A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving the Perfect Starburst Effect

The post A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving the Perfect Starburst Effect appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Adding a starburst effect to your images is a great way to spice things up and really grab the attention of your viewers.

Seeing rays of light slice through your photo is one of the most enjoyable tricks to pull off, especially if you haven’t really done this sort of thing before. While some software programs let you do this on your computer, the real magic comes when you do it by knowing how to use your camera.

starburst on building

Step 1: Find a light source

Creating the starburst effect isn’t difficult. But it does require a bit of training and practice to pull off. You’ll need a few basics to get started:

First, you’ll need a bright source of light, such as the sun. A street lamp or really powerful flashlight will work too, but the sun is nice because it’s always available and doesn’t cost money to use.

If you don’t mind shooting pictures at night, you can get a starburst effect quite easily with a street lamp or other source of light. However, night photos might not look as interesting or visually compelling as shots of the sun.

Ironically, you also need something to block most of the sun. This is because the sun itself is too large and bright to give you good starburst shots; just a sliver of its light is all you need. Buildings and trees work great, but whatever you use can’t be too far away. If the thing blocking the sun is separated from you by too great a distance, you won’t get the starburst effect.

starburst effect on a building roof

The effect isn’t as pronounced in this image, but it’s definitely there. Using a structure to block most of the sun is a great way to help you achieve a good starburst.

Step 2: Choose a small aperture

As far as your camera goes, the one setting that really matters is your aperture.

To get a good starburst, your aperture should be small, such as f/11 or f/16. This means you will need a camera with aperture control, such as a DSLR or mirrorless system. Nearly all mobile phones use wide apertures and very few of them allow you to have any control over the aperture at all.

So if you want to pull off a cool starburst effect in-camera, you’re going to need a dedicated camera and not just a phone.

Step 3: Set up for your starburst shot

The basic setup for a starburst effect photo is also fairly simple and works best when the sun is lower on the horizon during the morning or late afternoon. You can do it at other times of day, but it’s a little more difficult to find objects that obscure the sun when it’s directly overhead.

starburst on a clock

To achieve the starburst effect, position yourself so that the sun is off in the distance and the object obscuring it is not too close and not too far. Then set your aperture to f/11, point your camera in the direction of the light, and take a picture.

Take care to not point your camera directly at the full sun, as it could damage your sensor or your eyes. Just a sliver of the sun and a small aperture is all you need.

Step 4: Experiment with different setups

If the object you use to block most of the sun is too far away, the starburst effect will be much more difficult to achieve. In the shot below, you can just barely see the points of light emanating from where the sun is peeking over the clouds. It’s subtle and can work if it suits your compositional goals for the image, but I don’t find shots like this to be nearly as fun as other starburst images.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving the Perfect Starburst Effect

There’s a lot of creative things you can do when you start experimenting with starbursts. In the picture below, the sun was obscured just a bit too much by the tree branch. The cicada exoskeleton looks fine, but the photo lacks something in the way of a visual spark.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving the Perfect Starburst Effect

I adjusted the position of my camera by mere millimeters so as to get the tiniest bit of the sun poking out below the branch. The result is a much more compelling photo:

cicada with starburst

The addition of a starburst adds a whole new dimension to the photograph and elevates it to a whole new level.

Note: How aperture alters the starburst effect

To see why a small aperture is important, look at the following photos, which were taken just a few seconds apart. The first used a large f/1.8 aperture, and as a result, the sun is a large yellow blob in the sky and not all that interesting. This is similar to the type of picture you could take on a mobile phone since most of those have large apertures ranging from f/1.8 to f/2.8.

Image: I took this photo with an f/1.8 aperture at 50mm.

I took this photo with an f/1.8 aperture at 50mm.

Stopping down to f/11 changes the image dramatically. Not only is the foreground and background in focus, but the sun is now a brilliant star pattern. This is a direct result of the smaller aperture.

fountain with starburst

I took this photo with an f/11 aperture at 50mm.

A similar effect is seen in the two photos below. Taken at different locations, they illustrate the effect quite clearly. The first shows a row of lights fading into the distance, and because I shot it at f/1.8, they appear as blurry orbs. This isn’t a bad thing, as my intent was for the viewer to focus on the light in the foreground.

row of lights without starburst

I took this photo with an f/1.8 aperture at 50mm.

The next image shows a similar row of street lights, but the small aperture I used caused every point of light in the image to appear as a starburst.

streetlights with starburst

I took this photo with an f/13 aperture at 50mm.

Even the green traffic lights far in the distance are starbursts. You can see how this dramatically alters the overall effect of the picture. If I had used a larger aperture, it would be an entirely different image.


My favorite part of shooting starburst photos is how easy it is once you get the hang of it. It’s also rather gratifying to know you can do it just by manipulating your camera.

starburst at night

Have you tried using the starburst effect in your images? What tips or tricks do you have for the DPS community, or for others who might not have done this type of photography before? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!



