Understanding and Unlocking the Power of the Lightoom Vignette Tool

The post Understanding and Unlocking the Power of the Lightoom Vignette Tool appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

The Lightroom vignette tool is like adding a bit of spice to your favorite meal. Without a bit (but not too much) garlic, basil, thyme, or other even salt, your food might taste bland. Add too much, and it can ruin the whole thing. In a way, the vignette effect does the same job. It adds a bit of spice, flavor, and panache, to give your photos that little extra push over the cliff. It turns them from mediocre to magnificent. If you want to unlock its full potential, it’s important to understand what it does and see how, when applied to different pictures, it can dramatically affect the final output.

You and the Lightroom Vignette effect: A match made in heaven.

About Vignettes

Vignette effects are nothing new to photography. The word itself has French origins. It refers to the wavy lines that would appear like vines (or in French, Vignes) drawn around page edges marking the beginning or end of a book chapter. Over time the word was adopted by artists and photographers to refer to the gradual fade or darkening of an image near its edges.

While vignettes can be distracting if implemented poorly, they can result in a pleasing artistic effect when applied like spices when cooking. The outcome is akin to laying a reverse darkened oval across an image so that the corners and edges of the picture are a little darker. This method also serves to draw the viewer’s attention to the center. You’re basically trying to achieve the Goldilocks balance where it’s not too much and not too little, but just right.

Understanding the Vignette Options

The first step in using Vignette is simply locating it. You’ll find it in the Effects panel on the right-hand side of the Lightroom Develop module. You’re presented with an option to choose a particular style along with five sliders that help you fine-tune the vignette to taste. All of this happens after your image cropping has been applied, so if you use a vignette and then re-crop your image the vignette changes to suit your new crop.

There are three options for the Style of vignette:

  • Highlight Priority – Ensures that the bright areas of the image blend more smoothly with the darker areas. The downside here is it can make areas of the image with a lot of colors appear a little strange.
  • Color Priority – The opposite of Highlight Priority, this style makes sure that color is preserved across the vignette. However, it can make the bright areas have some jarring shifts.
  • Paint Overlay – This is a blunt instrument. It just darkens the image where the vignette is applied, with no attention paid to highlights or colors.

If you’re not sure which of these to use, I recommend sticking with Highlight Priority. Both that and Color Priority produce similar results which are not unlike the Burn option in Photoshop (which itself mimics the process of selectively over-exposing parts of an image when developing film in a darkroom). These two also let you use the Highlights slider at the bottom which helps you recover some of the brighter portions of the image that are darkened with a vignette, whereas Paint Overlay disables the Highlights slider entirely.

Additional options:

In addition to the style of vignette, you have additional options that allow you to precisely control how the effect is implemented.

  • Amount – How much vignette is applied. Moving this to the left adds a dark vignette while sliding it to the right adds a white vignette.
  • Midpoint – The degree to which the vignette reaches the middle of the image. All the way to the left results in much more of the vignette reaching the center, whereas all the way to the right keeps the vignette at the most extreme edges and corners. If you’re not sure what to do, just leave this in the middle.
  • Roundness – All the way to the left makes the vignette into more of a rectangle. Leave it in the middle for an oval-shaped vignette. Slide it all the way to the right to make your vignette a circle.
  • Feather – How smoothly the dark areas blend with the light areas. All the way to the left results in a harsh edge and all the way to the right gives you a nice smooth blend.

If you don’t want to over-complicate things you can leave all these sliders at their default values and you’ll be fine. However, they are fun to experiment with over time to get just the right look you are going for.

Visual explanations

This tool is easy to explore on your own but looking at how it affects a black and white grid may give you a better understanding of what is happening. I used the Paint Overlay instead of Highlight or Color Priority because in a simple black-and-white grid Paint Overlay gives the clearest visual representation of how the vignette is applied. The left side of each is the original un-edited grid while the right side is the same image with a vignette applied. The settings used for each one are described in the caption.

Amount -50, Midpoint +50, Roundness 0, Feather +50

Notice how the vignette gradually fades from dark to light, with the center portion of the image on the right being the exact same brightness as the grid on the left with no vignette applied.

Amount -50, Midpoint 0, Roundness 0, Feather +50

With the midpoint set all the way to 0, the unaffected portion of the vignette is concentrated in the middle with the edges and corners being uniformly dark. This highlights the center portion alone but there is very little fade-out between that and the vignette.

Amount -50, Midpoint 0, Roundness 0, Feather +100

The midpoint here remains the same but there is now a more gradual fade-out to the darkened portions thanks to an increase in feathering.

Amount -50, Midpoint 0, Roundness 0, Feather 0

Reducing the feathering to 0 makes the vignette clearly visible with virtually no gradation in how it is applied. I would never use this on an actual photo, but it is useful to understand how the vignette function operates.

Amount -40, Midpoint +25, Roundness +100, Feather +30

Setting the roundness to +100 gives you a vignette that is a perfect circle instead of a more oval shape. It’s important to remember that vignettes are applied after cropping, so if you start with a square image then you will have a circular vignette even with the roundness value set to its default value of +50.

Hopefully, these graphics give you a better understanding of how the vignette effect works. However, to really see it in action, it helps to look at what happens when it’s applied to actual photographs instead of just a blank grid.

Vignette examples

Almost any photo-editing app will let you apply a vignette, but with the extensive tools available in Lightroom you can customize your vignette to do precisely what you want and shape your viewers’ perception of an image in a very specific way. If you control parameters like midpoint and feathering, in addition to the amount, you can create vignettes that impart certain overtones and even emotions and transform your humble images in to works of art.

No vignette applied.

The above image looks fine on its own, and the viewer’s attention is meant to be drawn to the droplet of water right in the middle, but there are other portions of the image competing for attention. Adding a vignette completely changes the mood of the scene and makes the viewer feel like they are in a much more intimate setting. Notice how, with the darkened corners, your eye gets immediately drawn to the center and not to the edges at all.

Highlight Priority. Amount -30, Midpoint +50, Roundness +20, Feather +40

Vignettes can be used to eliminate distractions in the edges of the frame as well, and in doing so draw the viewer’s attention to the subject in the center. In this image below, there is a fence on the top-right and a black climbing rope on the top-left. They don’t really add much substance to the image and instead can take your attention away from the rabbit in the middle.

One way to solve this is by adding a vignette. Through some tweaking of the parameters, the end result is an image that still contains the fence and the rope but makes them far less prominent while focusing your attention squarely on the bunny.

Highlight Priority. Amount -42, Midpoint +50, Roundness 0, Feather +70

I do a lot of family pictures for clients in my city, and one of the final touches I’ll add to most of my pictures is a simple vignette. It’s often very subtle, usually only -10 or -15, but depending on the Style (Highlight or Color Priority), I might need to add more and then tweak it with the sliders. Below is an image with no vignette applied. While it’s fine on its own, the subjects are competing with the bright edges and corners for your attention.

A Color Priority vignette helps maintain the integrity of the colors while darkening them a little, and then I brought back some of the highlights particularly in the top-right corner by adjusting the Highlights slider to 10.

Color Priority. Amount -53, Midpoint +55, Roundness 0, Feather +45, Highlights +10.

Positive values

One thing I didn’t mention in this article is positive Amount values, which make the edges of the frame brighter instead of darker. In my years as a photographer, I can’t think of a single instance in which I have used this option, and I don’t know anyone else who uses it on a regular basis either (editor’s note: it may be used it in high-key photography). You may find instances in which you want to make the outer portions of your image brighter instead of darker and, if so, then positive Amount values would do the trick. Just know that it’s easy to overdo it and the results can sometimes come across as a little cheesy and forced.


These examples and explanations are designed to give you a better understanding of what the vignette effect does and how it impacts an image. I encourage you to try it out for yourself. Use the different sliders and style options and notice how they affect the vignette which, in turn, can have a profound impact on your image as a whole. Just remember the cooking analogy: you don’t want too much vignette, nor do you want too little. Strive to get it just right, and your pictures could take on a whole new life.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

The post Understanding and Unlocking the Power of the Lightoom Vignette Tool appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

The Secret to Sharing Photos with Lightroom CC

The post The Secret to Sharing Photos with Lightroom CC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

After years of resisting the urge to sign up for one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud plans, I finally gave in. I purchased a subscription to the Photography bundle which includes Lightroom and Photoshop. While initially, I didn’t see a whole lot of benefits to this, I continue to discover all sorts of perks included in the Creative Cloud that I didn’t even think about before I jumped on the train.

One of the best, and also one of the least-talked-about, features has been the ability to share photos publicly right from Lightroom. This feature has been a total game-changer for me and it could re-shape the way you go about getting your work seen by others.

Traditional Lightroom sharing

With all previous versions of Lightroom, sharing images involved a few steps and some hoops to jump through. Mostly, this involved exporting images to your computer and then uploading them to social media sites, online photo platforms, or even email them to friends, family, and clients. Unfortunately, this also meant some hassles. Such as having duplicate copies of your shared images (one in your Lightroom catalog and one that you exported for sharing) and having to re-export and share images after you made any changes. The process could also be time-consuming, especially if exporting a large batch of images.

Some social sites like Flickr and Facebook created plugins for Lightroom, but in my experience, those have been somewhat unreliable, and I have used some that were ultimately abandoned by their developers. This meant that relying on these plugins was an exercise in frustration and, more often than not, futility.

Psst…have you heard about Lightroom’s photo-sharing capabilities?

Before I jumped to Creative Cloud, I had several presets that I created to export images for different groups of people. I had a hierarchy of folders in my cloud storage service that I used for sharing, and a headache if I needed to re-share images after further edits. After switching to the Creative Cloud Photography plan, that includes both Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC, I have replaced all of that with a simple click of the mouse or tap of my iPad.

