How Mark Rothko’s Paintings Can Inspire Your Photography

The post How Mark Rothko’s Paintings Can Inspire Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

I first encountered a painting by Mark Rothko when I was a uni student, perusing the National Gallery of Australia. Seeking the wisdom of abstract expressionists like Lee KrasnerClyfford Still and Hans Hofmann, I was somehow completely unaware of Rothko’s renowned canvases. So when I came across #20,1957 I was instantly mesmerized. In the reverent light of the gallery, the cells of the painting seemed to shift under my gaze, bleeding and retracting at once. And when I looked away, the after-image formed a striking hollow into the gallery surrounds.

I felt meditation and calm, but I also felt something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The ineffable. #20,1957 was like nothing I’d ever come across before.

My reaction to the Rothko painting wasn’t unique. Audiences around the world have reported a deep emotional experience when viewing Rothko’s work. Rothko hoped that in viewing his paintings, others would be drawn into a deep meditative state, a state of vulnerability and receptivity that he himself entered into while creating his artworks.

Today, Rothko’s motivations and techniques continue to inform not only painting but visual arts as a whole.

Mark Rothko

Born in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia) on September 25, 1903, Mark Rothko (born Marcus Rothkowitz) immigrated to the USA with his family in his youth. Inspired to take up art in the autumn of 1923, he began his artistic career painting urban life, portraits, nudes and landscapes. His portrayal of architectural space leaned on abstract compositional techniques, exploring the relationship between the painting and the viewer, an aspect that would play a critical role in his future works.

In the early 1940’s, Rothko shifted from painting the figurative to the symbolic, exploring themes such as prophecy, ancient myths, archaic ritual and the unconscious. Inspired by the surrealist method of automatic drawing, Rothko began to delve into more abstracted imagery, graduating almost entirely to abstraction by the late 1940’s. Unimpeded by the figurative or symbolic, Rothko stained the canvas with diluted oil paint, rendering shapes and forms with soft, indistinct edges, some outlined by luminous white halos.

Mark Rothko, No. 3 No. 13 1949, MOMA
No. 3 No.13, 1949 photo credit: Sharon Mollerus on Flickr

Rothko’s arrived at his signature style in the 1950’s. His expanses of graduated tones and ethereal light seemed to suspend vibratious squares and rectangles upon active planes of color. Toward the end of the 1950’s, Rothko began to paint in an increasingly darker, more restricted pallet.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
No. 9 (Dark over Light Earth/Violet and Yellow in Rose), 1954 photo credit: G. Starke on Flickr

In 1964, Rothko received a commission for a series of paintings for a non-denominational chapel in Huston, Texas – a space that was ideal for immersion in his stark, contemplative canvases. Unveiled in 1971, the paintings took 6 years to complete. However, sadly, Rothko never saw the culmination of the space. He committed suicide in his studio on February 25, 1970. He was 66.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Black on Dark Sienna on Purple, 1960 photo credit: G. Starke  on Flickr

Making photos inspired by the art of Mark Rothko

Painting and photography are two different mediums, I know. There is a significant separation between the paintbrush and the camera (although there are some commonalities too). Creating photographic work inspired by Rothko’s paintings isn’t about mimicry, it’s about trying out different styles and techniques. While this article discusses ways to approach photography that reflects Rothko’s paintings, you don’t have to end up with an exact copy of Black on Dark Sienna on Purple, 1960 (I sure didn’t!).

Through the elements and principals of art and design, Rothko created work that communicates beyond seeing. Using the same principals, photographers can create work inspired by Rothko that challenges the viewer and plays with the concept of photography and visual arts.

Using color

When described solely as a colorist Rothko said, “if you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point.” Rothko used color as a path to realizing the unseen. Looking beyond the event of color as an optical phenomenon, Rothko constructed oscillating visions driven by our innate conceptions of color.

Like Rothko, photographers use color as a tool to convey an image beyond seeing. Our associations with color stem from experience and instinct. Emphasizing color over literal subject matter doesn’t just convey color relationships; it communicates emotion and ineffability.

Capturing photography imbued with color is simple enough, but may require a little exploration. Look for flat planes of solid or graduated color. Seemingly dull urban surfaces like doors, walls or panels come to life within the camera frame. Try to include as little objective evidence as possible, articulating the emotional charge of color without the disturbance of other visual detritus.

The color in this image breaks up space, conveying meaning through our inherent associations

Unfocused photography

Another way to exemplify color is through unfocused photography. Rothko created a visual vibration within his paintings by blurring the edges of his colors and forms. This effect can be re-imagined by unfocusing your camera lens (turn off Auto Focus first) before taking a photograph. Unfocused photography creates a painterly quality that emphasizes color over subject matter. Rather than taking pin-sharp photos, unfocused photography frees the edges of the components that make up a scene, creating a unique movement throughout the image.

Unfocused photography emphasizes color, creating a unique movement throughout the image

Rothko’s abstract expressionism

Although Rothko himself shrugged off classifications, his work is generally categorized as abstract expressionist. Developed in New York in the 1940’s, abstract expressionism refers to a movement of predominantly non-representative painters. Neither completely abstract nor completely expressionist, abstract expressionism encompassed a wide variety of styles and techniques. Overall however, the practitioners of abstract expressionism stood united in their desire to reinvent the nature of painting.

Abstract expressionism is understood today to be divided into two camps – the action painters and the color field painters. Considered a member of the latter, Rothko prioritized austere beds of color over the wild, diacritic mark. Rothko’s serene blocks generate an emotional aura predominately through shape, form, color and line. It’s these basic precepts that have translated into abstract photography.

Like abstract painting, abstract photography operates independently from depicting the objective. As a result, abstract photographers emphasize the non-objective, peeling back the literal to expose the bare bones of an image. Beyond language, abstraction investigates the visual, discards the literal and charges an image with potentiality.

Aerial photography cultivates abstraction through distance. Abstract macro photography closes in on a subject to reveal often unseen planes. Like Rothko’s paintings, what you exclude from a photograph is just as important as what you include. Turning your lens to strong shapes, forms, colors, textures and lines cultivates imagery that cuts through to the essence of visual language.

Abstract photography operates independently from depicting the objective


Through extensive layering, blending and blurring, Rothko manipulated hard-edged structures of color into stark, yet softly transcendent forms.

Intentional camera movement (ICM) uses the same principals of movement within a photograph. Through motion, ICM reduces a subject to shape, form, color, and line, creating an abstracted study of movement and light. Similar to painting, ICM involves the physical movement of the camera during an exposure. Also, like Rothko’s actions documented in the strokes of a brush, ICM creates an artwork that is visibly, inextricably linked to the experience of the photographer.

To take an ICM photograph, first, turn off autofocus and, if you have it, image stabilization. Set your camera to Shutter Priority, adjust your exposure time to around 1/2 of a second and turn your ISO down to the lowest setting on your camera. The longer your shutter speed, the more a subject will blur.

