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How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

I am an unashamed lover of color. I say this because when I first started out as a photographer, color photography was considered inferior to black and white. This attitude was especially prevalent in the photo-art world.

I found that confusing because to me, color can bring so much expression, feeling, excitement and vitality to an image. Don’t we want that? As my very favorite photographer, Ernst Haas said:

“Color is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.”

I totally agree!

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

In this article, I’d like to talk to you about how to use color to create more feeling, more depth, and more energy in your images.

After all, if your images are not provoking an impact, a feeling for your viewer, then they will be easy to forget. And don’t we all wish to create memorable and unique images?

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” – Don McCullin

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

Colour is a form of expression

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”  – Georgia O’Keeffe

I agree with her! As a really visual person, I find it hard to express the feelings I have about the world with words. I’ve learned how, but it comes much more naturally to me to express my curiosity about the world through taking photographs.

Color evokes a spectrum of feeling, and it that is what we really want to capture in our photography.

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

Think about how you feel when you see the intense red of a flower, the soft azure blue of the sea, the warm yellows of morning sun in summer, the dark muddy browns of the earth in fall.

That is what I want you to think about today. Not only the photographing of color itself, as an element almost, but how you can use color to bring intense feeling into your photograph. Show the viewer more about how it felt to stand in the place where you were. To infuse your photographs with a feeling of atmosphere.

In this article, I will give you three techniques for using color in your images. They go from simple to pretty hard – but I hope you will try all three.

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images - flowers

1. Using color as an element

The simplest way to start working with color in your photography is to use it as a key element within your image. Color can be used to provide contrast, shape, form, and texture.

The simple shape and form of color can be the subject of your photo. It can help you build elements within the photo.

I love to get inspiration for my photography from all kinds of sources. It’s important to me that I am not just stuck in the world of photography and image-making – because there is a stunning and unbelievable world out there for us to draw interesting and exciting ideas from. From philosophers to writers, musicians to scientists – I get ideas for photos from all kinds of places.

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

I love very simple, bold background for portraits. I’m always keeping my eye out for backgrounds like these.

I love how so many painters use color in big, bold ways to create powerful elements in their work. Painters such as Henri Matisse with his simple shapes and beautiful colors, Mark Rothko with his thick banks of color that seem to suck you into his paintings and Van Gogh with his heavy brush strokes of rich color.

Here is another quote from the painter Georgia O’Keeffe that explains a lot of what I am doing with my photography: drawing attention to things that most people miss

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

In this photo, I used the contrasting colors to make a simple and interesting composition with some abandoned chairs. For me turning simple things I find on the street, peeling off walls, at my feet, into something interesting is a favorite thing for me to do in my photography.

2. Using color to evoke a feeling

A more interesting way to use color – and one that takes more practice – is to use it purposely to create a feeling in your image. Color evokes all kinds of different feelings for people.

Painter Wassily Kandinsky developed many theories about art, one being that color created different feelings and states within the viewer.

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

“The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural… The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.” – Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky felt that colors evoked these feelings and states:

  • Yellow – warm, exciting, happy
  • Blue – deep, peaceful, supernatural
  • Green – peace, stillness, nature
  • White – harmony, silence, cleanliness
  • Black – grief, dark, unknown
  • Red – glowing, confidence, alive
  • Orange – radiant, healthy, serious

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

To use color to evoke feeling is a more sophisticated way to incorporate it into your images.

Now, where is a good place to start with this process?

Look at how the color you are seeing affects how you feel. Explore and examine color – almost in that state that toddlers do – with a sense of wonder and freshness. Then you can bring that into your images.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be big bold colors, it can be about the subtle, the evocative colors. I love playing with greys, browns, and blacks – and drawing out the subtlety in their range.

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

3. Capturing the inherent qualities of your subject using color

This has to be the hardest, most sophisticated technique of the three presented here – but it’s so worth trying it as you will create images with more complexity.

What I mean by capturing the inherent qualities of your subject using color, is to reveal the qualities of your subject using color. Pablo Picasso explained it even better than me when he is said:

“Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.”

How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

So you are using the color to tell the viewer something of what that subject is. What it feels or looks like, what it is or how it is.

I love this photo below because to me it captures perfectly the browns, yellows, and oranges of autumn. I can feel autumn in this photo.

autumn image - How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images

The colors I am capturing here are not a compositional tool, but about revealing more about the subject itself.

I hope those were some interesting ideas to you. I love to know how you use color in your photography – and if you found some useful tips here that you can apply to your images.

Please let me know by commenting below.


The post How to Capture the Feeling of Color and Create More Compelling Images by Anthony Epes appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Switching from Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Post Production Tips

Let’s be honest – over the past couple of months, more than enough has been said about Adobe’s recent change in policy regarding how the latest versions (yes, all two of them) of Lightroom are to be purchased and used. Articles have been written, disappointment expressed in some volume, silver linings spotted where there seemed to be none.

