredible black and whites that go “WOW.”

When you think about it, a black and white photograph doesn’t make sense. No, really. At it’s most basic level, black and white photography presents us with a version of our world that we know is not accurate. The colors we normally see get shown to us in values of white, black and gray. We know a black and white photo isn’t true-to-life and yet a strong black and white photograph can transcend the sum of its parts. It can transport us to visual spaces which provoke emotions that even the brightest color photograph cannot achieve.

Even though a black and white picture is called “black and white” seldom are they merely tones of gray. A strong black and white image often present subtle color tones in the shadows, highlights, mid-tones or sometimes all three. Moreover, when it comes to concocting a black and white photo from a digital color image file, the way in which you approach your conversions can make or break the entire photograph.

However, not all methods are created equal. I’m about to show you one of the best ways I know to effectively convert and tone a photo to black and white. We’ll do this using a quiet little tool in Photoshop called the Gradient Map. When it comes to taking a digital black and white photograph from “meh” to “WOW” the Photoshop Gradient Map will be your best friend.

What is the Gradient Map?

The Photoshop Gradient Map is essentially just what it sounds like; a way for you to map out and control the color tones of different luminance values within your photo.

Toning with the gradient map can be shockingly simple (as with this lesson) or as delightfully complex as you choose to make your adjustments. Ok, enough talk, let’s get started. Let’s take a RAW color photo and begin the process of converting it to black and white, followed by toning it with the gradient map in Photoshop.

Begin with basics

To begin, I highly recommend you use a RAW image file. Doing so offers you the greatest amount of wiggle room to adjust the values within the photo after you convert it to black and white.

I’ve started with a photo opened in Lightroom to complete some basic edits. However, you can complete the entire process right inside of Photoshop. Preferably, converting the image to black and white and toning with the gradient map should be one of the last steps in the process. Of course, editing can take on a life of its own, so don’t hesitate to dynamically adjust your photo at any stage. Here we have the RAW file after some core edits in Lightroom.

You may be asking “why not just convert to black and white right now?” I don’t recommend converting the photograph to black and white before opening it in Photoshop. The reason for this is because it completely robs you of the vital color information that allows adjustments of the individual color luminance values.

Next, I’ll kick the image over to Photoshop….

Now the real fun begins! Come on…it really is fun.

Conversion and Toning with the Gradient Map

After you open your image in Photoshop, convert it to black and white. To achieve this, add a black and white adjustment layer.

Although it’s not necessary to do so, feel free to name this layer something specific. At this point, you can adjust the individual color luminance values to your liking. See, I told you there was a reason to hold off on converting until this step.

Now that you have a nicely converted black and white photograph you can jump into the toning process by adding a Gradient Map adjustment layer. Click on the Gradient Map icon just as we did with the black and white adjustment layer.

Doesn’t that look magical!


There are a couple of things we need to do after we select the Gradient Map. Depending on your default Photoshop settings, your view could appear slightly different than mine. Don’t worry, though, the steps are the same.

To select your gradient, click on the gradient drop down:

Then click the Settings Wheel to open up your toning options and make sure that Photographic Toning is selected.

You’ll be prompted to confirm you want to change to a new gradient. Click OK because you absolutely do.

Each of those little boxes represents a color gradient scheme you can select to tone your image. Think of these as gradient presets. For this photo, I’m going with an old favorite of mine, Platinum.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and find the flavor that you like for your photo. Remember, everything here is non-destructive so simply click the “undo” button at the bottom of the gradient map window to start over.

At this point, we are nearly finished with the bulk of our toning using the gradient map! Yes, it is that easy. However, before we go, I want to show you how to customize the gradient should you choose to do so. A gradient map adds color across the tonal values of your image. You can control just how it applies this by clicking the gradient (and even create new ones). Doing so opens up the gradient adjustment panel.

From this panel, we can adjust the individual values of the gradient to change color density and contrast. There are limitless combinations and color schemes available. So again, allow yourself to tinker, tweak, test and otherwise go completely wild with your gradients to see how they affect your photo. I’m not joking; the possibilities are endless. Didn’t I tell you this was fun?

Last but not least, you can also adjust the layer blend mode and opacity of the gradient layer in the Layers Panel. Play with the percentage levels until you get the effect right.

Now you can further adjust your photo right here in Photoshop, or back in Lightroom. Or, if you are finished, you can save and export.