Point your camera at a subject, depress the shutter and physically move the camera. Once the shutter closes, review the result on your LCD screen. Your movement will register as blurred lines within the image.

The nature of ICM is that it is both simple and experimental – it takes some adjustment to perfect. Explore different combinations of subject matter, time of day, focus, shutter speed, aperture, and movement to create an image you’re happy with. Moreover, don’t forget to wear your camera strap!


Saying once that “the most interesting painting is one that expresses more of what one thinks than of what one sees,” Rothko shifted the way art is made and observed. Now, with the advent of digital photography, we have new ways to communicate visually.

However, Rothko’s reflections on the human spirit continue to resonate as a vital pause amongst visual loudness. Through his use of color, abstract expressionism and movement, Rothko’s work transcend artistic mediums, informing and inspiring contemporary practice today.

The post How Mark Rothko’s Paintings Can Inspire Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

Walking the Line – How Using Line in Photography Can Enhance Your Images

The post Walking the Line – How Using Line in Photography Can Enhance Your Images appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

Defined in Wikipedia as the “marks that span a distance between two points,” lines on their own don’t sound particularly enthralling. But when you think about it, the very basis of visual arts centers on the use of line. Take painting for instance; many paintings start as line drawings. These lines intersect to form shapes. The shapes are then filled with tone and color and the process continues, building on the scaffold of line to create an image.

It’s no wonder that line is probably the most versatile of the elements of art. In photography, every photograph hinges upon the reproduction of a scene constructed by lines. Even the physical edges of a photograph are dictated by the lines of the photographic frame it is within.

By deliberately incorporating different types of line into an image, a photographer can take greater control over the way an image gets read. Here, we’ll look at the different types and characteristics of line and why you should prioritize them in your photography.

Why use line?

As one of the intrinsic elements of art, line appeals to our innate understanding of the visual landscape. Delineating shape and form, line constructs a narrative in an image, guiding a viewer’s eye around a photograph. The use of various forms of line set the emotional tone of an image while leading lines create an optical entry and exit point. By mindfully incorporating line into your photography you can take control of the viewer’s gaze, therefore, maximizing presence and impact.

Types of line

Trees, buildings, roads, or rivers – line takes on a new life depending on the environment. Focusing on specific types of line creates connections with a viewer and builds images that have depth and substance.


The horizon is the line that separates the sky from the earth. Derived from the Greek words for “separating circle,” “to divide” and “to separate,” the horizon dictates the way we orient ourselves. It marks the furthest distance the eye can see. If the horizon is obscured, the resulting junction of earth and sky is called the visible horizon. Nevertheless, the horizontal line is innately linked to nature.

Horizontal lines read as an organic presence in a photograph. Our associations with the gradual rise and fall of the sun over the horizon evokes a sense of time and rhythm. Because humans generally sleep horizontally, we associate horizontal lines with relaxation, rest and stability.

That said, the majority of travel functions on a horizontal trajectory, meaning that horizontal lines can also denote a sense of motion. In situations involving panning or slow shutter speed photography, the path of the horizontal line anchors the image to a readable axis, accentuating motion through motion-blur and adding a unique dynamism to an image.


The vertical line has come to be seen as a symbol of quiet endurance. Maintaining the integrity of a photograph through our visual associations with strength, vertical lines add vitality to a photograph.

As mentioned before, humans sleep horizontally and stand vertically, creating a visual association between energy and the act of being upright. The exclamation mark is another example of this. Its’ vertical stroke suspended above a full stop to communicate action and energy at the end of a sentence.

Though associated with steadfast urban structures, the vertical line can still hearken back to nature, delineating growth over the passage of time. The epigeal seed pushing through the earth follows a vertical path in the direction of the sun, cultivating a juxtaposition between the urban and natural environments.


As one of the first Western artists to focus entirely on non-representational forms of painting, Wassily Kandinsky experimented heavily with the geometrical elements that make up an artwork. Published in 1926, Kandinsky wrote extensively on the artistic attributes of line in his book Point and Line to Plane. In the book, he stated that “the third line is the diagonal which, in schematic form diverges from both [vertical and horizontal line]…at the same angle…a circumstance which determines its inner sound…diagonal line is the most concise form of the potentiality for endless…movement”.

A painting by Wassily Kandinsky courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Often diminishing from the foreground into the depths of a photograph as leading lines, diagonals lift an image off the page. When repeated in close conjunction or zig-zagged, diagonal lines create a vibration that plays with our vision like an optical illusion.

Free from the constraints of vertical/horizontal orientation, the diagonal line operates as a visual hive of activity. While solid horizontal and vertical lines imply stasis, the diagonal line teeters between the two, generating a palpable sense of kinetic energy.


From the event of the early human, curves have held a particular fascination in the visual arts. Simple to create, yet visually complex, the decorative use of curves has been discovered on countless examples of ancient art.

Megalithic art featuring curved demarcations courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Adopted as a traditional art concept in Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, many figures were sculpted on the double-curvature of the S. This S curve was proclaimed as the “line of beauty” by 18th-century painter, satirist, and writer, William Hogarth. Hogarth said that the curve signified liveliness and activity, as opposed to “straight lines, parallel lines, or right-angled intersecting lines, which signify stasis, death, or inanimate objects.”

As a line, curves join point A to point B. The difference lies in the path the curved line takes, traveling in bends and dips before arriving at a destination. A curved river winding through a landscape may connect the foreground with the background, but it does so in its own time, imparting a sense of calm and ease.

Implied lines

Perhaps the most intriguing line of all, implied lines are implied by other visual components in an image. Gesticulations, points of interest, lines of sight, arrows, similarities and movement all create implied lines. These implied lines tow the viewer’s eye from one point to the next within a frame.

Without the strict use of a physical line, implied lines lend momentum and narrative to an image. Think of ancient astrologers joining up the stars with implied lines to create celestial beings. Or, the movement of a car in a particular direction, sweeping the viewer’s eye along with the subject. Neither example makes use of a dedicated line. However, each has the effect of composing a network of lines that make the image more interesting and readable.

Characteristics of line

Along with the different types of line, there are different characteristics of line. Thick, thin, soft, and hard. These characteristics govern the nature of a line, adding depth and interest to an image.


The width of a line refers to its thickness. Dictated by their real-life physicality, thicker lines are stronger and have a bolder presence. A thin line is easier to break and therefore has more delicate connotations. Width also refers to the tapering of a line. A line that disappears into the background of an image creates a visual illusion of depth. A line with an uneven or jerky width denotes a sense of playfulness, texture or unrest.


Length covers the overall length of a line. A short line indicates immediacy or action. Long lines denote a feeling of space and calm. Length also dictates the continuity of a line. A broken line gives the impression of movement, like the imprint of footsteps in the sand. Continuous lines, like those often found in landscapes, are more relaxed.


