Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro

Time to get close-up with some macro photography this week.

Need some tips? Read these dPS articles:

Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro

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 in the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Hands-On with the new Sony RX100 VI Compact Camera

Sony continues to innovate and release new versions of their popular line of mirrorless and compact cameras. Just release is the newest Sony RX100 VI, the sixth version in just six years. But at just under $1200 USD is it worth the price? Let’s see.

There are quite a few new things and upgrades from the Mark V. Let’s see what a few different testers had to say about it in Venice recently where Sony handed out some cameras to put through the paces. Here’s a small list of features:

Image courtesy of Sony.

  • New 24-200mm lens (with the 2.73 crop factor) but with an f/2.8 maximum aperture.
  • 24 frames per second burst mode.
  • Buffer 233 JPEGs standard.
  • 315 phase detection autofocus points.
  • 90-degree tilting LCD screen.
  • New touchscreen capabilities.
  • Easier popup electronic viewfinder.
  • Does 4K video.
  • New Vlogging stick available for easier video creation.

Photo Gear News

Richard Sibley from Photo Gear News gives the Sony RX100 VI some good tests as he walks around Venice. See what he has to say about shooting video, slow-motion, and other things. He talks about the aperture range limitations and the menu system.

Camera Labs

See what Gordon Laing, prolific camera reviewer, had to say about the Sony RX100 VI. His test of the tracking autofocus shows impressive results on moving subjects with the phase detect autofocus of this camera.

So what does he like, and what does he miss from the Mark V? Watch to find out.

Things missing on the RX100M6 he’s noted are:

  • No microphone jack or Bluetooth audio connection
  • The wider aperture of f/1.8 that was available on the Mark V
  • No built-in Neutral Density filter that was on earlier models

For a little humor

Finally, to inject a little humor into things is Kai (former of DigitalRevTV). His point of view and way of approaching things is unique and adds a bit of spice to reviews that can otherwise get a little dull.

The official word from Sony

Lastly, here is Michael Bubolo from Sony to give us the low-down on some of the official specs and features of this new camera.

Is this camera for you?

I have to admit when I heard about the 24-200 equivalent zoom lens I was a bit jealous as compared to my Fuji X100F with a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens. But the 1″ sensor (2.73x crop factor) on the Sony is a lot smaller, so I’ll stick with my Fuji!

So who is this camera for? At the price of around $1200, it’s not for everyone. Perhaps it’s good as a backup to their DSLR for pros, or for bloggers (and vloggers) who do video and want something portable. The zoom range certainly is attractive and it does a nice job on video for sure. But would you spend this much on a compact camera?

Note: currently the Sony RX100 VI is only available for pre-order from Amazon and other retailers.

Let’s discuss in the comments section below.

The post Hands-On with the new Sony RX100 VI Compact Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

To edit food photography it requires a bit of a different approach than you might take with other types of photography, like portrait or landscape. The objective is to keep the food looking as fresh and appetizing as possible, which can take a subtle but considered hand.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

Before and after a subtle edit of a food photo.

Although there is always room for style and artistry, the more real your subjects look, the better. Lightroom is the program of choice for most food photographers. It’s intuitive and relatively easy to use and offers most of the tools required to make great food photos.

For this article, I will walk you through how I make global adjustments to a food image in Lightroom’s Develop module. Workflow is something that is individual to each photographer. This is how I approach editing my food photography, however, you may opt to do things differently. Hopefully, you will find some takeaways that will help you edit your own images.

I’ll be editing this image of an apple pie. This is the shot straight out of the camera. Like all RAW images, it lacks contrast and needs a bit of pizzaz.

 

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

Final image.

The Histogram

It’s important to have a basic understanding of the histogram in order to make adjustments to the exposure and tones in your image. The histogram is one of the key tools available for analyzing your image. It provides a graph of the density values of a given image. The histogram shows the relative quantity of pixels at each density value.

The far left point of the histogram is pure black and the densest, and the far right point is pure white with no density. A big peak in any of these regions means that the image has a lot of pixels at that particular density. An open gap in the histogram means that there are no pixels at that density.
How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom - histogram

The distribution of these tones will tell you about the overall exposure of the image. Most images look best if they contain both dark and light values. Generally, without some dark and light values, the image may lack contrast and look flat.

If you have a strong peak at the black or white end of the histogram, your image could be under or overexposed. However, it really depends on the individual image and the desired aesthetic. For example, blown out whites has become a “thing” in recent years. A dark and moody shot will have a lot of pixel density at the dark end of the spectrum.

Cropping

Before you can start making global adjustments to your image, it makes sense to crop and straighten it first. One tip is to shoot a bit wider than what you want for your end result so you can tweak your composition in post-production. You also may want to crop it to a certain aspect ratio – say 4×5 or square for Instagram.

First,  make sure that your horizon line is straight.

My horizon line in the apple pie image was already pretty straight. I used the crop tool to check it and also brought the crop in slightly on the left-hand side to cut off a little bit more of the pie. To access the Crop Tool in Lightroom, click on the grid symbol under the Histogram in the top panel (or just hit R, the keyboard shortcut). This will allow you to crop your image by bringing in the corners with your cursor.

While this tool is activated you can click “O” for the shortcut to bring up several compositional overlays like the Phi Grid or Golden Spiral to help you get the most out of your composition.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom - crop your image first

Lens Corrections

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom - lens corrections panel in LR

The Lens Corrections options fix optical distortion caused by the position of your subject in the frame, or where your camera is positioned relative to your scene. Lightroom supports a variety of lenses to automatically calibrate with this function.

I always check off Enable Profile Corrections before I start making adjustments to my image. Checking this box automatically brings up the camera profile for the lens used to create the image, in this case, the Canon EF 24-70mm.

White Balance

I recommend setting your White Balance in-camera or shooting with a gray card and adjusting it in post-processing. This removes incorrect color casts and ensures that your whites and colors render accurately.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom - eye dropped for WB in LR

You can correct your White Balance in Lightroom by taking the eyedropper tool (circled in red below) and clicking on an area in the image which appears neutral. This will the adjust the color temperature in the whole image, and you can tweak afterward if it’s not quite as you desire. It’s not as precise as the other options but can work well for food your food images.

Also, in food photography, White Balance can be used creatively, depending on your image. I tend to favor a cooler approach to my food photography. Cool colors give a crisp and fresh feeling to the image, which means I tend to edit more towards the blue or cyan.

Using the white balance eye dropper tool in Lightroom to color correct - How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

Using the white balance eyedropper tool in Lightroom to color correct

Keep in mind that the goal is to make the food look as fresh and appetizing as possible, so you don’t want the food to look blue. Food photography looks best when there is a balance of tones. I keep my surfaces and props on the cool or neutral side and work with my food subjects individually to keep it as realistic looking as possible.

When composing my apple pie image, I chose a vivid blue background to complement the golden tones of the pie. Not only does this create a balance of tones, blue and yellow are opposite on the color wheel and are a great combination of colors for food photography.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

After White Balance color corrections.

Exposure and Contrast

The next slider is Exposure, which affects the brightness of the range of tones in your image. To see bright or dark details, pull the Exposure slider to the left, or the Blacks slider to the right. If the bright areas look muddy, or the shadows still need more light, move the sliders to points where the image looks good overall.

I often make this adjustment initially and then may scale it back once I have made some other adjustments.

Contrast can be boosted in the Basic Panel or in the Tone Curve panel, which I will get to in a moment. It’s important to add some contrast, as RAW digital files are flat by nature.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

After slight Exposure and Contrast adjustments.

Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks Sliders

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom - basic panel sliders

This panel is where you may end up doing a lot of tweaking before you settle on a look that you’re satisfied with. It will give you a more precise balancing of tones than simply relying on the Exposure slider.

In my shot of the apple pie, the highlights were too bright, and the shadows too light for the look I was aiming for, which was a darker mood. My style tends to be dark and moody with bright food.  I brought the highlights down and boosted the whites, while also bringing down the shadows and blacks to create the ideal balance for the aesthetic I was going for.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

After Highlights and Shadows were tweaked.

Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation

Clarity is a most important slider in Lightroom when editing food photography. Clarity gives your image contrast in the mid-tones (edge details more specifically) and adds detail. You probably wouldn’t edit a portrait with +50 clarity, but you can easily do so with food photos. Keep in mind that overdoing the clarity can make food look dry and unappetizing. For this edit, I put my clarity at +42.

Vibrance is also an important slider in food photography post-processing. It’s a better tool for your edits than saturation because it’s is more subtle. It tends to adjust the less saturated colors without intensifying the ones that are already saturated.

The difference between Vibrance and Saturation is that it affects the intensity of the colors. Red becomes redder, green becomes greener, and so on. Vibrance will first boost the saturation of the muted colors and then the other colors. It adjusts the less saturated tones without over-saturating the ones that are already saturated. Whether you use Saturation depends on the image and the look you are going for, but in general, a conservative approach is what works best when editing food photography.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation adjusted.

It’s easy to quickly overdo the Saturation and make your image look ugly. If I use the slider at all, I might only nudge it up a tad to about +5 or +6. You’ll notice that I actually brought down the Saturation slightly in this image, so the blue looks a little less intense.

Tone Curve

The Tone Curve is often challenging to new users, but it’s one of the most powerful tools that Lightroom has to offer. Getting in-depth with it is beyond the scope of this article, but let’s look at the basics.

The Tone Curve is a graph that maps out where the tones in your images lie. The bottom axis of the Tone Curve starts with Shadows at the far left side and ends with Highlights on the far right end. The mid-tones fall in the middle, in a range from darker to lighter. The tones get darker as you move lower, and brighter as you move up the axis.

Assess the mid-tones in your image. Are they bright already? If not, click on the middle of the tone curve and bring the point up. If they are already bright or too bright, bring the curve down slightly. Move on to the rest of your image. Typically you will find that your curve looks somewhat like a soft S (see screenshot below).

You can control the lightness and darkness of your tones by adjusting the Point Curve itself or by Region Curve. The Region has sliders for each part of the tonal range. As you drag each slider, the curve and the image both change.

To make adjustments with the Point Curve, click on the area you want to affect to create an anchor point at which to control the tone. Dragging the point up lightens that tone; dragging it down darkens the tone.

After Curves.

You will also notice that there is an RGB option in the lower-right portion of the point curve. This helps you to individually edit the Red, Green, and Blue channels. It performs the same types of adjustments to brightness and darkness, but on each separate color. This can be utilized if you want to edit a color individually, or give your image a certain type of color overall.

To choose tones directly from the image, there is a handy tool called the Targeted Adjustment Tool. This is located in the top left of the Tone Curve.

Click on it and move the cursor over the image. The tool shows you the tones under the crosshairs. If you click and drag it up and down the image, you will affect the tones like those under the crosshairs. For example, if you drag vertically on an area with light pixels, all of your image’s highlights will be adjusted.

If you’re getting started with learning the Tone Curve, play around with the Region sliders and take note of how the various sliders affect the curve. Whichever approach you choose, be sure to watch the histogram as you make changes, to ensure that you are not losing important detail.

HSL Adjustments

HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance. This is where you balance the colors in Lightroom. However, color adjustments are usually more subjective than tonal adjustments, as color gives a photograph a sense of mood.

There are two ways to make color adjustments in this panel; you can adjust them all at once under HSL/All, or each color individually under the Color tab at the top of the panel.

The Hue tab or section is where you choose how warm or cool you want each color in your image to be. For example, I find that greens almost always look off, so I slide the greens slightly more towards the left or right to get them looking more realistic. To add more warmth, that is, more yellow to your greens, slide it to the right. For a cooler hue, sliding it to the right will add more blue.

Whereas the Saturation slider in the basic panel adjusts the color of the whole image, the saturation sliders here adjust each color individually.

If you adjust a color to be more saturated, then it will affect the saturation of that particular color throughout the whole photo. Whether you’re working in the basic panel or the HSL panel, saturation requires a light hand.

In the image of the apple pie, I thought that the blue looked a bit more on the magenta side, so I slid it towards the left. This hue gave me a blue that worked better with the orange tones in my picture.

Lastly, Luminance affects the brightness of the color. I find these sliders more valuable than the saturation sliders and work with these first.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

After HSL adjustments have been applied.

Working in Lightroom is all about balance, and the same goes when working with the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance adjustments.

Noise

Noise is the grain that can appear throughout an image. It’s not often a problem when you are shooting with artificial lights, but when working with natural light, grain can appear in your images if you are shooting at a higher ISO or you didn’t get enough light onto your sensor.

Working with the Noise slider in Lightroom will minimize the grain and give your image a smoother look. But, be careful not to push the slider too high, as it can result in a plastic look. For the apple pie, I set the Noise at +20, as it was shot in studio with a strobe.

Post-Crop Vignetting and Dehaze

If you are editing a darker, moodier image, Post-crop Vignette is a must. By darkening the outer corners of the frame, you draw the viewer’s eye towards the center of the image and your subject.

To darken, move your slider to the left. The midpoint slider controls how far in the dark edges get to the center of your photo. Feather controls how soft or hard your vignette will look. A softer vignette looks more appealing than a hard, “spotlight” effect.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

Vignette applied.

Sharpening

Sharpening should be the last editing step. It adds contrast between pixels and edges, thereby adding definition and creating a more refined look.

NOTE: It’s not meant to make a blurry image look sharp!

Also, sharpening should not be applied to the whole image. In food photography, there is not much of a point in sharpening the props and the background, etc. The focus is on the food, therefore, this is what we sharpen.

To do this in Lightroom, mask out the image to select the areas of the image you want to sharpen rather than sharpening the whole image. You do this by holding down the Alt/Option key (it will show you where the sharpening is being applied, the white areas) while clicking on Masking in the Sharpening panel. Slide it to the right. The farther right you go, the less of the image it will sharpen. For my image, I left it at +76.

Also read: How to Make Your Photos Shine Using Clarity, Sharpening, and Dehaze in Lightroom

In Conclusion

So here is the final image! Not drastically different than what I began with, but overall a more balanced and refined looking photo and consistent with my style of food photography.

How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom

Before and after editing. Note how subtle the differences are here.

When it comes to post-processing your food photography, the best advice I can give is that whatever your style, strive for a natural look for your subject. Ask yourself this question, “Looking at this image, do I want to eat that food?”

The answer should unequivocally be yes! If so, you’ve done a good job.

The post How to Edit Food Photography Images Using Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - boats in a row on the shore

Color is one of those things that you easily take for granted because it is everywhere. Even though you see it every day, not much thought is given to how (or why) it affects your perception or mood. While it is a common part of your life, you can still pay attention to how it affects your images.