Using the sharing features of Adobe Creative Cloud, you can instantly make individual photos or even entire albums public. Then you get a link to share with anyone you want. You can further customize these features. You can specify whether people with the link can download photos, access picture metadata, and see only pictures that have a particular Flag or Star Rating. The images you share can have comments and likes from viewers, and you can get information on this activity as well.

Sharing doesn’t use your Cloud Storage

My favorite part about this type of sharing is that none of your shared images count against your Creative Cloud storage quota. Even if you have the Photography plan with only 20GB of storage, you can share as many photos to the web as you want without using any of that 20GB allotment. This feature does not use your allocated space because Adobe doesn’t share full resolution images with this feature.

You probably wouldn’t want to do this with clients who need high-resolution downloads for printing, but it’s great for getting your pictures seen by many people without any real effort on your part.

Sharing with Lightroom Classic CC

If your workflow is dependent on the more traditional Lightroom Classic CC as opposed to the cloud-focused Lightroom CC, you still have access to most of the cloud-based sharing features. You will, however, need to launch Lightroom CC at some point if you want to fine-tune your sharing options. The first step in sharing is to enable syncing. You achieve that by clicking on your name in the top-left corner of the application and choose “Start” under the option to Sync with Lightroom CC.

No need to panic at this point – nothing is going to happen to your photos, and no images are going to be suddenly shared to the cloud or anywhere else. All this does is give you the option to sync photo albums with Lightroom CC so you can edit your images using that program on your desktop or mobile device. It’s not even sharing the actual pictures, just low-resolution preview files. After you make any edits, those changes get automatically synced back to Lightroom Classic CC.

This feature also gives you the option of making your images available publicly on the internet for anyone to view. However, first, you must choose individual albums that you want to sync with Lightroom CC. Right-click on a collection in your Library and select Sync with Lightroom CC.

Doing so doesn’t share the photos publicly, but makes them available to Lightroom CC while also giving you the option to share them with others if you wish. (Note that this feature is only available for traditional photo collections in Lightroom and will not work with Smart Collections.)

After you have synced a Collection with Lightroom CC, you will see a small two-way arrow icon next to its name, and you will have access to additional features when you right-click on it with the Lightroom CC Links option. You can now make the album Public. Once you have completed that step, you can view the photos on the web or get a public link to send out to family and friends.

It is as simple as that! With one click you can get a link to an entire photo Collection, and Lightroom does all the heavy lifting of uploading them and putting them in a clean gallery format. For more options, open up Lightroom CC on your desktop or mobile device.

Sharing with Lightroom CC

Because Lightroom CC is built from the ground up to live and breathe in the cloud, it has a more robust suite of tools available for sharing (even though the basics are relatively similar to its desktop counterpart). Whether you have your original images stored in Lightroom CC (or stored in your Adobe Creative Cloud account) or synced from Lightroom Classic CC, the process of sharing them is the same.

To get started, navigate to one of your albums on the left side of the Lightroom CC interface. Right-click on the name of the one you want to share to the internet via a public link. Then choose the option that says Share to Web…

As the saying goes, here’s where the fun begins. After choosing this option, you get presented with a dialog box giving you several options to customize how your photos get shared online. What I like about this is you can specify different parameters for each shared album. See the screenshot below.

In this example, I opted to show only photos with a Pick status that are rated three stars or higher. I’m not allowing any location data to be visible either. The link can be copied and shared with anyone you want, or posted on social media sites. Any changes made to the album are automatically reflected in the shared link as well. So, if you add more images to the album, or change the Flag status or Star Rating, anyone with the link can automatically see the revised images.

If at any point you want to stop sharing the album, you can right-click on the name of the album and choose the Stop Sharing option. If you re-share it in the future, a new link gets generated for you to re-send to friends, family, and clients.

When visitors click on the link to your shared album, they will see a grid with all your images that they can scroll through and click. Icons in the top right corner can be used to play a slideshow or download a ZIP archive of the photos in the gallery if you have that option enabled.

When viewers click on an individual image, they have the option to leave comments or click a Like button. This information automatically syncs with Lightroom Classic CC so you can see it on your desktop.

When you view the link of one of your shared albums, you can also see any user comments and delete ones you don’t want. The one catch with this is that anyone who wants to leave a Like or Comment will need an Adobe ID. It’s a bit of extra effort but helps cut down on spam and other unwanted input from random internet users.

When people leave comments on publicly-shared photos, you can see a yellow icon appear by the Collection name in Lightroom Classic CC. Click the Collection to review the comments.

Finally, you can share any individual picture from an album on the web using its own unique link. Right-click on a single photo to get a unique link for that one image as well as the same sharing options that you have for full albums.

Sharing is a great way to get feedback from clients and see what photos they really like.

User control and privacy

The advantages of Lightroom’s built-in photo sharing system are enormous. Not the least of which has to do with user control and privacy.

When you share pictures on social media sites, your images and personal data get mined and used for advertising. However, no such activity takes place when using Lightroom shared albums. You control exactly what you share, and can remove images at any time. Deleting your images from the internet is as simple as clicking the Stop Sharing button.

Where sharing is beneficial

Here are a few scenarios to help you see where photo sharing may be beneficial:

  • After returning from a trip, create an album with your favorite images and share the link instantly with family and friends.
  • Create an album with pictures of your kids or other loved ones in your life and share the link. As you add more pictures to the album, anyone with the link can automatically see the new images.
  • Share a preview album with clients after a photo session, and ask them to click Like on their favorites. Then you can see the results and know which ones they appreciate. This can help you if you are assembling a physical album for them.

I took a lot of photos at a Petting Zoo birthday party my kids were invited to. Instead of uploading them to social media, I just shared a link to the album with parents and enabled downloads.

The more I use these sharing features, the more I have come to appreciate them. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my old workflow again. Moreover, I hope this is useful for you and would love to hear any thoughts you may want to share in the comments below.

The post The Secret to Sharing Photos with Lightroom CC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Secret Camera Settings that Supercharge your JPEG Photos

The post Secret Camera Settings that Supercharge your JPEG Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Shooting pictures in RAW definitely has its advantages, but there are plenty of good reasons you might want to shoot using the JPEG format as well. It really comes down to personal preference, and both types of file formats have their pros and cons.

One of the biggest assets of the RAW format is that you can adjust your images as much as you want in programs like Lightroom or Luminar. Whereas the lossy compression algorithms used to create JPEG files leave much less room for post-processing flexibility. For this reason, to get the most out of your JPEG files, there are some important settings in your camera you should learn and customize to get your photos looking their best.

When you use RAW, you have access to the full data readout from your camera’s sensor. None of the data used to create your image was tossed out by your camera to compress the image and save memory card space. When shooting JPEG, your camera makes a series of determinations on the fly. It calculates what it thinks are the best values for various settings to get a pleasing photo almost like following a recipe to bake a cake. You can tweak that recipe to get the final output to be more customized to your taste. Doing so can be extremely helpful in many different photography settings.

White Balance

White balance is perhaps the most critical setting for JPEG shooters to understand. Getting this right can have a massive impact on how your images look. If you notice your images looking slightly yellow or blue, it’s likely due to the white balance not being calibrated correctly. Most people only use the Auto White Balance option which leaves the heavy lifting up to the digital brain inside your camera.

However, it’s straightforward to set the white balance by yourself and get much better results, particularly in tricky lighting situations. Especially indoors.

Setting the white balance at this cat show was really tricky due to the old fluorescent lights at the venue. Several of my auto white balance shots had a yellow tint, so I set the proper white balance in my camera and was able to achieve much better results.

It only takes a few seconds to set the white balance when shooting JPG and it can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. All DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, as well as most point-and-shoots, come with a variety of white balance settings. You can specify these if you know a little bit about the lighting conditions in which you are shooting. Many cameras have options such as Sunlight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Shade, even different types of fluorescent lighting. These can be selected to help make your photos look as good as possible.

The Overcast white balance setting gave me just the right look I was aiming for in this shot.

In my experience, the Auto white balance setting works great outdoors. However, when shooting inside, even the latest cameras can get tripped up by the many different types of artificial light. If you’re at a school, office, sporting event or another indoor setting with fluorescent lights, just choosing that option in your White Balance menu can make a huge difference to how your photos turn out. Try different settings and see what you like. Chances are, one of the pre-selected settings can help a great deal if you notice your photos looking a little blue or orange.

The picture I wanted to take was not what I ended up with. I missed a good opportunity largely due to improper white balance settings. A richer, more natural tone was what I wanted, but the image came out much cooler than I intended because I did not take a few seconds to set a proper white balance.

Finally, you can go all out and set a white balance of your own, which isn’t as big of a deal as it might sound. Every camera has its way of doing this. As long as you have a mostly white surface to point your camera at you should be all set (ideally it works if the surface is just slightly gray). Once again, the actual procedure is going to be different on every camera, and if you’re unsure do an internet search of your camera model and “custom white balance.” You should find the information you need.


While you adjust White Balance for various photography situations, Sharpening is a setting that you fine-tune to your taste and leave as-is. Of course, each photographer is different, but I’ve found I like a certain level of sharpening on all my JPG photos. This is because I have a particular type of look that I’m trying to achieve. Sharpening can’t fix an out-of-focus image. However, it can give your photos a certain level of pizzazz or clarity that you might have seen in other pictures but aren’t quite sure how to achieve on your own.

I ramped up the in-camera sharpening to get a clean, crisp image of these crayons. The foreground and background are just slightly out of focus due to shallow depth of field, but the middle is tack sharp.