The feeling of a line dictates its visual tactility. Visual tactility is the way a viewer feels about a subject just by looking at it. Over a lifetime we compile a mental bank of the physical sensations we encounter. When stimulated visually to access this mental bank, we mentally experience sensation without actually touching a subject. For example, a picture of a line tapered to a sharp point can stimulate the impression of a pin-prick. By exploiting the tactile characteristics of line (such as roundness or roughness), a photographer can appeal to a viewer physically as well as visually.


As discussed above, line can sprout from any direction. Depending on the subject (and the orientation of the camera), line can be vertical, horizontal, diagonal or curved. The direction of the line dramatically alters the reading of an image, creating (or deconstructing) a scene. For example, a horizontal line evokes a sense of nature and time, whereas a diagonal line charges an image with energy.


The focus of a line is much like the measure of focus in a photograph. Some lines can be sharp, others blurry or fuzzy. The focus of a line illustrates how smoothly it blends into other segments of a photograph. A sharp line is an abrupt contrast, commanding attention. A blurry or faint line is more subtle, easing from one subject to the next, creating a gentle transition between subject matter.


A vast number of emotional associations are connected with color. Rooted in both cultural and universal experience, studies show that different colors have different influences on the brain. This means that a viewer will have a different visual experience based on the color make-up of a photograph.

The color of a line contributes significantly to the reading of a photograph. For example, a yellow line could signify energy or allude to danger. A blue line could signify calm or water. Connotations like these shape the outcome of an image, creating harmony (or disharmony) and adding impact.


Emotional connotations govern the experience of a viewer. For example, jagged lines foster an impression of energy and unrest whereas a serpentine S curve cultivates a more relaxed atmosphere.

From urban abstracts and landscapes to the human form, line appeals to our senses on a psychological level. Whether it be curvy, horizontal, jagged or diagonal, our innate associations make line a valuable tool to convey emotion.


As painter Jean-Michel Basquiat once said, “every line means something.” For an effective image, different components of composition must come together to form a cohesive body of information. As one of the most versatile elements of design, line speaks to our sense of the world. Through the mindful combination of the types and characteristics of line, you as a photographer can convey a unique experience to a viewer on both a conscious and subconscious level.

The post Walking the Line – How Using Line in Photography Can Enhance Your Images appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

How to Add a Toy Camera Effect to Your Digital Images Using Photoshop

The post How to Add a Toy Camera Effect to Your Digital Images Using Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

They may look cute, but toy cameras aren’t actually toys at all. The name refers to inexpensive film cameras made predominantly of plastic and paired with a simplistic lens.

From around the 1990s, toy cameras garnered popularity for their distinctive aesthetic. Cameras like the Diana and Holga are embraced, light leaks and all, for their wonderfully unpredictable results.

With their vignetting, blurry focus and lens distortion, photographers armed with toy cameras relinquish control over the definitive outcome of the image, adding a palpable sense of serendipity to the photographic process.

Applying a toy camera effect to a digital photograph isn’t the same as using a toy camera itself, I know. But it’s a fun way to add a unique retro feel to a photograph while making use of the control that a digital camera affords.

Here’s how to add a toy camera effect to a digital photograph using Photoshop.

1. Cropping your image

Open up your image in Photoshop. Here’s my starting image.

The original image

Toy cameras work within a square format, so you’ll need to crop your photograph accordingly. Select the Crop Tool from the left toolbar. In the top toolbar, click on the dropdown menu that regulates the crop ratio. Select 1×1 (Square).

A square demonstrating the crop parameters will appear over your image. Adjust the parameters until you are happy and press enter.

2. Applying a vignette

With your layer selected in the Layers palette, go to Layer -> Duplicate Layer. A dialogue box will pop up. In the input field next to “As:” type “Layer 1” and click OK. This duplicates your current layer so you can work non-destructively.

Next, right click on Layer 1 and select Convert to Smart Object.

Select Filter -> Lens Correction and a dialog box will open. Click on the Custom tab. In the Vignette section of the Custom tab, adjust the Amount slider and the Midpoint slider until you have a nice, dark vignette (for this image I set the amount to -100 and the midpoint to +10). Repeat this step if you want a darker vignette.

Use the Lens Correction function to apply a vignette to your image

3. Adding blur

As I mentioned before, a lot of photographs taken with a toy camera are unfocused or blurry. To emulate this, make sure Layer 1 is selected and go to Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur. In the Gaussian Blur window set the Radius from 5 to 10 pixels depending on your image and click OK.

In the Gaussian Blur window set the Radius from 5 to 10 pixels depending on your image and click OK

4. Adjusting colors

Toy cameras often lend a distinctive color-cast to photographs. In the layers panel, click on the Create a new fill or adjustment layer button and select Curves. In the Curves adjustment palette click on the RGB menu, select the red channel and create a shallow ‘S’ bend. Select the green channel and apply the same shallow ‘S’ shape. Now select the blue channel and create an inverted ‘S’.

Use the curves function to emulate the distinctive color-cast often encountered in photos taken with a toy camera

5. Creating light leaks

One fun characteristic of toy cameras are light leaks. A light leak is caused by a hole or gap in the body of the camera, allowing light to “leak” into the film chamber. This exposes the film to excess light. The result is whimsical fields of color that add character to a photograph and illustrate the photographic process.

To emulate light leaks you first need to create a new layer. Click on the Create a new layer button at the bottom of the layers panel and rename the layer “Light leaks”.

Select your brush tool and set the brush size to around 2000 and your hardness to 0%. Set the foreground color to your preferred color – usually red, yellow or blue. With the “Light leaks” layer selected, dot or streak one or two patches of color over your image.

Once you are done painting the light leaks, change the Blending Mode of the layer by clicking on the Blending Modes dropdown menu and selecting Color. You can change the opacity of the light leaks by toggling the Opacity slider on the layers panel too.


And there you have it. Now that you know how to add a toy camera aesthetic to your photograph, the possibilities are endless. This is a great opportunity to make use of unfocused, spotty or noisy digital images. It’s the next best thing to using a real toy camera yourself!

Here are a couple of my own creations below, post yours in the comments!


The post How to Add a Toy Camera Effect to Your Digital Images Using Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

How to Replace Colors in Your Images Using Photoshop

The post How to Replace Colors in Your Images Using Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

Have you ever taken a photograph and wondered what it would look like in a different color? Or perhaps you find a particular color distracting and want to swap it for a more subtle tone? Maybe you want to ramp up the impact, using more vibrant colors to make your image pop?

With the help of Photoshop, swapping the colors of different elements in a photograph is quick and easy. Here are two ways to switch the colors in your image to make them more dynamic.

Method one – Using the Replace Color Panel

The Replace Color panel is a simple tool designed to tweak color selections. When you select a specific color in the image, the Replace Color function grabs similar colors, allowing you to change them within the same action.

