Your Guide to Photography User Agreements

The post Your Guide to Photography User Agreements appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Copyright and image usage can be a complex and confusing arena even for experienced photographers.

When you shoot for a client, you not only need a contract outlining the deliverables, but you also need a user or licensing agreement. You also need a user agreement if a brand or organization comes across one of your images on the Internet and wants to use it in some way.

User Agreements by Darina Kopcok-DPS

So what exactly is a user agreement and why do you need one?

A user agreement is a type of contract in which you as the photographer grant specific usage rights to a client or collaborator. They may only use the image within the bounds of this agreement.

Under most copyright laws, photography is as protected as any other artwork. In photography, you’re not “selling” your image or giving up your copyright. You’re giving someone a license to use the images for a specific purpose and time frame. In effect, you’re the “lender,” and they are the “borrower.” This is basically what happens when someone purchases stock photography.

The two types of licenses

There are two types of licenses: exclusive and non-exclusive.

An exclusive license does not allow the photographer to license the image or images to other third parties during the duration of the agreement.

A non-exclusive license allows the photographer to license the same image to other third parties under separate agreements during the same time frame.

Clients often want an exclusive license to ensure the images created for their brand don’t appear elsewhere. In some cases, so they don’t end up being used by their competitors.

However, be aware that they should be required to pay a premium for this exclusivity. This is why usage rates can go very high, depending on the client and their visibility in the marketplace.

When you give exclusivity to a client, it prohibits you from earning more income from your images by licensing it to other third parties, or through stock photography.

For example, I license my images through Offset, a division of Shutterstock. They offer high-quality stock photography for a much higher price point than microstock agencies.

I make a decent side income from being a contributor with them, without having the thousands of images required by other agencies to make stock photography worthwhile. Since most of my commissioned clients want exclusive usage, I don’t submit the images I license to them to stock also. Instead, I submit non-similar rejects from the shoot and even shoot specifically for my stock portfolio.

User Agreements by Darina Kopcok-DPS

What should go in the user agreement?

When you’re writing up a user agreement and setting your price, it’s crucial you consider the end use of the image and the visibility of the brand using it.

Licensing an image to a nationwide restaurant chain should have a different price and terms than the mom-and-pop taco joint down the street.

One example of how the details of a user agreement can become critical is when you’re dealing with a start-up or a growing small business.

If you provide licensing for several years or in perpetuity (forever ongoing), what happens if that business suddenly takes off and gains extensive exposure? Your image will become worth a lot more, but you won’t see an extra penny if you’ve given perpetual usage away.

The rule for user agreements is the wider the audience for the image, the more the image is worth to the brand.

When faced with a client who has good prospects to grow, keep your licensing period shorter and track when it expires via a spreadsheet.

The user agreement should also specify whether the license is exclusive or non-exclusive, and describe its intended use.

I don’t recommend granting unlimited use for an image; otherwise, a brand can use it across every conceivable platform – in advertising, on billboards and for product licensing.

Be very specific about how they can use your images. More and more clients are asking for universal and unlimited rights. If this is the case, they should be prepared to pay for it.

Specify the time frame in which the licensee is allowed to use the image. If they want to use the image beyond this time frame, they will have to purchase another license from you.

Another important tip is don’t provide a user agreement until the images have been paid for in full. Let the client know this policy and state on your invoice that the images cannot be used publicly until you have received payment in full.

User-Agreements-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Educate your clients

As with other types of contracts, a user agreement protects you as the creator of an image. It also prevents misunderstandings between you and a client that can lead to bad feelings and legal hassles if someone feels their expectations haven’t been met.

Unless a client has worked with photographers before, they may not understand the ins-and-outs of copyright law or why they need to sign a user agreement. Educating the client is vital.

If someone is questioning your contracts, they likely are not understanding the process.  A local small business or startup brand may need your help in understanding the transaction.

User-Agreements-Darina Kopcok-DPS


When negotiating a user agreement, it’s important to communicate with self-confidence and to recognize your work has value to your clients.

At the same time, remaining respectful and professional can lead to building a mutually beneficial relationship – with more opportunities and income down the line.

If you have any other licensing and user agreement info you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section.

The post Your Guide to Photography User Agreements appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

How to Develop Better Black and White Photos in Lightroom

The post How to Develop Better Black and White Photos in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Achieving great looking black & white images in Lightroom is not about converting your colour images to grayscale with the click of your mouse and calling it a day.

Black & white photography is subtle, and it takes experience to see and understand its nuances. Lightroom has a fantastic set of tools to help you create stunning black & white images.

Here are some tips and some mistakes to avoid.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Converting to black and white

There are several ways to convert your color images to black & white in Lightroom.

You can use one of Lightroom’s presets or completely reduce the color saturation.

Or you can convert your color image to grayscale in Lightroom by simply hitting “V” on your keyboard, or clicking on Black & White under Color Treatment in the Basic panel.

Whatever you decide to do, know that you will have to make some tweaks in Lightroom to get the best possible result.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Using Black and White Mix

Once you  have converted your image, a panel called Black & White Mix will appear under the Tone Curve panel.

The sliders here give you control over the way colors are translated into grey tones in Lightroom. When you convert to grayscale, all the colors will be at zero.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Making some simple adjustments in this panel can make a dramatic difference in the quality of your photos.

For example, if you’re working on a landscape image, using the blue sliders will help you adjust the sky.

If you’re new to black and white processing in Lightroom, play around with the sliders to see how each of them affect your photo. With a bit of experimentation, you’ll get a feel for which sliders alter the various tones in your image in a way that helps you achieve the look you’re going for. You’ll also develop your signature black and white editing style.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightrppm-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Boost Tonal Contrast

In addition to tweaking the Black & White Mix sliders, you should make other manual adjustments in Lightroom to adjust the tonal contrast in your photograph.

Tonal contrast is the differences in brightness throughout your image. If there are stark differences between your tones – say, a very light subject against a dark background, then we would say the photo has a lot of tonal contrast.

One benefit of actually shooting in black & white is that you don’t have to ignore color and try to understand your scene in terms of light or dark tones. Shooting with your DSLR camera in Monochrome Mode will help you with your composition, especially if you’re new to black & white photography.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Boost texture in your images

A key way to enhance your black & white photographs in Lightroom is to boost texture. Bringing out the texture emphasizes the details in a photograph.

One of the easiest ways to enhance texture in your black & white images is with the Clarity slider.

Clarity increases the contrast in a photograph, but not as drastically as the Contrast slider does.