The post A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving the Perfect Starburst Effect appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

4 Necessary Reasons to Look Through Your Old Photos

The post 4 Necessary Reasons to Look Through Your Old Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

As photographers, we mustn’t live with our heads stuck in the past. If we’re not trying new ideas, exploring new techniques, or finding ways to push ourselves to be better, we might quickly find ourselves drowning in a sea of irrelevance and mediocrity. However, there is a time and a place to look in the rear-view mirror. Looking back at some of your old photos can have incredible benefits, aside from just happy feelings of nostalgia. Sometimes the best way forward is to look at the path we have taken. Even though to look through your old photos can be embarrassing, there are some clear benefits to doing so.


1. It helps you realize you weren’t that bad

I’m a pretty self-conscious guy, and as such, I don’t like looking at pictures of myself. I always find something to criticize, even if they are things that no one else would ever notice! Looking back at some of the earlier pictures in my photography portfolio is the same way. Sometimes seeing the pictures I shot is enough to make me cringe. So I want to throw my old albums out the window!

This is precisely why it’s good to dust off your old photo albums or look through the image folders on your computer you’ve been neglecting for years. Looking through the images you shot when you were new to photography, can more often than not, let you see how you really weren’t as bad and probably much more talented than you realize.


I shot this in 2013. While I had a lot to learn about lighting and editing, it’s actually a pretty decent image.

If the thought of looking at your old pictures makes your skin crawl, there’s a good chance you might have been a lot better than you thought. While your early images were probably not perfect, they can be a source of encouragement. You see that you clearly did have some skills – even if they had a little way to go before maturing.

2. You can learn from your mistakes

Even though your older pictures might not be as bad as you think, you can learn a lot from going through your earlier work. Over the years, you have almost certainly improved your techniques in terms of lighting, composition, framing, or even just posing your clients.


I shot this in 2014 when I didn’t know how to use a reflector but brought one with me to the session anyway. The colors on his face just don’t look right.

I know how it can be painful or embarrassing to scroll through your photos from five or ten years ago. It’s almost like looking through your high school yearbook and cringing at the silly hairstyles and weird fashion choices from days gone by. If you do this with your images, instead of turning away from your mistakes, learn from them. Realize what not to do now and in the future.

The image below is a good example of this. While my clients were happy, and so was I at the time, when I look at this picture now all I see are errors to fix. I shot it with a 50mm lens at f/2.8 and focused on the man in the back, which meant everyone else is out of focus. I didn’t have a sense of how to pose, nor was I really paying attention to lighting. The list goes on.

However, rather than pretend this session didn’t exist, I use it as a learning opportunity.

Image: One of my first portrait sessions, shot in early 2013.

One of my first portrait sessions, shot in early 2013.

Here’s another illustration of how much I have learned since my early days, especially when it comes to formal sessions. Why is there an orange shoe in the middle of the picture? Also, why is there a giant tree growing out of the head of the child on the left? Why did I use a 1/80th shutter speed?

The world may never know the answers, and I certainly don’t. However, when I see this old picture, it helps me also see what I can do differently today.

Image: Another family portrait session from 2013. Don’t judge me…I was new and didn...

Another family portrait session from 2013. Don’t judge me…I was new and didn’t know what I was doing. My clients liked it though!

3. It helps you refine your editing style

In addition to photography style and techniques, searching through your old pictures can give you a great deal of insight into your editing process.

It’s not easy to see slow, incremental changes over time. However, when you compare your current editing style to that of when you first started, you might be surprised. You may even be shocked at the difference. This can be a learning opportunity and help give you insight into how you might continue to refine and hone your edits.

I took the following picture in the summer of 2013, and I clearly remember spending a long time working with it in Photoshop. The result is what you see here: over-saturated sky, poor dynamic range, and a weird color balance that seems unnatural and icky.

4 Necessary Reasons to Look Through Your Old Photos

When I edited this RAW file, I was way, way over-thinking the process and ended up with kind of a mess. I can still see myself hunched over an old iMac, refining my selections, creating new layers, and fiddling with color edits ad nauseam. Now I’d just pull this into Lightroom, tweak a few sliders, and end up with a much cleaner and more pleasing image.

Here’s another picture that, upon first look, makes me want to chuck my computer out the window and never look at my cameras again.

Image: Shot in the fall of 2014, when I still had an awful lot to learn.

Shot in the fall of 2014, when I still had an awful lot to learn.

This picture is practically a textbook example of what not to do when shooting or editing a picture. Aside from all the issues in the image itself (soles of shoes, people sitting on an old canvas, awkward posing and hand placements, an disregard for background objects), the editing was atrocious.

My subjects are underexposed. The white balance is all wrong, and there’s no sense of contrast. Moreover, I didn’t bother using any noise reduction, so their faces are kind of patchy if you zoom in to 100%.

I’m a much better editor now than I was back when I shot this seven years ago. When I look at this picture and others like it, I can immediately see how I have changed my editing process over the years. It gives me a few ideas of what I should continue refining in the future.


When I edited this picture in 2013, I didn’t know what I was doing. But looking back at it helps me remember what to do, what not to do, and what I can change in my current style.

4. Early photos can inspire you!

There’s a lot I wish I could take back about my early photography. However, I feel some of my work now lacks something: a spark of life and a sense of abandon. When I first picked up a camera, I would see photo opportunities everywhere; inside my home, walking around the neighborhood, even my office at work.