Step 1 – Preparing your image

First, open your image in Photoshop. To edit non-destructively we need to duplicate the layer. That way, we can go back to the original image at any time. Select your image in the Layers Pallet, then go to Layer -> Duplicate Layer. Alternatively, you can right-click on your image in the layers panel and click Duplicate Layer or drag your layer onto the New Layer icon.

Step 2 – Selecting a Color to Replace

With your duplicate layer selected in the Layers Pallet go to Image -> Adjustments -> Replace Color and the Replace Color panel will pop up. Check the Localized Color Clusters and Preview options. The cursor will automatically be converted to an eyedropper icon, so click on the color in the image that you want to replace. This highlights the color in white in the preview thumbnail, so you can see how much of the color is selected.

Go to Image -> Adjustments -> Replace Color to open the Replace Color panel


Click on the color in the image that you want to replace. This highlights the selection in white in the preview thumbnail

Step 3 – Adjusting the range

The next step is to add further shades of your chosen color to the selection so it looks more natural. With the Replace Color panel still open, hold down the shift key and click on more shades of your selected color in the image. This adds new shades of your selected color to the preview thumbnail.

If you accidentally select an area, hold down the alt key and click the area again to deselect the selection. You can adjust the edges of the selection with the Fuzziness slider, this dictates the sharpness of the edges in the selection.

Step 4 – Swapping the color

In the Replace Color panel, use the Replacement Hue slider to adjust the color of your selection. Once you’re happy with the color, use the Saturation slider to increase or decrease the intensity of the replacement color. You can also adjust the Lightness slider which tweaks the shade of the replacement color.

Use the Replacement Hue slider to adjust the color of your selection

To make sure the edges of the selection have adequate coverage, you may need to readjust the Fuzziness slider.

Once you’re happy with your results, click OK. Your adjustments will be applied to your image and you’re good to go!

Method two – Using the Color Replacement Tool

The Color Replacement Tool is an alternative to using the Replace Color panel. With the Color Replacement Tool, you can apply a replacement color to a more targeted area in the image.

Step 1- Preparing Your Image

Just like in the first method, we need to duplicate the original layer so we can return to the original image if required. Select your image in the Layers Palette then go to Layer -> Duplicate Layer or right click on the layer in the Layers Pallet and click Duplicate Layer.

Step 2 – Selecting the Color Replacement Tool

Accessing the Color Replacement Tool is a little tricky. Click and hold the cursor over the Brush Tool on the left toolbar and several brush options will appear. Select the Color Replacement Tool.

Step 3 – Setting your foreground color

With the Color Replacement Tool selected, set your foreground color to the color you want to replace your current color with. So if you want to change a red subject to blue, select blue as your foreground color.

Set your foreground color to the color you want to replace your current color with

Step 4 – Applying color with the Color Replacement Tool

With the Color Replacement Tool selected, brush over the area of color you want to replace. You can adjust the settings of the brush (size, shape, tolerance) in the top menu bar.

With the Color Replacement Tool selected, brush over the area of color you want to replace


Color is a wonderful and versatile element of composition. But sometimes the right color scheme is elusive. That’s where the Color Replacement tools come in handy. Now you’ve read the guide, why not give it a go? Post your results in the comments below!

The post How to Replace Colors in Your Images Using Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

9 Pioneering Women Who Shaped Photographic History

The post 9 Pioneering Women Who Shaped Photographic History appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

The history of women photographers dates back to the beginnings of photography itself. Yet while names like Ansel Adams and Man Ray have floated to the top of the photographic vernacular, the contribution of women in photography has been diluted or erased from history altogether. In this, photography is no less guilty than other forms of art. Yet there is no doubt that the omission of women, both unintentionally and intentionally, leaves a gaping hole in the narrative of photography.

In this article, I turn the spotlight on women who shaped photographic history. These 9 women (and many more) asserted their presence through both technical and artistic ingenuity. Here is a brief recount of their stories.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)

A portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Julia Margaret Cameron received her first camera as a gift from her daughter in 1863. Cameron threw herself into photography, crafting portraits and staged scenes inspired by literature, mythology, and religion.

Cameron rejected the meticulous photo-reality sought after by her contemporaries. Instead, she favored a dreamlike softness saying “…when focusing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.”

The revolving door of luminaries in Cameron’s home provided her with ample opportunity to produce piercing character studies of some of the most famous people of the period. Her portraits represented some of the earliest examples of art meeting formal practice.

Cameron was a prolific photographer. Over 16 years, Cameron created more than 1,200 images – a staggering amount considering the laborious process involved to create each finished piece.

Mary Steen (1856 – 1939)

Mary Steen excelled at indoor photography. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Mary Steen was a photographer and feminist from Denmark, Scandinavia. She excelled at indoor photography, a particularly difficult field due to the lack of electrically powered light sources available at the time.

In 1888, Stern became Denmark’s first female court photographer, a role that involved photographing both Danish and British royals. In 1891, she became the first woman on the board of the Danish Photographic Society.

Steen was also a member of the Board of Directors for the Danish Women’s Society. Together with Julie Laurberg, she photographed leading figures in the Danish women’s movement. In 1896, Steen started working as a photographer to Alexandra, Princess of Wales, the later Queen of England.

Steen encouraged other women to take up photography. She campaigned for better conditions at work, including eight day’s holiday and a half day off on Sundays. Leading by example, she treated her staff well, paying them fair wages.

Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976)

“Succulent” by Imogen Cunningham. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Known for her botanical, nude and industrial photography, Imogen Cunningham was one of America’s first professional female photographers.

After studying photographic chemistry at university, Cunningham opened a studio in Seattle. Cunningham drew acclaim for her portraiture and pictorial work. Subsequently, she invited other women to join her, publishing an article in 1913 called “Photography as a Profession for Women.”

Cunningham never confined herself to a single genre or style of photography. In 1915 Cunningham’s then-husband, Roi Partridge posed for a series of nude photographs. The nudes achieved critical appraise, despite being a taboo subject for a female artist at the time.

A two-year study of botanical subjects resulted in Cunningham’s opulently lit magnolia flower. She also turned her lens toward industry and fashion.

It was Cunningham who said “which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

Gertrude Fehr (1895 – 1996)

An example of solarization, a darkroom technique used by the New Photography movement in Paris that can now be emulated in Photoshop

After studying at the Bavarian School of Photography, Gertrude Fehr apprenticed with Edward Wasow. In 1918, Fehr opened a studio for portraiture and theater photography.

During 1933, the political climate forced Fehr to leave Germany with Jules Fehr. Settling in Paris, the couple opened the Publi-phot school of photography. The school specialized in advertising photography, a pioneering program at the time.

