5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography

The post 5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Do you want to capture stunning bird photography…

…that goes beyond the usual, standard bird photos?

You can!

In this article, I’ll give you 5 bird photography secrets that will ensure you consistently create incredible bird images.

Images that are creative, unique, and original.

Sound good?

Let’s dive right in!

1. Get Low for Gorgeous Bird Photography Backgrounds

Here’s the bread-and-butter of creative bird photography:

Get down low.

Really low.

It may seem tough. You might prefer to stay up high, away from the dirt and water and mud.

But if you want incredible bird photos, you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. You’ve got to get down low.

Specifically, you need to get on a level with the bird. Your lens should be about even with the bird’s eye.

Why is this so important?

When you shoot from down low, the distance between the bird and the background is greatly increased. And that causes the background to be far more blurred.

Therefore, you’ll capture some beautiful bokeh.

And beautiful bokeh?

Makes for a stunning bird photo.

This is how professionals capture such dreamy backdrops in their bird photography.

They get down as low as they can go. That’s all.

It really does make a huge difference!

Try it. I can guarantee that you won’t regret the resulting shots.

2. Shoot in water for stunning reflections

Do you want to capture especially gorgeous bird photography?

One of my favorite ways to do this…

…is to shoot reflections.

Let me explain:

A photo of a bird is nice. It’s standard. It can be beautiful.

But if you add a reflection, the image immediately becomes far more captivating. Viewers are instantly sucked into the scene.

The reflection adds a sense of subtle beauty and delicateness – one that you can’t get any other way.

Now, here’s how you capture gorgeous bird reflections:

First, shoot by still water.

Mudflats (with puddles) work well. Same with sheltered lakes.

If you’re struggling to find water still enough to generate full reflections, try shooting during the early morning. That’s when the wind tends to be a lot less noticeable.

Second, make sure the sun is low in the sky. (The lower, the better.) This will ensure that the reflection includes some nice colors.

You also have to be careful not to get too low over the water.


If you’re too low, the full reflection won’t come through. And a broken reflection has far less power than a full reflection.

Bottom line?

Find some birds near the water, and start taking photos!

3. Capture action for compelling bird photos

One of the biggest problems with beginning bird photography…

…is that it’s static.

The bird just stands in the frame.

And while there are methods of making this type of photo work, it’s often just a boring photo.

That’s why you should spice up your bird photos using action.

Once you’ve found a subject, watch it through your camera. Keep your finger on the shutter button.

Then, as soon as it starts to move, take a burst of photos. The more photos, the better!

Of course, you’re going to have a lot of failed shots. But you’ll also capture some keepers. And these will (with a little luck) blow you away!

Some of my favorite shots involve birds flapping their wings, preening, or feeding. If you wait for this behavior, you’ll get some stellar action shots.

One thing I’d recommend:

When you’re watching a bird through the camera viewfinder, keep some space between the bird and the edge of the frame.

Because birds can rapidly change their size – just by opening their wings. And clipped body parts are one of the easiest ways to ruin a bird photo.

Just remember these tips, and you’ll be capturing some great action photos in no time!

4. Shoot through vegetation for unique images

Another way to capture original images…

…is to find a subject.

Get down low.

And shoot through some vegetation.

This creates a gorgeous foreground wash – one that frames the subject without dominating the photo.

To pull this off, you generally have to lie flat on the ground. I advise experimenting with a few different angles – move around your subject, testing different possible foregrounds.

Note: It’s important that the vegetation is very close to your lens (and very far from your subject). Because the farther the vegetation is from your lens, the more in focus (and distracting) it becomes.

It’s also important to limit the amount of vegetation in the photo. You don’t want to cover up the bird entirely. Instead, you want to frame the bird with the vegetation.

Make sense?

Then start taking some shots with a foreground wash. You’ll love the shots you get.

5. Capture silhouettes for dramatic bird shots

Here’s one more way to capture creative bird photos:

Shoot silhouettes!

Silhouettes are really easy to pull off – and they look incredible.

Here’s how you do it:

Go out as the sun is just about to set. Find a subject (birds with a clear outline are best).

Then change your position so that the bird is between you and the setting sun. Ideally, the bird blocks the sun from your camera. This will prevent the sky from being completely blown out.

Make sure that the bird is in front of as much of the sky as possible.

That is, you want to frame the bird with sky – and you don’t want any dark patches behind the bird (from trees or other objects).

If you’re struggling with this, try getting down as low as you can. Because the lower you get, the more sky you’ll include in the frame.

Finally, ensure that you drastically underexpose your subject. One trick is to set the exposure based on the sky next to the bird.

That way, you’ll get a beautiful sky – with a nicely silhouetted subject.

Creative bird photography: next steps

Now you know how to capture stunning, original bird photos.

You know how to produce amazing backgrounds.

You know how to generate interest.

And you know how to capture incredible foregrounds.

The next step…

…is to get out and shoot!

Have any tips for creative bird photography? Share them in the comments!

The post 5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

5 Surprising Macro Photography Ideas to Jumpstart Your Creativity

The post 5 Surprising Macro Photography Ideas to Jumpstart Your Creativity appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Are you struggling to come up with amazing macro photography ideas?

Do you need a bit of a creativity jumpstart?

That’s okay! Because in this article, I’ll give you 5 macro photography ideas – all geared toward getting you out of that creative rut.

Are you ready to start taking stunning macro photos again?

Then let’s get started.

1. Find lights in the background for amazing bokeh

One of the best ways to do creative macro photography…

…is to capture gorgeous bokeh.

(That is, a beautiful, smooth, creamy background.)

And here’s how you do that:

First, find a subject that you really like. A flower, an insect, or some plant life will all work well.

Choose a wide aperture (one in the f/2.8 to f/5.6 range).

Then zoom in, until you’ve isolated just your subject.

Here comes the important part:

Slowly move around your subject, while looking through your camera’s viewfinder. The key is to find a ‘bokeh-generating’ background.

Now, bokeh-generating backgrounds involve light. The best bokeh often comes from bright lights and colors in the background.

More specifically, look for pinpricks of light and colorful reflections.

For instance, sun coming through trees creates amazing bokeh – because the trees break up the light.

Leaves in golden-hour light also create gorgeous bokeh. The golden light on the leaves reflects and makes a creamy, colorful backdrop.

Most scenes have at least a few bokeh options – so don’t settle for a subpar choice.

Instead, use the bokeh to create a masterpiece!

2. Shoot into the sun for gorgeous backlit macro photography

Nature photographers often shoot using frontlight – where the light comes from over the photographer’s shoulder, and lands on the subject.

This often works well. But it can get boring after a while.

If you want to get creative…

…try using backlight.

Backlight comes from behind your subject. It’s great for creating silhouettes – and it’s also great for producing creative lighting effects.

The light can pass through part of your subject, making it turn translucent.

And backlight can also create bright flares of light. When done right, this creates some stunning effects.

However, you should position the sun carefully.

If you get the naked sun in your frame, the whole shot will be ruined because the sun is simply too bright to be rendered by your camera.

Instead, put your macro photography subject in front of the sun. That way, the sun is blocked from view. But you still get some gorgeous effects.