Be careful not to set the sharpening too high though. Over-sharpening can lead to images that look fake and over-processed. However, you might find that with a few tweaks to the sharpening setting you can get your images to look much better.


Adjusting the contrast slider can make dull images come to life and punch-up an otherwise boring image. Either you or your camera, depending on your shooting mode, makes decisions about how bright or dark your images are based on the exposure settings. The contrast becomes the overall difference between the brightest and darkest portions of your pictures. Dialing up the contrast makes bright parts brighter and dark parts darker, whereas lowering the value will have the opposite effect.

Adjusting the contrast value helped me get the shot I was aiming for.

Contrast may seem like such a simple thing and, for the most part, it is. But it’s something that often gets overlooked by casual photographers. They may want to have nice JPEG shots straight out of their cameras and not worry about fussing with all the technical details. You might find that you prefer your photos to have a little contrast lending an interesting dynamic element to them. Or, perhaps you want your images to be a bit more subdued. Try adjusting the contrast slider, and you might realize that it does the sort of thing you have always been trying to achieve but never quite knew how to get.


If you have ever played around with filters on apps like Instagram you probably noticed that some of them make your colors pop and stand out while others have more subdued, muted tones. This effect is due in large (but not exclusive) part to saturation adjustments. You can fine-tune this on your camera to customize the look of your images. Some photographers prefer an over-saturated look – especially when taking nature or landscape pictures. It also works well for certain types of portraits too.

Adjusting your saturation after you take a picture can work, but it’s best to get it right in camera if possible.

Some photographers like a softer touch and prefer their JPEG files to be less saturated for a calm, timeless look. It’s all based on personal preference of the photographer. It can be useful and time-saving to change the saturation in-camera instead of in an image editing program. Adjusting the saturation is as simple as increasing or decreasing the value in your camera. You may find, after several test shots, that you prefer your images to be somewhat over or under-saturated. Either way, it’s worth giving it a try to see what you end up liking.

Other settings

Most cameras have additional custom settings you can change in addition to the basic ones covered so far. They can include things like film simulations, grain effects, highlight/shadow adjustments, and noise reduction, which can be very handy when shooting at higher ISO levels. If you have never explored these settings before, it’s a good idea to dive into your camera menus and do some experimenting.

If you dig into your camera menus you will find many other settings you can change to get just the right look you are going for.

Change some numbers, take some test shots, and see how the results compare to your normal shooting mode. It’s a good bet that you’ll end up with some appealing results. At the very least, you may learn more about your camera than you did before.

Custom Banks

A feature offered by many cameras is the ability to save banks of custom settings you can activate at will. Even my old Nikon D200, which came out in 2006, had this ability. The same is also true for every camera I own today. You can save specific values of most of your image adjustments such as Saturation and Contrast to a bank that you can recall at will. Using these custom settings means you don’t have to change individual values every time you want to shoot with a specific style.

This Fuji X100F has seven custom banks where you can save a huge variety of settings. You can switch between each bank with the touch of a button.

Think of this method as creating custom presets in Lightroom that you can apply to your camera with the touch of a button. If you’re shooting outdoors, you may have an in-camera preset with greater saturation and contrast. Perhaps you find yourself shooting school basketball games, so you create a preset with custom white balance and sharpening levels. If your camera does offer this feature, you can find it in the menus, or you can search online for your camera as well as the phrase “custom setting bank.”

Wrap up

I know not everyone shoots in JPEG, but if you do, some of these custom settings can come in handy and save you a lot of time. However, be aware that it’s difficult to undo them afterward. Unlike RAW, your JPEG files contain much less wiggle room and if you crank up the saturation and contrast in your camera, it’s challenging to undo these changes on your computer. Still, if you pay attention to what you are doing and make your adjustments carefully, you might be surprised at how useful these settings can be.

The post Secret Camera Settings that Supercharge your JPEG Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Edit Landscape and Nature Photos with the Lightroom Gradient Tool and Range Mask Features

The post How to Edit Landscape and Nature Photos with the Lightroom Gradient Tool and Range Mask Features appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Lightroom has always had a rich set of tools to allow photographers to get the most out of their images. However, until recently the ability to edit landscape and nature photos was a bit lacking.

While, global adjustments, like changing white balance and exposure have always worked great in Lightroom, fine-tuning edits can be problematic. Recent updates have seen incredible improvements to the Filter tools in Lightroom. An added tweak called Range Mask makes all the difference for photographers who need complete control over the precise implementation of their edits.

Lightroom Gradient Tool and Range Mask

The three most common ways to edit specific parts of an image in Lightroom are through the use of the Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, and Adjustment Brush. If you want to smooth the skin on your portraits, increase the saturation of your skies, or change the color cast of your clouds these tools can be just the ticket. But what if you have a tree that sticks up into the sky or an uneven horizon dotted with buildings and power lines?

The usefulness of the filter tools is somewhat restricting when you want to limit your edits to particular sub-parts of a picture. Until recently the Auto-Mask option was the best way to confine your edits to certain colors or locations within an image. Landscape and nature photos are especially tricky because of the uneven edges and jagged borders that exist between sections of the photo that need editing. However, the Range Mask option solves almost all of these issues with ease.

How it works

To illustrate this, I’m going to walk you through the editing process of the following image. My brother Andy took it while he was on a tour of the swamps in Louisiana, USA, with his family last summer. The initial image has a nice composition but feels dull and uninteresting, which is a far cry from the real experience.

Adjusting White Balance with a Graduated Filter

One change to punch things up is altering the white balance of the sky to bring out the bright blues and make the image more vibrant.

The first step is to click over to the Graduated Filter panel. Dial in a white balance that skews more towards the cooler end of the spectrum and reduce the exposure just a bit. Next, click and drag from top to bottom on the image to put the filter in place.

The sky is now a rich blue, however, a big problem becomes evident: the color cast of the trees has changed too. This result is not what I want. Clicking the Show Selected Mask Overlay button in the bottom left corner under your image reveals that the graduated filter has been applied to everything including the trees as well as the sky.

Fine-tuning the Graduated Filter using the Range Mask

Fine-tuning a tool such as the Graduated Filter, used to involve a series of steps. These steps included brushing out the mask in places you didn’t want it in combination with the auto-mask feature. It worked, but results were often a little sketchy. They also required a great deal of tweaking and fine-tuning. That’s not to say the brush option is useless-far from it! I have an example later in this article that shows how useful it can be.

However, all this has changed in recent versions of Lightroom. You can now use the Range Mask to apply any of the three filter tools to specific parts of an image based on lightness or color similarity.

The default value for Range Mask is Off, but with one of your Filter adjustments selected you can then choose to enable Range Mask for Color, Luminance or Depth.

  • Color applies the filter to specific parts of the image based on how similar they are to color values that you select.
  • Luminance applies the filter to specific parts of the image based on how light or dark those parts are.
  • Depth works only with cameras that record depth information and applies the filter to specific parts of the image based on how close or how far away they are. Some mobile phones have this feature but most traditional cameras do not, so Depth will often be disabled unless you are editing images taken with certain mobile phones.

Range Mask – Color

For this image, I’m going to use the Color option, though Luminance works great in many nature and landscape photos as well.

With Color selected, you can either click and drag on your image to select a range of colors or can click multiple points by shift+clicking. This selection is where the mask gets applied. I find that shift+clicking generally works better, although your mileage may vary depending on your editing goals and the type of picture you are working with.

You can click up to five spots on the image to refine your color selection. Use the slider in the Range Mask panel to fine-tune things further. This slider hones the edges of your Range Mask. If you find that the border between the edited and unedited portions of your image is a bit stark, adjusting the Amount slider will help mitigate this issue.

The result of this one Gradient Filter, along with the Range Mask, is an image that is already much improved from the original.

Looking at a 100% crop of a portion of the image reveals just how precisely the Gradient Filter has been applied thanks to the Range Mask. Here is a portion from the top-right of the original unedited image.

Here is the same portion with the Gradient Filter applied, using the Range Mask to apply the Filter to only selected color ranges. In this case, the color of the sky.

Notice how precisely the edits were applied, and how intricate the edges around the tree leaves are. This illustrates why the Range Mask option is so useful for landscape and nature photos. There are many tricky edges and small parts of the image that can take a very long time to fix without it.

Range Mask – Luminance

Another way to use the Range Mask is with the Luminance option. This option only applies the mask to the brightest or the darkest portions of the Gradient, or other Filter, that’s applied.

The overall idea here is the same, but the implementation is a tad different. Instead of selecting colors where you want the Range Mask applied, you use the Range sliders to concentrate the mask on the lightest, darkest or mid-range parts. One of the most useful things here is the Show Luminance Mask box which gives you a real-time preview of where your mask application. This helps you as you are adjusting the sliders.

Here’s an image I shot while hiking in the mountains near Seattle. It’s not bad, but a few edits would help improve the picture. Edits may help it look a little closer to how it appeared when my wife and I were tromping around in the wilderness that day with my cousin.

I want to bring out the color in the foreground trees in this image. A Graduated Filter with Luminance Range Mask is perfect in this scenario because the edits can be applied just to the darker portions of the image. With the filter in place and the mask tweaked to be applied only to the darker parts, I can ensure my edits are going to show up just where I want them to by checking the Show Luminance Mask option.

Fine-tuning using Brush

As demonstrated above, the Range Mask is extremely useful for nature and landscape photographers. It applies the Graduated Filter to just the right portions of the image and not the entire picture evenly. If you want to customize your Graduated Filter further, click the Brush option (not the Brush Adjustment Tool) and proceed to add to, or erase, the Filter wherever you want.