Fehr participated in the New Photography movement in Paris. Exhibiting artists alongside Man Ray, Fehr explored the artistic boundaries of photography, producing photograms, photomontages, and solarized prints.

During the 1930s, Gertrude and Jules Fehr moved to Switzerland. There, they opened a photography school in Lausanne, now known as the Ecole Photographique de la Suisse Romande.

Fehr gave classes in portrait, fashion, advertising and journalistic photography at the school until 1960 when she dedicated herself to freelance portraiture. Both her teaching and photography paved the way for contemporary photographic art.

Trude Fleischmann (1895 – 1990)

Trude Fleischmann with her work. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

After studying art in Paris and Vienna, Trude Fleishmann apprenticed with Dora Kallmus and Hermann Schieberth.

Fleischmann opened a studio when she was 25. Working with glass plates and artificial light, Fleishmann created deftly diffused portraits of celebrities. Her studio quickly became a hub for Viennese cultural life.

In 1925, Fleishmann took a nude series of dancer Claire Bauroff. Displayed at a theater in Berlin, the images were confiscated by police, winning Fleischmann international fame.

The Anschluss forced Fleischmann to leave the country in 1938. After settling in New York in 1940, she established a new studio where she resumed photographing celebrities, dancers and intellectuals including Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. Her introspective and atmospheric portraiture is viewed as art suffused with technical prowess.

Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)

Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Known for her work documenting the depression, American photographer Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” became a symbol of hardship and resilience in the face of economic collapse.

The majority of Lange’s early studio work centered around portraits of the social elite of San Francisco. With the commencement of the Great Depression, however, Lange transitioned from the studio to the streets.

Applying techniques she had developed for photographing portraits of wealthy clientele, Lange’s unapologetic studies led to her employment with the Farm Security Administration. There, she continued to document the suffering of victims of the depression. Soon, her powerful images became an icon of the era.

Described in her own words, Lange used the camera as “…an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”. Her unflinching study of the human condition in the 20th century shaped photojournalism in a way that continues to resonate today.

Grete Stern (1904 – 1999)

A self-portrait by Grete Stern. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Originally a graphic designer, Grete Stern studied under Walter Peterhans in Berlin where she and Ellen Auerbach opened a well-regarded studio, ringl+pit.

Emigrating to England in 1933, Stern then traveled to Argentina with her husband, Horacio Coppola. They opened an exhibition literary magazine Sur hailed as “the first serious exhibition of photographic art in Buenos Aires.”

By the mid-1940s, Stern was well established in Buenos Aires. She worked with women’s magazine Idilio, illustrating reader-submitted dreams through photomontage. Stern incorporated feminist critiques into her pieces which became popular with readers.

In 1964, Stern traveled Northeast Argentina, producing over 800 photos of Aboriginals in the region. The body of work is considered to be the most significant Argentinian record of its time.

“Photography has given me great happiness,” said Stern in 1992. “I learned a lot and [said] things I wanted to say and show”.

Ylla (1911 – 1955)

Ylla photographing a toucan. Image courtesy of Wikipedia – ©Pryor Dodge at the English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (]

Animal photographer, Ylla (Camilla Koffler) originally studied sculpture under Petar Palavicini at the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts, moving to Paris to continue her studies in 1931.

Working as an assistant to photographer Ergy Landau, Ylla began photographing animals on holiday. Encouraged by Landau, Ylla started exhibiting, opening a studio dedicated to pet photography shortly after.

Ylla’s first major book, Petits et Grands was published in 1938. That same year she collaborated with British evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley for his book Animal Language.

During 1941 Ylla immigrated to the United States. She opened a new studio in New York, photographing a miscellany of animals from lions and tigers to birds and mice.

In 1955, Ylla fell from a jeep while photographing a bullock cart race in India. She was fatally wounded. Her New York Times obituary read that Ylla “…was generally considered the most proficient animal photographer in the world.”

Olive Cotton (1911 – 2003)

“Teacup Ballet” by Olive Cotton. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Describing her process as “drawing with light”, Olive Cotton’s Teacup Ballet has become synonymous with her artful command over light and shadow.

After studying English and Mathematics at university, Cotton pursued photography by joining childhood-friend Max Dupain at his studio in Sydney.

Besides assisting Dupain, Cotton also perused her own work. Cotton and Dupain were married briefly and she ran the studio in his absence during the war. She was one of the few professional women photographers in Australia at the time.

In 1944, Cotton married Ross McInerney, moving to a property near Cowra, NSW. Cotton gave up work as a professional photographer until 1964 when she opened a small photographic studio.

In the early 1980s, Cotton reprinted negatives she had taken over the past forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 earned her recognition as a key figure in the development of Australian photography.


It’s impossible to cover the sheer number of women that have embodied the tenacity and creativity of a photographer’s spirit in a single article. With this piece, however, I hope to have encapsulated some of the resolves of the generations of women who have shaped photographic history. And although we aren’t all the way to achieving equality yet, thanks to the female photographers of the past and present, we’re a lot closer than we used to be.


The post 9 Pioneering Women Who Shaped Photographic History appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

5 Tips for Photographing Flowers with Impact

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Flowers with Impact appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

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If like me, you live in the southern hemisphere, you’ll be well amongst the season of spring. Although this can mean the onset of the dreaded hay fever season, it’s a great time of the year for photographers to capture an amazing diversity of flowers that bloom in the warmer months.

Flowers make beautiful subjects for photography. In fact, they’re probably one of the most photographed subjects in history. An abundance of colors, species, and sizes means that flowers provide an endless array of photographic opportunities.

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However, floral photography isn’t limited to spring either. If you aren’t currently living it up in the southern hemisphere, now is a great time to show some self-love and buy yourself a beautiful bouquet of flowers…because you deserve it! And for photography purposes, of course.

No matter if you are in the thralls of spring or living vicariously through this post, this quick list is a great way to load up on ideas for that next floral shoot.

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Macro photography

Macro photography is the photographic reproduction of small subjects at a size that is larger than real life. Through macro photography, a photographer can take extreme close-up photographs of small subjects, reproducing them at a much larger size. Macro photography is often used to photograph flowers because it reveals attributes that can’t be seen by the naked eye. It’s easy to observe a flower in passing. But it takes a photographer to reveal the hidden details of a flower’s complex shape and structure.

A variety of dedicated macro lenses, as well as extension tubes and filters, mean that macro photography gear is becoming more and more accessible. For my macro flower photography, I use a set of extension tubes. They’re simple, don’t break the budget and they produce lovely results.

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Abstract photography itself is a little hard to describe. Wikipedia defines abstract photography as “…a means of depicting a visual image that does not have an immediate association with the object world”. Abstract photography relies on compositional aspects like form, shape, color, line, and texture without worrying too much about depicting identifiable subject matter.