Final thoughts on Gradient Maps and Black and White

With just a few simple layers in Photoshop, we went from this…

to this…

to finally this…

Black and white photos are more than…well, just black and white. Think of some of your favorite black and white images. Are they merely two colors or are they something more? Whether it be film or digital, most “black and white” images that move us possess color tones that create a sense of mode or aesthetic comfort that touches us on a creative and emotional level. Using the Photoshop Gradient Map to tone your black and white photos is one of the easiest and most effective ways to create advanced black and white’s that stand out. Once you begin making use of the Photoshop Gradient Map, you may wonder how you ever managed without it in the first place!

Do you use the Photoshop Gradient Map? Share with us some of your images below.


The post Create Powerful Black and White Photos with the Photoshop Gradient Map appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Gear Review – Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

The post Gear Review – Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Not too many years ago, in a sad and dark time, there weren’t many ways for us adventurous types to branch out in ways we used our photography gear. Namely, our camera lenses weren’t easily usable across platforms. It was possible, but adapters and converters weren’t plentiful or easy to find.

1 - Gear Review - Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

Today, mirrorless, full-frame, and crop-sensor cameras are essentially pairable with many lenses. Adapters for these lenses are relatively easy to find too. So much so, that there is an over-saturation of the lens conversion market making most lens mount adapters affordable for any budget.

Unfortunately, not all lens adapters are created equal. So when Fikaz, a company I had never heard of, approached me to test out some of their new Sony E-Mount (NEX) adapters, I was open-minded but still cautious of yet another lens adapter-maker.

Luckily, all of my reservations about the Fikaz Sony E-Mount lens adapters were unfounded. As it turns out, the two adapters I received were pleasantly high-quality pieces of kit. Let me explain to you what I thought about these nifty little adapters from one of the newest kids on the lens converter block.

As I said, the lens adapter world is a hot commodity right now and being able to use your lenses (especially manual vintage lenses) is currently in vogue. The two adapters I evaluated were the Nikon F (G) to Sony E-Mount and M42 to Sony E-Mount. Both adapters were high quality in both aesthetics and their build.

Nikon F (G) Adapter

Until their recent leap into the full-frame mirrorless realm, and since the late 1950s, all of Nikon’s lens mounts have been variations of the “F” mount. So technically, virtually all Nikon lenses should be compatible with a Nikon F-mount adapter.

The caveat is that later “G” series lenses (read as modern) don’t sport a physical aperture ring on the lens itself. This missing aperture ring means that while the lens is physically shootable with most F-mount lens adapters, there is nowhere for the photographer to change the aperture. A dedicated G-mount adapter comes in handy because the shooter can use the aperture ring on the adapter to physically control the amount of light entering the camera via the lens.

2 - Gear Review - Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

The Nikon F (G) adapter is solidly built and feels extremely substantial in the hand. The aperture controller ring is a nicely contrasting silver against the black frame of the adapter.

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4 - Gear Review - Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

The Nikon F (G) adapter was tested using my relatively ancient Nikkor 70-300mm F/4-5.6 lens. Both the lens and camera sides of the adapter fit extremely snug…but not too snug…to the lens bayonet and the camera mount. Absolutely no play or movement was observed.

5 - Gear Review - Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

A well placed and crisply-springy release slider is also present on the adapter which is, again, in the visually pleasing contrasting silver tone. Fikaz has also included a highly visible red bead for easy mating of both the lens and camera with the adapter.

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From what I would approximate, the aperture ring, or rather more accurately, the “aperture approximator” ring works in full stop increments with six stops of adjustment. Basing my lens at 70mm and F/4, the apertures provided from the adapter should be approximately F/4, F/5.6, F/8, and so on. The adapter has a visual representation to aid you in selecting aperture size.

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Aperture control using the Fikaz Nikon F (G) to Sony E-mount adapter

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Aperture control using the Fikaz Nikon F (G) to Sony E-mount adapter


M42 Adapter

I had intended to test the Fikaz M42 to Sony E-mount adapter using a fan-favorite lens, the Helios 44-2. Unfortunately, I realized far too late that my Helios was not in my bag. Seeing as I’m currently 3,000 miles from my test lens, this portion of the review shows my impressions of the build and appearance of the M42 adapter only. Which I must say, is extremely impressive for its price tag.

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The M42 adapter from Fikaz is incredibly Spartan in its appearance. The majority of the converter is mostly flat black with accenting bare aluminum areas which cut an understated yet classical form. Like the Nikon adapter, the markings are well executed and quite clean. The threads on the M42 side are very uniform and smooth with no burrs or metal shavings present.