With clients, I had a much more carefree attitude, shooting whatever I wanted, whether I thought it would look good or not. It was a carefree time when I didn’t worry about (or even know about) proper technique, good lighting, high ISO values, rolling shutter, or any of that. Like a kid in a candy store, I remember latching on to anything and everything around me.

I even set my alarm early so I could take pictures of my kids’ toys in the living room before the sun came up.


I took my camera to a sporting event back in 2014 and shot everything I could see, even if I didn’t know what I was doing. Including these bocce balls sitting on astroturf. I kind of miss that approach, and looking at photos like this helps rekindle it.

When I started taking pictures more seriously, I saw the world differently. Every tree, building, or animal was a fun and exciting photographic opportunity. I’ve lost that over the years. Now I think I over-analyze situations – trying to find the perfect moment, subject, or lighting condition.

Going back through old photos takes me back to a time when I didn’t care about any of that. I just took pictures of what I thought was fun and interesting. It has inspired me to be a little more creative and a little less analytical with my photography now.

Image: I spent half an hour trying to capture this image with my brother in the summer of 2014. We h...

I spent half an hour trying to capture this image with my brother in the summer of 2014. We had such a fun time doing it! I need to do more shots like this…

Looking at your old pictures can bring up some strange emotions, and it can certainly be awkward or feel silly. But buried in your images from days gone by is a treasure trove of education just waiting to be unlocked.


This image of a tree borer I took in 2013 remains one of my favorite insect pictures I have ever taken.


The next time you pull up your photo library on your computer or scroll through images in your photo app, go back to your earliest pictures and see what you can learn from them. You might be surprised at how enjoyable and educational your trip down memory lane can be!

Do you ever look through your old photos? What have you learned from them? Share with us in the comments!



The post 4 Necessary Reasons to Look Through Your Old Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Use Lightroom Mobile to Speed Up Your Workflow

The post How to Use Lightroom Mobile to Speed Up Your Workflow appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One of the common complaints about Lightroom Classic is that it’s just not as fast as some photographers expect. When I get back from a session with hundreds of RAW files to process, the thought of going through each of them one-by-one is enough to give me a headache. The few seconds it takes Lightroom to load each photo for flagging or cropping can be enough to make you want to quit photography altogether! Fortunately, if you subscribe to Creative Cloud you have options. In this article, you’ll learn how to use Lightroom Mobile to dramatically increase the speed of your workflow.

How to Use Lightroom Mobile to Speed Up Your Workflow

One of my favorite aspects of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription is how you can take advantage of many of the features of Lightroom Mobile even if you don’t store your primary images in the cloud. You can store bite-size previews of your images from Lightroom Classic in your Creative Cloud account, which you can then load on a mobile device for editing.

After you finish editing on your mobile device, all the changes will be automatically synced back to Lightroom Classic on your computer. I use this technique all the time now, especially for culling and cropping after a long photoshoot. I think you might find it incredibly useful as well.

Sync with Lightroom

The first thing you need to do is enable syncing between Lightroom Classic and your Creative Cloud account. Click on your name in the top-left of the Lightroom Library module and choose “Start” under “Sync with Lightroom.”


This will then enable you to start syncing your edits. One thing to note is that if you have a basic 20GB Photography plan, the photos you sync will not count against your storage quota. That is only for images you upload directly to Lightroom Mobile or Lightroom CC, as well as any documents you have stored in your Creative Cloud Files.

After Sync is enabled, you can selectively sync any individual collection by clicking the arrow icon just to the left of its name.

How to Use Lightroom Mobile to Speed Up Your Workflow

This will start uploading previews of each image to your Creative Cloud account. While this is happening you can see the upload status by looking above your name in the top-left corner.

How to Use Lightroom Mobile to Speed Up Your Workflow

Completing the initial synchronization will take a few minutes or more depending on the speed of your internet connection. The individual preview files being uploaded are quite small, but if you sync an album with a few thousand images it might take longer than you expect.

One thing to note is that you can only sync collections that have been created manually by you. Smart albums, which are created dynamically according to rules you specify, are not possible to sync with Lightroom Mobile.

Edit on Lightroom Mobile

When the sync operation is complete, load Lightroom Mobile on a phone or tablet and the collections you synced will show up in your Albums list.


If you have never used Lightroom Mobile before you’re going to be amazed at how quickly you can perform operations like moving from one photo to the next, flagging/rejecting, cropping, or pretty much anything else you might do in Lightroom Classic.


Upon loading your images into Lightroom Mobile, you can quickly swipe between them to check for focus and composition. Simple gestures like swipe up on the left to assign a star rating and swipe up/down on the right to mark a picture as Pick or Rejected make the editing process much faster than Lightroom Classic. A few taps will let you quickly crop, rotate, and make basic exposure adjustments.

As far as individual features go, the two programs are almost the same. However, the mobile version has an interface designed around touch instead of a mouse/keyboard combo. This means some things don’t behave quite how you might expect, but once you get the hang of things, it’s not bad at all.

