How To Plan Astrophotography With The Photopills App

One of the most important lessons that astrophotography has taught me is the importance of planning. I’m a huge advocate of planning your photos in advance, no matter what your subject may be. With most genres of photography, you can wing it and still come home with some great photos. With astrophotography, you’re a lot less likely to get lucky if you don’t plan ahead.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

There are many factors that come into play when photographing the night sky. You can’t just pick a location and hope for the best. A successful image will depend on sunrise/set, moonrise/set, the phase of the moon, milky way position, galactic center visibility, time of year, and light levels.

If all that feels a bit overwhelming, don’t stress. There are many tools available to help you research and plan your night sky photos. I’ve used a number of them over the years, but there’s really only one that I rely on these days.

The PhotoPills App

You may have heard of PhotoPills already. It’s a popular app among landscape photographers. I’ve used it for a while now, and I can’t imagine planning my travel and landscape photos without it.

PhotoPills is a great tool for figuring out the best time to photograph the outdoors. It gives you a bunch of useful information about the sun and moon at a specific time and location, which is great for planning sunrise and sunset photos.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

It does so much more than that, though. It’s actually an incredibly feature-rich app that provides far more tools than I could cover here. If you’re new to PhotoPills, I recommend learning the basics of the app first. I’m just going to show you how to use PhotoPills to plan astrophotography.

Ambient Light

The single most important factor in successful night sky photography is darkness. There are three main factors that will affect the amount of ambient light in the scene and potentially ruin your photos.

The first, and most obvious, is daylight. Photographing the night sky while the sun is still shining is difficult. While you may think that you just need to wait until after sunset, it’s not quite that simple. The light from the sun illuminates the sky for a lot longer than you may realize.

As the ambient light from the sun fades in or out at the end of the day, it goes through four phases. You’ve likely heard of golden hour and blue hour. There’s also nautical twilight and astronomical twilight. You don’t need to understand what these terms mean, just that there will still be light from the sun that your camera will see.

For the darkest sky possible, you want to shoot after astronomical twilight ends and before it begins again. In the PhotoPills app, open the Sun pill, select the calendar view, and tap on the date you’re planning to shoot. You’ll be able to see the exact times from golden hour and sunset, through the twilight phases, and into night time. The sky will be darkest between that time and the beginning of astronomical twilight the next day.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

Light Pollution

The second factor is light pollution caused by man-made light. This is most noticeable in or near built-up areas, so getting away from these is crucial.

The simplest way to find locations that have minimal light pollution is to look at a light pollution map such as Blue Marble Navigator. You can easily find locations far enough away from light pollution to photograph the night sky.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

The Moon

The third factor that can affect the amount of ambient light in your night sky photos is the moon. The moon can reflect a surprising amount of the sun’s light and wash out your night sky photos. It can also illuminate the foreground, which may be something you want to take advantage of. Unfortunately, you can’t have the moonlight on the foreground without it illuminating the sky also.

If you want to eliminate moonlight from your night sky photos, there are two ways to do it. The first, and easiest, is to shoot during a new moon. A new moon is the opposite to a full moon, meaning it’s completely dark. No matter where it is in the sky, it won’t reflect any light or affect your photos at all.

The second way is to plan your photos so that you’re shooting while the moon is below the horizon. That means before moonrise and after moonset. This isn’t as effective as timing your photography with a new moon, but you can come home with some great images using this technique.

PhotoPills makes it easy to plan using both these options. To plan for a new moon, open the Moon pill and go to the calendar view. You’ll be able to look ahead and see the date of the new moon each month. The new moon is completely black with the little circle next to the date. A day either side is also usually safe.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

To figure out what time the moon will rise and set on a specific date, tap on that date while still in the calendar view. You’ll be shown a list of events for that date, including moonrise and moonset.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

The Milky Way

If you want to include the Milky Way in your night sky photos, you’ll need to consider a couple of things. Firstly, although the Milky Way is visible all year round, the galactic center is only visible for part of the year. This is between March and October, or slightly longer in the Southern Hemisphere.

The second thing you need to remember is that the Milky Way moves through the sky as the earth rotates, just like the sun and moon. What this means is that when planning your astrophotography, you’ll need to consider the time that the galactic center is visible.

PhotoPills makes this super easy. Going back to the Sun pill, you’ll see that galactic canter visibility appears in the event list for your selected date. Note that this may not be the time that the galactic center rises and sets, it may be the time that the sky is dark enough to see it.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

One of the coolest and most useful features of the PhotoPills app is augmented reality (AR). In the Planner pill, go to the date and location you’re planning to photograph, then tap Night AR in the option bar at the bottom. This will show you an AR view that superimposes the Milky Way over your screen.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

This is useful for seeing where the milky way and galactic center will be at your selected date and location. You’ll be able to see the angle and relative position of the Milky Way, as well as watch how it will move across the sky by sliding your finger across the screen.

PhotoPills Widgets

PhotoPills makes it super easy to see all this info in one place. Instead of having to go into each pill to find the relevant information you want, you can take a quick look at the PhotoPills widget and see times for the next sun, moon, and galactic center events.

how to plan astrophotography with photopills app

This won’t work for planning future photos, but if you want to see if tonight is a good night for astrophotography, you can find out at a glance. I’m sure you’ll find it useful once you have a good understanding of the right conditions for night sky photography.

Dig Deeper Into PhotoPills

As I mentioned, the PhotoPills app is incredibly powerful and feature-rich. It includes many more useful tools, such as Star Trails, Spot Stars, and Time Lapse. If you want to dig deeper and find out what PhotoPills can really do, I encourage you to buy the app and spend some time working through the User Guide on their website. There’s a wealth of tutorials and how-to videos that will help you make the most of the app.

I would love to see the night sky photos that you create with PhotoPills. Feel free to share them below.

The post How To Plan Astrophotography With The Photopills App appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 Lens – Astrophotography On A Budget

When it comes to choosing lenses, there are two main schools of thought. The first is to use a minimum number of zoom lenses with a large range of focal lengths. The second is to use more lenses with a smaller range of focal lengths.

As a travel photographer, I’ve worked hard to minimize my gear. I would love to own a dozen lenses, I just don’t want to carry them all. It’s rare to find more than three lenses in my bag.

I’ve followed that first school of thought for years, and it’s served me well.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens for astrophotography

The Case For Specialist Lenses

Whatever you photograph, there inevitably will come a time when you want a specialist lens for a specific subject. I’ve experienced this a couple of times.