In this case, I’d like to remove the Graduated Filter from the lake in the foreground. Even though I can tell from my Luminance Mask overlay that it’s not being applied too heavily to that area, removing all traces of it with the brush will help me get the exact picture I want.

The end result is a photo with much warmer green tones in the trees and a lake that reflects the blue sky above, which is just the look I was aiming for.


Hopefully, these examples give you an idea of how powerful the combination of Graduated Filters and Range Masks are for nature and landscape photographers. I’m always eager to hear from the DPS community. Have you found this particular tool useful? Are there any other tips you’d like to share about using the Lightroom Gradient Tool and Range Mask? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

The post How to Edit Landscape and Nature Photos with the Lightroom Gradient Tool and Range Mask Features appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

5 Tips to Guarantee Great Road Trip Photos

The post 5 Tips to Guarantee Great Road Trip Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

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Few things say “Midwest United States” like hay bales and rolling hills. You won’t find scenes like this on most interstates and major highways though.

For some people, the idea of taking a road trip can seem like a dull proposition. One fraught with mundane scenery and near-endless hours of staring out of the window watching the world outside whiz by at 70 miles an hour. However, with a little planning and creativity, you can turn any long car ride into a precious opportunity for amazing pictures.

The countryside you are traveling through may seem uninspiring. You may have already made the drive dozens or even hundreds of times. Still, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up with some fantastic photos, of which to be proud, at the end of your journey.

Take the road less traveled

I live about 400 miles from my parents and siblings, so I end up making the drive back to my old stomping grounds a few times a year. The easiest route to take involves a turnpike, followed by hundreds of miles of interstate. Due to the speed limit being higher, and the drive straighter, I don’t have to slow down every 20 minutes to pass through a small town. However, when it comes to photo opportunities, this type of travel precludes a lot of good chances for picture-taking.

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I was driving down a highway when I saw this dirt road off to the side, so I pulled over and got a picture while also taking a minute to stretch my legs.

Interstates and other thoroughfares are great for getting to your destination quickly, but not so great for photos. Instead of taking the quick and easy path, as Yoda might say, look for alternate routes to your destination. Alternative routes that may not be as fast but are far more photogenic.

Pull up your preferred mapping software, or unfold a physical map, and look for highways or other types of two-lane roads. When you are driving down these types of roads, you pass by scenery that is more interesting than you find on the interstate.

Moreover, you also have the luxury of being able to pull over and stop without causing a traffic jam.

Plan your photos

When taking a road trip, have an idea in mind of the types of pictures you want to take. Keep a sharp eye out for those opportunities when you are on your drive. Hoping to find something interesting along the way to your destination may work out, however, planning ahead to photograph something specific, is likely to achieve much better results.

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On this particular drive I wanted to take pictures of windmills and sure enough, once I had that thought in my mind I started noticing windmills all over the place.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a weird trick your brain plays on you. When you start taking notice of one particular thing, say a specific type of car or style of clothing, you start seeing it everywhere. This concept comes in handy on road trips. While you may not know what you are going to encounter along the way, you can plant the seeds for some great photos with a little mental preparation in advance.

For instance, on a recent drive back home, I pulled out a map and found some slower, but more interesting, highways to take. I told myself to look for windmills along the way. I couldn’t recall ever seeing windmills before.

However, given that I was going across the midwest United States, I felt sure I would end up going past at least a few. I was stunned when, as the hours ticked by on my drive, I kept passing one after the next and ended up with some excellent pictures as a result.

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Try applying this method next time you’re on a road trip. You might be equally surprised at how well it works. Before you leave, think of a particular subject or type of picture you want to take. Then look at how often you see those opportunities along the way. Things such as dilapidated barns, weathered billboards, old bridges, tall cacti, mountainside vistas, or even dirt roads can all be exciting subjects for road trip photos.

If you plant these seeds in your mind, by the time you reach your destination, they could very well grow into fascinating and beautiful photos.

Time of day is paramount

Sunlight can make or break almost any type of photo. The same holds true when it comes to making images on a road trip. The journey you are taking might be perfect for some sunrise or sunset shots, but those aren’t going happen if you set out at noon! It might seem too simple to mention, but just knowing that your photos are dramatically affected by the sunlight affects your departure time and helps you plan accordingly.

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There’s about a two-minute window for getting sunrise shots like this. Plan your drive accordingly.

If you aren’t sure what type of pictures you want to capture on your road trip, plan to leave at least 30 minutes before sunrise. You may see something compelling. Alternatively, if you know you are going to pass by a particular photo location, make sure you get a good picture of it by adjusting the timing of your trip. That way you maximize the chances of getting good light in that particular spot.

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Allow more time than you need

If I take the interstate to get back to my hometown and plan on stopping only once, I can make the trip in about six and a half hours. However, that’s not how I prefer to make the drive. Taking less-traveled roads and stopping half-a-dozen times for possible photo-ops, I usually get there in seven-and-a-half hours. So, when planning for the drive, I always allow at least eight hours for unexpected photo opportunity stops.

One of the worst situations a road-trip photographer encounter is coming across a stunning sight or landmark only to realize they don’t have enough time to stop and take a picture. Give yourself some wiggle room by adding an extra half-hour into your drive schedule. Make sure that time is not a limiting factor.

Having extra time is also an excellent excuse to get out, stretch your legs, and see the scenery even if you’re not sure of the photographic possibilities.

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On one recent drive to see my folks, I ended up driving past a vast field of beautiful sunflowers by accident. The lighting wasn’t great, but I stopped for some pictures nonetheless. I made a mental note to go back to the same spot on my return drive. Not knowing how long I would need, I made sure to build in plenty of extra time on my drive and achieved the shot you see above. This extra time gave me the ability to pull over a few hours later to capture this shot of an oil pump and wind turbine.

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Don’t worry about your gear

At this point, you might be thinking about how to apply some of these tips on your next drive. However, you may not think you have the right gear for the job. On the contrary, the nice thing about road trip photos is you probably already have the camera equipment you need to take great photos. Something as simple as a mobile phone camera is enough to capture sweeping landscapes or beautiful countrysides.

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I shot this with some expensive camera gear but based on the exposure settings (f/4, 78mm, 1/180 second, ISO 220) a nearly identical image could have easily been taken with a basic DSLR with a kit lens.

Don’t let your camera gear, or lack of it, hold you back from taking good photos the next time you are in a car for hours on end. Fantastic shots are achievable with a mobile phone, a DSLR, or anything in between. If you have a tripod, go ahead and bring it because you never know when it might come in handy. However, don’t stress over whether your camera is good enough.

As you develop your skills, you may find yourself gravitating towards a particular lens, or camera depending on the shots you like to take. Things such as lighting, planning, and taking less-popular roads achieve better results than merely buying a new camera.

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I took this shot on a road trip with a simple point-and-shoot camera, and all it required was some good light and an observant eye.

What about you? Do you have any favorite tips or tricks for getting good pictures while out driving? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The post 5 Tips to Guarantee Great Road Trip Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Essential Family Photo Session Preflight Checklist

Essential Family Photo Session Preflight Checklist 1

When preparing for a family photo session, there are plenty of things to keep in mind. Such as: making sure you know what time to meet, where you are going to do the shoot, and having all your gear handy. However, even the most seasoned family photographer can overlook some items from time to time though.

For people who are new to this type of work, it can be a headache trying to keep track of all the little things that can make or break a portrait session. A simple solution is to borrow a technique from the aviation industry known as a Preflight Checklist. Creating a checklist makes all the difference between happy clients and photographic disaster.

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A Preflight Checklist is a list with various items on it that you can physically check off. Pilots use them to make sure everything is in order before taxiing down the runway, and photographers can use them before they start snapping photos.

You could create one on your phone with any note-taking app, but I recommend a physical Preflight Checklist. Since you can keep it in your pocket, you don’t have to worry about accessing apps or unlocking your phone. You can also hand it to someone else if you need another pair of eyes to check it over.

Some of the items on a photographer’s Preflight Checklist might sound relatively obvious, but it’s a good idea to keep one handy to make sure you have everything in order. Simple mistakes can make or break a photo shoot, and it doesn’t hurt to double-check that you have every little thing set – especially when dealing with families and children.

Following are the items I advise you to put on your checklist. You may want to customize it to suit your needs and possibly even create your own from scratch using a word processing program. I have included explanations for each item on this list. You could remove them to save space and focus just on the items and not the rationale for including them.

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Checklist items

1. Format Your Memory Cards

Each photo session should use fresh memory cards. The best way to do that is to format them using your camera. Doing a complete reformat, using the instructions provided in your camera’s manual, is preferred over merely deleting the pictures one-by-one. Doing a complete reformat resets your memory card to a fresh state. Deleting pictures can leave certain bits of data intact that, over time, could cause problems and make it more difficult to recover images in the case of a card failure.

2. Charge All Batteries

Charging your batteries may seem painfully obvious, but most photographers have been in at least one situation where they forgot to bring fully-charged batteries to a session. Having this on a checklist ensures that this doesn’t happen to you.

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This engagement session lasted quite a while, but luckily I remembered to have plenty of fully-charged batteries. I almost forgot though, which would have spelled disaster for the entire shoot.

3. List the Camera Gear You Need

You probably don’t need to bring all your camera gear to every photo shoot. Having a checklist for family photo sessions (or other types of sessions, such as sports or weddings) is an excellent way to ensure nothing gets overlooked. This list should include camera bodies, specific lenses, flashes, filters, even specific equipment like camera straps and lens cleaners. Don’t just assume you will remember to bring these! Having them on a checklist can save you from a big disaster during the photo session.