Since color or the absence thereof plays an important part in your final product (others include light, shape, form, and texture), give it some more thought. Are you conscious of how you are using color in your photos?

salt and pepper close up shot - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

1. The Basics

There are three primary colors – red, blue and yellow. Secondary colors are produced when you combine these: green (combination of blue and yellow), purple (red and blue) and orange (red and yellow). If you further combine, you get the next level/tertiary colors.

color wheel - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

By The original uploader was Sakurambo at English Wikipedia. [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The color wheel is a diagram that shows how different colors relate to each other. They exist along a continuum with each color transitioning into the one next to it. So why are these basics important?

Color Harmony

Color harmonies are combinations that are visually appealing to the human eye. A color harmony is when you have two or more different colors that complement each other. This is a key tool used by both artists and photographers to communicate with their viewers, as it is used to evoke a mood or emotion. There are a few types of color harmonies that you can use.

red boat on the shore and one bird - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

Monochromatic versus Analogous

While these two color harmonies are similar, analogous offers subtle differences that set it apart. A monochromatic color scheme or harmony uses variation in the lightness and saturation of a single color. An analogous color harmony is composed of colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. There is still one dominant color, but the second color enhances the overall look.

anise seeds - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

Example of using color in a monochromatic way.

Both of these color harmonies are easy to create and are very easy on the eyes. Monochromatic color schemes are sometimes used to establish a mood because of their visual appeal and balance.

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - mountain scenic photo

Example of an analogous color scheme with blue and green being next to each other on the wheel.

Analogous colors flow into each other, creating a more soothing look in your image. When you are outdoors, you are exposed to all the various color harmonies including these two. Think about a lush forest with its varying shades of green or the variances of oranges and red in an autumn scene. These tones are likely appealing to you, now you have a little idea as to why.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Thus the color complement of a primary color is a secondary color (as shown on the color wheel) e.g., red and green complementary colors work well together since they are highly contrasting. They can be quite dramatic when used at full saturation, as each color makes the other appear more active.

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - sunset on the water

Orange and blue are complementary colors, which makes sunsets and other scenes with these colors so appealing to us visually.

2. The Key or Dominant Color

The key color is the main color in an image. Often, the key color in an image is that which is the most dominant. Allowing one color to dominate can lead to a powerful image. This is stronger when a primary color (red, blue or yellow) is the dominant color.

Colors with greater intensity will draw (and hold) your viewer’s attention. Keep that in mind, in relation to how it affects your subject.

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - red tomato in a red bowl

Red is the dominant color in this image, clearly.

3. Advancing or Receding Colors

Advancing colors are the gamut of colors on the warmer end of the spectrum. These include red, red-violet, yellow, yellow-orange and orange. When advancing colors are dominant, they appear as though those objects are closer to the eye, as if coming towards you. Red is one of those colors that dominates and jumps right at you. Think about a scene that has only a hint of red (e.g., a red mailbox) and yet the red dominates.

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - sunset photo

Advancing colors can work well in an image or on the other hand, can disrupt your scene by taking away the attention from your subject.

Receding colors are the opposite and take on a more background characteristic. Think about what blues and greens (the cooler colors) add to a landscape. They fall into the distance, add a feeling of depth, and help balance the stronger colors.

cool colors of blue hour - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

4. Feelings and Color

Color provokes various emotional responses in people. So much so, that we use color to describe different emotions, for example: feeling blue, seeing red, tickled pink, or green with envy.

We connect to the warm colors of a sunset differently than we do to a cool blue morning. Color in everyday life is used as a powerful psychological tool, the same applies when using color in your photographic compositions.

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - statue and the sky

Remember that color is subjective – the same color can make one person happy but irritate another. Also of note, one color can evoke different emotions, if you change its hue and saturation or change the color you combine it with. Orange for example, can create excitement when it leans towards red and be more calming when it is more on the yellow side.

Conclusion

It is fun to learn how colors work with each other and how we react to different combinations. When creating an image, organize color in a way that is easy and pleasing to the eye. Use strong, bold colors to create impact or generate an emotional response. Do you want to grab your viewer’s attention immediately or prefer if their eyes wander around your image?

buffalo in a yellow field - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

While people see the world in their own way, experiment with color and try to understand what reaches your audience. When creating images with impact, you can use color and make them feel what you want. Share your colorful world with us in the comment area below.

The post Tips for Using Color in Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Photographing flowers is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding types of photography around. Yet it can be surprisingly difficult, even for more seasoned photographers. Getting strong flower images often requires new settings, new lighting, and new gear, not to mention a new approach to your subjects.

flower photography macro abstract - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

In this article, you will learn the ins-and-outs of flower photography. Starting off with a discussion of flower photography gear and camera settings. Then moving into flower photography lighting, focusing primarily on the best types of natural light. Finally, you’ll get few guidelines for strong flower photography compositions.

Gear

There are a few types of flower photography gear to think about: cameras, lenses, and accessories (such as flashes and tripods).

flower macro photography abstract red tulip - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

1 – Cameras

My camera recommendation is straightforward: the best cameras for photographing flowers are DSLRs. They offer great flexibility in terms of settings and have a huge array of excellent lenses available.

Which DSLR camera should you use? Especially if you are a beginner, it matters little. Most DSLRs allow for outstanding quality images, whether marketed for professionals or consumers.

Mirrorless cameras are another option. However, the macro lens line-up is still fairly limited. So at least for the time being, I’d go with a DSLR.

clematis flower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I took this clematis photograph using a DSLR and a dedicated macro lens.

2 – Lenses

First, take note: It is possible to get good images of flowers using any lens, macro or non-macro, wide-angle or telephoto. I have taken some of my best flower images using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

flower photography macro abstract poppy - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I took this poppy image with my Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

On the other hand, the higher your lens’s magnification capabilities, the more opportunities you’ll have. You can make intimate and detailed images of flowers. You can also experiment with more abstract photography techniques.

This is why I generally recommend a dedicated macro lens for flower photography. Such a lens usually offers life-size magnification, pin-sharp images, and excellent bokeh. Some of these are available for a decent price, and I have written previously about choosing the perfect macro lens.

flower photography macro yellow - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

This image was taken using a dedicated macro lens.

Another option is to use a regular lens (often a telephoto lens) plus extension tubes. Extension tubes are a cheap way of reducing your lens’s minimum focusing distance, therefore allowing for you to shoot at higher magnifications. The primary downside to extension tubes is flexibility.

When mounted between your camera and lens, extension tubes greatly decrease your maximum focusing distance, preventing you from quickly changing your point of focus. That is, with extension tubes mounted, you cannot take images of distant objects; you are restricted to only subjects within a few feet.

A third way of doing inexpensive flower photography is to freelens. By detaching the lens and placing it in front of the camera body, you can increase magnification (while also generating some interesting effects). I often do this with my Canon 50mm lens and backup body, because there is a risk of getting dust in the sensor.

pink coneflower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I used freelensing to photograph this coneflower.

3 – Artificial Lighting

Flower photographers often like to use artificial lighting (e.g., flashes or ringlights). These can be both bulky and costly. I prefer natural lighting, but a flash can be especially useful in situations when the natural light isn’t ideal; for instance, bright, midday sun.

4 – Tripods

Flower photographers rarely leave home without a tripod. This is where I’m going to break with the prevailing opinion and say – you don’t need a tripod.

Let me qualify that statement. You don’t necessarily need a tripod for photographing flowers. You can shoot all kinds of pleasing flower images while handholding your camera. But there are certain techniques that do require a tripod. I will discuss those below.

white flowers - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I photographed these aster flowers without a tripod.

Camera Settings

Flower photographers generally aim for one of two looks: sharp throughout the frame or shallow focus.

