How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time. Part Two: Managing Your Exposure

The post How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time. Part Two: Managing Your Exposure appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Part Two – Managing Your Exposure

This is the second article in a series of three discussing how to make well-exposed photographs. The first article covers subject choice, some common misconceptions about exposure and the photographer’s intention.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Thai Dancer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Having identified your subject, managing your exposure then matters most. These things will influence how your photograph is exposed:

  • Point of view
  • Lens choice
  • Timing
  • Reading the light
  • Exposure settings

You’ll notice that I’ve placed ‘Exposure settings’ at the bottom of this list. This is because it’s the most obvious aspect of managing your exposure. I want you to consider how the other items on the list affect your exposure setting choices.

Point of view

Where you choose to take your photo from can significantly affect your exposure. Is the light behind you? Behind your subject? To one side?

By changing your position you can manage what you see in the background and how it impacts the amount of light entering your lens.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Giant Soap Bubbles

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

In this photo, the reflection off the water makes up a large portion of the background. Had I not been careful with my exposure my subject may have been underexposed. In this photo, I compensated for the bright background by adding some fill flash.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Giant Soap Bubbles

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Changing my point of view so I no longer included the lake in the background meant I could expose my subject well. The reflected light off the water surface no longer affected my exposure. In this photo, I did not need to use my flash as there was no strong backlight to compensate for.

Lens choice

Composition is partly governed by your choice of lens. Using a telephoto lens will include less background. In doing this, you can restrict light sources and bright areas of your composition more easily. With a wider lens, you are more likely to include more sky or other bright areas which can have some effect on your exposure.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Rice Fields

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Had I used a wider lens for my photo of these rice fields I would have included the setting sun in my composition. This would definitely have a strong impact on my exposure and the whole look and feel of my photo.

I could have eliminated the effect of the sun altogether by using a lens focal length that was slightly longer. I could have also tilted my camera down slightly, but the foreground was unattractive, and I like the sunburst.


The time you choose to make your photograph can also influence your exposure. It may mean waiting until the sun is in a different place in the sky for a landscape photo. Or you may have to calculate when to press your shutter release to avoid bright headlights of a passing car. This was the case when I photographed the image below.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time On the Iron Bridge

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

The timing for blue hour photos is particularly important. You must wait for the ambient light to balance with any other light source you have in your frame. This amount of time will vary depending on your proximity to the equator.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, we have about ten minutes each evening to capture a rich blue sky with the electric lights included in the composition.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Chiang Mai Iron Bridge

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Reading the light

To be able to set your exposure you must use an exposure meter or let your camera make the calculations and settings for you.

Leaving this choice completely up to your camera is rarely best as your camera does not know what you are photographing. Your photos will potentially lack creativity.

Your camera has amazing artificial intelligence built into it, but it cannot see the way you see and discern what your main subject is. By leaving your camera settings so the meter is set to take an averaged reading and is on any auto or semi-auto mode, your camera is in control. You can use exposure compensation or set your camera manually to take control of your exposure.

One of the easiest ways to read the light is by using live view and looking at your monitor. Some cameras do not have this capability, so you need to consult your manual and do some testing to discover if you can use this method.

Checking your exposure with live view works when you have your camera set to manual mode. It’s easy to watch the light values on your monitor changes as you alter your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Using this method in conjunction with your histogram is recommended so you can check if there’s any clipping happening.

Using your exposure meter set so it takes a reading from the entire frame and then calculates an average exposure is okay when the light and tone is even.

When there’s any amount of contrast in the scene it’s good to take a spot meter reading directly from your subject. This will provide you with the specific information about the light reflecting off the most important part of your composition.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Opening the Windows

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

For this photograph, I took a spot meter reading from the Buddhist nun, as I wanted her exposed well. Had I left my meter on the averaging mode it would have included the bright light outside and the dark interior into its calculations. This would most likely indicate a setting which would have rendered my main subject underexposed.

Exposure settings

Once you have made your exposure reading and ascertained how the light is affecting your composition, you need to set your exposure.

You may decide your subject will be well exposed by setting your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO so the meter reads zero. You may prefer to have it read overexposed or underexposed, depending on the tone value of your subject and your creative expression.

When your subject is very dark or very light, you may want to alter your exposure settings to compensate. When you take a spot meter reading the camera is calibrated to see the thing as being middle gray. This means a black or a white subject will both appear gray in your photo if your meter is reading zero.

You must decide the tone you want your main subject to be. Do you want a clearly exposed subject? Will it look better if it appears brighter than it really is? Do you want a silhouette?

For this photo of pink orchid flowers, I chose to overexpose from the reading my spot meter was giving me. I did this to produce a softer feeling in the image.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Pink Flowers

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Had I been making the photograph to document the flower and its color accurately, I would not have overexposed it. My intent was not to make a technically accurate representation of the flower.

If technical accuracy is what I wanted I would have changed my point of view to avoid the backlighting. I would have set my exposure so the color and tone rendered correctly to how the flower looked to my eyes.

Try it out and see for yourself

Find a white or black subject to photograph. Make a spot meter reading and set your exposure so that the meter is at zero. Take a photo.

Now, for a black subject, change your setting so the spot metering indicates it is two stops underexposed. For a white subject make your settings so it’s two stops overexposed.

Which photograph is most appealing? The ‘correctly’ exposed photo, or the under or overexposed photo?

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Laughing Lady

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Experimentation is always good when lighting and subject material are challenging. If you’re not 100% certain you have a perfect exposure, (I never am,) make a series of photos whenever you can.

Tweak your aperture and/or shutter speed settings between each exposure. Don’t make huge shifts in these settings, but just enough so you have a few options to look at when it comes to post-process them.

I’d love you to leave your comments below letting me know if this article has helped you understand exposure better.

The next article in this series will cover post-processing techniques which will enhance your exposure choices.

The post How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time. Part Two: Managing Your Exposure appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

When Do You Need to Obtain a Model or Property Release?

The post When Do You Need to Obtain a Model or Property Release? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Model and property releases are necessary when you want to use your photographs commercially. This also applies if you plan to upload your photos to a stock agency who will license them for commercial use. These rules apply only to photos that contain recognizable people or material which is copyrighted.

Market Scene When do you need to obtain a model or property release?

