5 Reasons to Consider Concert Photography with a Wide Open Aperture (and the Secret to Perfecting it)

Concert photography is arguably one of the most adrenaline-filled niches you can engage in as an image maker. Musicians, magazines, fans, and record labels alike turn to skilled concert photographers to tell a story for the momentous performance. For most music photographers (due to venue constraints) there is less than ten minutes to capture enough great images to populate a full gallery. Partner this with tumultuous circumstances such as sporadic lighting and an excitable audience and you have effectively created a photographic situation that is unlike any other.

As such, shooting with a very wide open aperture might appear to be too daunting of a task! There are common misunderstandings of how to use and work with a wide open aperture! If your inner aesthete drools over soft, dreamy photographs and creamy bokeh, then you better get ready to play with some low, low, low numbers. We are here to tell you how to photograph concerts at f/1.2, f/1.4, and f/1.8!

Wide aperture concert photography tips

Why Use an Ultra Wide Aperture?

Here are 5 reasons you may want to consider shooting concert photography with a wide open aperture.

1. Aesthetic and Style

To preface, a lot of the quality and final image look is based on the type of lens used. In the past several years, photography fans are gravitating towards the shallow depth of field aesthetic. If you’re in the business of producing commercial music photography (like myself), you’re going to want to keep following the trends and adapting to what is sought after in the industry.

Aesthetic and Style with Wide Aperture Concert Photography

An added bonus is being able to niche yourself a bit in an industry that has a lot of competition, many photographers are wary of shooting fast paced events with a wide aperture due to potential focusing issues. If you can master this art, you have something that will separate you from others.


2. Low Light Capability

Low light concert photography with wide aperture

Unless you’re shooting a big name at an amphitheater, a lot of smaller venues will have very poor lighting. You’ll need to use equipment that will illuminate the frame with whatever limited lighting is available. In these low light scenarios you need a lens with a wide enough aperture to let in more light. Using a lens that goes down to f/1.2, for example, is a great way to let enough light in and make the frame bright. Remember, the aperture is the hole the light passes through in your lens. The wider the aperture, the more light that enters the camera.


3. Shallow Depth of Field

Shoot concert photography with shallow depth of field

The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. Shallow depth of field is great for live concerts because the stage can be rather cluttered compositionally. From instruments to cables, background props, and other band members, there can be a lot going on in the frame at once. Only having one subject in focus with the rest blending into a creamy bokeh makes for a much more visually pleasing and simplified image. With the depth-of-field being so shallow, whatever troubles you about the background can easily melt into a beautiful creamy bokeh.


4. Detail Shots

Capture detail in your concert photography with wide aperture

On the topic of shallow depth of field, if you are photographing for an instrument company, an aperture of f/1.8 will likely become your best friend. This is because photographs taken with a large aperture allow all of the focus to lie on the subject, and the background ceases to remain a distraction. Many instrument companies love to have their products captured in a natural usable setting, such as musicians at a live show.A shallow depth of field will keep the interest solely on your single subject.


5. Sharpness

How to achieve sharpness in your concert photography with wide aperture

Due to technological constraints, lenses that open their aperture below f/2.8 are fixed millimeter lenses (they do not zoom). As a general rule, fixed millimeter lenses tend to be sharper than lenses with a range.


Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room: Focusing with a Wide Open Aperture

Right where all of the benefits of an f-stop of 1.2 start to break down is the focusing. The wider the aperture and the shallower the depth of field, the more difficult it can be to focus on what you want. Pair that with a live show in which the lighting is a bit of a mess, and the subjects move spontaneously in various directions, and it sounds like the perfect recipe for a photographer migraine. However, focusing with a wider aperture doesn’t have to be so difficult- it’s just a different thought process.

The Concept of Sharpness

Sharp concert photography through composition

Really, the focus stems from a desire to have an image that is sharp. But what is sharpness? Sharpness is an interesting concept. How sharp a subject appears is a matter of two things: the focus the camera captures and the amount of contrast on your subject. The term “sharpness” is, in fact, an illusion. You see, for an image to be considered sharp, it needs to have contrast. If the there is little contrast in the image, the subject will not look three-dimensional regardless of whether the focus is perfect or not. Biologically, the way that our eyes work, our vision naturally detects edges to register sharpness, and shadows and highlights in order to record the depth in a subject. This is a very important concept to understand when answering the question of how to make images look sharp. When editing your concert photography images, be attentive to the shadows and highlights. And add contrast to define your subject.


Perfect Focus

Sharp concert photography through perfect focus and wide aperture

In terms of getting your image to actually be sharp (from being in perfect focus), here is the basic concept of how focus works in a camera. When you focus your camera on a subject, it establishes a focal plane. To get your subject in focus, it has to be on the focal plane. Focal planes happen on an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis. This means anything along either of those axes will be in focus, and anything not on them will be out of focus. The concern with a wide open aperture is that your focal plane is quite small. As you decrease your aperture number and make the opening wider, the invisible area in front and behind the plane of focus will get smaller and smaller, leaving you with much less wiggle-room. As such, distance from the subject plays a key role in your focus.