Sharp throughout the frame requires a very narrow aperture, especially at higher magnifications, often at f/16 or beyond. This is where a tripod is necessary, as this is difficult to do without one. It may also require special techniques (i.e., focus stacking) in order to prevent the diffraction that comes from higher apertures.

flower photography macro dahlia - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

An example of a “sharp throughout the frame” look.

However, my personal preference is shallow-focus macro photography. This requires no extra equipment, no flashes, and no tripod. Instead, you use a wide aperture (in the f/2.8-f/7.1 range) to render a small portion of the flower in focus.

The rest of the image is blown out of focus which can produce unique and stunning effects.

flower photography macro daisy abstract shallow focus - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

This daisy photograph is an example of my preferred type of flower photography with only a small part of the subject in focus.

In both cases, it is the aperture that is important. The shutter speed and ISO should be adjusted in response to the aperture (though I wouldn’t recommend dropping your shutter speed below 1/160th or so unless you have very steady hands or some form of image stabilization).

Lighting

I am going to primarily discuss natural light for photographing flowers. This is not because artificial light in flower photography is useless, but because I think it’s much more enjoyable to experiment with the light that’s available.

My first piece of lighting advice is to shoot on overcast days. When the sky is cloudy, the light becomes diffused. The flower will be evenly lit, and the soft light makes colorful petals pop.

tulip flower photography abstract macro - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

This tulip abstract was taken on an overcast day, which produced deeply saturated colors.

My second piece of lighting advice is to shoot in the morning or evening when the sunlight is golden. This prevents strong sunlight from falling on the flower and can generate some outstanding images.

flower photography macro evening light - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

This image was taken in the evening when the light was soft and golden.

I also like to shoot in the shade with the sun behind me, so that the bright sunlight is falling behind the flower (but not on it directly). One way to ensure this lighting is to find a flower that is in the shadow of a tree. Another is to cast the shadow yourself, by using your head, arm, or even your camera bag.

flower photography macro hyacinth - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

I cast a shadow over this grape hyacinth, in order to avoid the direct light of the sun.

Composition

A final aspect of flower photography to consider is the composition. This may seem daunting for the beginner, but there are a few simple compositional guidelines that will help you take better flower photographs instantly.

flower photography macro abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Fill the frame with your subject

In flower photography, you rarely want to have a lot of empty space in your frame. More empty space means more opportunities for distraction, for confusion, and for loss of impact. So instead of leaving space around the flower, move in closer to fill the frame as much as you can.

flower photography macro tulip - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The more colorful, the better

When photographing flowers, you often have a whole palette of colors right in front of you. Use it to your advantage!

Put color in the background by placing another flower behind your main subject. Add color to the foreground by shooting through several other flowers.

macro photography flower colorful abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Keep things clean

In flower photography (or any type of photography, really), it’s important to have a point of emphasis (or a focal point). This can be the edge of a petal, the flower itself, the flower plus its environment, but regardless, you must ensure that the viewer’s eye is drawn to this spot.

One of the easiest ways to guarantee a strong point of focus is simply to have little else but that point of focus. I hope this sounds simple because it is. Hence, before taking a photograph, rid your potential composition of all distracting elements. This includes out-of-focus stems, as well as bright colors or dark spots in the background that don’t fit the image as a whole.

Think simplify.

macro photography flower abstract rose - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The eye immediately focuses on this rose stamen.

Conclusion

By following this guide, you should be on your way to becoming an excellent flower photographer. While there are a number of elements to considergear, settings, lighting, and compositionI feel confident that you’ll be taking strong flower photographs in no time.

Any questions about photographing flowers? Let’s discuss them in the comments!

macro photography flower colorful abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The Best Way to Improve Your Photography is to Forget About Your Camera

Are you confident using your camera to take photographs in every situation in which you want to shoot? Do you experience anxiety when you think about reaching for your camera? Would you like to feel sure that when you do head out for a photography session you will return more than satisfied with your results? So what is the best way to improve your photography?

portrait of a Kayan girl - improve your photography

If you are anxious or lacking confidence in using your camera you will most likely not be so happy with your photographs. As photographers, most of us like to be improving our pictures each time we use our cameras. I don’t know of a photographer who is not interested in continuing to create better photos than they have previously.

Photography is so much more than having the most up to date equipment and knowing which dials to turn and buttons to push to make it work. The best way to improve your photography is to forget about your camera.

Photography is More Popular Than Ever

Photography is currently more popular than it has ever been. People are taking more photos every day than ever before in history. Why? Because they can and because it is easy. And because everyone always has a camera with them.

Northern Thailand landscape near Suan Sook Homestay, Doi Inthanon - improve your photography

Mobile phone cameras have made photography more popular than ever. This photo was taken with my phone camera.

It is easier and more convenient than ever to be able to take and share your photographs. Most people can take a photo with their phone very easily and without much knowledge of photography technique. Most phone camera users are not concerned with their shutter speed or their ISO setting. But you don’t have to search much to find some outstanding photographs made with phone cameras.

When people take photos with their phone they are most often concentrating on the moment, not the mechanics of how to work the camera. The more you can learn to do this when you are using your DSLR, mirrorless or any other camera the more you will improve your photography.

Make Time to Learn

Make time to study how your camera works. If you are just starting out, begin with the essentials. Become familiar with the settings for obtaining a good exposure and well-focused photos.

Night photo of a buddhist monk at a ceremony at Wat Pan Tao - improve your photography

In any situation you find yourself wanting to photograph, you need to be confident in adjusting your settings well without losing concentration on your subject.

For more advanced photographers, don’t neglect to keep learning more about your camera. Learn to use more of the functions and become proficient at them. If you can do this you will be well prepared whenever you want to head out for a photography session.

If you are constantly trying to figure out how to use your camera at the times when you want to make great photos, you will not be as successful.

Know your camera functions and settings well, so you can use it as quickly and easily as your phone camera. You’ll be able to pay more attention to the moment if you do so.

:aughing Karen woman in a rice field - improve your photography

Be Prepared

When you are in a situation where you want to take photographs, be prepared. Have everything with you that you need. Do you need another lens? Will you need flash? How about your tripod? As well, be mindful of whether or not you will need anything other than your camera and one or two lenses. If not, don’t carry it with you. It will only hinder you.

Always try to anticipate the situation ahead of time. Be well set up with the right lens and any other accessories you need. If you can do this in advance you will be able to concentrate more on making great photos.

Thai woman in traditional costume - improve your photography

Being prepared means you will not miss any opportunities to make great photos.

Review and Critique

Always take a good look at your photos, including the ones you are not satisfied with. Hopefully, you are not deleting any of your photos from your cards before reviewing them on your computer. Aside from this being poor technical practice, you can learn a lot from your dud photos.

lady and giant soap bubbles - improve your photography

Studying your photos for composition, exposure, timing, subject choice, etc., will help you improve. If you are reviewing photos you are not so happy with, this will help you avoid making the same mistakes in future.

Having someone else look at your photos and offer critique can be very valuable. Even if it’s a friend or family member who has little or no photography experience it can help keep you on track, (so long as they are honest and positive.)

Sharing your photos for critique with an experienced photographer can help your growth. They will be able to point out things you may not have noticed. By seeking feedback you will learn directly from your own images.

Reflection of a monk in a puddle of water - improve your photography

Art and Science

Photography is very much a whole brain experience. The left hemisphere of your brain engages to manage the technical aspects. Your right hemisphere is more attentive to the creative aspects. There must be a cohesion and a balance.

If you are too focused on the technical aspects of photography you will not produce such creative pictures. If your right brain takes over you may not get well-exposed or focused images because of not paying attention to your camera.