I have a model release for this photo so I can sell it commercially or on stock photography websites under a commercial license. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

If someone can recognize themselves in a photo, it needs a model release. Even if your photo of a person is a silhouette, it needs a model release for commercial use. Anything showing a company logo, branding, photograph or artwork needs to be accompanied by an appropriate property release if using it commercially.

Release requirements vary from country to country, even from state to state. You need to do due diligence to be sure. This article covers the broader issues of model and property releases and should not be considered in any way as legal advice.

What are model and property releases?

These documents are written, signed agreements between the photographer and the people or property in a photograph.

If you have a photograph of any group of recognizable people you want to upload to a stock photo website to sell commercially, every person in the photo must individually sign a model release.

When do you need to obtain a model or property release? Commuters

This photo could be used commercially without a license because no one in the photo is recognizable. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Photographs of things like cars, storefronts, and even some buttons require the signature of the copyright owner or a property release to use them commercially. There are also many other situations where property releases are required.

France’s famous Eiffel Tower does not require a property release during the day. However, if you photograph this iconic landmark at night, a release to use it commercially is necessary. The lighting design that illuminates the tower at night is subject to copyright. Many other public structures are subject to copyright laws, as are any privately owned buildings. So do your homework before you embark on a commercial photography job.

When do you need to obtain a model or property release? Merlion Park, Singapore

A property release would be required to use this image commercially. ©Kevin Landwer-Johan

How can you know if you need a Property Release?

Research is easy these days. Jump online and do a quick, specific search and you will find your answer. It’s best to do this early on in your planning because if a release is required, this will have a significant impact.

Many times you will not be granted a property release. I can’t imagine any company would even pay attention to requests for general releases of their intellectual property.

In some situations, you’ll need permission even to photograph. When you are on public property, in most countries, there are no restrictions on what you can photograph. Restrictions only come into play if you want to publish your photos.

Photographing on private property, and in some public spaces such as museums and galleries, you need to seek consent.

Err on the side of caution. Commercial use of photos containing physical or intellectual property without an appropriate release can be very expensive if you get sued.

When do you need to obtain a model or property release? Jet Ski on the Beach

This photo can be sold commercially because there is no visible branding on the jet-ski. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Is it difficult to obtain a Model Release?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

When photographing friends, family or hired models, it can be quite easy to get them to sign a model release. Careful communication is essential, and it pays to obtain model releases before you start photographing.

When do you need to obtain a model or property release? Song Khran Fun - Thai New year

I have model releases for the two recognizable people in this photo, so it can be sold commercially. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Explain to the people you are going to photograph what you plan to do with the photos and ask if they have any objections. If not, have them sign a release form there and then.

Many people are happy to comply. You can offer them something in return for their services. Many times digital copies of their photos are sufficient. If I am working with models, I always require them to sign a model release prior to commencing the photography session.

Minors cannot sign a release form themselves. If you’re photographing anyone under the age of 18, you must have a parent or legal guardian sign the release for them.

When do you need to obtain a model or property release? Songkran Party in Chiang Mai

It would be impossible to use this photo commercially because there are so many people and so much company branding in it. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

At times when photographing groups of people, I have had one or two who do not wish to sign a release. This is problematic as it limits the whole photo session. I have ended up excluding these people from most of the photos because potential use of them is very limited.

If you frequently photograph the same models, it’s best practice to have them sign a new release form each time you work with them. Having a signed model release that’s months or even a few days old can cause problems. Most stock photo agencies require releases for photos made on different days.

A witness also needs to sign the model release at the time the person you are photographing adds their signature. Improperly filled out release forms will be rejected.

When do you need to obtain a model or property release? Attractive Young Photographer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Once I even had a model release rejected by a stock agency because the form was in the wrong language. I had photographed this young woman in Thailand and had her fill out my standard model release form. She is a French citizen living in France. Because the address she gave showed that she lives in Paris, the release form had to be in the French language. Thankfully I was able to email her a copy in French which she signed, had someone witness and sent it back.


Obtaining model and property releases may seem like a big hassle if you are not used to the process. It is a necessary part of being a professional photographer, or even a keen amateur who wants to license photos for commercial usage.

You must be well organized. You need to communicate clearly your intentions and that you require a model release before you begin photographing. Don’t be lax and wait until later – later may be too late.

Property releases are generally much more difficult to come by unless you own the property.

Be bold. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. Be methodical. Build release acquisition into your workflow. Keep good records, even photograph the person holding their signed release form. Once you have gathered a few signed releases the whole process will seem less daunting.

The post When Do You Need to Obtain a Model or Property Release? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time. Part 1 – Seeing the Light

The post How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time. Part 1 – Seeing the Light appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Part One – Seeing the Light

Opinions about what a correctly exposed photograph is must be about as numerous as what people choose to take pictures of. Some opinions are more common than others.

‘Every photograph must contain an even range of tone with no details lost in the highlight or shadow areas.’ This is the one I encounter most frequently. It’s probably been learned from technical books and academics.

Durian How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Performing a quick Google search on this topic brings up the Canon Australia website with this:

“The act of having ‘correct’ exposure means your combination of settings between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO speed have produced a perfectly exposed image. When nothing is blown out (highlights) or lost in shadow in an image, it has achieved correct exposure.”

I’m not including this quote to get at Canon users or Aussies, (even though I am a Nikon user and a Kiwi,) but because it represents a purely technical approach to exposure choice.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Flower and Moss

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How can creative expression be judged as correct?

Photography, at its best, is a creative expression of how we perceive what we see. Our world view is unique. Each of us has the ability to interpret and convey our experience through the photographs we capture.

Freedom to expose our photos so some parts of our compositions have no recorded detail is a natural part of this art form. If our minds are boxed in by technical restraints such as are expressed on the Canon Australia website, our expression is inhibited.

I’m not suggesting we disregard technical quality – this would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I am recommending you reach beyond purely technical restraints to expose your photos so that they are more expressive of what they are about, not just what they are of.

Conforming to the opinion that photographs are best when no details get lost due to exposure choice can provide documentation of what you are photographing. This approach to taking pictures will not often infuse your photographs with much life, emotion, or energy, apart from what your subject may naturally provide.

Histogram bells taste like Vanilla ice cream

Vanilla ice cream – enjoyable sometimes – but plain nonetheless. You are likely to get bored with it if that’s all you eat. It’s not the most exciting flavor at the ice cream parlor.

A bell-shaped histogram indicates your camera has recorded a lot of mid-range tones and little or no extreme dark or light ones.

