Why You Need a Digital Photo Frame

The post Why You Need a Digital Photo Frame appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One of the unsung heroes of modern photography is the tried-and-true digital photo frame. These simple devices have been around for years, and yet they are rarely discussed in photography circles. With huge televisions adorning our walls, and smartphones stuffed into our pockets, one might wonder why there is any reason to own a digital photo frame. In the past few years, I have grown to greatly appreciate these devices, and I have realized how valuable, useful, and downright practical they are. If you or someone you know needs a good solution to viewing photos, a digital frame might be just what you’re looking for.

When digital frames first came on the market back in the mid-2000s, they were a great idea severely hampered by bad technology. Bezels were huge, the screens were small, and the images were dim and blurry. Setting up frames required toiling through a myriad of menus with nonsensical buttons and on-screen context clues.

Adding images to a digital frame was an exercise in frustration and required many steps on the part of the user. Plus, transitions between pictures were garish and often unbecoming of the memories on display.

It’s no wonder most people have stopped thinking about digital frames!

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone.

I was in the same boat until recently. However, the more I investigated what modern technology offers, the more impressed I became. In contrast to their counterparts from a decade ago, today’s digital frames have bright displays, show large high-resolution photos, are thin and sleek, and cost less than you might think. They often have cloud-based interfaces, offer companion smartphone apps, and can even show video clips.

The Nixplay Seed Wave has a large screen and wi-fi connectivity.

One-Trick Pony

One of the best reasons to get a digital frame isn’t because of what they can do, but what they can’t do. It seems silly to have yet another device in a world where screens already surround us, but the digital frames eschew the traditional idea of a computer screen by turning it on its head. They follow the adage of doing one thing and doing it well.

Most digital frames don’t let you do anything but view pictures. And this is precisely what makes them so great. They don’t run thousands of apps, let you surf social networks, or make video calls. They don’t play games, won’t let you binge-watch Netflix or YouTube, and don’t bombard you with notifications.

Digital frames sit there, passively doing only one thing: showing your pictures.

The Aura Digital Photo Frame has facial-recognition built into its companion app and a touchscreen for navigating options.

In an era where every device and gadget continually begs for our attention, digital frames are like an oasis in the middle of the desert. It’s downright refreshing to see a bright digital frame sitting on a shelf, knowing you can’t do anything with it other than look at pictures.

You don’t have to worry about software updates, and your viewing experience isn’t cluttered with dozens of icons and bubbles vying for your attention. In a media-saturated world, digital frames are a great way to slow down and enjoy, appreciate, and reflect on your pictures without distraction.

Some smart appliances like the Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest Hub act as photo frames, but I prefer the simplicity and focus of a dedicated frame. Other devices like that are nice, but the features they offer can often distract you from just enjoying your photos.

Advanced frames like the Google Nest Hub Max do lots of things, but I prefer simpler frames that don’t have built-in cameras, digital assistants, or alert bubbles begging for your attention.

To print or not to print

Like many people, my wife and I have struggled for years with the question of what to do about getting prints made of our pictures. We’ve made yearbooks that adorn our end tables, mounted framed snapshots on dressers, and festooned our walls with large prints and canvases. These are great, and we enjoy them a great deal, but every one of them eventually grows old over time.

When that inevitably happens, we have to consider what to do next. Do we keep the old prints around? Do we put up new images in place of what was once there? There are also practical concerns, like where to get prints made, what size to make them, and what happens when our favorite photo book publisher goes out of business?

We enjoy seeing prints as much as anyone, but the logistical hassles have added layers of stress and indecision onto what should be an enjoyable process.

The Pix-Star 15-inch frame lets you see your photos without printing them.

A digital frame solves almost all of these problems. Our 8×10″ Nixplay Seed sits in our living room showing a massive assortment of images without any effort from us. In the course of a single day, we see photos of family vacations, our kids when they were infants, and old slides that we scanned from negatives. We don’t have to think about switching photos out, spend entire evenings trying to decide which images are worth printing, or wonder whether a particular photo is worthy of being displayed for all to see.

Of course, there are still plenty of reasons to get pictures printed. But if you want a simple way to enjoy your pictures without the hassle of making physical copies, a digital frame might be right for you.

As is the case with most digital gadgets these days, storage space is not the same constraint as it used to be. Many frames have internal storage of at least 8GB, which is enough for almost 10,000 images. If that’s not enough, you can look for one with a removable memory card slot to add even more space.

Modern digital frames have more than enough storage space for your pictures. Unlike your walls and bookshelves, which can quickly fill up with physical prints.

Image quality

If you think that displaying your images on a digital frame means sacrificing overall quality, think again. This might have been true in 2005, but now, frames are leaps and bounds beyond where they used to be. As recently as a few years ago, many frames had resolutions of about 72 or 96dpi – similar to that of older computers.

This resolution is fine if you’re viewing your images from a distance, as often is the case when using frames in a household setting. However, frames today often have much higher pixel densities or anywhere between 150-300dpi that put them on par with most laptop screens and even that of some mobile phones.

This means that your images, even when viewed up close, are as crisp and sharp as you would see if you got them printed and you’ll be able to make out every detail from wisps of hair to blades of grass.

Aura makes a 9.7-inch frame with 2048×1536 resolution, which shows your memories in crisp, clear detail.

Most modern digital frames use bright screens that are now viewable from any angle, unlike older versions which required you to stand in the right spot to see your images. Your pictures appear bright and colorful, and some digital frames even let you show video clips alongside your images.

Worry-free sharing

With all the recent problems regarding data privacy on social network sites like Instagram and Facebook, it’s no wonder so many people are deleting their accounts! If you, or your friends and family, are limiting your social media usage but still want to see pictures of the important things in your life, a digital frame is just the answer. To illustrate this, I’m going to use my in-laws as an example.

My wife’s parents aren’t on any social media at all, and they prefer to spend their time reading, gardening, walking the dogs, and going out with friends. This means they don’t get to see any pictures of their grandchildren unless we send them physical prints, which they have to find a spot to display. A few months ago, my wife and I bought them a digital photo frame and have since populated it with well over a thousand images of us and our kids.

Do you have friends or family members who aren’t on social media? Get them a digital frame and fill it with photos for them to enjoy.

We shared their frame information with other family members who have also sent pictures to the frame. My wife’s parents love it! The frame sits in their living room, showing photos of the people they love without any effort on their part. And, they didn’t have to join a social network or share any personal data.

If you have people in your life who are concerned about data-mining and privacy, consider a digital frame as a happy medium. It allows you to share pictures on a more limited and intentional basis than sites like Instagram or Flickr. But the tradeoff is, you are in full control of the images, and none of your personal information is sold to third-parties for advertising.

This simple Tenker 7-inch frame, and others like it, won’t send your photos off to be analyzed for advertising.


Here’s a few more tips that might help you with digital frames.

  • Set your display to change pictures less often. Every hour or less is much better than every 30 seconds. It will seem slow at first, but you’ll get a lot more enjoyment in the long term. You won’t feel like you’re seeing the same images over and over.
  • Export your photos to the resolution of your frame to save on storage space. Sending a 24-megapixel image to a 3-megapixel frame won’t do you any good at all.
  • Set your friends and family up with sharing permissions so they can send you photos. Then make sure to return the favor and send photos to their frames too.
  • You can build your own photo frame with a cheap Android tablet and some software, but I recommend getting an off-the-shelf model. It’s just easier and will probably make your life a lot simpler in the long run.
  • Most modern frames have built-in memory but also sync with cloud storage options like Dropbox and Google Drive. You might have to configure a few settings, but it can make the already-easy process of sending pictures even simpler.

Do you use a digital photo frame? Or, are there reasons why you don’t? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.


why you need a digital photo frame


The post Why You Need a Digital Photo Frame appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services

The post Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services - Digital Photography School

From professionals to amateurs and hobbyists, to kids just getting started with their first camera, one issue remains constant: how to store photos. If you shoot with your mobile phone, you’ve likely encountered a “Low on storage space” error message at least once. If you use a desktop computer or laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve had to deal with ever-shrinking hard drive space due to an increasing abundance of photos. One option that seems ideal is to use the cloud-based options that have become so prevalent in recent years.

However, if you value data privacy, you might want to think twice before uploading your images to popular online services.

Some are free, but the hidden costs could far outweigh the benefits.

It’s difficult to come up with a perfect answer to the question of whether or not your photos are safe in the cloud because there are so many variables to consider.

I’m going to examine some of the more popular options for photographers. I’ll dive into their Privacy Statements and Terms of Service documents to see what they really do with your pictures.

Hopefully, this will give you the information you need to make an informed decision about where to store your photos.

Cloud storage can be a great option for your images, but make sure you know what you’re agreeing to when you upload your photos.

1. Google Photos

Originally part of the Google+ social platform, Google decoupled this service to operate as a standalone offering in May 2015. Some of its greatest benefits, which also help make it one of the most popular options for photographers, involve storage limits – or lack thereof.

Anyone with a Google account can upload unlimited JPEG files up to 16-megapixels in size, and unlimited videos up to 1080p in resolution.

Google automatically analyzes your photos for people, objects, and locations that you can search for. There are also options such as shared albums and access from a variety of devices that make the service even more attractive. Indeed, Google Photos seems like a no-brainer, and there is a lot to like about it no matter what type of photographer you are. It’s also the default option on most Android phones, so you might be using it unawares.

Google’s algorithms can automatically recognize people, objects, and even pets.

Things start to get a little murky when you dig deeper, though. Google’s Terms of Service is lengthy, but one tidbit that’s worth pondering has to do with the rights you grant to Google when you upload images to Google Photos or store any other data in your Google account:

You give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

This means that Google can use any pictures you upload to Google Photos for, among other things, promoting their services and developing new ones.