In a past life as a wedding photographer, I owned a macro lens that I bought exclusively for photographing details such as rings. My other lenses weren’t up to the task, so I added it to my kit for just a few detail images per wedding.

Fast forward a few years, and I discovered a love for astrophotography. I found once again that my landscape lenses weren’t up to the task.

Astrophotography is a highly specialized subject and one that calls for the right gear. I was getting some reasonable night sky photos with my 16-35mm f/4 lens, but I wanted something wider and faster. I needed another specialist lens.

The Samyang 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens

My search for a lens that was wider than 16mm and faster than f/4 led me to a few lenses that I would’ve loved to add to my kit. The problem was that they were all either too large or too expensive. I didn’t want or need another wide-angle zoom lens.

Then I found the Samyang (also branded as Rokinon) 14mm f/2.8 lens. 14mm gives you a 115° view, which is plenty wide enough to capture the night sky.

The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is fast enough to capture insane amounts of light in the stars. Being a prime lens, it’s lighter than most wide-angle zoom lenses. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s cheap.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens for astrophotography

Weight

At around 550g, this lens isn’t going to add a lot of extra weight to your camera bag. It’s made mainly of plastic, but build quality is surprisingly good for the price.

It isn’t the highest quality astrophotography lens on the market, but for a budget lens, it’s good enough.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens for astrophotography

Sharpness

Image sharpness is about what you would expect for a budget lens.

It’s sufficiently sharp for astrophotography, but personally, I wouldn’t use it for landscape photography during daylight hours.

This lens also has quite a significant distortion, but that’s unavoidable with such a wide lens. Lightroom’s lens correction profile does a pretty good job of correcting it.

Focus

One thing you need to consider before buying this lens that it’s manual-focus only. It also uses a manual aperture ring.

This has never been a problem for me, as I’ve found auto-focus to be virtually useless when photographing the stars. The focus ring has a nice smooth feel to it and a large throw, making focusing incredibly accurate.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens for astrophotography

You’ll also need to consider that you can’t use filters with this lens due to the large front element. Again, this shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using it for astrophotography, because you won’t be needing filters.

Who Is This Lens For?

If you’re looking for a wide lens on a budget, you should definitely consider the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens.

For a great astrophotography lens that won’t break the bank, it’s hard to beat. It may not be the best option if you’re planning to sell large prints, but the image quality will be sufficient for most photographers.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens for astrophotography

Other uses for this lens could be architecture and real estate interiors photography.

You could definitely photograph landscapes with it, but the image softness could be an issue. If you want a higher quality, sharper lens, you’ll need to increase your budget a fair bit.

It’s available with mounts for Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax, and compatible with both full frame and cropped sensors.

Have you used the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens? What’s your go-to lens for astrophotography?

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Create a Theme to Step Up Your Travel Photography

One of the things that always drew me to travel photography is the endless variety. Every place on earth is unique. The people, the landscape, the culture, the wildlife, the architecture. Even with neighboring cities, no two places are the same.

create a travel photography theme 01

So, why is it that we tend to photograph them all the same way? When I look back through my archives from all over the world, most of my images have a similar look. If I didn’t remember the location of a photo, I likely couldn’t guess where I took it.

As photographers, we develop our own unique approach to our craft. It’s not a bad thing – it helps to develop our own style. Although, sometimes it’s worth taking a different approach for a specific location or trip. Choosing a travel photography theme for a trip can help focus and guide your photography, as well as give you a unique collection of images.

surfers create a travel photography theme

Coming Up With Your Photography Theme

I’m not talking about changing your style or learning a whole new genre, necessarily. Just taking some time to think about how you could create a theme for your next photography trip. Here are a few things to consider that could help to give your collection of images a unique photography theme.

Genre

You likely already have an idea of what genre of photography you’ll be using. This will largely come down to what you like to photograph. It will also depend partly on the location you’re going to and the gear you have available.

However, you may be tempted to photograph everything. It’s easy to fall for this temptation, I know. You’re in a new, exciting place and may never go there again. You don’t want to miss a thing. Go crazy, if you must, but try to think of a specific genre that suits the location and spend most of your time on that.

noah create a travel photography theme

You don’t want to pick a genre that won’t give you many options. Trying to photograph the milky way in New York isn’t going to happen. Neither is photographing architecture in Yosemite. Come up with something that will give you a lot of material to work with and that you will actually enjoy.

Travel photography conjures images of epic landscapes or cityscapes. You really are only limited by your imagination. Try making the local people your theme with portraiture. Spend your days practicing street photography if you’re visiting an urban location. Maybe even try your hand at wildlife photography if there’s any around.

Subject

So, you’ve picked a genre. What are you going to point your camera at? It’s time to spend some time thinking about the subject of your theme. Again, it may be an easy decision. What’s unique about the location you’re visiting? What’s it known for?

On my recent road trip up the coast of Queensland, Australia, I followed a coastal theme. If there’s one thing Australia is known for, it’s incredible beaches. It was an obvious choice.

jetty create a travel photography theme

You don’t need to go with the obvious, though. Something less obvious can actually make a more engaging collection of photos. If you’re visiting a big, concrete jungle, you could create a contrasting theme by photographing the flowers you find. Think outside the box and get more out of the location.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with photographing the cliche. There are some incredible collections of photos that follow an obvious subject – lakes of Canada, waterfalls of Iceland, Humans of New York.

Style

The style of your photography is one of the most powerful elements in creating a photography theme. The way you choose to photograph the subject you’ve chosen can vary a lot. You may have already developed your own style. You don’t need to throw that out the window.

sand create a travel photography theme

If your photographic style suits the genre and subject that you’ve chosen, feel free to stick with it. You’ve likely worked hard to develop it. You could adapt it for this trip by turning up the volume or trying something slightly different.

If your theme uses long-exposures, you could try creating super-long exposures. If you’re doing astrophotography, maybe give star-trail photography a go. Creating an aerial theme? How about shooting panoramas with your drone?

A big factor in creating a style is focal length. A 50mm lens will create a very different image to a telephoto. As will a wide-angle or fish-eye lens. You might have a dozen lenses to choose from, or you might have one. Either way, try choosing one lens for your theme. You could even take it a step further and stick to just one focal length.

create a travel photography theme

A photography trip could be a good opportunity to try something new. Have you been wanting to get a drone and have some fun with aerial photography? Maybe it’s an opportunity to try your hand at macro photography? Travel is expensive, so buying new gear for a trip usually isn’t possible. Renting is a great option, as is borrowing gear off other local photographers.