You have more leeway with clarity in black & white than you do with color.

In Lightroom, there are to ways to work with clarity. One is to use the Clarity slider in the Basic panel. This is a global adjustment that affects the entire photo. You can also selectively add Clarity with the Adjustment Brush.

You want to do this when it makes sense to boost the texture in a certain part of the photo.

If you have an image where the subject is in focus but the background is blurred out, there is no point in adding clarity to the whole image. Focus on the area that you want to enhance. This will increase sharpness. Since the eye tends to go to sharper areas first, it makes sense to boost sharpness selectively. Adding clarity is one way of doing that.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Mistakes to avoid

Common mistakes that photographers make are related to misuse of texture and contrast.

If you’re converting your color images to grayscale, you’ll notice that they look a little flat. You need to add some contrast, but the problem is that it’s easy to go too far and lose details in the highlights and shadows.

Look closely at your images. Are they too dark in the darker areas? Do they look muddy, or even “crunchy”–with angular rather than blurred edges?

This gives images an over-processed HDR look, which is not desirable in most cases.

Do add contrast and clarity, but fine the right balance for each particular image. The same goes for clarity.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Again, the amount you add will really depend on the photograph. For example, you may want to add clarity to a portrait of a male to bring out the textures in the skin and hair, but use negative clarity to smooth the skin in a female portrait. Clarity can bring out wrinkles and imperfections in the skin and make the subject look older if not applied with care.

Another mistake photographers make when editing their black & white photos is to over-sharpen them.

When sharpening, I recommend using the Sharpening Mask.

To do this, choose the sharpening level you desire in Lightroom. Hold down the Alt/Option key and slide the Masking slider. You’ll see the image change to look something like an x-ray. This is showing you where Lightroom is intelligently sharpening your photograph.

Developing Black and White in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

In most photographs, you don’t necessarily want every single bit of the image sharpened, the same way you don’t need texture in every part of the image. By using Sharpening Mask, you can apply the sharpening to the most important part of the photo. I often leave mine in the range of 70-90.


There are a host of plug-ins available for Lightroom that can really enhance your images and your editing process, such as Topaz Black & White, or Perfect B&W.

However, a lot of black & white photography photographers say the gold standard of plug-ins for black & white photography is Silver Efex Pro.

Silver Efex Pro has a tool called Structure, which works in a similar way to Clarity in Lightroom, but has four sliders that help you tweak your tones with a great deal of control. If you shoot a lot of black & white photography, or plan on doing so, this is definitely one plug-in I would recommend that you purchase.

Develop Better Black and White Images in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

In Conclusion

To achieve better black & white photos in Lightroom takes a subtle hand and training your eye to look at tones instead of color.

The good thing about Lightroom is that your files are non-destructible, so feel free to tweak your images to your heart’s content. Everything is undoable with the click of your mouse.

With a bit of practice and experimentation, you’ll be developing brilliant black and white images in no time.

If you have any other tips or black and white photos you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section.

The post How to Develop Better Black and White Photos in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

How to Quote Commercial Photography Jobs: A Few Important Line Items to Consider

The post How to Quote Commercial Photography Jobs: A Few Important Line Items to Consider appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

There are a variety of ways to quote on a commercial photography job. Every photographer has their own approach.

If you’re new to working with clients, or even if you’ve been at it for a little while, putting together a formal estimate can be a daunting process. The bigger the scope, the more variables there are to consider.

Here are some line items to consider.

Quoting Commercial Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Creative fee

When you’re putting together an estimate for a commercial photography job, I recommend charging a Creative Fee for your labor. This creative fee is the time you spend shooting, but it can also include some post-processing.

Some photographers charge a day rate or a half-day rate. I don’t advise charging by the hours, but I determine how many hours you think you may need to execute a job and multiply it by the hourly rate you would like to receive for it. You may want to top that up by up to 25%, as you’ll find most jobs take longer than you think they will.

As a new photographer, I tried a variety of ways of estimating jobs. When I charged a half-day rate, I often found that there was no such thing. By the time I set up, did all the project management to pull the shoot together and hire the help I needed, it was a full day of work and then some.

Think about how much work you have to do behind the scenes and factor that into your creative fee as well.

One thing I don’t recommend is lumping all your expenses together and presenting it to the client. Giving them one big total can lead to sticker shock and confuse your potential client. They won’t know what they’re paying for exactly.

Breaking it down for them is a good business practice and helps the less experienced clients – say, those with a small business – understand all the work that goes into producing a commercial photo shoot.


Quoting Commercial Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Some photographers like to have their own equipment they bring to photo shoots. This not only means a couple of cameras and Speedlites, but it can also mean monoheads, stands, and a variety of other gear.

You may have everything you need to bring to smaller shoots, but on bigger productions, you may need to rent extra gear, like several lights and lighting modifiers. You should not absorb this cost. It goes into the estimate.

Therefore, you need to get all the pertinent information up front about what the shot entails, so you know what to take. Make sure you get a shot list and ask all the necessary questions up front.

If you do have your own gear, you can include it in your creative fee and mention it as a footnote on the estimate that it’s included. Alternatively, you may decide to separate it.

You should charge at least a nominal fee for the use of your equipment. This way you can put money aside for any replacements and upgrades you need to do over time.

If a client were to go to a rental house and rent the equipment needed to pull off a commercial production, they would pay hundreds of dollars. And that is just for the tools. What about the skill of the person to handle those tools?

Don’t be afraid to charge appropriately for your services.

Studio rental

Photo shoots can take place in a variety of locations, but if you need to shoot in a studio, make sure that you put a cost for the studio rental in your estimate.

Be familiar with at least three studios in your area that can be rented out and what they charge per hour or day. If at the time that you write your estimate you’re not sure which one you’d be shooting in, put the most expensive one as the cost.

Once you get the go-ahead you can see what is available on the date you’ll be shooting and book the available studio.

Editing & post-production

Quoting Commercial Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

When working on a commercial level, you may not be the person responsible for editing the photos. If you’re working with an ad agency or sometimes even a magazine, they may have someone in-house to do editing according to specific parameters.

Alternatively, you may be expected to do the basic editing, but someone else may be responsible for further refinement. Be clear on the outset about the expectations around post-production.

The Photoshop required may be complex and require the expertise of a professional retoucher. In this case, you must get a quote from a retoucher and put that as a line item in your estimate.

Quoting Commercial Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Archiving fee

Some photographers charge an archiving fee as part of their post-production process.

There is the time associated with uploading and storing images and the process required to back them up. Since you should be charging for all the time you spend on a project, it makes sense to include it in the scope. You can have it as a line item or include it in your creative fee.

