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Video Tutorial: How to Make Realistic Images Faster with Aurora HDR 2018

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Post Production Tips

As a landscape photographer who relies heavily on HDR to pull off much of my work, I’m always keen to learn about better ways of doing what I do. Most of the time my art tends to run towards natural looking images in contrast to the wild and crazy stuff of HDR’s reputation. The HDR software I use matters when I’m going for a more natural looking photo in my post-processing.

Going natural with Aurora HDR 2018

Aurora hdr 2018 cactus before after

You can see several examples of the natural-looking results I’m getting in from Aurora HDR in the accompanying video and the several before and after images included here in the article.

Aurora HDR 2018 delivers, even more, natural-looking photos than before

The latest version of Aurora HDR is fresh out of the factory and I’ve been in a tire-kicking session with it for a few days making several photos. As expected, it’s a worthy upgrade. Do you want to see what’s new and how it helps when you want to keep the look of your HDR photos on the natural side?


After processing with Aurora HDR 2018.

Under the Hood of Aurora HDR 2018

The Macphun engineers have been very busy for many months re-building Aurora HDR from scratch. It’s like Walter White always says in Breaking Bad, “It had to be done.” In order to create a cross-platform Windows/Mac application, all new code was required. Big job.

The resulting product is something they can be proud of. The new HDR algorithm in Aurora HDR 2018 churns out very natural looking HDR images when it’s used correctly and with natural HDR being the goal. Of course, Aurora HDR 2018 is a perfect fit for my landscape photography work. It uses the most modern tone-mapping technology and an advanced image-processing engine, which makes very clean images, as you’ll notice in my examples.


After processing with Aurora HDR.


Video tutorial: Keeping it natural and real in Aurora HDR 2018

All the new features, just added to Aurora HDR 2018 in this release, bring it ever closer to becoming the only app you’ll need to process your HDR images and keep them as natural looking as you want. When you watch the video you’ll see how I use some of the new major features packed into Aurora HDR 2018 when creating my natural looking HDR landscapes. Watch the demo video:

Embracing the faster workflow using Aurora HDR 2018

You probably love photography as much as I do. Getting new tools that really help me get to my intended vision faster, or easier, or just better in any aspect, are quite welcome. They make it even easier to love what I do.

Kudos to the completely rewritten HDR algorithm and the advanced image-processing engine in Aurora HDR 2018. I’m finding that it’s speeding up my workflow significantly. That’s because of how good my photos usually look immediately after tone mapping even without even doing anything else in Aurora.

If I were brand new to photography, I’d be totally happy leaving my photos in that initial tone-mapped state with no further processing. They are that clean!



Back in the day (before Aurora HDR), it could take me up to a couple of hours to finish an HDR photo. Even then, it wasn’t all that natural looking much of the time. Thankfully, things are always evolving in exciting ways.

Ever since my foray into HDR photography eight years ago, my skills have improved. But I honestly have to credit the improvements in software, like Aurora HDR 2018, for dramatically reducing the time it takes me to finish a photo to just a few minutes while getting better, more realistic, results.


My intention is keeping my post-processing time to five minutes per image and striving for consistently higher quality photography. Aurora HDR 2018 is a big piece in my HDR workflow making that happen so it’s now a permanent tool in my HDR arsenal.

Be sure to watch the video, then I invite you to check out more Aurora HDR images in my SmugMug gallery.

Disclaimer: Macphun is a paid partner of dPS.

The post Video Tutorial: How to Make Realistic Images Faster with Aurora HDR 2018 by Keith Cuddeback appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Modern digital cameras have a variety of metering modes that they use to evaluate the light coming through the lens and help you choose your exposure settings. Each one is different and designed to fit a specific need. As you gain experience with them you will start to know which metering mode to use for any given scene you are shooting.

If you’re shooting portraits you might want to use Spot or Center-weighted metering, while landscape shooters may prefer the versatility of matrix or evaluative mode. Knowing which mode to use often comes with time and practice. But what if I told you there was a metering mode built-in to some cameras that could basically guarantee your shots would come out properly exposed every single time? Well, if you believe that then I’ve got a bridge in New York I’d like to sell you.

Highlight-Weighted Metering Mode

However, if your camera has Highlight-Weighted metering it will certainly help you get better results from your photos. While I can’t guarantee your pics will be perfect every single time, it can really come in handy if you’re not sure how to meter your scene and want a solution that you know you can rely on.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Different metering modes for different situations

The reason photographers use specific metering modes when shooting various scenes is that they want to make sure the right thing is properly exposed. For example, if you’re shooting a portrait it’s important to make sure your subject’s face is neither too bright nor too dark, even is it means some background elements will end up bright white or pitch black.

Center-weighted metering can solve this problem by helping you arrive at an exposure setting such that whatever is in the middle of the frame (i.e. your subject’s face) is exposed just right. Other metering modes such as Spot, Matrix/Evaluative, and Partial Metering all perform similar functions in that they help you make sure you have just the right camera settings to get precisely the important part of your composition properly exposed.

Highlight-weighted metering tosses all that out the window. In the process, it could also dramatically alter your approach not only to metering a scene but to photography as a whole.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

I used Center-weighted metering here to make sure this couple was exposed just right, even though the background is a bit too bright. I cared more about the couple looking good than the tree leaves behind them.

