Tips for Creating Better Documentary Travel Photos

The post Tips for Creating Better Documentary Travel Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Good documentaries tell a story, often with the help of a narrator. To add interest to your travel photos you can employ the same techniques.

Showing your family and friends endless pictures of your recent adventures may seem exciting to you. You were there. You had the experience. They didn’t. If you want them to sit through your latest travel slideshow, you need to make it interesting.

Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos Happy Market Vendor

I had a lovely conversation with this man. He and his wife come to sell vegetables at their market stall each day. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Here are some tips on how to add more interest to your photos and create better documentary travel photos.

Tell a story with your photographs

Planning your trip took time and effort. Deciding where you wanted to go, what you wanted to see and how long you would stay. Why not include your photography in the planning stage as well?

Think about why you’re going and what you’ll be doing. How can you turn this into a story? Think about adding a connecting thread of what interests and attracts you most to each location you’ll visit.

Make a list of some themes you can follow. Each day you are traveling, check your list and make sure to include some of the items in your photos.

You might want to photograph:

  • specific architectural aspects
  • local artists working
  • old people’s faces
  • coffee shops
  • street signs
  • advertising hoardings.

Consider what’s most relevant to the places you’ll go. Which of these interest you the most and will make the best photo opportunities. Plan to spend more time at these locations.

Bicycle Close Up Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos

Many tourists choose to rent bicycles for sightseeing in Chiang Mai because the city is mostly flat. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Get the whole picture

One trick I learned when starting out in video production was to always capture wide, medium and close-up angles. This allows for more flexibility to build up the whole picture when editing. The same works when creating documentary travel photography.

I often encourage our travel photography workshop participant to imagine they are working for a magazine. They need to produce a series of images for their editor to show the essence of each place they visit.

Only capturing wide or close-up details is not going to build a complete picture.

red chillies Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos

Close up of large red chilies. The larger the chilly, the milder it is. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

You need to get in close. Show the texture and patterns.

Muang Mai Market Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos

Muang Mai Market in Chiang Mai is the biggest and busiest food market in northern Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

You need to stand back to encompass the whole scene.

Fruit Vendor Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos

Owners of small shops, restaurants, and household shoppers all come to buy produce at Muang Mai market. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

You need to come in tighter and capture what’s happening at that place.

Include your travel companions

Traveling with other photographers usually makes life easier. You can take your time rather than being hurried along by someone taking snapshots with their phone.

One way to make the most of your time with non-photographer travel companions is to include them in your photos. Make them part of your story.

I don’t mean for you to just take cheesy social-media-styled pictures of your partner. Put them in the story. Show what you’re doing and the interesting aspects of the places you visit. Having the people you’re traveling with in some of your photos makes them more personal.

Including them in some activity helps tell the story. Photograph them ordering meals or coffee. Take pictures of them boarding the boat or rickshaw. Make photos about what you are doing together, not only of what you are looking at.

Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos Myanmar Village Friends

My wife and I enjoyed meeting the locals at Pompee village when we traveled to Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Take time out

If including your travel companions is not possible, take time out for photography. Arrange time each day to spend time with your camera with no other objective.

Rushing from place to place without taking the time to engage in your photography story is frustrating. Give yourself permission to enjoy using your camera.

This may mean having to wake up earlier than others you’re traveling with. It might be ducking out of the restaurant while you’re waiting for your lunch or dinner to be prepared. You will find it’s worth it because you will get better photographs when you can take your time.

Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos Wat Pra Darapirom

This ornate temple complex on the outskirts of Chiang Mai includes examples of Lanna and Shan temple architecture. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Book a photography workshop

Many popular travel destinations offer opportunities for travel photography workshops or photo tours.

Investing in either of these will undoubtedly mean you will come away with better photos. You’ll be experiencing the location with a photographer who knows it more intimately. They will be able to take you to the most interesting places at the best times for photos.

Taking a photography workshop you’ll also learn some new skills. Being on vacation is a great time to learn because you can put into practice what you learn immediately.

A good travel photography workshop will incorporate teaching camera and photography skills. You’ll also learn local cultural information which will improve your photography experience.

Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos Photography Workshop Teaching

Kevin Landwer-Johan teaching a photography workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. © Pansa Landwer-Johan

Take more photos and edit them

Take more photos than you think you need to. Then choose the best.

Don’t go crazy and make snapshots of everything you see. A good subject does not make a good photograph. You don’t want to return home with hundreds of photos you could have made with your phone.

When you find something interesting to photograph, look at it from different angles. Consider how it will look from different points of view. Walk around and make a series of photos. Wide, medium and close up of the same subject.

Taking time to do this will mean you have more to work with to help tell your story. If you’re not taking enough photos, you may regret it later when you see gaps in your narrative.

Weeding out the rubbish photos and only showing the best ones is important. No one will want to look through all the photos you take. Be discerning and be selective about which ones you choose to share. This will help you in taking better photos next time you travel too.

Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos Tuktuks

Tuk-tuks are an iconic part of Chiang Mai’s public transport. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Caption your photographs

Captioning your photographs is like adding a narrative to your story.

Include details of the location and maybe the time of day when it’s relevant. Think about how you can add information which will enhance your photograph. Don’t always include the obvious. You don’t need to describe what can already be seen.

A caption may be a few words or several sentences. Your caption should be succinct and informative. Don’t waffle or include irrelevant information. Use your captions to support your photos and enhance your story.

Documentary Travel Photography: How to Add More Interest to Your Travel Photos

I found an alternative point of view to take this photo of a tuk-tuk. © Kevin Landwer-Johan


Vacation travel is usually exciting. You see and experience new and interesting things more frequently than when you’re at home. This trends for more interesting photographs.

You want to put together a documentary travel photography story that will not put your family and friends to sleep. Tell your story well and you’ll inspire them to travel too.