4. List the Accessories You Need

Accessories can include something to write with, something to write on (such as a clipboard), blankets for people to sit on, benches, footstools, and even stepladders (depending on the location and situation). Be as detailed as you like with this. It may help to have different accessories listed for different types of sessions such as pictures involving young children, or elderly grandparents.

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I was so focused on getting the gear I needed for this shot that I nearly forgot to bring a blanket for this baby to lay on.

5. Edible Items

It never hurts to have food or snacks on hand. As well as pacifying fussy kids or calming nervous parents, it sends a message to your clients that you know what you are doing and have their needs in mind. Chewy granola bars, single-serve packs of fruit snacks, and bottles of water all come in handy at photo sessions. The clients appreciated it too. Just be sure to avoid food that leaves crumbs or stain clothes!

6. Specific Types of Shots

Wedding photographers know this well, but some family photographers can easily make the mistake of forgetting specific shots in the hustle and bustle of a session. Write out the shots you want (i.e., Mom and Dad, Mom and kids, Dad and kids). Consult with the family beforehand to see if they want anything unique to their shoot. Even if they don’t have something in mind, they may appreciate that you asked for their input.

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The family specifically requested this type of shot, so I made sure to include it on my checklist.

7. Specific Poses

It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and chaos of a family photo shoot only to realize afterward that there were certain poses you wanted to get. Or worse, certain poses your clients requested that slipped your mind. Once, I looked through my photos in Lightroom after a session. I banged my head against my keyboard because I forgot to get a shot of the parents holding their daughter or all the brothers in one group.

If you take more of a freeform approach to your sessions, you might not be too concerned about certain poses. However, if you want to cover your bases, putting your poses in your checklist is a great way to get the ones you want.

8. Clear the Pockets

If I had a dollar for every time I looked through pictures from a photo session only to realize that someone had keys, a giant cell phone, a glasses case, or other sundry items sticking out of their pockets, I’d be a rich man. These types of imperfections can land an otherwise frame-worthy photo in the rejection bin. Alternatively, it requires hours of postprocessing to fix.

The easiest solution is to have clients empty their pockets before you start taking pictures. Family sessions can be so hectic that it’s easy to overlook. Put this item on your checklist, and you’ll be all set.

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I forgot to use a checklist on this photo shoot. As a result, I didn’t think to have everyone empty their pockets. Even though the family was very pleased with their pictures, the phone and handkerchief are glaring mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

9. Clothing Check

Similarly to pocket-clearing, this one is an easy fix but can cause you to pull your hair out in post-processing if you forget. Make a note on your checklist to see that shirts are tucked in, collars are down, and ties aren’t sticking into belts.

10. Names

Names are last, but it’s one of the most important things to remember. It can make the difference between a one-time client and years of repeat business. Leave space on your checklist to write all the names of your clients and take a bit to rehearse them before your clients show up. This helps to avoid an awkward scene when directing a person to stand somewhere or put a hand on another’s shoulder, but you can’t remember their name. Nothing says unprofessional like barking out, “Hey you over there, move your hand!” Write your clients names down and use them during the photo session as much as possible. It helps the entire event to run smoother.

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There were a lot of names to keep track of during this session, but writing them down on a checklist was an easy way to help me remember.

Every photographer is going to need different items on his or her checklist. Hopefully, these give you a good idea of where to start. Creating the list is as simple as opening up a word processor and starting a bulleted list. Once you have a basic one created, you can fine-tune it to meet your needs on each shoot. It might seem like much work to create a checklist, but in the end, it saves you far more time than you might realize. You create better results for your clients too.

If you’d like to use my checklist as a template, you can download it here. I strongly recommend using this as a starting point and adding, removing, or changing the items to suit your needs.

Do you already use a Preflight Checklist or other such devices to help you with your photo sessions? If so, what do you put on it? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and I’m sure other photographers would as well.

The post Essential Family Photo Session Preflight Checklist appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Advantages DSLRs Have Over Smartphones, and Why They’ll Always Have Them

I love watching the annual press events of Apple, Google, Samsung and others where they show off their latest high-tech gadgets, including mobile phones. With each new iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy they seem to repeat a common refrain: “And the camera is the best one ever in a smartphone”.

Are DSLRs fading away with modern advances in smartphone camera technology? Or are they primed and ready for an entirely new life?

Mobile phone cameras are mind-blowing marvels of modern technology. With some of the tech showcased in the recent Pixel 3 announcement, you might be wondering if traditional DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are even relevant anymore.

The answer is more complicated than you might think.

Before you get too deep into this post, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. No-one can tell you which camera is best for you. If you have a 3-megapixel point-and-shoot that does what you want, then, by all means, keep using it and don’t let anyone stop you. Also, if your smartphone takes selfies and Instagram-worthy photos of your morning coffee, then keep snapping away.

In this article, I’ll be looking at some advantages traditional cameras have over smartphones. However, I won’t be telling you which one to buy, and I certainly won’t be telling you to stop using the camera you already have. Too often, the point is missed entirely when people get caught up in silly arguments on internet forums and message boards about whether such-and-such camera is better.

It’s important to know the advantages and disadvantages of different cameras, so you have enough information to choose one that best suits you and your needs. However, please don’t think I’m trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t buy.

In almost every way I can think of, modern smartphones can take incredible images compared to those from just a few years ago. These days they have real-time HDR, depth mapping, background separation, multiple lenses, machine learning, portrait mode, selective bokeh adjustment, and even computer-assisted sub-pixel digital zooming. It’s enough to make even the most staunch DSLR owner feel a tad envious.

Still, don’t toss out your Canon or Pentax just yet. DSLRs and other traditional cameras have a treasure trove of advantages no current smartphone can match, and some features they may never be able to achieve.

Lens Selection

What’s the essential advantage of DSLRs over smartphones? I couldn’t tell you, but lens selection would undoubtedly be near the top of the list. Despite all the advances in smartphone photography in recent years, some laws of physics and photons are only overcome when switching lenses like a traditional camera. Most mobile phones have lenses roughly equivalent to a 28mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, although some dual-camera models roughly mimic a 50mm field of view to try and recreate professional-style portraits. Even though you can get adapters (such as the Olloclip) that let you do some creative experimentation, they rarely hold up to dedicated lenses mounted on interchangeable-lens cameras.

By comparison, DLSRs can use hundreds of different lenses, each designed for specific photography needs and situations. No matter what you need from a DSLR, there’s a lens that does it – from wide-angle primes and telephoto zooms to basic kit lenses, tilt-shift, and specialized macro lenses.

A photo like this, which requires a telephoto lens with a wide aperture, isn’t currently possible on any smartphone (and may never be).

The AI-powered tricks and computational somersaults modern cell phones are capable of can work wonders for different photographic situations. But when it comes to choosing the perfect lens for the job, smartphones simply can’t compete. If you want to shoot close-up images, far-away wildlife, fast-moving sports or pleasing group portraits, your mobile phone will probably come up short. Sure, you can’t install apps on most DSLRs. But you can change out lenses which, when it comes to photography, is infinitely more useful.

The portrait mode on mobile phones is amazing. But it doesn’t come close to what you can achieve with a portrait lens on a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Customizable Settings

While phones can produce amazing photographs in lots of different conditions, you’re fairly limited in terms of settings. You usually can’t change the aperture or focal length (and no, digital cropping is not the same as changing focal lengths). All you can really control are the ISO and shutter speed, and the native camera apps rarely even let you do that much.

When you press the button to take a picture on your phone, you’re letting the computer do most of the thinking it terms of white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and even which part of the image should be properly exposed.

One of the biggest selling points of DSLRs and other dedicated cameras is that (while they have auto modes that do much of the heavy lifting) they have manual modes that let you choose everything – aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and even the focal length if you’re using a zoom lens. Admittedly, not everyone wants that much control, and you can choose to shoot in auto or semi-auto if you want. But having such fine-grain control is a huge advantage over smartphones.

I could choose a slow shutter speed to get this shot on my Fuji X100F, whereas most mobile phones would have used a much faster shutter speed resulting in a vastly different image.

Smartphones and the software that powers them are so advanced and sophisticated that people are perfectly happy letting them make the decisions and do most of the heavy lifting. But if you want more control you won’t get it on a mobile phone. Even the dedicated camera apps run up against physical limitations such as focal lengths that can’t be changed.

There are times when the photo you want to take isn’t the photo your camera wants to take. In those situations, a dedicated camera will let you change aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the exact photo you want.

I shot this image at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 100, and 1/4000 second, which is impossible for any mobile phone.

Low-Light Shooting

DSLRs will always have the advantage over mobile phones in low light due to the way camera sensors collect light. Larger sensors mean larger photosensitive sites, which means they can capture more information about incoming light when there isn’t a lot of it.

At Google’s recent Pixel 3 announcement they demonstrated a feature that vastly improves its low-light shooting. But it only works with still subjects. It also runs into the same limitations all mobile phones have such as fixed focal length and limited options for changing settings.

I took this deep under the earth in Mammoth Cave National Park, 23mm, f/2.0, 1/20 second, ISO 6400. While some phones could have taken a shot similar to this they would have needed much longer shutter speeds, which would make the people a blurry mess.

Try it for yourself to see what I mean. Even with the best night-mode options on the newest mobile phone, you’ll still struggle to get clear shots of moving subjects. It’s great if you only require pictures of static compositions such as buildings or parked cars. But if you want to capture shots of kids, animals or anything that moves around, your mobile phone will probably leave you wanting more.

As the technology advances, low-light photography on mobile phones will improve. But there will always be physical limitations inherent in the platform that DSLRs and mirrorless cameras simply don’t have to deal with. Much of it stems from their larger image sensors, which collect much more light data per pixel. But the fact cameras let you specify the ISO value you need to get the image you want is also a big advantage.