In fact, I recommend experimenting with this. Try changing your angle slightly, so that the sun is placed behind different parts of your subject.

You’ll manage to capture some stunning shots – shots which you probably wouldn’t have initially imagined!

3. Shoot against a white sky for a gorgeous high-key look

Here’s a favorite macro photography idea of mine.

I use it all the time when I’m in a pinch!

Fortunately, it’s really simple:

Shoot against a white sky.

Let me explain:

One of the most important parts of a macro photo…

…is the background.

Without a beautiful background, your macro photos will often fall flat.

Now, the best backgrounds are simple and uniform.

And one of the great ways to create a uniform background?

Rely on the sky!

This works especially well on cloudy days. All you have to do is find a subject – then get down low. In fact, you often have to get lower than your subject.

Make sure that the background is completely covered by clouds.

Then photograph your subject and watch as it stands out against a gorgeous white backdrop!

(If the shot is slightly too dark, don’t worry. You can always lift the whites in post-processing.)

4. Freelens for stunning selective focus

Here’s another great macro photography idea for when you’re in a rut:


I’m a huge fan of this technique – because it gets striking, unique images.

Here’s how it works:

Turn on your camera, and make sure that your lens is focused to infinity.

Then turn your camera off, and detach the lens.

(I suggest you use a backup camera and backup lens for this because there is a risk of damaging your equipment.)

Now, the best lenses for macro freelensing are in the 50mm range. I’ve found that 50mm creates a nice balance of background blur and sharp focus.

Once you’ve detached the lens, turn your camera back on.



Note: With freelensing, you don’t focus by turning a focus ring. Instead, you focus by changing the position of the lens relative to the camera.

So keep the lens detached, and move it around at different angles.

Look for macro subjects, and see what happens when you shoot them with a freelensing setup. Also, notice how pulling the lens away from the camera increases the magnification of the lens. It also allows in more light – creating artistic light leaks!

Freelensing is a bit addictive. Once you’ve started, you’ll struggle to stop – because there are so many opportunities for gorgeous macro photos!

5. Shoot through a second subject for an incredible foreground

If you want an idea for especially creative macro photography…

…why not try ‘shooting through,’ or ‘cramming’?

First, find a macro subject. Flowers work especially well for this because they’re so colorful.

Get in close, and focus your lens on that subject. Choose a wide aperture, in the f/2.8 to f/5.6 range.

Then find a second subject. Place it in front of your lens. The second subject should be colorful – and ideally, similar to the first subject.


The second subject (which remains out of focus) will create a beautiful foreground wash. One that looks great in macro photography.

Now, you don’t want to completely cover your lens with the foreground subject. Instead, place it partially into the scene. That way, it will create a nice wash, without dominating the shot.

This may take a bit of experimentation. But if you’re patient, you’ll capture some gorgeous macro photos.

And your creative muscle will feel energized again!

Creative macro photography ideas: next steps

Hopefully, you’re now feeling excited about macro photography again.

After all, you have lots of ideas for original, creative shots!

The key is to use them. So get out and shoot!

Have any more macro photography ideas? Share them in the comments!

The post 5 Surprising Macro Photography Ideas to Jumpstart Your Creativity appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

A Beginner’s Guide to Stunning Close-Up Photography

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Stunning Close-Up Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Do you want to take incredible close-up photos?

Here’s the truth: Capturing incredible close-up photos doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can be extremely easy – if you know what to do.

In this article, you’ll discover the secrets to gorgeous close-up photography. You’ll learn about the required gear (Hint: You probably have everything you need!). You’ll learn the tips and tricks for stunning images (and you’ll love trick number 3).

Bottom line? I’ll make sure that you leave with the know-how to take truly beautiful close-up images.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Pick any camera and lens for close-up photography

First of all, the big question: Do you need expensive, specialized gear for close-up photography?

The short answer?


You can capture incredible close-up images with almost any camera & lens combination.

Because here’s what you need for stunning close-up photography:

A camera (any modern DSLR or mirrorless camera will do just fine). 

A lens that allows you to focus close to your subject (more on this in a moment). 

That’s it.

You don’t need a tripod. You don’t need a focusing rail. You just need a camera and a lens.

Now: What counts as a close-focusing lens?

First, for a technical answer (that you’re free to ignore): I like lenses that give the subject a magnification of (at least) 0.20-0.25.

But here’s the thing:

Most lenses will actually get you pretty close to your subject – if you give them the opportunity.

So don’t worry too much about your lens choice. Just use what you have.

If you want to make sure you’re getting as close as possible, I recommend you test out a few of your lenses. Then pick the one that focuses closest.

Now, for a brief aside:

If you want to get especially close to your subject, then you can invest in a macro lens.

A macro lens isn’t necessary for close-up photography. But it does let you focus extremely close.

A great inexpensive option is the Tokina 100mm macro (for Nikon and for Canon).

Once you have a good close-up photography set-up, it’s time for the next step…

Step 2: Start with flowers for some stunning close-up photos

Close-up photography is thrilling.

And there are tons of subjects out there, just waiting to be photographed.

But if you’re a beginner, I recommend you start with one particular subject…


Flowers are easy to get ahold of. They’re not a super challenging subject. And you can capture some stunning close-up flower photos.

You can shoot flowers indoors or outside.

But I recommend you start outside.

This is for two reasons:

First: Natural light is stronger than artificial light. Which means you’ll be able to get brighter, colorful photos without much difficulty.

Second: Being out in nature is a great part of the close-up photography experience.

But, if it’s winter where you live? Don’t despair.

You can still take some great close-up photos of flowers.

Just buy a bouquet of flowers at your local supermarket.

Then you’ll be ready to do some close-up photography.

Is there a particular flower that you should start with?

I’d suggest you start with some bright, colorful flowers. I’d also suggest you start with flowers that are large.

Roses are a great choice.

Tulips are another option.

Once you have your flowers, it’s time for the next step…

Step 3: Find the best light for stunning close-up photography

You need to be careful about your lighting choices.

Because amazing close-up photography requires good light.

What do I mean by good light?

You want to portray the colors of your subject. And you want to portray some beautiful details (e.g., the curves of the flower petals).

This gives you a few lighting options:

First, you could use cloudy light.

Cloudy light is soft and diffused. This means that it will capture nice, saturated colors. You’ll also be able to portray some nice detail.

Just try to shoot toward the middle of the day. Otherwise, the sky might get too dark. And you need a lot of light for close-up photography.

Second, you could shoot on a sunny day. This will give you plenty of light for stunning close-up photography.

But be careful: The light on a sunny day can be very harsh.

So if you do choose to shoot on a sunny day, take photos in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when the light is soft and golden.

(These times are often referred to as the “golden hours.”)

If you’re shooting inside, I’d recommend you go with the same set of options. Shoot on a cloudy afternoon or on a sunny morning/evening.

But make sure you place your subject near a window. Otherwise, you won’t have enough light to capture gorgeous details!

Step 4: Follow these close-up photography secrets to get amazing photos

You know how to select the perfect gear. You know how to find the best subjects. And you know how to choose the best light.

It’s time for you to actually take some close-up photos.

But how do you get the best photos possible?