Tips for Creating Better Documentary Travel Photos

The post Tips for Creating Better Documentary Travel Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

The post How to Create a Documentary Photography Project appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

We all love a good story. A tale that captures your attention and draws you in to discover more. Creating a documentary photography project can be a great way to develop your photography. It can also help hold the attention of your audience for longer.

Monk in a Saamlor tricycle taxi in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Random collections of unrelated images tend to be glanced over. This is especially so when most of your photography is viewed on social media platforms. Making your photography stick in people’s minds is a constant challenge.

Developing a photography project and working on it over a period of time, be it weeks, months or even years, can help you stand out from the crowd. Your personal skills and style will evolve in a more meaningful direction. The deeper commitment you have to a documentary photography project the more you will benefit.

Have a plan and a purpose for your photography project

Charging into a project on a whim will sometimes work, but not often. Without purpose and a plan, you are more likely to lose interest. You’ll struggle to keep momentum and find it too challenging to come up with fresh ideas to keep your project alive.

Start a list. Write down ideas as they come to you. What would most like to photograph? As you start, don’t restrict yourself. Jot down whatever comes to mind, giving no thought to whether or not it’s practical. Let your list grow over a week and then review it.

Market Tricycle Taxi Ride How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Give yourself some space alone with your list. Edit it down to what’s practical. What can you photograph every day, or every week? If anything on your list is not accessible to you, remove it. Add it to a list for future projects.

Concentrate on what excites you. What’s on your list that you’d most like to commit to photographing regularly? Having a passion for your theme or concept will keep you motivated. Don’t choose ideas you think will be easy. Being challenged is good for you.

Narrow your list down to two or three ideas. Mull these over before deciding on one of them. Even make a start on more than one. You can begin work on more than one project, then, if it’s too much of a commitment, pick the one you’re enjoying the most.

Now write another list of what you will do with the photos you’ll create for your documentary project. Stories are for sharing. Who will be interested in the tale you are telling? What’s the best medium or platform for you to display your images?

You might want to make a physical scrapbook with prints of your favorite photos. Instagram or Pinterest may be an ideal outlet for you, or your own website. Photo sharing sites like 500px or Flickr are also options. You could email a small selection of your project photos to one or two photographer friends each week for their feedback. Consider what you most want to achieve by sharing your photos.

Tricycle Detail How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Know your subject better than anyone

Research. Dig into your chosen project idea like it’s brand new. Even if you already know a lot about it, find out more. Telling a story built on thin information will not hold people’s attention for very long.

The more of an expert you become on your subject, the better the story you will tell. You might even want to plan a narrative. What will be the beginning, middle, and end? The greater your knowledge about it, the more interesting detail you’ll be able to include. You want other experts on your topic to be surprised at what you are showing them in your photos.

Look into the history of the project idea. Talk to people who know about your topic. Don’t only rely on the internet. To touch the heart of the thing will require experience – yours and other people’s.

Tricycle Taxi Rest How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Take lots of photographs

While it’s important to plan, don’t be held back by it. Make a start as soon as you have decided on what your documentary photography project will be. You might start slowly and change direction a few times, but that’s okay.

Procrastinating will not help you achieve your goals. Once you begin, you will see your story develop, and you can steer it in any direction you feel is right.

The topic for your project may dictate how frequently you can take photos. Hopefully, this will be regular, especially if you are embarking on your first documentary photo project.

Vary the images you are making. You may decide to use one prime lens. If so, push yourself to create a diverse selection of compositions with it. Or use your widest and your longest lens with the same subject on the same day for variety.

Waiting for a Ride How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Use a mixture of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings to also help build an interesting series of photos. If there’s movement, let it blur out using a slow shutter speed. If you would normally photography a subject with a wide aperture, close it down and get as much in focus as possible. Stretch your technique beyond what you would typically use.

Photograph in a mixture of lighting situations. Take some photos in the morning and others in the afternoon or at night. Aiming for variety will give you a more interesting body of work to edit down from for the images you will share.

As you build up a body of work, you will begin to see your strengths and weaknesses. You will see the photos you like the most. Organize these into a separate folder, or series of folders so that you can compare them often.

Taxi Rider in Chiang Mai, Thailand How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Cultivate a relationship with your project

Photographing a project will involve some amount of repetition. You’ll visit the same locations. Photograph the same things. Meet the same people. Experience weather and seasonal changes.

Be aware of your feelings each time you are working on your project. Make photographs that are in tune with your mood and how you are experiencing what you are doing. This will make your story more personal and interesting.

Your view of the world is unique, and your photographs should portray this. The concept may seem a little abstract, but as you are mindful of it and practice over time, you will find your photos become more expressive of who you are.

Waiting for Customers How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Interacting with people who are part of your project, if there are any, will help develop the character in your photo story. You might prefer to only take candid photos of people, but the way you do this will also reflect in your pictures. Using a long lens, or a wide one, will result in very different candid images.

Engaging with people throughout your project is very interesting. At the start, people may be uncertain of what you’re doing or why. As you revisit and photograph them, your relationship with them will change. People will become accustomed to you and will be more relaxed in your presence. Others may become irritated or bored. The nature of the photos you make of them will change.

Observe the differences. What’s changed since the last time you worked on your project? Look for subtitles you may not have picked up on if you’d only photographed in that place once. Over time you will start to see things you did not pick up on before. These details can add a depth of interest to your documentary project.

Poise of the Rider How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Review your photos and seek feedback

What do you think of your photos? Are others enjoying your visual storytelling?

Working on a project allows you to see your own photography developing. Because you’re photographing the same theme or concept over a period of time, you will reproduce similar types of photos. Compare them. Can you see growth in your skills and style?

Separate the top 10 or 20 percent of your photos after each session you have working on your project. This will give you a clearer idea of your progress. From time to time, review these photos and look for gaps in your story. What’s missing? What are you photographing too much?