It’s a complicated subject, but flower photography is a great excuse to explore abstract photography for yourself. Try focusing on the details that make up the network of organic shapes in a flower, or home in on the subtle lines that form the flower’s shape. Don’t worry too much about the bigger picture. Go for it – it’s a lot of fun!

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In this abstract image, the flowing lines and natural color lend the impression of an organic subject


Focusing on a colorful subject matter is a great way to form a dialogue between a photograph and viewer. Flowers are known for their abundance of color and variety. Their beautiful and sometimes surprising hues make them wonderfully diverse photographic subjects.

For vibrant color in your floral photography, you want to photograph a well-lit subject. If you are photographing outside, aim to shoot on a day with a good amount of sunlight. If you are inside or shooting on a particularly cloudy day, try incorporating on-camera flash into your photography. Direct flash will usually blow out a subject, so try using a diffuser or bouncing your flash for a softer effect that will lift a flower’s color without washing it out.

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Taking advantage of the color in floral subjects will allow you to build up a body of diverse botanical photography by relying on the natural features of the flower

Black and White

Of course, not all flower photography has to be in color. Color photography can have the drawback of directing attention away from the subject itself. Black and white photography, on the other hand, enhances form and texture by minimizing distraction.  And because flowers are associated with color, black and white photography also lends a timeless, surreal angle to your floral imagery.

To photograph flowers in black and white, you can set your camera to shoot in monochrome mode. Or, you can convert your images to black and white in post-production with programs like Photoshop or Lightroom. Either way, black and white photography is a great way to add a unique perspective to your flower photography.

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This photograph of was taken using a process called Scanography. The black and white scheme accentuates the subtle details in the subject


Perspective dictates the way a viewer places themselves in a photograph. As a basic example, a high perspective can remove the viewer from the scene, inviting them to asses a photographic environment clinically. It introduces a sense of unease, as height is considered innately dangerous. A low perspective amplifies the height of subjects, lending a sense of grandeur to an environment. At the same time, it can also instill a feeling of ‘smallness’ in the viewer, as if they were an ant inspecting an impossibly tall building.

Viewers get drawn to images that are out of the ordinary. Creatively utilizing your camera’s point of view challenges the way a viewer sees their surroundings. For a unique twist on perspective, try photographing floral subjects down at their level. It’s amazing how much a subject can be transformed with a quick change in perspective.

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Focusing on color, black and white, perspective, macro, and abstract photography are only some of the ways to approach flower photography. Even the smallest flower poking its head through the cracks in a path can bring a smile to someone’s face. So, combining photography and flowers is sure a sure-fire way to create beautiful imagery. I’d love to see your results below!

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Flowers with Impact appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

Going Back to Basics – My Week With a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens

The post Going Back to Basics – My Week With a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

The demise of my first Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens was an unfortunate one.

First, I dropped it – which is OK.

It happens. Still recoverable, I know.

Until, clumsily, I stood on it too.

And, just to be sure it was finished, what was left of the lens then rolled down a small hill. When I caught up, I scooped it up in my hands, all scratches and broken glass. It was my first, and I was gutted.

Nevertheless, after what seemed like an appropriate period of mourning, I did what any photographer would. I bought something newer, and shinier.

I decided to graduate to a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. From there it was all systems go, zooming in and out of those hard to reach spots and enjoying the freedom that a versatile medium-range workhorse affords. And despite the occasional bashing here and there, its been my go-to lens ever since.

Recently, however, I acquired another Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. Just like my old one, but much less crunched. So I decided to see what going back to a prime lens would be like. Especially after relying so heavily on the reach of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. Here’s a quick rundown on my week with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II and why a break from your old favorite can be surprisingly beneficial.

Suddenly lighter

The first difference I noticed after clicking the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II into place was the weight, or should I say, the lack thereof? The bulk of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM was enormous compared to the little ‘plastic fantastic’ (as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II has come to be known). Photographing with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, I had a lot less neck pain, which meant I could stay out shooting for longer without needing some painkillers.

Ditching the weight of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM had another benefit too. Without swinging around a heavy lens, I was able to move a lot more freely. I could crouch, jump up and down, do some parkour…

Okay, I’m not that athletic.

However, being able to move allowed me to line up shots with more ease.

A lighter lens meant I could easily sneak my camera under this umbrella for a photograph

Slowing it down

The technical differences between Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II took some getting used to – zoom being one of the most pronounced. Instead of getting closer to a subject in-camera, I needed to reassess what I wanted to achieve. This meant strategically positioning my body to get the shot. Sure, I walk around seeking out subjects to photograph all the time. But, with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, I needed to be just a little more active to get the image I was after.

Sticking with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II got me thinking about the physical and mental elements that come together to create a successful shot. It made me slow down and appreciate the machinations of photography and the tactility of the image-making process.

Lots of light

One of the biggest differences between the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is written in the name of the lenses themselves. It’s aperture. While the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM can manage a valiant F/4, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard compared to the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, opening up to an aperture of f/1.8.

What does this all mean? Basically, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can allow a lot more light to pass through to the camera’s sensor. That’s a big deal in low lighting conditions. For example, shooting at night with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM may require a much slower shutter speed or higher ISO value to achieve the same exposure the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can at a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO. This means that the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can produce much better image quality in low light.

Photographing in darker environments can be challenging. But the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II allowed me to experiment at different times of the day without having to worry about available light. Of course, its a consideration when calculating exposure, but I was a lot less concerned about clogging up my images with insane amounts of noise than I would be with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM in the same conditions.

The f/1.8 aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II allowed me to take this shot with a lot less noise and a faster shutter speed

Extension tubes

Another benefit of the ample aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is its versatility when coupled with a set of extension tubes. Extension tubes physically move your lens away from the focal plane. This makes the minimum focusing distance (the shortest distance at which a lens can focus) smaller, meaning you can get closer to your subject while still maintaining focus. It’s a way to shoot macro photography without an expensive dedicated lens.

However, extension tubes do have their drawbacks. One of them being diminishing the available light in a scene. With the addition of each extension tube, less light is able to reach the camera sensor. This drop in light can be difficult to contend with if you don’t have a tripod and a perfectly still subject. A fast lens like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is ideal in this situation. Even on a terribly overcast day, I was able to get some nice, sharp shots at a decent shutter speed. It meant that I could hand-hold my camera to take macro shots that may have required a tripod with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.


One aspect of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens that I was eager to experiment with was its capacity for bokeh. A Japanese word meaning ‘blur’or ‘blurry’, bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus parts of an image. The term is often used to describe how unfocused bright points in a scene are rendered as disks of light in a photograph.

While all lenses are capable of bokeh effects, zoom lenses tend to smooth a background over rather than shape it. Prime lenses, on the other hand, deliver a more defined disk-like bokeh result. In addition, bokeh requires the lowest possible aperture value to take full effect. This makes the maximum f/1.8 aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II ideal for some sweet bokeh magic.