Digital Imaging Technician

Depending on the genre of photography you shoot and the nature of the production, you might want to hire a Digital Imaging Technician. Also known as a DIT, they are responsible for backing up everything as you shoot, and for doing quick color treatments or composites on set.

For example, as a food and still life photographer, I always shoot tethered to my computer so I can see a large, more accurate rendition of my image than I can get on the back of my LCD screen. I also sometimes have to work with overlays if I’m doing product packaging, so I can see how the image fits with any text or artwork. A DIT can help with this process.

Photo assistant

I have used a photo assistant since the day I started shooting professionally.

A good photo assistant is indispensable and worth every penny. A photo assistant can help you carry all your gear, work your lighting and run out on errands. Having one on hand saves you time, which in the end is saving you money.

There are professional photo assistants whose sole work is assisting other photographers. However, there are plenty of photography school grads that start their careers assisting and have a lot to offer in terms of technical knowledge and eagerness to gain experience.

Many of them are not even that expensive, so if you can’t get the extra expense approved, I suggest taking a cut for yourself to have one help you out.

Stylists and makeup artists

Estimating Commercial Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Depending on the niche you’re shooting in, you may need a stylist. This may be a wardrobe or fashion stylist, or a food stylist.

Food stylists are responsible for shopping for the food and ingredients required for any food shoot and preparing it for the set. Food styling requires particular skills and are an essential part of any team producing food photography. It is not the photographer’s job, as it’s a different occupation and should be treated as such.

Food stylists usually charge by the hour or a day rate, as well as for prep, and often have their own assistants.

Similarly, wardrobe stylists are responsible for the clothing and related props on fashion shoots.

Makeup artists are required for fashion shoots as well, and sometimes on commercial portrait shoots.

Image usage

Image usage is the trickiest part of a photography estimate.

There is no right or wrong answer for how much you should be charging for usage.

When you are hired to shoot for a brand, you still own the copyright to those images. The client does not own them. The creative fee is for the labor to execute the commission, the usage fee is a license that allows them to use the image in a defined way for a specific time period.

How much you should charge is dependent on your market, the visibility of the brand, and how they want to use them.

The Getty Pricing Calculator is a free tool that can give you some idea of what to charge for usage.

However, I have found that there is what photographers should charge, and then there is reality. There is no point in charging a client hundreds of dollars per image if the client is small and cannot pay that.

I always recommend separating image usage from the creative fee. However, often you need to educate the client up front about copyright and what usage refers to. This can be tough if you’re dealing with a small business owner who thinks they own the images because they hired you to shoot them.

Give them an agreement that outlines the usage and make sure they are clear on how and where they can use the images.

In Conclusion

If you’ve been struggling with how to price your photographic services, hopefully, you now have a better idea of the types of things you can charge for.

The post How to Quote Commercial Photography Jobs: A Few Important Line Items to Consider appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

What is a Tech Scout and Why You Need to Do One

The post What is a Tech Scout and Why You Need to Do One appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

When talking about photography, a Tech Scout is a term borrowed from the film industry. It refers to finding a location that will match the setting or scene of a story.

LIke filmmakers, photographers need to do tech scouting (also referred to as a location scouting or a location recce).

The importance of a tech scout is often underestimated. Sure, you may find the most amazing location to photograph a newly engaged couple, but if you’ve overlooked some potential problems, it can end up ruining shoot day.

ech Scout-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Why you need to do a tech scout

As a photographer, a big part of your job is making sure you’re prepared. Cameras stop working, software crashes, and you realize that you forgot to charge the batteries for your Speedlites.

Unfortunately, technical difficulties are a part-and-parcel of the job. However, many various other issues can crop up when you’re on location. That location can even be a studio that you’ve never worked at before.

It’s part of your job as a photographer to ensure that the environment you’ll be shooting in is conducive to getting the desired results for you and your clients.

For example, as a photographer who shoots food, I always make sure that there is a kitchen in any studio I rent out for my jobs. Doing so narrows down the available studios that I can shoot in quite a lot. Food stylists work in all sort of conditions and can sometimes make do with a hot plate. However, why not rent a studio with a kitchen if it’s as easy as renting one without it?

Whenever I have to shoot on location, such as in a restaurant, I do a tech scout too. I visit the restaurant beforehand to find out where I’ll be able to shoot as unobtrusively as possible. I also want to see if there is enough natural light coming in from some windows. If not, I plan to bring in a strobe or a speedlight.

Becoming familiar with the environment you’ll be shooting in will help you not only plan your lighting accordingly but also anticipate potential snafus that can prevent your shoot from going as smoothly as expected.

ech Scout-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Working with clients on a tech scout

If you shoot retail photography, for example, families or couples, you don’t necessarily need to share details or images of the chosen location or locations beforehand. Perhaps your client may be familiar with the setting or has suggested it themselves.

For commercial clients, however, you may be responsible for scouting several locations and presenting them to the client for their decision.

The client will approach you with a creative brief or some ideas of what they are looking for, but it’s up to you to find the ideal location. Your job is to present at least two or three locations based on the brief or mood board or other consultation from the client. It may mean coming up with a list of possible options before narrowing it down to the ones you will actually go check out and photograph.

Tech Scout-Darina Kopcok-DPS

How to do a tech scout

To do a successful tech scout, you need to define the scope of the project.

Be clear on the following:

* who and or what are you shooting?
* how many images are required?
* how and where are they to be used?
* what is the budget to shoot these images?
* what does the client intend to achieve?

You may have some locations in mind, or you might have to start with a virtual scout, a search using Google Maps and street view. You can use Google to search for iconic buildings, structures or other important locations.

Once you have feedback from the client, visit each location with your camera and take some pictures. If possible, do your scout at the same time of time you’d be shooting the final images. An app like Sun Seeker or Sun Surveyor can help you determine where the sun will be at that time, which may be a big factor in your decision-making process.

Send the client a gallery of some of the best images with a color treatment that somewhat reflects the desired results.

Tech Scout-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Potential pitfalls

There are some potential problems that can get in the way of your shoot. Some may be disastrous for you if you haven’t thought ahead, especially on a commercial production where the budget is high.

One such pitfall is permits and licenses. People take images in public all the time, but as soon as you put a tripod down, or have a crew with you, you’ll likely be asked to move along if you can’t provide the proper permits.

Make sure you have the required equipment to shoot in the conditions you’ll be working. This can mean having the right accessories to protect you and your gear from the rain, and even having a large enough vehicle to transport bulky equipment like c-stands.