Image: Lightroom on an iPad, even a basic version and not an iPad Pro, is extremely fast, fluid, and...

Lightroom on an iPad, even a basic version and not an iPad Pro, is extremely fast, fluid, and easy.

Since the images synced between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom Mobile are small previews and not full-resolution originals I would recommend against using the latter to check for accurate focus or do highly detailed adjustments. I find Lightroom Mobile most useful for just the basics like flagging and cropping, but your own usage might vary.


Lightroom on a mobile device lets you access almost all of the editing options on the desktop version, but I prefer to use it for just a few basics.

Sync back to Lightroom Classic

The beauty of this entire process is that as soon as your edits are applied to a photo, you don’t have to manually re-sync anything. Any edits you make automatically copy back to your original Lightroom files on your desktop. All you have to do is load up that program, wait for automatic sync to finish, and your pictures are ready for further edits.

Ever since I started using this Desktop->Mobile->Desktop workflow for my initial culling and cropping, I have found myself enjoying the whole process. I’ll sit back on my sofa or relax with a drink at the kitchen table while rapidly flipping through pictures on my iPad for the first round of edits. I’ll then return to my desktop, and the rest of the editing is much less stressful.

Image: Finding the best photos out of a batch of 600 is much, much faster when using Lightroom Mobil...

Finding the best photos out of a batch of 600 is much, much faster when using Lightroom Mobile.

This may seem a bit overwhelming at first. However, once you try this process, you will be surprised at how easy it is.

What about you? Do you have any other tips for speeding up your Lightroom workflow? Share them in the comments below!



The post How to Use Lightroom Mobile to Speed Up Your Workflow appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Four Lightroom Tips to Enhance Your Landscape Photos

The post Four Lightroom Tips to Enhance Your Landscape Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Lightroom has a vast array of buttons, sliders, and selection boxes that can improve just about any photo, but sometimes the options are so overwhelming you don’t even know where to start! It’s impossible to say what specific adjustments will work for any given photo, partly because there are infinite possibilities and every photographer is unique. However, there are a few Lightroom tips you can use with certain types of images, such as landscapes, that improve them with just a few clicks. If you have ever wanted to punch up your landscapes quickly and easily, there are four options that you can use right away to make any landscape look amazing.

Four Lightroom Tips to Enhance Your Landscape Photos

If you import a landscape picture into Lightroom but find yourself staring dazed and confused at the array of editing options, try focusing on the four items below. I use these on most of my landscapes, and you might be surprised at how well they work for you too.

Of course, you can always continue tweaking and adjusting with as many options as you want, but these are great to start with.

  • Basic tone
  • Texture
  • Sharpening
  • Graduated Filter

Learning to use these four adjustments goes a long way towards improving not just your landscapes, but many other types of pictures too.

As you gain more editing experience, you will start to figure out what your editing preferences are and learn to adjust the options accordingly. Maybe you like a little more tonal contrast or a little less saturation? Perhaps you prefer your images to have a little less sharpness? Experimenting with these options helps you understand what you prefer. It helps you develop your skills as an editor to get the results you like.

Basic tone

Four Lightroom Tips to Enhance Your Landscape Photos

There’s a reason that the Develop module in Lightroom has a panel called Basic. This contains the most popular adjustments that most photographers use right away. They are especially useful for landscapes too. The following are what I recommend as a starting point for these types of images.

Highlights: Drag this slider to the left to make the brightest portions of your landscape a little darker.

Shadows: Drag this slider to the right to make the darkest portions of your landscape a little brighter.

Whites: Drag this slider to the right to make the white portions whiter

Blacks: Drag this to the left to make the black portions blacker.

To show you how much of an effect these simple adjustments can have on a landscape, here’s an image without any adjustments straight from my camera.

Image: Shot at the National Tallgrass Prairie Reserve in Kansas. An unedited picture straight from t...

Shot at the National Tallgrass Prairie Reserve in Kansas. An unedited picture straight from the camera.

The picture is dull, lifeless, and not all that interesting. 15 seconds of adjusting those four sliders in the Basic panel does wonders and transforms it into a whole new picture.


Highlights -43, Shadows +26, Whites +70, Blacks -51. No other adjustments were made.

The resulting image is vibrant, lively, and exciting to look at, especially when compared to the original. It doesn’t take much work at all to use those four simple sliders when editing a landscape photo, and the results can be breathtaking.


The effect of the Texture tool isn’t quite as pronounced and may not take your breath away in the same way. However, Adobe’s latest addition to Lightroom can produce impressive results. While Texture is particularly useful when editing portraits, it can also bring out detail in grass and rocks, and other areas of a landscape image that has a great deal of natural texture.

Many landscape photographers are already familiar with the Clarity tool, which can have a similar effect as Texture. But, the former can often lead to images that appear over-processed and artificial. Texture is really designed to enhance the look and feel of textured surfaces. If you have not tried it, you may be surprised by the results.

I took the picture below in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, and while I did some basic Highlight/Shadow/White/Black editing, I really want to bring out the details in the evergreen trees.

Image: I shot this while hiking near Seattle, Washington.

I shot this while hiking near Seattle, Washington.