Here are a few tricks you can use…

Shoot on a level with your subject for the most compelling photos

In close-up photography, it’s important you choose a great angle.

You want to portray your subject in a way that shows off its shapes and colors. And you want to take an intimate portrait – one that brings the viewer into the subject’s world.

That’s why I recommend that you shoot on a level with your subject.

What do I mean by this?

Simply position your camera so that it’s ‘eye-to-eye’ with your subject. You want to feel like you’re looking straight at the subject.

Only then should you take the shot.

You’ll probably have to crouch down low to capture this angle. You might even have to lie on the ground.


…It’ll be worth it, in the end.

Shoot toward the sky for the best backgrounds

The best close-up photos have simple, uniform backgrounds.

Simple backgrounds don’t take away from the subject. Instead, they emphasize it.

So here’s a trick for some nice, simple backgrounds:

Get down low, so that you’re on the same level as your subject.

Look through your camera.

Then scoot around the subject, paying careful attention to the background.

Does the sky appear behind your subject?

If so, then that’s the photo you should take!

If not, you can try getting even lower. But don’t go too low – you want to remain as level with your subject as possible.

This works best on cloudy days. Your subject will have a nice, white background.

But you can use the sky as a background on sunny days, too. Just be careful not to shoot into the sun (because that will cause unwanted flare effects).

Use manual focus to portray the little details

Here’s your final close-up photography secret:

Use manual focus.

Why is this?

Manual focus allows for incredible precision when focusing.

And when you’re shooting at high magnifications, you need to focus as precisely as possible.

Here’s why:

In close-up photography, your depth of field is limited.

(The depth of field is the amount of the photo that’s actually in focus).

You can get the petal of a flower in focus, but then the stem will be blurry.

Or you can get the stem of the flower in focus, but then the stem will be blurry.

So you have to ask yourself:

What do I want to get in focus? What do I want to emphasize in this photo? 

And then make sure you focus on that.

Unfortunately, lenses don’t autofocus well at high magnifications.

So you need to use manual focus, instead.

Start by switching your lens from autofocus (A, AF, or M/A) to manual focus (M or MF). There will be a switch on your lens body.

Then carefully roll the focusing ring between your fingers.

When focusing manually, don’t try to rush. Slow down. Glide from focus point to focus point.

You’ll quickly get the hang of it.

And you’ll be taking incredible close-up photos in no time!

Taking stunning close-up photos: The next step…

If you’re looking to take stunning close-up photos, I have good news for you:

You’re almost there.

You have the gear.

You have the knowledge.

You know how to find good light.

You know how to find strong backgrounds.

And you know how to focus carefully.

All that’s left…

…is to get out there and start shooting.

Do you have any close-up photos that you’re proud of?

Share them in the comments!

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Stunning Close-Up Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

10 Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid

The post 10 Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

You can capture incredible photos.

But there are a few common photography mistakes (often made by beginners).

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And these mistakes might be holding you back.

Fortunately, they’re easy to fix.

And guess what?

Once you’ve fixed these mistakes, your photography will be better than ever.

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So read on to discover the 10 common photography mistakes every beginner should avoid.

Starting with:

1. You’re not resetting your camera dials at the end of each shoot

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’re doing an end-of-day photo shoot.

You crank your ISO up to 1600 (to deal with the low light).

Your shoot ends. You go to put away your camera.


…In all the excitement, you forget to drop your ISO back to 100.

This is such an easy mistake to make. Especially since it’s something you must remember at the end of each photo shoot –when you’re exhausted.

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It’s something you can’t forget.


If you do, you’re jeopardizing your next photo shoot.

Because then you’re bound to shoot with your 1600 ISO.

And then you’ll get frustratingly grainy shots.

Which is exactly what you don’t want.

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So here’s what you do:

At the end of each shoot, shift all settings back to a standard value. The particular number depends on your camera and your style of photography. But make sure you choose a median value – one that will serve you in a variety of situations.

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Here’s what I do:

I dial my ISO down to 100.

I dial the aperture to f/5.6.

I dial the shutter speed to 1/500.

Doing this has saved me countless times.

It’ll save you, too.

2. You’re shooting JPEG photos (instead of RAW)

This mistake is a frustrating one.

Because there’s literally nothing you can do to fix it – after the fact.

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Here’s the mistake:

You’re shooting JPEGs.

But you should be shooting in RAW.

Let me explain:

Cameras can shoot images using several file formats.

JPEG is a common file format and it’s the default format on a lot of cameras.

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But here’s the issue with JPEGs:

They’re compressed files. That means that they lose information.

And a loss of information? That makes for lower-quality photos.

Not to mention another issue:

Each time you edit and resave a JPEG, you’re reducing the image quality.

Fortunately, you have another option:

You can shoot in RAW.

RAW is another file format – and it’s offered by most modern cameras.

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It’s a lossless file format, which means that you can edit RAW files repeatedly without reducing the image quality.

And here’s a RAW bonus:

RAW files allow for you to do more substantial editing. Because the RAW format saves more information, you’re able to recover highlights, boost shadows, and alter colors – far more than what you can do with a JPEG file.

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Bottom line?

Switch to RAW.

You’ll be thankful that you did.

3. You’re shooting during the harsh midday hours

One of the things that separates great photos from mediocre photos…

…is the quality of the light.

Good light can take a photo to the next level.

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Bad light can hold back an otherwise strong image.

Which brings me to mistake number three:

Shooting during the harsh midday hours.

Around midday, the sun is harsh. It causes contrasty shadows.

It’s just all-around bad for photography.

Instead of shooting during midday, try shooting during the early morning or evening hours.

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That’s when the light is soft and golden.

(In fact, these times are known as the golden hours.)

Shooting during the golden hours will give your subjects a wonderful glow.

It’ll give them some soft illumination.

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And it’ll give your photos a huge boost.

4. You’re using Auto mode all the time

When you first start shooting, it can be tempting to put your camera in Auto mode.

But here’s the problem:

When you shoot in Auto mode, the camera chooses all the settings for you.

And the camera does a good job 80 percent of the time.

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But the other 20 percent?

That’s when your camera will mess up.

And you’ve got to be able to correct it.

Otherwise, your images will suffer.

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So here’s what I’d suggest:

Start by learning the ins and outs of Aperture Priority mode.

(That’s the mode where you select the aperture and your camera will select the shutter speed.)

Then, when you’re in a non-stressful shooting situation, switch it on.

Try to use it more and more.

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Eventually, you’ll be shooting in Aperture Priority all the time. You’ll love the control it gives you.

And then?

If you want even more control over your camera, you can transition to Manual mode. But this isn’t a requirement – you can do a great job with just Aperture Priority.

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So that’s your call.

Just make sure you move away from Auto mode.

5. You’re forgetting about the direction of the light

You already know about the importance of good-quality lighting.

But did you know that the direction of the light matters, too?

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Depending on the direction of the light, your photos can be soft, dramatic, or striking. And it’s important that you carefully choose the direction of the light.

(Because different types of light suite different subjects and styles.)

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Here’s a quick guide to light:

If the light comes from in front of your subject (i.e., frontlight), you’ll get an evenly illuminated photo.

If the light comes from behind your subject (i.e., backlight), you’ll get a striking photo. The light will create a golden halo around your subject.