Pink dahlia photo - improve your photography

Knowing your equipment, whatever camera you are using, will help you improve your photography. A photo that was taken with my camera phone.

Being confident to use your camera, whichever one you choose to use, will help you be more successful. Understand how to use it and to adjust the settings to get the photos you want easily. This takes some study, commitment, and practice, but it’s well worth it to be able to achieve consistently better results.

The post The Best Way to Improve Your Photography is to Forget About Your Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

There is a big distinction to be made when it comes to night sky photography, which is whether or not you plan on photographing the stars in the night sky. If you do not plan on including stars in your shots, things are a lot simpler for you. That is true in a lot of ways, in that you don’t need to worry as much about the clouds and weather, the impact of the moon, or light pollution.

When it comes to lens selection, it means that you can pretty much use whatever lens you want. Therefore, if that is the type of night photography you plan to do, continue using whatever is your favorite lens at present.

Photo of the Milky Way at night - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Issues doing Night Sky Photography

On the other hand, if you plan on shooting the night sky and capturing the stars, things get trickier. This stems from two facts. The first is that starlight is extremely dim. It is only a tiny, tiny fraction of what you have at sunset (let alone the middle of the day). Even moonlight is many times more powerful.

The second issue is that the stars are moving across the sky (or, rather, that the earth is spinning, but it appears as though the stars are moving to your camera). This is happening more quickly than you might realize.

As a result, you need to do everything possible to maximize exposure, and you need for that to happen quickly. In other words, the dim light means that you need a lot of exposure. Exposure stems from a combination of three things: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

In other types of photography, you might simply open up the shutter for a long time. In night sky photography, however, you don’t have that luxury since the stars are moving. That means your shutter speed is going to be capped somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds. If you expose any longer, the camera will pick up that movement and it will show up as tails or blur in your pictures. That won’t work.

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography - night shot with cliffs and stars

That means you’ll have to look at the other two exposure options – ISO and aperture. To deal with the dim light, you will have to crank up your ISO to at least 3200 and in many cases 6400. At present, that’s about as high as you should go. Even if your camera goes up to something like ISO 25,600, as many cameras do these days if you use an ISO that high you risk noise completely taking over your picture.

Use a Fast Lens

Because of these caps on shutter speed and ISO, the only remaining exposure control is aperture. To maximize exposure and still successfully capture the night sky, you will need a fast lens. How fast?

A lens that opens up to f/2.8 or wider is ideal. A lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.0 is acceptable. Anything less than that (meaning a higher f-number) probably won’t work. This is one situation where your kit lens might serve you well. Most kit lenses open up to f/3.5 at their widest focal length, which is actually 1/3 stop brighter than your typical f/4.0 lens.

As a side-note, you might be worried about depth of field when using these large apertures. You need not worry about that though. You will always set your focus at infinity and everything in your scene will be on that plane of focus. Even if there are objects in the foreground, at wide angles things quickly go to infinity on your lens. Unless something is very close to you (say, within 10 feet or so), it will be on the same plane of focus and depth of field will not be an issue. If you want to include anything closer than that, you’ll likely need to focus stack.

desert trees and Milky Way - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Shoot with a Wide-Angle Lens

You may be familiar with something called the Reciprocal Rule. It will help you make sense of why you need a wide angle lens for night sky photography. That rule states that the slowest shutter speed (exposure time) you can use when shooting handheld and still avoid blur in your pictures is the reciprocal of your focal length. So, for example, if you are using a 100mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/100th of a second.

This rule shows that there is always a direct correlation between focal length and the longest shutter speed you can use to avoid blur. That also holds true when it comes to photographing the stars. When you photograph the night sky, the wider the lens you use, the longer you can open up the shutter.

How wide of a lens do you need? There is no clear answer. If you are familiar with photographing the stars or the Milky Way, you may have heard of certain rules of thumb where you divide a number by the focal length of your lens to get a maximum exposure time (such as the Rule of 600, 500, or even 400) before the stars start to arch and blur.

For example, using the Rule of 500, a 24mm lens would allow you to use a shutter speed up to 20 seconds (500 divided by 24 mm is 20.8 seconds). But if you use a 16mm lens instead, you can expose up to 30 seconds (500 divided by 16 is 31.25). As you can see, wider is better. Here is how it works out for the widest focal lengths.

Rule of 500 chart - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Before moving on, let me point out two things about this standard. First of all, it is not absolute, and there are those who advocate for a stricter standard (meaning that you should use even shorter shutter speeds for these focal lengths). Be sure to test out different speeds and see what works best for you.

Second, if you use a crop factor camera, be sure to adjust these numbers to the Effective Focal Length, which is based on a full-frame or 35mm format (i.e. 20mm on a 1.5x crop factor camera is effectively a 30mm, so the maximum exposure then is only 16.7 seconds before the stars arch).

Measuring Sharpness

It goes without saying that you want a sharp lens. But how do you determine what is a sharp lens and what isn’t? The best way, of course, is to try them out for yourself. It may not be practical to test out a whole series of lenses though.

We all rely on lens reviews. I’m certainly no expert on optics, so I definitely do. These are usually extremely helpful, but sometimes it is difficult to get an apples to apples comparison of different lenses. To do that, there is an extremely helpful resource called DXO Mark.

The reason DXO Mark is so helpful is that they score all lenses in the exact same manner. For example, they give scores for sharpness, distortion, and vignetting (as well as other criteria, and an overall score) and grade each lens the same way. That lets you look at numbers very quickly, rather than comparing images from different lenses and attempting to quantify the differences. If nothing else, it gives you a good place to start.

DXO lens comparison chart - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Of course, sharpness isn’t the only thing you need to consider. Lenses all have different amounts of distortion as well. One type of distortion that is important in night photography is called coma distortion. It adds little wings to points of light, which in the case of photographing stars is not ideal. Unfortunately, this is not something that is often included in lens tests, so you’ll have to check for this with whatever lens you are considering.

Narrowing Your Choices Down

We have now established the three most important criteria for picking a lens for your night sky photography. Your lens needs to be wide, fast, and sharp. In terms of how wide, how fast, and how sharp, that is up to you. But you can use your own criteria to create a list of available lenses.

For example, you might decide to only consider lenses that are 20mm or wider, open up to f/2.8, and are at least moderately sharp.

lens comparison chart - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Once you narrow the list down to your particular brand of camera, you will probably find that the list is not very long. There may actually only be a few models from which to choose.

The Top Picks

Once you start looking at the widest, fastest lenses made, the list quickly gets pretty short. Once you add in the reviews and ratings, some pretty clear choices emerge. Of the Big Three manufacturers, I think you would have to strongly consider the following lenses (if you can afford them, as they are quite pricey):

three good lens choices - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

  1. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 III
  2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
  3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM

That’s not to say you necessarily need to rush out and purchase one of these lenses. The point of this article is really to help you establish the criteria for picking your own lenses. At the same time, I don’t want to be coy about these obviously great lenses, as they fit the criteria for night sky photography very well.

A Sleeper

When you start putting price limitations on lenses, the list gets short real quick! Most lenses in this range cost well over $1000, and many approach $2000. You may be looking for something more affordable, as I was. Once I looked at the list further, the Tokina 16-28 mm f/2.8 jumped out at me.

It is under $700 in most places and meets all three criteria of being wide (16 mm), fast (f/2.8), and sharp (scoring a 22 on my camera per DXO Mark). I picked one up and like the results. It works great, although there is definitely some coma distortion going on. Still, for the price, it is a great option. This lens is available for both Canon and Nikon cameras.