Color

If there’s one thing that can create a consistent theme within a collection of images, it’s color. This can be both in the colors that you capture in-camera and the way you edit them in post-production. A combination of both can really bring a bunch of photos together.

shipwreck create a travel photography theme

It’s not always the case, but you may find there are certain colors that are consistent in the locations you’re photographing. Certain landscapes, for example, will have dominant colors. Green hills, blue water, yellow sand.

There are opportunities to create color themes everywhere, though. You could create a color theme in a city by photographing doors, flowers, dresses, signs, etc, that are all that color.

palm create a travel photography theme

When you import your photos to your computer, the options for editing your photos with a color theme are endless. Try playing around with the white balance and saturation sliders. Experiment with HSL and split-toning. Do something different to what you usually do, and when you find something you like, save it as a preset for your theme.

Creating a color theme doesn’t need to include advanced color grading or anything technical. Your theme might just be bright, vivid colors. It could also be the opposite. Maybe a desaturated look, or even go monotone. Black and white photography can create a very strong theme.

create a travel photography theme

As a colorblind photographer, I’ve avoided advanced color editing in the past and played it safe. Taking risks and learning to create color themes for my travel photography really helped me take my photos from mundane to unique.

Summary

Whether your trip is a family vacation, business travel, or a photography adventure, try thinking about a photography theme. Ask yourself what you could do to come home with a more cohesive collection of images that represent the location well. You might even end up with a few side-by-side on the wall someday.

Do you have any photography theme tips? If so, let us know in the comments below.

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How to Reverse-Engineer a Photo

Although it sounds like a highly technical term, ‘reverse engineering’ is something you’ve done many times. Any time you’ve asked questions like “What camera did you take that with?”, “What settings did you use?” or “Where was this taken?”, you’ve been trying to reverse engineer a photograph.

lake how to reverse engineer photos

We’ve all looked at a photo and tried to figure out how it was created. I do it every day. Whether you’re conscious of it or not, when you see a photo you admire you try to analyze it. You’re asking, “How do I take photos like that?”

The truth is, if you ask the photographer about their camera or settings you’re asking the wrong questions. By all means, ask questions. After all, that’s how we learn. But you can also learn a lot from studying an image – if you know what to look for. When you can visually deconstruct an image, you’re one stop closer to being able to create something similar.

This isn’t a lesson in plagiarism. It’s simply a way to learn from other photographers whose work you admire. No successful artist would be where they are today without learning from the works of others they look up to.

Light and Shadow

The most important photographic lesson I ever learned is that it’s all about the light. Reverse-engineering photos is no different. Analyzing the light in an image is the simplest and most effective way to learn how a photo was made.

When you look at the image, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Which direction is the light coming from?
  • Is there more than one light source?
  • Is the light hard or soft?
  • Is there reflected light in the photo?
  • What about the color temperature? Is it warm or cool?

Sometimes the answers will be obvious. Sometimes they’ll be impossible to answer. But the more often you ask them, the better you’ll get at answering them.

If you’re looking at a landscape photo, you can almost always assume there’s only one light source – the sun. But that doesn’t mean you can’t deconstruct the light. The direction, hardness and temperature of the light will tell you a lot about the conditions the photo was taken in. Even though beautiful landscape lighting isn’t as technical as portrait or product lighting, you can still learn a lot from analyzing it.

aerial how to reverse engineer photos

The sun striking this landscape, along with the warm light on the right side of the image, clearly show where the light is coming from.

If you’re reverse-engineering a portrait, it’s more likely to have more than one light source, as well as reflected light. When a photographer starts balancing multiple light sources, reverse-engineering a photo can become more difficult. But there are still ways to analyze the light if you know what to look for.

Start by asking yourself, “Where are the shadows?” It may seem a little backwards, but one of the best ways to analyze light is to look at the darker parts of the image. Where is there no light? Do you see any hard shadows? Are there areas where you can see the light dropping off gradually? Studying the shadows will tell you about the direction of the light as well as how large it is relative to the subject.

bear how to reverse engineer photos

The illuminated fur around the outside of the bear show that this image was backlit. And its shadow on the ground shows the exact direction the light was coming from.

Interpreting a photograph’s light becomes more difficult as the lighting gets more complex. As more light sources or reflectors are added, the shadows become less obvious. If the shadows are very light or non-existent, it likely means either the light is very diffuse and bouncing all over the place, or there are multiple light sources.

If you’re lucky, you can sometimes see exactly what light source was used by looking for reflections. Look at the eyes, glasses, windows, water surfaces, and anything that reflects light. Sometimes you can see a perfect reflection of the light source, but at the very least you’ll be able to see its direction.

cabin how to reverse engineer photos

The soft light on the subject, combined with the reflection in her glasses, show the window as the light source. The very dark shadows tell us there are no other light sources.

Gear and Settings

In many cases, you don’t need to ask what equipment or settings were used to create a photo. With practice, you can learn to guesstimate the technical details such as focal length, aperture and shutter speed.

Figuring out what focal length was used isn’t too difficult once you know how focal length affects a photo. As a general rule, the shorter the focal length (wider angle), the more distortion you’ll see and the more of a scene will fit in the frame. As the focal length gets longer (normal or telephoto), you’ll see more compression in the image and less of the scene in the frame.

car how to reverse engineer photos

Only a very wide-angle lens can capture everything in a scene like this from the ground to the sky. The lens distortion makes closer objects like this car look much bigger.

While this won’t tell you the exact focal length used, it will give you a ballpark figure. With practice, you’ll be able to tell if a photo was taken with a wide-angle (<35mm), normal (35-85mm) or telephoto (>85mm) lens. The exact number doesn’t matter. What does matter is getting a rough idea where your focal length needs to be to create the same look.

As with focal length, you can figure out roughly what aperture was used by understanding how it affects an image. As the lens aperture opens and closes, the depth-of-field (DOF) of the image changes. The wider the aperture (smaller f-number), the narrower the DOF.

Again, the exact number doesn’t matter. What matters is understanding how aperture affects DOF and how to interpret the DOF of a photo. If the image is sharp and in focus from the foreground right through to the background, a smaller aperture (f/11-22) has probably been used. If everything but the subject is soft and out of focus, a larger aperture (f/1.4-5.6) has probably been used. If the DOF is somewhere in between, the aperture is probably around f5.6-11.