Enter Highlight-Weighted Metering for Select Nikon Cameras

Available on only a few Nikon cameras, (D5, D850, D810, D750, D500, and D7500 as of the time of this writing) Highlight-weighted metering utilizes the incredible dynamic range of modern image sensors to give you a massive degree of control over your photos. Provided you don’t mind doing a bit of legwork in Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar, or other post-processing software.

It works by looking at the brightest elements of a scene (instead of specific areas like the center or the focus point) and using those as the basis for taking an exposure reading. On the surface, this might seem like a terrible idea because doing so would obviously mean a great deal of your photo could, as a result, be much too dark and underexposed to be usable.

Accessing Highlight-Weighted Metering

I’ve talked to some photographers who own cameras that can do Highlight-Weighted metering, and some of them aren’t even aware that their cameras have this capability. It’s not that surprising since Nikon doesn’t seem to go out of its way to advertise the feature, and even if you know about it you still may not know how to enable it.

To access this feature, press the metering button on your camera and then turn the control dial until you see an icon that looks the same as spot metering, with the exception of an asterisk in the top-right corner.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

You will see the same icon if you look at the rear LCD screen of your camera, and as soon as it appears you’re good to go. However, figuring out how to enable Highlight-Weighted metering is one thing but understanding how it works, when to use it, and how to get the most out of it is another matter entirely.

Exposing for the Highlights

Before I get too deep into what this all means, it’s important to understand that Highlight-Weighted metering isn’t really the best solution to use for everyday shooting. It’s designed to make sure the brightest portions of your composition are not overexposed, which means a great deal of the photo is going to be shrouded in darkness.

You also won’t really see the advantages of using it unless you shoot RAW because it’s designed to give you an image that is extremely flexible due to the amount of data you have to work with during the post-production phase. Since JPEG files toss out such a huge amount of image data, they’re not much use with Highlight-Weighted metering because you simply don’t have much room to edit your photos when developing them in Lightroom.

Metering Mode Comparison

As an illustration of how Highlight-Weighted metering works, consider this series of three images. I took the following shot using Matrix metering mode, which tries to get a good overall balance between highlights and shadows. It’s a mode that many people use by default since it helps you get properly-exposed images in most shooting situations.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Matrix metering resulted in a good overall exposure but the sky is so bright that it can’t be fixed in post-production.

You can see that the camera tried its best to balance out the highlights and shadows, and the resulting image is decent but there is a massive portion of the sky that is simply too bright and can’t be recovered in Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other post-processing software.

Using Highlight-Weighted metering meant that my camera helped me adjust the exposure settings such that the brightest parts (i.e. the sky) were not overexposed, which resulted in an image that seems unusable at first.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Highlight-weighted metering preserved the brightest portions of the image but left the rest vastly underexposed. This is the image as it came right out of the camera.

Fortunately, due to the incredible dynamic range in modern camera sensors, an image like this is perfectly usable. The key is that the highlights haven’t been lost or clipped, so the sky is exposed just fine while the dark portions of the image still contain so much data (because I shot in RAW) that it can still be transformed into a print-worthy photo with just a few clicks.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

The sky was exposed properly, with plenty of shadow details still available for editing. This is the same image as above, after processing to pull detail out of the shadow areas.

Some Caveats

As you might expect, there are some caveats to using this approach as well as a few questions.

First of all, experienced photographers might wonder what the big deal is with this approach since similar results can be had by simply using exposure compensation. That is if you take a shot and see that the image is overexposed, just compensate by underexposing it a few stops. The problem with this approach is that it’s a multi-step solution which means a critical moment can sometimes pass you by while you are adjusting the exposure. However, using Highlight-Weighted metering ensures that the brightest parts of your image will never be clipped and therefore have plenty of data to use when editing.

It’s also worth pointing out that in order to get the benefits of Highlight-Weighted metering you need to be willing to edit your photos afterward in order to bring up the shadows and adjust your images accordingly. If you’re used to shooting JPG or doing minimal editing, it might not be worth the additional time that this solution adds to your workflow.

Finally, to get the most benefits you need to use low ISO values since the data from the sensor will be more usable. Sensor dynamic range drops off at higher ISO values so if you find yourself shooting at ISO 6400, 3200, or even 1600 you won’t be able to bring up the shadows nearly as well as you could with images shot at ISO 100 or 200.

Another example

For one more example, here’s a series of photos of a goose that illustrate this concept in action. This first image was taken using standard Matrix metering which did its job pretty well. Overall the scene is properly exposed, except for one glaring exception: the overexposed part right at the base of the bird’s neck.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Matrix metering, unedited RAW file.

After seeing my results I quickly switched to the Highlight-weighted metering mode. In doing so, my camera made sure that the brightest part of the image was properly exposed, which left the rest extraordinarily dark.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Highlight-weighted metering, unedited RAW file

Fortunately, there was plenty of color data to extract from the shadows, so a little finessing in Lightroom resulted in an image that I’d be happy to post to my Instagram feed.

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Highlight-weighted metering, edited in Lightroom to pull out the shadow detail.

What if you don’t have a Highlight-weighted metering mode?