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography - Milky Way and spooky trees

A Wildcard

There is another affordable option if you don’t mind manual controls – Rokinon lenses. They have several wide angle options to choose from, ranging from 12-24mm. They are prime lenses and are very fast. All have maximum apertures of at least f/2.8. These are all manual lenses though, which means that you will need to focus manually. It also means that you will set the aperture with a ring on the lens, rather than with your camera.

Still, that should not be a problem with night sky photography. You just set the lens at its widest aperture and set the focus at infinity. You might never change it. Because of these manual controls, you can often pick up these lenses for well under $400 (check out the Rokinon 14mm). Again, this is just another good option if you don’t mind manual control lenses.

Note: Rokinon also has 12mm and 8mm fish-eye lenses available with mounts for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and Micro 4/3 cameras if you want to go really wide. 

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

The Lens for You

Just remember that if you are considering a lens for night sky photography, you’ll want to limit the lens selection to wide-angle lenses (generally 24mm or wider). You can get away with longer focal lengths, but you’ll need them to be extremely fast (probably f/2.0 or greater).

Once you have narrowed down your selection in this fashion, look at fast lenses. Try to get one that opens up to f/2.8 or better. That usually means you are looking at fairly expensive lenses, but as mentioned above there are some affordable options that will get the job done. After that, be sure to check the DXO Mark ratings. But don’t stop there – a simple Google search for the lens(es) you are considering will likely yield a lot of reviews. I am partial to The Digital Picture and DP Review as well.

Hopefully, this article has gotten you familiar with the criteria you need from a lens for night sky photography and has spurred a few ideas. It isn’t meant to limit your alternatives, so if there are other lens options I’ve missed, please let me know in the comment area below.

The post How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

There is a big distinction to be made when it comes to night sky photography, which is whether or not you plan on photographing the stars in the night sky. If you do not plan on including stars in your shots, things are a lot simpler for you. That is true in a lot of ways, in that you don’t need to worry as much about the clouds and weather, the impact of the moon, or light pollution.

When it comes to lens selection, it means that you can pretty much use whatever lens you want. Therefore, if that is the type of night photography you plan to do, continue using whatever is your favorite lens at present.

Photo of the Milky Way at night - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Issues doing Night Sky Photography

On the other hand, if you plan on shooting the night sky and capturing the stars, things get trickier. This stems from two facts. The first is that starlight is extremely dim. It is only a tiny, tiny fraction of what you have at sunset (let alone the middle of the day). Even moonlight is many times more powerful.

The second issue is that the stars are moving across the sky (or, rather, that the earth is spinning, but it appears as though the stars are moving to your camera). This is happening more quickly than you might realize.

As a result, you need to do everything possible to maximize exposure, and you need for that to happen quickly. In other words, the dim light means that you need a lot of exposure. Exposure stems from a combination of three things: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

In other types of photography, you might simply open up the shutter for a long time. In night sky photography, however, you don’t have that luxury since the stars are moving. That means your shutter speed is going to be capped somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds. If you expose any longer, the camera will pick up that movement and it will show up as tails or blur in your pictures. That won’t work.

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography - night shot with cliffs and stars

That means you’ll have to look at the other two exposure options – ISO and aperture. To deal with the dim light, you will have to crank up your ISO to at least 3200 and in many cases 6400. At present, that’s about as high as you should go. Even if your camera goes up to something like ISO 25,600, as many cameras do these days if you use an ISO that high you risk noise completely taking over your picture.

Use a Fast Lens

Because of these caps on shutter speed and ISO, the only remaining exposure control is aperture. To maximize exposure and still successfully capture the night sky, you will need a fast lens. How fast?

A lens that opens up to f/2.8 or wider is ideal. A lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.0 is acceptable. Anything less than that (meaning a higher f-number) probably won’t work. This is one situation where your kit lens might serve you well. Most kit lenses open up to f/3.5 at their widest focal length, which is actually 1/3 stop brighter than your typical f/4.0 lens.

As a side-note, you might be worried about depth of field when using these large apertures. You need not worry about that though. You will always set your focus at infinity and everything in your scene will be on that plane of focus. Even if there are objects in the foreground, at wide angles things quickly go to infinity on your lens. Unless something is very close to you (say, within 10 feet or so), it will be on the same plane of focus and depth of field will not be an issue. If you want to include anything closer than that, you’ll likely need to focus stack.

desert trees and Milky Way - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Shoot with a Wide-Angle Lens

You may be familiar with something called the Reciprocal Rule. It will help you make sense of why you need a wide angle lens for night sky photography. That rule states that the slowest shutter speed (exposure time) you can use when shooting handheld and still avoid blur in your pictures is the reciprocal of your focal length. So, for example, if you are using a 100mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/100th of a second.

This rule shows that there is always a direct correlation between focal length and the longest shutter speed you can use to avoid blur. That also holds true when it comes to photographing the stars. When you photograph the night sky, the wider the lens you use, the longer you can open up the shutter.

How wide of a lens do you need? There is no clear answer. If you are familiar with photographing the stars or the Milky Way, you may have heard of certain rules of thumb where you divide a number by the focal length of your lens to get a maximum exposure time (such as the Rule of 600, 500, or even 400) before the stars start to arch and blur.

For example, using the Rule of 500, a 24mm lens would allow you to use a shutter speed up to 20 seconds (500 divided by 24 mm is 20.8 seconds). But if you use a 16mm lens instead, you can expose up to 30 seconds (500 divided by 16 is 31.25). As you can see, wider is better. Here is how it works out for the widest focal lengths.

Rule of 500 chart - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Before moving on, let me point out two things about this standard. First of all, it is not absolute, and there are those who advocate for a stricter standard (meaning that you should use even shorter shutter speeds for these focal lengths). Be sure to test out different speeds and see what works best for you.

Second, if you use a crop factor camera, be sure to adjust these numbers to the Effective Focal Length, which is based on a full-frame or 35mm format (i.e. 20mm on a 1.5x crop factor camera is effectively a 30mm, so the maximum exposure then is only 16.7 seconds before the stars arch).

Measuring Sharpness

It goes without saying that you want a sharp lens. But how do you determine what is a sharp lens and what isn’t? The best way, of course, is to try them out for yourself. It may not be practical to test out a whole series of lenses though.

We all rely on lens reviews. I’m certainly no expert on optics, so I definitely do. These are usually extremely helpful, but sometimes it is difficult to get an apples to apples comparison of different lenses. To do that, there is an extremely helpful resource called DXO Mark.

The reason DXO Mark is so helpful is that they score all lenses in the exact same manner. For example, they give scores for sharpness, distortion, and vignetting (as well as other criteria, and an overall score) and grade each lens the same way. That lets you look at numbers very quickly, rather than comparing images from different lenses and attempting to quantify the differences. If nothing else, it gives you a good place to start.

DXO lens comparison chart - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Of course, sharpness isn’t the only thing you need to consider. Lenses all have different amounts of distortion as well. One type of distortion that is important in night photography is called coma distortion. It adds little wings to points of light, which in the case of photographing stars is not ideal. Unfortunately, this is not something that is often included in lens tests, so you’ll have to check for this with whatever lens you are considering.

Narrowing Your Choices Down

We have now established the three most important criteria for picking a lens for your night sky photography. Your lens needs to be wide, fast, and sharp. In terms of how wide, how fast, and how sharp, that is up to you. But you can use your own criteria to create a list of available lenses.