Increasing the value of the Texture slider helps the trees to stand out. They come to life while leaving the clouds and sky virtually untouched. Adobe designed the Texture option to look specifically for textured surfaces. It applies the effect only where it’s really useful instead of across the entire image as a whole.


Same image, with a value of Texture +90.

When viewed at full resolution, the result is remarkable, but even on a small screen, you can see that the trees have become more pronounced. The background trees are clearer and more discernible as well.

This new option in Lightroom is not yet as popular and well-known as Clarity, but it’s a boon for landscape photographers who want to spice up their images without going overboard.


The Sharpening tool has been an integral part of Lightroom for years, but might be overlooked by new landscape photographers who feel overwhelmed with all the features in front of them when editing their images. In contrast to Clarity and Texture, the Sharpening tool helps you emphasize the edges of everything in your pictures while also giving you the power to specify precisely how you want to apply the sharpening.

As with the Texture tool, your results aren’t going to be as immediately impactful as other edits, such as the Basic panel. However, careful adjustments to Sharpening can add a level of resonance to your landscapes and bring to life the small details.

Image: Shot at just outside a small town in north-central Kansas. Some basic edits applied, but no s...

Shot at just outside a small town in north-central Kansas. Some basic edits applied, but no sharpening.

The Sharpening adjustment, which sits in the Detail panel, has four parameters: Amount, Radius, Detail, and Masking. While these are all important, the ones I recommend you focus on are Amount and Masking. Move the Amount slider to the right to make your picture appear sharper and add a sense of crispness. After that, use the Masking slider to tell Lightroom where to apply the actual sharpening.

You can hold down the Alt or Option key (on a Mac) to see how this works and adjust as necessary. The black-and-white preview updates in realtime. As you hold down the modifier key and drag the slider, it shows you just where the sharpening will be applied.

Image: Adjusting the Masking parameter while holding down the Alt or Option key (on a Mac) shows a l...

Adjusting the Masking parameter while holding down the Alt or Option key (on a Mac) shows a live preview of where the sharpening will be added.

Use of the Sharpening tool is a great way to enhance your landscapes, especially when combined with some of the other editing options.

Image: Sharpening added with the following values: Amount 114, Radius 1.0, Detail 25, and Masking 85...

Sharpening added with the following values: Amount 114, Radius 1.0, Detail 25, and Masking 85.

Graduated filter

If you have never used the Graduated Filter on your landscape photos, you’re in for a real treat.

This tool allows you to apply graduated adjustments to part of the image, and even edit the adjustments using selective masking and brushing. It’s a great way to bring out the rich blue of a sky, the subtle greens of grass and foliage, or implement other edits to part of your picture without affecting the whole thing.

To demonstrate how the Graduated Filter works, I have a picture shot in southeastern Nebraska without any edits except for removing some spots of dust on the lens. The foreground is dark, and I’d like to change the color of the sky to reflect what I actually saw. However, global edits like the Basic panel just don’t work.

Image: Shot in rural Nebraska on a chilly February evening.

Shot in rural Nebraska on a chilly February evening.

As a point of comparison, here’s the same picture with some simple adjustments, like in my very first example. The Basic adjustments help but don’t produce the results I’m after.


Highlights -18, Shadows +100, Whites +34, Blacks -7.

It’s an improvement but still a long way from what I want. Fortunately, the Graduated Filter is here to help! By applying this type of edit, I can alter the lower portion without affecting the upper portion. Also, the edit is applied gradually, so it appears more natural as the foreground recedes to the horizon.

Image: No edits from the original except for a single graduated filter applied to the foreground. Te...

No edits from the original except for a single graduated filter applied to the foreground. Temp 76, Exposure 2.16, Shadows 21, Blacks -13, Texture 50, Sharpness 20.

You can go one step further and add additional graduated filters, which is especially useful when working with landscapes. In this image, I’d like to bring out the rich deep colors in the sky without affecting the field in the foreground.

A graduated filter is the perfect tool for the job.

Image: Second graduated filter applied to the sky. Temp -73, Exposure -.50, Highlights -45, Dehaze 1...

Second graduated filter applied to the sky. Temp -73, Exposure -.50, Highlights -45, Dehaze 10, Saturation 16.

I listed the Graduated Filter last because it’s the most complicated of these four adjustments you can apply to your landscape, but it’s also, in my opinion, the most powerful. There are lots of options for customizing your graduated filters, and it’s going to be worth your time to explore more. However, the example above should be enough to get you started.

There’s so much more you can do with landscape photos in Lightroom beyond what I demonstrated here. These basics should be enough to get you started and help you bring out a lot of the color, detail, and vibrancy that your landscape photos may be missing.

After learning these, I hope you start exploring the other options Lightroom has to offer.

I’d love to see examples of your landscape photos in the comments below!



The post Four Lightroom Tips to Enhance Your Landscape Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Peak Design Travel Tripod Review

The post Peak Design Travel Tripod Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Ever since Peak Design launched their Capture Clip in 2011, they have carved out a unique and important niche for themselves in modern photography. From their systems for securing your gear to their line of bags to store it all, Peak Design has everything a photographer on-the-go could want. However, the one thing missing from their lineup is a portable, compact device for holding your camera steady on a beach, boardwalk, or windswept mountainside. That all changed in May of 2019 when they launched their first-ever Travel Tripod.