Google goes on to say that their software analyzes your data, including photos and email, to provide you “tailored advertising” in addition to checking files for viruses and scanning emails for spam.

Don’t be surprised if you upload pictures like this to Google Photos and then start seeing ads for pet stores online.

This gives me pause as a photographer. On the one hand, it’s nice knowing that all my images are automatically scanned and analyzed by Google’s artificial intelligence algorithms. It makes it easier to organize, sort, and search for pictures. But all that information is also being used to tweak the ads I see in my daily online browsing. By providing photographers with free photo storage, Google is also providing itself with billions of data points to help send advertisements to everyone who is using their storage.

Should you be worried?

Google is serious about privacy, and it works hard to limit the ways in which your data is shared with other companies. Its Privacy Policy is pretty clear on how they protect your data from bad actors, but rest assured Google is definitely getting plenty of data from your photos that they use internally. And don’t be surprised if you take photos of your new sneakers, upload them to Google Photos, and then start seeing ads for Nike and Reebok when you surf the web. If that’s fine with you, then go ahead and use Google Photos and enjoy the benefits that come with it.

The sharing options in Google Photos make it easy to share pictures with family and friends.

2. Apple Photos

While not exactly known for social sharing, Apple Photos is used by so many people simply because it’s the default option on most Apple devices, including iPhones. Many people store at least some of their photo library using Apple’s cloud-based offering, even if it’s just to sync with their other devices and not store permanently. In terms of data-mining and analysis, Apple takes a much more locked-down approach than Google, which they explain in their Privacy Policy as well as their Approach to Privacy.

Apple Photos is great for storing snapshots from your iPhone and can be used for DSLR images too.

Apple doesn’t make money from advertising, and all the analysis of your photos is performed on your phone and not in the Cloud, so Apple doesn’t really know what’s in your photos at all.

Whether you’re taking a photo, asking Siri a question, or getting directions, you can do it knowing that Apple doesn’t gather your personal information to sell to advertisers or other organizations.

The Memories and Sharing Suggestions features in the Photos app use on-device intelligence to scan your photos and organize them by faces and places. This photo data is shared between your devices with iCloud Photos enabled.

The downside of Apple Photos is that, unlike Google and other vendors, the free storage option is so minimal it’s almost nonexistent. Everyone with an iCloud account, which you need to use most Apple devices, gets 5GB of storage space for everything, including photos, documents, and other data. That’s not much, and it fills up quickly! Additional storage options are cheap, such as 99 cents/month for 50GB, but that’s a far cry from Google’s unlimited free option.

Apple Photos is convenient and secure, but you’ll run out of room real fast on the free tier.

Should you be worried?

Like Google, Apple is serious about the privacy of your data, but they go a step further in that Apple doesn’t even know what’s in your photo library. They don’t scan or analyze your images in the Cloud, especially not for training their Artificial Intelligence algorithms or selling advertising. However, the tradeoff is that you will run out of room really fast unless you don’t mind spending money on storage space.

3. Amazon Prime Photos

If you pay for Amazon Prime, you automatically have access to unlimited storage of full-resolution photos, plus 5GB of video storage. This can be a huge benefit to photographers of all stripes who want a secure place to store their pictures without worrying about intrusive advertising and data analytics. Amazon also has apps available for desktop and mobile that let you automatically upload your pictures.

If you pay for Amazon Prime, you have unlimited secure storage for photos.

When you upload photos to your Amazon account, they are automatically analyzed for faces, locations, and objects. This can be disabled, but Amazon clearly states that this data is only used for organizing your photos and not given to third parties.

Amazon doesn’t share your photos or any of the data derived from our image recognition features. Labels and data are only used to help you better organize and find photos in your collection.

There are other benefits to using Amazon Prime Photos as well, such as easy-to-use methods of ordering prints and creating albums that can be shared with others. However, as a photographer, you need to know that the Terms of Use specifically forbid you from using Amazon Prime Photos in a commercial capacity:

You may not use the Services to store, transfer, or distribute content of or on behalf of third parties, to operate your own file storage application or service, to operate a photography business or other commercial service, or to resell any part of the Services.

Amazon Prime Photos offers unlimited storage space, but their Terms of Use contains some notable restrictions.

Should you be worried?

Amazon doesn’t make any money off your photos or the metadata contained in your photos, and the security of Amazon’s data centers is as good as anything. If you already pay for Amazon Prime, this option is certainly worth exploring. However, you might want to investigate some of the automatic analysis options to make sure it’s not scanning your images in a way you don’t want.

4. Facebook and Instagram

Facebook owns Instagram and applies the same data policies to both platforms, so what applies to one also applies to the other. It’s so common to take photos and upload them to Facebook and Instagram that, for many people, these have become their de facto storage option for images. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Facebook lets you easily share your pictures and also analyzes them for people and places that can be useful when sorting through your images.

Facebook and Instagram are great for sharing photos. However, any data that can possibly be gleaned from them will likely be used for advertising purposes.

Since these platforms are free, and used by so many people around the world, it can be hugely beneficial for photographers or casual shooters to store their photos in Mark Zuckerberg’s cloud. Things start to get a little hazy when you start to dig through Facebook’s Data Policy.

We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others. This can include…the location of a photo or the date a file was created. Our systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them.

That’s just the beginning.

The full Data Policy describes dozens of ways in which Facebook scrapes through your photos and the rest of your data. The company makes money from advertising, and it’s clear that they will analyze and evaluate every possible data point in your photos as much as it can to benefit itself.

Facebook won’t share your personal information with advertisers, but upload photos like this and you’ll likely start seeing ads for baby products.

This information is primarily used for advertising and helps Facebook customize the ads and other content you see across its services. However, the degree to which Facebook lets third-parties have access to your information is uncertain. Many recent scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica data breach, have shown that Facebook clearly has some issues regarding data privacy. However, in recent months, the company has taken a much more aggressive stance on privacy – at least publicly.

Should you be worried?

If privacy and security are your main concerns, I would recommend staying away from Facebook for a lot of photo storage. While things might change in the future, for now, it’s best to assume that your photos are not going to have the same level of privacy as other platforms. You also need to double-check your account settings to make sure that only the people you want to see your photos can view them.

5. Flickr

With its recent acquisition by SmugMug, Flickr has seen a resurgence among photographers. Despite having a limit of 1000 photos for the free tier, it can be a good option if you value quality over quantity. The site has a freemium business model, which means that you can use the basic version for free but pay for more features if you want them. The free tier is supported in part by those who pay for the Pro version, but like a lot of other sites, advertising supports it.

Flickr collects a great deal of information about you and your photos, and its Privacy Policy is certainly worth a look if you want to use the site. They log and store information that you provide them when you sign up for an account, but also a great deal of information in the background too.

We collect information about the computer or mobile device you use to access our Services, including the hardware model, operating system and version, screen resolution, color and depth, device identifiers and mobile network information.

When you upload a photo with geographical data (i.e. from a mobile device) or manually geotag your photo, we collect the location of that photo. With your consent, we collect information about your location if you take a photo within the Flickr mobile application to add to your photo’s metadata.

Like other platforms, Flickr will automatically analyze your photos using its own artificial intelligence.

Flickr also stores and analyzes EXIF data in your pictures such as camera model, focal length, shutter speed, and more. Like Google, they also use image-recognition technology to automatically analyze and tag your photos. This helps in searching through your images, but it can feel a little Orwellian too.

Advertisers get a lot of data from Flickr, and there’s not much you can do to control it. Flickr suggests that you use on-device options such as “Limit Ad Tracking” features on your mobile phone, but that has nothing to do with the wealth of information the company is getting from your photos. Whether you like it or not, your images on Flickr are being used to help Flickr maintain and grow its business.

One interesting element of Flickr that most other platforms don’t have is the ability to change the license on your photos. While this won’t affect privacy or data security settings, it is a good way to help make sure others use your images in a way that you want.

Should you be worried?

Flickr has a better track record compared to Facebook, but just know that your photos will certainly be analyzed for advertising purposes.

Flickr is more widely used for artistic and creative photos as opposed to family, child, and friend photos.

6. Dropbox

As one of the pioneers in mass storage solutions for consumers, Dropbox has become a good option for photographers who want to store and even share their images. Their free option only gives you 2GB of storage, but that’s enough for hundreds or even thousands of photos, depending on the resolution and size. They make money from selling a service, not from advertising, and as a result, your images are about as close to secure and private as you will ever find.

Dropbox offers a range of benefits for privacy-focused photographers.

Their Privacy Policy states that Dropbox collects some basic information such as file size, time/date stamps, and device information but not much more. They don’t really care what files you store on Dropbox so long as they’re not illegal. (And like other services, they have to comply with court orders to hand over files when necessary.)

We collect and use the personal data described above in order to provide you with the Services in a reliable and secure manner. We also collect and use personal data for our legitimate business needs. To the extent we process your personal data for other purposes, we ask for your consent in advance or require that our partners obtain such consent.

We may share information as discussed below, but we won’t sell it to advertisers or other third parties. Dropbox uses certain trusted third parties (for example, providers of customer support and IT services) to help us provide, improve, protect, and promote our Services. These third parties will access your information only to perform tasks on our behalf in compliance with this Privacy Policy, and we’ll remain responsible for their handling of your information per our instructions.

Should you be worried?

Nope. When it comes to data security, Dropbox is one of the best in the business. You can rest assured that nothing in, or about, your photos will be analyzed, tracked, or given to advertisers or other third-parties. You have to pay to move beyond the 2GB free tier, but it’s money well spent if you value data privacy and security.

Dropbox comes with a price if you want more than 2GB, but it can be well worth it depending on your needs.


There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to cloud storage. Whatever option you choose, if you do want to store your images online, it’s a good idea to read through the relevant privacy and data policies to make sure your images aren’t being used in a way that you don’t want. There are plenty of options I didn’t even touch on here, and if you have a bit of time and technical acumen, you can even create your own cloud storage options using computer hardware at home.

