Visual Flow – How to Get the Most out of Composition

In photography terms, composition can make the difference between a good image and a fantastic one. Yes, you need all the other components; the light has to be dramatic, the subject compelling, and the colours vibrant. All of these will add to the final result. If you have all that, but your composition is not great, the image will fall flat.

Jay Maisel has a quote that goes like this, “As the photographer, you are responsible for every inch of the frame”. This is true, and one of Jay’s other mantras is that he prefers to speak about framing and not cropping. His view is that framing is done at the time of making the image. Cropping is done afterward in post-production. He maintains that cropping changes the original intent of the image. If you frame an image in a particular way and then crop it afterward, it really is a different image.


Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Frame your scene correctly in camera

I don’t think Jay is saying that you shouldn’t crop, but rather that you need to compose with intent and purpose, not simply hope for the best and try and “fix” the image later by cropping. Good composition can really be impactful on your image. Changing your composition is free. You don’t need any special equipment or lenses. There’s no need to wait for a specific type of light. You can shoot at any time of day. Composition is the one thing in photography that is easiest to fix, yet it is most often overlooked.

There are many articles on DPS and other sites about composition and the best techniques for improving composition, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel. What I want to talk about here is visual flow. This is more about the visual journey you are taking your viewer on than the destination. In this article, we aren’t going to discuss the rule of thirds and powerpoints, but we will discuss how framing, removing distractions, and how light, shape, and texture will all contribute to your composition.

We will look at how someone’s eye will travel through your image. You want the viewers of our images to look at them longer, to find them interesting and to be captivated and inspired by what they see.

Framing not cropping

As the photographer, you need to take responsibility for everything in the frame. That means, you decide what will be in the shot and sometimes more importantly, what will NOT be in the shot. Your subject needs to be in the frame obviously, but what else absolutely needs to be included? Ask yourself if all the elements in the frame are adding to the narrative or story you are trying to tell. If not, get rid of what is not working.

In this case, less is definitely more (and usually better). Be aware of visual clutter in the frame, objects that are distracting or drawing the viewer’s full attention away from the subject. This is really tough to get right and it takes time and practice. But once you become aware of this and work hard on fixing it, it will become much easier.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Focus on your subject

Remove distractions

This sounds obvious but is not always easy. There are many things that can cause your viewer to be distracted when they look at your image. Any words in your photograph will automatically draw they eye. Signposts, graffiti, street signs…anything with words or letters will cause the viewer to look at that part of the image. If the wording is not the reason for the image, then try and remove that item from the frame as it may be distracting.

Color can cause the eye to wander. If your scene is full of color, that’s great, but if it is largely monochromatic and there is only one color in the frame, that color will become the focal point. Warm colors like yellow or red will very quickly pull the eye across to them, so be aware of the colors in your image.

The human form will also draw the eye. Again, if the person in the frame is a key part of the image, that’s great, leave them in the shot. But if not, then wait until they leave the scene or reframe the scene without them. As humans, we tend to find the human form in an image very quickly and this will become the main focus of the image.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Be aware of distractions, words, powerlines etc

Using light, shape and texture

These three elements (there are more) will greatly help you in your visual flow.

Light is key to making any image. Without light, we cannot do photography. Light also informs so much in your image. You can use side light to emphasize texture in your image. You can use front light to create a silhouette, which will emphasise shape. These three elements are important tools in making sure your image compels people to look at it.

Shapes in your image add a dynamic feel. Get in close and emphasize the shape of an object. If it has a curve, make that curve fill the frame. Shapes can make a great subject too. They are all around you too, you just have to start looking.

Texture is a great way to emphasize your subject. To get great texture images, your light needs to come from the side. Side light enhances texture and each granular detail can be seen if the light is right. Texture will make your images seem three dimensional. Using texture is a great way to communicate more information about your subject.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Use side light to emphasize texture.

Get in close

To make sure that you get the most out of the scene, you can do a few things. First, move in closer and fill the frame with your subject. This is especially useful if you are doing abstract or creative images. If you are not going to fill the frame, then decide where to put your subject. Yes, you can use the rule of thirds for this (this would be my last choice), but you can also use the Fibonacci Spiral (Golden Ratio) or any number of other compositional techniques.

The most important part of an effective composition is to make sure that your viewer knows what they are supposed to look at in your image. If your subject (the reason for the image) is unclear, your image will have little impact. You have likely seen this happen. You show someone photos from your last trip and they simply glance at them in passing. Then suddenly, something catches their attention in a particular image and they stop and look intently at the scene. That’s when you know your image has hit the mark.

As I said earlier, all the elements need to come together to make a great image, but if you have good light, great exposure and bad composition, chances are, people will just flip past the image.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Fill the viewfinder with your subject.


So, how else can you improve your composition? It is deceptively simple but easily overlooked. Some of the things I do is get inspiration from the top photographers in the genre I want to shoot. If it is street photography, then I am looking at Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jay Maisel, Ernst Haas, and others. If it is landscape photography, then I will be looking at Ansel Adams, Charlie Waite, and Koos van der Lende. I look at photographers who inspire me. I also make a point of visiting art galleries whenever I can.

Photography is not even 200 years old as an art form. Much of the techniques we use as photographers have been learned from the painters and artists of old. Spend time looking at the composition of master painters. Look at how they placed subjects in their scene. See how the light works in their paintings, is it hard light or soft light? Spend time taking note of how they used color and shapes in their images. Then, go out and apply that to your photographs. Over time you will begin to see your eye and your images improve.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Work hard at improving your compositional eye.

The post Visual Flow – How to Get the Most out of Composition by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Abstract Macro Photography – Using Texture and Light

Macro photography opens up a whole new world to those who are willing to get up close. There is no shortage of subject matter to photograph, but in this article we’ll look at the abstract world of texture and light.

Rusted paintwork of a Dodge Campervan

Rusted paintwork of a Dodge Campervan

The beauty about these subjects is that they can be shot anywhere; in your backyard, on your street, or in any part of your city. Textures are everywhere. They are really easy to find, and working with the light properly will help you to highlight the grittiness and tactile effect of textures. Ideally, a macro lens would be perfect to use for this type of photography, but a good 50mm or 85mm can work too. A macro lens gives you the bonus of being able to focus really close, normal lenses may not be able to get as close as you want.

My view is that even if you don’t have a macro lens, give this a try anyway, a new tiny world of wonder awaits you!

What is Abstract Macro Photography?

Abstract photography, in general, is about representing a subject in a non-literal way. The focus of abstract photography is more about colour, shape, and texture, as opposed to the literal representation of the subject. Abstract macro photography, takes this to the next level by enabling you to get even closer to your subject, and therefore also able to be more abstract in a sense. In this article, we are concerned with texture and showing that in our images.

The same guidelines around composition apply, you can use the rule of thirds, curves, and lines, to draw the viewer into your image. The difference is that the subject may not be immediately recognizable, your centre of interest might be a colour, or the curve of a flower. So for abstract macro photography, you will need to think a little differently.

Cracked paint on a car bumper

Cracked paint on a car bumper

What will I need to do abstract macro photography?

A macro lens will work best. A 50mm or 85mm lens will work pretty well too, you may not be able to get as close to your subject though, so be aware of that (or you can try close-up filters). You will need a tripod too, or some sort of support for your camera, as shooting macro images handheld is really difficult and can be frustrating.

What can I photograph?

Textures are all around you. Think of the rusted lamppost at the corner of your street, the peeling paint on the wall of the shed, or even the cracked paint on the bumper of a car. They are everywhere.

You need to spend time looking at all the surfaces around you, then take some test shots to see if they work. The key thing to be aware of when shooting textures is how the light is affecting the scene. Macro photography is like a micro landscape image. It has a foreground, middle-ground and background. There are colours, shapes, and of course textures in the image.