Seeking out opportunities for bokeh made me re-evaluate my surroundings. I had to quickly develop an eye for points of light that I could use to disperse into globes of color. But with the ease that a small camera lens affords, the little ‘nifty fifty’ produced some really fascinating results with little effort on my part.

Testing bokeh out on a rainy night in the city


There are plenty of other comparisons to explore between the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. I know, a week isn’t a very long time to truly get accustomed to a new piece of equipment, but challenging myself to a week of prime-lens-only photography was a lot less difficult than I thought it would be.

In fact, it was pretty fun!

Up until now, I’ve been a one-camera-one-lens kinda gal.

But playing around with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II made me think twice about my equipment repertoire. And with the weight and maneuverability of a small mammal, captivating bokeh and such a tight performance in low light conditions, I think I might just add it to the camera bag too. Just in case.

Without stepping on it this time.


Do you use the nifty fifty? What are your thoughts?

The post Going Back to Basics – My Week With a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

How to Duotone a Photograph in Photoshop

There is an incredible array of color in our world, so it’s no wonder that it plays such a significant role in photography. However, have you ever considered narrowing your pallet down to just two colors? A duotone image is just that – an image made up of two individual tones. A duotone scheme can highlight subtle detail or boast a vivacious color combination that can make an image pop! Here’s how to make use of Photoshop’s Duotone tool to create a beautiful duotone look.

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Select an image with a good tonal range so that the duotone can take full effect.

How to Duotone a Photograph

Step 1 – Preparing an Image

First, select an image with a good tonal range and open it in Photoshop. I chose this image of a flower because it has a range of dark shadows through to bright highlights.

In order to apply a duotone effect to your photograph, you convert it to a greyscale image first. Select ‘Image’ in the top Photoshop menu bar, followed by ‘Mode -> Grayscale.’

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A prompt will appear, asking if you want to discard color information. Click ‘Discard’ and your image will be converted to Grayscale.

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Click the ‘Discard’ button and your image will be converted to grayscale.

After you have converted your image to grayscale, you may notice that your image looks a bit flat. Open a ‘Curves’ adjustment layer by clicking on the ‘Curves’ icon in the Adjustments tab.

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Adjust your contrast with the ‘Curves’ adjustment layer until you are happy with the level of contrast in your image.

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Adjust your contrast with the ‘Curves’ adjustment layer until you are happy with the result.

Step 2- Converting to Duotone

The next step is to convert your image to duotone. Make sure you have your original image layer selected and click on ‘Image’ in the top Photoshop menu bar. Select ‘Mode ->Duotone.’

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Once you’ve selected ‘Duotone’ from the menu a Duotone Options window will open.

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If it isn’t already set, click on the ‘Type’drop-down menu and select ‘Duotone.’ Selecting ‘Tritone’ and ‘Quadtone’ will allow you to add three and four colors respectively, but we’ll just stick with the two colors for now.

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Click on the ‘Type’ drop-down menu and select ‘Duotone.’

Step 3 – Making Adjustments

Once you’ve selected ‘Duotone’ from the ‘Type’ drop-down menu, you’ll see two channels are available: one for ‘Ink 1’ and one for ‘Ink 2’. Traditionally ‘Ink 1’ is set to black, as it defines the shadows in your image, so start with that. Ink 2 is for filling in the mid tones and highlights with your selected color.

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The ‘Ink 1’ and ‘Ink 2’ channels.

There are two ways to go about applying a Duotone effect to your image. The first method is to click on the ‘Preset’ drop-down menu and select a color scheme from the available options. To preview your adjustments as you go, make sure the ‘Preview’ box is checked.

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Click on the ‘Preset’ drop-down menu and select a color scheme from the options available.

However, if you aren’t keen on the preset options, you can always select your own custom colors. Click on the colored box for ‘Ink 2’ and you will bring up the ‘Color Libraries’ window.

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Click on the color box for ‘Ink 2’ to bring up the ‘Color Libraries’ window.

The ‘Color Libraries’ window groups colors into certain printing prerequisites, so have a browse and find a color you like. You can also click the ‘Picker’ button to bring up the standard ‘Color Picker’ window. Once you have found a color you like, click OK.

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You can adjust the contrast of each channel individually. Click on the curve window to the left of the color boxes and fine-tune your contrast as you would adjust a Curves adjustment layer.

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Click on the curves windows to adjust the contrast in each channel.

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Fine-tune your contrast as you would adjust a ‘Curves’ adjustment layer.

Once you are happy with the result, give a name to each channel (I usually just name them Ink 1 and 2) and click OK!

Step 4- Experiment!

Now you have the basics down, its time to experiment! Here are a few of my own examples below.

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Here is a more traditional application of the duotone tool. I added this sepia tone by selecting a deep brown from the Color Library.

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This evocative color scheme was made up of a deep red color for the shadows and a blue tint for the midtones and highlights.

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Traditionally, a duotone image is toned with black for the shadows. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment! I got this rich, pop-arty effect by combining red with magenta.

Please share your creations below!

The post How to Duotone a Photograph in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School.

What I Learned From 30 Days of Black and White Photography

Color is an amazing phenomenon.

Most of us can appreciate color, even if we don’t understand the complex nature of light. Color Illuminates the landscape of our daily lives, and naming them is one of the first things we learn in childhood. We use them as a language and a way of expressing emotion. They affect both our brain and our bodies and fill our world with variation and even the occasional surprise.

So why would I ditch color for black and white for an entire month?

Up until the mid-1930s, color photography wasn’t widely accessible. And color printing wasn’t an affordable option until the 1960s. Pioneer photographers such as Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier Bresson set the standard in black and white photography. They emphasized composition and the controlled use of light without color, revealing the artistic merits of black and white photography that resonate to this day.

As a photographer, I shoot predominantly in color. But with such a wealth of modern photographic history steeped in black and white photography, I thought it would be interesting to prioritize monochrome instead.

So, I set myself a challenge: to photograph in black and white with my digital rig at least once a day for a month.

Here’s how it went.

Getting Started

Setting the Camera to Monochrome Mode

Okay, first things first. I wanted to shoot black and white images in-camera, so I needed to put my camera in Monochrome mode. In this mode, the camera records photos in black and white when photographing in JPEG. The LCD also previews photographs in black and white in Live View and the gallery.

While shooting in this mode does encourage a bit of ‘chimping’ (checking the photo after every shot), being able to review your pictures in black and white is very useful. It helps your eyes adjust to seeing your surroundings in black and white.

I’m using a Canon 5D MKII, so in ‘Shutter Priority’ mode (‘Aperture Priority’ and ‘Manual’ work too, depending on your preference) I selected the ‘Picture Styles’ tab on the main menu.

I then selected the ‘Monochrome’ (or M) option from the ‘Picture Styles’ menu.