All cloud-based services have benefits and drawbacks. Make sure you find one that fits what you need.

Make sure to do your due diligence when choosing a cloud service provider. If a free option catches your eye, you might want to dig a little deeper to find out just why it’s free and what they are doing with your photos. Also, if you value security and privacy, it might be worth it to spend some money on a solution that really does work for you.


The post Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Nurture and Build a Child’s Interest in Photography

The post How to Nurture and Build a Child’s Interest in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One of the most important things you can do as a photographer is to help guide, nurture, and inspire the next generation of artists. It’s a humbling experience to know that you might be the person who inspires the next Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. It could come from something as simple as sharing some pictures with a young person or helping them figure out how to use their camera. You never know when you might have the opportunity to make an impression on a child, or anyone for that matter.

But if you’re not careful, these moments of creative awakening can quickly die before even given a chance to blossom. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can help and build a child’s interest in photography instead of accidentally snuffing it out.

It’s not about you

Before I get into some specifics, I want to make it clear that the important thing here is to realize that it’s not about you.

When you’re helping kids explore photography (especially this generation of digital natives), there’s going to be many times when you might be inclined to sigh, roll your eyes, or tell them that the latest filter, effect, or trend isn’t real photography. Or it’s not how you do things.

I’ve got kids in elementary school, and I also help out with my church youth group. One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with is that kids today are not learning photography how I did. My first camera was a Kodak that shot 110 film. It cost money to buy and develop each roll.

Today, like it or not, most young people get introduced to photography via mobile phones. They seem to snap away without any care for composition.

They would rather use filters, effects, and apps instead of learning about aperture, shutter, and ISO.

And that’s just wrong! It’s not real photography!

If you’ve ever shown a child how to fix things, you know it’s not about the end result but about passing on something special to the next generation. The same holds true for photography.

Or is it?

Who am I to say that a child using Instagram filters is any less worthy of creating meaningful images than me with my big chunky DSLR?

Just because mobile phones and photo apps aren’t my tools of choice it doesn’t mean other people, especially children, can’t find joy and creative outlets when using them.

There are two choices when faced with the dilemma of what to do when working with kids who are interested in photography.

You can make it about yourself and tell the kids what you think they should be doing. Show them the tools you think they should be using, and explain how to get pictures you think are interesting.

Or you can help young people find what they like. Explore photography in a way that is meaningful to them, and even (gasp!) learn to use apps and filters to create images they think are beautiful.

My wife and I were with a group of kids at the local botanic garden. One of them shot dozens of pictures of this outdoor train set.

The former can easily lead to apathy or resentment, while the latter often gives way to a whole new creative outlet for the child. It’s about them, not you. If that means you have to leave your comfort zone and explore photography in a way that makes you uncomfortable, then do it for the sake of the child and his or her learning and growth. Who knows…you might just learn something new along the way!

Give compliments instead of criticism

When a youngster invites you to look at a stream of pictures from his or her phone, you might have an initial tendency to offer unsolicited advice or, worse yet, outright criticism.

You might find yourself thinking things like:

  • The lighting in that shot is all wrong.
  • I don’t get it. What is this picture supposed to be about?
  • Your picture is way underexposed!
  • What’s with all the selfies?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

A lot of people may react similarly, but remember that children’s egos are fragile things. One word from an adult they admire or respect can be all the difference between sparking enthusiasm and causing depression.

Most of the time, when a child wants to show you their photos, what they are seeking isn’t criticism but validation. They want to know that they are doing a good job. That their efforts are worthwhile, and that they are on the right track.

The kid who took this photo thought it would be really cool to have the rope cut across the frame. I thought about telling him to shoot it differently, but instead, I just said “Nice job on those colors!” He was really really happy to hear that.

As an adult, you might think you’re helping if you offer what you think is constructive criticism, but there will be a time for that later. The most helpful thing you can do is offer compliments and words of encouragement. Even if you don’t find their photos entirely compelling, find something nice to say.

Try tactics such as:

  • That’s a really interesting lighting choice!
  • I like the colors in this photo.
  • Can you tell me how you got this shot?
  • Look at those fun selfie filters you’re using! Can you show me how to do that?

Give children compliments instead of criticism, and ask questions to show them you are interested. It sends a strong message that you care about their creativity and value their work. This could help set them on a lifelong photography journey, and you might be just the person to do it!

Shot by a seven-year-old who thought this dinosaur was really fun to look at. Fun enough to take over two dozen photos of it.

Encourage experimentation

As someone who grew up with analog cameras and physical rolls of film, there’s a lot about modern photography I don’t quite understand. This goes double when it comes to mobile phones. Especially with filters, effects, stickers, and other image-altering features found in a lot of photo apps.

But for kids today, these types of alterations are just enjoyable ways to explore photography. Just because I, and others my age, didn’t grow up with all this technology doesn’t mean we should spoil it for the next generation!

One of my young relatives loves playing with color-inversion filters. I think the results look awful, but he loves this picture that he shot and others like it. And if he likes it, then who am I to tell him otherwise?

Instead of dwelling on what we might not comprehend, try the opposite approach when dealing with budding photographers. Don’t run away from filters if you’re with kids who are excited about them, and instead get them to try even more.

Some might seem silly, and you might never choose to willingly give yourself cat’s ears or apply an over-saturated look to your nature shots, but there’s no harm in trying things like this when you’re with a child who wants to experiment for fun.

My son took this picture of me sharpening a lawnmower blade. He used a night-time mode which, as he discovered, made the shutter stay open longer and capture some spark trails.

You can also encourage kids to try new techniques like time-lapse photography, look at accessories like the OlloClip which lets you take macro shots with a mobile phone, and experiment with basic editing and image processing. Photography today, especially with mobile devices, allows creative possibilities light years beyond what we had when I was a youngster.

Just imagine what kids can create with a few encouraging words from an adult photographer whom they admire and respect!

Another one of my young relatives was really interested in shooting familiar objects from different perspectives. This was the result of one of his recent experiments, and while it won’t win any awards, he was thrilled to try something new. I happily encouraged his experimentation.

Give advice, but only if they ask for it

This is one of the hardest but most important parts of helping a young person nurture their interest in photography. To illustrate it, I’ll share an example from a visit with my out-of-town family.

My 14-year-old niece is constantly snapping pictures with her phone of anything that she thinks is interesting: insects, flowers, fences, cars, and, of course, her friends. During their stay, she bombarded me with requests to look at her pictures. She couldn’t wait to show me the photos she took even just out in the backyard.

While this happened, it was difficult for me to hold my tongue and just let my niece bask in the glow of her newfound love for photography. I wanted to give her advice about lighting, offer tips about composition, show her how to hold her phone at different angles to get better pictures, and so on. However, I held my tongue and just tried to be a voice of encouragement and validation, telling her I liked her pictures and asking if I could see more.

My niece loves taking pictures such as this one using portrait mode on her phone. I wanted to tell her she could get better results with a real camera. But that kind of attitude is toxic and hurtful for a child who just wants to experiment with photography.

What my niece (and most young people) aren’t looking for are instruction and advice. They’re seeking validation, often on a personal level, that their work is good and that they are pursuing worthwhile goals. When you, someone whom they respect and admire, can only tell them why their work isn’t good or instruct them on how to fix what they are doing, it sends the wrong message even if you have good intentions. You could inadvertently stifle the very sense of creativity you are hoping to inspire.

What you should do instead is play the long game. Use opportunities like this to build a sense of trust and goodwill. That way, when young people do want you to help them with their photography, they will ask you.

Later that same weekend, my niece asked if she could use one of my cameras. So I let her use my old Nikon D7100.

We talked about lenses, apertures, and how to control the camera to make the background get all blurry. Then we went out to take pictures of flowers as the sun was setting. She was eager to learn all about how to control the camera settings to get photos she could never pull off with her cell phone and some filters.

When she showed interest in some of my camera gear, I let her try it out and gave her some advice about composition, lighting and controlling the aperture. But only after she asked me for help.

After putting her photos into Lightroom, I showed her how to do some basic cropping and adjustments. She told me repeatedly that these were some of her favorite shots she had ever taken. If I had started the weekend by chastising her for not using a real camera, or told her what I thought she should be doing differently with her photography, she would probably not have wanted to go out and get flower photos later on.

This is the result of her efforts, and she was extremely pleased with the results. Hopefully, this is just the start of a lifelong photographic journey!


Young people are finicky, and their moods and tastes change as quickly as the wind. Today their interest may be in photography, and by next week they have moved on to archery, pottery, or guitar. You never know what’s going to stick with them in the long run.

If you want to nurture an interest in photography and help make sure it’s not just a passing phase, you have to be careful what you say and do. Make it about them and not about you. Hopefully the photography seeds you help plant will take root in good soil to produce a lifelong appreciation for the art.


The post How to Nurture and Build a Child’s Interest in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Build a Bench Prop for Great Portrait Photos

The post How to Build a Bench Prop for Great Portrait Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

When I got started with family and child photography, I thought I had all my bases covered. Between my cameras, lenses, locations, and shot lists, I figured I was all set to create some amazing portraits that families would treasure for generations. Then I ran head-first into a practical problem for which I didn’t really have a good solution; where do people sit? All the camera gear in the world won’t help on location with no place for parents, kids, or high school seniors to sit and pose for their pictures. I finally made my own solution, which has performed flawlessly, and it’s something you can make in an afternoon with a few tools you might already have in your garage.

Before I built benches like this, I tried to use things I had around, such as bar stools, folding chairs, and even our living room coffee table. None of these really worked well or looked very professional. Once I realized I could construct my own bench props, my portraits improved almost immediately.

This tutorial is going to cover a sturdy single-person bench 16 inches high, 16 inches deep, and 18 inches wide. This design is easy to customize if you want something wider, deeper or shorter, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for a simple one-person option.