Striving for a bell-shaped histogram is not going to produce the most flavorsome photographs. At times you’ll make a great image that’s got a bell-shaped histogram, but not often.

I believe it’s a common myth that the ideal histogram is bell-shaped.


Even Exposure Buddha Statue How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time

You can see that the histogram for this image is reasonably balanced. There are no spikes to the left or right. This indicates we will see detail in the darkest and brightest parts of the composition.

I took the photo mid-afternoon on an overcast day. Because the light was soft and even, and the tones in my composition are all fairly neutral, I have obtained a ‘correct’ exposure.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Contrast-Buddha-Statue

Subscribing to the ideal of the bell shape, you might look at this histogram and think the photo is extremely underexposed. You might even consider deleting such an image based on this information alone.

It is the same statue photographed on a sunny day in the mid-afternoon. It’s a much more appealing photograph than the one made on the overcast afternoon.

It was my intention to lose shadow detail. I wanted to isolate the statue from the dull background and add some drama.

Exposure choices are as personal as ice cream preferences

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Chocolate Ice Cream

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Seeking to only create photos with an even exposure throughout the tone range is like choosing to eat just vanilla ice cream and always ignoring all the other flavors.

Great photographs express what the photographer sees and experiences. Sometimes they are technically correct, many times they aren’t. It all comes back to the intent of the photographer.

Choosing to let most of your composition fall into darkness is your choice. If you want to use the shadow areas to enhance your subject, then do it. If light streaming into your lens from behind your subject creates softness and depth of feeling, let it happen.

Don’t just focus on the technical details. You will usually end up with photos containing little or no feeling.

Before you bring your camera up to your eye, you need to see the light. Consider the brightest parts of a scene. Are they important? Do you need to show detail in them to convey what you want to with your photo?

Likewise for the dark areas of your photo – if there are a lot of distracting elements in the shadow areas – let them be buried in the darkness.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Woman Tourist with an Elephant

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Behind the woman and elephant was a large, open building casting a helpful shadow over its messy interior. By positioning myself so I could only see the shaded area behind my subjects, I knew I could isolate them. I set my exposure for the woman’s face, as it’s the most important part of my composition.

The fact that the background is dark and contains no detail helps make my photo stronger.

Understanding light and tone will help you make more interesting exposures. Knowing how your camera evaluates and records light and tone is equally as important. How to manage your exposure is the topic of the next article in this series.

What’s the most important element in your composition?

Recognizing your key subject is an important early decision in taking a photo. Most often it will be your first.

This will be what you focus on and what you want to expose well, (usually). If your subject has a wide tonal range – say a bride in a white dress and a groom in a black suit – be careful. Your camera will not be able to render detail both in the dress and the suit because the tones are extremely different.

Likewise, if part of your subject is in bright sun and part is in the shade, you will need to choose your exposure carefully. The contrast created by sunlight and shade is also extreme.

Discerning your primary subject helps you compose everything in your frame around it. Exposing it well helps make it the center of attention in your photograph.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Fancy Kaftan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

What mood do you want to capture or create?

To me, the answer to this question is more important to focus on than trying to obtain a full tonal range in my photographs.

The type of light you’re photographing in will influence the feeling in your photographs. So will your exposure choice. Is the light bright and hard, or soft and gentle? Should you set your exposure so you can see all the detail in the shadows or chose to let them become very dark and contain little or no detail?

Letting your camera make these choices for you, by not controlling your exposure, your photos may become flat and somewhat lifeless. By taking control and exposing your main subject well you can infuse story, drama, and imagination.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Karen Grandpa

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I have a mantra of sorts. Look. Think. Click.

Look at what you want to photograph. See what is before you. Your subject, it’s surroundings and the background. The light.

Think about how you want to portray your subject. What is your intention?

How much or how little do you want to include? What will fill your frame?

What quality is the light and how will it affect your photo?

Where will you stand or position yourself?

When will be the best time to take your photo?

Which exposure settings will you choose to best suit your intention?

Click. This should only happen once you have thought these things through.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Chedi

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

It may seem a whole lot to do before taking a photograph, but this is what makes the difference between a snapshot and an image you may want to have framed and hang on your wall.

In the next article in this series, I will cover how to manage your camera settings to match your intent.

The post How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time. Part 1 – Seeing the Light appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

The post 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Good environmental portraits tell a story. At a glance you will know something about the person in the picture. The best environmental portraits will provide a lot of visual information.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Kebab Chef in Istanbul

Kebab chef entertaining passers-by with his constant banter. Istanbul, Turkey. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Here are 9 tips to help you create more illustrative pictures of people in their surroundings.

1. Do your research

Know your subject well. Not just who they are, but what they do. If you know who you’re going to be photographing, do some research and become informed about what they do.

At least have a conversation and show interest in them by asking questions. This will not only gain you insight, but your subject will appreciate you are showing interest in who they are.

Where they are located is important too. Know about the surroundings. If you’re not sure, ask questions. Hearing the answers, you may be surprised and learn things you didn’t know. Even if you are familiar with the area.

Copper Craftsman 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

Copper Craftsman finishes a new piece as his father proudly looks on. Istanbul, Turkey. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Be aware of the environment

Have all your senses working. Listen and watch what’s happening around. You may see things you want to include or that you don’t want in your pictures.

Move around and take photos from different places so you get alternative backgrounds.

Try to avoid any bright lights or other distractions within your composition. It’s important to fill the frame only with what is relevant to the story you are telling.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Mandalay Market Vendor

A vendor at Mandalay’s Ghost Train Market, Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Tell their story

Once you’ve chatted for a while, or at least observed keenly, tell their story.

Concentrate on what will communicate most visually about the person, where they are and what they are doing. This is the whole nature of environmental portraits.

Are they a quiet and reserved kind of person? Or are they a loud and boisterous character? Some people change when they get in front of a camera.

If they’ve been chatting away in an animated manner and freeze when you point your camera at them, it’s your job to help them relax. Frozen is not who they naturally are.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Tricycle Taxi Rider

Tricycle taxis in Thailand are called Samlor, which translates as ‘three wheels. The riders enjoy the camaraderie the job brings. ©Kevin Landwer-Johan

4. Connect with your subject

I know this is difficult for many people. The more you can connect with your subject, the better photos you will get.