Finally, these principles can also be applied to shutter speed. You probably know that shutter speed affects the way movement appears in an image. If objects you would expect to see moving are frozen still, you know a faster shutter speed was used. If there’s some motion blur in the image, you know the shutter speed was slower.

bay how to reverse engineer photos

You can see that a longer shutter speed has been used here to create the milky water effect, common with long-exposure photography.

With a landscape photo, any time you see silky-smooth water or clouds common with long exposures you know it has a shutter speed of at least a few seconds. If you’re seeing some movement, it’s more likely to be less than one second. To freeze movement, you’d expect shutter speeds of at least 1/100th of a second.

rocks how to reverse engineer photos

Very short shutter speeds are required to capture moving water, as in this seascape photo.

If the photo doesn’t include any moving objects, it’s much more difficult to figure out the shutter speed used. But if there’s no movement then shutter speed doesn’t really matter. It just needs to be fast enough to avoid any blur caused by camera movement to ensure a sharp image.

Post-Processing

Reverse-engineering the post-production that’s been applied to an image is the trickiest part. There’s almost no limit to what can be done in Photoshop today, which makes it difficult to figure out how a photo has been processed.

You can get a rough idea of how much post-processing has been applied by looking at the photo. Does it look realistic? Do the colors and tones appear the way you’d expect in real life? Is the whole image well exposed from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights? Are the light and shadows consistent across the image as you’d expect? Do the people look real, or impossibly perfect?

Asking these kinds of questions will help you know what to look for. It’s easy to look at the image as a whole and get frustrated trying to analyze it. As you break it down and look at the individual details of a photo, it becomes easier to see the edits that have been applied.

I’ll admit this isn’t exactly my strong suit, being colorblind. Picking out the color grading or effects that have been applied is never easy for me. But with practice I’ve become much better. And if I can do it, so can you.

london how to reverse engineer photos

You can see by looking at the church that extra warmth has been added in post-production to emphasize the warm late afternoon sun.

Keep in mind that photographers and retouchers that are highly skilled in Photoshop, are very good at making their images look natural and unedited. Just because an image looks real doesn’t mean it is. A photo that’s been edited by a Photoshop ninja will be very difficult to reverse-engineer.

Exif Data

When all else fails, and you desperately want to know the settings used to take a photo, you may be able to access the image’s exif data. When a digital photograph is created, a bunch of data is embedded into the file. This includes focal length, shutter speed, aperture, camera model, and often a bunch of other information.

A photo’s exif data is often stripped out by the photographer or the website it’s uploaded to. But if it hasn’t been stripped, you can easily access the data by either:

  • downloading the image and reading the data on your computer
  • using one of the many websites that will analyze a photo’s exif data for you.

Some websites, such as exifdata.com, can even analyze a photo from the image’s URL.

cuba how to reverse engineer photos

The shadow of the tree clearly shows the direction of the sun, while the light reflecting off the concrete has filled in the shadows on the subject.

Use Your New Powers Wisely

Now that you know how to reverse-engineer a photo, go and practice. The more you do it, the easier it will become. As a photographer, being able to analyze and deconstruct a photo is an incredibly valuable skill. You can learn a tremendous amount from other photographers by doing this.

But again, this isn’t a lesson in plagiarism. It’s about growing as a photographer by learning from other people’s photos, not recreating or cloning them.

Now, go and find some photos you love and deconstruct them using your new-found powers.

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How to Add More Interest to Your Astrophotography With Light Painting

Photographing the night sky is a lot of fun and can result in some stunning photographs. You don’t need to look far to find some incredible, out-of-this-world astrophotography.

As the low-light performance of cameras continues to improve, astrophotography has come within reach of more photographers.

joshua tree astrophotography light painting

You may have tried your hand at photographing the stars and the Milky Way, or you may be fantasizing about going out to play while the world sleeps. If you aren’t new to astrophotography, you’ve likely found that it isn’t as easy as you might think. Even with the right gear, it takes a lot of practice and can be incredibly frustrating at times.

Even if you’ve managed to come home with some sharp, well-exposed images of the stars, you may be wondering what’s missing. What are so many night sky photos missing? It’s easy to get so focused on photographing the sky that you can forget that it’s the earth that makes them interesting.

Adding Interest to Your Night Sky Photos

One of the best things you can do to add depth to a landscape photo is include some foreground interest. Astrophotography is no different.

This is why you’ll find that some of the most stunning astrophotos include natural or man-made elements like rock formations, lighthouses, or old barns.

beach astrophotography light painting

BEFORE: A 20-second exposure using only ambient light.

beach astrophotography light painting

AFTER: The same scene with the sand illuminated by light painting with the screen on my phone.

You may have already tried including some foreground interest into your night sky photos. The problem is that the best places for astrophotography are the darkest places. As far away from light pollution as possible, with little or no moonlight. Unfortunately, this means there is very little ambient light to illuminate the foreground that you’re trying to include.

One simple solution is called light painting. It comes in many forms and can be done using many different techniques. The basic principle is that you add light to parts of the scene to illuminate them. It can not only transform your astrophotography, it’s also a lot of fun.

The best part is that you don’t need any fancy or expensive gear. All you need is a light source. You can use anything you have lying around. A flashlight, light bar, camping lamp, your phone, or your car’s headlights. I’ve even seen people using a drone. I always take a headlamp so I can see what I’m doing so that often does the trick.

How to Paint With Light

Light painting isn’t difficult, in fact, it’s really easy. Once you have your camera set up and ready to go, take a photo of the scene with ambient light to make sure you’ve exposed for the sky and stars.

When you’re happy with your settings, either you or a buddy will use the light source to paint light onto the foreground elements that you want to illuminate. Start by painting a small amount of light into the scene, then check the image. You’ll rarely get it right the first time.

camping astrophotography light painting

BEFORE: A 25-second exposure of a camping scene with the light of the fire and an LED placed inside the tent.

camping astrophotography light painting

AFTER: The same scene with the vehicle illuminated by my headlamp to the right of the scene.

Take multiple exposures, slowly painting in more light as necessary. Try experimenting with painting from various angles to see how it changes the way the foreground looks. Don’t be afraid to walk into the frame. With exposure times of 20-30 seconds, you won’t be visible as long as you keep moving. Just be careful not to shine the light source into the lens. I find wearing black helps you stay invisible.

As you’re photographing tiny amounts of ambient light, you’ll find it’s easy to overdo it with the light painting and overexpose the foreground. Less is more with this technique. If you find the foreground is too bright, paint less light in or use a light source that isn’t as bright. I find the light from the screen on my phone works well. It also allows you to choose the color of the light.