When shooting wide open, even the smallest diversion from either of the focal plane axes will cause your subject to be out-of-focus. You cannot take a step forward or back without the need to refocus when shooting at a wide aperture. But by keeping this in mind, you can adjust your photography technique to better accommodate the small focal plane.

Single Point Autofocus

Using single point focus and wide aperture in concert photography

A trick to help make sure that what you want in focus is indeed sharp, is to use single point autofocus. By default, your camera will probably select either the object that’s closest to the camera or what’s in the center of the frame. By using single point autofocus, you tell the camera exactly where to focus, which is extremely helpful with low aperture numbers. Refer to your camera model’s manual to find how to change the focus setting!

The Real Secret

The real secret to wide aperture concert photography

Keeping in mind how the focal plane works, this is the big trick to shooting wide open at a concert: The farther away you are from the subject, the easier it is to get the subject in focus. You can get the subject in focus and still maintain and extremely creamy depth of field.

Whether you’re in a photo pit or just in the main venue floor, your position to begin the concert shoot can significantly affect your success for the rest of the shoot. Keeping in mind that for most general photography passes your time is limited, you need to be ready to jump right into the shoot the very second the music hits your ears. My suggestion is to start on the outer edges of the pit or venue and work your way to the middle. Many concert photographers all flock to the center of the shooting zone, and begin shoving to claim their dead center spot. When you start from the edge, while the other photographers are all congregating and fighting for the center, you have much more room to move freely on the outer edge. This is where you will have an advantage to be able to move a bit further away from your subject in order to expand your plane and get that perfect focus.

Shooting concert photography in wide aperture

Now that you’ve been let in to the secret, go out there and capture some awesome concert shots!

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Concert Photography with a Wide Open Aperture (and the Secret to Perfecting it) appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Customize and Use the Photoshop Gradient Tool

Despite its straightforward name, the gradient tool is incredibly flexible. You can customize practically every settings, and use it in many different ways.

In this article I’ll show you how to use it to its full potential.

The Gradient tool shares the same toolbar space as the Paint Bucket tool, so you may not see it at first glance. Click and hold the Paint Bucket tool to reveal the fly-out menu, then select the Gradient tool.

You use the Gradient tool to make a smooth transition between multiple colors. And one of the first things you can customize is the colors you want to transition between.

With the Gradient tool active, you’ll see a sample on the left-hand side of the options bar. Clicking the small arrow next to it will reveal the gradient picker that includes a number of preset gradients. And clicking the gear icon to the right of that will bring up the settings menu where you can:

  • load more presets
  • add new presets
  • customize the display window.

If none of the presets suit your needs, you can customize a new gradient by double-clicking the sample to bring up the Gradient Editor window. Here you’ll see a bar with the current gradient, along with a set of sliders you can use to create the gradient you want. The top sliders control the opacity, while the bottom sliders control the color. If you need more colors, simply click on the gradient where you’d like them to go.

As well as choosing the colors, you can also choose the start and end points of your gradient.

Next to the sample you’ll see five icons representing the five different types of gradients you can apply: Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected and Diamond.

The Linear gradient will gradually transition your colors in a straight line from the start point to the end point.

The Radial gradient radiates out from the start point in the shape of a circle.

The Angle gradient will transition clockwise in the direction of the angle created by the line uniting the start and end points.

The Reflected gradient creates a mirror effect using the start point as the center.

Finally the Diamond gradient radiates out from the start point in the shape of a diamond.

Next to the gradient icons are two dropdown menus. The first lets you set the bending mode (how your gradient will affect whatever’s below it). The second reveals a slider that lets you control the gradient’s opacity.

If you continue towards the right of the option bar you’ll find a set of check-boxes that will finalize your choices. First you have the option to Reverse the colors which is pretty much what you’d expect: it will invert the order of the colors of your gradient. Then you have Dither to make the transition smoother. And finally the transparency box applies the opacity from the gradient, see the difference in this example where the top half has the transparency checked and the bottom half unchecked:

Ok now you know how the gradient tool works and how to customize it, great for graphic work, but how can you apply it to a photo? Let me give you an example to achieve a trendy look on your images.

First choose the photo you want to modify. While there are no right or wrongs here, there are some photos that fit better for this kind of effect than others, for example something that looks vintage, or an artsy portrait.  Now turn it black and white by applying an Adjustment layer clicking on the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Black and White, this way it won’t be a destructive process.

On top of this Adjustment layer you just did, add a New Layer by going to Menu > Layer > New Layer, or by clicking in the New Layer button at the bottom of the panel. And in this one you’ll create your gradient using the Gradient Tool that I explained before by choosing the colors and angles you prefer. Finally set the Blending Mode to screen and your image is ready.

Have fun experimenting with the many many possibilities this offers you!

The post How to Customize and Use the Photoshop Gradient Tool appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Silhouettes

Silhouettes are a wonderful way to convey drama, mystery, emotion and mood to the viewers of your photos and often stand out in an album because of the combination of their simplicity but also the story that they convey. I love them because they don’t give the viewer of a clear picture of everything but leave part of the image up to their imagination to wonder about.