Having a photographer friend or mentor look over your photos and share their critique on them will help you see things from another perspective. They may point out things or ask questions you have not thought of. Healthy feedback can lead to a deeper, richer story being told.

Cycle Taxi Shadow How to Create a Documentary Photography Project

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Let your documentary photography project grow organically

Go with the flow. Don’t stick to your plan too closely if you feel a more exciting story is emerging from your project. Let it develop organically. This will help you keep interested in what you are doing. You may stretch your project out for longer than you had planned.

Start today. Begin writing your list of ideas. Don’t rush it, but don’t let the idea stagnate. Once you begin, keep thinking about your project and adding to it. Right from when you start your list, through to the taking of photos and sharing them.

Have you ever given yourself the challenge of a documentary photography project? You may find you love the more in-depth storytelling aspect of working on a body of work.

Do you already have a project which has stalled a little and needs a kickstart? Design a story for it and plan to share it. This can help you get back on track.


The post How to Create a Documentary Photography Project appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

The post An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Many beginner photographers, and some more experienced ones, fall into the trap of thinking a good subject will make a good photo. It’s not true. I’ve seen loads of terrible photos of fabulous subjects.

A good photographer makes good photos, no matter what the subject. I like how British photographer Martin Parr describes his work. He says his aim is to make the ordinary look extraordinary.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

The late afternoon light makes this landscape more interesting. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

To make the best photo, whether or not your subject is impressive, you need to:

Achieving all these five aspects of interesting photographs in a single frame is challenging. It takes skill, practice, and patience.

Being mindful of these pillars of good photography will lead you away from the snapshot trap when you see something interesting. Learning to keep these things in mind, you will gradually improve and be able to make the most mundane object look great when you photograph it.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

Without the interesting cloud formation, this landscape would be rather dull. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Master your camera technique

Confidence in managing your camera is essential. Using your camera without understanding much of how it works will frustrate your creative growth. Learning what each of the main settings does on your camera is not difficult.

Control of the exposure is made using the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. Focus is either automatic or manual. None of these are hard to master when you put your mind to it and spend some time practicing. Figuring out what part of your composition needs to be exposed well and where the focus point needs to be are part of your creative choice.

Mastering the basic technical aspects of using your camera will free you up to become more creative with your photography.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

Careful exposure makes this winter tree more interesting. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Press your shutter at the right time

Choose the optimum moment to take your photo. Consider the action happening in front of you. Look at the colors as they change when the sun is rising and setting. Watch a flower blooming in your garden. Each instance you take a photo, make sure it’s the optimum one.

What determines the decisive moment for when you take a photo depends on many things. Each circumstance is different, so it’s important for you to observe what’s happening carefully.

Sometimes you’ll need to respond quickly. Other times you’d best be patient and wait, or come back another time. This is so for landscape and architecture photography where the right light and weather conditions are so vital.

Anticipating when the best time is will help you nail it more often. Think about what will happen next. What is the sequence of events that will unfold? How are clouds moving in the sky? Will they cover the sun before it sets?

In situations where you have some control over your subject and the action, timing is not so difficult to predict. You can ask the model to flick her hair back on the count of three. You could ask your kids to run and jump over the sleeping dog and be ready for them.

Timing is one of the key elements which influence good photos. Each picture you take is a short moment in time. Making sure you capture the right moment can often make or break your photographs.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

The day I took this photo it was raining – all day. The sun came out in the evening and it was worth waiting for. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Craft your compositions

Relying on your subject to make your photo interesting means you may not compose it well. Don’t just plonk it central in your viewfinder, focus and click. Everyone with a camera can do that.

Move around. Look for a better background without distractions. Take a little time to think through some rules of composition. Are there strong lines you could incorporate? Will using the rule of thirds make the photo stronger? What else is in the frame and is it relevant to your photo?

Use different focal length lenses to incorporate more or less background. With a wide lens, you’ll see more background. Using a longer lens will cut more of the background and help isolate your subject. Longer lenses also give the impression of compressed distance where wide lenses do the opposite.

Lots of the best street photography looks as if it’s been made in a hurry. People rushing past, glancing at the camera. Or absorbed in what they are doing. Mostly these photos are not snapshots. The photographer has planned well and anticipated the action. Then waited.

Action is more easily caught and composed well when patience and observation are applied.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

The whole dam was interesting, but it was too hard to find an interesting angle for the whole structure, so I cropped in tight. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Lighting for feeling

Hard light or soft light will create different moods.

Strong contrast when you have hard light is more dramatic. If you want a softer, more romantic feeling, hard light is not the best. Even with an interesting subject, such as a newborn baby or a flower, harsh lighting will not provide a gentle feeling in your photograph.

Matching the lighting to the mood you wish to create in your photograph will make the photo feel right. There are no fixed rules. You must decide for yourself with each photo. This is part of your creative expression as a photographer.

Think about the direction the light’s coming from. It is hard or soft? How is it affecting your subject? Is there too much shadow or contrast for the mood you want?

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Connect with your subject

No matter what you choose to photograph, the more you connect with your subject the better photos you will make of it.

I always thought this applied only to people, and maybe animals. I’ve changed my perspective, and now think it can apply to anything you photograph.

I love flowers. My wife loves them more and loves to grow them. She takes much better photographs of flowers than I do because she has that passion. It shows in her pictures.

If you love the location you live in, or maybe where you grew up, you will photograph it more intimately than a stranger to it probably will.

How you connect with people you’re photographing will certainly make a huge difference in your photos.

An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Take your time. Be more observant. When you find your next alluring subject, consider how you can make the best photo of it. Don’t rely on its interest value alone.

Travel photography is prone to snap-shooting. When you travel, you always see new and interesting things to photograph. This is part of what makes travel so interesting. I often encourage people who take our photography workshops not to be travel snapshooters.