And if the light comes from beside your subject (i.e., sidelight), you’ll get a dramatic photo. The subject will be only partially illuminated – and partially shrouded in shadow.

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Now, all these types of light have a time and place.

But frontlight is generally a very safe option.

(When in doubt, use frontlight.)

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Here’s the important thing:

Each time you go out to shoot…

…look for the light.

Taken note of the light.

And position yourself so that you get the shot that you want.

6. You’re not composing deliberately

If light is the number one most important part of photography…

…then composition is number two.

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Because in order to capture great shots, you’ve got to create great compositions.

That is, you’ve got to arrange the elements of your photo in a pleasing way.

It’s so easy to forget about this.

But you should deliberately compose every photo you take.

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Now, composing deliberately doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

Not every photo has to be a masterpiece.

Just think about each photo you take, if only for a second.

Here’s a tip:

Try positioning your main subject in a way that emphasizes its beauty.

You could put it a third of the way into the frame…

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(Following the rule of thirds.)

Over time, your composition skills will improve. You just have to practice!

7. You’re not considering the background

When you’re doing photography, it’s easy to think about your subject.

But you’ve got to think about the background, too!

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The background is what frames the subject.

It’s what makes the subject stand out.

Here’s a bit tip for a stunning background:

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

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The simpler the background, the better.

Try finding a uniform background. A bright sky is a great choice. So is a dark wall.

(A uniform background really does make for a gorgeous photo.)

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It’s okay to settle for a less-than-uniform backdrop.

But make sure that it enhances the subject. Make sure it doesn’t detract from the overall image.

8. You’re not practicing very often

Photography is a skill.

And to improve a skill, you’ve got to practice.

Which means that you should get out and shoot as often as you can.

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I know that it’s hard.

But if you shoot for fifteen minutes every day, your photography will grow by leaps and bounds.

And if you shoot for an hour a day?

You’ll be astonished by how quickly you improve.

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It’s important to note:

Practicing photography isn’t just about taking photos.

You should also make sure to review your images. Consider what you like about them. Consider what you can improve.

And apply these findings the next time you go out.

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If you’re really serious about photography, you should also try reviewing other people’s images.

There are tons of great photography sites out there (including this one!). Try perusing them for fifteen minutes every day.

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You’ll soon develop an enhanced sense of composition and color. And this, in turn, will enhance your photography.

9. You’re shooting from standing height

When you’re doing photography, do you shoot from a standing height?

That is, do you generally take the standard shot?

Or do you move around and look for a unique perspective?

31 - Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid - Jaymes Dempsey

The thing is, it’s easy to just shoot from a standing height.

But if you do this, your images will never be unique.

And they won’t be very original.

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You want to show the viewer something they’ve never seen before. That’s how you’ll create a stunning photo.

So what do you do?

Instead of shooting from standing height…

Change your angle.

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Start by getting down low. Crouch on your knees. Get your pants dirty.

Then try moving to the side. Get a shot that nobody would ever think to take.

Next, find a nice vantage point – one that lets you capture your subject from above. Take a few shots from that angle.

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Do you see what I mean?

By changing up your position, you’ll capture unexpected, original, and compelling photos.

And that’s exactly what you want.

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10. You’re not processing your photos

Let’s talk about one last common photography mistake:

Taking photos.

But not processing them.

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Processing is a hugely important part of photography.


Because modern cameras account for processing.

37 - Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid - Jaymes Dempsey

In other words, if you’re shooting in RAW, it’s expected that you’ll process your photos.

So the camera gives you unprocessed photos – photos that need processing to look good.

The photos are under-sharpened.

The photos are undersaturated.

They’re just all-around in need of some editing.

Which is what you must do.

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If you’re not a fan of post-processing, that’s okay. You can take a minimalist approach to your processing.

But you should process your photos, if only a little bit.

Because processing will give them that final touch…

…that will make the viewer say “Wow.”

Common photography mistakes: What do you do now?

Now you know 10 common photography mistakes.

And if you’re making any of these mistakes, you might feel discouraged.

Don’t be.

39 - Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid - Jaymes Dempsey

Everyone is going to make mistakes. Especially when starting out.

The real question is…

40 - Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid - Jaymes Dempsey

What are you going to do about it?

If you follow the advice I’ve given you, you’re going to be in great shape.

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You’ll improve at lightning speed.

And you’ll be so proud of the photos you take.

Have any other common photography mistakes that I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments!

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You may also find the following articles helpful:

12 Common Newbie Photography Mistakes to Avoid

Common Photography Mistakes Newbies Make and How to Avoid Them

10 Common Photography Mistakes and How to Overcome Them


The post 10 Common Photography Mistakes Every Beginner Should Avoid appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

A Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Flower Photography

Abstract flower photography can stop you in your tracks. But unfortunately, when it comes to abstract flower photography, you probably don’t know where to start. What equipment do you need? What techniques do you use?

The world of abstract flower photography can seem distant and difficult.

abstract flower photography aster

Actually, it is no harder than any other genre of photography. It can be a lot more rewarding, though. You just need to know how to get started.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn the fundamentals of abstract flower photography. You’ll learn about the required equipment, as well as several key techniques for getting powerful abstract images. When you finish, you’ll be ready to go out and start applying these tips immediately.

Sound good? Read on.

What is abstract flower photography?

I’m going to define abstract flower photography simply as this – photographing flowers in a way that the viewer doesn’t immediately see the flower.

abstract flower photography swirls

That is, an abstract floral focuses not so much on the flower itself, but on parts of the flower: the curve of the petals, the color of the flower center, the play of light on the stamens.

To do powerful abstract flower photography, you have to stop thinking in terms of flowers, and start thinking in terms of shape, color, and light. This isn’t complicated. It’s easy to do, once you get the hang of it. The tips I share below will help you to do just that, so keep reading.


To get beautiful abstract flower images, you need two things: a camera and a macro lens.

The type of camera doesn’t matter. These days, essentially all cameras are capable of capturing stunning images. In abstract flower photography, it’s the lens that counts.

So what lens do you need?

Any sort of macro lens will do. I’ve taken excellent abstract flower images with cheap, sub-300 dollar lenses. I’ve also used my much more expensive Canon 100mm f/2.8L lens.

The thing is, abstract flower photography isn’t really about sharpness and perfectly rendered detail. It’s about composition, light and color.

abstract flower photography daisy

A tip worth mentioning is that the shorter the focal length of a macro lens, the closer you need to be to your subject to get life-size images. So, for instance, 60mm macro lenses can be a problem when you’re trying to get a close-up of a rose and you keep casting your shadow on the petals by accident.

You may have also heard that for abstract flower photography you need a tripod.

abstract flower photography silhouette

I would disagree. I don’t use a tripod for abstract flower photography, myself because I find that it’s too limiting. I need to explore the flower through the lens, change my composition, take a few photographs, and change my composition again. You can’t do that with a tripod.

Have you got your camera and a macro lens? If so, you’re ready for the bulk of this tutorial on quick and easy tips for stunning abstract flower photography.