If you don’t have Highlight-weighted metering built into your camera you can approximate its effects by using Spot metering and the exposure lock button on your camera. This would allow you to set exposure values based on what you deem to be the brightest part of the composition, lock in your settings, and then recompose your shot before snapping the shutter. It’s not as simple or elegant as having the camera automatically meter the scene based on the brightest part of the composition, but it’s worth trying if your camera doesn’t have this function.


I like to think of Highlight-weighted metering as another useful arrow to have in my photography quiver, but not something I use all the time for every one of my shots. For most images, I tend to default to Matrix metering since it will usually give me a properly-exposed shot that I can tweak if I need to.

However, when I find myself in situations with extreme contrast between the lightest and darkest portions I will often switch over to Highlight-weighted metering so I can stop worrying about checking my settings and dialing in exposure compensation. That way I know that I’ll end up with images that I can edit however I need to in Lightroom because nothing will be overexposed.

The post How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Landscape Photography: It’s All About the Light

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

There are many tools that photographers use for creating compelling landscape photography, but some fail to realize that light is the most important element. We only shoot in those magic hours when the sun’s rays hit our subject at an angle to create a warm glow.

Landscape Photography: It's All About the Light

What many people don’t realize is that there are lots of different types of light that can affect the quality of your landscape images. How you approach this light will make a huge difference in the quality of your photographic portfolio. Let’s get started and talk about a few of our favorite examples of beautiful light.

That magic time for landscapes, of course, is sunrise and sunset, but specifically what other types of light will make or break your images?

Reflected Light

Zion-Narrows- Reflected Light Landscape Photography: It's All About the Light

This picture was taken on one of our expeditions to Zion National Park in Utah. Part of the beauty and excitement of this trip is strapping on your water shoes, grabbing your hiking stick and wading through the river to get some amazing shots.

Reflected light, which can also be called bounced or diffused light occurs when there is direct sunlight reflected off an adjacent surface. The canyons in the Southwest are perfect for this type of light as the color of the canyon is bounced back and reflected giving a warm glow to the walls. The quality of this light is soft, even, and beautiful.

Overcast Light

Morro-Bay- Overcast Light Landscape Photography: It's All About the Light

Morro Bay on the Central Coast of California has many faces depending on the weather. It’s just as striking in the fog as it is on a beautiful sunny day.

This quality of light is found on overcast and foggy days and is very soft and bluish. The color of this light comes from the whole sky, which acts like one big softbox and in the right situation can be very dramatic.


Big-Sur-morning-light Landscape Photography: It's All About the Light

This image was taken in Big Sur, one of our favorite shooting locations. It boasts incredible sunsets, especially in the winter.

A typical backlit picture will have a rim of the sun’s rays around the subject, or you will be able to see the sun as a bright spot in the photograph. If you are using a small aperture, you will be able to get a “sun star” or sun flare effect like this one.

Direct Light

White-Sands-Direct-Light Landscape Photography: It's All About the Light

Because of the reflection of light off the sand, White Sands, New Mexico is an unparalleled photography location.

Direct sunlight is usually found approximately one to two hours after sunrise and one to two hours before sunset. It can be hot and unforgiving while casting strong shadows. This light works great for black and white but can sometimes be overly intense for color photography.

Morning and Evening Horizontal Light

This light is warm and horizontal and is caught during sunrise and sunset. It is horizontal because the sun’s rays are cast at an angle as the sun is rising and setting. This is the prime light for photography due to its combination of low contrast and warm tones. Objects lit directly by this light may seem to glow, as if illuminated from within, with details emerging clearly. Learn to use this light on a regular basis and you will be amazed at the results.


The Canadian Rockies in the fall never fails to disappoint us. The crisp mountain air and the deciduous larch trees make this an amazing photographic location.

Open Shade

In landscape photography, open shade consists of areas not lit by direct sunlight. This is very soft light and is common in forested areas. The best part about this type of light is you can shoot all day and still have the benefit of this soft, dreamy light.


This redwood forest is one of our favorite stops on California’s Big Sur coast.

Combination Light – Direct and Diffused

Here is an example of combination light, both direct and diffused. This was shot on Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierra, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. This image depicts a highly unusual phenomenon. There were rays of morning horizontal sunlight shining from behind us while we were shooting. Only a portion of the mountain was shaded or diffused by the clouds overhead creating a spotlight effect.


This shot was a result of several hours of “waiting for the light” and we were greatly surprised and rewarded for our efforts.

Manmade Light

You don’t really think of manmade light in landscape photography, but here is a great example!

This image was captured on the Big Sur coast at dusk. There were rows of cars waiting to get through a construction site. As the cars were let through, we captured the row of car lights with a long exposure and the camera mounted on a tripod.


Photography Exercise

Try shooting the same subject in the exact same location before sunrise and after sunset. Notice the differences in the light? Are the color and tone different? Do the details look different in the light areas and in the shadows? Comment below and let me know how you do. Enjoy!

The post Landscape Photography: It’s All About the Light by Holly Higbee-Jansen appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to do Abstract Nature Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Photography, especially nature photography, is the art of capturing a scene to represent a slice – in space and time – of reality. Right? Well, not exactly, not always. That’s definitely part of it, but from very early on in the history of the art, photographers have experimented with the possibilities and limits of technique and imagination to create abstract art. Art that aims not to be accurate, but to let the imagination run free to create an effect disconnected from the obvious.