When you look at the texture, take some time to study where the light is coming from, and how it is affecting the image. Try a few different angles to see what works best in the scene. Using side light (i.e. light some from the left or the right) will accentuate the texture in your image. Side light will give your image a three dimensional quality, so try and get some directional light on your scene if possible.

Reflections from a security gate

Reflections from a security gate

Find your texture, and use this as a workflow

  • Work on building your composition – is there a particular part of the texture you want to emphasize, try and get some side light if possible?
  • Use manual focus to bring even a small part of your image into sharp focus, this sharp area will be the natural focal point for your viewer.
  • As an abstract image, you don’t need a subject as such, but the texture and the colours will be the reason for the image, so make sure the subject matter is interesting.
  • Check the histogram to make sure that you are exposing your scene correctly.
  • Capture the shot.
  • Try shooting the same subject from different angles, and maybe even with a different centre of interest.
  • Take as many images as possible, from different angles, with different focal points.

The beauty about this type of photography is that you have an infinite number of subjects. It is really easy to get going once you start looking around you, at what there is to photograph.

The beauty of cracked window putty

The beauty of cracked window putty

Have you tried abstract macro photography before? If not give it a go and share some of your images in the comments below. See if we can guess what you photographed.

The post Tips for Abstract Macro Photography – Using Texture and Light by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop to Make Your Landscape Images Pop

Photoshop is a wonderful tool if it is used correctly. Yes, there is a way to use it right. The basic idea is that if someone can see the adjustments you have made to your image, that’s not so good.

Think of Photoshop as your own personal darkroom. During the film era, some photographers had black and white darkrooms in their homes. That way, they could control the complete process of making the image. Very few had colour darkrooms, as that was far more complicated and costly. Nowadays, we have a fully functional colour darkroom loaded onto our computers (even our iPads), it’s called Photoshop or Lightroom (which is not named that by mistake, it is the opposite of darkroom). If you have Photoshop or Lightroom, you have a very powerful tool with which to edit your images.





Making your images POP!

What does it mean to make your images pop? It can mean a number of things, but mostly it means to have more colour, contrast, and look more dramatic. As always, it implies that you have a good image to start with. Trying to make an average image pop, is not what this is about. Make sure you start off with a good image out of camera, then go through these steps in order.

Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW is a good start. I know, you may not want to shoot in RAW because the file sizes are so big, or you don’t really see the benefits, but RAW really does make a difference. Firstly, you are working with a full uncompressed file of data. A JPEG image has already had adjustments make in camera to compress it to that file size. Some information has already been discarded, which means you are working with less image information, which in turn means you have less flexibility in the editing process. Of course, RAW is only useful if you are going to spend time editing your images in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Let’s assume that you are going to edit and you have shot in RAW, open your image up in Photoshop and you will see the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) Editor open. The ACR editor is a really powerful tool. The latest updates have made the ACR editor in Photoshop almost a separate image editing tool, it’s that powerful. As it opens, you will see a selection of tools on the right hand side, mostly sliders such as: White Balance, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation.

Camera Raw Editor in Photoshop CC

The camera raw editor has some very powerful adjustment tools. The next few steps will be done mostly in the RAW editor, then the image will be opened in Photoshop, and edited further. Many of these edits are very similar in the Lightroom Develop module, so you can make these same adjustments there as well.

The Camera Raw Editor in Adobe Photoshop CC

Close up of the basic RAW editor sliders

Making adjustments in the RAW editor

  • Temperature – Start off by taking a look at the colour in your scene. You can adjust the temperature to make the colour of the scene warmer (slide towards yellow) or cooler (slide towards blue). This can be used to correct a colour cast, or to add some drama to your image. In this scene, I chose to move toward the warmer side.
  • Exposure – Take a look at your exposure, the image might be a little dark, or maybe a little bright. Slide the exposure slider to adjust this.
  • Contrast – Adjust the contrast to make sure that the dark areas of the image are dark enough, but don’t lose details here.
  • Highlights – In this image, the red indicator in the highlights shows me where there is very little detail. To compensate for this, slide the highlights slider to the left. If your highlights are underexposed, slide this slider to the right, but be sure not to overexpose your highlights.
  • Shadows – The shadows slider can help you bring back details in the shadows or darken them a little. Be careful not to overdo this slider as your shadows may look noisy (or your image can take on an “HDR” look) if you push this too hard.
  • Whites – This slider adjusts any pixels in the image that are white or partially highlighted.
  • Blacks – This slider will adjust any pixels that are black.
  • Clarity – The clarity slider adjusts contrasts in the midtones. This can really add some structure to your image, but be careful not to overdo it.
  • Vibrance – This slider will adjust any pixels that are not saturated. This is a good place to start to add some subtle pop to your scene.
  • Saturation – This slider will adjust all pixels by saturating or desaturating them.

Basic adjustments in Camera RAW

HSL adjustments tab

This tab has three different tools under it, namely: Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL). These adjustments will make changes based on the colour channels in your image. For example, if you click on the saturation tab, you can make the reds in your image more or less saturated, the same is true for the oranges and all the way through the colour channels. You can also make certain colours brighter, by using the luminance tab. In this image, I wanted to saturate the reds, yellows, and oranges, as well as some of the blues.

HSL tab adjustments

Graduated Filter in Camera Raw

Much like using one on your camera in the field, you can add a graduated filter in Camera Raw. The beauty about doing this in Photoshop is that you can make some very fine tuned adjustments to your image, depending on how you position the Graduated Filter tool.

Click on the Graduated Filter icon at the top of the screen, and the you will see a whole new dialogue box with very similar functions to the basic Camera Raw Module. The difference here is that you will click and drag the filter down on your image to select the sky. You can also click and drag up from the bottom to select the foreground. I will do both (theGraduated Filter applies to the image from the edge inward).

Starting at the top, I click and drag the filter to just over midway through my image. That limits the effect to the top half. This filter is graduated, so the effect will be properly blended, and you won’t see a hard line where the filter ends (the more you drag it the wider the blend area, you can also adjust that after). I make some adjustments and you can see the difference they made to the sky. Once you are finished with one filter, click on New (at the top of the adjustment box) and repeat the process, but drag up from the bottom this time to make adjustments to the foreground. Once you have made the final adjustments, you can click open image at the bottom of the Camera Raw box to open your image into Photoshop.

Graduated Filter icon highlighted

One key adjustment that needs to mentioned here is the Dehaze tool. The Dehaze tool does exactly what it says, it removes haze and creates better contrast. Use it carefully, it is easy to go too far with it, and your image may suffer as a result. It is a really useful tool for landscapes and seascapes, as there is often some haze in the images, as there was in mine. Using it lightly has removed the haze and made the image better overall.

You will notice it is part of the Graduated Filter tool, and there is also a Dehaze function in the effects tab of the Camera Raw Editor. It is up to you when you use it, but be aware that if you use it without a selection, it will apply the effect universally to your entire image. Using it here in the Graduated Filter tool means you can have better control over how it affects your image.

Click and drag the Graduated Filter from the top down to select the sky. Then select with adjustments you want to apply.

Selecting the foreground by dragging from the bottom up.

Open your image in Photoshop

After you have made your adjustments in Camera Raw, the final touches can be applied in Adobe Photoshop. Once again, the sky and the foreground in this image are going to look different, and will need different adjustments.

To make a softer selection of the sky, click on the quick mask tool at the bottom of the left hand side toolbar in Photoshop. You can then use a soft brush to paint in a selection of the sky as a mask. Once you are happy with the selection (see red mask) click on the quick mask tool again to activate that selection. There is one tricky thing to note about the quick mask tool, the mask means that you are selecting everything that is NOT red. So, when you click on the quick mask tool, you will see the marching ants around the bottom portion of the image and not the red area. This is good, because you can toggle between the two areas very easily and make adjustments to each selection.