That’s an excerpt from a post I wrote quite some time ago, but remains one of our more popular posts on how to photograph silhouettes. Your challenge this week is to take a photograph of a silhouette and see if you can create a story that evokes imagination in the viewer. Here’s some tips to get you started:

How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps

Silhouette Photography Technique

Looking for more inspiration? Check out these great shots:

12 Stunning Silhouette Shots

A Collection of Great Silhouette Photos

Or this post on how to use your silhouettes to tell a story will help you for this week’s challenge:

How to Create Powerful Silhouettes by Telling a Story

Weekly Photography Challenge – Silhouettes

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.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

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

If you tag your photos on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter or other sites – tag them as #DPSSILHOUETTES to help others find them. Linking back to this page might also help others know what you’re doing so that they can share in the fun.


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How to Take Better Photos of Festivals and Celebrations

Mitchell K is not only a brilliant photographer, but also creates the most engaging videos of his travels. This one is no exception, and whilst a little longer than the videos we normally share, it’s an engaging, informative and inspiring lesson from Mitchell on how to get better photos at festivals and celebrations.

The video was filmed in a few locations in Peru. I’ll share parts of my adventure. You’ll even see how I almost killed myself driving over a high mountain pass at night. The main focus, though – is on the travel photography tips and advice. When you finish watching this video, you’ll have a much better idea about photographing festivals, celebrations and gatherings of people. It is almost 30 minutes long, but, I do really believe that it’s worth your time.
– Mitchell Kanashkevich

Mitchell has authored 3 great books for dPS – if you love his style, grab this quick offer to get 50% off these titles. Just use the code MITCHELLK50 (expires 31 October 2018):

Transcending Travel


Captivating Color

Natural Light

You can also check out more free tips on the blog:

Photographing Festivals and Events – Tips for Travel Photographers

Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Festivals

20 Tips for Photographing Historical Reenactments and Festivals

The post How to Take Better Photos of Festivals and Celebrations appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Adobe Lightroom Plugins That Will Make Your Life Easier

5 Lightroom plugins that will make your life easier

We all love Lightroom.

There’s a reason it became an essential part of a photographer’s workflow. It’s powerful, easy to use, and helps make your photos come alive.

But what if I said you could make it even easier to use while adding a new dynamic to your editing process?

Well, plugins can do just that.

Being able to extend Lightroom’s capabilities with third-party plugins is one of the things I love most about it. And it’s something most people overlook.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to five Lightroom plugins I use and couldn’t live without.

But first…


How to install Lightroom plugins

Installing Lightroom plugins is pretty straightforward. They all use the same six-step installation process.

  1. Unzip the ZIP file for the plugin, and move the unzipped file to a folder on your computer. Note: The unzipped files can’t be moved or deleted after installation, or the plugin will stop working.
  2. From Lightroom’s File menu, select ‘Plug-in Manager’.

How to install Lightroom plugins

  1. Click the ‘Add’ button near the bottom of the dialog box.

How to install Lightroom plugins - Plugin Manager

  1. Navigate to folder you chose in step 1.

How to install Lightroom plugins - Folder selection

  1. Open the folder and highlight the file with the ‘.lrplugin’ extension, then click ‘Add Plug-in’.

How to install Lightroom plugins - selecting the plugin

  1. Restart Lightroom to complete the installation of your new plugin.

Note: with the 7.5 release of Adobe Lightroom, some newer plugins now have the extension of .xmp rather than .lrtemplate or .lrplugin. This is so they can be used in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

In this case, go to Lightroom->Preferences and select ‘Show Lightroom Develop Presets’. This will open the Presets window. Select the ‘Settings’ folder, and simply drag and drop your unzipped file into the Settings Folder and restart Lightroom.

If you don’t have the ‘Show Lightroom Develop Presets’ link select the ‘Show Lightroom Presets Folder’. This will open the Presets window. Select the ‘Lightroom’ then ‘Develop Presets’ folder, and simply drag and drop your unzipped file into the folder and restart Lightroom.

Now that you know how to install Lightroom plugins, let me show you five that will save you time and effort during your next mammoth editing session.


The Fader

The Fader is probably the plugin I use the most. Its main advantage becomes clear when you’re using presets.

It works as a master slider that controls all the different tools within Lightroom. Moving the slider will adjust all the edits a particular preset makes at the same time and in equal measures.

If you’re working on an edit and haven’t applied a preset, but you still want to use The Fader, simply create a new preset using the image you’re working on as a template and adjust it from there.

To create a new preset, click either a filter tool (graduated or radial) or the brush tool, and from the drop-down menu select ‘Save Current Settings as New Preset’.

Lightroom plugins - The Fader

Whether you create your own presets or download other people’s, chances are you’ve experienced this situation: You apply a preset to one photo and it looks great, but when you apply it to another, it’s completely over the top and looks terrible.

Normally you’d have to reduce each tool individually. But with The Fader you can reduce them all at once using the slider. Just open The Fader (File -> Plug-in Extras -> The Fader), select the preset you want to apply, and then use the opacity slider to increase or decrease the preset’s overall strength.

Lightroom plugins - The Fader 2


LR Backup

LR Backup does exactly what it says it does – back up your Lightroom catalog. But it gives you a few extra features the standard backup tool doesn’t provide.

Why is it important to back up your catalog? Because it contains a record of every edit you’ve made to your images. You might have backups of your RAW files, but without a backup of your Lightroom catalog they’ll be just that: RAW images with no editing applied.