For example, you might decide to only consider lenses that are 20mm or wider, open up to f/2.8, and are at least moderately sharp.

lens comparison chart - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

Once you narrow the list down to your particular brand of camera, you will probably find that the list is not very long. There may actually only be a few models from which to choose.

The Top Picks

Once you start looking at the widest, fastest lenses made, the list quickly gets pretty short. Once you add in the reviews and ratings, some pretty clear choices emerge. Of the Big Three manufacturers, I think you would have to strongly consider the following lenses (if you can afford them, as they are quite pricey):

three good lens choices - How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

  1. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 III
  2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
  3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM

That’s not to say you necessarily need to rush out and purchase one of these lenses. The point of this article is really to help you establish the criteria for picking your own lenses. At the same time, I don’t want to be coy about these obviously great lenses, as they fit the criteria for night sky photography very well.

A Sleeper

When you start putting price limitations on lenses, the list gets short real quick! Most lenses in this range cost well over $1000, and many approach $2000. You may be looking for something more affordable, as I was. Once I looked at the list further, the Tokina 16-28 mm f/2.8 jumped out at me.

It is under $700 in most places and meets all three criteria of being wide (16 mm), fast (f/2.8), and sharp (scoring a 22 on my camera per DXO Mark). I picked one up and like the results. It works great, although there is definitely some coma distortion going on. Still, for the price, it is a great option. This lens is available for both Canon and Nikon cameras.

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography - Milky Way and spooky trees

A Wildcard

There is another affordable option if you don’t mind manual controls – Rokinon lenses. They have several wide angle options to choose from, ranging from 12-24mm. They are prime lenses and are very fast. All have maximum apertures of at least f/2.8. These are all manual lenses though, which means that you will need to focus manually. It also means that you will set the aperture with a ring on the lens, rather than with your camera.

Still, that should not be a problem with night sky photography. You just set the lens at its widest aperture and set the focus at infinity. You might never change it. Because of these manual controls, you can often pick up these lenses for well under $400 (check out the Rokinon 14mm). Again, this is just another good option if you don’t mind manual control lenses.

Note: Rokinon also has 12mm and 8mm fish-eye lenses available with mounts for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and Micro 4/3 cameras if you want to go really wide. 

How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography

The Lens for You

Just remember that if you are considering a lens for night sky photography, you’ll want to limit the lens selection to wide-angle lenses (generally 24mm or wider). You can get away with longer focal lengths, but you’ll need them to be extremely fast (probably f/2.0 or greater).

Once you have narrowed down your selection in this fashion, look at fast lenses. Try to get one that opens up to f/2.8 or better. That usually means you are looking at fairly expensive lenses, but as mentioned above there are some affordable options that will get the job done. After that, be sure to check the DXO Mark ratings. But don’t stop there – a simple Google search for the lens(es) you are considering will likely yield a lot of reviews. I am partial to The Digital Picture and DP Review as well.

Hopefully, this article has gotten you familiar with the criteria you need from a lens for night sky photography and has spurred a few ideas. It isn’t meant to limit your alternatives, so if there are other lens options I’ve missed, please let me know in the comment area below.

The post How to Choose a Lens for Night Sky Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to do Creative Editing with Layers in ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

In my first article on ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018, I covered all the elements of the program that a beginner would need to know about. This article covers editing in more detail, starting with processing your RAW file in Develop Mode and then doing some creative editing using Layers in Edit Mode.

Layers are a critical part of editing your images. Either in doing your RAW process and then tidying up areas that need it with curves, levels, and other adjustments. Or if you want to add more creativity to your images, with textures, decorative flourishes, fancy text embellishments. Finally, you can go all the way up to compositing, and using layers is the best way to achieve that.

textured image of flowers - How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

Let’s look at what ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 has to offer for editing a RAW file. Then we’ll add a creative edit with texture layers, embellishment layers, and using masks to create a vintage grunge effect.

I am going to assume that you have a basic understanding of RAW editing and using layers and masks and not detail absolutely every step worked through in this process. If you need more help, go back and read: ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 Guide for Beginners first.

Editing a Raw File in Develop Mode

First, open up Manage mode and find the right folder to select an image. For this exercise, I liked the Gerbera Still Life image and decided that the final version should have a grungy vintage look added at the end.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 - image thumbnails

This is the selected image of three crimson gerbera flowers, with a pair of pointe ballet shoes and some sheet music. It’s a bit dark and dull and needs some tweaking which we will do in the Develop mode of ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018.

original image before editing - How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

Original unedited RAW file

After some basic editing, the image is brighter and the colors are better balanced.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 - edited with basic adjustments

However my final vision for this image is more of a vintage look, and the colors are too bright and rich. So, further editing to bring the saturation down and darken the crimson was applied. This now provides the basis for the layers and creative elements, so it’s saved and then we move into Edit mode.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 - image with lower saturation

Creative Editing Using Layers

Switching to Edit Mode by clicking on EDIT with the edited RAW file open will change your workspace. Now the Layers palette is laid out on the right. As there is only the one image open, it shows up as Layer 1.

At the bottom of the Layers palette are the different layer options – hover over each one to find the one you need and click to activate it. For this exercise, we are going to bring in some grunge textures and additional elements to make it look vintage, old, and more artistic.

Textures

I use a lot of textures from 2LilOwls, The Daily Texture, and Distressed Textures. If you are patient you can also make your own but there are plenty of places to acquire them online. The ones used in this article were from 2LilOwls.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

My preferred option to add extra layers is to use a second monitor, open up Windows Explorer to the desired folder, find a texture I like and then drag across to my image. Note, when using ACDSee, you have to drag it into the Layers Palette (rather than onto the image directly).

The other option is to click on the “Add A File As A Layer” button which allows you to search for a file within your directory and add it. This was a useful feature which I used several times.

By default, the texture is applied in Normal mode which means only the top layer is visible, which is the texture in this instance. In the Layer Palette it is visible as Layer 2.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 - texture layer

The first texture layer has been added – it’s showing in Normal mode so you can only see this layer and not the one below (the image of the flowers).

Blend Mode

Next, change the blend mode of the layer to something that suits the image – either Overlay or Soft Light are good choices to start with. Also, dial down the layer opacity to soften the effect and make it look more pleasing.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

Masking parts of the layer

This texture has some heavy vignetting around the edges that is a bit too dark. So to solve that, add a Layer Mask and select a large soft brush at around 30% opacity. Dab the brush in the darker edges and corners to reduce the effect.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

The Layer mask is white and it shows up the areas you brush in grey (or black) – you can see where it has been applied in the corners.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

Image with texture and layer mask applied with softer tones in the dark corners now

Add more grunge

It needs more grunge so let’s apply a second texture layer. This one has lots of cracks and scratches for a nice vintage effect. It is also a bit lighter around the edges so should balance out the first texture nicely.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

The texture file is a different size than the original image but you can drag it out to fit by clicking on the yellow squares on the outside edges and corners.

This layer also had the blend mode changed and the opacity adjusted to suit. The crack effect was quite strong on the flowers so a mask was applied with a soft brush at low opacity that was brushed over the flowers.

More embellishments

The top left and right corners felt a bit empty so I added some decorative embellishments. On the left, is a butterfly with some fancy handwriting and another textural element was added on the right. Both are PNG files that are blended in with low opacity and Soft Light blend mode.

layers - How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

Each element goes onto a separate layer for full control.  Masks are applied to remove the effect from the flowers.  These become Layers 6 and 7.