This boy is on a wider version of the bench you’ll build in this tutorial.

Materials needed

The wood and hardware you need to construct a photo bench are pretty minimal:

  • Two 2×4’s, 8-feet long
  • 3/4-inch thick wood, 8-feet long and 11-inches wide. I like to use low-grade utility shelving but any similar wood will work just fine.
  • 1.5-inch Deck Screws
  • A saw to cut the wood

The boards on the right, plus some screws, are all you need to build the bench on the left. It’s an easy afternoon project and your clients will appreciate having this highly practical prop. I spent about $40 on the four pieces of wood at a local lumber yard.

The following tools will help you with the construction process, but your own situation might be different. These are what I used, but feel free to adapt as necessary. For instance, you could use a circular saw instead of a miter saw. This is a fun project to do with someone else, so if you don’t have any of these tools, you could ask a friend for help.

  • Miter saw
  • Table saw
  • Drill
  • Sandpaper or electric sander
  • Kreg Jig*
  • Kreg Jig screws 2.5-inches in length with coarse threads*
  • If you don’t use a Kreg Jig, you will need additional deck screws 2.5-inches in length.
  • Wood glue (optional)

A table saw is really useful for ripping the utility shelving to a uniform width of 3 inches.

*A Kreg Jig is a staple of a lot of DIY projects, but if you don’t have one already you probably don’t need to buy one just for this photo bench. Traditional wood screws will suffice just fine.

A view of the bench from below. You could probably construct it out of thinner, lighter materials but it would be far less durable.

Phase 1: Cut the wood

For this photo bench you will need to cut the following pieces of wood in the lengths listed below.

A miter saw makes this project a lot easier, but other cutting tools would suffice just fine too.

  • 2×4 boards, 7.5-inches long – 5 pieces
  • 2×4 boards, 15-inches long – 4 pieces
  • 2×4 boards, 15.5-inches long – 4 pieces
  • 3/4-inch thick boards, 3-inches wide and 16-inches long – 8 pieces
  • 3/4-inch thick boards, 3-inches wide and 18-inches long – 12 pieces

It’s a lot easier to cut everything first and then assemble the bench all at once.

Phase 2: Build the frame

If you have a Kreg Jig, you can use it here to construct the frame of the bench. But if not, you can just use traditional screws. If you want to have an extra-secure hold, you could use wood glue at the joints as well, but it’s not necessary. I would recommend against using nails though, as they’re going to wiggle loose over time and you want this bench to be as sturdy as possible.

A Kreg Jig is really useful but not necessary.

If you’re going with this method you’ll need to use your Kreg Jig to drill two pocket holes in each end of the 15-inch, 2×4 boards.

15-inch boards with two pocket holes in each end.

When you’re done putting pocket holes in the 15-inch boards you’ll repeat the process with the 7-inch boards.

7-inch boards with two pocket holes in each end.

Once your pocket holes are ready you can start assembling the frame of the bench. Secure a 15.5-inch board to each end of one of the 15-inch boards to make a U-shape.

This shape will form one side of the bench.

Repeat the process with the other two 15.5-inch board and another 15-inch board. When you’re done you will have two identical U-shapes.

Both sides of the bench, not yet attached to each other.

If you don’t have a Kreg Jig, or don’t want to go to the trouble of using pocket holes, you can use regular screws to attach the 15.5-inch boards to the 15-inch board. As long as you end up with two U-shaped pieces as shown above, you’ll be just fine.

After you get the U-shapes constructed, attach the other 15-inch board on the open end, but rotate it 90-degrees as shown below.

Attach the second 15-inch board to the open side of each U-shape.

Repeat this step with the other U-shape, which will give you two of these square pieces as you can see in the following image.

These form the sides of the bench, and you’ll need to attach them by first securing all the 7-inch boards to one side.

I find it easiest to attach all five of the 7-inch boards to one side, and then attach that entire assembly to the other side.

Again, I like to use a Kreg Jig and pocket holes, but you can just as easily use regular deck screws to do this. Don’t worry too much about appearances either, as if you use deck screws you won’t really see them in the finished product. They will be covered up with the slats you will attach in Phase 3.

The finished frame, upside down on my table saw which doubles as a small workbench.

If you do end up using pocket holes, you might find yourself working in some really cramped conditions when you insert the screws. A right-angle attachment for your drill can be a huge lifesaver in this step! Once you’re all done, flip the contraption over, and you’re all set for attaching the slats to the sides.

The brace in the middle gives the bench an extra measure of support. Kids can jump on this thing all day long and it won’t be harmed.

It’s important to know that this bench is designed to be sturdy as well as aesthetically pleasing, as you can see in the photo above. You might be able to find something similar at a store but it probably won’t be built this solidly. Also, it won’t stand up to years of use and abuse.

Note also the extra 7-inch board on top, which you can see in the above photo. This helps give even more structural support to the bench so it won’t buckle under the weight of people using it over the years.

Phase 3: Attach the slats

Once you have the basic frame built, you can get a little creative in how you want to finish everything off. I like to attach the boards about 1/2-inch apart, but you can space yours closer or farther. I wouldn’t go too far though, especially on the top where people will be sitting.

Attaching the boards is pretty simple: just place them where you want them to go and attach with deck screws. Other types of screws would work too, but I like deck screws because they are self-tapping and hold very firmly. Nails might work for this step, but I prefer deck screws because of their firmer hold.

I like to use four slats on each side as well as the top and space them about a 1/2-inch apart. But, this is also up to you. You might use fewer boards and make them wider. Or you may use several thin boards, or one giant board covering the entire surface. It’s up to you, and don’t be afraid to get a little creative. In this example, the 18-inch boards get attached to the front, top, and rear while the 16-inch boards go on the sides.

Drilling pilot holes will extend the work time required for this step, but it helps ensure the wood doesn’t crack and split when you insert the screws. When finished, all the basic work is done.

In the background, you can see a bench with some holes I cut out to make it easier to carry.

I recommend sanding the entire bench to smooth out any rough edges. If you have a jig saw you can cut holes for carrying as you can see in the photo above.

Phase 4: Finishing

Now that you’ve constructed the basic bench, the sky is your only limit in terms of how you want the final product to look. I like to use tea-staining, which is inexpensive, non-toxic, and gives a lovely aged look to the wood. The results are inconsistent though, so you might prefer actual wood stain or even paint.

This is your chance to customize the look of your bench, so have fun and get creative!

Your clients will appreciate having a nice place to sit, stand, or otherwise pose when you are taking their pictures. And as a bonus, they’ll be doubly impressed when you tell them you made the bench all by yourself!

We’d love to see some pictures of your bench once you build it. Please share with us in the comments below.


The post How to Build a Bench Prop for Great Portrait Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Use the New Enhance Details Feature in Lightroom

The post How to Use the New Enhance Details Feature in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One benefit of subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud is that the software you use is updated regularly throughout the year. Some of these updates might not add much to your workflow, while others result in dramatic improvements to how you edit your images.

In February 2019, Adobe rolled out a powerful new option in Lightroom called Enhance Details. You may not have noticed since there’s nothing new in the interface that even indicates the feature is available.

However, this can dramatically increase the quality of your RAW files, particularly if you shoot with Fuji cameras, and it is certainly worth investigating to see if it could benefit you.

In order to understand what Enhance Details does, it’s important to know how RAW files work. When you shoot in RAW you aren’t storing images on your memory card or computer like when you shoot in JPEG. Instead you are storing a set of instructions for how your editing software should create an image when it’s exported from Lightroom, Capture One, or any other image-editing program.

What’s weird to wrap your head around, though, is the notion that when you browse through your image library in Lightroom you aren’t looking at the RAW files at all. You’re seeing previews that the software has generated which give you a good idea of what the RAW files will look when they are exported.

This is why RAW files look slightly different when you open them in different software. Capture One, Lightroom, Luminar…they all use different methods to interpret the data in a RAW file. This results in previews (what you see when you edit an image or browse your image library) that look different, as well as your final exported final images.

This isn’t a RAW file. It’s a JPG file generated from RAW data, as interpreted by Lightroom.

Understanding RAW Files

So what does all this have to do with Enhance Details? It all goes back to how your RAW files are interpreted in Lightroom. Digital cameras collect Red, Blue, and Green data on their image sensors using an array of pixels that correspond to each color. When Lightroom loads a RAW file, it looks at the color data for each pixel and guesses what the resulting image should look like. This is what you see when you look at your images before exporting them.

This also means that Lightroom has to essentially fill in the details throughout each image since you don’t see individual Red, Blue, and Green pixels when you zoom in on an image. You see pixels of all colors that Lightroom has created based on what it thinks they should look like based on the Red, Blue, and Green color data in the RAW file.

Unfortunately, this means that some elements of the scene that you photographed, particularly the very fine details, get lost in the transition from RAW file to Lightroom.

Different camera sensors contain different types of RGB patterns. When saving RAW images, all of the color information for each pixel is stored without the camera deciding how to interpret the data as an actual image.

Enhance Details is a way for you to recover some of the finer aspects of your images that get lost along the way when interpreting RAW files.

It works by using Adobe’s artificial intelligence technology, called Sensei, to fill in some of the missing gaps when pixels are rendered from RAW data.

The results can be quite impressive, depending on the type of image you are working with. It can also mitigate some of the issues that Fuji users have traditionally had when rendering RAW data from Fuji’s X-Trans sensors. Traditionally, these result in wavy, worm-like artifacts with an overall loss of sharpness.

Bringing out the details

To use Enhance Details, select an image in your Lightroom Library and choose Photo -> Enhance Details.

This brings up a Preview window which lets you see what will happen after the Enhance Details procedure finishes.

It shows a zoomed-in view of the photo you are working with, and you can click and drag around to see what different parts of the image will look like after the operation is complete.