As with any form of photography, don’t forget that off-camera light (light coming from the sides of the scene) gives a much more pleasing look and creates depth in your photos. Instead of standing behind your camera and light painting while the shutter is open, move off to the side or walk through the scene to vary the angles of the direction of the light. Just be sure to check where you’re walking first!

tree astrophotography light painting

BEFORE: A tree silhouetted against the light of the Milky Way.

tree astrophotography light painting

AFTER: I used a camping light to paint the edge of the tree with light, helping to give the scene some depth and lead the viewer’s eye into the stars.

Post-Processing Astrophotography Images

When it comes time to edit your photos, the more frames you have to work with the better. You may find that there’s one exposure where you nailed the exposure and light painting in one frame, in which case you can go ahead with post-processing it.

In the more likely scenario that you like different parts of different frames, which you can easily blend together in Photoshop to create a composite.

This is where your base exposure with no added light will come in handy. Go through and select the images that you want to create the composite with, including the base exposure, then use this digital blending technique to combine them in Photoshop. I like to do a basic edit to the images in Lightroom before exporting to Photoshop, then I add final touches after blending them into one image.

joshua tree astrophotography light painting

BEFORE: Rocks and Joshua trees are slightly illuminated by the ambient light pollution.

joshua tree astrophotography light painting

AFTER: The same rocks and trees painted with light from my flashlight as I walked through the scene.

It’s easier than you think

Light painting may seem like a complex photographic technique, but it’s actually quite simple. It can take your astrophotography from good to great, and you’ll find the process is very enjoyable, even addictive!

Next time you head out into the night with camera in hand, pack an extra flashlight and give light painting a try. You’ll be glad you did.

The post How to Add More Interest to Your Astrophotography With Light Painting appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Boost Your Post-Processing Skills With a Graphics Tablet

During the course of your love affair with photography, you’ll use many different pieces of equipment. Some you’ll purchase, some you’ll beg, borrow, or steal. They will all serve one purpose or another. Some you may love so much that you keep forever. Most you won’t.

You don’t hear me talk about gear often. Over time I’ve worked hard to simplify my gear, and as a travel photographer, I’ve had to be ruthless in shedding excess size and weight. Every now and then, however, you come across a tool that is so valuable to your workflow that you can’t imagine working without it. One of those tools for me is a graphics tablet.

step up your post-processing with a graphics tablet

Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

I’ve been using a tablet for quite a few years now, and it’s totally worth the extra weight in my bag. When I sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket to travel the world with my camera, I found space for my tablet. It has revolutionized my post-processing, and it can revolutionize yours too.

What is a Graphics Tablet?

A graphics tablet is a device that allows you to use a stylus instead of a mouse to control the cursor on your computer screen. They come in many sizes and offer a variety of features. They work by pointing at or drawing on the surface of the tablet with the stylus, which transfers your movements onto your screen. Most come with buttons on the stylus and on the tablet, which you can configure to act as mouse buttons or keystrokes.

They range from small tablets with no buttons all the way up to huge displays where you can draw directly onto the screen, much like an iPad. They often include features like pressure-sensitivity, allowing extremely precise controls that come in very handy when drawing.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Why Use a Tablet?

You might be asking yourself what’s so special about a tablet. What’s wrong with a good old mouse? I used to feel the same way until I tried using one. The humble mouse works fine for everyday computer usage, but it’s severely limited when it comes to photo editing.

Have you ever found yourself getting frustrated while trying to edit some fine details in a photo and having to go back over and over again? When you use a mouse, you’re relying on the movements of the large muscles and bones in your arm and hand to move it around your screen. It’s incredibly cumbersome. Your arm works great with big movements, but not so much with small, precise ones.

Now think about the precision and fine motor skills required to draw with a pen. Every tiny muscle in your hand is used to control the movements. I like to think of it this way: a toddler can use a mouse, but there’s no way they could use a tablet. They can’t even write their own name. A tablet will allow you to use those fine motor skills that you developed all those years ago.

step up your post-processing with a graphics tablet

Photo by Josefa nDiaz on Unsplash

How Do You Use a Tablet?

You may have seen tablets being used in Photoshop tutorials and wondered how they’re used. You don’t need to be a professional retoucher or illustrator to benefit from using a tablet. Even if you do all your post-processing in Lightroom, you will likely still find that a tablet will make the process much more precise and enjoyable.

step up your post-processing with a graphics tablet

ExpressKey menu in the Wacom setting panel.

The main benefits of editing with a tablet are speed and precision. As I mentioned earlier, most tablets will have some extra controls on the stylus and on the tablet itself. These controls can be customized to do pretty much anything.

This means that you can replace your most commonly used keystrokes with a single button. The touch ring can be set to adjust things like brush size and hardness, or scroll and zoom. These controls can speed up your post-processing dramatically.

step up your post-processing with a graphics tablet

Touch Ring options in the Wacom settings panel.

Where a graphics tablet really shines is when you want to apply local adjustments to your photos. Whether you’re making selections, drawing, painting, erasing, or dodging and burning, you’ll find that it’s far easier with a stylus than a mouse. It feels more natural and you’ll make a lot fewer mistakes.

If you don’t currently make a lot of local adjustments to your photos, I highly recommend taking some time to learn how. Learning basic dodging and burning is one of the best things you can do to take your post-processing skills to the next level. Do it with a tablet and you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes to your workflow.

There are many great resources available online for free that will teach you the basics of dodging and burning in both Lightroom and Photoshop. Likewise with setting up and using a tablet. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to edit with a mouse again.

Choosing a Tablet

As I’ve mentioned, tablets range massively in price, size, and features. What you need will depend on a few factors like your budget, how much space you have on your desk, and how you like to work.

You can spend anywhere from $25 to $2000, so there is something that will suit your needs. You should be able to find a decent tablet under $100 that does the job.

step up your post-processing with a graphics tablet

Wacom’s high-end Cintiq tablet.Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

Choosing the right size can be tricky. On one hand, the larger your tablet, the easier it is to use. You won’t find yourself having to move around the screen as much with a larger tablet. On the other hand, it will take up more space on your desk or in your bag. I personally like using a tablet that’s smaller than my laptop, that way they both fit nicely in my bag when I’m on the road.

In terms of features, you don’t need a lot of the more advanced features. My older Wacom Intuos doesn’t feature pressure sensitivity, and I don’t miss it. I would recommend using a tablet with at least a few control buttons, as they can speed up your workflow quite a bit.