The Peak Design Travel Tripod

I’ve had a few tripods over the years, and the one I use most often is a set of Manfrotto 055XDB legs mated to a Manfrotto 496EC2 ball head. It works great for almost any situation with the main drawback being size and weight.

Traveling with that tripod is a chore, and even simple actions like extending the legs can be cumbersome. My Manfrotto rig supports my full-frame camera with a battery pack and 70-200 f/2.8 lens like a champ, but I wish it were easier to transport and set up.

That’s why I was so intrigued at the Peak Design Travel Tripod. It appeared to be a great solution for someone like me who wants a small, light, yet rugged and durable tripod. It would, in theory, be great for holding everything from my Fuji X100F to my Nikon D750 with a big, heavy lens. If it were as practical, transportable, and durable as Peak Design claimed, it just might be the only tripod I would need.

Since this tripod is designed specifically for travel, I wanted to put it through its paces in an authentic manner. I took it with me when my family flew cross-country to see relatives in Minnesota, and it performed amazingly well. In one week, I shuffled it in and out of airplane carry-on luggage, used it for several group photos at houses, cabins, and parks and photographed the Independence Day fireworks.

Aside from a few nitpicks here and there, I can confidently say that the tripod performed its duties with aplomb.

After our trip, my wife and I discussed how there would have been no way to get so many of our vacation pictures without the Travel Tripod. Our Manfrotto tripod was too big to take, and our GorillaPod was too small to be useful for outdoor group photos.

The Peak Design Travel Tripod made it possible to get shots of friends and family we only see every few years. It allowed us to capture memories we would otherwise have had no way of photographing.


The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the Peak Design Travel Tripod was how diminutive it was. It’s barely bigger than my GorillaPod. But with the legs fully extended, it’s just as tall as a regular tripod.

When collapsed, the tripod is about the size of a 70-200 f/2.8 lens with camera attached.

Peak Design opted for a six-sided construction for the legs. This design lets them fold up close and minimize the amount of unused space in the middle. They also created a unique ball head that sits extremely low to the legs. This is a stark contrast to other ball heads which often feature a center column protruding upwards and thereby increasing the total height of the tripod.

Upon closer inspection, I found plenty of classic Peak Design touches implemented to make this as small as possible. The housing for each leg hinge has been shaped to hug the center column. Cam levers sit right next to the legs but offer plenty of leverage when extending them. Even the knob that allows the center column to extend is diminutive and unobtrusive – almost a little too much, as my fingers had trouble gripping it from time to time. (But more on that in a bit.)


After using this Travel Tripod, I don’t think I want to go back to my other tripod even when I’m not necessarily on the go. The convenience of something so small and light is hard to beat, especially when it can still hold my full camera rig.

Build quality

Having owned other Peak Design gear, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in terms of construction and build quality. Despite that, I found myself pleasantly surprised when I started putting it through its paces. The carbon fiber unit I tested feels solid, sturdy, and very well made


It’s difficult to tell how well this will hold up over the years. However, all the mechanical pieces on the tripod, from the cam levers that extend the legs to the collar that locks the ball head in place, feel extremely robust. Certainly just as good as any other tripod, and a lot better than some. The ball head has a satisfying chunkiness to it without being overbearing. Also, the overall quality of construction certainly inspires a great deal of confidence.

My wife and I have an Everyday Messenger and an Everyday Backpack – both of which get used daily. Even after years of use, those bags are holding up marvelously, with only a couple signs of wear and tear. As such, I expect the same level of quality and longevity from the Travel Tripod. From what I have seen thus far, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that this device would serve busy photographers for many years.

With the legs and center column fully extended the Travel Tripod is almost the same size as most standard tripods.

Ease of use

Small and lightweight are nice bullet points to have on the side of a box, but if a tripod is clunky and cumbersome, it will end up spending more time in a dark closet than out in the real world. This is an area where the Peak Design Travel Tripod excels, albeit with a few caveats. Setting up the tripod is a breeze, and you can have it ready to shoot within seconds. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Operations such as adjusting the position of the ball head, extending the center column, opening the cams to let the legs out, and attaching and detaching a camera, are all simple and fast. You can perform many of these operations with one hand in a matter of seconds. Moreover, when you combine that with the tripod’s total weight of about 3 pounds (a little more for the aluminum version, a little less for the carbon fiber version), it makes for a highly compelling product.

Ball head

Fitting your camera to the top of the ball head is a breeze. Attach the mounting plate to your camera, and pop it on to the tripod with a satisfying click as the spring-loaded clip latches it in place. You can then turn a collar at the base of the head to adjust the tension of the spring clip to make extra sure your camera won’t fall out.

I must admit, it took me a few tries to get the hang of this particular ball head. It was a little trickier than other ball heads I have used. However, the trade-off is a tripod head that is significantly smaller and more compact. If you’re using this device for travel, then you will be quite happy with the results.