LR Backup lets you make manual backups of the Lightroom catalog without having to exit the program, which you need to do when using the built-in backup tool. But what makes this plugin really useful is its ability to schedule backups.

Lightroom plugins - LR Backup

It also compresses the backup to almost 10% of its original size, which is particularly useful when you have a large database of edited images.

While a free version of LR Backup is available, you need to make a donation to the creator to unlock its full functionality. But the donation can be as small or as large as you like. It’s totally up to you.



If you create time-lapse videos using your camera’s intervalometer, you’ll need an easy way to batch edit the images so you don’t have to do them one by one.

LRTimelapse makes time-lapse videos easy. It comes in both free and paid-for versions as either a standalone product or a Lightroom plugin. And what I really love about it is how the plugin integrates with Lightroom.

Lightroom plugins - LR Timelapse

By integrating LRTimelapse with Lightroom, you can create a few keyframes that you’ll edit in Lightroom and then export back into LRTimelapse. It then uses these edited keyframes to automatically and seamlessly edit the other time-lapse photos into a video that transitions smoothly and gradually from the first frame to the last.

It’s a great way to incorporate the power of editing in Lightroom into your next time-lapse video.


Focus Mask

The Focus Mask plugin by Capture Monkey (the same people who make The Fader) is a simple plugin. It does only one thing, but it does it very well.

The plugin works the same way focus masking or focus peaking does in your camera. It highlights the parts of the image that are in focus.

Lightroom plugins - Focus Mask

This helps you to choose the best shot between two or more similar images at a glance.

We’ve all taken a handful of photos of the same subject because we weren’t sure we nailed the focus. This plugin will help you quickly pick a winner.


The last plugin on the list might not be for everyone. In fact, some people might be totally against it.

Photolemur automatically edits your photos with one click. It uses artificial intelligence to create the best edit possible so you can focus your time on other aspects of photography.

Now, some of you might think letting a bunch of computer code edit your photos takes away part of the artistic process. And you’d be right.

I wouldn’t use it on every image, especially client images. But if I want to quickly upload something to Instagram without having to process the image first, I’ll use Photolemur.

Photolemur is a standalone product, but can also be set up as a Lightroom plugin. Unfortunately, there isn’t a free version you can try before you buy. It’s only available as a paid product.


Which Lightroom plugin will you try?

I’ve used all the plugins I just mentioned. But if I had to pick one, I’d choose The Fader because I love using my own presets. It makes my editing style consistent across all of my work.

But they’re all great plugins. Which one are you going to try?

Image Credit: Joseph Pearson

The post 5 Adobe Lightroom Plugins That Will Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Shutter Speed and Aperture Together When Using Manual Mode

When you’re just starting out as a photographer, one of the biggest challenges can be using the correct shutter speed and aperture values. Shooting a correctly exposed photo in manual mode is an amazing feeling. But unless you know the relationship between shutter speed and aperture it may not happen very often.

In this article I’ll talk about how to use the shutter speed and aperture values efficiently to get properly exposed photos.

Note: To get full control of your camera’s shutter speed and aperture values you need to put it in Manual Mode.

What happens when you adjust the aperture value

When you increase the aperture value the aperture opening inside the lens gets smaller, reducing the amount of light that can enter the camera. Similarly, when you decrease the aperture value the opening gets bigger, allowing more more light to enter the camera.

Here’s an example to help you understand how changing the aperture value affects the shutter speed.

Let’s say you’re using a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with a default aperture value of f/8. At a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second your camera will give you the correct exposure.

EXIF: f/8, 1/200th sec, ISO 100

Now you want a shallower depth of field (more blur effect), so you reduce the aperture value to f/2.8. Because you’ve reduced the aperture value by three stops, the aperture opening is now letting three stops more of light into the camera. The result? An overexposed image.

If you reduce the aperture value, you must increase the shutter speed by the same number of f-stops to compensate. Similarly, if you increase the aperture value, you must slow down the shutter speed by the same number of f-stops.

In this example, you’ve reduced the aperture value by three stops. So to get the correct exposure at f/2.8 you must increase the shutter speed by three stops to 1/1600th of a second.

EXIF: f/2.8, 1/1600th sec, ISO 100

Another example might be if you’re shooting a landscape. This time you want a deep depth of field, so you choose an aperture value of f/16. You’ve increased the aperture value by two stops (from f/8 to f/16), so you’re letting two stops less of light inside the camera. At a shutter speed of 1/200th sec this give you an underexposed photo.

Underexposed image at f/16, 1/200th sec, ISO 100

To get the correct exposure, you need to slow down the shutter speed by two stops to 1/50th of a second. With the aperture value two stops higher (f/16) and the shutter speed two stops lower (1/50th sec) your photo will be perfectly exposed just as it was at f/8 and 1/200th sec.

What happens when you adjust the shutter speed

When you increase the shutter speed the camera shutter opens and closes more quickly, reducing the amount of light that enters the camera. Similarly, when you reduce the shutter speed more light enters the camera.

Starting with the same base camera setting as before (f/8 at 1/200th sec), let’s see how changing the shutter speed affects the aperture value.