Don’t stress about getting an expensive, high-end tablet, though. You’ll likely find that a basic model or a cheaper brand will suit your needs just fine. If you have an iPad lying around, there are apps available that allow you to connect it to your computer and use it as a tablet.

Beg, Borrow or Steal

Well, maybe not steal, but ask around and see if someone you know has a tablet you could borrow or rent to try for a week. If you can find one to test out, give it a chance. As I’ve said, it takes a while to get used to it, so don’t give up too soon.

I’m sure that once you get your head around it you’ll be wanting one of your very own, and you’ll never look back.

The post How to Boost Your Post-Processing Skills With a Graphics Tablet appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer’s Eye Through Your Photographs

There are many different elements of photography that can affect how the viewer perceives an image. The more you learn to understand how various elements affect an image, the more you can learn to take control of them. Great photography doesn’t happen by chance, it’s crafted and pieced together. If you follow these composition tips they will have you do just that.

joshua tree at night brightness drawing the eye - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

One of the most important elements of photography to understand is how the viewer’s eye is drawn through the image. You may think that when you view a photograph you see the whole picture as one. In one sense this is true, as you can absorb much of an image in a millisecond. At the same time, your eye moves through an image in a way that you’re usually completely unaware of.

The reason why it’s important to understand this concept is that if an image has a natural path for the eye to follow and a strong subject to focus on, it’s far more satisfying. An image that’s too busy and doesn’t have a clear subject isn’t as appealing and the viewer will not linger long.

As the photographer, you can be intentional about how you craft your image so that the viewer’s eye moves through it the way you want.

The Human Eye

Our eyes are bombarded by so many different sights every day that we have to be selective about what we look at and what we ignore. This is usually a subconscious decision that happens as our brains try to filter the information that is passed from our retinas. Much study has been done into what visual elements draw our attention, which is super helpful for those of us that create visual art.

Brightness

Controlling the brightness of various parts of your image is one of the most powerful ways to control the viewer’s eye. You can use this to your advantage in a couple of ways.

Including or adding brightness to areas of an image is a great way to draw the viewer’s eye to that element. The other side of this is to limit brightness or darken areas of an image where you don’t want to draw attention.

sunset over water - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

How you add or subtract brightness to an image will depend a lot on your subject. If you have control of the light you can take control with the way you light the image. Even if you don’t have control of the light you may still be able to manipulate it somehow with neutral density filters or by framing the image differently.

Whatever your subject, you can always control brightness in post-production. Learning to dodge and burn is one of the most valuable skills you can have for controlling light in your photography. Even something as simple as a vignette can have a dramatic effect.

brick wall with birds in a window - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

Contrast

Areas of high-contrast draw the eye more than anything else.

A dull, flat image with no contrast has very little visual appeal. If you really want to draw the attention of your viewers to a certain element of an image, try to find a way to add contrast to the element, or to the area surrounding it.

contrast lines drawing the eye in sand dunes - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

There are many ways to do this. For example, you can overexpose the background to make it contrast with the foreground subject. Alternatively, you can underexpose the foreground to make a silhouette which contrasts with the background.

Again, you can also use post-processing techniques to further control contrast in your image to draw the eye. Adding contrast to areas where you want to draw attention, and removing contrast from areas that you don’t want to distract the viewer can go a long way to drawing the eye.

You can do this using basic tools in Lightroom like the Contrast and Clarity sliders. Control the areas you want to add or subtract contrast from others with the local adjustment tools.

contrast drawing the eye lady on a large sand dune - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

Color

You’re probably aware of how powerful color can be in controlling the mood of an image. The feel of an image with bright colors is very different from an image with muted, desaturated colors.

But what you may not know is that the human eye is strongly attracted to bright colors. Have ever seen the old “selective color” images that convert an image to black and white while leaving one element in color? Fortunately, the trend is long-dead, but it shows how powerful color can be at drawing the eye.

color drawing the eye brightly colored parrots - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

Adding color to an image isn’t always easy. You may be able to color elements of an image with colored gels if using flash.

Subtracting color from an image is often even more important if it’s distracting to the viewer. This is often the case when photographing people. Colorful clothing draws the eye away from the more subtle skin colors of faces. This is why portrait photographers often tell their subjects to wear plain black or white clothing.

Adding and subtracting color in post-production isn’t difficult, but takes practice and restraint. It’s easy to overdo it. You can do a lot with the local adjustment tools and the Vibrance/Saturation sliders in Lightroom. Remember, when it comes to adjusting the color or saturation of a photo, less is more, especially when skin tones are involved.

Sharpness

Have you ever noticed how a blurry image is very unpleasant to look at? Even if it’s only a little bit out of focus, your eye will detect it.

The human eye’s instinct is to adjust focus until what it’s looking at appears sharp. If it can’t find something sharp to rest on, you won’t like what you’re looking at.

sharpness drawing the eye small girl in colorful dress with blurry background - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

You can use this to your advantage in your photography. You probably know that a shallow depth-of-field when photographing portraits creates a very pleasing look. This is because the eye is naturally drawn to the sharp face of the subject while avoiding the other elements that are out of focus. The most obvious way to control focus is using large apertures and a small depth-of-field, but it isn’t the only way.

You could try playing with slower shutter speeds and motion blur. Panning with a moving subject and a slow shutter speed can blur the background while keeping the subject acceptably sharp.

You can also add blur in post-production. Moving the Clarity slider to the left will soften the selected elements that you don’t want to draw attention to. You can also add sharpness to selected areas, but be careful about trying to save an out-of-focus image by increasing sharpness (it doesn’t work!).

sharp rocks in smooth water - Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer's Eye Through Your Photographs

Take Control

As you learn these composition tips that can guide your viewers, you can start to take control of the process. Adding and subtracting these elements from your images can have a significant effect on how visually pleasing they are. Take some time to think about what you want your viewers to look at and then ask yourself what you can do to make that happen.

Although the way you process your images is very useful, try to think about controlling these elements in-camera first. It isn’t always possible, but taking control over the brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness in-camera will give you better images to work with in post-production. Also, trying to save an image by pushing Lightroom sliders to their extremes usually isn’t a good idea.

As you get more intentional about what you add and subtract from your photography, you’ll start producing more engaging images. Your photography will also become more appealing to the viewer and yourself.

The post Composition Tips for Drawing the Viewer’s Eye Through Your Photographs appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos

I wouldn’t be able to count the number of potentially great photos I’ve missed because I visited a location with only one image in mind. It’s easy to fall for the temptation to set up, get your shot, then pack up and leave. I’ve done it countless times, and I’m sure you have too.