First of all, make the necessary adjustments to the foreground using Levels. In this image, I wanted to make the foreground a bit brighter, so I popped up the highlights a little. From there I selected the inverse (i.e. the sky). You can do this by holding down CMD>SHIFT>I together. This will toggle your selection from the foreground to the background.

Red indicates the area that will be masked

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 3.28.52 PM

The marching ants show where the current selection is in the foreground.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 3.29.56 PM

Making levels adjustments to the foreground

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 3.30.24 PM

CMD>SHIFT>I will toggle the selection, here the sky is being selected and levels is being used to adjust the sky

Use Hue and Saturation to make final colour adjustments

You can use the toggle function (CMD>SHIFT>I) to select the sky and foreground interchangeably. Once you have your selection, choose a tool to make adjustments, and the changes will only be made to the area that is selected. In this example I have used the Hue and Saturation function to make further enhancements to the image. I am again making adjustments by each channel. This gives me great control over what colour ranges need to be saturated, and perhaps desaturate others that are a little over done. Go through each channel and make the necessary adjustments.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 3.30.53 PM

Use Hue and Saturation to make final colour adjustments

Once you are done, you can then sharpen your image as you see fit and save it to be printed. The steps outlined above will help you make any image look better. If done correctly, your images will have the pop and drama that you are looking for.

Give it a try, once you know the process, these adjustments can be done really quickly.


Final image

Please share your images and thoughts on the comments section below.

The post How to Use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop to Make Your Landscape Images Pop by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

More Ways to Create Better Images Without Buying More Gear

Jay Maisel has to be one of the most interesting photographers alive today. He is 85 years old and he still makes a point of carrying his camera with him every day, everywhere he goes. I recently watched a few videos where Scott Kelby spent a few days with Jay, just wandering through the streets of New York and later, walking through Paris.

In these two different videos, Jay imparts his photography philosophy, and how he makes his images. The remarkable thing I noticed is that Jay almost never talks about photography equipment. Rather, he speaks about technique, about getting it right in camera, and making sure you spend time getting the best shot possible.

This article is a follow on from an article I did a while ago, which had a similar title to this one – 5 Ways to Create Better Images Without Buying More Gear. I now want to expand on that and add 5 more things you can do to improve your photography without buying more gear.

#1 Show the viewer something different

This is something really important that, but we don’t often think about. There are so many things being photographed every day.

5 more things image 8

Think about this: if you go to Paris, you will no doubt want a photo of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, every photographer does. The challenge is, we have all seen photographs of the Eiffel Tower, so, how will your image be different from anyone else’s? Better still, how will you make the image look like it is taken from a new vantage point or angle.

These are the tough questions, the things that we need to think about as photographers. You could try a few things, go in really close and get some detailed shots of the metal structure, find an area of it that is looking old and grungy, maybe try and shoot it from a very extreme angle, work hard to show your viewer something they haven’t seen before.

Think of the photos you have seen of the Eiffel Tower. If your image looks like any of those shots, then you need to try something different. The goal here is not to be different for the sake of being so, but to try and be unique.

Of course, you should shoot the usual postcard shot, at least you have that, but then play around, walk around, lie on the ground, shoot straight up, put your camera lens against the structure, try anything to get an angle that you have never seen before.

Show me something I have never seen before. – Jay Maisel

Look for something you have not seen before

This is one of Jay Maisel’s key messages, “Show me something I have never seen before”. He is not being flippant, we have all seen a car, a tree, a glass building, and people on the street. What he is looking for is to be shown these everyday subjects in a different way, that’s the key to this principle.

#2 Practice patience

In the video with Jay Maisel, he mentions that he was once out doing street photography with another well known photographer. As a typical New Yorker, he was walking at a pretty quick pace. After some time, the other photographer turned to him and said, “Jay, do you know why you aren’t getting any good shots? You’re walking too quickly”.

That comment caused Jay to slow down. Not only did he slow down his walking pace, but he slowed everything. He would stop in a place for five or 10 minutes. He would find a scene he liked and then, like a theatre stage, he would wait for the actors to appear, the people on the street. So he stands in a particular spot sometimes, for up to 20 minutes, and just waits for something to happen.

Sitting and waiting can result in some great images

Sitting and waiting can result in some great images

Give it a try. Next time you are out photographing in your city, stop for a while. Observe the scene in front of you. Make note of how people are moving through that scene, and start looking for an opportunity to make an image. It may take a while, if you can, sit down and just watch, pretty soon, the right person will enter your “stage” and you will have your image.

#3 Change your composition

We all know about the rule of thirds, very often it is our first introduction to composition. It’s a good starting point for creating good composition, but there are many other ways to make your images look compelling.

Composition is one area of photography that can make a vast difference in your images. Simply changing from landscape to portrait orientation for example. More than that, look a little deeper. There are some great techniques you can use to enhance your composition.

5 more things image 10

One of these is using depth of field. A shallow depth of field will isolate your subject and make the background less distracting. Speaking of backgrounds, make sure that you have looked at the background in your image and that there is nothing distracting that will take the viewer’s eye off the subject.

You could also try and frame your subject using a door frame, a window, or some overarching trees. The frame will point the viewer to the subject and, if done correctly, framing can be a very powerful compositional tool.

Remember to change your viewpoint. Lie on the ground, get as low as you can, or maybe get up as high as possible. If your viewpoint is unusual, your subject will benefit immensely.

Shooting from a different viewpoint can make all the difference

Shooting from a different viewpoint can make all the difference

#4 Go out empty

Another piece of Jay Maisel wisdom is to go out empty, and let your images fill you up. What does that mean?

Very often, you may go out on a shoot and are “hunting” for a particular image. Maybe you are looking for a man with a blue shirt riding a red bicycle, which is pretty specific, and really difficult to find. The challenge is that if you are looking for only that one type of shot, you may miss all the others that are out there.

By going out empty, you are open to whatever comes into your viewfinder. You may get a shot that you never thought of before or have seen before, that’s the point. Sometimes it is good to shoot with constraints, it forces you to be creative.


By going out empty, you may be surprised at what you will see

By going out empty, you may be surprised at what you will see

At other times, go out without any limitations, simply look at what unfolds in front of you and shoot whatever you find interesting. That’s one way to get some great shots. Also, be open to what happens while you are out shooting.

I was photographing in an old area in the East Side of Vancouver. A lady came up to me and asked what I was doing, and I told her I was looking for some great shots of the homes in the area. She asked if I wanted to see inside her home, I am so glad she invited me. Her home was amazing, and it was a great opportunity to see inside a true heritage home.

#5 It’s not about cropping, but about framing

As photographers, we can become a little lazy. We will compose the shot, look at the scene, and realize we need to move a little to the left because there is something distracting in the shot. Many times, we might think, “It’s okay, I can crop that out later”.

5 more things image 9

Yes, that is true, you can crop it out later, but it may change the whole perspective of the shot. I might mean that you lose another important piece of information.

Jay Maisel reminds us that it’s about framing, not cropping. He says that it is the photographer’s responsibility for what is in the frame and, sometimes more importantly, what is NOT in the frame. Instead of assuming you can crop something out later, maybe move around the subject a bit, look at it from different angles, and then decide what needs to be in the frame and what doesn’t.

As Jay says, “The photographer is responsible for everything in the frame”. Make sure that everything that’s in the frame is there for a reason, otherwise, change it.

5 more things image 5

You are responsible for everything in the frame.