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This same level of craftsmanship also holds through for the Sony bayonet end of the adapter which shows no flaws in the cutting or finish of the mount. The perimeter of the M42 adapter sports deep cut serrations offering a superb grip even with gloved hands.

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Final Thoughts on the Fikaz Sony E-mount Adapters for Nikon F(G) and M42

In the grand scope of things, both the construction quality and thoughtfulness of design displayed with Fikaz’s first entries into the world of mirrorless adapters impressed me. Hopefully, both the build and looks of the adapters hint at great things to come too.

The Nikon F (G) adapter worked extremely well to allow a large measure of aperture control with newer Nikon lenses and mated perfectly to my 70-300mm test lens. However, I wasn’t able to test the M42 mount with a lens, the build and precision left little doubt that it would also perform well.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind about the M42 (and any other non-AF adapters). Essentially, all that is needed is a mount conversion. There is no real need for the relatively large size of the adapter which can affect infinity focus. While the M42 adapter has an excellent build, it may be beneficial to search for a slimmer “ring” adapter if you are worried about focusing issues.

On that note, the Fikaz adapters both feature black paint on their interior but no flocking to eliminate possible reflections. This shouldn’t be a problem, but maybe a concern for those seeking complete security for lengthy exposures.

Currently, the Fikaz Sony E-mount adapters are available for the following lens mounts: Nikon F (G), M42, Pentax K, and Fuji X mount. I have been informed that Canon EF mount will be available in the future. At the time this review, these adapters have a selling price of around US$24, making them a bargain. There are plenty of choices for lens adapters and converters today. Some are high quality and others, well, not so much.

I feel as if Fikaz can now join the ranks of some of the better budget adapters currently on the market. A bonus for those who are looking at a cost-effective way to use their lenses across a wide range of camera systems.

The post Gear Review – Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review – Better than the Mavic Pro?

The post Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review – Better than the Mavic Pro? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

1 - Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review - Better than the Mavic Pro?

Slowly but surely I’ve begun to set my sights higher when it comes to my photography. Literally. I got my first real taste of aerial photography/videography a few months ago when I used the DJI Mavic Pro drone for the first time. A whole new world opened up with a brilliant “aha” moment when I realized that a bird’s eye perspective can lend itself to an incredible expansion of creative ideas.

So when the good folks at DJI asked me to have a go at their Mavic Air drone…it was difficult to say no.

Being primarily a landscape and wilderness photographer, the super-small size of the Mavic Air made it immediately appealing, as did the fact that the imaging performance was rumored to be on par with that of its larger cousin, the Mavic Pro and Mavic 2 Pro.

Sit back, relax, and let’s have a look at the incredibly capable, incredibly small Mavic Air drone from DJI.

Out of the box

Opening up the package for the DJI Mavic Air Drone proved to be an exercise true to the drone’s namesake. The Air is surprisingly small and most of all, lightweight. I was honestly taken aback at just how minute of a profile the aircraft presented; easily fitting in the palm of my hand.

2 - Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review - Better than the Mavic Pro?

In fact, the AIR isn’t much larger than the provided radio controller.

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Visually, the drone is beautiful. My test model came in “Alpine White” color but red and black flavors are also available.

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The Mavic Air is simply a great looking drone in this color scheme. Of course, form should always follow function.

Here’s a list of the key aircraft specifications for the Mavic Air:

  • Folded Dimensions(L×W×H): 6.6″x 3.3″x1.9″(168×83×49mm)
  • UnfoldedmDimensions(L×W×H): 6.6″x 7.2″x 2.5″(168×184×64mm)
  • Flight Vision Senors: Downward, Forward, Backward
  • Controllable Gimbal Range: Tilt: -90° to 0° (default setting),-90° to +17° (extended)

Build quality

Even though the Mavic AIR is admittedly small, the build quality is extremely sturdy. The drone does not feel flimsy at all. Throughout my tests and a couple of crashes (sorry DJI), this little drone sustained little more than a few scrapes and scratches.

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6 - Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review - Better than the Mavic Pro?

In terms of build quality, the Mavic Air feels less substantial than it’s big brother, the Mavic Pro (and 2 Pro). The overall quality is apparent. I would not worry about the Mavic Air being capable of surviving extended (and turbulent) fly time.

Flight performance and handling

If you’re like me, anything that has a “Sport Mode” function makes you extremely excited. More on that fun little feature in just minute, but first let’s discuss how the Mavic Air handles…well…in the air.