Tip 1: Shoot on cloudy days

If you’ve done natural light macro photography before, you’ll know that you can get beautiful macro photographs at a few different times of the day. First, when it’s cloudy. Second, during the golden hours: just after sunrise and just before sunset.

abstract flower photography tulip

I photographed this tulip on a cloudy spring day.

For abstract photography, I recommend that you only shoot on cloudy days.

On cloudy days, the light is even, resulting in colorful, deeply saturated images. And in abstract photography, color is key. In fact, out of all the images featured in this article, all but one were taken on a cloudy day.

abstract flower photography tulip

Once you become a more experienced abstract flower photographer, you can start to experiment with other types of light. But until then, stick to cloudy days. Your results will speak for themselves.

Tip 2: Get close. Really, really close!

In abstract flower photography, you cannot just take a snapshot of your subject. Your goal must be to show the viewer something new, something unexpected.

The way to do this is to get close. Really, really close.

abstract flower photography pink

As I said above, you must think in terms of shapes, color, and light. The way to start is to magnify your subject.

Take that macro lens and crank it up to its highest magnification setting (which should be 1:1, if you have a true macro lens). Then get close to a flower. Look through the viewfinder of your camera, and just move the lens around.

abstract flower photography tulip center

What do you see?

You probably won’t immediately notice a stunning composition. I spend a lot of time looking through my lens without taking any pictures. There’s a lot of experimentation involved, and that’s okay. Which brings us to Tip 3…

Tip 3: Use a shallow depth of field

The depth of field is the amount of an image that is actually in focus.

Images with only a small amount of the subject in focus have a shallow depth of field. Images with a large amount of the subject in focus have a deep depth of field.

Depth of field is controlled by your camera’s aperture setting, also known as an f-stop. A low f-stop (f/1.4 to f/5.6) gives you a nice, shallow depth of field.

On most cameras, you will be able to choose your f-stop. For abstract flower photography, I usually keep it in the f/2.8-3.5 range but feel free to experiment a bit depending on your creative vision. Just keep that depth of field nice and shallow.

abstract flower photography black-eyed susan

Why do I recommend having so little of the image in focus?

In abstract photography, you must photograph flowers so that the viewer doesn’t immediately see the flower. You must work in terms of light, color, and shapes.

By using a shallow depth of field, you emphasize those elements and take the focus off the flower itself. You shift the focus to the shape of the flower, the color of it, and the light falling on the flower.

abstract flower photography aster

This is what I focus on in my final tip.

Tip 4: Look at the shape of the flower

As I mentioned above, it’s essential that you think about light, color, and shape.

Out of these three elements, I think that shape is most important in abstract flower photography. This is because flowers have naturally interesting shapes: sinuous curves, perfect circles, radiating lines.

The photographs are there. You just have to find them.

abstract flower photography coneflower

For instance, flowers tend to have such beautiful, soft petals. You can use these to your advantage in your photography. Think about the petals, not as parts of a flower, but as twisting lines. Try to see these shapes moving about through the flower.

Carefully set up a composition that uses these lines. Keep it simple—one or two lines is all you need.

Only once you’ve composed deliberately, keeping the shape of the flower at the forefront of your mind, should you take the image.

abstract flower photography black-eyed susan


Capturing beautiful abstract photographs can be an intensely rewarding experience.

Make sure you have the right equipment. Then, if you shoot on cloudy days, get super close, use a shallow depth of field and, above all, think in terms of the flower’s shape, you’ll be well on your way to taking stunning abstract flower photographs.

Have any more tips for abstract flower photography? Share them in the comments!

abstract flower photography orange

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Flower Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod

Are you frustrated by the inconvenience of a tripod and you prefer shooting handheld? Do you want to take sharp images, but without having to lug around such a large piece of equipment?

Fortunately, it is possible to get stunning images, even images in low light, without using a tripod. In fact, tripods often limit your flexibility.

5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - dunlin

I rarely use a tripod, myself. While I do appreciate the added stability a tripod provides, I find myself struggling to compose images. I prefer the ability to quickly flow from composition to composition. I also like to shoot from angles that tripods struggle to cover. Hence, I have a lot of experience in photographing handheld.

In this article, I discuss various ways you can shoot without a tripod while still getting sharp images. I will show you how, with very little work, you can take your handheld photography to the next level.

5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - golden retriever and woman

1. Stabilize Your Body Against an Object

I’ll start with the least technical tip for shooting handheld, that is to become a human tripod!

By this, I mean that you should seek to stabilize your body and arms against an object. I find that the ground is an excellent choice (after all, it’s reliably present).

So, when shooting handheld, I often get down on the ground. I’ll lie on my stomach and press my elbows firmly against the soil. Then I can feel fairly confident when taking my image that things will remain sharp.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - aster

I stabilized my elbows against the ground in order to photograph this aster.

If you don’t want to get down on your stomach, that’s okay. You can also try out several other positions.

For instance, you can crouch down and put your elbows on your knees. Or you can tuck your elbows into your body.

You can also find some other object to stabilize yourself against. I sometimes use large rocks or fallen trees when shooting flowers. It pays to be creative.

2. Use Your Camera or Lens’s Built-In Image Stabilization

Does your camera or lens possess image stabilization technology? If so, switch it on!

You see, image stabilization technology is built in by clever camera manufacturers. It reduces (or eliminates) camera shake using image stabilization.

Image stabilization technology generally works in one of two ways. If it’s built into the camera, the sensor physically moves to counteract any camera shake that the camera has experienced. If it’s built into the lens, an optical element inside the lens is what moves.

Regardless, here’s the key takeaway: Image stabilization technology help to minimize or eliminate camera shake.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - urban abstract

Without image stabilization, getting this urban abstract would have been very difficult.

The downside of image stabilization technology is that it’s expensive. Only some cameras and some lenses possess it, and they tend to be on the pricier side of things.

For those of us who dislike shooting with a tripod, however, image stabilization is a worthwhile investment.

3. Shoot with Shorter Lenses

An oft-cited rule in photography circles is this: you can handhold your lens at a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length (that is, 1/focal length).

This may sound complex, but it’s really not. To find an acceptably fast shutter speed, take the focal length and make it into a fraction with a one on top.

For instance, if you’re shooting with a 100mm lens, you can handhold at a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second or faster. When you’re shooting with a 400mm lens, you can handhold at a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second or faster. Finally, if you’re shooting with a 25mm lens, you can handhold at a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second.

Do you see the pattern? The longer the lens, the faster your shutter speed must be. Conversely, you can use a longer shutter speed when using a short lens.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - golden retriever

I used a wide angle lens to capture this golden retriever in low light.

This is for a couple of reasons. First, long lenses tend to be bigger and heavier, causing more camera shake. Second, longer lenses magnify camera shake, resulting in blurrier pictures.

Therefore, if you don’t have a tripod to cut down on camera shake, you should use a lens that is more forgiving of the rule (based on the 1/focal length rule).

So if you’re shooting handheld, use shorter focal lengths for more success.

4. Shoot in Burst Mode

Another tip for photographing without a tripod is to shoot in burst mode (high-speed drive mode).

To activate burst mode, you simply have to set the camera to high-speed drive mode and hold down the shutter button. If you have a camera with this capability, you’ll hear the rapid-fire sound of images being taken.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - white-morph reddish egret

Burst mode was essential for getting this early-morning shot of a White-Morph Reddish Egret.