Let’s say you’re a wildlife photography, and you want to take photos of a flying bird. To avoid any blurring you’d need to increase to 1/800 sec. You’ve increased the shutter speed by two stops, and so you have two stops less of light entering the camera sensor. At f/8 this would give you an underexposed image.

Because you’ve increase the shutter speed by two stops to 1/800th sec, you must also reduce the aperture value by two stops to f/4 to get the same correct exposure you had at the f/8 and 1/200th of a second you started with.

Or perhaps you intentionally want to capture a panning shot, and s reduce the shutter speed to 1/50 sec to get the effect you want. Reducing the shutter speed by four stops (from 1/800 sec to 1/50 sec) means you’re letting in four stops more of light into the camera. And at f/8, that would give you an overexposed image.

To get the correct exposure you’d need to increase the aperture value by four stops to f/32.

By remembering these examples when you’re shooting in manual mode, you should end up with far more photos that are correctly exposed.

The post How to Use Shutter Speed and Aperture Together When Using Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Photographing a ‘First Look’: The Pros and Cons for Wedding Photographers

The wedding timeline can be different for every couple. That’s why you need to learn to ask important questions, such as whether they’ve considered a ‘First Look’ or would rather keep it traditional. This simple decision can change the entire course of the day in terms of taking portraits.

Let’s dive in and look at the pros and cons of having the couple see each other before the wedding ceremony.

What is a ‘First Look’?

Traditionally, the bride and groom don’t see each other until the bride walks down the aisle. It’s thought to be good luck, and keeps in line with centuries of tradition.

A ‘First Look’ is where a couple decides to see each other either before the wedding ceremony or before the important events  begin. This new concept is growing in popularity, with many couples opting to go for the first look rather than keeping the ceremony traditional.

Sometimes, as is normal with weddings, other factors will determine whether keeping it traditional or doing a first look is best in terms of both the photography and the day’s timeline.

The pros of having a first look

One pro of having a first look is when the wedding day timeline calls for it due to a schedule that might interfere with the bride and groom portraits. For example, if there isn’t enough time to take portraits after the ceremony because the couple would rather attend their cocktail hour, doing a first look earlier in the day will give you enough time to capture the couple. (Click here for other tips on overcoming common wedding day setbacks).

Another example is if the sun sets early on the wedding day and you’re not sure you’ll have enough light to take the couple’s portraits. This is where a first look can let you choose the best time during the day for the portraits.

Another pro of the first look is that when a couple sees each other before the ceremony it can calm their nerves and help them relax for the portraits. A first look can also act as a seamless transition into the bridal portraits without anyone else being present or having to wait for guests to move to the next event.

The first look will usually give you more time for bridal portraits. After the ceremony, many of the guests will want to congratulate the couple, which can eat up your precious time. They may also want photos taken of them with the couple, cutting further into your bridal portrait time.

A first look can make the transition to the couple’s portraits smoother on a wedding day.

I tell couples that the first look is usually the only time during the entire day they’ll be completely alone. This helps them savor each moment and really lean into each other during the photos. Since the first look typically lasts about ten minutes, it’s easy to transition into portraits of the couple. This works in your favor, as you get to spend more time with the bride and groom capturing real emotions before you seamlessly transition into the couple’s portraits.

A first look can bring out a lot of those nervous emotions and relax the couple before the day unfolds.

The cons of having a first look

One major con of doing a first look is it usually happens in the hottest part of the day or when the sun is at its brightest. First looks are typically done between 11am and 3pm. Photographing in the midday sun has its challenges, and the harsh direct light can sometimes mean changing locations for the bride and groom portraits.

Try to find a covered walkway, or somewhere that keeps the couple out of the sun. Look for large trees with lots of shade, but be aware of spotted light. In direct sunlight it may be easier to find big natural reflectors that bounce light back onto your subject. You can also help fill the shadows with flash or a photo reflector.

Another con to the first look can be the couple needing to get ready much earlier than anticipated just to fit it into the day’s schedule. Be sure to communicate with the couple so everyone knows the best time to photograph the first look and how long it will take.

How to photograph a first look

You can set up the first look in many different ways. A common way is to place the groom in a position where the bride comes come from behind and taps the groom on the shoulder. The groom then turns around and faces the bride. This is where emotions run high, and you can photograph from all angles so they can enjoy the moment.

The best angle is to photograph the groom facing away from the bride as she comes behind him. Then switch to the other side to get the groom’s reaction of seeing his soon-to-be bride in her dress. If you have an assistant photographer, place them at the opposite end of where you are so you can cover it from all angles.

Give the couple time to take in the moment and simply enjoy it.

Another way to do the first look is to have the groom facing the same direction the bride will be walking from. This will give you an instant reaction to them seeing the bride in her dress, so be ready to photograph all of those real emotions.

When you place the groom, take some solid portraits of him to help him relax before the bride walks into the scene. Talk to him, making sure your tone is soft, positive and excited. 

Tell the couple that it’s their time, you don’t exist, and that they should just enjoy the moment. Let them know that kissing, hugging and looking into each other’s eyes is what the first look is all about. 

Once the couple has relaxed and finished with the first look, move right into the portraits by taking them to the location you’ve scouted (if it’s different from the first look location). 