Pleasant conversation builds confidence in people you want to photograph. They will be more interested in what you are doing and compliant if you show interest in them.

Sometimes you’ll want to give your subject some instructions to help the composition. If you’ve already connected with them they will be more receptive to your ideas.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Moken Sea Gypsie

This Moken sea gypsy was telling us stories of how he lost part of his arm in a fishing accident in the south of Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Know your camera

Your subject is likely to lose interest in what’s happening if all they see is the top of your head as you peer down at your camera.

Preset your camera so you know the settings will be right. Do this as soon as possible so you will have time to concentrate on communicating with your subject and other important things.

Check that you have the best lens for the job on your camera ready to go.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Hmong Amputee

Hmong hill tribe man who is an amputee after having his leg blown off by a land mine on the Laos/Thailand border © Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. Make a deliberate choice of lens

Showing the surroundings is important. So is communicating with your subject while you are working.

If you have a telephoto lens on your camera, you’ll have to position yourself a long way from your subject to include enough of their environment.

With a medium to wide lens on you can be close enough and also include more of the setting. I love using my 35 mm f/1.4 lens on a full-frame body for environmental portraits. It allows me to be close enough to converse comfortably and still show a decent amount of background.

Be careful if you are using a lens much wider than 35mm as you will be at risk of distorting your subject.

Shan Waitress 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

Shan waitress poses for a portrait at the entrance to the small roadside restaurant she works in near Mandalay, Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

7. Control your depth of field

Making sure there’s sufficient detail visible in the composition is important.

If you’re a fan of taking photos with your aperture wide open, you may not make the best environmental portraits. Blurring out the background too much will not help you convey information.

Choose an aperture which provides a balance between too blurred and too sharp and distracting. Avoid extremes. This will help keep the main focus on your subject and enhance the story with what else is around them.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Akha Coffee Harvest

Akha woman harvesting coffee in north Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

8. Make good use of props

There’s not always an opportunity to make use of props, but if you can they can make a big impact.

Having your subject hold something significant can add to the story.

This Lahu man is a fabulous subject on his own and I have photographed him many times during our workshops. He likes to smoke tobacco in his bong, which adds even more visual interest and tells us more about him.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Lahu Smoker

Lahu Ethnic Minority man enjoys smoking tobacco in his bamboo bong near Chiang Mai, Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

9. Write good captions

A good caption will provide added detail that you may not be able to clearly convey in your photo. Informative captions help hold people’s interest by further stimulating their imaginations.

Offer a little more information about the person. This is another good reason to engage with them while you’re photographing them.

If you’re not clear on what to write, search the internet.

Recently I watched this documentary about the photographer Dorothea Lange. She is most well known for her work in the midwest USA during the Great Depression. The documentary emphasizes the need for the well-written captions she provided with her photographs.

9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Sea Gypsy

Moken sea gypsy fisherman biding his time on the bow of his boat waiting for a catch. © Kevin Landwer-Johan


Not all of these tips may be relevant each time you make environmental portraits. Make use of as many of them as you can to enhance your photography experience.

Make yourself a checklist with these tips and any others you can think of. Consult your list as you prepare to make your next series of portraits. This will help you grow as a photographer.

If you have any other helpful tips to offer about taking great environmental portraits, please include them in the comments below.

The post 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography

The post Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Think dark, moody shadows. Sparse illumination and a somber atmosphere. No color. This is low key black and white photography.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography Dark Male Portrait

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Usually one main light, or ‘key’ light, falls on your subject and the background fades to black. It’s all about the highlights and shadows and how they define the shapes in your composition.

Subject selection for shape

Low-key lighting will not suit every subject. You will find bold subjects and bold composition of subjects are best for low-key photography.

Busy scenes with a lot of detail end up looking jumbled and are best avoided. Or at least composed in such a way as to make the content in your photo minimal.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography Novice Monk Portrait

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

A novice monk in a shrine was the center of my attention. Around him was clutter. Bright sunlight shone through an opening with a grid, making the light directional.

By selecting to make my exposure based on the highlight on his face I have made the scene work in low-key black and white. The candles, people, Buddha image, and other distractions in the background are insignificant. Had I included them in my composition the impact of the simple outline of his face would be lost.

Exposure choice is essential

Low-key lighting is as much about the shadows as it is about the light.

Let the darkness envelope all but your main subject. Even let it consume most of your subject. So long as it enhances what you want to show.

Taking an exposure reading from the highlight area, when the light is harsh and the background is darker, creates a moodiness.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography High Structure Harsh in Silver Efex Pro

Small Buddha statue photographed on a bright, sunny afternoon

Set your ISO for the overall amount of light. Outside on a sunny day you need to keep your ISO low. Inside, or in other situations where there’s not much light, choose a higher ISO.

Balancing your aperture and shutter speed to the brightest parts of your composition will expose well.

This method of exposure will provide you highlights with detail and shadows rendering black, (or close to black.)

Experimenting with your settings will help you understand this principle. If you haven’t tried this, don’t make one exposure, make many of the same subject at various settings. When you view them on your computer, look at the metadata for the settings you used and make comparisons. Which settings give you the most pleasing results?

See in black and white

How will the tones of what you are seeing in color translate to black and white?

Complementary colors will help provide contrast in your black and white photos. Blue, violet and red convert to darker tones. Green, yellow and orange will convert to lighter tones.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography Muddy Ceramin Artist

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Setting your camera monitor display to grayscale will help you learn to see in black and white. When you try this at first look at the colors in your composition and see how they are shown in grayscale.

Color contrast is more critical when the light is softer. When the light is soft, it’s more challenging to make low-key photographs because the overall tone values are evener.

Squint your eyes to help you see

When you’re not sure if there’s enough contrast in a scene for a low-key black and white photo, squint your eyes. Doing this reduces what you see and contrast becomes more apparent.

Compare the brightest and darkest areas in what you are looking at. Train your eyes to understand when there will be enough contrast.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography Low Key Bottles

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

With your eyes open you can see a broader tone range than your camera is capable of recording. By squinting your eyes you are effectively narrowing the tone range which is visible to you.

The importance of post-processing for low-key digital photography

Even though your camera records a reduced tone range compared to what you see, it’s still recording more than you want for a low-key photo. Certainly more than photographing with black and white film.

Post-processing your photos to achieve the contrast and minimal tone range requires a different technique than it does for images showing a wide range of tones.