Ansel Adams said, “The most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” Think about your subject and how you can treat it.

Remember, it’s the photographer who makes the picture interesting, not the subject.


The post An Interesting Subject Does Not Make An Interesting Photograph appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

What is the Purpose of Your Photography?

The post What is the Purpose of Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

What is the purpose of your photography? Having a good answer to that question, a predetermined purpose, and can help you improve your photography.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

For professional photographers, hopefully the answer will be straight forward. Whether the focus is on commercial, wedding, editorial or any other genre of photography. To provide your clients with the best images you can should be the ideal.

Hobbyists and part-time photographers may find it more difficult to answer the question. Having a clear idea in mind as to why you take photographs helps you develop your skills more succinctly. If the ‘why’ drives you, your photos will be more impactful and memorable to those who see them.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How having purpose can help you improve

Concentrate on a goal, and you are more likely to get somewhere. Taking photos and having no real purpose for them can lead to discouragement or, at best, very slow growth.

Setting yourself goals to attain, and even a time frame to work in, will stimulate your imagination. When you have an objective, you will think differently about what you now want to achieve. Ambling along will no longer be so satisfying.

Learning will become more a part of your photography experience unless you’ve set your sights too low. Endeavoring to reach your goals should not be too easy. Pushing beyond what you are used to doing will mean you have to pick up some new skills.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Stock photography challenge

Once you know where you are headed, you will discover what you most need to learn to get you there. If, for instance, you decide to sign up with a stock photo agency as a contributor, you’ll need to learn:

  • Which agencies are worth signing up for
  • The agency requirements for photos
  • What style of photos each agency wants
  • How the best contributors make a living from their photography
  • Post-processing skills to meet the quality level

These things may not seem directly related to learning or growing as a photographer. Ask any number of successful stock photographers, and many will tell you they learned so much more of their craft after signing up. Also, good agencies have standards way higher than most casual photographers attain. Learning to reach these standards is a practical way to improve your photography.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Social media attention

Maybe you just want your images to stand out more on Pinterest or Instagram. Whatever your preferred social media platform is, there’s tons of competition. Being motivated to gain more likes and shares is not a bad thing. Especially when it means you have to up your photography skills to do it.

Learning from those who are already high achievers can help. Find some whose photos you admire and study them. You need a concentrated focus on what you want to achieve.  Without it, you can become easily overwhelmed by all the good, (and not so good) photos in your social media feeds.

Set yourself goals. Be realistic about the numbers you want to attain. Focus your attention on discovering what you need to do to accomplish what you want. What camera skills need upgrades to make your photos more attractive?

For example, if your main subject is food or still life learn more about:

  • Simple lighting setups
  • Graphic design within photos
  • Color combinations that work well
  • Lens choice and how it affects your subject

If you photograph people, learn to draw out more interesting responses from them. This is not a camera related skill, but it’s mandatory in taking great portraits.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Part timer – weddings, portraits, etc.

Is your focus is on making some money by selling your services to others? Keep your client’s needs in mind. Don’t be so full of your own ego that you don’t provide them with a service they want.

Have a clear direction you want to head in. This is healthy, but it must include your clients’ requirements first. After all, you are offering them a service, and what good will it be to them if it’s not what they’d hoped for?

You may need to improve your communication skills. Learn to make yourself clearly understood. This is as important as listening carefully to your potential clients.

Again, these are not camera skills, but learning them well will certainly make you a better photographer. Your goal should be to make photos you are happy with and your clients will love. It’s no good just to satisfy yourself.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Photographs for your own enjoyment

Of course, you may enjoy taking photographs for your own pleasure. If you’re not interested in making a little extra cash or sharing on social, having a purpose will still help you.

Setting yourself short, medium, and long term goals will help you grow and achieve more. Even if you’re not willing to share your photos with anyone else, having something to aim for in your picture taking will help build your skills.

Self assignments are a practical means of helping you grow and reach your objectives. Choose a topic that you love or want to learn more about. Pick anything that will hold your interest over a longer period of time.

Plan how long you will make the project and what results you want from it. Remain flexible to lengthen it if you are really enjoying the process and experiencing growth because of it.

As you work on your project, make sure to edit your photos as well. Don’t keep everything. Choose the best and place them in a separate folder. This way you are not looking through all your images, just the ones you like the most.

Study them. Ask yourself why you find these ones better than the others. Compare them. Think about how you can make improvements to your photos and go back to take them again if you can.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Build some structure and have purpose for the photographs. Doing this will increase your satisfaction levels. You will experience more steady learning of new skills and improvement of existing ones. You will enjoy using your camera more because you will be taking better photos.

Which of these ideas can you implement to help you have more purpose for the photographs you are making?


The post What is the Purpose of Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How You Treat Your Subject in Photography Affects Your Photos

The post How You Treat Your Subject in Photography Affects Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

A great subject does not necessarily make a great photograph. The way you treat your subject will reflect in your photographs.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Don’t be a travel snapshooter. This is advice I frequently give people during our travel photography workshops in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There’s an abundance of interesting subject material here. As is often the case when you are outside your normal environment, it’s easy to think that grabbing a quick photo will suffice.

Returning home with thousands of impulse photos will be a disappointment. If you don’t pay attention to creating an interesting photograph, the results will be lacking. Temples, monks, tuk-tuks and the likes are all interesting but can make rather boring pictures if you don’t treat them well.

How to treat your subject well

I watched this video about renowned Magnum photographer Elliot Erwitt recently. About halfway through he makes an interesting statement saying, “It’s not the subject, it’s how you treat the subject.” Unfortunately, he does not go on to expand this thought, but he certainly provoked curiosity in me.

This idea is one I believe is very important to the development of your photography. The way you treat your subject influences the potential impact your photos will have.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Grabbing quick snapshots will typically produce lackluster results. Treating your subject with more attention and intent will compel you to make more interesting photographs.