In conclusion

A first look helps you get the most out of your wedding timeline for bride and groom portraits. It also helps the couple relax and feel even more excited about walking down the aisle. Having this beautiful and emotive experience will create more authentic photos, and give you more time to create them.

Ask your next client if they’d like a first look, and refer to these tips when answering their questions. You may be able to help make their special day even more special.

Have you ever photographed a first look? Let us know in the comments.

The post Photographing a ‘First Look’: The Pros and Cons for Wedding Photographers appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Improve Low-Light Performance by Increasing Your ISO

Low-light Images often have noise issues, particularly in the dark areas.

So you’ve decided to take night time photographs. But the light is so low you’re worried about noise. You want the image sharp and the blacks to be black. And noise reduction reduces sharpness, so it’s going to be a problem. (Noise is always a problem with low-light images.)

In these situations you should always shoot at your camera’s lowest ISO setting and increase the duration of the exposure, right? Well, maybe not. The counterintuitive solution might be to increase the ISO and take multiple images of the same subject.

Single image at ISO 1600 and cropped showing lots of noise.

Increasing ISO Increases Noise

Hang on a minute. If increasing the ISO increases noise, how will reshooting the scene at a higher ISO improve low-light performance? Won’t it just increase the noise?

Conventional approaches to noise reduction reduce the sharpness of the image, making them soft or blurred. And blending multiple images won’t reduce the noise. Or will it?

Cropped image of stacked and blended images at ISO 1600.

Some Low Light Images Need Short Exposures

The other potential problem is that long exposures don’t always work. Some night photography involves taking images of objects that move, and shorter exposures can help control that movement.

Low-light image at ISO 1600 (single image).

Photoshop to the Rescue

Adobe Photoshop has powerful tools that let you blend multiple images, but most of these blend modes won’t help. However, there is a way to blend images in Photoshop to reduce noise. The key to shooting with a higher ISO to improve low light performance is to shoot multiple images of the same scene using the same settings (i.e. white balance, focus, aperture and shutter speed).

While the technique is fairly straightforward, it does take some discipline.

Stacked and blended image of six images at ISO 3200.

Understanding Noise

The key is understanding what causes noise. In general there are two types of image noise – chromatic and luminance. Chromatic noise is color aberrations where there are none, while luminance noise is variance in light levels where there is none. Both are instances where the sensor has registered some data that isn’t there. (It’s common in sensitive electronic equipment such as digital sensors.)

If you take a single image, the noise is part of that image. But if you take a second image in the same location, chances are the noise won’t be in the same spot (unless you have a bad sensor). The noise actually moves around.

If you think about exposure in simple terms, it’s the amount of light that hits the sensor or film. Changing the aperture from f/4 to f/2.8 doubles the amount light hitting the sensor. Similarly, if you decrease the ISO from ISO 400 to ISO 200 you need twice as much light for the same image.

But taking a properly exposed image and then blending a second properly exposed image doesn’t actually improve your exposure. Is there another way?

Cityscape at ISO 400 (single image).

Noise Moves

The short answer is “Yes”. This technique relies on the fact that the noise moves around on the sensor. You can take one image at ISO 400, or you can take two images at ISO 800. As long as the total length of exposure (assuming the same aperture) is similar, while the noise will have gone up you’ll effectively have the same image. That’s because you’re simply doubling the amount of light on the sensor at ISO 800, and there’s a proportional increase in sensitivity. Similarly, if you take four images at ISO 1600 you should end up with the same exposure.

But what if I use ten images?

Ten images at 1600 blended.

You may be thinking, “So what? At ISO 1600 I now have ten noisier images than my image at ISO 400. How does it improve my camera’s performance and reduce noise?”

The answer is to stack them, and then blend them together using a particular method in Photoshop.

Multiple Images Can Overcome Noise

By importing the images as a stack of layers in Photoshop and blending the stack together, you can improve your image quality. Using my earlier example, if you use ten images at ISO 1600 you effectively have an image comparable to an ISO 400 image.

Single image at ISO 400 with a tight crop.


Ten stacked and blended images at ISO 1600.

As I said earlier, while this technique is pretty straightforward it’s not exactly obvious. Following the steps is critical.

You don’t get extra resolution. But you do get less noise, and the image seems sharper.

The Setup

Pick a subject (not the night sky) that’s under low-light conditions and take multiple images of the same perspective at a higher ISO than you’d normally use – 1600, 3200 or even 6400. (Don’t use ISO values in the extended range because they’re not native to your camera’s sensor.)

Manually set your focus so it doesn’t change between shots. You should either shoot the images in RAW format or make sure all the White Balance settings are the same. Using RAW lets you edit the white balance later, but fixing it before you taking the shots will also address the issue. Take one image at a lower ISO value (probably with a long shutter) and many at the high ISO value. This will allow you to compare the results.

The Process

Step 1: Ensure all the images have the same White Balance. (You can correct RAW images together if you shoot in RAW.)

Use a RAW Processor to match the White Balance and Exposure

Step 2: Import the images as layers into Photoshop. (Bridge and Lightroom both can do this).

Step 3: Highlight all the layers in Photoshop.

Step 4: From the Edit menu, choose Auto-Align Layers.

Align the images.


Auto-Align works well.