Of course there are no rules in photography, there are only guidelines. These ideas are simply suggestions that can help you improve your images, and to see more clearly. Once you begin practicing these things, you won’t have to think about them as much. You will do them instinctively, and that’s when your photography will change and become more mature.

So get out there and give these ideas a try, practice one of these suggestions on each photoshoot or photowalk you do. Keep making the changes and slowly working on your craft, and you may look back in a year and be astounded at how much your work has improved.

The post More Ways to Create Better Images Without Buying More Gear by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

3 Quick Photoshop Edits You Need to Know

For many photographers, spending time behind a computer editing images, can be annoying. I personally enjoy the editing process, but I often hear photographers saying that they wish they didn’t have to spend time editing images. Of course, the image editing process has become the photographer’s responsibility since the advent of digital photography. In the past, the editing process was the domain of the lab that developed and printed your roll of film.

If you are one of the photographers that does not like the idea of spending hours editing your images, then this article might help you get out of the editing blues.

Image open in Photoshop with the Hue and Saturation tool open

Image open in Photoshop with the Hue and Saturation tool open

Of course, you will always need to spend some time editing, but you don’t want to be spend hours trying to make an image  look good. There is a quick way to get some good results from your images in Photoshop. But, before we talk about that, first there are some things that you need to do in-camera, which will save you time in post-production.

  1. Make sure your lenses are clean, you don’t want to spend time cleaning up dust spots on your images.
  2. Make sure your sensor is clean, get your sensor cleaned when you start to notice sensor spots on your images.
  3. Use a tripod, straightening images in Photoshop or Lightroom wastes your time.
  4. Make sure your image is in focus and sharp. Zoom in on your LCD screen to be sure, if not, retake the shot.

From there, you can be sure that your images are coming out of your camera in an edit-ready state. You don’t want to spend your time fixing photography mistakes made in-camera. The main goal with image editing is to take your good images, and make them look spectacular. So, here are some very quick edits you can do to your images (assuming the image is in good shape) in Photoshop, and in turn, spend more time behind the camera.

Quick Edit #1 – Levels or Curves?

This is something of an ongoing debate among photographers. Some have a preference for one or the other, the reality is that they are very different tools, and you can (and should) use both.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.52.50 PMLevels is a great tool to quickly make exposure adjustments to your image. Curves gives you the same ability, but in much more detail. It also has some very powerful abilities in terms of specific adjustments. For a quick edit though, Levels is your tool of choice: IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > LEVELS, the keyboard shortcut is CMD>L on a Mac and CTRL>L on a PC, OR add it as an adjustment layer for non-destructive editing.

Levels can really make a difference to your image. Take a look at this article to help you with levels: 5 Photoshop Tools to Take Your Images from Good to Great, as well as some of the other tools available. The levels tool looks deceptively simple, but it has some really powerful functionality. It is best to adjust your image using Levels first, as this tool affects exposure on three areas of your image: the highlights, shadows and midtones.

All images are made up of a combination of these three areas. The Levels tool adjusts the exposure in each of them separately. The reason why this is important, is because exposure affects colour. For example, if you make your exposure in a scene darker, your colours will become more saturated, if you brighten the exposure, your colours will desaturate. So, making levels adjustments first, will also help your image’s colour.

Image straight out of camera, no adjustments

Image straight out of camera, no adjustments.

The same image after adjustments in Levels

The same image after Levels adjustments

Quick Edit #2 – Hue and Saturation

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.54.30 PMThis tool is the next one in order. Start off with Levels and then move onto Hue and Saturation  (IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > HUE AND SATURATION or the keyboard shortcut is CMD>U on a Mac or CTRL>U ON A pc). This also looks like a simple tool on the surface, but there is a lot more depth to it.

First of all, you will see three sliders, the top one is Hue, the middle one is Saturation, and the bottom one Lightness. You will also notice a pull-down box above the three sliders, it is set to Master as the default.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 4.02.56 PMThe Hue slider is used if you want to change the colours in your image to something different. If you leave the box at the top on Master and adjust the Hue slider, all the colours in the image will change, making your image look a little funky and weird, but this could be fun too! The real power of the Hue slide comes into play when you select a colour channel from the drop down box. If you click on the arrow next to Master, all the colour channels will drop down (see screenshot left). This is really useful if you want all the reds to look a little more orange in your scene. Bear in mind, this is a universal adjustment, it will select all the reds in your image and make an adjustment to them all.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 4.06.31 PMThe second slider is Saturation which affects how rich your colours are in your image. If the reds in your image seem to be light or weak, you can select Reds from the list, and simply move the Saturation slider up (see screenshot right). Also, if some of your colours seem too bold, you can select the appropriate colour channel and move the Saturation slider to the left. You can select each colour individually and make the necessary adjustments.

The last slider is Lightness. I have almost never used this one. If you have done a good job on your levels adjustment, there is really no reason to use the Lightness slider, so I would recommend not using it.

Image after Hue and Saturation adjustments have been made

Image after Hue and Saturation adjustments have been made

Quick Edit #3 – Brightness and Contrast

Once you have made your colour adjustments using Hue and Saturation, you might need to boost the brightness a little. The Brightness and Contrast tool (IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > BRIGHTNESS AND CONTRAST, there is no keyboard shortcut to this one) should be used sparingly, do not make big adjustments using it.

You can simply nudge the Brightness slider to the right and give some pop to the image, then do the same for the Contrast slider. If you don’t feel that you need to use this tool, then don’t, it is only necessary if your image looks a little dark after your colour adjustments.

Note: if you’ve done each of these as an adjustment layer you can go back and tweak your levels again, after doing the others.

Final quick edits made in Brightness and Contrast

Final quick edits made in Brightness and Contrast

That’s it, you are done, in a manner of speaking. These quick edits may be good enough for you to get your image to a satisfactory point. If you are happy with your image, then great – you have not spent too much time editing it.

You can do these three quick Photoshop edits on images that you think might be printed. Then if you see that the edits give them the boost you want, you can then spend more time on each image. This cannot replace a good workflow and a good understanding of what is possible in Photoshop, but these three tools will give you the ability to quickly edit your images and get them into a print-ready state really quickly.

If you need to do some further edits, then take a look at this article about more detailed post production techniques or check out all the articles dPS has on image editing in Photoshop. 

The post 3 Quick Photoshop Edits You Need to Know by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Use Photoshop to Correct Perspective Distortion of Buildings in Your Images

Shooting buildings can be tricky. The main reason is that they are tall, and you need to get far away from them if you want to fit them into the frame. If you are shooting in the city, you don’t have the luxury of getting really far away, the best you may be able to do is get farther down the street. What you have to do then, is tilt your camera upwards to get the whole building in, and that’s when it happens – perspective distortion.

City Scenes can be difficult to photograph

City scenes can be difficult to photograph because of the risk of distortion

When you are using a wide angle lens (which you probably will be when shooting architecture) and you tilt your lens up or down, your image will distort. Architectural photographers would use a tilt-shift lens to counteract this distortion, which can make a really big difference in your image. The only problem is that it is a specialist lens, and it is expensive.

Until a few years ago, that was the only solution for fixing perspective distortion, but in the latest versions of Photoshop, there are a few truly amazing tools that can fix it painlessly. Sometimes the distortion may work well in the image, but if you need to fix it, these techniques can help. To learn more about getting better architectural photos read: Tips for Different Approaches to Architecture Photography

1. Working with distortion

The definition of distortion is: when the straight lines of a subject are either curved in a particular direction, or they converge or diverge. This happens when the focal plane of your camera is pointed upward or downward. This is called perspective distortion. The second most common type of warping is barrel distortion, this type is dependent on the type of lens you are using. Barrel distortion make the image look like it has been inflated in the middle of the scene so it looks like a barrel – wider in the middle, and narrower at the top and bottom. Wide angle lenses tend to distort a fair amount when pointing up or down, and in some cases, you may get barrel distortion in the image too. So, how do we fix this?