“Treat” is an intriguing word. Particularly in the context, Erwitt uses it in the video. It can be taken to mean the way you chose to artistically represent your subject. It could also mean the manner with which you:

  • Communicate with them
  • Act or behave towards them
  • Consider or regard them
  • Or, if you give them gifts

Any of these will affect different responses from a living subject.

Artistic treatment in photography

Choices you make will influence the way your photos look and how your subject is represented.

Photographing a beach on a sunny day when it’s full of activity, will look significantly different than on a winter’s afternoon with an overcast sky. Your choice of when you take a photograph is part of how you treat your subject.

Timing when you photograph someone speaking can make them look attractive or not. Those open-mouthed, contorted faces we often see politicians with are used by news editors to portray them negatively. This treatment may seem unkind, but it is certainly intentional.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Lighting choice between soft or hard light alters the artistic treatment a subject is given. A wrinkled face will become more exaggerated using hard lighting at certain angles. The choice of a softer, more diffused light will be kinder to your subject.

Composition is without a doubt influential on the way viewers will understand the main subject of any photograph.

You can crop in tight, showing little or no context. This limits any relationship of your subject to its environment.

A looser crop, made with careful intention, can include or exclude elements. This will influence the look and feel of your photographs.

Contrast in color and tone within your photos helps a viewer determine the meaning of a photo. Pastels or soft tones provide a gentleness. High-contrast black and white or color combinations will induce a different look and feel.

Your awareness of these aspects of photography allows you to make intentional use of them.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Relational treatment of your subjects

This has more influence on subjects that can respond to you. The way you talk to a rock or flower will not have so much impact on the photos you make of it. Talking to your pet dog or goldfish will also elicit different responses.

Doggie treats given during pet photo sessions can provide huge assistance to a photographer. Offering more food to your goldfish will not likely arouse a more favorable response from it.

Speak politely to the person you want to photograph you’ll be more likely to receive a positive response. If you approach a stranger with uncertainty their response may not be so conducive to you getting a good portrait of them.

Treating someone with a smile and an air of respect will provide you a more positive opportunity. Most people will respond well. Projecting a positive attitude during a portrait session will enable you to make more attractive photos. Your subjects will be more relaxed and assured.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Even when you’re traveling and may not be able to verbally communicate, a smile often does the trick. Approach someone with an open, happy look on your face with your camera in hand. This usually communicates your intention clearly enough. Add in a few appropriate hand gestures and watch for the person’s response.

Take time to observe your subject

When you’re not sure how to treat your subject, step back and observe for a while if you can. Don’t rush to capture your photo.

Look at the environment and how your subject relates to it. Is it a prominent or a minor part of the location? Does it interact significantly with the surroundings? Can you find an angle that will suit the intention you have for your photo?

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

The more you understand about your subject, the better photos you will make of it. Understanding can affect the way you relate to any chosen subject.

If you see someone who is shy and reserved, treat them in a similar manner. They’re more likely to appreciate it than if you boldly get in their face with your camera.

A more extroverted person may require a different treatment. Be bolder. Be more effusive in your approach. Mirror back to them how you are experiencing them.

Take some time to research. Engaging in longer-term projects, or even before heading away on holiday to somewhere new. Find out as much as you can about what you want to photograph.

Do you want to photograph monks in Thailand? Is it okay to do so politely? Is this culturally fitting? Can you safely photograph beggars in San Francisco? Is street photography including people welcome in Paris? Knowing the answers to pertinent questions before you set out will enable you to treat your subject appropriately.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


The right treatment of your subject will result in more compelling photographs.

Think about both aspects of treating your subjects. Considering the methods you use with your camera is one aspect. Communicating well with living subjects will influence the response you receive from them.

Take your time to practice. Apply yourself well. You will see an improvement in your photographs.


The post How You Treat Your Subject in Photography Affects Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

What is Royalty-Free Editorial Stock Photography and Can You Earn Money From It?

The post What is Royalty-Free Editorial Stock Photography and Can You Earn Money From It? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Photographs of just about anything can be sold as royalty-free editorial stock photography. How they are licensed is defined as either editorial or commercial. An image sold with an editorial license can only be used in news or general interest publications like;

  • Blogs
  • Textbooks
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Poi Sang Long Festival in Thailand

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

An editorial stock photo cannot be used to directly promote anything for profit.

Photos sold by a stock agency with an editorial license are more limited in how they can be published. Commercially licensed photos can be more broadly used, but there are more restrictions on what they contain.

What’s the difference between editorial and commercial stock photo licensing?

Editorial stock photos do not require model or property releases.

You can submit photos of individuals or whole crowds for editorial licensing and no model release would be requested. If you submit any photos of people for commercial use, signed model releases are required. Whenever a person can identify themselves in a photo, a release is required if the photo is to be sold with a commercial license.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Crowds During Song Khran Festival in Chiang Mai

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Commercial licensing prohibits the inclusion of any copyrighted elements in your photos. Any branding or products must be removed from the photos. This also goes for people and private property. These things must be accompanied by an appropriate release form. If they’re not stock agencies will not accept the images into their collections.

Editorial licensing allows visible branding, products, people and property. However, no manipulation of the content is permitted.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Market Tattoos

I would not be able to submit this for sale under an editorial license because I have removed a logo from the man’s shirt. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

If you have a photo of something containing a logo or company name, you can remove it and still license the photo with a commercial license. When uploading editorial photos, you will be asked to state that you have not manipulated the photo in any way. Editorial stock photos must depict things as they really were when you took the photo.

Most stock agencies have disclaimers attached to editorial licensing of photos. The buyer is in control of how the photos will be used and must be made aware of the restrictions and their responsibilities. Stock photo agencies make it clear they are not liable for how the purchaser uses editorial photos.

Are there restrictions on the types of photos you can upload?