Step 5: Crop the image to eliminate any missing parts of the image.

Sixth step: Highlight all the layers, and then from the Layers menu choose Convert to Smart Object.

Convert the Layers into a Smart Object

Step 7: Click on the Smart object, and from the Layers menu choose Smart Objects -> Stack Mode -> Median.

Use the median stack mode to blend the layers.

Step 8: Look at the result. (It’s pretty dramatic.)

Single Exposure at ISO 1600.


Stacked images at ISO 6400.


Cropped image at ISO 1600.


Cropped image at ISO 6400 (stacked).

What just happened?

Photoshop blended all the (now aligned) layers together, looked at where most of the images showed the same data and decided that data was correct. It then discarded any data that didn’t match. Because chromatic and luminance noise varies from image to image, blending multiple images like this eliminates the pixels showing incorrect color or luminance.

Stacked and Blended Evening Image

As you can see, it significantly reduces noise without losing sharpness or introducing unwanted artifacts. So the next time you’re shooting in low light, why not give this technique a try?

The post How to Improve Low-Light Performance by Increasing Your ISO appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Thoughts and Field Test: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 for Sony E-Mount

Sigma recently announced nine prime lenses coming to their Art lens lineup for Sony E-mount shooters. We got to test out the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras, an update to the previous Sigma 50mm f/1.4 released in 2014. Here’s what we thought.

What’s in the Box

Like all Sigma lenses, this one comes packed in its own zippered carrying case. It also comes with front and end caps and a lens hood. It’s ready to use right away, although you may want to buy a 77mm UV filter to protect it while in use.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount


This E-mount lens is designed for full-frame format Sony mirrorless cameras. However, it can also be used with APS-C models (although it will slightly crop the resulting image).

The lens has an aperture range of f/1.4 to f/16. When shooting at the maximum aperture of f/1.4, it produces a shallow depth of field with smooth bokeh, making it great for portraiture.

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens is made for several camera mounts including Nikon and Canon DSLRs, Sony A-mounts and Sony E-mounts. This lens we tested was made for Sony E-mounts and used with a Sony a7R III.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Look and Feel

Sigma designates this lens as part of its Art series, which means it’s designed for high optical performance in a range of shooting environments.

Off the bat, the lens has a high-quality look and feel to it. Comprised mostly of metal, this lens is big and bulky. While that may be great for those with bigger hands, having a big and heavy lens that only covers a single range may be an issue for some.

Autofocus Performance

This lens worked so flawlessly with the Sony a7R III that it felt like a native lens. With a clear, contrasting point the autofocus is fast and responsive. Sometimes the lens was slower to focus in low light scenarios, but never in such a way that made it unusable. If you need to focus manually, simply flip the switch from AF to MF and use the large focusing ring near the front of the lens.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Image Quality

Images captured with this lens are crisp with excellent, well-saturated colors. Even when shooting wide open at f/1.4, photo subjects are sharp with buttery-smooth bokeh in the background. There isn’t a lot of vignetting either.

The lens appeared to hit critical sharpness at f/8, although shooting at f/2 provides a nice balance of image sharpness and bokeh.

If all third-party lens mounts worked this flawlessly, I doubt photographers would even bother using lens adapters.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

What About the Sigma MC-11?

If you’ve recently switched from a DSLR to the Sony mirrorless, you’re probably familiar with the Sigma MC-11 lens adapter. It’s a popular way to use existing DSLR lenses (i.e. the Canon 50mm f/1.4) on Sony cameras. But while the MC-11 has been popular, Sigma is pushing for photographers to adopt native lenses for their camera mounts, including Sigma’s lens options.

Why go for a native mount?

  • You can tune the lens to work with each focal length you’re shooting at.
  • Focus hunting is minimized.
  • Better autofocus including continuous AF, eye AF and face recognition.
  • Native mounts work better for video AF.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Why This Lens May Not Be for You

Overall, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is a winner when it comes to build and image quality. But here are two reasons why it may not work for you.


Firstly, there’s the price. At $949 this is an expensive 50mm lens. By comparison you could get a Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 for $248 or a Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 macro for $498. But fast Sony Zeiss 50mm lenses always come at a high price. The Sony Planar T FE 50mm f/1.4 costs $1,498, while the Sony Zeiss 55 f/1.8 is priced at $998.

So depending on your needs, you may need to budget quite a bit of money for a fast Sony prime lens. But if you’re in the market for a basic nifty fifty, there are much cheaper options.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount


Secondly, there’s its size and weight. At 1.8 lbs it’s large and bulky, comparable in size to the Sony 24-240mm and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. By comparison, the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 is only 0.62 lbs and is more compact and portable.

If you’re looking for a compact prime lens that’s easy to travel with, this Sigma lens probably isn’t your best bet.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Lens size comparison. From left to right: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, Sony 24-240mm, Sony 24-70mm f/4, Sony 55mm f/1.8

In Conclusion

For photographers set on having a fast 50mm prime lens, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens is a great choice. It’s smaller and more reasonably priced than the Sony 50mm f/1.4 lens, and produces crisp and beautiful images.