Tall buildings distort easily with a wide angle lens

Tall buildings distort easily with a wide angle lens.

2. Fixing distortion in camera

If you want to avoid perspective distortion, then you will need to keep your focal plane at 90 degrees to your subject. In other words, don’t tilt your camera up or down when you are shooting. This may work well for landscape photography, but when you are shooting tall buildings, it may be very difficult to get that right. Sometimes there is no way to avoid perspective distortion in camera.

Thankfully Photoshop can help you out here. Barrel distortion is a function of the lens you are using, wide angle lenses can make the middle of the image seem bloated or inflated. You can try and fix this by zooming in a little, as wide angles tend to suffer from barrel distortion when they are at their widest focal length. Zooming in is not always possible, so we will fix the bulk of the issues in Photoshop.

3. Fixing distortion in Photoshop

Photoshop has a few functions that can help you fix both perspective and barrel distortion. One of the best tools that has been included with recent versions is the Adaptive Wide Angle Tool. This tool is intuitive and easy to use, but takes a little practice initially. In the past, I would use the transform tools (i.e., Distort, Skew, Perspective and Warp). While these worked really well, it took a fair amount of time to get the corrections to look realistic.

In the examples below, you can see that the building looks shorter and more squat. Some further adjustments would need to be made to correct this, but overall, the buildings are vertical and look correct architecturally.  With the Adaptive Wide Angle tool, this process is easily done, in some cases with only three or four mouse clicks.

Image of a building before the distortion tool was applied in Photoshop

Image of a building before the distortion tool was applied in Photoshop

Same image after the distortion tool was applied

Same image after the distortion tool was applied

4. Adaptive Wide Angle tool

The Adaptive Wide Angle tool sits under the filter menu. Open the image you want to correct (with skew buildings or walls) click on FILTER>ADAPTIVE WIDE ANGLE, and a new box will open up with your image inside it.

Adaptive Wide Angle tool screen

Image to be corrected, you can see the vertical lines are pretty skew

Depending on how your image is displayed in the box, you may need to scale it to see the whole thing. On the right hand side you will see a box that says Correction. Underneath that you will see a scale slider, adjust it until you can see your whole image in the box. There is a dropdown box in there with other options such as perspective, fisheye, etc., – I find leaving it on Auto seems to work best. The other functions within that box may work in some cases, but by leaving it on Auto and making specific adjustments to the verticals and horizontals in your image, you will get the best results.

Adaptive Wide angle tool screen

Adaptive Wide angle tool screen

You will then need to identify the walls of the building that are converging or diverging. On the left hand side of the dialogue box, you will see some constraint tools. The tool that is first in the row is simply called the Constraint Tool, this is the one I use most often.

Click on that and move your mouse over to one of the vertical lines of the building, and draw a line down the wall. Start at the top of the building and drag the line down to the bottom, along a vertical wall that should be straight. Click at the bottom of the line when you are done and Photoshop will drop a line down exactly where you dragged. As you click, Photoshop will correct any barrel distortion, but the line will still be skew.

At the bottom of the line you will see a square, right click on the square and three options will pop up: Horizontal, Vertical, and Arbitrary. These are the three ways you have to correct that line. If it is a vertical wall, then click on Vertical. Immediately, Photoshop will bring that wall into a perfect upright position. What you will notice is that it may distort other lines now. That’s okay, find a second vertical that is not correct and repeat this process, once you have done three or four verticals, your building should be perfectly straight, as should the rest of the building. Sometimes what may happen is that the horizontal alignment may shift with all these vertical changes. You can then select a horizontal line in the image and repeat the same process you did for the verticals, just use a line that you know should be horizontal. Also, when you right click, select the Horizontal option in the popup box.

To make sure you are making a precise selection when you draw your line, there is a 100% zoom window on the right hand side. This is really useful, as it can be difficult to be zoomed in to the image, and drag the line down at the same time. This box really helps make sure that you start and finish at the right places on the building.

Adaptive Wide Angle tool and image after 3 adjustments have been made

Adaptive Wide Angle tool and image after 3 adjustments have been made

Once you have straightened some of the more skewed verticals, and one or two horizontals, your image should be looking pretty close to perfect. Once you are done, click ok and your image will open up in Photoshop. From there you can edit the rest of the image with all the lines being straight and aligned.

A new tool has recently been launched by Adobe Photoshop for CC users called Guided Upright and you can find it in Camera RAW of the latest version.

Final image after being edited in the Adaptive Wide Angle tool

Final image after being edited in the Adaptive Wide Angle tool and cropped.

Here is a great short minute video that Adobe has released, take a look, this could also be a useful tool to use.

What’s your go-to method of correcting perspective distortion? Please share in the comments below.

The post Use Photoshop to Correct Perspective Distortion of Buildings in Your Images by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Is HDR dead? Some dPS Writer’s Thoughts on this Controversial Topic

HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography has been around for quite a few years now. It is a technique that allows you as a photographer to use bracketed images, to capture as much of the dynamic range in a given scene as possible. Dynamic range is the measurable difference between the brightest highlights, and darkest shadows, in a scene that you are photographing.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR from three bracketed images.

HDR became a very useful tool a few years ago as digital cameras were initially really bad at exposing the highlights in a scene correctly. Many photographers (myself included) would expose for the highlights in the scene and then pull back detail in the shadows in Photoshop or Lightroom. This technique caused other problems. When editing afterwards in Photoshop, the shadow areas that had been lightened were really noisy, and looked gritty and low quality. HDR came along and solved some of these issues.

HDR was able to blend the highlights in the scene correctly and show details in the shadows. This was great news, and almost overnight, there were many top photographers singing the praises of this new technique. It was really a huge step forward in the digital photography world. There were a few glitches though. If you wanted to do HDR images, you needed to purchase a third party piece of software, Photoshop did not have an HDR tool at first. Secondly, you had to shoot between three and five bracketed shots to get all the detail into the final image. If you did both those things, and you did them well, you were rewarded with a unique looking image.

The other challenge was that the HDR software often made images look overdone. While the dynamic range in the HDR image was good, there were often halos and artifacting in the image. Sometimes the saturation was erratic and the images looked just a little weird. For a time, this HDR look became quite trendy. Trey Ratcliff became one of the leading voices on HDR, and was a proponent of using HDR wherever possible and on any image. He gathered a strong following and HDR became the new thing to do to your images.

A somewhat overdone HDR image

A somewhat overdone HDR image

Fast forward to today. In recent years, the new camera sensors have improved on their dynamic range ability significantly. Also, improvements in RAW editors and quality means that cameras are now able to capture a lot more information that they did even five years ago, and a good RAW editor can bring back significant detail in the shadows and highlights.