When you’ve made photos where you expose for the highlights it’s easy to darken the shadows during post-processing.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography Low Key Eyes

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

These are the tools I most frequently use when processing low-key photos to reduce the shadow detail:

  • Contrast
  • Blacks
  • Shadows
  • Highlights and Whites
  • The Burn tool (or similar)

Enhancing the overall contrast boosts the highlights and diminishes shadow detail. Increasing the blacks and decreasing the shadows will help gain the effect you want also.

Manipulating the whites and highlights will help you keep some detail in the brightest parts of your image. If the detail is totally removed low-key photos can still look okay, but it’s good to be mindful of this and make sure it’s a deliberate choice.

As with all post-processing there are many different ways to achieve the same or similar results. Experiment and find what works best for you with each photograph you work on. The more you try different methods the more skilled and quicker you will become.

Plug-ins and apps can make post-processing easier

I love using the Silver Efex Pro plug-in with Photoshop. There’s a good selection of presets which can also be customized after you have applied them.

Don’t get stuck thinking you need to use the Low-Key presets. If you’ve got your light and exposure right, other options will be more effective.

Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography Fine Art Process with extra burning in

I used the Silver Efex Pro preset ‘Fine Art Process’ and added extra burning in. © Kevin Landwer-Johan


Photography is very subjective. Like any form of creative expression, I believe there’s no real right or wrong way to express yourself.

Most important is that you take your photos and post process with intent. Knowing what you want before you press your shutter release will help you obtain the look and feel you want.

These few techniques outlined here are by no means exhaustive or complete. I want to encourage you to experiment. I hope these points give you some foundation to work on when experimenting with low key black and white photography.

Once you’ve had a chance to try some on your own please post your pictures and leave your comments below.

The post Experimenting with Low Key Black and White Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Seven Steps for Post-Processing a Pure White Background

The post Seven Steps for Post-Processing a Pure White Background appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Photographs with clean, white backgrounds are extremely popular with

  • Stock agencies
  • Amazon
  • Graphic Designers
  • Magazines and websites
Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Three Mangoes in a Bowl

The original background with a white border around it to clearly illustrate the contrast between pure white and off white

Producing pure white backgrounds is imperative. A background that’s not quite white looks terrible on a white page.

In this article, I will walk you through one method of post-processing I use to isolate subjects and give them a white background.

Choosing your photos carefully

Some photos are far more difficult to work with than others when you want a white background.

Any subject that’s fuzzy or hairy will be problematic. As will any blurred subject. Whether it’s focus or motion blur, you will have difficulty in obtaining a good clean transition with the background.

Smooth, clean edges are the easiest to work with. So if you want to sell wigs on Amazon, you are in for a tough time. It’s better to make sure you have a pure white background that requires no post processing with such subjects.

Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Chicken Nerd


Step # 1

Choose your subject and photograph it against a clean, contrasting background. If the background is too busy, it will make isolating on white more difficult.

Keep your subject a good distance from the background. Use an aperture setting that keeps all your subject in focus, but the background is out of focus.

If your subject happens to be moving, make sure to choose a fast enough shutter speed to stop the motion. Making sure your subject is sharp will make post-processing much more straightforward.

Step # 2

Open your file in Photoshop. Make sure it’s the highest resolution jpeg file it can be. Working with low-resolution images is more challenging, but larger ones will slow your computer down.

You need to find a balance here. If you start working through these post-processing steps and find your computer is not handling it, downsize your photo and start again.

Choose the Select and Mask tool. You’ll find this in the Select Menu at the top of your window. Change the View Mode to an option that allows you to see your changes easily. I prefer the Overlay Mode.

Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Select and Mask Menu

Choose the Select and Mask option from the drop-down menu.

Step # 3

With the Quick Selection tool, draw around the inside of your subject. Do this slowly, so Photoshop has time to render your action.

Pay careful attention to the areas you are selecting. You do not want to have any part of the background selected. If parts of the background are selected, paint over them with the Refine Edge brush.

Zoom in so you can see what you’re working on more clearly.

Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Overlay Mode

Step # 4

When you’re all done and are satisfied your subject is masked, it’s time to output again to the main window in Photoshop.

Select New Layer with Layer Mask from the Output options and click OK.

Step # 5

Add a white background by clicking on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Choose Solid Color and set it to pure white.

Step # 6

Check around the edges of your subject. Can you see any of the old background?

If you can, select the mask on your main layer in the Layers Panel. Choose the Brush tool and make the color Black.

Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Mask Icon

Make sure the mask is selected.

Paint carefully over the areas where you can still see the old background. You may need to lower the opacity of the brush and adjust the feathering to achieve the best results.

If you have not done this before it can be challenging. However, don’t worry, if you erase parts of your subject, switch the brush color to white and paint back over them. They will re-appear.

There are various other methods and tools for erasing unwanted backgrounds. This is the best way I have found for images which are not too complicated.

Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Clean Edges

Step # 7

Crop out any extra white space and save your new photo with your subject isolated on white.

Seven Steps for Post Processing a Pure White Background Clean White Background



This is one way to achieve a white background. As with most post-processing procedures, there is more than one sequence of steps which will provide an acceptable result.

Practice and experiment to find the workflow which works best for you.

Are you experienced in creating clean white backgrounds using other methods? Do you have any tips to share? Please share them in the comments section below.

The post Seven Steps for Post-Processing a Pure White Background appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

The post How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Have you ever wondered how some photographers can produce photos that look so radically different than what we can see with our eyes?

Window Light How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Digital photography allows you to manipulate photos using a computer to make them look surreal. Some cameras include features that can make High Dynamic Range (HDR), multiple exposure and black and white photographs. These are not techniques I wish to address in this article. I like to keep it more natural.

Having a good understanding of certain techniques and the physics of light, you can produce unreal looking images in camera. You do not have to rely on modern camera technology or heavy use of post-processing.

A brief introduction to the Zone System

The Zone System has been around for decades. It was developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer based around sensitometry. It’s a tool designed to be used to help photographers plan and control exposure and processing.

Naturally, as it came about in the 1930s, it was created for use with film. Although there are arguments against applying this technique to digital photography, I believe it to be very useful.

Taking a Rest How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Adams and Archer divided tone into eleven zones and designated a Roman numeral to each. Zone 0 is black, zone X is white and V is middle gray. Each zone is separated by one photographic stop.