Finally, a Photo Effect (Somber) was applied to add a bit more contrast and punch.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 - photo effect

Before and after images

Here we have the RAW file after it was edited in Develop mode and some creative adjustments for Saturation and Vibrance applied.

before layered editing - How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018

Here we have the final image after the texture layers, embellishments, Photo Effect and masks have been applied.

How to Edit Using Layers with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 - final image

Additional Notes

As an advanced Photoshop user, I was comfortable using all the layer tools and functions available in ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018. Most of the usual tools were available and functioned as expected.

The one major issue I found was the inability to change the brush shape. It does not appear possible to import .abr files to add creative brush shapes. The only options for changing the brush are blend mode, size, and opacity and the only shape is round.

You can change the size, hardness, and opacity of the brush but not the actual shape of it. This limits the creative choices available. Some of my brush files were present as PNG images so I was able to import them as individual layers.

Additionally, there were several extra features that were new to me which I found useful. The “Add A File As A Layer” button was extremely helpful and I used that on several occasions. There is also a button for “Adding a Blank Layer”, “Duplicating a Layer” and “Deleting a Layer”. All things that happen frequently and usually require a right mouse click, then a selection and second click. ACDSee made these steps much quicker with a single click.

There were extra adjustment layer functions, in particular, “Photo Effect” that offer a range of predesigned creative effects you can apply as a separate layer, to blend and edit as desired. A Vignette option (similar to Lightroom) was also available to quickly add a vignette.

Conclusion

If you are a beginner to using layers and masks then it can be a bit complicated to get your head around. The good news is that with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 everything that you would expect to be able to do and use to work with layers is all present and accounted for. It looks and functions very similar to Photoshop, so is comfortable for anyone transitioning over.

Except for the ability to change your brush shape, everything necessary to do a basic layer edit was easily recognizable and usable with pretty much no additional learning curve. That is a real bonus for anyone coming across from other programs.

There are also some nice new features that added extra value and made the experience better – in particular, “Add A File As A Layer” is something that I could easily get used to using. For anyone only using one monitor (like on a laptop) that makes adding another image as a layer so much easier. The Move function in Photoshop is really not user-friendly. This is a definite bonus if you are like me and add lots of extra files to your layers when editing.

Working in Edit mode and making a layered image with ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 was not difficult and the additional features added real value in unexpected places.

Disclaimer: ACDSee is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to do Creative Editing with Layers in ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2018 appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects

You might have seen photos in nature magazines or websites with silky-smooth water effects cascading over rocks, branches, and trees. Have you also wondered how in the world the photographer was able to capture such beautiful images?

For years I thought these types of images were the purview of professional photographers armed with an arsenal of digital tricks and camera tweaks that I would never be able to learn. But in reality, it’s quite simple to make images like these.

You don’t need any computational wizardry or mystical skills, and once you pick up a few basics you can start creating beautiful smooth-water photographs in no time at all.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - waterfall over a brook

Limiting the Light

To start with, the goal here is somewhat counterintuitive compared to a lot of other types of photography. Instead of letting in as much light as possible, the goal with smooth-water pictures is to let in the smallest amount of light in order to allow your shutter to remain open as long as it can. This requires a couple of settings on your camera as well as, in most cases, a very inexpensive piece of gear.

When you take a picture at a high shutter speed of 1/125th or 1/500th of a second it’s fast enough to freeze motion and allow you to get a blur-free picture of your subject. This is usually a good thing except when cascading water is involved, as freezing the motion is the opposite of what you are trying to do. Limiting the light allows the water to create motion trails and also adds an entirely different tone to the image, often one of peace and tranquility.

The following two images illustrate what I mean. This first one was taken at 1/60th of a second.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - moving water, partially frozen

1/60th of a second. Some motion trails are present but the image doesn’t feel calm, and also lacks a focal point.

The next one was taken with a much slower shutter speed and feels like an entirely different picture.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - slower shutter speed and blurred water

What you need to do

In order to cut down on the incoming light and also make sure you are getting the best images you will need to do the following:

  • Shoot in Manual Mode so you can force your camera to do what you want, not what it thinks you want. Using Auto or semi-auto modes (P, Av, Tv, A, or S) will usually not work for these types of shots.
  • Shoot in RAW so you can tweak your image afterward. It’s difficult to get smooth-water photos just right straight out of the camera and it’s nice to be able to tweak things to your liking.
  • Use a small aperture. Not necessarily the smallest aperture your lens allows, because this can sometimes cause image quality to deteriorate due to light diffraction, but a value of around f/11 or f/16 should be fine.
  • Use the lowest native ISO value for your camera. This will let you use slower shutter speeds while also giving you the cleanest, sharpest image possible.
  • Use the slowest shutter speed possible without overexposing the image too much. If you’re using RAW you can probably overexpose by one stop and recover things in post-production. But much more than that and you’re going to blow out all your highlights.
  • Put your camera on a tripod to minimize any shake or wobble from your hands. My favorite is the Joby Gorillapod since it lets me position my camera using just about any available surface, and allows me to get nice and close to the water as well.

Neutral Density Filters

Even with all this, it’s difficult to get a slow enough shutter speed to really create some good smoothing effects, and the solution is to use a Neutral Density filter. This is an inexpensive attachment that screws on to the front of your lens and cuts down the incoming light.

I like to think of it as putting sunglasses on your camera. This is the secret to getting the type of silky smooth water effects you have always admired but never knew how to create on your own.

shot of a fountain - How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects

Here, a long exposure of 1-second not only smoothed the water in the fountain but evened out the surface of the pond as well.

There are many different kinds of ND filters that block varying levels of light, but my recommendation for smooth-water images is one that blocks 3 or 6 stops of light. Others are available but they block so much light that it’s difficult to get your exposure settings right.

You can find ND filters at any camera retailer but the key is to get one that fits your lens. Look on your lens cap to find the thread size. It will usually be the Greek letter phi followed by a number, such as 53mm or 58mm.

ND filters often come in packs of two or three. While these cheaper ones aren’t going to produce the absolutely highest-quality results they are a fantastic and inexpensive way to get started.

Getting the Shot

I enjoy creating silky smooth water images on cloudy days since it means even more light is blocked – almost like nature’s own ND filter. Morning and evening are good times to shoot as well. But any time of day will work as long as you can get slow shutter speeds using a small aperture, low ISO, and an ND filter.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - yellow leaf in flowing water

2 seconds. The long exposure time really helped create a sense of motion in the background while the leaf in the foreground serves as a focal point for the viewer.

Use Live View

I like to use Live View when preparing my shot since I can adjust the exposure parameters and see the image lighten or darken in real-time. But if you are using an optical viewfinder just pay attention to your light meter and you should be fine.

When your camera is ready and you have your shot composed, use your camera’s self-timer so you don’t add any shakiness to the image with your fingers when you press the shutter.

This method can also be used for adding a layer of gloss to moving waters, which is a fun way to add a bit of a creative element to pictures taken at the beach. The difference is that instead of trying to get pictures that show the motion of water, you are trying to make the water as smooth as possible.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - lake shot

At 1/90th of a second, the water is full of ripples and small waves.

Limiting the amount of incoming light by using the techniques above (small aperture, low ISO, and ND filters) I was able to virtually eliminate the appearance of imperfections on the surface of the water.

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - long exposure on a lake

6 seconds. In addition to the surface being smooth, a host of large and small rocks are now visible which creates an additional almost otherworldly feeling.

Conclusion

Creating these types of images can be addicting! Once you get the hang of it, you may want to spend all day seeing what you can create with your camera. It doesn’t take much, but it opens up a whole new photography frontier that can be extraordinarily enjoyable and highly rewarding.

The post How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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