Abstract nature photography 01

So what exactly is abstract photography? And can nature photography be abstracted? Should it be?

What is abstract photography?

The word itself comes from the Latin abstractus, which means drawn away or detached, and is often used in opposition to concrete. In terms of art, the abstract is a space for impression and imagination, for the elusive, for fuzzy borders. That doesn’t mean abstract photography is blurry and dim – it can be bright, clear, and sharp. It just doesn’t aim at the common, concrete representation of the world that we’re used to. That’s why abstract nature photography is so intriguing.

Abstract nature photography 02

By creating a distance from form, abstract art opens up a space to explore associations, feelings, and reactions. Because it lacks an anchor for your interpretation, there is room for an uninhibited association. Through detachment from the concrete, you’re allowed to create your own way.

Abstract nature photography 03

Capturing nature with photography

In nature photography, most work tries to clearly capture an object, a scene, or a process – to the point where the photography might cross from artistic into scientific. Abstract nature photography is obviously different in that it doesn’t try to represent physical reality. Its potential is to create something ethereal from the ordinary, to find something unique in the mundane.

To create abstract nature photographs, you need to step beyond the obvious and try to capture a sensation, a mood, a movement – things that might not be part of physical reality, but are just as real to the artist and the viewer. Think of it as music, using very concrete instruments and elements to create a reaction beyond that of the individual notes and sounds.

Abstract nature photography 04

Getting started

To create something abstract, you need to begin with something concrete. Painters create abstract art using concrete tools: their paints, their substrate, brushes or other painting tools, and their imagination.

Photographers use different tools, but a more significant difference is that the artist is inescapably aware of the reality from which the abstraction in the finished work stems. However, the viewer’s vantage point is the same, whether the piece of art is an abstract painting or an abstract photograph.

Abstract nature photography 05

The camera and your imagination are the only limitations on how you create abstract art. Below I list some easy ideas to begin experimenting with because by now I hope you’re intrigued enough to try your hand at abstract nature photography. To be clear, all of these tips also work for abstract art that has nothing to do with nature photography, but they focus on abstract art rooted in nature photography.

1. Distance

Getting very close to something or far away from it are great ways to create abstractions. We don’t often get that view in our everyday life, so it’s easy to disconnect what’s captured from what’s immediately familiar.

Here is an example from the realm of macro photography:

Abstract nature photography 06

And an abstract photograph taking advantage of an unusually distant perspective:

Abstract nature photography 07

2. Focus

Just because something is abstract doesn’t mean it has to be blurry or unfocused, but playing with focus is certainly one way to make a scene abstract. This requires that you use manual focus.

By either squinting or defocusing your eyes, you can get an idea of what the scene might look like as an out-of-focus image. Use that to find an interesting scene – just because something is out of focus doesn’t mean it’s interesting! Play around, and also try combining it with movement (see next point).

Abstract nature photography 08

3. Time

Time is always of the essence when it comes to photography, and abstract photography is no exception. By combining a chosen exposure time with some movement you can create some really interesting abstract art. Your exposure time can be anything from a tiny fraction of a second to several minutes (or even longer), and in terms of movement, it can either come from the subject moving (e.g., light painting), or from the camera moving (e.g., intentional camera movement).

Abstract nature photography 09

A bonus for advanced (and daring) photographers

Early photographic attempts at abstract art were based on the medium itself: the metallic or glass plates or sensitized paper in combination with the necessary chemicals used to create photographs, and light (without a lens). This kind of extreme back-to-basics experimentation also works with a digital camera.

For instance, through something called refractography, where a naked sensor is exposed to light reflected from a refractive object. It’s both beyond the scope of this article and my photographic experience, so I won’t talk more about it, but I thought it was worth mentioning. A quick warning, though: removing your lens from your camera always exposes the sensor to dust, so doing photography without a lens is obviously not healthy for your sensor. You’ve been warned.

Abstract nature photography 10


For photography newbies, trying your hand at abstract photography is a great way to get to know your camera and try out different photography techniques: using manual focus, light painting, intentional camera movement, and so much more. For more advanced photographers, it’s a fun way to explore and expand your art and to try something new.

Abstract nature photography 11

What do you think of abstract nature photography? Have you tried it? Please share your photos and thoughts in the comments below.

The post How to do Abstract Nature Photography by Hannele Luhtasela-el Showk appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

Filed Under Cameras and Equipment, Digital Photography School

The drive to be creative is what focuses many people in photography. One variable you can alter to help you create photographs that really stand out is the lens. There are several different options for choosing creative lenses, depending on your taste.

In this article, you’ll see five very different kinds of lenses, and what they are capable of bringing to your photography. It’s always a good idea to have a lens that capable of something totally different, which will allow your photos to stand out from the crowd.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

The fisheye lens is used in this photo has captured a wide scene. There is some distortion on the edge of the image, but with the lines all leading in, this works well.