Parking is another issue you should determine ahead of time. Are you and your crew or the client going to be able to access the location easily, or you will have to walk a bit. If so, how are you going to transport your gear?

Lastly, if you’re shooting outside all day, what are you going to do about bathroom breaks? It may sound funny, but you won’t be able to leave thousands of dollars of equipment and the talent sitting around while you search out a loo. This is a scenario where having an assistant is a must.

Bathroom breaks and meals/snacks are something that needs pre-planning.

ech Scout-Darina Kopcok-DPS

In Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ve learned more about how useful it is to do a tech scout and the best way to approach one.

Proper planning can make or break a photo shoot. No matter how small your shoot or who you’re shooting for (even if it’s for yourself), checking locations out beforehand can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.


The post What is a Tech Scout and Why You Need to Do One appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

How to Customize Your Lightroom Workspace for Better Workflow

The post How to Customize Your Lightroom Workspace for Better Workflow appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Although it is sometimes overshadowed by its powerful cousin Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom is a robust post-processing program in its own right.

Lightroom is designed with simplicity in mind, however, it still offers a lot of options and can be confusing to new users.

This article assumes you have a basic familiarity with the appearance of the various panels in the Lightroom, and gives you some tips on how to customize your Lightroom workspace for better workflow and productivity.

Lightroom Workspace in Grid View-Darina Kopcok-DPS

The Lightroom Workspace in Grid View


Lightroom is organized into seven Modules: Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web.

You can find these modules in the uppermost right-hand corner of your screen. This panel or bar is called the Module Picker.

Customize Lightroom Workspace-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Each of these modules contains a set of tools that work specifically within that module.

For example, if you want to design and print contact sheets of select images from a shoot, you would navigate to the Print module, where you would find the required tools to do that.

You will find, however, that there are some modules that you rarely (or even never) use.

Most users of Lightroom spend the majority of their time in the Library and Develop Modules. Therefore, Lightroom gives you the option to hide these modules from view if you wish.

To set up which modules you would like to remain visible, right click on the module panel to bring up a pop-up menu:

Module Panels in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

The panels that are visible are noted with a checkmark. To make the module invisible, simply click on it to uncheck it in the menu.

For example, I never use the Book and Slideshow modules, so I have those checked off in my own Lightroom workspace.

The missing modules are still available under the Window menu; you can use keyboard shortcuts to open them.

Keep in mind that if you do this, Lightroom will automatically add the missing module back to the Module Picker.

Window View Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS


Lightroom Panels-Darina Kopcok-DPS

In the above image, the following are noted:

A. Library Filter bar
B. Image Display area
C. Identity Plate area
D. Panels displaying photos
E. Filmstrip
F. Module Picker
G. Panels for working with metadata, keywords, adjustments
H. Toolbar

There are four panels in each of the Lightroom Modules. Only two panels – the Module panel and Filmstrip panel – appear in all of the different modules in Lightroom.

For example, the Library module has a top Module Panel, the Navigation panel is located on the left-hand side. The right-side panel is mostly for Metadata, while the bottom panel is where the Filmstrip appears.

Develop Module has Develop and Preset panels instead of Navigation and Metadata.

Tabs are small panels inside of panels.

Below are the various tabs in the Develop panel in the Develop Module in Lightroom:

Tabs in Develop Module Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

You can customize your workspace to display only the panels you want.

  • To open or close all the panels in a group, hit -> Command-click (Mac) or Ctrl-click(Windows).
  • To open or close one panel at a time, simply Option-click (Mac) or Alt-click (Windows) on the panel header.
  • To show or hide both side panel groups choose Window ->Panel -> Toggle Side Panels, or press the Tab key.
  • To hide all of the panels, including the side panels, the Module Picker and the Filmstrip, choose Window -> Panels -> Toggle All Panels, or press Shift-Tab.

Lightroom Panels-Darina Kopcok-DPS

If you don’t use a panel often, you can hide it form view: Control-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) on any panel header in the group and choose the panel name.

Change the Screen Mode

You can also change the screen display to hide the title bar, menus, and panels.

Choose -> Window -> Screen Mode, and choose an option from the drop-down menu.

Full Screen Mode Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

When in Normal, Full Screen with Menubar, or Full Screen Mode, press the F key to cycle through them.

If you’re on a Mac OS, note that Full Screen mode and Full Screen and Hide Panels mode both hide the Dock. If you don’t see the Minimize, Maximize, or Close buttons for the application, press the F key once or twice until they appear.

Press Shift-Tab and then the F key to display the panels and menu bar.

  • Command+Option+F (Mac) or Ctrl+Alt+F (Windows) to switch to Normal screen mode from Full Screen with Menubar or Full Screen Mode.
  • Shift+Command+F (Mac) or Shift-Ctrl+F (Windows) hides the title bar, menus, and panels.

To dim or hide the Lightroom Classic CC workspace, choose -> Window then -> Lights Out, then choose an option. Press the F key to cycle through the options.

Identity Plate

You can brand your Lightroom with the logo of your photography business through the Identity Plate Setup.

It’s not going to impact your workflow in any way, but this is a cool customization you can make to appear more professional when working with clients and utilizing tethered capture.

Identity Plate Editor in Lightroom-Darina Kopcok-DPS

To access the Identity Plate Setup click on a Mac -> Lightroom and choose -> Identity Plate Setup from the drop-down menu. For Windows, go to -> Edit and choose -> Identity Plate Setup.

Under Identity Plate, choose -> Personalized and Custom.

Click on -> Use a Graphical Identity Plate and then -> Locate File to navigate to wherever you have your logo saved on your computer.

However, if you don’t have a logo, you can still customize the text that appears in Identity Plate by changing the font, size of the font, and the color of the module names.

To sum up

A customized workspace can help you improve your workflow and therefore efficiency when working in Lightroom.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help you navigate Lightroom a bit more easily and has given you some ideas on setting up the interface in the way that works for you.

The post How to Customize Your Lightroom Workspace for Better Workflow appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

10 Tips to Make Lightroom Classic CC Run Faster

The post 10 Tips to Make Lightroom Classic CC Run Faster appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Making Lightroom Run Faster-Darina kopcok-DPS

Lightroom is an excellent program editing and managing your image files. When it comes to organizing and developing your photos, Lightroom can’t be beaten. However, there are times when it slows down; like when it renders previews. To address this, here are ten tips that will make Lightroom Classic CC run faster.