Model train in a dim basement, shot at 50mm, f/2.8, 1/60 second, ISO 3200.

Not Quite There… Yet

I’m a big believer in the promise of computational photography in mobile phones. If the best camera is the one you have with you, then for hundreds of millions of people around the world their mobile phone is the ideal choice. But even with all the rapid advances in technology, there are still plenty of reasons to own a traditional camera.

If you have one that’s been relegated to a dark closet or dusty shelf and replaced by a high-tech mobile phone, get it out and see what it can do. The results may surprise you and have you wanting to use it more and explore the possibilities it offers.

What about you? What are the advantages of using traditional cameras that keep you coming back to them time after time? I’d also like to hear your thoughts about mobile phones and the technology they offer photographers.

One thing is clear. No matter where you stand on this issue, we certainly live in exciting times for photography.

The post Advantages DSLRs Have Over Smartphones, and Why They’ll Always Have Them appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Get Kids Interested in Photography

Kids are fickle creatures. One day they’re into painting and drawing, the next day they want to learn to play guitar, and pretty soon they’ve moved on to something else entirely like soccer or basket-weaving. For parents who want to get kids interested in photography, it can seem like a losing battle. They are competing with all the other hobbies and activities occupying their kids’ time and energy, and when they finally show some interest, it can be fleeting at best. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies that you can use to build a child’s interest in taking photos, and perhaps help you form a stronger bond with them in the process.

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Get Them a Camera

The first step in getting kids interested in photography is to get them a camera! If you’re comfortable with them using yours, then by all means, hand over your DSLR, mobile phone, or even an old point-and-shoot. Another option is to let them use their mobile phone or tablet. I found that the best solution for me and my kids was to get them each an old point-and-shoot camera from eBay. These old cameras still pack a big punch and can go a long way towards igniting a child’s interest in photography.

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Old point-and-shoot cameras, like this Canon A70, can’t stack up to their modern counterparts, but they are very inexpensive and often have features like optical zooms and creative filter modes. Perfect for getting kids interested in photography.

Give Your Kids Some Photographic Parameters

I used to be the computer teacher for a K-12 school, and I remember helping kindergarteners and first-graders explore creative apps. These apps allowed them to draw, create music, and express themselves in various ways while learning more about the digital devices they were using. One valuable lesson I learned soon after my first semester began was that children almost always produced better results when given a framework in which to work.

Allowing total freedom usually meant a classroom full of blank stares and nervous confusion, but giving a few parameters like ‘draw a family of elves’ or ‘create music that makes you think of summer’ was like watering the parched earth, and all sorts of creative results soon sprang forth. The same principle holds true for adults who want to help children explore photography. Giving some structure or rules goes a long way towards helping them explore.

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This concept seems counter-intuitive, but it works more often than you might think. Instead of giving a camera to a child and telling him or her to ‘take pictures of something’ try offering some guidance or rules. Say things like…

  • Take five photos of something that makes you happy
  • Go outside and take 15 pictures of bugs
  • Find photos that represent every color of the rainbow
  • Take a piece of silverware from the kitchen and photograph it in ten different, unusual settings
  • Find a friend and take pictures of as many emotions as you can think of
  • Go to the park and take photos of 13 different flowers

Scenarios and parameters like these give children enough direction to be creative and explore photography while also producing results they can be proud of.

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The rule here was ‘take pictures of things that move.’

Let Your Kids Break the Rules

One of the fun, or frustrating, parts about giving kids some rules is watching how quickly they want to break them. Sometimes that’s not okay, especially when breaking the rules would put them in danger or cause harm to other people. When embarking on creative endeavors, it never hurts to experiment and push the boundaries. Some might say you have to learn the rules first to know how to break them, and I understand that. However, if your only goal is to get kids excited about taking pictures, don’t worry so much about technicalities such as understanding the ‘Rule of Thirds’ or the ‘Brenizer Method.’ Instead, just let them push some simple rules you set forth.

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My kids and I went out to find pictures of animals, but one of them wanted to take pictures of flags instead. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and he got some pictures like this one that he loves as a result.

For example, if you start with the first tip and tell your child to take five photos of something that makes them happy, it won’t be long before they ask you if they can take ten photos of something that makes them nervous. They might want to take photos of grass instead of flowers, or want to play with the video feature instead of taking still images. It’s all about process over product, and if children learn and have fun by trying what they want to do, then there’s no reason to stop them.

Go on a Photo Walk With Them

When you think of the term Photo Walk you might conjure images of rain-soaked neon lights in Hong Kong, or impossibly tall skyscrapers of New York, or perhaps pedestrians perambulating past patisseries in a small French villa. Photo walks can be simpler than that, and you can do them right in your neighborhood, whether you live in the city, in the suburbs, or on a tropical island. The best part about photo walks is that they’re a fantastic activity that you can do with kids to help them get excited about photography.

How to Get Kids Interested in Photography - spider eating grasshopper

My son took this photo of a spider eating a grasshopper while we were on a photo walk. It’s a little out of focus, and the composition isn’t great, but he had fun exploring nature with his camera. That was far more important to me than the technical details.

The first time I took my boys on a photo walk we spent about 40 minutes going a few blocks down the sidewalk they take on their way to school. The territory was very familiar to all of us, but re-framing our little jaunt as a photo-taking exercise put everything in an entirely different perspective. The kids paused every few minutes to snap pictures of flowers, leaves, insects, yard decorations, old cars, and all sorts of other objects they see every day but never really considered as photo subjects.

It was fun to see their eyes light up during the exercise and it was a nice way for us to spend some time together out of the house all doing the same thing. I had my camera too, and my kids were eager to have me take pictures as well. They helped me see familiar things in a brand new way.

How to Get Kids Interested in Photography 6

Kids find even the most mundane things interesting, such as this baseball sitting in a patch of grass.

Be Present With Your Children

One of the more esoteric techniques to employ when finding ways to get kids interested in photography is to make sure you are a part of the experience. If you hand your child a camera and let them play while you do something else, they miss out on your help, encouragement, and excitement as they take pictures and learn about photography. You, in turn, miss out on spending some valuable time with your child that could help build and strengthen the relationship.

Being present with your children when they learn and explore is great for almost any type of activity, not just photography. Learning and exploring with them helps children feel safe and secure. It gives them a sense of belonging and allows them the freedom to create and explore without the fear of judgment or other adverse consequences—essentially meeting all the needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy. You learn together, share moments and create memories, and end up with some beautiful pictures as a result. You create pictures that tell a story of not just a plant or a bird or a lamp post, but a story of a parent putting everything else aside to share an hour learning, exploring and growing with their child.

How to Get Kids Interested in Photography 7

After my son shot some photos of red flowers, the two of us looked through his images together commenting on which ones were our favorite.

Print the Pictures!

As DPS writer Bryan Caporicci once wrote, prints are one of the most meaningful ways that you can enjoy photography and this sentiment applies double when kids are concerned. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with children knows how eager they are to share stories about their lives, impress you with their accomplishments, and show you talents they have or skills they have learned.

With that in mind, make sure that you find a way to get your child’s pictures off the camera, phone, tablet, or other such digital device and into a frame on the wall or a book on the shelf. Printing photos are easy and relatively inexpensive these days, and it is for your exciting your kids to have physical versions of their pictures to show and share. You could even take it a step further and get some larger prints framed and hung on their bedroom wall to help instill a love for the medium that could last for the rest of their lives.

How to Get Kids Interested in Photography 8

My son asked if he could get this photo printed and framed. I’m not exactly sure what he liked so much about it, but it was a very inexpensive way to encourage his interest in photography.

Things Not to Do

Along with all these ways to help children learn and get excited about taking pictures, it’s also worth mentioning a couple of things not to do. Lest you inadvertently snuff out the photographic flame when it’s in such a fragile state of infancy.

Don’t criticize or over-analyze the photos they take. Focus on the positive aspects of their photos and be encouraging. It’s more about the process of learning than the end product, especially at such a young age.

Don’t give children a camera they don’t understand. An old mobile phone or point-and-shoot camera works well, but a DSLR could easily backfire despite your best intentions. Plenty of adults are confused and befuddled by the buttons and menus on DSLRs, and while kids might have fun experimenting with this type of camera, they could easily get overwhelmed and lose interest.

How to Get Kids Interested in Photography 9

DSLRs can take better pictures than point-and-shoots, but they’re probably going to confuse most young kids.

Don’t make it about you. If you’re taking pictures with your child, let them be the star of the show and not you. Your pictures might be brighter, more colorful, or better from a technical standpoint, but that’s not the point right now. Your child could easily become discouraged if you compare their work to that of a seasoned adult. So, put your ego aside and focus on the child and helping nurture her newfound interest instead of showing off your pictures.

Don’t continually push them to improve. Let your children grow and develop at their own pace—encourage them, validate their work, and let the journey be the reward. Their interest could wax and wane over time, and they may show an intense interest in photography for a week, followed by two months of not using their camera at all. That’s normal, and if you try to force the issue, you’ll likely see your best intentions wither on the vine.

Sharing your own ideas

Sharing your photography passion with your kids can be incredibly rewarding and exciting. Perhaps some of these ideas give you a starting point if you aren’t quite sure how to begin turning the gears. I’m curious to find out what has worked for you and your kids, and I would love to learn from your experiences as well. Share your ideas, tips, and suggestions in the comments below!

The post How to Get Kids Interested in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to pick the perfect camera for kids

As a parent, one of the most enjoyable aspects of photography for me is sharing my love of photo-taking with my two kids. My wife and I enjoy taking pictures of our two boys, looking through old family photos with them, and involving them as much as we can when we are using our cameras.