1 – The fish-eye lens

This lens is always great fun to work with, it’s a versatile lens that can be used for both portraits and landscapes. A fish-eye lens has several great applications so let’s take a look at those:

  • Wide-angle lens – This can act as a super wide-angle lens, and if you decide not to carry a wide angle lens the fish-eye makes a decent alternative. The main constraint is the distortion, this means keeping the horizon line straight.
  • The Earth’s not flat! – You can prove the Earth is not flat with a fish-eye lens. Simply position the horizon line near the top or bottom of the frame, and let distortion do the rest.
  • Embrace the distortion – Using a fish-eye means working with the way lines get distorted. This has great application for portrait photos, as those lines lead up to your model.

The fish-eye is a great lens to play with, which is why it’s such a popular lens. It’s great for getting a lot of the scene in your frame, but is, therefore, challenging to use. Those who embrace the challenge of this lens will be reward with some amazing results, so go out and try one.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

The fish-eye lens can be great for super wide landscape photos.

2 – The Lensbaby for something quirky

Lensbaby is a company that makes a range of lenses that are small, comparatively cheap, and not too heavy. The lenses they make have diversified over the years. The Lensbaby Composer was their original concept. The Composer lens allows the user to change the area in the frame that has the sharpest focus. It does this by allowing you to change the plane of focus using a swivel head.

  • Abstract bokeh – Shifting the angle of the composer lens will give you stretch bokeh. The best way to get this effect is to photograph some fairy lights, that are deliberately out of focus.
  • Portrait photos – Lensbaby lenses are excellent at drawing your eye to the model, by minimizing the background. Once again with the Composer, you can focus your sweet spot on the persons face, and surround them with bokeh!
  • Landscape photos – While not its strength, a Lensbaby can be used for interesting landscape photos. This works best when there is an out of focus area in the frame, which the Lensbaby Composer can further blur out into stretch bokeh. The effect is not dissimilar to a tilt-shift lens, and the subject of the photo should be sharp.

The Lensbaby Composer creates interesting bokeh around the subject.

3 – The 50mm f/1.2 is a creative lens

The nifty fifty is one of the first lenses that many photographers buy, with the less expensive f/1.8 version being a popular choice. There are a plethora of other prime lenses that can be used creatively like the 50mm f/1.2, though f/1.2 is at the extreme end of the large aperture scale. The comparison to make is a fish-eye lens to a wide angle, and here, an f/1.2 to an f/1.8 lens.

The 50mm f/1.2 is an excellent choice for those wanting to explore bokeh in their photographs. The depth of field is incredibly narrow, and getting sharp focus on your subject can be tricky. In the evening, positioning lights behind the subject, in the out of focus area will produce bokeh.

Want to get even more creative? Try creating different shaped bokeh, by placing a circular disk with a cut-out area in front of your lens.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

At f/1.2 the bokeh is very smooth in this image, and the plane of focus is very narrow.

4 – Up close it’s a different world! Use a macro lens.

The world can look very different with just a little bit of magnification, and macro lenses are a good place to start. This form of photography is a niche all of its own, and there are many pieces to it. Those who wish to really excel at macro photography will need to invest in the correct lighting gear and a good tripod. There is plenty you can achieve with a macro lens to start you on the path of macro photography.

  • Flower photography – A good macro lens is often the starting point for flower photography. Now, of course, you can take photos without doing macro photography, but getting in closer allows for more dramatic results.
  • Water droplets – Combined with the correct off-camera flash there is a lot of photography you can do with water droplets.
  • Detail photos – Macro lenses are very good for focusing on one area, and bringing out the detail. Close up photos of money is one example of how this can be applied.
Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

Food photography can be a good subject for your macro lens.

5 – Use a tilt-shift lens for more interesting landscapes

The tilt-shift lens has two main purposes, these are to correct the perspective of a photo, and to create a miniature world look. These lenses were originally designed with architectural photographers in mind, so that tall buildings didn’t bow inwards in the frame. The more creative use of these lenses is to create a miniature world. The lens can selectively focus the middle area of the frame, with the top and bottom blurred out. The lens is on the expensive end, and as the effect can be produced by

A tilt-shift lens can selectively focus the middle area of the frame, with the top and bottom blurred out. The lens is on the expensive end, and as the effect can be produced by post-processing you will need to consider whether or not you want to invest in this kind of creative lens.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

The tilt-shift effect miniaturizes objects in the frame. This effect can be achieved both in camera and by post-processing.

Which creative lens will you choose?

There are many lenses available, so which of these creative lenses would you choose if you were to buy one? Have you already have a lens like this, how has your experience with it been?

Is there a project you’d like to work on, where you’d need a lens like one of those listed above? Do you use another creative lens, not mentioned here? As always we look forward to your comments and feedback.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

The macro lens is great for exploring nature, be it flowers or insects.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

The Lensbaby can be used to create abstract bokeh.

Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop

The 50mm f/1.2 lens can create shaped bokeh, this is done by covering the lens with a disc, and cutting the shape in the center of that disc.

The post Five Creative Lenses That Will Make Your Photos Pop by Simon Bond appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Documentary style photography has long been of great fascination to me. The sheer act of photographing people and places to document spontaneous moments and the imperfections associated with it gives such photography, and the photographer, a sense of being authentic, real, and free to exercise his/her creative freedom.

Officially, documentary style photography has many technical definitions. As per Wikipedia, documentary style of photography is used to chronicle events and environments in a naturally occurring state very much like photojournalism. I like to think of a documentary style of photography as the letting go of my inhibitions and preconceived notions of perfection. That I’m documenting people and places in their natural environment – being or doing what they do on any given day.