When you click on the image preview it reverts to its un-enhanced state, allowing you to compare the original and Enhanced versions with a single click. There are no parameters to configure, sliders to adjust, or options to customize with the operation which I find refreshing. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it approach, at least in its current state, which makes it a little less of a hassle from an end-user perspective.

When you are satisfied that you want to undergo the Enhance operation, click Enhance and wait for Lightroom to finish the operation.

When it’s done you will still have the original RAW file, but in addition you will now have a new Adobe DNG file that contains the Enhanced image. This file is, as you might expect, the same image as the original but with several additional megabytes of new data where Adobe has attempted to improve things.

Original on the left, Enhanced on the right.

More details, larger files

One important point to note in this process relates to file size and storage space. When I converted several RAW files that were originally about 22 megabytes, the resulting Enhanced DNG files were about five times larger. Since each new file easily takes up well over 100 megabytes you might want to be somewhat selective in choosing the images you want to Enhance. Either that, or start looking into more storage solutions!

So what’s different about the enhanced RAW pictures other than massive file sizes? It varies depending on the scene you photographed, the camera and lens you used, and other parameters. If you shoot Nikon, Canon, or Sony, you might not see that much of an improvement since Adobe already does a pretty good job interpreting those RAW files. However, if you use Fuji you might notice significant improvements. The image below is the original RAW file, shot with an X100F, that I edited in Lightroom.

Original Fuji RAW image. It seems fine, until you zoom in for a closer look.

At first glance, and sized down for on-screen resolution, it looks fine. But upon closer inspection you can see some significant issues particularly among the leaves and ground.

Some of the issues are now apparent, and they can’t be corrected simply by adjusting sliders in Lightroom.

When I first saw this up close, I thought there was something wrong with my computer! Either that or I had a broken camera. The edges of the leaves, particularly where the sun is shining through in the top-right corner, have a wavy, worm-like appearance that’s rather strange and almost a little disconcerting. This is due to how Lightroom renders Fuji RAW files and can be corrected quite easily using Enhance Images.

Original on the left, Enhanced on the right.

Notice the way the edges of the leaves are much smoother in the right-hand image. The gold light coming through the dark leaves is also crisper.

This isn’t just an issue of adjusting the Sharpening slider in Lightroom. Instead, it’s an entirely new RAW file built from the ground-up using Adobe’s artificial intelligence algorithms.

The new image really is enhanced – as the name of the process implies. While it might not be entirely obvious when viewed on a computer screen, there is a clear difference when files are shown at full resolution or as large prints.

Enhanced image. You can’t see a noticeable difference on a small screen, but when viewed full-size the details are much improved.

Your results may vary

While the process works wonders for Fuji RAW files, it’s somewhat hit-or-miss for major names like Nikon and Canon. For instance, below is a RAW file from a Nikon 7100 as rendered by Lightroom.

Original image, shot from the Columbia Center skyscraper in downtown Seattle.

The Seattle skyline looks crisp and clear, with no noticeable issues in the finer details even when zoomed in to 100%. When processed through the Enhance Image feature the improvements are discernible, but you really have to look for them. It’s a marginal improvement, and nowhere approaching the fixes to Fuji RAW files.

Original image on the left. Enhanced on the right. If you look at the roofline of the building in the middle, you can see a more accurate rendering in the Enhanced image…barely. The Enhanced version doesn’t have oddly-colored pixels where Lightroom didn’t quite get the original RAW file rendered properly.


In my opinion, Enhance Images isn’t worth the file size tradeoff on Nikon and Canon cameras. Lightroom already does such a good job of rendering them already. However, I encourage you to try it out and see for yourself. The amount of improvement depends greatly on a variety of factors including your camera, lens, and the subject in the photograph.

You might find that you prefer the Enhanced Images as a general rule, or you might only use this feature now and then. Either way, it’s nice to know it’s there.

Enhanced image, without a lot of truly noticeable improvements even enlarged to full size.

I like to think of Enhance Images as a useful tool to have in your back pocket for those times when you really need it and not something I use on an everyday basis.

The really exciting part is where this technology might end up in the future. Right now the process is done for one photo at a time and takes several seconds even on newer computers. I can easily see a time when it’s applied as easily as a filter or adjustment slider, with dramatic improvements to every image.

Until that happens, it’s fun to see technologies like this take shape and mature. As photographers, we live in an incredible time with technology like this that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

It’s amazing to ponder what the future might hold, and think about the tools we will have at our disposal to let our creative freedom loose.

Have you use this feature? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


The post How to Use the New Enhance Details Feature in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Review: Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

The post Review: Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Sigma occupies an interesting and somewhat unique space in the photography industry. They are most widely known for their lineup of third-party lenses for Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. Sigma also manufactures other gear such as flashes, filters, and even their own digital camera bodies using their home-grown Foveon image sensor.

While Sigma lenses have always been quite well regarded by amateur and professional photographers, their recent series of Art lenses have really given first-party manufacturers a run for their money. With optical performance that meets, and in many cases, exceeds lenses made by most mainstream camera companies, Sigma has really started to make significant inroads in professional imaging products.

The latest example of this is their outstanding 40mm f/1.4 Art lens.

Sigma 40mm f/1.4: 1/180th second, f/1.4, ISO 720.

The story of this particular lens actually begins a few years ago with Sigma’s 18-35mm f/1.8 Art lens for APS-C cameras. That was the first iteration of what what has become a very successful strategy for Sigma: producing lenses with superior optical performance, even if it means selling them at a higher price than consumers are used to for a third-party company.

Sigma have since fleshed out their Art series of lenses with a variety of focal lengths, in both primes and zooms. Many photographers and videographers have started to take notice, and Sigma has since branched off into a line of Cine lenses specifically designed to meet the demands and challenges of video.

This lens is so big several people thought I was using a zoom.

Enter the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens (Nikon, Canon, Sony) – designed with features photographers want and videographers demand.

Its optical path and lens elements fit the mold of what their other Art lenses offer, while its all-metal construction and gear-based focusing make it well suited for video. While I’m no videographer and can’t speak to how this lens functions in that regard, I can say for sure that it is one of the most astonishing photography lenses I have ever used.

The price tag is a bit high, but the tradeoff is a lens with supreme sharpness – even at its widest aperture – and virtually none of the problems that plague so many other lenses.

Nikon D750, 40mm, 1/500th second, f/1.4, ISO 100.

As I was using this lens I thought back to my first lens, the humble Nikon 50mm f/1.8. When I got that diminutive piece of glass I remember shooting almost everything at f/1.8 because it looked so cool to have my subject in focus with the rest of the shot was filled with beautiful blurry bokeh. However, I soon realized that these types of shots were a bit problematic, mostly due to all sorts of optical issues like lack of overall sharpness, vignetting, and really bad chromatic aberration.

I soon got used to shooting my 50mm lens stopped down a bit. It’s the same with other lenses that I’ve acquired over the years. While they most definitely work while wide open, there’s usually some tradeoff.

The Sigma 40mm f/1.4 is a whole different beast entirely. Using it is an absolute joy because you can basically shoot whatever you want, any way you want, with total impunity.

100% crop of the image above. The sharpness of this lens at f/1.4 is incredible.

I should point out, before getting too far into this review, that the performance of this lens does not come cheap. At nearly $1400 this lens is almost ten times as expensive as an entry-level 50mm f/1.8.

However, this lens isn’t exactly aimed at entry-level photographers. It’s designed for people who want (as near as I can tell from using it extensively) no compromises in terms of optical performance. As a result, the lens is big, heavy, expensive, and not exactly the sort that you would take out as a casual go-anywhere addition to your camera kit. Although, if you prioritize outstanding image quality above all else, then this may be the lens you are looking for.


I don’t want the substance of this review to get lost in hyperbole or vain platitudes, but in some way, this Sigma 40mm f/1.4 lens really does operate at a whole other level in terms of sharpness. I’ve used sharp lenses before, but nothing quite like this – especially when shooting wide open.

I took this to an equestrian show with my family and just for fun. Then I shot almost exclusively at f/1.4 just to see what this lens could do.

I was consistently impressed by the results.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/2000th second, ISO 100.

In the image above, I focused on the horse’s eye, which was a little tricky since it was constantly moving its head up and down. The resulting images were much sharper than I imagined they would be. The f/1.4 aperture also gives a pleasing foreground and background blur, especially on the man’s plaid shirt. The 40mm focal length offers a field of view that’s wide enough to get plenty of elements in the frame.

To further illustrate the sharpness, the following is a 100% crop from the original. You can clearly distinguish individual hairs and eyelashes.

100% crop of original image.

Of course, this type of result really isn’t all that special. Plenty of lenses are quite sharp in the center, but what about the rest of the frame? I was curious to see how the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 performed in a variety of conditions, so I shot scenes like the one below to see how this lens would handle trickier situations.

Normally in a shot like this, the trees in the center would be sharp while the outer edges would be significantly less so. They would also have significant chromatic aberration issues on the branches around the perimeter.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/250th second, ISO 100.

Investigating a 100% crop shows that image quality is tightly controlled even around the edges. Individual branches are tack-sharp and clearly distinguishable, with no green or purple fringing whatsoever.

Granted this wasn’t shot in broad daylight, but I found results like this to be consistent in a variety of shooting conditions.

100% crop of above image.

Overall, I was highly impressed with the sharpness of this lens, especially at f/1.4. But then again, this is a $1400 lens. When you spend this much on a lens like this, you might naturally expect these results. If you want to save over a thousand dollars on a wide-aperture 40mm lens you could always opt for the Canon 40mm f/2.8 Pancake, which is a great lens and certainly worth looking at. However, in terms of sheer optical performance, the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 is a whole other ballgame entirely. It is well worth considering if you prioritize features like sharpness and overall performance above all else.