The Zone System

Photographer Alan Ross, who worked as Adam’s darkroom assistant, tells us on his website the system was created “to give the photographer the ability to effectively evaluate the qualities of a scene and follow through with confidence that the information necessary for the photographer’s visualization would end up on the film.”

Most of what I’ve read over the years about the zone system I consider overly technical. I try not to be. Often the photos published alongside articles expounding the virtues of the system in more recent years are dull. This usually happens when photography tools are used for the sake of it and at the expense of creative expression.

Vendors How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

The Zone System – another tool in your kit

More guidelines than actual rules. This is how I prefer to regard the rules of photography.

Many will teach you to learn the rules and then break them. I teach people to learn the rules so well the can apply them intuitively.

The zone system is based on scientific fact, you can’t break it. Learning to apply the technique will give you more freedom to be creative with your camera. Consider it another tool in your kit.

Like any tool, you need to first learn the basics of what it does and how you can make it do what you want it to. I’m not going to get into teaching the ‘how to’ in this article, as there’s already so many books, blogs and videos on the topic already.

My main intention here is to encourage you to check it out and show you some of the benefits of learning the photographic zone system.

Porter Portrait How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Why bother learning the Zone System?

Averaged metering on modern cameras is designed to render a mid-tone across the whole composition. Camera metering is calibrated on everything being middle gray. But everything we see is not middle gray.

Photographing a black dog on a black rug, or a white rabbit in the snow is challenging. Your exposure meter will want to render both scenes as middle gray because that’s what it’s been programmed to do.

Compositions containing a limited mid-tone range do not pose modern cameras any problems. Especially when photographing them in soft, low contrast light. It’s easy to make a good exposure in these circumstances. But they can quite often look dull unless we boost them in post-production.

Learning the zone system will enable you to make decisions on how to get your photos looking the way you want them to. Using this system well allows you to translate your creative desires into technical choices.

Laughing Lady How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Use it in line with your intent

Hard light and contrast always involves making decisions about exposure before you take a photograph.

Cameras cannot see the same way we do. At this stage of technological development, they are considerably more limited. This means we may see a scene different than how our camera will record it.

Your camera does not know what you are looking at. When you use the exposure meter, it’s programmed to give you an accurate reading for middle gray. This is why it was common in times past for photographers to carry with them a small sheet of 18% (middle) gray card. They could make a reading from the card in the prevailing light conditions and set their camera accordingly.

Setting your exposure for middle gray every time will often produce poor results when there’s a broad contrast range.

You are best to decide what part of the image is most important and make a meter reading from there.

Black Background How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

In my outdoor studio portraits, I take a spot meter reading from my subject’s face and set my exposure. I’ll use the same setting photographing against the black or the white background. This is because the light value reflecting off the person’s face is the same.

White Background How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Having an understanding of the zone system equips you to make the best exposure choices in difficult situations.

It ain’t easy, but it’s not rocket science either

Like learning anything, you must practice to become proficient. To become an expert, you must practice a lot more.

The zone system is not so complicated. When you grasp the basics of it you can apply it as a part of your overall skill set. Then you can make extensive use of it and see the difference in your improved photographs.

The post How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

The post 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Creating portraits is challenging for many photographers, for many different reasons. There can be so much involved in making a portrait of someone that it’s easy to make mistakes.

To make great portraits you need to be concentrating on more than just your camera settings. (I believe this is true for all photography.) You have to make sure the lighting is right, the background is suitable and wardrobe and props are on hand if needed. Most of all, you must give your attention to the person you are photographing.

Cleaning Dispute 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Juggling all this is not easy, especially when you have little or no experience.

Practising taking portraits of someone you know, who enjoys being photographed, is a fabulous way to gain experience. Working with the same person for more than one or two portrait sessions will help you develop the skills you need.

As you begin you will most likely make some or all of these common portrait mistakes. Being aware of them can help you avoid making them.

1. Poor composition

The most common portrait mistake I see people on our workshops making with portraits is leaving too much space above the subjects head. Emptiness above someone usually does nothing for the look and feel of the photo.

Unless there’s significant information above a person, crop in more tightly to the top of their head.

Red Head Scarf 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Distracting background

Having too much detail in focus behind your subject can draw attention away from them. Be careful about how you position your subject.

Also, make your lens choice thoughtfully. Using a longer lens will reduce the amount of background in your frame.

Woman Buying Chilli Peppers 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Subject too close to the background

Don’t get your subject to sit or stand right up against the background. If it’s a busy scene your subject may be overwhelmed and end up not being the main focus. Even with a fairly plain background, it’s often best if you separate your subject from it.

Smart Phone Photo 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

4. Not enough in focus

You may be tempted to open your aperture to the widest setting so you can blur out a distracting background. Be careful doing this that you maintain enough in focus on your subject.

Blurring the background may also mean blurring your subject more than what really looks good.

Market Porter 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Out of focus eyes

If your subject has eyes, focus on them. This is one photography rule I stick to, most of the time. It’s not often a portrait with the eyes out of focus looks great.

When your subject is facing directly at the camera it’s easy to get both eyes in focus. If their head is turned to one side you need to focus on the eye closest to the camera.

Akha Friends 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. Slow shutter speed

People move. You need to choose a fast enough shutter speed to freeze your subject. Even if they make a slight movement it can result in a blurred photo if your shutter speed is too slow.

1/250th of a second is usually fast enough. Slower than this and you may have problems.

Dreadlocks 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

7. Poor lighting

Modern cameras can take photos when there’s next to no light, so it’s easy to get it wrong.

With portraits, it’s most important to have the right lighting for the mood you want to create in your photos. Hard, high contrast lighting is not good when you want a soft, romantic looking portrait. Equally, soft light will not help you create drama in a photo of a person.

Muddy Ceramic artist 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

8. Bad timing

Capturing the right expression will flatter your subject. If you don’t, they may be reluctant to let you photograph them again.

Careful timing can make or break a portrait. Waiting and watching a person’s face for the right time to press the shutter button is vital. Most people will not stare into your camera without changing their expression. You need to be ready when they look their best.

If you’re photographing someone who is blinking a lot you need to time your photos in between blinks.

Buddhist Monk Yard Work 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

9. Not taking enough photos

You need to take plenty of photos. Not taking enough photos will frustrate you when you are editing, because you will have too few to choose from.