This mode helps with handheld photography for two reasons.

First, when you jab the shutter button with your finger, it generates camera shake. When you use burst mode, however, you only press the shutter button at the beginning of your image sequence. This means that later photographs are taken with very little camera shake because the shutter button is not actually pressed just before the image is captured.

Second, when you shoot in burst mode, the mirror doesn’t cause extra vibrations. You see, many cameras (DSLRs) have mirrors in front of the sensor. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up, briefly exposing the sensor to light (to capture the image).

When the mirror flips up, this causes small vibrations throughout the camera, another form of camera shake. Yet when you activate burst mode, the mirror only flips up only at the beginning of the burst. The later shots aren’t affected by the vibrations caused by the mirror and as a consequence, they are sharper.

NOTE: This last point doesn’t apply to mirrorless cameras as they do not have a mirror, hence the name!

5. Use the self-timer

My final tip for photographing without a tripod is to use your camera’s self-timer.

The self-timer allows you to press the shutter button, and then it waits a specified number of seconds before the image is taken.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - cosmos

I love using the self-timer when photographing flowers.

This useful for the same reason cited above in favor of burst mode. It prevents the camera shake generated when you press the shutter button.

So, next time you’re out in the field and you’re struggling to get sharp images without a tripod, try using the self-timer to reduce your camera shake.

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Many photographers think that tripods are a necessity, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There are methods that you can use to shoot without a tripod while still capturing stellar images.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - architecture ann arbor

  • First, steady yourself by placing your elbows against the ground.
  • Second, switch on your camera or lens’s image stabilization software.
  • Third, shoot with shorter (e.g., wide-angle) lenses.
  • Fourth, photograph using burst mode.
  • Fifth, use your camera’s self-timer.

photography without tripod yellow flower

photography without tripod cosmos

If you follow these tips, your tripod will become far less important, and you’ll take fantastic handheld images.

Have any more tips for photographing without a tripod? Please share them in the comments below.

photography without tripod little blue heron

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Ways to Take Stunningly Sharp Images

You can take sharp images. You can take them consistently, quickly, efficiently. However, you just may not realize it yet.

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The Problem

The thing is, getting acceptably sharp images is a common problem among photographers. It’s something that I myself often struggled with getting consistently. I can’t tell you the number of times I used to come home, only to find my memory cards full of blurry or out of focus images.

I used to think the problem was my camera optics. In order to take pin-sharp images, I thought I needed a top of the line camera and lens. But it turns out that, when it comes to sharpness, the problem is generally the photographer (or the choices that the photographer makes).

And fortunately, that problem is very easy to fix.

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In this tutorial, you’ll learn five ways that you can get sharp images. And then, next time you go out shooting, you’ll consistently take pin-sharp images. Sound good? Read on to find out how.

sharp images tulip abstract

1. Use a fast enough shutter speed

When you press the shutter button on your camera, the internal sensor is briefly exposed to the light. This is how the camera actually captures an image.

The length of time that the sensor is exposed to the light is called the shutter speed.

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Depending on your camera settings, the sensor might be exposed to the light for a long period of time (a slow shutter speed) or a short period of time (a fast shutter speed).

One of the main reasons your images are coming back blurry is that you’re not using a fast enough shutter speed. If you use a slow shutter speed, then your camera sensor remains open to the light for too long. It captures too much. That is, it captures motion.

But if you want to freeze the motion and capture only a sliver of a second so that everything is crystal clear, frozen. To do this, you need a fast shutter speed.

sharp images white ibis

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to do this. In your camera’s settings, you can generally increase the shutter speed. Or you can use the Action (Sports) setting, which many cameras have.

Even if your subject isn’t moving, your hands might not be rock-steady. This causes camera shake which in turn causes image blur.

A faster shutter speed will help fix this.

2. Tuck in your elbows

A shutter speed increase solves many issues with blurry photographs. But what if you can’t use a fast shutter speed?

photography without tripod golden retriever sunset

When the light is low, for instance, when you’re indoors or when you’re outside at night – a fast shutter speed lets in too little light, causing the image to be dark (we call this underexposure). Your camera will compensate for the low light by keeping the shutter open for longer, exposing the sensor to more light.

This is when it becomes important to eliminate camera shake completely. If the camera shakes, your image will come out blurred. So how do you stop your camera from shaking?

The first way that I’m going to talk about is simple: You tuck in your elbows. Don’t shoot with your arms out. Instead, firmly grip your camera while pulling your elbows in. This will serve to stabilize the camera and reduce camera shake.

sharp images woman in window

I tucked in my elbows in order to get a sharp shot of my model in low light.

3. Stabilize your body against a wall (or the ground!)

Sometimes, tucking in your elbows isn’t enough. If the light is really low, you may need to take more drastic measures to reduce camera shake.

One big tip is to stabilize your body against a feature of the landscape, something solid.

sharp images reddish egret

When photographing birds, I often stabilize my elbows against the ground, ensuring a sharper image. If you’re a street photographer, for instance, you can search for walls to lean against. If you’re a landscape photographer, you can hold onto a rock or tree.

It also helps to get down on the ground. You can kneel and stabilize your arms on your knee. Or you can get down on your stomach and use the grass, concrete or dirt as a stabilizer for your camera.

Trust me, it works!

4. Use a tripod

I’ve been talking a lot about stabilizing your camera, and the ways I’ve suggested will generally work well, especially if you’re in a pinch. But there is a more dedicated solution – use a tripod.

With a good tripod, you can completely eliminate camera shake. This will do wonders for keeping your images sharp.

sharp images ann arbor nickel's arcade

I used a tripod to capture this image of a musician at night.

There are a few downsides to using a tripod, however. The first is that you lose flexibility. It takes time to set up a new composition when you’re using a tripod, time that you might not want to spend. This is especially true if you’re photographing in a fast-paced atmosphere (e.g., portraiture or events).

The second downside is that good, solid tripods are expensive, especially if you want one that’s lightweight. Cheaper tripods may seem like a bargain, but they often don’t do the job well, or at all and replacing them costs more than buying one good one in the first place.

So be careful before choosing to invest in a good solid tripod.

5. Use a Shorter Lens

I have one more recommendation for eliminating blurry photographs, that is to use a shorter lens.

This is for a few reasons, but I’ll focus on the simplest one. A longer lens is harder to keep steady. It destabilizes the camera (and the image is magnified), and will, therefore, cause camera shake.

sharp images golden retriever

I used a wide-angle lens to photograph this golden retriever as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Hence, this tip is short and sweet. Especially when shooting in low light, put away your longer lenses and your telephoto zooms. Bring out your wide-angle and portrait lenses, ones that you can easily hold steady.

That’s how you’ll take sharp images.


Capturing consistently sharp images may have seemed daunting, but I hope that you now realize the truth. Getting sharp images is easy!

sharp images cosmos

I urge you to get out and try these tips now.

  1. Use a fast shutter speed.
  2. Tuck in your elbows.
  3. Stabilize your body.
  4. If you want, invest in a tripod.
  5. Use a wider lens.

And admire those crystal clear images!