Mounting plate

The tripod ships with a Peak Design mounting plate that requires a hex-screw, which means you need to use a small wrench to attach the plate to your camera. The tripod ships with the wrench, which looks about the same as the small hex-key wrenches you might find with IKEA furniture. It even has a little pocket in the tripod bag for storage.

Attaching and removing a camera from the tripod is easy. Attaching and removing the mounting plate from the camera requires a bit of work – at least in the current version.

The downside to this arrangement becomes apparent every time you want to move your mounting plate to another camera, which could be several times during a given photo shoot. You have to locate the wrench, unscrew the mounting plate, stow the wrench, get your other camera, grab the wrench, and hold everything in place while you attach the plate.

It doesn’t sound like much, but within a few days of using the tripod, I had already misplaced the wrench a couple of times. It mars what is an otherwise quite simple setup. Of course, you could just get another mounting plate too. It is compatible with Arca-Swiss plates, so you might already have some that would work.

Peak Design has heard a great deal of feedback about this issue since the unveiling of this Travel Tripod. They are currently working on a solution to likely involve a custom-designed hex-key that attaches to the tripod itself rather than stowing it in a bag. The final version was not available for testing, but I am quite confident that it will address most of the concerns that exist with the current setup.

I had to quickly reposition my camera to capture this fireworks shot, which was easy thanks to the size and weight of the Peak Design Travel Tripod.

My solution was simple; I just left the mounting plate attached to my camera for the duration of our visit to Minnesota. The only time I removed it, was when I had to change the battery. Otherwise, the plate was unobtrusive. In daily use, I didn’t really notice it on the camera. It allowed me to snap my Fuji X100F on to the tripod at a moment’s notice.

As far as general usage goes, I found the Travel Tripod to be a top performer. It was solid and held my camera gear in place easily. Adjusting the position of the ball head and locking it in place is easy once you get the hang of it, and extending the legs is quick and simple. As a daily driver on demanding photoshoots, there might be better options that can take the constant weight and abuse of full-time photography.

However, as a travel solution, this tripod is outstanding.

Shooting in portrait orientation

Some online reviews have mentioned that the ball head doesn’t allow you to shoot in portrait orientation as easily as others, but I never found this to be the case. Granted, I rarely shoot in portrait orientation when using my tripod, but when I did, I just adjusted the position of the mounting plate or rotated the tripod a bit. It honestly wasn’t an issue for me. Though, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be an issue for everyone. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t see that this is a problem at all.


The ball head allows you to easily position your camera to the left for portrait orientation….


…but if you tilt it to the right, your movement is limited. It’s an inconvenience, but not a deal-breaker.


Peak Design products are known for little flourishes that might not be noticeable at first but can leave you pleasantly surprised over time. Their bags come filled with hidden pockets, magnetic closures, and thoughtfully-placed loops and straps. These things make them eminently practical in ways that I don’t often see in other bags.

This Travel Tripod continues that tradition. It comes with added accouterments like a cell phone holder stowed in the center column – accessible with a quick twist of the ballast hook.

None of these are reason enough to purchase a tripod, but they are nice to have in a pinch. The realization that you can mount a cell phone easily, remove the center column quickly, and attach anchor links securely, added a little more value to an already outstanding device.

Some of these, like the cell phone holder, are tucked away so well you might forget where they are or how to access them. However, once you figure out where everything is and how to use it, you might start to feel a little less like a photographer and a little more like Q from the James Bond movies.

One anecdote that illustrates the Peak Design philosophy has to do with the tension knob, which lets you extend the center column. I found it challenging to grasp at first, and it was a chore to use because of its placement so close to the actual column.

It seemed like such an obvious oversight, and at first, I was disappointed in how Peak Design chose form over function in this regard. That is until I realized that the knob is held close to the column magnetically. Just pop it out, twist it, and pop it back in where it stays out of the way. I don’t see this attention to detail on a lot of other products, and it speaks the thoughtful creation of this tripod.

The knob to extend the center column pops out to make it easier to grip.


Deciding whether this tripod is right for you might very well come down to a question of value.

Is it a solid, well-made tripod that can come along with you on your adventures? Definitely.

Is it worth the money? Possibly.

Was it the perfect travel tripod for my trip to Minnesota, along with my daily use at home? Absolutely.

Will it be the ideal solution for you? It’s likely, but that’s a question I can’t answer for you.


There’s no getting around the fact that this is an expensive tripod. If you opt for the carbon fiber version, you will spend ten times as much as a GorillaPod, which has been a constant companion for traveling photographers for years.

There are other travel tripods on the market which offer similar features for less money, but also plenty that cost a lot more too. Fortunately, if you want all the features of this tripod in a slightly heavier package, the aluminum weighs slightly more but costs 40% less.

Peak Design has built up a reputation for putting out quality products that meet the needs of demanding photographers and, in my experience, stand the test of time. The Travel Tripod continues that tradition admirably, and I am happy to recommend it.