Try to capture a range of expressions. Don’t just sit with your camera on burst mode filling your card up with nearly identical images. Aim to create a good variety. This will please your subject as it will allow them to make their selections more easily.

Man Studio Portrait 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

10. Taking too many photos

Finding the balance between not enough and too many photos can be difficult. This will depend a lot on your subject.

Some people will be more comfortable being photographed for a longer period of time than others. You need to be aware of this. If your subject is getting bored or agitated because you are taking too long or taking too many photos, this will show in their face. Your results will suffer for it.

Man Studio Portrait 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

11. Failing to connect with your subject

Connecting well with the person you are photographing is one of the most important aspects of portraiture. So many photographers spend more time and attention connecting with their cameras. This is a big mistake during a portrait session.

Building a rapport with your subject, even if you only have a few minutes, can make the biggest impact on your resulting photos.

When your subject is relaxed with you and happy, you will get better pictures of them. Your manner and the way you interact with them is vital.

Vege Vendor 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

12. Not giving your subject enough direction

Communicate clearly what your intention for the portrait session is. What type of picture does your subject want? What kind of image do they want to portray?

When you know what they want, you will know what you have to achieve. If they do not understand what you are asking them to do, show them. Put your body, hands, face, just how you want them to look and they can mimic you.

Rag Doll Girl 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

13. Feeling like you are imposing

This is common with photographing strangers. Many street photographers prefer candid portraits because they do not want to impose on people.

Standing back with a long lens on will not often produce an intimate portrait. You need to change your thinking and consider that what you are doing when you take someone’s photo has got the potential to bless them.

Akha Woman Laughing 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

14. Not being confident

If you are self-conscious and not confident this will generally be reflected back to you by your subject.

Having a calm, confident manner when you are making portraits will enhance both their experience and yours.

You don’t need to put on a show, but just be relaxed and assured that you are creating good photographs.

Pretty Asian Karaoke Singer 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

15. Rushing to get finished

Take your time. It’s not a race.

Give yourself space to concentrate well on what you are doing. Make sure you are getting what you want and your subject is more likely to be pleased with your pictures.

Boy With A Note Book 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


It takes practice. Like learning to do anything well, it takes concentrated perseverance to succeed. This is why it’s good to practice making portraits with someone you know who is willing to be photographed.

Know your camera, be confident with it and with your subject and you will learn to make wonderful portraits.

When I started out as a photographer I found it incredibly difficult to photograph people. I was shy and lacked confidence. It was hard work, but over the years I have come to really enjoy the art of portraiture.

Do you have any other tips or portraits you’d like to share? If so, do so in the comments below.


The post 15 Common Portrait Mistakes to Avoid appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 3: Printing and Constructing Photomontages

The post How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 3: Printing and Constructing Photomontages appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

This is the third article in a series of three (part one, part two) with guidelines on how to make amazing photomontages in which you’ll learn about printing and constructing photomontages.

You may be quite content with your photomontage you see on your monitor. But there’s something special about getting all the images printed out and pasting them onto a board. Finishing a montage like this is even more fulfilling.

You can, of course, have your montage printed out as a regular photo, on a single piece of paper. However, I prefer getting individual prints made of each layer, positioning them and sticking them down.

Ducati How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Part 3: Printing and Constructing Photomontages

1. Have your photos printed

Importing the photos using the method I outlined in Part two of this series will mean each of your layers has retained the original file name. Now it’s time to go back to the folders with the photos you resized and collect up all of them that made it into your final composition.

Copy them into a new folder and have them printed.

2. Buy a board

You’ll need a sturdy piece of board to mount your photos on. I prefer to use foam core board as it’s strong but lightweight. It also does not warp. If you use cardboard it can buckle easily once you get many layers of photos stuck down.

Whatever you choose to use, make sure that it will be big enough to compile all your photos on.

Beauty Mirror How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Prepare to adhere your photos

For many years I have used double-sided adhesive paper. It’s like a huge roll of double-sided tape. This method is the cleanest and easiest that I know of.

Pasting the photos up with glue is possible, but you need to be extremely careful you don’t get glue places you don’t want it.

Before I begin sticking the prints down, I use a black marker pen to blacken the edges of each print. White edges don’t look great when the photos are stuck down.

Stick it How To Make Amazing Photomontages

Photo by: Pansa Landwer-Johan

4. Lay out your prints

Open your montage file on your computer and turn off all the layers except the bottom one. Find the print of this image and position it on your board. Turn on the next layer and repeat the process of laying out your photos.

Prints will get knocked and move around during this process. Don’t be concerned, because as the montage takes shape the positions of prints will change. You may begin to see different relationships between the prints you may not have noticed on your computer monitor.

You can use masking tape to help keep the prints in position. Take care when you remove the tape that it does not damage your print.

I will often use post-it notes stuck alongside the photos. This helps me reposition them when they do get bumped.

Remain relaxed and fluid during this part of the process. Don’t stress if you cannot manage to line all the photos up as precisely as you lined up the layers in Photoshop.

Take a few steps back, or get up above the table you are working on. This will help you see the overall look of your composition. Do this a few times during your layout stage.

Layout How To Make Amazing Photomontages

Photo by: Pansa Landwer-Johan

5. Stick it all down

You can spend forever tweaking the positioning of the prints, but eventually, you will want to stick them all down.

Start with a corner there’s a print with no others overlapping it. Position it carefully in relation to the edge of the board and stick it down.

Begin to work your way from this point, sticking down only prints that do not overlap above any other print. Whenever a print has another layer underneath, the bottom one must be stuck down first.

If you make a mistake, just consider alternatives to remedy the situation. You might have to get another print or two made so you can cover up the problem area. Other times you will be able to rearrange the way you stick the prints down and still make it look good.

Work slowly and carefully, trying as much as possible not to let the prints move around. Any fast movement or clumsiness at this stage can mean you have to start over and lay it all out again.

Fixed How To Make Amazing Photomontages

Photo by: Pansa Landwer-Johan


Once your photomontage is all adhered, you will notice a big difference. It’s much more dimensional than it appears on your computer monitor or as it would be printed on a single sheet of paper.

Taking your time and working carefully, yet remaining flexible, as you stick your prints down, will make it a more enjoyable process.

The overlapping layers and any unconformities that happen during paste-up give a montage some depth and texture. These used to bother me until I realized they actually add to the look and feel of these artworks.