Most royalty-free stock agencies don’t have many restrictions. So long as you are uploading photos within the bounds of common decency, you won’t have any problems. Check with each stock agency where you wish to submit photos. They will be able to provide you with their company policy on what they want you to upload.

The law in most countries allows you to photograph anything you like from a public space. However, in doing so, you must not infringe on the rights of others or abuse their privacy. Photographing military facilities, power plants and other important infrastructure can sometimes get you into trouble. Check with local laws before you do.

Don’t just upload any old pictures. Make sure to only submit your best images. The market has become so saturated with photos that it’s increasingly difficult to make sales. Make sure your pictures stand out from the crowd.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Woman with a SLR Film Camera

I do have a signed model release for the woman in this photo, but because of the branding on the camera I could only sell it with an editorial license. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

How do you know what photos will sell?

You really don’t.

Predicting how well editorial stock may sell is very difficult.

If you have a good photo of a spectacular event or happening of international significance, it will likely sell well. If you were the only photographer to capture this amazing occurrence, then it will certainly sell better. However, these type of situations are extremely rare.

Carrying your camera with you wherever you go will increase your chances. It will also sharpen your awareness of what a good editorial image can be as you learn to focus your attention. If you leave your camera at home, it won’t happen.

Upload a variety of images and build up a large number of your photos in a stock agency website. Doing this gives you practical experience of what will and will not sell. There are many variable factors involved.

If you can build up a solid base of your own photos, you will be able to analyze which ones sell more consistently. You can then use this information to plan what you will photograph.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Checking Their Messages

Annual events can make good subjects for editorial because the can be used year after year. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Once you have this information to work with you can decide on a niche or two to concentrate on. Look at which of your editorial stock photos sell the best and which of them you enjoyed making the most. This is what you will be best to focus your efforts on.

Royalty-free stock agencies boast collections of millions of photos. They contain photos already of pretty much every subject you can think of. You need to take better images than the ones they are already selling.

Browse these collections for ideas. See what others have done and come up with a new angle. If you see that there is a number of similar images that sell well, and you can produce photos of the same subject, do so. Don’t just copy. Improve on what’s already been done.

Update images you find that might be out of date. Has your city’s skyline changed recently? There may not be many new photos of it online yet.

Has there been some big news recently that you can illustrate with a stock photo? This will have to be ongoing news, or you’ll need to produce and upload your photos quickly so as not to miss the moment.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Flower Parade Float

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How many agencies can I upload my editorial stock photos to?

You can choose to upload exclusively to just one agency or to as many as you have time to service.

Signing an exclusive contract to supply just one agency has certain benefits. However, you are restricted to only their customers buying your photos.

Supplying to many agencies takes time. Each stock library has its own requirements and contracts, and you must understand these and follow their terms closely. If you don’t, you may find you’ll have many of your photos rejected for one reason or another.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? China Girls at New Year

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Do your research and understand what’s required before you start uploading photos to sell as editorial stock. You will probably find you have a huge number of images on your hard drive you can upload.

If they’re only stuck on your computer, you’ll never make any money from them. Uploaded to a stock agency, you won’t get rich overnight, but you will earn something over time.

Taking a business-like approach to stock photography is best if you are serious about it. Treating it too casually, not paying attention to what’s working and what’s not, will not bring you success. You’ll need to stick with it and consistently upload to make a really good go of it.

The post What is Royalty-Free Editorial Stock Photography and Can You Earn Money From It? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits

The post How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

I’ve grown to really love making portraits of people. My preferred way of working is on location with my natural light outdoor studio.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Two Karen Men

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

For many years I had a dedicated studio set up in my home. During this time I hosted many travelers who passed through Chiang Mai. I made photographs of them all and we had a lot of fun making them. However, I was never so comfortable using studio strobes inside as I am working with my outdoor studio.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Indoor Studio Portraits

Indoor studio portraits. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Inspired by Vogue photographer, Irving Penn

Early on in my photography experience, I became aware of American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009). He’s celebrated as one of Vogue magazine’s top photographers. Penn produced more covers for them than any other photographer over the 60 years he worked with the magazine.

Fashion photography has never been much of an interest for me. What attracted me to Penn’s mastery was the portraits he made outside his magazine work. Often he would stay on in these exotic locations where his assignments took him, and he’d make portraits of the locals.

He outlines some of these experiences in his book ‘Worlds in a Small Room.’ In the book, he tells how he developed a portable daylight studio he could set up on location. This allowed him control of the background and lighting.

Living in northern Thailand, I have opportunities to visit mountain villages and photograph indigenous hill tribe peoples. So I decided to design and build my own portable daylight portrait studio.

Setting my studio up in villages allows me to make studio portraits of people as they remain in their own environments.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Three Karen Men

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How I designed and built my outdoor studio

This was a completely DIY project, so you could easily copy the idea and make your own.

My studio has metamorphosed over the years. It now comprises of:

  • Three stainless steel tube uprights
  • One black and one white background
  • A shade cloth above the backgrounds
  • Reflectors
  • A bunch of clips, ropes, steel rods, and tent pegs
How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Outdoor Studio Materials

Everything for my outdoor studio.

Because I often work alone my studio needed to be easily portable, unlike Penn’s which was large, bulky and required several assistants to set it up. I had to sacrifice size to make it practical. You could design a larger, less-portable studio for use in your backyard.

Originally I made upright supports using fiberglass tent poles. These proved too flimsy, so I replaced them with more sturdy stainless steel. I have also enlarged the background area and included a white background. My initial design only had a short black background. Now I also use reflectors to enhance and balance the light.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Control natural light using an outdoor studio

I prefer to set the studio up in the morning or later in the afternoon. If the sun is too high overhead, the light is more difficult to work with.

Choosing a location where the sun will be behind the backdrop is important. This helps to provide a hair light. The piece of thin grey nylon fabric I set up above the backdrops softens this hair light.