10 Tips to Help Lightroom Classic CC Run Faster-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Update Lightroom regularly

Let’s start with the simplest tip: update Lightroom regularly.

Word is that Adobe has been working diligently behind the scenes on improving the performance of Lightroom, so it’s important to keep it updated.

To check for updates, click on -> Help in the top menu bar in Lightroom and then click on -> Updates to install them.


Optimize your Catalog

Lightroom continually updates the catalog file, but eventually, the data structure can become less optimal.

Lightroom has an “optimize catalog” option you can enable to improve performance.

To access this option, go to Lightroom -> Preferences and click on -> Performance.

Then click on -> Optimize Performance.

Set up Lightroom to back up on a regular schedule, and set it to optimize the catalog following the backup.

You can backup as often as you like. Ensure you always have the latest backup in case your Lightroom catalog becomes corrupt.

Be sure to discard previous backups to keep them from slowing down your computer.

More on this in a bit.

Optimize Catalog in Lightroom-DPS


Store your Lightroom Catalog and Previews on your main hard drive

Lightroom stores your catalog and preview files on your main hard drive by default.

To check where the catalog and previews files are stored, go to Lightroom -> Catalog Setting (Mac) or -> Edit -> Catalog Settings (PC).

The Catalog name is an .lrcat file and its location can be found under the -> General tab.

The preview file is an .lrdata file and it is stored in the same location.

Lightroom Catalog Location-DPS

Check your hard drive space

If your computer’s main hard drive is running low on space, Lightroom will slow down, as will any other programs that you’re running simultaneously, like Photoshop.

Your main hard drive needs at least 20% free space for Lightroom to run optimally.

Keep in mind that Lightroom can actually be one of the reasons you’re running low on space!

If you have Lightroom set to back up your catalog every day or every time you close it down, that can result in a lot of space being taken up by backup files.

Delete all of these backup files except the last couple of backups you have made.

It’s important to have the latest backup in case your Lightroom catalog becomes corrupt, but that is all you really need.

Convert your images to DNG when importing into Lightroom

DNG is short for Digital Negative. It’s a RAW file format created by Adobe.

When you convert a file into DNG, Lightroom ads Fast Load Data to the file, which results in a partially processed preview that allows Lightroom to render faster previews in the Develop module.

Adobe claims that a DNG file with Fast Load Data can load up to eight times faster.

Another benefit of converting to DNG files is that they are smaller files than other RAW formats and take up 20% less space on your hard drive.

You must enable this Fast Load Data under your Lightroom Preferences tab.

Go to -> File Handling and check off Embed Fast Load Data. Make sure you have DNG selected as the file extension.

Fast Load Data-Lightroom-DPS

Edit your images using Adobe’s recommended Adjustment Steps

The panels in the Develop module are organized according to a suggested workflow.

Adobe also recommends that adjustments in Lightroom follow a certain order to maximize performance. They are as follows:

  1. Spot Healing
  2. Lens Correction
  3. Transformations
  4. Global Adjustments
  5. Local Adjustments
  6. Sharpening
  7. Noise Reduction

Whenever you make an edit, Lightroom applies it and calculates the previous adjustments that have been made. The more adjustments you apply, the more Lightroom slows down.

This helps keep track of your edits but slows down your system because Lightroom is calculating adjustments as you edit.

I personally stick to this order, except that I start by adjusting my white balance.

I also leave detailed edits for Photoshop. For example, as using the spot healing brush repeatedly can slow Lightroom down significantly. You are better off using this tool in Photoshop, which is also more precise.

Also, editing your images in the order they appear in your Lightroom filmstrip can have an impact on speed.

Lightroom caches images for faster performance in the Develop module.

It will automatically load the next and previous images in the filmstrip below your photos in the memory.

In the screenshot below, the active image is highlighted with a lighter grey background. The images on either side have also been loaded into memory for quick access.

LR Edit Order-Darina Kopcok-EP

Build standard  previews on Import

Lightroom offers several preview settings for your images.

Although there are differing opinions as to which is the optimal preview setting, I suggest building standard previews on import.

This will slow down the import process, but it will make the Library module more responsive when you review the imported images. Lightroom renders the previews from your SSD, rather than building them from the RAW files.

Make sure your previews are set close to the width of your screen.

For example, I work on a 27-inch iMac with a 5120 x 2880 built-in retina display. This means my display should be set at 5120 pixels.

To make this adjustment, go to the -> Catalog Settings and choose -> File Handling.

Choose the previews size under -> Standard Preview Size.


Make your Camera RAW cache larger

Lightroom has a Preview Cache, which is stored with your Catalog file and used in the Library view.

It also has a Camera RAW cache, which loads the image date when you’re in the Develop module.

The default size for this is 1GB, which slows down performance due to Lightroom swapping images in and out of its cache while you’re editing.

I suggest setting the Camera RAW cache to 20 or 30GB.

To set this option go to your Lightroom -> Preferences and click -> Performance.

Set your desired maximum size RAW cache Settings.


Disable XMP Writing

Lightroom keeps track of the edits you make in the Develop module in its catalog. If something happens to this catalog, you can lose all your data.

Lightroom can be configured to write the develop setting data into an XMP file. This a small file that contains the edit information and is written to your computer’s hard drive in the same place as your original RAW file.

The problem is that writing changes into this file can really slow your computer down.

I suggest disabling this feature and make sure that you always have a current backup instead.


Pause Address and Face Lookup features

Lightroom allows you to look up image address based on the GPS data, or the ability to search for faces.

However, allowing these options to run in the background can slow Lightroom down. So it’s best to pause them while you’re actually editing your photos.

You can start them up again if they’re relevant to your editing process.

For example, as a food photographer, I don’t use these features so I have mine set permanently on “pause”.

To access these features, go to where your name appears in the top left-hand corner of the Lightroom interface and click on the arrow beside it to access the drop-down menu. Choose -> Pause.

In Conclusion

When it comes to archiving, organizing and all-around management of your photos, Lightroom is an amazing program.

Hopefully, these tips help you get the most out of the program and speed up its performance so you can spend less time editing and more time shooting!


The post 10 Tips to Make Lightroom Classic CC Run Faster appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media

The post Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Search Instagram for #foodphotography today and you’ll find almost 30 million posts.

Blogs and social media have turned what was once a weird little niche in photography into a worldwide phenomenon. From Baltimore to Beijing, there is no doubt that people love to take pictures of food.

However, as appetizing as your filet mignon may look to your eye, it may not to the camera. Throw in some bad restaurant lighting and a wide angle smartphone lens into the mix, and the potential for ugly food photography is high.