Here’s another short video of me working on a montage for my ‘Fractured Dimensions’ exhibition in 2014.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on photomontages and I encourage you to experiment with the process yourself. Let us know how you get on in the comments below, and don’t forget to share your montages with us too.

Other articles in this series:

How to Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 1: Taking Your Photos

How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 2: Compiling Photomontage Photos


The post How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 3: Printing and Constructing Photomontages appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 2: Compiling Photomontage Photos

The post How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 2: Compiling Photomontage Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

In Part One of this three-part series on How to Make Amazing Photomontages, you learned how to approach and take your photos for your montage. Here in Part Two, you’ll learn about compiling photomontage photos. To compile your Photomontage images using the following steps, you require Photoshop or other imaging software that has the ability to create layers.

Lanna Chic 1 How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Part 2: Compiling your photos

1. Get organized

Managing your photos well can save you getting in a mess further along in this process.

Import all your images into one folder. Go through and pick out your strongest images – ones that stand out to you.

Naturally, you’ll have lots of photos that won’t be worth looking at on their own, but among them should be some key images. Put these into a separate folder and label it ‘Group 1’ or something useful to you.

Next, you need to choose the bulk of the photos you want to use. Think about the images you want to go around the edges. Which ones are for the main body of your photomontage? These are likely the first photos you took. Place these into another folder and label it ‘Group 2’ or something useful to you.

Drop the remaining images into a third folder and label it.

Ceramic Artist How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Save as and resize all your images

Save all your photos as jpeg files with a resolution of 300ppi. At this resolution, they are a little large but will be the same size when you get them printed later.

What dimensions do you want your finished photomontage to be? Think about how many photos you made along the horizontal axis. Calculate how wide each one should be, so they fit within the finished size you want your montage.

If you want a montage one meter wide (3.3 feet) and have taken seven photos across the horizontal, make each photo 14 centimeters wide (5.5 inches.) This gives you a starting point. As you start laying the photos out, this can change entirely so you may have to resize the images again later.

Run a batch command to resize them all. Save them to new folders because it is helpful if you need to resize the originals again later.

Chedi Luang How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Prepare a clear canvas

In Photoshop or your preferred software, make a new canvas. Make the ppi resolution 300 to match your image files. Make the size a little larger than you want your finished Photomontage to be.

4. Import your photos

Photoshop allows you to import a series of images to a single working file, so they retain their original file names. To do this, go to the top menu and choose File->Scripts->Load Files To Stack. These open into a new canvas. Select them all and drag and drop them onto your montage canvas.

Do this with the three folders of resized images you’ve made. Arrange them in the layers panel so they are in three groups to make your workflow easier.

Lanna Chic 2 How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Lay out your photos

Right now you probably have all the layers stacked so you can only see the top photo. Turn off the visibility of the Group 1 and Group 3 folders.

Select all the layers in the Group 2 folder and drag all the photos to one corner of your canvas.

Now select only the top layer and drag and drop it roughly in the position you want it. Do the same with each layer. Don’t worry at all about positioning anything precisely at this stage. Everything from here is likely to be shuffled around a number of times.

Once you’ve added all the photos in Group 2 and have them laid out, repeat this process with images in Group 1. Then from Group 3, but only if you really need them.

Drag photos up and down in the layers panel hierarchy to place them above or below other photos on the canvas.

As you add more photos, you should start noticing the relationship between the images. Keep nudging and tweaking all the layers until you are satisfied they’re all in the best position.

When I am working with large numbers of layers, I color code them to help me keep track of them. You might like to make the layers with the images on the left, middle and right of your montage all separate colors.

Colored Layers How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. Turn unused layers off

You may now have many layers visible with lots of overlapping. Begin to turn layers off for images you may not want to include in your finished montage. Don’t delete them at this stage, just turn their visibility off.

Now you’ll see fewer photos on your canvas, and it’ll be easier to arrange the images you have visible.

At this stage, you may be seeing some gaps in your montage. This is where the images in Group 3 may be useful if you haven’t added them already. You can always duplicate similar layers and drag the copied layer to fill the space. If this does not work, you may need to go back and take some more photos.

Once you are happy with the way your montage looks, go ahead and delete all the layers you have turned off.

Harleys How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

7. Go back and take more photos (optional)

Having big gaps in your photomontage may look okay. Alternatively, you may have completely covered the whole area and edges, and have ample images. If not, you’ll need to have another session and make some more images.

Use the same camera and lens, at the same focal length. Make your new photos at about the same time of day and ensure you have similar lighting. If the light’s not right, you’ll have a hard time making the new set of photos match.

A few additional layout tips

There’s no right or wrong way of laying out your Photomontages, but you’ll be more pleased with some layouts than others.

If you get stuck and can’t get the photos arranged so they look good, start again. Duplicate the whole file. Keep the original one and re-work the new file. Move the images around differently and change their positions in the layers hierarchy. Experiment until you are content.

Aim to build cohesion in your composition. Too much fragmentation can make your montage difficult for people to view. Follow strong lines in your montage to help keep the flow. In my montage of the taxi trucks in Chiang Mai, following the lines of the vehicles was vital.

Songtao How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Don’t worry about ragged edges. I don’t often make montages that fit a regular shape. However the edges of your montage are formed, make sure they enhance the overall image.

Tweaking individual photos may sometimes improve the overall look of your montage. When you have the images laid out, take a step back and consider your composition. Are there individual images which are too dark or too bright? Do some contain colors that don’t fit well? How would the whole montage look in black and white?

Be prepared to go with the flow of new ideas you’ll have during the process. As I said, there’s no right or wrong way to make these. It’s up to your creative process. Starting with some idea of how you want it to look is important. However, you don’t need to stick to it strictly when you feel fresh ideas emerging.


Take your time. The process of compiling a montage until you are satisfied can take a long time.

Tuktuk How To Make Amazing Photomontages

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Often I have been on the verge of giving up because I just can’t get a montage looking right. I had started my Tuk Tuk montage then it sat on my hard drive for months without being touched. Finally, I got back to it with some fresh inspiration, and it came together well.

Experiment with the placement of your photos on the canvas. Look at how each one relates to the images around it. Zoom out and sit back often to keep an eye on how the overall montage is taking shape.

Let’s see what you are working on and your thought process in the comments below.

In the next article in this series, I outline how to compile a print version of your Photomontage.

The post How To Make Amazing Photomontages. Part 2: Compiling Photomontage Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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