If the ground where I’m setting up is bare earth, that is perfect. Light reflects off the light colored soil up into the faces of my subjects. This is good for Asian skin tones, but not so good for Caucasians as it has a slight yellow/orange tone.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Lahu Man Smoking

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

When I have to set up on a lawn, I lay down some white or light tan plastic sheeting to provide some uplighting. Without this, the grass would reflect an unpleasant green cast onto the people’s faces.

In the early days of using my studio, this was all I did to manipulate the light. Now I also use a large foldable reflector to bounce more light onto my subjects. This gives a little more control of the shadows.

The background fabric is a very stretchy polyester. It does not wrinkle and can be pulled tight between the uprights, so it’s flat. Behind the black background, I add a sheet of thick black polythene sheeting. This completely blocks out the sun which would otherwise partially shine through the fabric.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Using the Outdoor Studio

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Balancing the light

Your exposure settings are critical. A lot of light shines through the white background, while none shines through the black. Including too much of either background in your exposure calculations will result in an underexposed or overexposed subject.

You need to take your exposure reading from your subject’s face only. Using manual mode, once you have it set correctly, you won’t need to change it unless the light changes. This will happen if the sun goes behind a cloud or you bounce more light onto your subject with the reflector.

You can use the same exposure settings for both backgrounds because the light on your subject’s face does not change.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Kayan Long Neck Woman on a White Background

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If you take a light reading from the white background, you will see it is far brighter than your subject. Taking a reading from the black background will show there’s much less light reflecting off it than your subject. These contrasts help you achieve a pure white and pure black background.

The thin fabric above the background reduces the light and prohibits full sunshine from affecting your subject. You need to make sure your subject is not too far from the background; otherwise, the sunlight might hit their head directly.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Two Kayan Long Neck Girls

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Make your own outdoor studio

Putting together your own outdoor studio is relatively easy and cheap. You can use it anywhere there’s sufficient space. You don’t need to buy expensive lighting equipment or have a large studio space. The materials are inexpensive, and it’s portable so that you can use it anywhere.

Working outside you are reliant on good weather. It’s best when the sun is shining, but you can still use it under an overcast sky.

Photographing with available light is so much fun, especially when you have a little control over how it affects your subjects.

We’s love to see photos of your outdoor studio in the comments below.


The post How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How to Place an Image Inside Text in Photoshop

The post How to Place an Image Inside Text in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

In this article, I want to share with you one method of creating an image that appears inside text.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Making your photos stand out online, especially when using social networks is tough. Finding ways to enhance your pictures so they will capture people’s attention is a great way to grab more attention to them.

Placing an image inside text can communicate more than the text or the photo will say on their own.

Here are a few easy steps to show how you can make your images have more impact.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text Inle Lake fishermen, Myanmar

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Set up your Photoshop file

Create a background layer of a solid color. Above it make a new text layer and then add the photo you want to include inside the text.

The size and font you choose are up to you, and they can be changed during the process if you decide they are not working as well as you’d hoped. You can also use a vector layer to place your image inside.

For this method, you will use a Clipping Mask. This allows you to use the content of a layer to control the visibility of the layers which are above it. This is how the shape of the text will control how much of the photo is seen in the final outcome.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text Clipping Mask

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Creating the Clipping Mask

Select your photo. It must be above the text layer. Go to the top menu and select Layer ->Create Clipping Mask, (or press Alt + Ctrl/Cmd + G.)

You will now see your photo within the text. Everything outside the text area will be the solid background layer. You have effectively masked out most of your image.

If this is too much, as it is in my example, the effect is not going to attract many eyeballs. The text is easy enough to read and the effect is interesting, there’s not enough of the image remaining.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Reveal more of your photo

If you want more of your photo to be seen, rather than only what’s within the text area, you can do so.

Duplicate the layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + J. Now make a selection of the parts of your photo you want to be seen outside the text area. There are many methods for doing this. Here I have used the Quick Selection Tool.

Once you have made your selection, you can click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. This will reveal only the selected area of this layer.

You can then refine your mask if necessary by using the Brush Tool. Make sure the mask is selected in the Layers Panel. Brush with black to reveal more and white to conceal areas you don’t want to see.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text Refine the Image Mask

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

There are no rules as to how much to show. It’s purely up to what you think is best. Keep in mind that the text will be most legible with less of the image showing outside of it.

You should now have a compelling image with a message.

Experiment to add diversity

Every image and text combination will work differently. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, change some aspect of it.

Using a different font is easy enough. With the text layer selected, choose a different font.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text Change Font

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If you can’t find one that fits your image exactly as you want it to, manipulate it. With the text selected, bring up the Character dialogue box. Here you can stretch your text wider or higher, or make it more compact. See if you can make it fit your image in a more pleasing way.

You may need to refine your clipping mask further if you make changes to your font.

Adding a shape on a new layer under your text layer will create a new look. Then, by duplicate your original photo layer. Drag it below the shape in the Layer Panel. This creates a background of your original photo.

Now you have a shape containing your text with your image inside and a shape with the image outside it.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text New Background

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I have moved the location of the text and shape as I didn’t think it looked so good over the main area of interest in my photo. After moving it I dropped the opacity of the shape layer to reveal some of the photo underneath. I also added a stroke around the text (using the fx panel) to help it stand out more.

How To Use Photoshop to Create an Image Inside Your Text Experiment with new layers

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


There are so many variations you can experiment with to place an image inside your text. These are just a few ideas to help get you started.

Remember, if you are using text, keep it legible. If people have to struggle to read it, then it’s not working. Likewise, if the text is not enhancing your photo, try something different.

There are no right and wrong ways of doing this. I hope you found this method helpful.

Try it out with photos for your Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook feeds. Done well it will help your photos stand out from the crowd and get your message across.