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

This scene literally happened right in front of me in Jaipur, India – the classic story of the billy goats!

I find that by approaching travel photography in a documentary fashion, I am able to have a richer travel experience. Because I can relieve my mind of the pressures of photographing just like everyone else and also walk away with some unique frames that speak to my own experiences.

To that end, here are a few tips to keep in mind for a documentary style approach towards your travel photography.

#1 – Be present in the moment

Being present in every moment of every day is a life lesson we all can benefit from. It doesn’t just apply to travel photography. Great moments happen every day around us that are worth documenting not just for our clients but also for ourselves so that we can live a richer, fuller life.

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

People watching is a great exercise in training your eye to really catch that which is unusual and unique to a place – these boys in the market in Jaipur were observing me just as much as I was observing them!

By training your mind to really live life in the moment and not worry about all the other distractions will also help you really “see” what is around you. More often than not, you likely travel with a very tight agenda and timeline. No sooner than you get to your destination, you are already mentally prepared to move on to the next stop. Instead, try and plan a single excursion for a day and really focus on learning and experiencing that place or activity before moving on.

#2 – Be observant of your surroundings

Life is happening all around you all the time. People interacting with each other, people interacting with nature, nature putting on a grand show during sunrise, sunset, or even during a thunderstorm. But don’t wait for some preconceived notion of the perfect moment to take your camera out and take a photo.

At the same time, don’t see the world simply through your viewfinder. Observe the scene, anticipate the shot that you really want to get and be ready to take the shot. Don’t just fire away at every situation only to get home to realize that you completed missed the moment and hence missed the shot as well.

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

I once found myself in the middle of a village festival/ritual when I was traveling in India. I had no idea what was going on but knew I had to document this. Luckily a female photographer was somewhat of a rarity in this village and I was given a special seat in the middle of all the action (without a word spoken amongst me and these women)! It was fascinating to see and experience.

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

I later found out that these women were taking one of the female members of their family to each house to get blessings as she was supposed to be possessed by a female deity and have god-like powers…certainly an experience I will never forget!

#3 – Be real about your travel photography goals

A very famous travel quote says, “We travel not to escape life, but so that life does not escape us” really hits the nail on the head for me. Be real about why you travel and what you want to gain out of each travel experience. If you are traveling to a marketplace and want to get a true sense of local lifestyles and customs, then look for naturally occurring scenes. Don’t look for people that you can pose or stage to get your shot.

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

This is by no means a perfect shot but I love the fact that this angle shows just how crazy transportation choices can be in smaller villages and towns in some countries!

#4 – Be aware of your gear choices

Packing for any sort of travel is an art in itself, especially if you are going away for an extended period of time. Documentary style travel photography requires a slightly different mindset in terms of gear than say perhaps wildlife or portrait photography.

I find that for documentary style travel photography a zoom lens like the ultra-wide angle focal length like the Canon 16-35mm f/4 or one like the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 works well for me. While a fast lens is ideal, I don’t usually find myself photographing at an aperture lower than f/4 or f/5.6. More often than not, I have more than one subject in the scene and also want to capture some of the background in order to provide content to the shot.

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

I was in Rome for three days this past summer but couldn’t get the famous Spanish Steps without people no matter what time of the day I tried. So instead, I chose to embrace the crowds and showcase this famous monument as the tourist attraction it really is!

#5 – Be confident in your skills

Documentary style photography is generally quite fast paced. You are trying to capture a scene as it is playing out in front of you. You don’t really have the time or the opportunity to re-compose the shot and then click the shutter. However, this does not mean

However, this does not mean that you have to just fire away at the maximum fps (frames per second) that your camera can handle, then pick the best of the lot in post-processing. Instead, use your technical as well as artistic skills to read the scene, analyze the light, assess the right camera settings, imagine the outcome, anticipate the shot and then take the picture. Oh, by the way, bear in mind that you will not likely get a redo.

Portland Mountains from the flight - Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

I had almost no time to really plan this shot out…I knew I wanted to try and get all three of the famous peaks of the Pacific Northwest in one frame while at about 35,000 feet in the air.


I hope these tips convey my love for documentary style photography and do not scare you away from it. This style of photography has its own charm. Even though it may appear to be highly unplanned and random, it is also a good mix of carefully anticipated planning and authenticity. Give it a try the next time you travel and let me know how it goes.

The post Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Post Production Tips

One of the most powerful distortion tools in Photoshop is the Puppet Warp command. First Introduced in Photoshop CS5, Puppet Warp is a handy command that allows you to easily bend and shape parts of your image as if it were a puppet. You can use this distortion tool on almost any photo, but in this tutorial, I am going to give you a crash-course on how to make the most out of Puppet Warp command when distorting people in your photos.

Puppet Warp provides a visual mesh that lets you drastically distort specific image areas while leaving other areas intact. Applications range from subtle adjustments to severe limb distortions. In most cases, you will keep your distortions subtle to keep them realistic.

How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop

However, in this tutorial, we will push the Puppet Warp Tool to the max and make drastic adjustments to completely reposition the arms and legs of the man in this composite.