The DJI Mavic Air Drone has a maximum horizontal flight speed of 17.9mph (28.8kph) which is just a tad slower than the DJI’s new Mavic 2 Pro, which clocks a blistering 44.7mph (72kph) and is even more sluggish than the 31mph (50kph) speed of the DJI Spark. These numbers, however, are slightly deceptive as the relatively sloth-like horizontal speeds of the Air are all in “P-Mode”, which could be considered the mode best for general flight.

Where the Mavic Air really earns it’s wings (haha drone humor) is when it’s Sport Mode is engaged. This kicks the Mavic Air’s top horizontal speed up to a hearty 42.5mph (68.4kph). Here’s a quick video of the Mavic Air in Sport Mode. To be honest, the acceleration when in Sport Mode would make the Millennium Falcon a little bit jealous.

I absolutely love the Sport Mode of the Air because it allowed me to use P-Mode for the majority of my flying time to conserve battery life. At the same time, I knew that I could really stomp the gas to fly into or out of trouble extremely quickly.

Overall, the handling of the Air was responsive and accurate during radio control although not as snappy as the Mavic Pro.

Speaking of radio control, I want to take a moment to give the remote control of the Mavic Air a little bit of love. Not only does the controller feel great both with and without my mobile device mounted but it also features removal joysticks. This makes the controller even more packable.

A small feature but one that speaks volumes to the amount of thought DJI put into making the Mavic Air truly user-friendly.

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8 - Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review - Better than the Mavic Pro?

The ascent speed of 9.84fts (3ms) was actually more comfortable and controllable for my personal tastes when compared to the meteoric 16.4fts (5ms) of the Mavic Pro.

Here are a few more important performance specifications for the Mavic Air:

  • Maximum Descent Speed: 6.56 ft/s / 2 m/s
  • Maximum Wind Resistance: 23.61 mph / 38 km/h
  • Flight Ceiling: 16,404′ / 5000 m
  • Maximum Flight Time: 21 Minutes
  • Maximum Hover Time: 20 Minutes

Camera performance

The proof is in the pudding as they say and the Mavic Air produced some beautiful video and stills with its 12MP camera. Some useful specs of the Mavic Air camera are as follows (provided by DJI):

  • Sensor: 1/2.3” CMOS
  • Lens FOV: 85°
  • 35 mm Format Equivalent: 24 mm
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Shooting Range: 0.5m to infinity
  • ISO Range Video: 100 – 3200 (auto),100 – 3200 (manual)
  • Photo ISO Range: 100 – 1600 (auto),100 – 3200 (manual)
  • Shutter Speed Electronic Shutter: 8 – 1/8000s
  • Still Image Size: 4:3(4056×3040),16:9:(4056×2280)
  • Burst shooting: 3/5/7 frames
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3/5 bracketed frames at 0.7EV Bias


  • Video Resolution 4K Ultra HD: 3840×2160 24/25/30p
  • 2.7K: 2720×1530 24/25/30/48/50/60p
  • FHD: 1920×1080 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p
  • HD: 1280×720 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p
  • Max Video Bitrate 100Mbps
  • Supported File System FAT32
  • Photo Format JPEG/DNG (RAW)
  • Video Format MP4/MOV (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC)

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10 - Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review - Better than the Mavic Pro?

Here’s a quick video short made using the Mavic Air. Shot in 1080P at 30fps:

Another extremely convenient feature that bears mentioning about the Mavic Air is the inclusion of an 8GB internal “last ditch” memory storage. This bit of built-in memory is an incredibly practical way to ensure that you aren’t completely immobilized by either a forgotten or full memory card. During one of my flights, I managed to fill up my micro SD card, and the 8GB of internal storage really saved the day. Especially if it had been crucial that I finished shooting the scene at the time.

Final thoughts on the DJI Mavic Air

How to best characterize the Mavic Air?

I will admit that before I received the Air I was under the impression that it was going to be a step down from the Mavic Pro I had tested previously.

This is simply not the case.

In fact, I can confidently say that I prefer the Mavic Air to the Mavic Pro based on my testing.

The Mavic Air is extremely compact while still packing in the imaging power of it’s larger cousins. It looks great and can hold its own while in flight.

And that Sport Mode….sheesh.

If you’re looking for an extremely portable yet powerful drone for your aerial photography and videography needs that won’t break the bank, I strongly suggest you have a look at the DJI Mavic Air Drone. It seems great things truly can come in small packages.

Have you used the DJI Mavic Air Drone? If so, share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

The post Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review – Better than the Mavic Pro? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

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