Pressing the ‘Info’ button with ‘M’ selected in the ‘Picture Style’ screen allows further adjustments to ‘Monochrome’ mode such as ‘Sharpness,’ ‘Contrast,’ ‘Filters,’ and ‘Toning.’ I increased the Contrast parameters a tad, as using the Monochrome Mode by itself can make the images seem a little flat.

For Nikon or other camera brands, check the manual to find out how to set your camera to Monochrome mode.

Changing Your Quality Settings

The next step was to set my camera to photograph in dual RAW and JPEG modes. Why? Because even in Monochrome mode a RAW file will revert to color when uploaded to the computer. Whereas, a JPEG file retains the monochromatic scheme used in-camera.

Unfortunately, a JPEG retains less quality than a RAW file. So what do we do? We shoot both! If you take a fantastic black and white shot as a JPEG, you’ll also have the quality RAW file to edit in post-production.

But make sure you have some decent space on your memory card.

On my Canon 5D MKII, I set dual RAW and JPEG mode by selecting the ‘Quality’ tab on the main menu.

I adjusted my settings with the ‘Main’ and ‘Quick Control’ dials so I had both RAW and JPEG selected, and pressed the ‘Set’ button.

Again, for Nikon or other camera brands check the manual to find out how to change the Quality settings.

Ready, Set, Go

With my camera settings sorted, I was ready to begin my 30-day challenge. Here are a few things I learned during my ‘Month of Monochrome.’

Adding a New Layer of Interest

One thing I quickly realized was the power a stripped back color scheme has in lending a unique atmosphere to an image.

Having worked in black and white before (both with film and digitally), I know how evocative an excellent black and white image can be. But working digitally in black and white with no other option was new and refreshing. It hammered home the way a black and white photograph can separate the everyday world and its portrayal. This separation presents subjects in a new and thought-provoking light that generates a significant connection between the viewer and the image.

Minimizing Distraction

When you work in ‘Monochrome’ mode, you appreciate the dominance color can have over a photograph. While confining myself to black and white photography, I could experiment within a gradient, free from the distraction of color. Black and white photography strips an image back to the basics of composition and light. Without the color distraction, I had space to hone in on what makes a compelling story – creating a visual study of a subject.

Learning How Light Behaves

A lot of photography is about observation: watching people, landscapes, light, and shadows. And most photographers have a basic knowledge of how light behaves from these observations.

But black and white photography highlights the fragility of light in every environment with higher acuity than a lot of color photography.

The way an image gets read is affected by degrees of light. Hard light creates a highly contrasted image with dark, hard-edged shadows. It emphasizes drama and immediacy. Soft light is more subtle, rendering a soft, lower-contrast image.

Black and white is all about degrees of light versus shadow. My 30-day challenge encouraged me to take more notice of the light. In each environment, I embraced different lighting situations as a chance to test out my skills and experiment.

Seeing Differently

After the fourth day of my 30-day black and white challenge, I started scrutinizing everyday things with more of a photographic eye. Walking down my street, I began noticing plant life that would look interesting in black and white. The texture on the path I was dawdling along stood out. Because I deliberately made time for my photography each day, my mind started working creatively to seek out more photographic opportunities.

I felt more inspired. There was a greater impetus to hang out to get the best shot rather than the most shots. I felt in the zone.


Photographing in black and white for 30 days was a fun and rewarding challenge. It helped me to rediscover a freshness in photography and inspired me to experiment.

Sure you can convert any photograph to black and white in post-production, but to go out and photograph in black and white in the moment is a different process.

If you ever find yourself in a photographic rut, why not challenge yourself to a month of black and white photography? You never know what you might discover.

Do you have some black and white photography you’d like to share? If so, put them in the comments below.

The post What I Learned From 30 Days of Black and White Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Two Ways to Transform Old Photography Magazines Into Coasters

Photography magazines are one thing I can’t seem to throw away. My fascination with photography has culminated in a library of magazines filled with beautifully dated galleries, equipment reviews, tutorials and advice. They accumulate on my bookshelves, and quickly migrate to desktops, the tops of fridges, assorted drawers and nightstands.

While having a cup of tea the other day, I realized I’d forgotten to put down a coaster. I quickly grabbed a magazine and rested my cup on it, sparing my furniture. And it got me thinking. Could I transform some of my magazines into coasters themselves? Surely the thousands of pages I’d accumulated could be put to use as an interactive dining accessory. After all, who wouldn’t want a cute photography-themed coaster to admire while having a cup of tea?

Here are two simple ways to create striking coasters out of your old photography magazines.

The cut and paste method

You will need

  • A photography magazine or two.
  • Some coasters to stick your magazine images to. (I used simple round cork coasters from IKEA.)
  • Mod Podge (a glue and sealant) available at art supplies stores.
  • A pen or pencil.
  • A brush.


First, find an image you’d like to incorporate into your coaster design. The choice here is endless. You could focus on text, photographs or whatever catches your eye.

Once you’ve selected an image, trace a circle around it (using your coaster as a template) and carefully cut it out.

Next, apply a generous amount of Mod Podge to the coaster and spread it around evenly with the paintbrush. (I put some newspaper down for this bit to protect my work surface from spills.)

Place your image face up on the Mod Podged side of the coaster and smooth out any wrinkles.

Once your coaster has dried (allow an hour or two), you’ll need to seal it. Spread a layer of Mod Podge evenly over the image with the brush. (Don’t worry, it dries clear.)

Once it has dried (again, allow an hour or two), repeat this step four times. Make sure you let the coaster dry between coatings.

Once the last layer of Mod Podge has dried, your coasters is ready to use.

The coiling method

You will need

  • A magazine.
  • A ruler and scalpel (or a paper shredder).
  • Glue. (Mod Podge works well for this project too.)
  • A paintbrush.


Tear out a few magazine pages – the more vibrant the better. Cut each page lengthways into 7mm strips. (If you have a strip-cut paper shredder, you can use it instead.) You’ll need to cut up at least six pages.

Once you’ve cut your strips, its time to start curling. Select one strip of paper and curl it over itself to create a coil. Once you’ve completely curled the first strip, add a dab of Mod Podge to the end and glue it down.

Now you need to add a new strip to build on the last. Add a dab of Mod Podge to the end of a new strip of paper, and press it Mod Podge side down onto the coil where the last strip ended. Wind the fresh strip around the coil, keeping the paper nice and taut. Once you’ve completely wound it on, add a dab of Mod Podge to the end of the strip and secure it to the coil.

Keep winding your strips of paper onto the coil. For every fifth strip, add a thin a layer of Mod Podge down its entire length and wind it Mod Podge-down, around the coil. This will keep the coil together as it grows.

Keep adding strips of paper until you’re happy with the size of your coil.

It may take you a couple of hours, but the results are striking. And it’s really fun to watch it grow.

Whichever method you choose, it’s a great way to get those stunning images out of the bookshelf and onto your coffee table.

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