How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos- photo of a rocky coast and trees

Every location on earth has the potential for thousands of different images. Even a simple beach scene can be photographed in a huge variety of ways to create many beautiful images. You don’t need to have stunning scenery to come home with a collection of great images.

It only takes a little planning combined with the ability to improvise and adapt to the environment. Here are some tips to help you work a location to come home with more and better photos.

Step 1: Plan Plan Plan

I’m a huge advocate of planning your photos. In landscape photography, you’re at the mercy of mother nature, so the more prepared you are, the better your chances are of getting the shot.

How do the top landscape photographers in the world manage to consistently produce gorgeous images? They’re in the right place at the right time. Of course, there’s a bit of luck involved, but it’s largely down to a lot of careful planning.

How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos - sunset and reflection in water

Once I’ve chosen a photography location I’ll almost always do some planning for the shots I want. This usually involves looking at satellite and topographical maps on Google Maps. This will give you an idea of the landscape and features of the location.

Consider the time of day

Once you have an idea of the photos you want to take, it’s worth considering the best time of day. Golden hour at either end of the day provide great light, but you also may need to consider other factors like the tide and travel time.

There are many tools available to help you research and plan your photos. My favorite by far is PhotoPills. It’s a paid app, but worth every cent. It includes too many features to list here, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram are great for finding inspiration. Experiment with a variety of tools and find what works for you. Whatever you decide on, be sure to use them. Planning your landscape photos will dramatically increase your rate of keepers.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - overhead view of a rocky beach

Step 2: Work the Location

Once you’ve planned your photos, the obvious next step is to go and create the beautiful images you’ve imagined.

Make sure you’re well prepared. Nothing will ruin well-planned photography like flat batteries or full memory cards. Watch the weather forecast and get to your location with plenty of time to spare. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll likely be doing some walking.

Get the shot, but don’t stop there. There are still many opportunities to get more great photos. Exploring on foot is the best way to find different and interesting photos that you may not have considered when originally researching the location.

Walk in the direction you just photographed and look back the way you came. Hike up to a high place. Walk up a river or climb some rocks. Move your legs. Very few incredible photos are taken from parking lots.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - empty beach and blue sky

Change it up

Other than finding different perspectives and subjects to photograph, there are a few other ways to get more out of a location. Try using different gear. A different focal length can open up a bunch of new possibilities for shooting the same scene.

If you’re used to photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens, put a longer lens on your camera. It will not only allow you to create many more compositions from the same place, but it will also stretch you creatively.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - aerial view of coastline

Rent or borrow a macro lens and try taking a look at the smaller details of the location. You have almost limitless possibilities once you start looking at the grass, rocks, sand, or trees around you.

Light is everything

Another option is to wait for the light to change. Within the space of a couple of hours, you can photograph everything from daylight, through the golden hour, and into twilight. The same scene can look very different as the intensity, color, and direction of the light changes. Watch the way the shadows shape a landscape as the sun drops.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - tidal pool at sunset

I learned to love photographing blue hour when I went out for sunset and noticed that I loved the light about 30 to 60 minutes after sunset. Try sticking around into the evening and playing with the low light. You could even stay until well after sunset and try including some stars or the Milky Way in the scene.

Finally, using various photographic techniques or effects can add a different look to the same location. If there’s movement in the scene, try photographing it with different shutter speeds. Fast shutter speeds that freeze movement look very different from long exposures that blur movement.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - long exposure of ocean waves sunset

The way you expose the light can also change the look of the image a lot. Try exposing for a blown-out back-lit image or an underexposed the foreground for dark silhouettes. Photograph landscapes with both a large and small depth-of-field for a different look.

That’s it!

As you can see, with a bit of creativity, forethought, and patience, your options are many. You don’t need to come home from a location with only one good image.

Since I’ve learned to work a location, I often come home with many more decent images than I expected. Even with plenty of research and planning. Next time you go out to photograph a location, do some planning, get the shot, then walk, wait, and get creative to find a bunch more photos you’ll be happy with.

The post How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos

I wouldn’t be able to count the number of potentially great photos I’ve missed because I visited a location with only one image in mind. It’s easy to fall for the temptation to set up, get your shot, then pack up and leave. I’ve done it countless times, and I’m sure you have too.

How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos- photo of a rocky coast and trees

Every location on earth has the potential for thousands of different images. Even a simple beach scene can be photographed in a huge variety of ways to create many beautiful images. You don’t need to have stunning scenery to come home with a collection of great images.

It only takes a little planning combined with the ability to improvise and adapt to the environment. Here are some tips to help you work a location to come home with more and better photos.

Step 1: Plan Plan Plan

I’m a huge advocate of planning your photos. In landscape photography, you’re at the mercy of mother nature, so the more prepared you are, the better your chances are of getting the shot.

How do the top landscape photographers in the world manage to consistently produce gorgeous images? They’re in the right place at the right time. Of course, there’s a bit of luck involved, but it’s largely down to a lot of careful planning.

How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos - sunset and reflection in water

Once I’ve chosen a photography location I’ll almost always do some planning for the shots I want. This usually involves looking at satellite and topographical maps on Google Maps. This will give you an idea of the landscape and features of the location.

Consider the time of day

Once you have an idea of the photos you want to take, it’s worth considering the best time of day. Golden hour at either end of the day provide great light, but you also may need to consider other factors like the tide and travel time.

There are many tools available to help you research and plan your photos. My favorite by far is PhotoPills. It’s a paid app, but worth every cent. It includes too many features to list here, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram are great for finding inspiration. Experiment with a variety of tools and find what works for you. Whatever you decide on, be sure to use them. Planning your landscape photos will dramatically increase your rate of keepers.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - overhead view of a rocky beach

Step 2: Work the Location

Once you’ve planned your photos, the obvious next step is to go and create the beautiful images you’ve imagined.

Make sure you’re well prepared. Nothing will ruin well-planned photography like flat batteries or full memory cards. Watch the weather forecast and get to your location with plenty of time to spare. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll likely be doing some walking.

Get the shot, but don’t stop there. There are still many opportunities to get more great photos. Exploring on foot is the best way to find different and interesting photos that you may not have considered when originally researching the location.

Walk in the direction you just photographed and look back the way you came. Hike up to a high place. Walk up a river or climb some rocks. Move your legs. Very few incredible photos are taken from parking lots.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - empty beach and blue sky

Change it up

Other than finding different perspectives and subjects to photograph, there are a few other ways to get more out of a location. Try using different gear. A different focal length can open up a bunch of new possibilities for shooting the same scene.