However, when our oldest was about five years old he started wanting to get in on the action as well, and that’s when we hit a bit of a road block. We wanted to get him and his younger brother a camera, but with so many options we didn’t even know where to start. Fortunately we found a solution that has worked wonders for us and could be great for you too.

The Options

When we started looking more seriously into cameras for our kids we realized we had several options, all of which we ended up discarding for the following reasons.

Let them use our cameras. As much as we wanted them to get a real hands-on experience with photography, the cameras and lenses we use for formal photo sessions are much too expensive to hand over to our little boys. When they’re older we will certainly let them use our camera gear, but not at such a young age.

Invest in rugged point-and-shoot cameras. Some cameras made by Olympus and Panasonic are designed to take a bit of punishment and seem ideal for kids, but we didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a camera that our kids might enjoy for a few days and then put aside in lieu of something else. (As parents we have learned that our kids’ enjoyment of a particular toy or object is rarely correlated with the amount it costs, and just because something is expensive by no means ensures they will like it or use it more than once!)

I have no idea why, but my six-year-old is obsessed with taking pictures of ceiling fans. This has led to some good discussions about shutter speeds and also the effect of flash when freezing motion.

Purchase a kid-oriented camera. If you search online you can find dozens of kid-oriented cameras that have big buttons and bright colors, but all the ones I have used have been quite unimpressive. Tiny low-quality LCD screens, slow response times, horrible image quality, and awful sound effects all seem like they are designed specifically to suck the enjoyment out of photography altogether.

Let them use an old mobile phone camera. This seems to make a lot of sense given the prevalence of tablets, phones, and other devices with cameras and touch-screen technologies, but we ultimately decided against it. We didn’t want the hassle of dealing with internet restrictions and app downloading, especially when our kids are so young. In the future we might open this door, but for now we’re more comfortable giving our kids an actual camera instead of a device that has many functions, including a camera.

The more we looked at choices available to us the more we seemed to hit dead ends, until we came up with a solution that seemed to check many boxes all at once: we would buy each of our kids a used point-and-shoot camera.

Old point-and-shoots can’t match modern cameras, but they’re not too shabby either. And when a kid can snap a picture of a sunrise with their very own camera, it’s a fun moment to witness.

The solution

A used point-and-shoot camera hit every one of our criteria. And the more research we did, the more we realized that this plan had almost no drawbacks and a variety of benefits including…

Price. You can look on eBay or used gear sites like KEH.com for used point-and-shoots and find plenty of options for $25 to $50. That’s well within the range that we are comfortable spending on a toy, and if our kids lose interest or break their cameras accidentally, we haven’t lost a lot of money.

Selection. The sky really is the limit when it comes to selecting a used point-and-shoot, and no matter your budget you can probably find one that suits your needs – especially if the goal is to give it to a child. As a starting point search for “Powershot”, “Coolpix”, or “Cyber-Shot” and sort by price to see plenty of low-cost point-and-shoot options.

A quick eBay search for Canon PowerShot digital cameras between $25 and $50 turns up dozens of results.

Features. I owned a few small pocket cameras way back in college and over the years I had forgotten how many features these old things had! Most of the ones we looked at included things like optical viewfinders, video recording, optical zoom lenses, self-timers, limited manual controls, white balance options, various metering modes, macro/portrait modes, custom scene settings, and instagram-style filters. Some of these require digging through menus, but it’s all there for children to explore and figure out, which is part of the fun of photography in the first place.

Image quality. Can a decade-old point-and-shoot match the quality and megapixels of a modern DSLR or smartphone? Of course not. Most of the cameras you are likely to find will be in the 3-megapixel range, which pales in comparison to any modern camera. And good luck taking pictures at high ISO values. But the point is to use this as a way to get kids interested in photography, and no child I know is going to balk at having only 3 megapixel images. That’s plenty big enough to crop and print. (Remember, a 4×6 photo at 300dpi is only 2 megapixels.)

Image quality on a used point-and-shoot can’t rival a DSLR, but it can be easily and cheaply replaced if dropped in water when taking pictures of turtles. And that’s almost what happened when this photo was taken.

After all our investigating we ended up getting our boys each a Canon PowerShot DS450 Digital ELPH from eBay. We paid $27 for one and $29 for the other, including shipping. Our kids (age 6 and 3 when they received them) were so thrilled they could hardly put them down. They called them their “Professional Cameras” and quickly started taking pictures, experimenting with different options, and figuring things out in the menu screens while teaching each other what they had learned.

Over time our kids have learned a lot more about photography and how to use their cameras to get the images they want. And they really enjoy experimenting with the self timer and taking short videos too. We made albums for each of them within our Apple Photos app. Over the past year they have built their libraries up with thousands of pictures which they like looking through and sharing with others.

This picture of grandma and grandpa’s dog isn’t going to win any awards, but my son had fun taking it and it helps him remember this visit.

At times their interest has waxed and waned, and sometimes a month will go by without them picking up their cameras. But that’s how kids are with most toys, and I don’t think the situation would be any different had we spent $200 on a brand-new kid-friendly point-and-shoot. The situation isn’t all sunshine and roses though, and there have been some drawbacks and risks that any parent would need to take into account when buying a used camera.

The risks

Purchasing anything used, whether it’s a camera or a car, carries with it its own set of risks and parents should be aware of what they are getting into.

Gear condition. If you get a new camera, whether it’s a brightly-colored toy camera or an advanced drop-resistant point-and-shoot, you can be fairly certain that the product you pay for is the same as the product you receive. It will also likely come with a warranty, but neither of these is the case with used cameras. Reputable sites like KEH, B&H, and Adorama rate their items with a scale that gives you a pretty good expectation of their condition, but what you get in the mail might have scratches, dents, or other defects you might not expect.

Both of the cameras we got on eBay had dings and dents, but my kids didn’t mind at all and I would suspect most kids (especially very young ones) wouldn’t even notice.

Beware of auction sites. If you have never used eBay or other auction sites before, navigating their options can seem like a bit of a digital minefield. Look closely at seller ratings, return policies, and buyer-protection options before making a purchase. And if you come across a camera deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is. The same goes for cameras you might find on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the seller.

Accessories not included. Depending on where you get your camera it may or may not come with niceties like a wrist strap, a memory card, or even a charger or working battery. The cameras we got for our kids had batteries that barely held a charge, so we got a pair of third-party batteries for about $15. It wasn’t too big of a deal but it served as a good reminder of the difference between buying used vs. buying new. Things like this aren’t deal-breakers and your pocketbook will be still be much happier, even if you do have to buy some of these additional items.

On a recent trip to the local botanic gardens my kids finally got to be the ones taking pictures of daddy, not the other way around. Simple wrist straps definitely helped them keep track of their cameras in the process.

The lesson here is one that has rung true for ages, ever since humans began trading for goods and services: caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. If you do a little bit of research, ask questions, and trust your instincts you will probably end up with a perfectly good camera that will be great for kids.

It’s been well over a year since my wife and I got used point-and-shoot cameras for our boys, and despite a few hiccups, the experiment has been a resounding success. It has not ignited some latent passion for photography, but our boys have had fun experimenting and exploring and creating – and thus far they haven’t broken their cameras either.

My three-year-old took this with the pocket camera we bought him for under $30. I asked him why, and he told me he just liked the colors of the bike.

Meanwhile my wife and I rest easy knowing that they can’t access harmful internet sites or download strange apps onto their 2005-era digital cameras. And if our kids do end up breaking or damaging their point-and-shoots it will be a very cheap problem to solve. (As a bonus, if they do break their cameras we plan to use it as a financial lesson and make them save up for replacements.)

If you or someone you know has kids who are interested in photography, I highly recommend checking out the many used cameras available to you before shelling out hundreds of dollars on a brand-new model or buying a cheap kid-friendly camera with actual bells and whistles, but limited capacity for photography. The risk is fairly minimal, the results can be quite rewarding, and you might even find yourself renewing your own excitement for photography simply by helping teach the younger generation what makes the art form so special to you.

The post How to pick the perfect camera for kids appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review: Peak Design Travel Backpack

Back in 2015, when my wife and I were looking for a bag she could carry her laptop and other work-related items in, we stumbled across a Kickstarter project for the Everyday Messenger from Peak Design. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it looked like it would stand up to the wear and tear of daily use. And it looked like the company had put a lot of thought into making a solid bag that would meet her needs.

After a bit of research, and comparing it with other bags, we bought one. It was our first experience with Peak Design products. But it certainly wasn’t our last.

Photo of Peak Design's Travel Backpack

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

My wife, who is not a photographer, still uses it every day. In fact, we were so impressed with it that I bought their follow-up product – the Everyday Backpack – for myself.

I take it on my bicycle commute to work every day. I also use it to carry my camera gear when I shoot photos for clients. Its quality, usefulness, and thoughtful design touches are impressive, and illustrate how Peak Design made these products to suit photographers as well as everyday people.

When I found out Peak Design was expanding its offerings from everyday-style bags to a line of products that focus on travel, I was intrigued. The Messenger and Backpack bags have served my wife and I well over the years, and I was eager to see whether the Travel Backpack could live up to the legacy created by their other products.

Travel Backpack filled with camera gear.

The Travel Backpack isn’t specifically focused on photographers, but Peak Design has clearly kept photographers in mind with this bag.