Here are my top five tips for great smartphone food photography for social media that will make your Instagram and other social channel images stand out.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Use Natural Lighting Whenever Possible

When it comes to food photography lighting is everything. The knowledge of how to use light is what separates the amateurs from the pros.

Although flat lighting has been a trend in food photography lately, food looks best when the light is natural and directional.

The reason a lot of food images taken in restaurants looks so bad is the fluorescent lighting, which is hard and unflattering. It is also often tinged with a green or yellow color cast.

When shooting food indoors on your smartphone, try to get beside a window.

Natural window light is what every professional photographer tries to mimic with complicated and expensive flash systems.

It is very flattering for food.

Just be sure that the sun is not too bright, as it can also cast harsh shadows that are unflattering to your dish.

When shooting food with a smartphone, notice where the light is coming from. It should be from the side or the back of your plate or set-up.

While front light is beautiful in portraiture, it will make food look flat and also can cast unwanted shadows.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Choose the Right Angle

Does your plate ever look like it’s sliding off the table whenever you shoot with your smartphone?

This is because the camera has a wide angle lens, so certain angles make your food look distorted.

To achieve the best results, shoot your scene at 90-degrees or straight-on. A 3/4 angle rarely works.

An overhead angle gives a graphic pop to an image because it flattens depth. You can also get a lot more into the frame than you would if you were shooting at 45-degrees.

It’s a perfect angle for tablescapes, but also more minimalistic compositions.

90-degrees is not a good angle for tall foods, like burgers or stacks of pancakes. You want to see those layers, so shoot these kinds of subjects straight-on.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Take a Minimalist Approach

Tablescapes are fun and look appealing, but they are oftentimes difficult to do.

It can take a lot of moving the various elements around to make a pleasing composition and by the time you get it right, the food will no longer look appetizing.

A minimalist approach usually works best, especially if you’re a beginner. After all, the focus should be on the food!

Look at it this way: if your food is nicely plated and styled, then you’re already more than halfway there!

All you need is an additional prop or two, like a utensil or a piece of linen tucked under the plate.

How you approach your propping will really depend on the food. In the image of the poke bowls below, the food is already bright, colorful, and full of texture. Adding more than a set of chopsticks would have distracted the viewer’s attention from the dish.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Heed the Rules of Good Composition

One problem you often see in food pictures on Instagram is that they look messy. Sometimes the food looks messy but also the environment in which the food is captured in.

The background is cluttered, or there are too many props that are distracting and don’t add anything to the shot.

Some of this can be solved with tighter shots and by taking some unnecessary elements away.

But you should also be aware of some of the basic principles of composition.

Try to have some negative space in the image. That is a clean area where the eye can rest for a brief moment as it moves through the image.

Resist the urge to fill every part of your image.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

If every area of your surface is covered with ingredients or a prop, it confuses the viewer and gives a claustrophobic feeling. Negative space provides a bit of breathing room and helps us focus on the main subject.

You should also be familiar with the rule-of-thirds. This is a compositional guideline that divides an image into nine equal parts, using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, like a tic-tac-toe board.

Rule of Thirds

The important elements in your scene should fall along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.

Smartphones already have a grid like this as an overlay when you turn on your camera. Use it to help you place your focal point. That is the area where you want to create emphasis and draw the viewer’s eye.

A focal point can be created with color, an area of contrast, or isolation. A garnish can serve as a focal point.

Tell a Story

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

I have stated that a minimalist approach is often best, however, be mindful that adding a narrative quality to your images can also be very powerful.

Everyone loves a good story. Give your viewer an idea of a wider story taking place beyond the confines of the frame.

For example, you can do this by partially cropping out some of the elements in an overhead table shot, or show someone’s hand serving food or holding a cup of steaming coffee.

This human touch has become wildly popular in food photography, and this lifestyle element has spilled over from Instagram into the world of commercial food photography because it creates a sense of atmosphere and relatability.

Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media-Darina Kopcok-DPS

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has given you some tips to improve your smartphone food photography for social media.

Whichever approach you choose, be conscious of consistency and developing your style.

If you look at the most successful accounts on Instagram and other social media, you will find that they have a specific look in terms of color treatment or palette.

Take a good look at your images for the consistencies in your style and work on developing them. This may mean you take a lot of bright and airy images, or maybe you do mostly close-ups of your food.

The more you hone your style, the tighter your feed will look and draw an audience that loves what you do.

I’d love to see some of your smartphone food photography, so please share in the comments below.



The post Smartphone Food Photography For Social Media appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Photoshop Focus Stacking for Still Life and Product Photography

The post Photoshop Focus Stacking for Still Life and Product Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

1 - Photoshop Focus Stacking by Darina Kopcok for DPS

Still life and product photography often require that your entire subject be sharp.

This can be difficult to achieve in-camera because if you’re shooting up-close, you can’t always get a lot of your subject in focus.

Stopping down to a smaller aperture (higher F-stop number) will not necessarily help you get a sharper image.

Enter Photoshop and focus stacking.

Focus stacking is a post-production technique of blending several images with different focus points to create one image that is sharp and in focus throughout the entire subject.

It’s the ultimate way to get the sharpest images, and it’s a crucial technique to know for still life photography.

2 - Photoshop Focus Stacking by Darina Kopcok for DPS

Why you can’t get razor sharp photos

Your aperture, focal length and the distance from your subject all impact the sharpness of your image.

Shooting at a higher F-stop number like f/22 won’t help you get sharper images in still life photography because of lens diffraction.

Lens diffraction in a phenomenon of optical physics that occurs in the lens and camera sensor.

When you shoot at f/2.8 or f/4, a lot of light hits your camera sensor directly. At apertures like f/16, the light hits the subject less precisely and causes a loss of sharpness.

It doesn’t matter how good your lens is – your images will be less sharp at apertures of f/16 and higher due to this law of physics.

The more you stop down, the finer details will blur out further.

Lens diffraction tends to be worse in zoom lenses than prime lenses because zooms have several moving parts.

3 - Photoshop Focus Stacking by Darina Kopcok for DPS

The depth-of-field problem

In still life and product photography, you often need to get pretty close to your subject. This means a shallower depth-of-field.

If you’re shooting small objects like jewelry, or objects that need to fill the frame, you’re usually so close that its entire depth cannot be in focus.

Using a macro lens like a 100mm or 110mm will also give you a shallow depth-of-field.

This is great if you’re doing food photography and want that blurred out background that is sought after in that genre, but for other types of still life, it creates a problem.