Do you have any other tips for taking sharper images? Please share them in the comments below.

sharp images wilson's plover

The post Five Ways to Take Stunningly Sharp Images appeared first on Digital Photography School.

A Guide to Using Natural Light for Macro Photography

Working with natural light can seem daunting. Yet as a macro photographer, I love natural light. I’ve spent years studying it, playing with it, observing it, and watching it fall.

I use it in all of my photographs. In fact, the last time I picked up a flash was over five years ago.

natural light macro rose abstract

But how do you take advantage of natural light? Are there some simple principles that can be learned and quickly applied, so that you can take stunning macro photographs in no time?

Actually, yes!

In this short tutorial, you’ll learn all about natural light for macro photography. I’ll explain the types of natural light that I like, the types that I avoid, and how you can best use natural light in your own photographs.

When you’re finished reading, you’ll have the know how to use natural light like a pro!

natural light macro birch leaf in clover

Five Types of Natural Light in Macro Photography

There are five types of natural light that all macro photographers should know:

  • Sunny light
  • Cloudy light
  • Evening frontlight
  • Evening backlight
  • And evening shade

Let’s discuss each in turn.

natural light macro poppy

Sunny Light

By sunny light, I am referring to the light that you find at noon on a clear day.

It’s very bright, very strong, and really contrasty. So, let me just get this out of the way and state it simply.

Do NOT use sunny light for macro photography!

natural light macro clematis

I couldn’t bring myself to take a photograph in direct sunlight. I just dislike it too much! So I photographed this clematis in the evening.

I know that it’s very tempting. After all, bright sunlight is very powerful, and everyone loves to get out on sunny days.

The problem, however, is that direct sunlight is extremely tough for cameras to deal with, resulting in blown out (that is, totally white) highlights and underexposed (very dark) lowlights. It also creates shadows that are unpleasant to look at.

Now, there are some genres of photography that make use of a sunny type of light. Street photography, for instance, relies heavily on the gritty, contrast-heavy look that sunny light provides.

natural light macro aster

Macro photography, however, requires softer light such as the next type of light.

Cloudy Light

Cloudy light is pretty self-explanatory. This is the kind of light when there are clouds, at any time of the day.

natural light macro fall leaves

What does this mean for your photography?

Clouds diffuse the light, causing it to become pleasant and soft. This is an ideal type of light for bringing out colors in your subject. I work a lot with flowers, and I go crazy over cloudy light.

There’s nothing better than a nice cloudy day for flower photography.

natural light macro tulip

I photographed this flower under cloudy skies.

Therefore, if you enjoy doing flower-focused macro photography, cloudy light is for you. Shooting in cloudy light will ensure evenly illuminated subjects, lovely colors, and really pleasing images.

Yet sometimes you might want to create images which are slightly less soft. You might want to work with more striking light, which brings us to . . .

Evening Frontlight

Evening frontlight is found during the golden hours of photography. The golden hours are the first two hours after sunrise, and the final two hours before sunset.

During this time, the sun casts a beautiful golden glow over the world. If you venture outside, and you make sure that the sun is behind you (point your shadow at your subjects), you’ll find that you’re looking at a beautiful landscape.

natural light macro red flower

Is this type of light good for macro photography?

In a word, yes. Such natural light tends to look lovely and soft when rendered by a camera.

I must admit, however, that I am not the biggest fan of evening frontlight. I find that it’s a bit too bright. I also prefer more dramatic lighting. Which brings me to my favorite type of light.

Evening Backlight

Evening backlight is extremely similar to evening frontlight. Except, rather than having the sun behind you, you have it directly in front of you.

I love evening backlight for macro photography. I’m drawn to its dramatic presence and warmth. I suggest that you try it, yourself.

natural light macro aster backlight

I photographed this aster in evening backlight.

To use evening backlight, you simply point your camera into the light. I recommend placing the subject between yourself and the setting sun so that the sun is obscured by the subject. Or put the actual sun slightly outside the image, so that it can be felt rather than seen.

Of course, these images aren’t for everyone. But I personally find them to be stunning!

natural light macro backlight

Yet if you’re looking for something a little less punchy, I do have one final recommendation.

Evening Shade

Evening shade is pretty self-explanatory, as well. Your subject is shaded by some object (a tree, a building, the photographer) in the evening.

What makes evening shade natural light so special? I like the evening shade for one specific reason.

If you can shade your subject while using an unshaded background, your images will really pop. The background will be rendered as liquid gold, while your subject is lit fairly evenly.

natural light macro daisy abstract

I photographed this daisy in some evening shade. The background was lit by the setting sun.

Don’t believe me? Try it!


Natural light may seem difficult to work with, but I hope that after reading these tips, you are feeling far more confident in your abilities.

natural light macro dahlia

Simply remember to avoid sunny light, and you’re halfway there. Use cloudy light if you want soft, evenly illuminated subjects and beautiful colors. Use evening light if you want a bit more drama.

Which type of natural light do you prefer? Share your opinions and images in the comments below.

natural light macro leaves

The post A Guide to Using Natural Light for Macro Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

How to Take Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects - leaf in the snow

How do you take extraordinary photographs of ordinary subjects? Many photographers think that this is impossible. They think that the best photography requires far-flung locations or sweeping landscapes. Yet creating beautiful photographs of everyday things is not only possible, it’s easy!

In this tutorial, you will find five ways to make incredible photographs of ordinary subjects.

5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects - close up of a white flower

1. Change your angle

I’ll start with a simple but very useful trick, that is changing your camera angle. Many photographers often shoot from a standing position, and this can be a useful starting point.

Yet when faced with an ordinary subject, it’s important to change things up. Otherwise, you’ll get a boring image that anybody could have taken.

red leaves - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I stood underneath the leaves to get this image.

Instead, you should be more creative. Try crouching down low, so that you’re shooting up at your subject. This will create a sense of drama and your subject will loom in the frame.

I often lie on the ground, especially when shooting wildlife. Getting down on this level, even with the most ordinary of subjects, will give your images a sense of intimacy and draw the viewer right in.

Another option is to shoot from up high. You can hold the camera above your head, and use the LCD to compose your photograph. Or you can find some way of elevating yourself by using a chair, a balcony, or some stairs.

succulent plant - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

Regardless of which method you use, by changing your angle, you’ll find that you can make even the most ordinary of subjects come to life.

2. Photograph in dramatic light

A second way to take extraordinary photographs is to use dramatic lighting. Dramatic lighting can significantly add to the feeling and mood of your images. Therefore, by using dramatic lighting, you can create powerful images of ordinary subjects.

How do you create dramatic lighting?

One of my favorite types of dramatic lighting is with direct backlight. By this, I am referring to situations where the sun is low in the sky and directly behind your subject.

tree bark backlit - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

The sun was setting just beside the tree in the background.

Make sure that the sun itself is not in the image. You can either hide the sun behind the subject or photograph so the sun is just out of the frame.

Direct backlighting can single-handedly save a lackluster image. It will make viewers stop in their tracks. They’ll be pulled in by the high contrast and the drama.

Try it. I guarantee that you’ll see huge improvements in your photographs.

3. Find abstract compositions

A third way of taking extraordinary photographs of ordinary subjects is to look carefully for abstract compositions.