Isolating Your Subject

The first step to using the Puppet Warp command is to isolate the person (or object) that you would like to distort. This often involves making a selection of the individual and masking-out the background.

In this example, the man jumping was extracted from his background via a Layer Mask and placed into a Smart Object. Smart Objects allow you to apply filters, commands, and distortions nondestructively; which means that you can always come back and adjust any changes that you’ve made.

02 isolate - How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop

Puppet Warp works even if you don’t extract the subject from the background, but the tool becomes less efficient and less intuitive.

Apply The Distortion Pins

The Puppet Warp command allows you to distort an image by clicking-and-dragging pins which distort the pixels to which they are attached.

After you isolate the person in your scene, you will need to add the distortion pins so that you can start manipulating the pixel in your image. Start by selecting the layer that contains your foreground element, in this case, the layer of the man jumping, and Go to Edit > Puppet Warp.

03 mesh How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop

By Default, you will see a mesh around your layer. This mesh can be distracting; I encourage you to disable it by unchecking the “Show Mesh” checkbox from the Options Bar.

04 disable mesh

You can now click anywhere on your subject to create the pins that will allow you to move (or pin down) the pixels in the image. When working with people, create the pins near the joints such as the wrist, shoulders, knees, ankles, and in any other area where the body would normally bend. You can also create pins in areas that you want to keep pinned down.

05 add pins How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop

Adjusting Pins and Distorting the Image

With your pins in place, click on a single pin to activate it, and drag it to a new location. You will see that the image will be distorted as you drag the pin. The distortions will become more extreme the further you drag it from its original location.

06 move pins How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop

Rotating Pins

After making a distortion, you may find that the image does not look realistic because of how the pins bend the surrounding pixels. To help fix this issue, you can use the Rotate control in the Options Bar to rotate a single point and help correct some of the unrealistic distortions.

07 rotate options

You can also select a pin and hover over it while holding Option/Alt to reveal a Rotate UI element that you can click-and-drag on to rotate the mesh.

08 rotate

This method is much more intuitive, and it allows you to rotate the pin much easier. But for more subtle and precise rotations, the Rotate control in the Options Bar will be the better option.

Pin Depth

In this example, you’ll notice that the model’s leg has been placed over his right leg. But if you would like for his right leg to be in front, then you can adjust the Pin Depth.

Select the pin that controls his right leg, and in the Options Bar, under Pin Depth, Click the Move Forward icon to push that pin forward.

09 pin depth

After changing the Pin Depth, the model’s right leg will appear in front of his left leg.

09 leg behind

You can do the same with any of the other pins in your image to change the depth of the corresponding body part.

Options Bar Settings

The Options bar also give you a few extra options that will determine how the mesh will behave and it will, of course, affect how the pixels are distorted.

  • The Mode option lets you decide how stretchable the mesh should be.
  • Density controls the spacing of the mesh’s points. Adding more points makes your edits a lot more accurate, but the processing time takes longer to complete.
  • Expansion allows you to expand or contract the outer edges of the mesh.


If you prefer to watch me do this and follow along by video, see below:

Remember that when using the Puppet Warp command, or any other distortion tool in Photoshop, you should do so with restraint. Small changes can have a significant impact and go unnoticed. However, extreme adjustments could quickly become unrealistic and distracting to the whole image.

The post How to Use Puppet Warp in Photoshop by Jesus Ramirez appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Weekly Photography Challenge – Light Painting

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Earlier I rounded up a couple videos on how to do two very different styles of light painting. You can see them here. Below are two images of my own where you can see the two different techniques and the results.

In this image, I have light painted the building with a regular flashlight.

This shot is a combination of 3 people doing the light painting to make this happen. One on the building with a flashlight, another on the train tracks with an orange colored wand, and me on the wagon making the funky shape.

Note: the image above was done using some special tools. Read this for more info: Review: Light Painting Brushes – Tools for Creativity.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Light Painting

Before you give up before you even start, assuming this is too hard for you – wait!

Light painting does not have to be hard at all, and I’ll give you some articles to check out that can help you. But you can keep it simple and try a sparkler like this:

Or a cell phone which was used to light up the car in this shot.

If you need more help try these articles:

Share your images below:

Light painted train caboose.

This was created using gloves that glow different colors. My husband did the light painting, it’s the name of his favorite beer in Nicaragua.

The ultimate light painting is fire spinning.

Simply upload your shot into the comment field (look for the little camera icon in the Disqus comments section) and they’ll get embedded for us all to see or if you’d prefer, upload them to your favorite photo-sharing site and leave the link to them. Show me your best images in this week’s challenge. Sometimes it takes a while for an image to appear so be patient and try not to post the same image twice.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

You can also share your images on the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Light Painting by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Video Tips – Two Light Painting Techniques for you to Try

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

I personally love night photography and one of my favorite things to do at night is light painting. There are a few ways to do it depending on the look you want. Here are two completely different techniques for you to try out.

Make a Light Spiral

In this first video photographer Jason Rinehart shows us how to create a light painted spiral. So there is no subject you are adding light to, the light itself ends up being the subject. See how he does it here:

Light Paint an Old Barn

In this second video, you see a different approach where a flashlight is used to light paint the subject, in this case, an old barn in Ireland. There is a right and a wrong way to do this, and they give good examples of both.