Foreground/background blur

Some qualities of camera gear can be measured objectively, while others are difficult to fully explain or describe without delving into a more qualitative realm.

You could put the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 lens up against similar lenses in a lab and come away with charts and diagrams that illustrate various optical properties of each one.

However, at the end of the day, there’s something about some particular lenses that either grabs me or pushes me away. I don’t know exactly what it is about this particular lens, but the out-of-focus foreground and backgrounds just look, as the saying goes, smooth as butter.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/180th second, ISO 1000

The way the bricks in the background slowly fade away while the clean mortar lines remain visible, and the smooth transition across the frame from in-focus to blurry, is far beyond what I’m used to on my usual gear. I don’t know if I quite know how to describe this and I don’t want to sound like a shill for Sigma (they did not pay me for doing this review, and I have no relationship with them whatsoever) but I really, really like the photos I was getting out of this lens.

Throw in some lights in the background, and you start to see even more to like with the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/400th second, ISO 1250

The clean, clear spots of light behind this bronze statue are nice and blurry without any of the onion-ring artifacts that are so common on a lot of other lenses. It’s part of what makes this lens so fun to use – especially knowing that when you take shots wide open, you aren’t losing anything (at least, nothing that I could notice) in the way of sharpness or overall handling of chromatic aberration.

Of course, there is some vignetting at f/1.4 but nothing that I would consider out of the ordinary, and well worth the tradeoff compared with shooting at smaller apertures. For example, here’s another picture of a purple magnolia flower that I shot at f/2.8.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/2.8, 1/180th second, ISO 1800

This isn’t a bad photo, and the flower in the center is bright and sharp, which I always like to see on any lens. The 40mm focal length let me fill the frame with branches, buds, and other elements that add a sense of context. However, the scene is transformed into something almost otherworldly when shot at f/1.4.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/180th second, ISO 400

The corners are darker due to vignetting at such a wide aperture, but the rest of the image is almost entirely obscured in beautiful bokeh. The out-of-focus areas are blurry without being muddy. While the flower in the center is now a beacon of color amidst brown and yellow. I don’t quite know how to describe just what it is about the rendition of foreground and background elements that I find so pleasing on this lens. But it’s certainly something to behold and a lot of fun to have available at your fingertips.


If there is one area where this lens didn’t impress me all that much it was autofocus. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s not exactly superlative either. I suppose I could best describe it by saying it simply gets the job done most of the time. I found that it couldn’t quite keep up with my own two kids when they were running around outside, but for most normal shooting conditions it works pretty well. Autofocus is quick and silent – so quiet that I had to hold my ear up to the lens to hear the gears turning – but if you’re used to the speed of a sports-oriented lens like the 70-200 f/2.8, you might find this is lacking too much for your taste.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/180th second, ISO 360.

I shot several dozen images similar to the one above, and the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 lens performed just fine. Most shots were nice and sharp, however, the movements of the horse were a trot – not a gallop – and in a mostly predictable straight line. My go-to gear for most daily shooting is a Fuji X100F and this Sigma lens is certainly faster and more reliable than that camera.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/180th second, ISO 800. Autofocus kept up fairly well with this remote-control helicopter.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the autofocus on this lens is that it works about how you would expect. It’s not going to break any records for speed, but it’s reliable, predictable, and effective.


Similar to autofocus, the overall handling of this lens is something that I can describe in terms of how it feels, but I don’t know if I can accurately quantify it with numbers and hard data. Simply put, this lens is a beast. It’s big, thick, heavy, and feels like it could withstand a beating. Sigma claims it is dust and splash-proof. While I didn’t test this personally, given the overall build quality, I would certainly expect this lens to be able to withstand being out in the elements.

Manual focusing happens with gears, not electronics, so you always have a smooth tactile experience when turning the focus ring. There are no hard stops as you turn the focus ring, but after about 160° of travel, there is a soft click indicating you have reached the nearest or farthest focusing limit. There’s a single switch on the side that alternates between Autofocus and Manual focus, which I found to be simple and effective in regular use.

Image stabilization is nonexistent. However, I didn’t miss it much. With such good image quality at f/1.4, I could use fast shutter speeds without the need for stabilization. Video shooters may have this lens mounted firmly on a tripod, so the lack of image stabilization may not be a mark against it.

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/2000 second, ISO 100.

Despite being such a heavy lens, I didn’t find it difficult to carry around for general shooting. At 1300 grams, it’s almost as heavy as my 70-200 f/2.8 which clocks in at 1540 grams. The Sigma 40mm f/1.4 packs all that heft in a much smaller package. Because of this, I didn’t feel the weight as much as I thought I would, but it’s the type of lens that will certainly strain your arm over time. I really liked shooting with a battery grip on my camera to help balance things out a bit.


My thoughts on this lens can perhaps be best summed up with this photo:

Nikon D750, 40mm, f/1.4, 1/1500 second, ISO 100.

I don’t think I could have gotten this shot with any other lens, and it’s a testament to the quality and engineering that went into this Sigma 40mm f/1.4.

I focused on the flower just to the left of the sun as it peeked over the horizon and it’s sharp as a tack. Zooming in to 100% reveals a level of sharpness and detail, as well as an almost complete absence of chromatic aberration.

That was highly impressive.

100% crop of above image.

This is one of the best lenses I have ever used, and well worth the price if you value image quality above all else. It’s big, heavy, and not exactly easy on the wallet. But what you get for the price is a lens that is sturdy, reliable, and exquisitely sharp at all apertures – especially wide open.

If you’re looking for a lens that offers outstanding optical performance first and foremost and is designed to meet the needs of demanding photographers and videographers, then I don’t think I can recommend the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 Art highly enough.

The post Review: Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Portrait Photographers: Do You Really Need a 70-200mm Lens?

The post Portrait Photographers: Do You Really Need a 70-200mm Lens? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

For many portrait photographers, the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is considered the key to great results. This lens seems like it covers all the bases that any portrait photographer would want: wide aperture, a range of good focal lengths, and excellent build quality. It’s the cornerstone of many portrait photography workflows – and with good reason too – but it also comes with a hefty price tag (nikon, canon, sony). The question, then, for many amateur and semi-professional portrait photographers becomes: do you really need a lens like this to get good portraits? The answer might surprise you.

Nikon D7100, 50mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/2.4, 1/3000th second.

Whenever you are thinking about buying new gear, it’s wise to perform a needs assessment. This can help you figure out exactly what you can do with your current camera equipment, what you want to do, and whether a new purchase is required to bridge that gap. You can do this using a variety of methods, but a good way to start is to ask yourself some simple questions such as:

  • What camera lenses do I currently have?
  • What kind of portraits do I want to take?
  • Do I know how to use my lenses to get those portraits?
  • If not, can I learn to use my lenses differently instead of buying new gear?
  • In what ways are my current lenses limiting my portraits?
  • What lens would be best for the portraits I would like to be able to take?

Nikon D7100, 35mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/3.3, 1/90th second.

Perhaps your current lenses are lacking in specific areas such as the ability to shoot in lower light, overall sharpness, or autofocus speed. In that case, it might be a good idea to look at upgrading your gear. However, it is also entirely possible that the lenses you have are just fine for portraits and you don’t need new lenses at all.

If you do decide to drop some cash on a new lens, you might think that a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is the be-all, end-all, ultimate goal to start saving for. Also, in many respects, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However, you can get outstanding results with other lenses too and save a massive amount of money in the process. Here are some other lenses worth considering that produce excellent portraits for a lot less money.

Note: While I mostly mention Nikon and Canon lenses throughout this article, you can also get the same types of lenses for other systems like Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic, Pentax, and more.

The Power of the 50mm Prime

One of the most amazing lenses you can get for portraits is a humble 50mm f/1.8. The Nikon version is around $200 and the Canon retails for about $125, and there are plenty of third-party options available as well.

These little workhorses, sometimes called the Nifty Fifty or Fantastic Plastic due to the nature of their construction, can produce absolutely breathtaking results. In some ways, they are actually better than a two-thousand-dollar 70-200mm f/2.8 pro-grade lens. A 50mm f/1.8 lens has more light-gathering ability which means lower ISO values or faster shutter speeds in low light, as well as shallow depth of field.

Autofocus speed on these lenses isn’t going to win any awards, nor are they designed to take a beating or function in the rain and snow. However, they shoot great images in low light, and their wide apertures let you get the type of creamy bokeh you might have always wondered about but never been able to achieve with your kit lens.

Nikon D200, 50mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/1.8, 1/250th second.

If you’re the type of person who delights in pixel-peeping or poring over MTF charts, you might turn up your nose at an inexpensive 50mm f/1.8 lens. That’s not the point of a lens like this though, and what they lack in technical specs they more than make up for with sheer results. Also, at less than one-tenth the cost of a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, their price-to-performance ratio is almost impossible to beat.

Nikon D7100, 50mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/4, 1/350 second.

The Mighty 85

One downside to shooting with a 50mm lens is that you won’t get much background compression. Your subjects won’t appear any closer to the background elements in the shot. While you can use an f/1.8 aperture to make the background blurry, it won’t zoom in much which is one advantage of a lens with a longer focal length. If that’s what you’re looking for, then an 85mm lens might fit the bill quite nicely.

Nikon D7100, 85mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/2.8, 1/350th second.

An 85mm f/1.8 lens is going to cost about two to three times what you would pay for a 50mm f/1.8 – around the $400 mark for both the Nikon and Canon.

In exchange, you’re going to get a hefty piece of equipment that is a little sharper, a little faster to focus, and will give you a bit more flexibility in terms of your portraiture. Its longer focal length will make it seem like backgrounds are just a bit closer to your subject.

In addition to their ability to get super blurry backgrounds when shooting at wide apertures, this could be the answer you are seeking.

Nikon D7100, 85mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/2.8, 1/750th second.