I’d love to see how you are making use of placing an image inside text. Please post your photos in the comments and let us know of any additional tips and techniques you like to use.

The post How to Place an Image Inside Text in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time – Part Three – Post-Processing for Exposure Optimization

The post How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time – Part Three – Post-Processing for Exposure Optimization appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Digital photography allows us an incredible scope to work on our computers to enhance and manipulate images. Optimizing your exposures during post-processing can make a dull, flat-looking photograph into a much more vibrant and interesting one.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every TimeMarket Guy

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

My approach to post-processing most of the time is to make my photos look as they did when I captured them or with some variation to the background tone. Because our eyes see more dynamic range than our cameras, this means I am working to balance my exposure and the way the light looks in the photo.

RAW or Jpg?

If your photos are saved only as jpg’s, your camera will have made certain tweaks to them already. It may have added some sharpening, color balance, contrast tweaks and possibly manipulated them in other ways. Jpg images as designed to look good straight out of your camera and may require little or no post-processing.

If you do decide to work on your jpg files, you will face limitations because of the file quality. As your camera saves jpg files, it compresses them and discards some of the information from the photos. Jpgs are technically lower quality which means they do not stand up to as much post-processing as RAW files do.

RAW files contain all the information your camera captured when you pressed the shutter release. They do not look great when you first see them because the camera has not altered them at all during the capturing and saving process.

To make a RAW file look good you must make some adjustments manually or use a preset or Action to make them for you. The technical quality of a RAW file is superior because there is no data lost from what your camera recorded. You have a greater capacity to be able to manipulate these files without losing quality.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Temple and Big Sky

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Choose your best photos

From each series of photographs you make I hope that you will have a number of exposure options to choose from when you sit down at your computer. Picking the best images to work on is the first part of post-processing.

Naturally, you’ll be wanting to pay most attention to the main subject in your photo. Is it exposed the way you want it to be? Can you see that there’s sufficient detail in those areas of your composition?

In some cases, such as when you’ve made a silhouette or are using low-key lighting and high contrast, you may have little or no detail in your subject. This is okay if that’s what you want.

However, if exposing for detail was your intention, and there’s not enough in your photo, look at the pictures where you used different exposure settings.

Your background exposure is also important. Does it enhance and support your main subject? Is it too bright or too dark? Again, look to see if there is detail. When there’s no detail, because of overexposure or underexposure, it will be more difficult to manipulate these areas.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Attractive Young Photographer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Make use of the histogram

Your histogram gives you information about the tonal values in your images. It shows you where the most detail is and if you have lost detail in the bright or dark parts of your compositions.

If your histogram is bunched up to the left or the right of the chart, with the graphic touching the top, this means there will be no detail recorded in those areas.

If you can see a histogram bunched to the right and hitting the top, you will have lost detail in the highlights. If it’s bunched to the left and hitting the top, you have lost detail in the dark areas.

If your main subject is within this range and you wanted it to contain detail, you will need to choose a photo with a different exposure setting to work on.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Hill Tribe Girl

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Using presets or manual manipulation

Lightroom and Photoshop come with presets and Actions. These can be used to help balance your exposure. You can also download many more or make and save your own. These tools can enhance and speed up your post-processing workflow.

I often chose one of a variety of presets as I begin to post process a photograph. Rarely do I apply a preset without then tweaking it further. Every exposure you make is different, so to get your photos looking their best some manual manipulation is usually best.

Working your highlights and shadows

Having been careful to expose your main subject well, you may already be happy with its tone value. However, some parts of your composition may still need tweaking to get them looking the way you want.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Happy Hat Wearer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Your intention is the most important. How do you want your photograph to look?

Here are two examples of different manipulations made to the same RAW file.

Example one: Dark background

I wanted to make the background darker so the roses would stand out. Using a preset I made in Lightroom, I then made further manual adjustments. I controlled the Blacks, Dehaze, Contrast, and Shadows sliders.

When making this kind of adjustment to manipulate the background of your image, pay attention to your main subject also. These sliders make universal changes to your photos so affect your main subject as well.

With a light-toned main subject and a predominantly dark background, the changes I made did not have much effect on the roses.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Lightroom Dark

I then opened the photo, with the Lightroom adjustments, in Photoshop. At this stage, I darkened the lightest part of the photo to lower the overall tone range.

There are many techniques you can darken or lighten specific areas of a photo. I prefer to use the Dodge and Burn tools set to a low exposure to do this. I also used the Patch tool to remove a few of the brighter areas in the background.

As a result, the background is darker, and the highlights on the rose are not so bright.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time

Example Two: Light Background

To render a lighter, softer look, I took the Dehaze slider towards the left, and the Shadows towards the right. I added a little more Black and some Contrast, otherwise the image looked too flat.

Next, using Photoshop, I tweaked the highlights a little so they were not so bright.

How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time Roses

In both of these examples, my main objective was to enhance the roses because they are my main subject.

The background tone is also important. Between the two examples, there is the most difference in the tone of the background. This has a large impact on the overall feel of the photo.


As with all post-processing, there are a variety of methods you can use to gain similar results. Here I have demonstrated a few techniques I am comfortable using.

Concentrating primarily on the tone of your main subject in relation to the background is a good place to start when post-processing. Once you have made adjustments you are satisfied with, you can then move on and make other changes to your photos if you wish.

Aim to expose your main subject the way you want at the time of making your photos. Doing so allows you more flexibility to make changes in post-production and not lose quality. If you are stuck working with a main subject that’s either underexposed or overexposed, you will be limited in how much you can achieve.

Experimentation is the best way to discover how you like to work with photo manipulation software. There is no right or wrong way to work with your photos so long as you achieve the result you want.

You may also like


The post How to Make Well Exposed Photos Every Time – Part Three – Post-Processing for Exposure Optimization appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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.

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