4 - Photoshop Focus Stacking by Darina Kopcok for DPS

Shooting for focus stacking

In order to focus stack in Photoshop, you need to shoot in a certain way with certain tools.

First of all, you need a sturdy tripod because your subject must be in exactly the same position from shot to shot in order to be successfully blended later in Photoshop.

If you accidentally bump your tripod, you’ll need to start all over again.

A shutter release is recommended to activate the shutter. Pressing the shutter by hand will introduce a small vibration that can introduce camera shake into the image and cause them to be misaligned in Photoshop.

That being said, Photoshop does a good job with aligning layers that are slightly off.

Personally, I like to tether my camera to Lightroom or Capture One and activate the shutter from within the program.

To shoot for focus stacking, start off by composing your shots and determining your exposure. You should use manual mode so that your exposure is the same from shot to shot.

  • Choose a point on your subject to focus on and take a shot.
  • Focus on a different point on your subject without moving the camera or adjusting any setting
  • Choose the next point and take the final exposure.

Three images will often be enough to cover each area of depth-of-field but it will vary by image

5 - Photoshop Focus Stacking by Darina Kopcok for DPS

Focus stacking in Photoshop

To blend the images together in Photoshop, start off by exporting PSD files into a folder or onto your desktop where you can easily find them.

  • Open Photoshop.
  • Go to File and choose Scripts.
  • Select Load Files into Stack.
  • Click Browse and select all the images from where you saved them initially.
  • Check the Box for Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images.
  • Click OK. Each of the images will open as a new layer in Photoshop.
  • Hold down Shift and click on the top layer in the Layers panel to highlight all the layers.
  • Under Edit, select Auto Blend-Layers.
  • Check the box for Stack Images and also for Seamless Tones and Colors. DO NOT check ‘Content Aware.’ Click OK.
  • Save the final image.

If you have uploaded a lot of images, flatten the final image by selecting Layer -> Flatten Image -> Save.

6 - Photoshop Focus Stacking by Darina Kopcok for DPS


Focus stacking is necessary for product photography but also very useful for other types of still life photography – even food photography.

If you’re fairly new to Photoshop, don’t be intimidated.

Focus stacking is a lot easier than you might think and you will undoubtedly be pleased with your results.

Have you used photoshop focus stacking? If so, share with us your thoughts and images below.


The post Photoshop Focus Stacking for Still Life and Product Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

How to Apply Compositional Theory to Still Life Photography

The so-called ‘rules of composition’ aren’t so much rules as guiding principles.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Why? Because not every compositional tool works for every image. Art is subjective, and what works well for one image may not work so well for another.

That being said, good photography involves not only technical skill but also choosing the right composition.

It’s especially true in still life photography, where composition can really make or break an image. So here are some tips on how you can apply these compositional ‘rules’ to your still life photography.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-Dps

The Golden Ratio

If you’re new to photography, you may have not heard of the ‘Golden Ratio’ (also known as the ‘Divine Proportion,’ the ‘Golden Mean,’ and the ‘Greek Letter ?’).

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them. While artists and architects have been using this principle for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, I was well into my stint at photography school before I’d even heard about it.

It’s a mathematical expression that can describe a wide variety of phenomena found in nature. But when it’s used in art, the results are harmonious and aesthetically pleasant compositions.

You can find the Golden Ratio everywhere – from the works of Michelangelo to the great Egyptian pyramids to a nautilus shell. It’s also found in the human face and body, and even in our DNA.

Rule of Thirds Grid

Most photographers are familiar with the ‘Rule of Thirds.’ This compositional guideline divides an image into nine equal sections using two horizontal and two vertical lines, just like a tic-tac-toe board. The important elements in the scene should fall along these lines or at the points where they intersect.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds works well for images such as landscapes but can be limiting for still life photography. The resulting images often feel awkward or unbalanced.

The Phi Grid

The ‘Phi Grid’ uses a similar concept but is much more powerful than the Rule of Thirds. Its center lines are closer together and express the Golden Ratio of 1:1:618.

Phi Grid

The Phi Grid is one expression of the Golden Ratio.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

This image uses the Phi Grid. Notice how the chestnut in the focal point is placed differently to the others, drawing the eye.

Fibonacci Spiral

Another expression of the Golden Ratio is the Fibonacci Spiral, which exhibits the same numerical pattern that makes up the Golden Ratio.

You can use this numerical pattern to draw a series of squares. If you draw an arc from one corner to the opposite corner in each square starting from the smallest square, you’ll end up with the Fibonacci Spiral.

This is a guiding principle you can use in your still life photography. By setting your subjects along a curve rather than a straight line you create flow and movement, and help guide the viewer’s eye through the image. It works particularly well in overhead shots that have several elements in the frame.

You can flip or turn the spiral so long as your focal point falls in the smallest part of the spiral. Other important elements should be placed along the curve.

Fibonnaci Spiral

Golden Triangle

Using triangles is a powerful way to create tension in a still life image, and retain the attention of the eye within the frame.

Here’s an image that expresses this principle.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Notice the diagonal line going from one corner to the opposite, and the lines meeting that diagonal from the other corners? Where the lines meet are your points of interest, which you should use to place your focal point and divide your frame.

While horizontal and vertical lines suggest stability, triangles add a sense of flow and movement.

You can compose your image to imply triangles, rather than being strict about composing them exactly this way.

Other Helpful Principles

Rule of Odds

In still life photography, having an odd number of elements in a frame is more visually interesting than having an even number of elements.

Odd numbers create harmony, balance and a resting point for the eyes, whereas even numbers compete with each other and can divide our attention.

Aim to have three or five elements in your image. You can have more, but the mind has trouble registering higher numbers meaning your photograph will not have the same effect. If you do have more, put them into groups of odd numbers wherever possible.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Odd numbers create tension

Negative Space

Positive space is the area your subjects take up.

Negative space is the empty area where the eye can rest.

Negative space can provide the feeling of movement, and emphasize your subject. Without any space for the eye to rest, a picture can feel chaotic or claustrophobic.

You see negatives space a lot in magazines or product packaging, where it’s used for text placement.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS


You may not think of color as a compositional tool. But it’s actually a very important one. It evokes emotion and creates the mood of the photograph.

Cool and dark colors such as navy blue and black recede, while light and warm colors such as yellow bring objects forward.

Color combinations can be monochromatic, or any of those found on the color wheel.

One of the most powerful combinations is complementary colors (i.e. colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel). Blue and yellow is one such combination, which you see a lot in food photography.