The 85mm focal length is ideal for many portraiture situations. I know professional photographers who choose to shoot with an 85mm lens instead of a 70-200 f/2.8 lens. 85mm lenses are smaller, lighter, and often just as capable as their big brothers.

Moreover, when you shoot at f/1.8, you can blur the background even more than a more expensive f/2.8 lens when shooting at similar focal lengths. While it’s true that the f/1.8 versions aren’t going to be as tack-sharp as their f/1.4 or f/1.2 counterparts, it’s hard to beat the value you get for your money.

Go wide with a 35

While many people tend to think of longer focal lengths as being best suited for portraits, you can get good results with a wider lens too. The 35mm focal length is close to what our human eyes see and can help you capture in-the-moment shots that are highly sought after by many people who want portraits. You can get up close and personal with a 35mm lens, shoot in low light conditions, and even achieve the buttery-smooth bokeh that you have always been craving.

Nikon D7100, 35mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/1.8, 1/1000th second.

Best of all, 35mm lenses are so cheap that you’re never going to break the bank with the Nikon coming in at around $200. Canon doesn’t offer a first-party 35mm lens but the excellent 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens is almost the same and even less expensive at about $175. My favorite part about a 35mm lens is that you can use it to get intimate images the likes of what a 70-200 f/2.8 could only dream of.

Nikon D750, 35mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/4, 1/90th second.

For years I shot almost exclusively with a 35mm lens on my full-frame camera. It was a constant companion of mine on everything from formal portraits to casual everyday shots. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I now use a Fuji X100F for almost all of my photos is because it’s basically the same as using a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera but in a much smaller package.

I wouldn’t go so far as to do entire portrait sessions with only a 35mm lens, but if you’re considering a way to upgrade your kit you might be surprised at how much mileage you can get out of this lens. I would even go so far as to say that you’d be wise to have it even if you do opt for a 70-200mm f/2.8, simply because it’s nice to have the flexibility of shooting at a wider angle when you really need it.

Nikon D7100, 35mm f/1.8 lens. Shot at f/4, 1/45th second with an external flash.

The main takeaway here, before I get to an examination of the 70-200mm f/2.8, is that you can do a lot with other lenses. Whether it’s one of these less-expensive primes or a more professional-grade lens like the Canon 85mm f/1.2 or the Nikon 105mm f/1.4 or any number of other lenses especially from third parties like Sigma and Tamron, the point is you don’t always need the heft and focal range of a 70-200mm f/2.8.

But sometimes you do.

70-200mm f/2.8: The Jack-of-all-trades

It’s impossible for me to say whether any individual photographer needs one of these lenses, but I can say that they are extremely useful in a variety of situations. They are professional-grade lenses designed to meet the demands of a variety of situations, especially for portrait photographers. If you really can’t get your work done with the gear you have, and if one of the other lenses I’ve already discussed isn’t going to meet your needs, then a 70-200mm f/2.8 might fit the bill quite nicely.

Nikon D750, 70-200 f/2.8 lens. Shot at 200mm, f/3.3, 1/250th second.

There are many times in which these lenses can outperform a lot of other options.

If you find yourself in situations like this, then a 70-200mm f/2.8 could be just what you’re after.

They are great for things like:

  • Fast-moving subjects who just won’t sit still. In other words…when you are photographing portraits of kids outdoors.
  • Full-body portraits where you want a nice blurry background
  • Subjects that are far away and you need to zoom in to see them
  • Group photos where you want to see the whole family but still have a nice blurry background
  • People moving towards the camera, either by themselves or as a group. You can stay in one place and adjust your focal length to zoom out while they get closer.
  • Action-style portraits of adults or kids while they are playing sports
  • Photographers who need a lot of versatility in their lenses, without wanting to change lenses or carry multiple camera bodies.

Nikon D750, 70-200 f/2.8 lens. Shot at 140mm, f/4, 1/250th second.

A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens isn’t always a necessity, but it can make a big difference if your needs aren’t met by other gear. They’re heavy and expensive, but the results can be worth it as long as you know why you want one and what you plan on using it for. You should also note that you might not need the sheer light-gathering capability of an f/2.8 aperture. In many cases, you would be well-served with a 70-200 f/4 lens which is going to cost significantly less and still produce good results.

Nikon D750, 70-200 f/2.8 lens. Shot at 200mm, f/4, 1/180th second.

Third-party options are a good choice too. You will often find 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and others available for about 50-75% of what you would pay for a first-party lens. These might not have the snappiest autofocus or same level of build quality, but for most portrait photographers they would work just fine.


Hopefully, this information, along with some of these pictures, helps you get a better sense of what different lenses can do. Of course, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is great, but if you examine your situation and think about your needs and goals, you might find that a different lens would suffice quite nicely. The point is to find something that works for you, no matter what it is and no matter what other people might use. As long as your gear helps you get the photos you want to take, then that’s all that matters.

The post Portrait Photographers: Do You Really Need a 70-200mm Lens? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Improve Your Photography by Changing Perspective

The post How to Improve Your Photography by Changing Perspective appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Sometimes I find myself stuck in a bit of a photographic rut, and it seems like no matter what I do I just can’t quite find interesting subjects to take pictures of or compelling scenes to capture. Even worse, when I do think I’ve stumbled across something that would make a good picture, I’ll start clicking away only to be disappointed with the results.

One trick I’ve learned over the years to dig myself out of these pits is to change my perspective. By looking at familiar subjects from a different angle, or under a different light, I often find myself seeing it almost for the first time. It’s a fun exercise and doesn’t involve much effort. It can transform even the most boring scene or bland subject into something worth photographing and framing.

There is any number of ways you can change your perspective on things to get a good photo. I’m going to examine four of my favorite techniques and show you an example of each one. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas to try out on your own and start turning the mundane into something magical.

Look at the lighting

Not long ago I was walking around a pond near my work with my Fuji X100F when I stumbled across the following scene. As you can see, it really wasn’t much to look at whatsoever. I noticed two brown leaves among a sea of dull green leaves, but nothing stood out to me as photo-worthy.

A few minutes later the sun poked out from behind the clouds. I decided to take a look at this same scene from a slightly different perspective, and with a bit of a change in lighting as well.

Instead of shooting from above with the sun behind me, I shot from below with the sun behind my subject.

That simple change made a massive difference.

The result is one of my favorite leaf photos I have ever taken.

One morning in May, I used the same technique to get this shot of a butterfly.

I put myself in such a position that the sun would be behind this particular butterfly. It not only gave an incredible glow to its wings but made the dew on the grass glow and sparkle in a way that makes the scene seem almost magical.

Normally, I incline to take pictures like this with the sun behind me, not behind my subject. However, this was a good reminder that sometimes creative lighting choices yield amazing results.

You cannot overstate the effect that lighting has on your photos. Even the word photograph itself means to draw with light. Even so, I often think of lighting in terms of formal portraits or other contrived situations. It doesn’t immediately cross my mind to alter the lighting when I’m trying to capture casual shots in an interesting manner.

The next time you feel a bit of a slump coming on, try looking at everyday items and situations from a different perspective. A perspective where the light is altered, and see how it changes everything right before your eyes.

Another tip is to try creating your own lighting, like in the shot below. It is nothing more than a jar of pasta in my kitchen that I set on top of a flashlight. However, the result was something interesting and unexpected that brought a big smile to my face.

On a similar note, this purple vortex was shot using pretty much the same principle. It might look like something out of a movie or painting, but it’s just a plastic bottle with some purple water that I lit with a flashlight.

The original setup is far less dramatic and quite boring – not the type of scene that seems ideal for an interesting photo. However, with a bit of light manipulation, even scenes like this can result in a magical picture.

Get closer

When I first started taking pictures, I didn’t realize how much I could change the impact of my images by moving myself around a bit. Sometimes I would end up moving to shoot a subject or a scene from a different angle. However, the proverbial light bulb really lit up when I realized how moving closer to my subjects could have resulted in such a dramatically different outcome. This has come in to play when taking pictures for clients – such as this one that I shot at 190mm with an aperture of f/4.

The picture is fine on its own. However, when I moved closer, I found the resulting image more intimate and personal. It was almost like I had caught the two in a bit of a private moment. I shot this image at 150mm with an f/4 aperture. While the focal length was shorter, the image feels more comfortable and natural because I was physically closer to the couple.

I didn’t zoom in to get this shot – I zoomed out. But, I moved a lot closer to them. Not only did this give me a more personal picture, but it also helped the couple feel more comfortable with me. Instead of being remote and distant, I was now able to talk and joke with them. This enabled them to let down their guard and smile a bit more naturally.

Of course, the converse of this is true as well. Sometimes you might find that moving farther away can give you a better shot. The point is that a simple change in perspective can profoundly impact your pictures. Also, if you are working with people, it can change the entire mood and tone of the photo session as well.

Re-frame your subject

When you don’t want to move back and forth but you want to kick your pictures up a notch or two, try moving your subject around. Such that they are in a slightly different spot with slightly different surroundings. Take this photo from a maternity session as an example. The expectant mother is in a garden leaning against a brick outcropping.

Like the couple in the earlier example, this picture is fine on its own, but it feels like it’s missing something. By moving my subject to a nearby flower bed and shooting a similar photo, we were able to add an entirely different dimension to the photo. As a result, I captured an image that feels much more personal and intimate despite a similar pose and expression.

A simple re-framing of the subject, and even adding foreground and background elements, can have a huge impact on the resulting images and the story you want to tell or emotions you are trying to convey. This works with more than just people too, such as this image of the moon. It’s not bad. The subject is sharp and in focus. However, the picture isn’t all that compelling. It’s just a big white circle against a black background. As a result, the image is somewhat lifeless and uninteresting.