Testing the Traveler

To thoroughly test the Travel Backpack I used it to carry everything I needed for a five-day, 1800-mile road trip up and down the midwest United States to see friends and family. I stuffed it to the brim with:

  • my camera
  • shorts, socks, shirts, and pants
  • my personal care items
  • a Nintendo 2DS XL
  • a host of chargers
  • an iPad for watching Netflix in hotel rooms.

It was tossed around in my car, loaded and unloaded multiple times, and hoisted up and down so many flights of stairs that I lost count.

It performed flawlessly.

I was immediately impressed at the level of design and consideration that went into the Travel Backpack. They’ve made dozens of tweaks and flourishes to every aspect of this bag that separate it from most run-of-the-mill carrying companions. It’s the attention to detail you’d expect with a bag of this caliber and price. The fabric is thick, the fasteners and clips are sturdy, and the zippers are easily accessible. It’s got pretty much everything I wanted in a travel container, as well as some things I didn’t even realize I was looking for.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

When I returned my wife, who’d recently attended a work conference on the East Coast, said she wished she’d had the Travel Backpack instead of her usual carry-on suitcase. And I’d say the same would hold true for just about anyone. We have a nice set of luggage that works just fine, but having used the Travel Backpack I’d rather take it over our other travel gear.

Pockets, Pockets Everywhere

The Travel Backpack is big enough to hold everything from cameras and clothes to shoes and shower items, yet small enough to fit in an airplane carry-on cargo hold. Pockets abound in the Travel Backpack, with every nook, cranny, corner and flap having a cavity or pouch tucked away for all manner of trinkets, tchotchkes, memory cards and power cables.

The well-padded shoulder straps can be tucked away beneath thick flaps that snap shut with a satisfying magnetic click. When the bag is zipped up and read to be tossed into a trunk or overhead airplane bin, additional pockets on the sides let you get to your essentials at a moment’s notice.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Of course, all those extra are useless if you can’t get to them easily. Thankfully the Travel Backpack gives you plenty of ways to get to your cargo. The back of the unit (the part that you actually carry on your shoulders) unzips and folds back to reveal the entire contents of the pack, leaving nothing hidden or tucked away behind recessed side panels. In a nod to the Everyday Backpack, the sides unzip so can grab something quickly without having to open up the entire bag. And the front zipper lets you access a separate portion of the bag, which can be useful for stowing laptops, tablets, notebooks and other thin items.

One of the hallmarks of the Travel Backpack is how you can tweak and change it to suit your needs. Want more space? Gussets on the front unzip so you can stow significantly more cargo. Need less space? You can squeeze the bag down to a more manageable size by collapsing the top with two convenient snaps. Don’t need  the shoulder straps? Tuck them away behind the magnetic flaps to keep them out of your way.

A tall thin pocket runs from top to bottom on the inner back flap for stowing super thin items, with another pocket inside it. Or you can keep the pockets closed with the Velcro attachments and ignore them altogether.

Whatever you want to bring, there’s probably a pocket to hold it. Photo courtesy of Peak Design.

If you simply want a massive, cavernous, well-designed duffel bag, unzip the divider separating the small front portion from the spacious main portion to create a single massive chamber that can hold just about anything.

This illustrates the many ways the Travel Backpack would be great for just about anyone on the go.

Sweating the Details

Peak Design has incorporated a number of small details in this bag that make it ideal for travelers. Interlocking external zipper straps discourage unscrupulous tourists from swiping your gear. Attachment points on the inside give you convenient locations to strap down your items so they don’t move around. Handles on the top, bottom, sides and back let you carry the Travel Backpack in whatever way suits your needs. And the entire product is just the right size to fit neatly into an airplane overhead bin.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

The all-round build quality is astounding, just as I’d expect after owning two other Peak Design bags for several years. And no, I’m not being paid to say this. I was a K-12 teacher for five years, and completely wore out several bags inthat time. Let’s just say I can tell a cheaply made bag when I see one, and the Travel Backpack is anything but.

The outer shell is made from thick Kodra fabric, which feels tough and sturdy while still having a degree of flexibility that lets the bag squish and stretch as needed. The main zipper is thick and chunky, and all zippers are hidden beneath long thin flaps that, presumably, providing a degree of weatherproofing and  a sense of security. A casual observer probably wouldn’t even see them.

Even though I wasn’t exactly gentle with the Travel Backpack on my road trip, five days isn’t nearly enough time to assess long-term durability. For that I look to my Everyday Backpack and Everyday Messenger which, after years of near-daily use, barely show any signs of wear and tear. I’d expect no less from the Travel Backpack. Admittedly some of the inner pouches and flaps don’t have the same degree of thickness, but it’s nothing I’m worried about. Peak Design products have a lifetime warranty, so if anything did fail it would be taken care of by the manufacturer. It’s nice to see a company willing to stand behind their products like this.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

While the Travel Backpack itself is highly useful, customizable and durable, it really excels when paired with accessories such as the Tech Pouch, Wash Pouch, Camera Cube and Packing Cubes. These are optional, but highly recommended if you have specific use-case scenarios in mind, such as carrying cameras and lenses with your clothes and toothbrushes. These accessories are designed to fit inside the Travel Backpack and, in the case of the Camera Cube, include mounting points and special hardware to ensure minimal movement and shuffling around.

If you want to use the Travel Backpack for carrying camera gear, you will definitely want to get the optional Camera Cube. Photo courtesy of Peak Design

The Camera Cube is specifically designed to fit the needs of people who carry cameras and lenses. It comes in three sizes – small, medium and large – with each one using Velcro dividers to create spaces to hold your gear. While other bags use similar systems, the flex-fold dividers used by Peak Design can be folded and reconfigured to a greater degree than I’m used to seeing.

Apart from the Camera Cube, my favorite packing accessory was the Tech Pouch. It help every electronic item I brought with me (other than my iPad), and neatly stowed all my cables, chargers and game cartridges too. It stands upright when open, revealing the entire contents and giving you instant access to anything inside. The Wash Pouch is fine for holding toiletries for a single person, but if you’re traveling with a companion don’t expect everything to fit in a single pouch.

The Camera Cube is secured in place by sturdy anchors you can detach. But they’re a bit tricky to operate, and constantly inserting and removing the Camera Cube can be frustrating, especially if you have larger fingers.

More of a curiosity are the Packing Cubes, which hold clean and dirty clothes. They do a good job, but I’m not sure they’re worth the price when you can do essentially the same thing with a plastic bag. But to be fair, plastic bags aren’t made of lightweight breathable fabric, nor do they have zippers to close them up tight.

Travelers, Photographers, and Photographers Who Travel

At this point you might be asking what all of this has to do with photography. After all, Peak Design has been designing straps and clips and cases and bags for photographers since the company was founded.

But the Travel Backpack is unique in their lineup. While it’s certainly useful for photographers, particularly with the Camera Cube, it’s designed to fit the needs of anyone who finds themselves on the road and need a durable, versatile, customizable solution to carry their stuff.

The 45L Travel Backpack compared to my 35L Everyday Backpack, with a DSLR and 70-200 lens for scale.

If this sounds like you, and you regularly carry cameras, lenses, filters, spare batteries, small tripods and other items, you’ll be pleased with the Travel Backpack providing you also buy the Camera Cube. But if you need a bag specifically designed to carry camera gear to gigs, or just a versatile all-in-one carrying solution, the Travel Backpack may not be for you. For those situations you might want something smaller, such as the Everyday Backpack or another bag that isn’t quite so bulky.

And therein lies the rub. While the Travel Backpack is an outstanding product, it’s hard to unequivocally recommend this bag because its usefulness depends on your expectations and how you use its many features. If you’re frequently on the move and need to transport a lot of camera gear, clothes, electronics, or even everyday items then the Peak Design Travel Backpack will definitely suit your needs. It surpasses almost every other small suitcase, backpack and carry-on luggage – and then some. I can’t think of a scenario where the Travel Backpack wouldn’t be ideal if your goal  involves traveling.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

As a daily multipurpose bag for schlepping cameras, lenses, lighting, clothes, documents, laptops or anything else of that nature, another product would more likely suit your needs. It’s sheer size precludes it from being a solid solution for students. And even though the top snaps to reduce its overall size, it’s still too big for photographers who need to transport a few cameras and lenses around town. But if you have a lot of camera gear the Travel Backpack, combined with a large-sized Camera Cube (which almost takes up the backpack’s entire available packing space), could be the solution you need.

Another issue is the price, and I’d be the first to admit the Travel Backpack isn’t the cheapest option on the market. The MSRP for the backpack alone is $300, and that doesn’t include any pouches, camera cubes or even a rain fly, all of which can drive up the cost significantly. If you’re used to carrying your clothes and camera items around in a $30 duffel bag, you might balk at the idea of spending ten times as much for something that, in some ways, isn’t much different.

Snaps at the top allow the bag to shrink in size, but it’s still pretty large and cumbersome for everyday usage.

But when you see how the Travel Backpack is so much more than a duffel bag, along with the quality of the materials, the care and attention to detail, and the way it’s designed specifically to meet the needs of busy people on the go, you might think twice. When I think about the ways my Everyday Backpack and my wife’s Everyday Messenger have come through for us over the years while showing hardly any signs of wear, and compare it to our many bags that have disintegrated, broken or fallen apart, the price of a Peak Design product starts to make more sense.

I’m a big fan of the Travel Backpack, and I hope you can see why. If you’re frequently on the road or in the air, this bag will suit your needs impeccably, especially when used in tandem with the Camera Cube, Tech Pouch, Wash Pouch and Packing Cubes. I have a closet full of duffels and suitcases to carry things on trips. But if I had to pick one bag for my travel needs, it would certainly be this one.

Durability: 5/5

Flexibility: 5/5

Cost: 4/5

Overall Rating: 5/5


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