So, the big question is this, is HDR dead or will it make a comeback? To add some insight to this, a few weeks ago, we posed this question to our own dPS writers and here are some of their responses:

What dPS writers have to say about HDR

All I know is, when I shoot my D750 at base ISO I can get more colors, and pull more from the shadows than I ever could on my D7100 with 5 stops of bracketed shots. So yeah…maybe the whole idea of bracketing to get HDR is going the way of the dodo bird. – Simon Ringsmuth

Sun rays wash over Kathmandu, Nepal (HDR by Peter West Carey)

Sun rays wash over Kathmandu, Nepal (HDR by Peter West Carey)

I think the technique has reached a more comfortable point, in that most people can recognize the truly horrible overcooked stuff now, and shy away from it….and more and more photographers are being responsible with it, merely pulling some dynamic range in their images with positive results. Lightroom doesn’t do a great job with the HDR merge, but the one thing it does is limit the super hot, overcooked messes 3rd party software can create. Personally, if I’m bracketing, I use LR to do a very subtle tonal merge. So I think LR will take a bit more of that market, especially as they update and improve the merge tool. So it’s not dead, in my humble opinion, it’s not even reborn. It’s just morphed into something a bit more pleasing, and still relevant. But it’s also true that these sensors are allowing for some really amazing single-file stuff. – Tim Gilbreath

The over processed, halo skies, over saturated look are popular on Instagram! But that’s about it now. HDR has been declining in popularity (at least amongst pro’s) for a while now…medium format users have always had an advantage, though! – Daniel Smith

HDR by Leanne Cole

HDR by Leanne Cole

HDR might not be dead, but the newer DSLR (especially the newer full frames) wider dynamic range makes it needed less. I only do HDR when I can’t get the range I am looking to achieve in the final image. LR’s merge to HDR has made creating HDR much easier. I like the natural look to HDR, and not the overcooked look that some are using. Since switching to full frame I don’t do nearly as many HDR images as I once did. – Bruce Wunderlich

It’s becoming less and less important, and in 5 years it won’t be needed, in that dynamic range and presentation out of camera will be the same as what the human eye sees. Beyond some artistic renderings, once you pass what the eye and brain are used to, it jolts people out of the natural experience and into something else, another form of art. I don’t like having to use HDR techniques and am happy that LR’s version works just fine for most of my uses. I just WYSIWIG straight out of the camera. As a side note, the in-camera HDR in the Canon 7D Mark II is not that usable, and I’d rather do it in post-processing. – Peter West Carey

HDR by Peter West Carey

HDR by Peter West Carey

Cameras will continue to improve. We saw the megapixel war, and the ISO range war, and now maybe there will be a dynamic range war. In regards to software I think we’ve seen both simplified solutions (i.e., Lightroom’s built-in option) and more complex solutions (Trey’s Ratcliffs new software – Aurora HDR) try and tackle the job. In the long run, simplified wins in my mind, especially as cameras become more capable. HDR as a style though, may still persist. I’d argue that overall it will continue to mature as a style, and as a result the over processed, over saturated photos, will become fewer and fewer – but there will still be those that enjoy that type of work – so it could still persist. – John Davenport

I really think the HDR war is going to be the new frontier, at least for the next few years. Even on mobile phones it’s going to be all about how much light you can capture (i.e. shooting at high ISO values, or making lenses with wider apertures) but ultimately the focus is going to be on coaxing as much data out of the image as possible. Whether through automated in-camera software processes, which we already see quite a bit, or using software like Lightroom or Aurora HDR, we’re going to see a lot of emphasis not on how many pixels the image has, but what software can do with those pixels to make the best possible image. – Simon Ringsmuth

I rarely do HDR now, but I still love it for night photography. – Leanne Cole

leannecole-Is HDR dead article-1

HDR by Leanne Cole

When we were browsing real estate listings the other day, the listings were FULL of HDR photos of things like…people’s living rooms. We’re not talking million dollar homes, or spectacular views. We’re talking Joe Plumber’s 1000 sq. ft. starter home HDR’ed to high heavens. It looked so absurd! – Meredith Clark

I have the D750 and its dynamic range is phenomenal! However, I have never been a fan of the over processed HDR effect that seemed popular at one time…or maybe still is! – Sarah Hipwell

HDR processing still has its place. While today’s cameras capture a higher dynamic range than older cameras, there are still situations when blending exposures results in greater detail throughout the range. To avoid the “overcooked” look, which thankfully was a fad, I tend to blend my exposures manually rather than use a plugin. – Anne McKinnell


HDR of 6 bracketed images, merged and processed in LR – image by Darlene

HDR isn’t new, it’s decades old. Ansel Adams did it with his Zone System and dodging and burning in the darkroom were also a form of HDR (tone control for more detail). Somewhere along the way it became more about a particular style. To me, HDR simply means what the letters stand for – High Dynamic Range – which represents a scene that your camera is unable to capture the entire tonal range due to high contrast. How that is dealt with that is up to each photographer. Do you bracket and blend exposures, do you use layer masking or luminosity masks to open up detail, or do you just let it all fall where it may and go realist? I’ve gone through all the stages of an HDR photographer and now I tend to lean towards more natural, and using LR’s merge to HDR works for me. – dPS Managing Editor Darlene Hildebrandt

What has changed?

With all the new sensors and updated software (Lightroom, Photoshop and standalone products like Aurora HDR and Photomatix) there are plenty of options to create truly amazing HDR images. The other option is to create a well balanced, and well edited photo, from just one image. This requires a bit of know-how with your chosen image editing suite. But with a bit of practice, you can create some amazing images that have just as much detail as any HDR image. Also, your images will look more realistic, and sometimes that may be necessary (for example, you may be shooting for a client who does not like the HDR look).

Below you will see an example where I have compiled an HDR image from 3 bracketed images. The next image is the best shot edited alone in Photoshop CC.

This image was 3 shots processed in HDR software

This image was 3 shots processed in 3rd party HDR software

This image was a one stop underexposed shot, edited in Photoshop CC

This image was a one stop underexposed shot, edited in Photoshop CC

Depending on what your goal is with HDR, you can achieve a lot with the right editing tool. The single image above, that was edited was done from one image, was shot on a Nikon D800 and edited in Photoshop CC. The details on this image are fantastic and you can see it’s pretty close to the HDR image style-wise. The result is not as random as the HDR image, and for the most part, when I use HDR software, I would edit to get the most realistic results, not a punchy, psychedelic look.

The next two images are of Vancouver Convention Centre at blue hour. It shows how much detail can be pulled out of a single image. The first image is the unedited version, the second image is the final shot. The details are pretty close to what you could get with HDR, but without some of the punchy tones.

Unedited image shot in Vancouver

Unedited image shot in Vancouver


Edited image, notice how much detail can be pulled out of one shot

So, what do you think? Is HDR dying? do you still use it or do you use it less? When do you use it?

Let us know what your comments and ideas are, we are curious to know.

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week that are Open for Discussion. We want to get the conversation going, hear your voice and opinions, and talk about some possibly controversial topics in photography.

Let’s get it started here – do you agree or disagree with the points in the article above? Do you have any others to add? Give us your thoughts below, and watch for more discussion topics each day this week.

See all the recent discussion topics here:

The post Is HDR dead? Some dPS Writer’s Thoughts on this Controversial Topic by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

6 Advanced Composition Techniques to Improve Your Photos

When you think of composition in photography, what is the first idea that pops into your head? Let me guess – the rule of thirds?

Likely that was true for many of you who reading this, why do you think that is? The rule of thirds is probably the most widely known, and well used compositional tool in photography. Most often, it is the first composition tool we are taught (it was for me anyway). Once we know it, and use it, we don’t really think about it, or about any other compositional techniques.

There are other methods though, using visual design techniques that talk about texture and colour, amongst others. Many photographers simply default to the rule of thirds and take the shot, without trying other compositions. These other techniques can make a difference in your images. This article is about six techniques you can use to improve your compositions, and your photos Some of these would be known as advanced techniques, but once you understand them, they are pretty self explanatory.

1. The Golden Ratio or Fibonacci Spiral

Use the Golden Ratio to enhance your composition

Use the Golden Ratio to enhance your composition

This is a tool that has been used for centuries, as a design principle. Many famous works of art use the Golden Ratio in their composition and it is often seen in nature’s own designs. Think of the spiral of a snail shell, how it curls in on itself. That shape conforms to the Golden Ratio. It is a ratio of 1:1.618 which seems to work really well in design and photography. To read much more detail about this technique check out: Divine Composition With Fibonacci’s Ratio (The Rule of Thirds on Steroids).