If you’re used to photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens, put a longer lens on your camera. It will not only allow you to create many more compositions from the same place, but it will also stretch you creatively.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - aerial view of coastline

Rent or borrow a macro lens and try taking a look at the smaller details of the location. You have almost limitless possibilities once you start looking at the grass, rocks, sand, or trees around you.

Light is everything

Another option is to wait for the light to change. Within the space of a couple of hours, you can photograph everything from daylight, through the golden hour, and into twilight. The same scene can look very different as the intensity, color, and direction of the light changes. Watch the way the shadows shape a landscape as the sun drops.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - tidal pool at sunset

I learned to love photographing blue hour when I went out for sunset and noticed that I loved the light about 30 to 60 minutes after sunset. Try sticking around into the evening and playing with the low light. You could even stay until well after sunset and try including some stars or the Milky Way in the scene.

Finally, using various photographic techniques or effects can add a different look to the same location. If there’s movement in the scene, try photographing it with different shutter speeds. Fast shutter speeds that freeze movement look very different from long exposures that blur movement.

How to Work the Scene to Get More Great Photos - long exposure of ocean waves sunset

The way you expose the light can also change the look of the image a lot. Try exposing for a blown-out back-lit image or an underexposed the foreground for dark silhouettes. Photograph landscapes with both a large and small depth-of-field for a different look.

That’s it!

As you can see, with a bit of creativity, forethought, and patience, your options are many. You don’t need to come home from a location with only one good image.

Since I’ve learned to work a location, I often come home with many more decent images than I expected. Even with plenty of research and planning. Next time you go out to photograph a location, do some planning, get the shot, then walk, wait, and get creative to find a bunch more photos you’ll be happy with.

The post How to Work a Location to Get More Great Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

You likely know Adobe Lightroom as a powerful piece of photo-editing software. It’s known as the industry standard for photography post-production, especially when paired with Photoshop. You may also know that its photo management features are pretty impressive. If you so choose, you can use this one piece of software to upload, rename, keyword, review, edit, export and organize your photos.

camper van on the grass - How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

How you use Lightroom is entirely up to you, and it’s unlikely that two photographers will use it the same. The way you organize your catalog will depend on many factors, including which genre of photography you choose, who you’re shooting for, and how you have your computer hardware arranged. There is no right or wrong way to organize things, and it will likely change over time.

If you’re a portrait or wedding photographer, you might choose to organize your catalog around sessions or dates. As a landscape and travel photographer, it makes sense for me to organize my photos based on locations. Whether a location is a city, country, or even a continent, it helps me to keep things organized so I can always find what I’m looking for without wasting time searching through thousands of photos.

There are a few different ways to find photos based on location in Lightroom, but they only work if you take a few simple steps when you import them.

Import

Whenever you import photos into Lightroom, try to follow the same steps.

It’s a good idea to create some templates for the Develop and Metadata settings. This makes it easy to apply some standard settings and metadata to every one of your photos. You should at least apply your copyright information to your photos with a metadata preset.

metadata organizing lightroom photos by location

Keywords

The single most important thing you can do to simplify the process of finding photos is keywording. You don’t need to add a long list of keywords, just a few relevant ones that will help you later on when you search.

When organizing by location, I always add the name of the country, region, and specific place name. I’ll also add any other relevant keywords that I may want to search for, such as aerial or long-exposure.

When renaming my images during import I always include the location in the name. Something like “noosa-beach-qld-australia” works well. The words in your filenames become searchable keywords themselves (make sure to use a dash between words). I don’t use dates in my file names, but it’s up to you whether you want to or not.

How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

Folders

Using a good folder structure will make your life far easier, especially when you have tens of thousands of images.

To organize your folders by location, you can create a new folder for each specific location or one for each city or country. I have one folder for each country I visit and just keep adding to it. Even if I visit that country again years later, I’ll still keep using that same folder. It makes it far simpler and I know where I can find a photo from anywhere on earth.

It also makes it simpler to find image files on my computer as the folder structure I set up is identical both inside and outside Lightroom. Organizing folders by date or some other number-based system would never work for me.

Collections

Collections are another one of Lightroom’s great features that can help you keep everything organized by location. Where Folders contain every photo from a given location, Collections contain only the photos you choose. Again, I’ll create a new Collection for each country, but I only put the keepers in there.

How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

In the past, I’ve done this manually, but I now create a Smart Collection for each location. I only need to add two rules to each Smart Collection: Flag and Keyword. Based on these settings, any photo that I flag that has that keyword is automatically added to the collection.

smart collections - How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

Map

As a travel photographer, my favorite Lightroom tool for finding photos based on location is the Map module. One of the first things I’ll do after I’ve finished importing new photos into Lightroom is to add GPS coordinates. There are a couple of ways you can do this.

If you know the coordinates you can add them manually in the Metadata panel. The easiest way is to select all your images (Cmd/Ctrl+A) then go into the Map module, search for the location in the search bar above the map, then drag all your photos onto the right location on the map.

Depending on your camera, your photos may already have GPS coordinates embedded in the file. This is often the case with drone photos or any other GPS-connected camera or device. If not, you can record the GPS coordinates by taking a photo with your phone then grabbing them from that photo’s metadata.

map module - How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

Searching for Photos

Now that you’ve imported your photos with location-based keywords and filenames, organized them into location-based Folders and Collections, and geotagged them with GPS coordinates, finding them later is simple.

I use a different approach depending on whether I’m looking for a specific image or a group of images from a specific location.

If it’s a specific image you want, and you know you flagged it, select the Collection associated with that location. If you’re not sure if it’s flagged, select the folder. Then search inside the collection or folder using the Library Filter.

Click on Text, select Any Searchable Field in the first drop-down menu, then Contains All in the next menu, then type your keywords in the search field. The more keywords you add, the more specific the search becomes.

library filter - How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom

If I’m looking for an image or group of images from a specific location, I like to use the Map module. Select All Photographs in the Catalog panel on the left then go to the Map module and type the location name into the search bar. Any geotagged images in that area will show up on the map.

You can zoom in or out on the map to make your search location more or less specific. Images in the specified location will appear along the filmstrip below the map.

Summary

A little forethought and organization when importing your images are worth the effort. It doesn’t take much time to apply these settings but can save you a lot down the road.

If you’re anything like me and have tens of thousands of photos in your catalog, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, and future you will thank you for your efforts.

The post How to Organize Your Photos by Location in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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