However, photographers with a smaller budget, or who want to carry smaller lenses, may want to consider other 50mm options at lower price points in more compact packages.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/11

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/8

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/4

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/2

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/1.8

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens at f/1.4

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sony 55mm f1.8 at f/1.8

The post Thoughts and Field Test: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 for Sony E-Mount appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Luminosity Masks: What They Are and How to Use Them

Post-processing can make or break an image. It doesn’t matter how much you change in your photo editor of choice, even a small adjustment can damage your image if it isn’t applied correctly.

A common mistake I see with post-processing is applying all adjustments globally (i.e. to the entire image). It’s something we rarely want, which is why we tend to use Lightroom’s Highlights and Shadows sliders to adjust the exposure rather than the Exposure slider. And once you bring your image into Photoshop you can apply more advanced techniques and adjustments.

More than ever, you need to know how to make these adjustments correctly.

And that’s where luminosity masks come into the picture.

What are Luminosity Masks?

If you’ve read any of my previous articles you may have seen me talk about selective post-processing – making adjustments that only affect specific areas rather than the entire image.

Luminosity masks are selections based on a pixel’s luminosity value. This means you can accurately select only the bright, dark or midtone pixels. We can refine these selections to affect only the brightest brights or the darkest darks, and use them as layer masks for our adjustments.

Since they’re based on the pixel’s brightness, we can get extremely accurate selections that target only the specific pixels we want. Having an accurate selection means we avoid certain unwanted artifacts you might otherwise experience.

You won’t find luminosity masks in a list or menu within Photoshop (although third-party plugins can automate the process). Instead, you need to create them manually by making selections based on the RGB channels.

How to Use Luminosity Masks

Now that you know what they are, the next thing you need to know is how to use them. As you probably know they don’t adjust the image themselves. Instead they’re a selection you can apply to any layer or group you can use a layer mask on.

Before we look at how to use them, we need to look at how to create them. You can do this either manually or by using a third-party plugin. I strongly recommend you learn how to create them manually before you start using a plugin to speed up your workflow.

How to Make Luminosity Masks

Let’s create a Brights mask, which will select the bright areas of the image but leave the midtones and darks untouched. Keep in mind this is the broadest brights mask, and you’ll probably need to refine it to target more specific pixels. (More on that another time.)

Start by opening an image in Adobe Photoshop, and follow these steps to create the mask:

  1. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channels Tab. You should now see marching ants around several areas of your image.
  2. Save the selection by clicking the Save selection as channel icon. The selection is saved as a channel and given the name Alpha 1.
  3. Double-click the name of your new channel ‘Alpha 1’ and rename it to ‘Brights 1’.
  4. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press D to deselect the selection.

Not too hard, right?

This is what the Brights 1 Mask looks like

We’ll make the Darks mask next. It’s pretty much the same process as making the Brights mask except we need to invert the selection:

  1. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channel Tab.
  2. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and Shift, and press I to invert the selection.
  3. Save the selection.
  4. Double-click the new channel’s name and rename it to ‘Darks 1’.
  5. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press D to deselect the selection.

This is what the Darks 1 mask looks like

Finally, we’ll create the Midtones mask. This one is made slightly differently to the first two masks.

  1. Select the entire image (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press A).
  2. Subtract Brights 1 (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and option/alt, and click on the ‘Brights 1’ channel’s thumbnail).
  3. Subtract Darks 1 (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and option/alt, and click on the ‘Darks 1’ channel’s thumbnail).
  4. Save the selection and rename the new channel to ‘Midtones 1’.

This is what the Midtones 1 mask looks like

We’ve now created the three basic luminosity masks. The process might seem confusing at first, but soon you’ll find creating masks as easy as one, two, three.

How to Apply and Use a Luminosity Mask

Now that we have our masks, let’s look at how to use them. As I mentioned earlier, you can apply luminosity masks to any layer or group you can use a layer mask on. This includes merged layers, adjustment layers, groups, smart objects and more.

I want to brighten the darkest parts of this image but leave the highlights alone

A typical processing scenario is the foreground being is a bit too dark while the sky is perfectly exposed.We can fix this by increasing the exposure using a Curves Adjustment. But using a Curves Adjustment without a mask will brighten not only the shadows,but also the areas that are already well exposed.

So let’s use the Darks mask.

Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click on the Darks channel’s thumbnail to activate the selection. (You’ll know it’s active when you see the marching ants.)

With the selection active, create a Curves adjustment layer. Since the selection is active, the Darks luminosity mask will be applied to the Curves’ layer mask. Any adjustments you make on this particular layer will only affect the areas represented by white on the mask.

Now simply pull the Curve up to brighten the darks. You can toggle the mask on and off by shift-clicking the layer mask to see the adjustment with and without the mask. (It makes a huge difference.)

With the luminosity mask applied


Without the luminosity mask applied

What Now?

This is just one way you can use luminosity masks. When processing an image I use them several times with a variety of adjustments. They can even be used to blend multiple images.

And while third-party plugins can automate the process for you, you really should learn how to create them manually first. Understanding how they work makes it easier to know how and when to use them – and when not to.

If you’re interested in this subject, take a look at my eBook A Photographer’s Guide to Luminosity Masks where I teach you everything you need to know about them, as well as a variety of other masks and advanced selections.

The post Luminosity Masks: What They Are and How to Use Them appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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