2. Unity

Unity is about order. Repetition can be very powerful in this regard. You can repeat shapes, lines, or colours in your image. By doing so you create a unified view of the scene, and this in turn gives a very powerful compositional effect. Unity can bring a calming feel to the image, try and find a subject that portrays this.

The lines and the rivets in the image make it feel uniform, as does the lack of colour

The lines and the rivets in the image make it feel uniform, as does the lack of colour

3. Coherence

Different from unity, coherence is more about similar types of elements or shapes in your scene. Think of a rocky river bed with similar sized rocks and pebbles. This scene would be coherent if the rocks and pebbles are a similar size, shape, and colour. Coherence appeals to the viewer’s sense of order, and can make for very interesting images.

Similar shapes and colours make this image feel more coherent

Similar shapes and colours make this image feel more coherent

4. Balance and Rhythm

Balance is pretty much as it says, the idea here is to try and arrange the elements in your scene so that the image is symmetrical. This can be done using lines and shapes. The ideas is to create a sense of equality in the scene. Rhythm is similar in a sense, but is about a repeating pattern in the scene. These are a little more difficult to find, but often a close up or abstract image can showcase this technique well.

The centred composition of this image of a theatre shows the balance in the scene

The centred composition of this image of a theatre shows the balance in the scene

The curved shapes of the glass buildings gives a great sense of rhythm

The repeated curved shapes of the glass buildings gives a great sense of rhythm

5. Space

Open, or negative space, in your image is sometimes as important as the subject. Negative space gives your subject context, and shows the viewer where or how your subject relates to its surroundings. Quite often, negative space is the sky. It can be tempting to ignore this one, but if it’s used correctly, this can be a very powerful compositional tool.

The texture in the clouds in give this image some gravity. If the sky were simply blue, it would not be as impactful

The texture in the clouds in give this image some gravity. If the sky were simply blue, it would not be as impactful

6. Breaking the Rules

Now that you have some new ideas about how to make better compositions. Knowing these techniques will certainly improve some of your images, but also, knowing how to break them is just as important. In some cases, it will be obvious which technique to use, in others, you may find that putting your subject in the middle of your frame works best. You need to decide what will work for your image. Try techniques like this and see if one works. If not, break the rules and do what you think looks good.

By cropping the building quite aggressively, the image seems unfinished, but the colours and the sky make it work

By cropping the building quite aggressively, the image seems unfinished, but the colours and the sky make it work

The post 6 Advanced Composition Techniques to Improve Your Photos by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

8 Common Landscape Photography Mistakes

As photographers, we know that there are literally hundreds of small things that need to be done in each scene, that add up to the final magnificent shot. Sometimes when we get behind the camera, and the light becomes amazing, it’s very easy to forget one or two things, and the result is that the shot is not as good as it could have been. There are lots of details to remember, but there often some obvious things that have been forgotten. These are the common mistakes I see in many landscape images. If they were corrected at the time, the image would have been much more dramatic and powerful.

Penguins and iceberg in Antarctica.

Penguins and iceberg in Antarctica.

So here are the eight top landscape photography mistakes make so you can avoid them and improve your images:

1. Stability – use a tripod

In creative images, blurriness can be very interesting. In landscape images however, you usually want your image to be sharp all the way through. The best way to be sure that your image is sharp is to use a tripod. If you are shooting in low light (you mostly will be if you are shooting landscapes) then you absolutely need to be using a tripod.

Now, there are tripods and there are tripods. For landscape photography, you might want to invest in a more heavy-duty one. The small light-weight tripods might do the trick for a while, but if you are shooting on a location and it’s windy, your tripod may get blown over, or might move because of the strength of the wind. A good tripod will also last a long time and take a beating, so buy the best tripod you can afford, and make sure you keep your camera as still as possible when shooting.

Another good piece of equipment to buy is a cable release. You don’t need to buy one of the expensive ones with the intervalometer built-in, no, just a simple cable release. Once you are set up and ready to take your shot, step back from the camera and press the button. There will be no vibration from you pressing the shutter release and your image will be nice and sharp. If you don’t have a cable release, you could use the built-in self timer to release the shutter too.

2. Get the horizon straight

This almost goes hand-in-hand with using a tripod. Many a good landscape image has been damaged by a skewed horizon. Fortunately, this can be easily fixed in Photoshop or Lightroom, so it’s not a very big worry, but you might have to crop out some details to get that right. The idea however, is to get the shot right in camera first, then edit.

You can use a few different tools to make sure your horizon is straight. Firstly, switch on the grid in your camera viewfinder, line up the horizon with the horizontal line, and you should be good. Some tripod heads have a built-in spirit level, make sure this is level and your horizon should be fine. Lastly, use the live view function on your camera, and if you have it, bring up the false horizon dial on the back of your screen, level your camera, and you are done.

I prefer levelling my horizon in camera, as it helps to save time in post production. If you need to straighten the horizon afterwards, you will need to crop the image as I noted earlier, which means your composition may change slightly. I prefer not to crop as far as possible, so getting it level in the camera is a good goal.

A crooked horizon is distracting.

A crooked horizon is distracting.

Looks better now that the horizon is straight.

Looks better now that the horizon is straight.

3. Shooting only in landscape format

Many photographers assume that they should shoot a landscape scene in landscape (horizontal) format. This is normally not a bad idea, but in some cases, a portrait orientation (vertical) can work really well. Think of a forest or mountain scene. If the subject shape is more vertical than horizontal, try it in the portrait format, it can add a dynamic feel to the scene.

Shoot in portrait format too!

Shoot in portrait format too!

4. Not thinking about the aperture

I truly believe that aperture is a composition tool. When you are setting up a scene, you should be thinking about your depth of field. Do you want everything from the foreground to the background to be in focus? Generally, in landscape photography, this will be the case.

If that is what you want, make sure your aperture is f/8, f/11 or higher. That way, you will ensure that everything is in sharp focus. If you are at f/2.8, and you focus on the foreground, the background will be out of focus, and the middle of your scene will be soft. This should be one of your key checkpoints when you set up the shot. If you are using a wide aperture and the mountains in the distance are out of focus, this cannot be fixed afterwards in Photoshop…not yet anyway!

In a landscape image, you will likely want everything in focus.

In a landscape image, you will likely want everything in focus.

5. Shooting using the camera’s landscape mode

Yes, you may have a landscape setting in the scene modes on your camera. As much as possible, try not to use it. Why? Well, it’s not great at making the exposure look good for your scene. What it will do is set your aperture to f/8 or even f/11, but it may not render the scene as effectively as you could do using manual settings. The scene settings are designed to work within certain parameters and in low-light conditions, they are not always the best choice. Try and shoot your landscapes on manual settings as far as possible, that means that you control ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

6. Standing next to other photographers

If you see a group of photographers standing on the top of a hill, it might be a good idea to shoot from somewhere else. This is not to say that other photographers have got it wrong, rather what I mean is, you want to go home with a different image to the others. Sometimes, the best composition or vantage point is at one particular spot, that’s fine, take a shot from there, but look for other places to get a great shot too.

It’s a good idea to scout a scene before you shoot it. Go and take a walk around the day before, look at where the sun will be setting, and decide on your position. Don’t simply follow the crowd, then your images will look like the rest of the images taken there.

A different vista of Machu Picchu.

A different vista of Machu Picchu.

7. Uninteresting negative space

Negative space is the space that surrounds your subject. This space can truly make, or break, your image. In most cases, the sky is the negative space in a landscape scene. A clear blue sky looks great, but some wispy soft clouds can really make the scene dramatic. If the sky has no clouds and is clear, this can make the scene seem uninteresting.