Size: 5/5

Build Quality: 5/5

Ease of Use: 4/5

Features: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5



The post Peak Design Travel Tripod Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing

The post Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One of Adobe’s recent feature updates to Lightroom has profound implications for photographers who retouch their portraits. While in-depth alterations are best handled in an app like Photoshop or Affinity Photo, Lightroom’s brush tool has been a good choice for basic retouching for many years. Users can dial in specific settings to help skin appear softer and smoother, or select a preset defined by Adobe. However, these retouches have typically employed the Clarity slider, which is great for a lot of situations but not exactly ideal for portraits. Thankfully, the new Lightroom Texture Slider option aims to solve this and a whole lot more.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 1

Before I get too deep into the Texture option, it’s important to know that it’s not just for tweaking headshots. It is specifically designed to either increase or decrease the detail on textured surfaces. These can be cloth, rocks, plants, skin, or anything that has a non-uniform appearance.

If you want to smooth the texture to make a surface appear more glassy, slide the Texture option to the left. By contrast, if you want to enhance the look of any textured object, just slide the tool to the right.

Texture vs. Clarity vs. Sharpening

Texture is fundamentally different from other tools such as Clarity or Sharpening, each of which has long been a staple in many portrait photographers’ workflows. Clarity works by increasing or decreasing contrast specifically along edges, or areas of already-high contrast. It primarily affects mid-tones and not the lightest and darkest portions of an image. Sharpening makes the edges of objects and surfaces much more vivid. It has some additional parameters like Radius and Amount that can be fine-tuned to get you just the right balance.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 2

Each of these tools has a specific purpose, and they can be used alone or together to create specific results. If you usually do basic portrait retouching by using the Brush tool and selecting the Soften Skin option, you may have noticed that it’s merely a combination of Clarity and Sharpness. Texture, on the other hand, is specifically designed by Adobe to alter the appearance of textured surfaces.

If you have traditionally done some basic retouching using Clarity and Sharpening, you might be surprised at how effective the Texture option is.

The Soften Skin brush preset in Lightroom is just a combination of -100 Clarity and +25 Sharpening.

Retouching with Texture

While you can apply texture globally by using the option in the Basic panel of Lightroom’s Develop module, portrait photographers will appreciate that it can be applied selectively using the Brush tool. Select the Brush option and then look for the Texture slider, which is right above Clarity, Dehaze, and Saturation. You can also configure parameters like Size, Feather, Flow, and Auto Mask though I would recommend leaving the latter turned off if you are editing portraits.

Click on your photograph and brush in the Texture adjustment the same you would with any other adjustment. Be careful to stay in the facial region and not brush into hair, clothing, or other parts of the image. You certainly can apply the texture brush to other elements of your picture later on, but to start with stay focused on the face.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 3

Original image with no brush adjustments applied.

As you brush in the Texture adjustment, you will see rough areas of the skin become smooth. I recommend starting with a value between -25 and -50. This retains most of the original look of the portrait while smoothing things out just a bit.

If you have never worked with the Adjustment Brush tool, you might take a minute and look over these five tips that could speed things up or make your work a lot more efficient.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 4

Texture -50 adjustment brush applied to the cheeks, chin, and nose.

The resulting portrait has a smoother, softer appearance where the Texture adjustment was applied. Details such as pores and wrinkles remain, and color gradients and shifting tones are also preserved.

This is much different than the results typically produced by using the Skin Smoothing option, which employs a mix of negative Clarity and positive Sharpening.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 5

Image with Soften Skin adjustment applied to the same areas.

This third image looks as though petroleum jelly has been smeared over the camera lens. The woman’s cheeks are missing the subtle color variations from the original image. While the skin is certainly smoother, it also looks more artificial.

To show how these images look in direct relation to one another, here is a graphic that shows all three versions for three seconds at a time. First is the original, then the Texture adjustment, then the original again, and finally the Soften Skin adjustment.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing

You can create your own Adjustment Brush preset if you don’t want to rely on the Soften Skin preset. But if you have traditionally used the Clarity option, you may find it pleasantly surprising how vastly improved your results are by using Texture instead.

Comparison two

For another comparison, here are three more images to help you see the difference between Texture and other methods of softening skin.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 6

The original image with no skin softening adjustments applied.

Applying a Texture -50 Adjustment leaves the pores, stubble, and small wrinkles intact but smooths them out just a bit. It’s a subtle change that doesn’t alter the original too much or make the face appear artificially smooth.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 7

Texture -50 applied to the cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead.

A custom skin smoothing adjustment of Clarity -75 and Sharpness +15 makes the young man’s forehead and cheeks appear fake and plastic. It’s not a great look for a portrait.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 8

Clarity -75 and Sharpness +15 applied to the same areas.

Looking at the three images sequentially shows the effect in a more pronounced fashion. The Texture adjustment gives a much more natural result while the final image seems over-processed and fake.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 9


There’s a lot more you can do with the Lightroom Texture slider, and it’s useful for a wide variety of images aside from portraits. Some photographers like to reduce texture in the face and increase texture on hair and clothing for a punchier look.

My recommendation is to open up some of your images, especially portraits or headshots, and try it out for yourself. You might be surprised at how well it works.

Have you used the Lightroom Texture slider? What are your thoughts? Please share your thoughts (and images) with us in the comments section.


Lightroom Texture Slider vs Skin Smoothing

The post Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

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.

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