Now contrast that image with another one that I captured months later just after sunset. This time I composed my shot so there would be some tree branches in the foreground. This simple compositional decision made the final image far more compelling than just a shot of the moon in the sky with nothing else around it.

Above and below

There is one final tip that can help make your pictures a lot more interesting (or just more fun to look at). Examine your subject or the scene from a vantage point that’s either much higher or lower than you might be accustomed. That may involve climbing up on a ladder or crouching down to the ground. The more creative you can get, the more compelling your results can be.

These two shots are the same sleeping infant. However, I took one from a very low angle and the other from directly above. Neither one is better or worse than the other, and that’s not the point. Instead, both pictures showcase the same subject in different ways. Thus, they convey different meanings to the viewer.

The same scene from a different angle feels more personal and intimate, even though almost nothing about the baby has changed.

On a similar note, I did a family photo session for some clients recently where they wanted a picture of all their hands together. After discussing some ways to accomplish this, we decided to shoot the hands from above. It involved a tall ladder, and all the family members crowded around a tree stump. They were thrilled with the result.

It all came about because I shifted my vantage point to directly above instead of my normal inclination to take photographs from my eye level.

Finally, one more example involves nothing more than a washing machine that my father had rigged to run with the lid open. I held my camera directly above to get this picture of the spin cycle in action.

While it may not be as special as an infant or three generations of hands together, it’s an interesting image of a familiar situation made possible by shifting perspectives.

Hopefully, these images give you a sense of what’s possible by changing a few simple things with your photography. You don’t need expensive gear or fancy studio setups to accomplish some interesting results. Often you just need to adjust your viewpoint or find ways to use the light differently.

I’d love to see some of your examples and read your tips on this same idea. If you have any thoughts or images about this, please share them in the comments below!

The post How to Improve Your Photography by Changing Perspective appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Move Your Lightroom Library to an External Drive

The post How to Move Your Lightroom Library to an External Drive appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Many photographers put their pictures on their computer’s internal hard drive. This can be a great solution since even laptops now have fairly generous storage options compared to their counterparts in days gone by. It may take you a while to fill up a 1TB or larger internal drive even if you shoot in RAW, but at some point, you’re going to run out of space, and you’ll have to address this problem. Cloud storage is a good solution but often involves a monthly or yearly fee, and upgrading your internal drive can be expensive and time-consuming. One perfect solution is to migrate your entire Lightroom library to an external drive. While this might sound difficult and intimidating, it’s quite simple and is something that anyone can easily do.

Choosing your storage

Storage space is fairly inexpensive, but not infinite. There are always going to be physical limitations when it comes to how many images you can store on a single piece of media. This is true whether it’s a traditional hard drive, a solid-state drive, or a mix of both such as Apple’s Fusion Drives.

Thankfully, external drives can offer vast amounts of storage space for relatively little money. With the fast transfer speeds of USB-3, which is common on most computers today, you won’t lose anything in terms of editing efficiency by having your pictures stored externally.

The first step in migrating your pictures to an external drive is to buy an external drive, and you have several options:

Traditional hard drive made with spinning platters. If you take this route, I recommend one with a transfer rate of 150mb/sec (megabytes per second) and an RPM speed of 7200. As I write this in early 2019, a four-terabyte drive, which can hold around 200,000 RAW files or half a million JPG files without breaking a sweat, can be found for US$100 to US$150.

Storage is inexpensive and prices are falling all the time. This 4 terabyte hard drive was only $90 when I bought it in the spring of 2019. (Guitar pick shown for scale.)

Solid-state drive with no moving parts. These aren’t as cheap as traditional drives, and they don’t hold quite as much data. However, with prices falling all the time, it won’t be long until solid-state drives are the norm and traditional spinning platters become redundant. Transfer rates on these drives are going to be plenty fast enough for any photo editing.

RAID array or Drobo. These are much more expensive than traditional storage options but offer redundancy in case of data failures, but they might be overkill for non-professional photographers. Besides, no matter what external storage solution you use, you should always have at least one off-site backup even if you do use a RAID array.

For most people, I recommend a simple USB-3 external drive, as it’s the most cost-effective solution and easy to backup onto another drive as well.

Once you have an external drive, there are two methods for getting your photos in Lightroom copied over to it. I’ll walk you through each of these methods as well as the positive and negative aspects of each so you can decide which is right for you.

Method 1: Use Lightroom

This process works well if you don’t have a large photo library. It doesn’t involve a lot of heavy lifting on your part because you can do everything within Lightroom. If you have a lot of images (a few thousand or more), I’d recommend against this because I’ve read reports that it can become a little unreliable when working with that many files. Your mileage may vary though, but know that you ought to proceed with a bit of caution when using this method.

First, locate your Folders pane on the left side of the Library module of Lightroom. Then click the + button in the top-right corner and choose “Add Folder…” This is going to let you create a new folder for storing your images. In this case, navigate to your external drive and create a new folder at that location.

Navigate to your external drive and create a folder on it that you can use to store your pictures. In the screenshot below my external drive is called “Untitled” and my folder is called “Lightroom Pictures.”

Once done, you should see the new folder show up in Lightroom, but it will be empty. This action also creates a new folder on your external drive, which you can see if you navigate to the external drive using Finder or Windows Explorer.

The final step in moving your images from the internal drive to an external drive is to drag-and-drop them from Lightroom. From the Folders panel, click on a folder that you want to put on the external drive and drag it from your internal drive to the new folder you just created.

Click the Move button and Lightroom transfers everything over to the external drive, with no extra effort required on your part. If you have thousands of pictures, this could take a while. So be patient. In the end, your images will be on the external drive and also removed from your internal drive.

Method 2: Copy files manually

If you don’t mind doing a little bit of work yourself using Windows File Explorer or the Macintosh Finder, this is the option I generally recommend. That’s because it not only gives you the most control over the copying operation but helps you understand exactly where to locate your pictures. This method also lets you decide when to delete the original images on your internal drive because you copy them to your external drive instead of moving them. The first thing you need to do is navigate to your Library module within Lightroom and look for the Folders pane. This module tells you where to locate your image files on your computer.

I’ve got images in Lightroom going back to 2013, and each year’s pictures are stored in a separate folder on my hard drive.

Right-click, or control-click on a Mac, on the name of one of the folders in your Folders pane and choose the option that says “Show in Finder.” If you are using Windows, this says “Show in Explorer.” This takes you to the location on your computer where your images are stored.

If you have multiple folders with images in them, do this operation one at a time for each folder. In this example, I started with the 2013 folder in Lightroom, and selected “Show in Finder.” Then it brought up the actual folder on my computer labeled 2013 that contains my images from that year.

When you get to this step, right-click (or control-click) the folder and choose Copy. Then navigate to your external drive and choose Paste. This makes an exact duplicate of the folder on your external drive which might seem redundant, but this is only temporary. A bit later in the process, you can delete the original folder on your internal hard drive once you are sure that everything worked with the copy operation.

Repeat this copy/paste process for every folder listed in your Lightroom Folders pane. After you are finished copying everything to your external drive, rename the original folders by giving them a suffix such as “2013-Original” or “2013-Old.” Again, this is only temporary, and you end up just deleting these folders entirely. But for now, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself and start deleting folders before you are confident that everything has worked properly.

Locating your missing folders

After you rename the original folders, Lightroom may have a bit of a fit because it suddenly won’t be able to locate all your images! With the folder names changed, it won’t know where to look for your pictures even though they are all still intact. The next step is to tell Lightroom where to find your images on the external hard drive instead of looking on your original internal hard drive. As soon as you rename the original folder, the icon in Lightroom changes to a question mark since it no longer knows where to locate your pictures.

Right-click on the folder with a question mark and choose “Find Missing Folder” to rectify the situation.

In the screen that pops up next, navigate to the folder on your external hard drive where your pictures are. This is the folder you copied over at the start of this whole process, and its name should be unchanged. Select it, to make it show up in Lightroom. All your photos should be fully intact.

Repeat this process with all your folders. When finished, your images will have successfully migrated to the external drive. You can verify this by scrolling through your Lightroom library and looking for any images with a question mark. If you don’t see any, then everything is fine. If you do, then Lightroom is having trouble locating the original image, and you might need to double check that all your pictures have copied to the external drive successfully.

When you are satisfied that you have completed the operation without error, you are free to delete the original images on your internal drive. However, I’d recommend keeping a backup of them just in case. When it comes to photos, you can never have too many backups!

Catalog vs. Photos

It’s important to know that your Lightroom pictures are not the same as your Lightroom Catalog. The latter is a reference file which keeps track of all your edits to your pictures, leaving the originals fully intact and unchanged. I recommend keeping your Catalog on your internal hard drive since Lightroom uses this for all your editing operations and internal drives are likely to be faster than external drives. However, it’s up to you. If you’re not sure what to do, just don’t even think about it, since moving your Catalog to an external drive is an entirely separate operation altogether.

The Catalog stores all the changes to your images and only takes up a few gigabytes of space. Your actual images can take up hundreds or even thousands of gigabytes.

Remember to Backup

A final step in moving your pictures to an external drive is to make sure you have a good backup plan in place. If you are on a Mac and have your computer backed up via Time Machine, it will not automatically back up your external hard drives, and you might also find yourself quickly running out of space on your Time Machine backup drive. I recommend keeping a separate backup of your external hard drive and using a program like Carbon Copy Cloner to make sure you sync everything correctly.

Windows has options available as well, but the bottom line here is that you can never be too safe when it comes to backing up your images. Hopefully, this tutorial helps you understand how to go about reclaiming some of the space on your internal drive and setting yourself up for success in the long run when it comes to external storage options. However, all will be for naught if your images aren’t properly backed up and your computer fails.

Once you have all these pieces in place, it’s time to get off your computer, start shooting photos, and know that you’ve got plenty of storage space for years to come!

The post How to Move Your Lightroom Library to an External Drive appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

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.

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