Take into account the color of the background or surface you’re shooting on. Colors that are too bright can detract from your subject. Make sure your background matches the mood you’re trying to create and works harmoniously with your chosen elements.

Rules of Composition for Still Life Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Complementary colors make your images pop

In Conclusion

It can take years for a photographer to learn to shoot intuitively using compositional principles. Visualizing your focal point on a Phi Grid is one thing, but visualizing the Fibonacci Spiral while you’re shooting may be more difficult.

Thankfully, with still life photography, you can tether your camera to your computer or use its Live View function to estimate where your subject and focal point should fall.

Editing software such as Lightroom and Photoshop can help you place the various elements in your frame with overlays of compositional guides. You can shoot wider than you need for the final result and crop in post-processing.

The more you implement these compositional guidelines and work with them in post the more you’ll internalize them, which can only improve your still life photography.

The post How to Apply Compositional Theory to Still Life Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

One Light Set-Up For Food Photography

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

When it comes to food photography, the natural light look is highly sought after.

However, it’s difficult to create consistency with natural light because the sun is always moving.

Most pro food photographers use artificial light to really take control of their lighting.

Using artificial lighting doesn’t have to be complicated, though.

Unless you’re doing some types of advertising or food product photography, you can get away with using just one light.

One light is ideal for shooting food for blogs, restaurants, and the editorials you see in popular foodie magazines. You can easily mimic window light, with one set of shadows on your food.

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Types of Artificial Light

You can choose from several types of artificial light sources.

The most common approach is to use a strobe like a mono head, which is a self-contained flash unit.

If you’re shooting advertising or product, you need to get to high number F-stops like F/22 to achieve the sharpness required without getting lens diffraction that usually goes along with it.

For these types of shoots, you will need a lot of watt power and most likely you will need to rent powerful battery packs.

However, for editorial type shoots, all you need is a 500-watt strobe. You can even use a speedlight with the right modifier.

Some food photographers like to use a constant light, like an LED light panel, so they can see where the shadows are falling before they press the shutter.

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina kopcok-DPS

Before You Shoot

Before you shoot, you should think about what you want your final image to look like.

Do you want the light to look soft and airy, or are you looking for deep shadows and striking contrast?

Do you want your light to be soft or hard?

The more contrast you have between light and dark, the more dramatic your image will be.

Your subject will often dictate the style you choose. For example, ice cream has the connotation of summer and is usually brightly colored, thus soft light or a bright and bold look makes sense.

Whether you choose soft light or hard light, your light source should be diffused to give you a nice blur in the gradations where the light and dark meet.

One Light Set-Up For Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Types of Lighting Styles

Side Lighting

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Imagine the face of a clock.

If you picture your light placed at 9:00, this is side lighting.

It can also be placed at 3:00.

However, in the Western world, we read from left to right. Our eyes first gravitate to the brightest part of an image, so it makes sense for our light to be coming from our left-hand side.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule. Each side will affect how the light looks in your photograph, depending on your composition.

The next time you shoot, try taking a picture with your light positioned at 9:00, and then move your light to take a shot at 3:00. Notice the difference in your final result.

Side lighting is a good approach for a lot of food photography, as it works well for most set-ups.

Place a large softbox close to your table. The bigger your light source, the softer the light will be. Soft light is a desirable look in food photography.

Place a reflector or bounce card opposite to the light to bounce some of it back into your scene. Move it closer or farther away, depending on how much shadow you want. Even when shooting white or bright scenes, you still want some shadows to add dimension.

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Side lighting

Backlighting Kopcok-DPS

Backlighting is when you position your light behind your food, at 12:00.

This is a great choice for beverages and soups, as it adds a sheen and highlights texture and the liquid properties of food.

It can be very flattering to food, but it can also be challenging to work with because your image might be too bright and blown out at the back and too dark on the front. Or it can just look too washed out, which is what happens when you shoot with too much light.

You can also end up with too much reflection on the top of the food.

Backlighting also emphasizes drastic color contrasts that can be difficult to balance.

So be aware of these challenges when choosing to use backlighting.

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Backlighting emphasizes texture


Side Backlighting

This is a combination of the two previously mentioned lighting styles, when your light is placed at 10:00 or 11:00.

With this style, you get the best of best worlds; the surface shine of backlighting without the risk of overexposure at the back of the photo. You also don’t have to reflect as much light onto the front of the food because the light is coming from an angle.

The reflector is opposite your light source.

The key is to play around with the height of the light relative to your scene, depending on how you want your shadows to fall.

One Light Set Up Food Photography

Side Backlighting

Other Lighting Styles

At this point, it bears mentioning that there are a couple of lighting styles that don’t work for food photography.

Front lighting is often used in portraiture, but it looks terrible on food. It can cast unwanted shadows and your images will look flat and lack dimension.

Lighting from overhead also creates flat images.

Lighting Modifiers and Tools

The most commonly used modifier in food photography is the softbox. The larger, the better.

However, the most used modifier in my own arsenal is a dish reflector with a 20 or 30-degree honeycomb grid.

A honeycomb grid cuts off the light and narrows it, which creates stunning contrasts in food photography.

You also need a large diffuser when working with artificial light. If you’re using a strobe or a speedlight the explosion of light won’t fall off as quickly as it does with natural light, and will give you hard shadows if not diffused, which is usually not ideal.

Also, you’ll need something to bounce and absorb light.

You can buy a 5-in-1 reflector kit, which will have diffusion material as well as a silver reflector to brighten the food and a gold reflector to add warmth.

Alternatively, you can use black or white foam core. White will brighten your scene, while black will absorb the light. I use black in my dark and moody food photography to create deep shadows.

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS

My Go-To Lighting Set-Up

I mentioned that I use a dish reflector with a honeycomb grid for my food photography.

You may be wondering what results you can get from shooting that way, but all of the images in this article were shots using this set-up.

The key to success in using this modifier is to have a large diffuser placed at the edge of your table and put the light one to two meters away, depending on how much light you need on your set.

This set-up will mimic window light beautifully because the diffuser actually becomes the light source, not the strobe. The bigger the diffuser the better, so as to keep unwanted light from spilling over the set. My diffuser is 150×200 cm/59x 79 inches!

One Light Set Up Food Photography-Darina Kopcok-DPS


In Conclusion

If you’re just starting to shoot with artificial light for food photography, focus on using side lighting until you feel more comfortable tackling backlighting.

With a bit of practice and some tweaks, you’ll finesse your set-ups to work best with your style of food photography.

Share with us in the comments below your food photography images and any other tips you may have.

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