Abstract compositions are ones that don’t view the subject merely as the subject. A good abstract image emphasizes lines, shapes, and colors over any identifiable real-world elements.

dandelion - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

Often, good abstract photographs can be made by zooming in close (perhaps with a macro lens). But you can take beautiful abstract photographs with any lens.


The trick is to forget about the subject as you would normally think about it. Say you’re taking a picture of a rose. You must stop thinking about the rose as a flower. Start thinking about the rose in terms of its delicate lines, its solid color, and its curves.

rose abstract - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

Compose with these components in mind.

Even if your subject is completely ordinary, being able to find abstract compositions will do wonders for your photographs of the most mundane subjects.

4. Use creative photographic techniques

By “creative photographic techniques,” I’m referring to tricks that professional photographers employ.

These tricks will add a special touch to any photograph. By using these tricks, your everyday images will come to life.

snow and ice - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I’ll share two with you today.

The first technique is called “freelensing.” It involves detaching the lens from your camera and holding it manually in front of the camera body.

By tilting the lens in different directions, you can change the area of the image that is in focus, resulting in some very creative effects.

I use this technique quite often when photographing nature.

red leaf on a tree - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I used freelensing to capture this photograph of autumn leaves.

The second technique is called “intentional camera movement.” You simply set your shutter speed for a significant length of time (anywhere between 1/50th of a second and 2 seconds is a good place to start).

Then, once you’ve pressed the shutter button, you intentionally move the camera during the exposure. You might try panning from left to right. Or you can bring the camera downward. Really, you can use any kind of motion, the possibilities are endless!

This intentional camera movement technique will undoubtedly result in some stunning abstract images. So go ahead and experiment!

camera movement - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

5. Add a touch of editing

Some photographers often skip post-processing, thinking it unnecessary. But while you don’t have to edit your images, even subtle editing can be used to accentuate certain aspects of a photograph. Editing can make a photograph moody, colorful, or dramatic.

In short, a touch of editing can make your ordinary photographs extraordinary.

One of my favorite tricks for editing a photograph of an ordinary subject is simple. Convert it to black and white.

cute dog - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I liked the color version of this pet photograph, but I loved the drama of the black and white.

That’s it. If you have Lightroom, go ahead and use one of their free presets.

What’s so special about black and white?

Black and white emphasizes the contrasting elements of a scene while stripping away all color. This makes your images far more artistic and dramatic.

By lightly editing your photographs, you can make them pop off the screen. You can make them come to life. You’ll create images that you’ll be proud of, even years later.

palm leaf backlighting - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

In Conclusion

By changing your angle, photographing in dramatic light, finding abstract compositions, using creative techniques, and by lightly editing your photographs, you’ll be able to take stunning images of even the most ordinary of subjects.

abstract of a leaf - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

So get out there and start shooting!

Have another tip for taking great photographs of ordinary subjects? Share it in the comments!

purple flower - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

The post 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images - dandelion bright

With hundreds of thousands of photographers out shooting, how do you distinguish yourself from the pack? How do you repeatedly come home with images that make audiences everywhere gasp? One way is to use a more unique, dramatic style – backlight.

But how do you do this? In fact, it’s rather simple.

In this tutorial, you’ll find a sequence of steps for working with backlight. When you’re finished reading, you’ll have the know-how necessary to take incredible backlit photographs that everyone will love.

backlit flower - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Step 1: Shoot early or late in the day

Backlight refers to a lighting situation when the light comes from directly behind the subject.

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images - yellow flower and bokeh

A backlit Black-Eyed Susan.

Because backlit photography requires such a specific lighting angle, it can only be done when the sun is low in the sky. This means photographing early or late in the day.

Too early in the afternoon and the sun won’t offer much directional light. For dramatic backlighting, the sun needs to point across (and into the eyes of the photographer). But during midday, the sun points down.

Also, the golden quality of the light during morning and evening makes for a much more pleasing backlit images.

snow close up - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

I photographed this backlit snow late in the evening.

Step 2: Find a distinct subject

The subject is the focal point of your image. It is what you want to stand out, what you want to emphasize in your photograph.

interesting flower shape - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

The best subjects have distinct outlines. That is, they don’t overlap with other elements in the photograph.

A mishmash of trees? Not the greatest subject for a backlight photograph. The trees will all blend together, creating a load of messy shadows.

A single tree against the sky? Now you’re off to a great start.

Step 3: Get low

Once you’ve found your subject, it’s time to begin actually composing your image.

As mentioned above, the best backlight compositions have a distinct subject. But even if you have a relatively distinct subject, it’s important to work to further isolate your subject so that you get the strongest backlit photograph possible.

One way to isolate your subject is by getting down low.

dandelion seedhead - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

I took this photograph of a dandelion seedhead while lying on the ground. Getting down so low allowed me to isolate the individual seeds.

When you crouch, kneel or even lie on the ground, you change your perspective. Your subject seems to rise into the sky, framed against the bright sky.

This is exactly what you want. A darker subject against a brighter sky is a perfect start to a stunning backlight photograph that you can be proud of.

Step 4: Choose where to put the sun

I have a straightforward recommendation when it comes to backlit photography. That is not to include the sun in the frame.

If you do include the sun, nine times out of ten you’ll find yourself with a bright white blob in your image. That is not very photogenic at all.

Instead, try to place the sun just outside the frame. This way, you’ll still have a brilliant brightness in the sky—which I love to have in my backlight photography—without it being overpowering.

close up of tree bark - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

The sun is just outside the frame of this tree photograph.

You can also place the sun behind your main subject. This is another effective technique for hiding the sun while getting the full force of a brilliant sky.

Step 5: Expose with the main subject in mind

Exposure refers to the level of brightness in the image. In backlight photography, I recommend exposing the image in one of two ways.

First, you can create a silhouette.

flower silhouette - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

I captured this near silhouette in the late evening.

In order to do this, start by exposing for the bright sky. That is, dial back the brightness of the image so that the sky itself has some nice detail in it. If there are clouds in the sky, you should be able to see them in your image.

silhouette and bokeh of a flower - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Because the sky is naturally so bright, dialing back the exposure will make your main subject dark, which is exactly what you want. After this, it’s a matter of tweaking the exposure to get the exact effect you’re looking for.

Second, you can expose for the main subject.

Personally, I prefer this form of backlight photography. I like to keep some detail in the main subject, while also getting that beautiful backlit glow.

white flower - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Here, I was careful to make sure this flower photograph was light enough.

For this type of photography, I start by making sure the exposure is light enough that I can see the main subject. I don’t let it get too bright, because then the sky becomes overpowering.

Of course, feel free to take a few images and experiment with the exposure. Slightly different levels of brightness will give your photographs subtly different moods, so make sure to shoot the scene in several different ways!

In Conclusion

Creating unique images can be difficult. But by using backlight in your photographs, you’ll be able to take incredible images that will impress even the best photographers. Just be sure to shoot when the sun is low in the sky. Make sure you find a distinct subject. Place the sun out of the frame. Finally, be sure to carefully choose the brightness of your image.

Have any other tips for shooting in backlight? Let me know in the comments below.

purple flower close up - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

The post How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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