Have you tried light painting before? Which of the two methods do you like better, or do you enjoy doing both styles? Tell us in the comments below.

The post Video Tips – Two Light Painting Techniques for you to Try by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.


3 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

I’ve recently returned from leading a photography workshop in the Alaska Range, south of my home in Fairbanks, Alaska. The trip was timed with the peak of fall colors. My students and I spent dozens of hours over the week, exploring the vibrant colors, and trying really hard to make the weird orange, red, and yellow landscape look the way we wanted it to in our autumn photos.

It occurred to me that autumn, photographically speaking, is weird. It throws our perception of colors through a loop. The world, normally a mix of blues and greens, suddenly shifts to crazy warm tones of yellow, orange, and red.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

To effectively photograph autumn colors, you need to refocus not just your camera, but also your brain. The standard compositional “rules” of landscape photography shift quite a bit during the fall. The background, which for much landscape work is the actual subject of the image (think big mountains) becomes the setting rather than the subject in the autumn. Our attention falls to the foreground, where the colors are exploding.

In this article, I’m going to cover three composition types for autumn: details, broad landscapes, and local landscapes. When mixed together, these three types of images will help you tell a compelling visual story of your autumn experience.

#1 – The Details

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Photographing details lies in the fuzzy gray area between macro and landscape photography. Sometimes it’s one or the other, sometimes it is a little bit of both. In general, however, I see photographing the details as another part of landscape work. These images tell a small, but important part of the story.

Mentally, details give us a starting point for seeing the way a landscape will come together, and they also play an important role in providing a sense of scale. The small bits of the scene are rarely captured in a big landscape photo, and yet they are a very important part of our experience in the field. The details too should be an important part of the story we are telling our audience.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Lens choice

Close-up work requires a lens capable of a relatively close focus, or a powerful telephoto. I’ve used big 500mm and 600mm for this kind of shot and I’ve used wide angles that have the ability to focus a few inches away from the lens. But most often I use a moderate telephoto with decent macro capabilities. Nothing fancy, just a good lens that lets me get close to the subject.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Whichever you choose, these kinds of images rarely have a great deal of depth. Even photos from a low perspective only show a few inches from front to back. Therefore detail shots are usually about pattern and color. Here are a few things to look at as you compose:

  1. Consider how the lines in the image interact. Do they cross distractingly or guide your eye around the frame in a pleasing way?
  2. Which color dominates? In the autumn, colors like red can be overwhelming and often need to be balanced by cooler greens or blues.
  3. Isolate your subject by cropping out extraneous details, or using a shallow depth of field.
  4. Embrace the autumn colors, but don’t overwhelm your viewer with too much of the same thing. Good images usually show a variety of textures and colors.

#2 – The Local Landscape

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

When you zoom back a bit from the details, you get local scenes within the landscape. This type of image is rarely shot wide, rather you apply medium to strong telephotos to isolate compelling parts of the scene. I really like these kinds of shots. They allow enough space to apply the elements of both depth and scale, and yet are tight enough that distractions are more easily avoided and make great autumn photos.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

This type of shot is particularly suited to autumn photography because the fall colors are by nature, patchy. Using a short to moderate telephoto, you can select the patches of dramatic color that may be surrounded by brown in late autumn or green early in the season.

Consider using focal lengths in the 70-200mm range, and select a part of the landscape that draws your eye. Find lines that guide your image through the frame, not out of it, or look for juxtapositions of color and texture.

#3 – The Grand Scene

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

I’m going to be honest here. In the fall, when the colors of my home state are going off like fireworks, it is rarely the wide open scenes that draw my eye. However, sometimes the scope and size of the landscape cannot be ignored. It is in those rare moments that I reach for my wide angle lenses.

And yet, my focus often remains close to me. The foreground in the autumn, perhaps even more than other times of the year, is vital. When shooting wide, I will often get low, using my background not as the subject, but as the setting for something bright, flashy and interesting close by.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Use the foreground

I was shooting in late August in Denali National Park. The colors were bright and beautiful, and on one sunny day, the mountains of the Alaska Range, including Denali itself, had emerged from behind the clouds to loom, white and glaciated, over the landscape. It was beautiful, and yet my focus kept falling on the colors in front of me. I didn’t ignore that dramatic backdrop, but I used it as just that, a backdrop.

When shooting wide, don’t forget about the details I noted earlier, nor the patterns of local landscapes. Those two are integral to the wide scene and will help you understand how the elements of the landscape fall together.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

I once heard it said that wide-angle landscapes were easy. I disagree entirely, wide angles are the hardest because there is so much space for distraction. Understanding and including compelling foreground subjects, like a splash of fall color will take you a long way toward creating a dynamic wide angle landscape.

Bonus tip – Bring it all together

In a world where most of our images end up on Facebook and Instagram, the art of a photo story is fading. Stand-alone shots get the most attention, the most likes, hearts, or whatever, on social media, but they do a lousy job of telling the whole story. Details, local scenes, and wide landscapes in combination are far superior.

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

In conclusion, I encourage you to tell the whole story by embracing numerous shots. Use the focal lengths available to you, all of them. Through your lens, explore the fall landscape, and share your autumn photos in the comments section below.

The post 3 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.