If you find that in your scene, make the sky a smaller portion of your image, if there are some great looking clouds, give it more space in your scene. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice, you may only be able to get some shots on a particular day. In that case you need to get what you can. If you don’t have this constraint, try to go back on another evening, when there are some clouds in the sky. Clouds give the sky detail, they reflect the sunlight, and can look yellow orange against a blue sky. This makes for a much more interesting scene.

The sky had no clouds, so I made it a small part of the image.

The sky had no clouds, so I made it a small part of the image.

8. No clear subject

It sounds crazy, but it is very easy to have an unclear subject in landscape photography. Most often, landscape photography is of a natural scene, mountains, forest, river, seascape, deserts, etc. Whichever one it is, make sure that it is clear to your viewer.

If you are photographing a mountainous scene, make sure you use a lens that works for that scene. Landscape photographers are tempted to think that every image needs to be taken with the wide angle lens. Sometimes, this can cause the mountain range in the background to seem small and insignificant. The same can be true in any of the other types of landscape photography. Be sure that your viewer knows what they are supposed to be looking at, and show them that, and the beauty that surrounds the subject. Get close to your subject, as close as possible, and if it’s not close enough, maybe you need to use a different lens to get closer. A 50mm lens can be used in landscape photography, so can a 200mm lens, it all depends on what you want the viewer to see.


The iceberg in front of the ship is clearly the subject here.

Next time you are planning a landscape photo shoot, run through these points quickly and see how it works out for you. If anything, you will be more mindful and deliberate about what you are shooting, and that will immediately improve your images. Enjoy.

The post 8 Common Landscape Photography Mistakes by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Reasons To Should Shoot Your Landscape Images in RAW

Detail recovered from a RAW file, before and after

Detail recovered from a RAW file, before and after.

There is often a debate among photographers about shooting in RAW. Try it out – next time you are with a group of photographers, ask them who shoots in RAW. Better still, ask them why they don’t shoot in RAW. The conversation will become pretty interesting. When I first started photography, I was told that shooting in RAW was a waste of time and that I won’t need all that “information”. I was told it was better to shoot on JPEG as it saves space. Yes, RAW files are bigger, especially on a high-resolution camera, but is it true that we don’t need all that “information”? Over the past few years, I have done a fair amount of research into the RAW vs JPEG debate and I now shoot completely in RAW. Yes, my image files are MUCH bigger; yes, I need more space to store my images; yes, it does impact my image editing workflow. Is it worth it? A categorical yes. Here are five reasons why you should shoot your landscape images in RAW.

1. Details

RAW files are big because they don’t discard any image information that is captured in the scene. When you shoot on JPEG, the algorithm for JPEG determines which information is discarded and which is kept without changing the way the image looks. That is great for saving space on your memory card, but not so good if you intend to edit your images in Photoshop.

The reality is that your camera can capture a significant amount of data if you shoot in RAW, which in turn gives you much more flexibility in Photoshop later. On average, a normal JPEG file will be between four and six megs per image. The same image shot on the same camera in 14-bit lossless RAW format will be 25 – 30mb, five times bigger. The reason is that there is much more information in a RAW file. That information is critical in post-production. You can get so much detail out of a RAW image, such as pulling back blown-out highlights and bringing back detail in the shadows that would be impossible to recover in JPEG format. This doesn’t mean you should be sloppy and not pay attention to your exposure. What it does mean is that in tricky lighting conditions, you will be able to get a shot that’s usable.

Recovered details in a street scene, overall much more detail can be seen.

Recovered details in a street scene, overall much more detail can be seen.

2. Color

We all shoot on color nowadays. If you don’t, you should, even if you are going to convert to black and white – but that’s for another post. Shooting in RAW means that you are saving as much color information as possible from the scene. This is really important in landscape photography, portrait photography, food photography and even street photography. The color in your scene can make the difference between a good image and a great image. By shooting in RAW, you will have all the color information possible. The important part of that is the subtle color. For example, the gradation in the sky will look better than it would on JPEG, even if you think that JPEG will be fine from a color perspective.  If you are shooting a landscape scene, you want to get as much color information as you can. RAW would be the format to do this. In Photoshop, the vibrance function will saturate the colors in your scene which are undersaturated and this can give your RAW file that subtle boost to make the image pop.

Much more colour can be rendered from a RAW file

Much more color can be rendered from a RAW file.

3. Exposure

The exposure in your scene should always be as good as you can get it in camera. In the past, most photographers would underexpose a little to make sure they didn’t blow out the highlights. In recent years, most photographers shooting in RAW have been exposing to the right (ETTR). The new generation of cameras have a really good dynamic range and are able to render details in the shadows and the highlights in one shot. This was not possible a few years ago. ETTR means that when you look at your photograph’s histogram, try and push it over to the right a little – in other words, overexpose it a little. The reason is because RAW can handle highlights in a scene really well and if your shadows are a little brighter there won’t be as much noise in the shadows. This is really a good technique to use in landscape photography and architectural photography. Your images will be cleaner and have very little noise in them. Once you adjust the image in Photoshop, you will have a well-exposed image across the dynamic range.

Blown out highlights in this scene were brought down, but the overall exposure was brightened.

Blown out highlights in this scene were brought down, but the overall exposure was brightened.

4. Flexibility

The best part about RAW files are that they give you flexibility. If you shoot landscape images or street photography, you have a lot of information to work with and you can use that information to create the best possible image. Also, Photoshop is always improving their tools and functions. I have gone back and reworked older images: the RAW file had all the information and the new functions brought out the best of that scene. This has happened quite a few times, so don’t delete “throwaway” images so quickly. For this reason, I am also not a fan of chimping too much. Wait until you download the images to see what is worth keeping. Use RAW to give you as much flexibility as you can, even on older images.

Original RAW file, the image was really dark from the use of an ND filter

Original RAW file, the image was really dark from the use of an ND filter.


The result of the above image after being edited in Adobe RAW converter

The result of the above image after being edited in Adobe RAW converter.

5. Quality

Editing your RAW image is a two-step process. The first step is converting it in a RAW converter. (Lightroom converts RAW images, as does Photoshop and many other image editing products.) Once you have made the corrections and subtle adjustments in the RAW converter, then you can open the converted image in Lightroom or Photoshop. You will then be editing on the best quality image possible. Image quality is almost the “holy grail” of photography. If you ask any photographer what the most important thing is for any image, it will most likely boil down to image quality. To be clear, when I say image quality I include sharpness, noise, dynamic range, color, tone, chromatic aberration and so on. Anything that adds to the overall look and feel of the image. Your image quality will be fantastic if you work carefully in your RAW converter and edit well in Photoshop. You can get good image quality in JPEG too, but you will be able to squeeze that much more out of the image if you shot in RAW.


Look at the quality and detail of the scene after being edited in Adobe Camera Raw converter

Look at the quality and detail of the scene after being edited in Adobe Camera Raw converter.

RAW is a great format to use if you plan on editing your images. If you shoot landscapes, fashion, food, architecture and even weddings you should be considering shooting in RAW. One caveat on using RAW for weddings – you don’t have to shoot the whole wedding in RAW, but shoot the important images or images where the light is tricky in RAW. That way you can be confident you have the shot and information you will need for editing later.

RAW requires a different workflow for your image processing. If you don’t want to spend too much time editing, then maybe RAW will not work for you. The reality is RAW files are bigger, but that’s because they capture so much more information. If you are skeptical, give it a try. Shoot some scenes in RAW and try the Adobe RAW converter. Lightroom also works with RAW files. You might find that you have more details and information in your image than you thought.

The post 5 Reasons To Should Shoot Your Landscape Images in RAW by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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