There’s also a good chance that you have made up your mind regarding the change to do one of the following:

  • To stick with CC and Classic.
  • To start the fairly painful process of moving on to a different piece of software.
  • Or to put off the decision for as long as the already-purchased version of Lightroom supports RAW files from your camera.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

Thus, we are not here to discuss Adobe’s brilliant decisions or lack thereof. This article is meant for those who chose the second option. Specifically, for those, who have decided to switch from Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate. Hopefully, the last article I wrote on ACDSee Photo Studio has helped you make up your mind whether or not this software is suitable for your needs. If it is, I will try to help make the transition as painless as possible.

An important disclaimer: as before, the license for this copy of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate has been provided by ACD Systems. Having said that, even though ACD Systems has asked me to write this article, it has not been dictated by the company in the slightest. My words are always my own, as are your reasons for switching or otherwise. More than that, ACD Systems never implied they expect anything but integrity.

Direct transfer from Lightroom

I am afraid I will have to start with some disappointment, so I will try to rip off the bandage as quickly as possible. As of today, there is absolutely no way to transfer editing data from Lightroom to any other post-processing software or vice versa. It’s the result of closed-standard tools and database format that each software developer uses – not even sharpening is equivalent, let alone tonal adjustments.

So, the progress you have made with Lightroom is bound to remain accessible via Lightroom only, at least as far as RAW files themselves are concerned. For all the convenience catalog systems provide, this is one of the downsides – switching to a new RAW converter can really be a hassle.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

It may not be possible to transfer edits from LR to ACDSee, but Photo Studio sure has a lot of tools to cover most post-processing tasks.

But if you are here, I am guessing you have decided to push through the process now rather than become even more tied-in with the system Adobe is sticking to, and have even more to deal with at a later date. One solution you are left with is exporting full-size JPEG images from your Lightroom Catalog for any future needs (uploads to social media or websites, for example). But should you ever need to tweak a setting or two, you will either have to go back to Lightroom, or start from zero using ACDSee or an alternative tool.

Mind you, this caveat is only really valid for two or three years at the most, since there is a good chance that after a couple of years your taste in post-processing – as well as your skill – will have changed noticeably. I know mine has. Still, it is something that you will need to accept as an unavoidable result of having been part of such a closed system.

It is my hope that, over time, software developers such as ACD Systems will work out a way to read Adobe’s (and other) databases and interpret adjustments in an equivalent manner so that none of the edits – at least not those most prominent – would be lost when switching.

Now that the bandage is off, let’s go through what can be achieved with Photo Studio Ultimate.

Importing Lightroom Catalog Data

As I have mentioned in the previous article, culling and adding metadata information is an enormous pain for me. I am sure I am not the only one who just wants to get on with post-processing. Having to assign ratings and keywords all over again for images that have been organized in Lightroom would be insufferable. It is an enormous relief that this is something ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate can greatly help you with.

Photo Studio has the functionality to import ratings, color labels, keywords, and collections from any Lightroom Catalog, thus preserving the major image organizing-structure of your portfolio. The process of importing this data is very easy to initiate and requires minimal effort.

1. Find the Adobe Lightroom Database Import tool

While in Manage Mode, select the Tools menu at the very top of the screen. There, navigate to Database > Import > Lightroom Database, which is located at the very bottom of the Import submenu. This will open the Lightroom Database Import Guide.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

2. Select Data and Catalog to Import

As soon as you launch the Lightroom Database Importer, a dialog with a short introduction to the tool’s functionality will pop up. Click Next, and you will be given options to specify which database entries you want to be imported, as well as the location of the Lightroom Catalog itself.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

2.1 Ratings

This is the star-based filter assigned with numeric keys (1 through 5) in Lightroom. ACDSee does not have stars as such, but it provides a numeric rating that is equivalent for all intents and purposes. If you check this option, ACDSee will interpret the ratings you have assigned with Lightroom and apply the same values.

2.2 Labels

This specifically refers to color labels that both Lightroom and ACDSee support. Again, by default, the labels that ACDSee provides are exactly the same as those found in Lightroom, so files marked with a Red label in a Lightroom Catalog will be marked with the same color in ACDSee after the data from the Catalog is imported.

2.3 Collections

These are a bit more complicated than Labels and Ratings and not something Photo Studio promotes as a means to managing your files, at least not by default. But if you were using Collections in Lightroom to sort your images, ACDSee will readily take over.

Simply select the Panes menu and enable Collections there and a new navigational tab will become available. Located right next to the Folders tab in Manage mode, it will list all the Collections that the imported Catalogs contained, along with the images assigned to those Collections.

It has been a couple of years since I last used Collections in Lightroom, preferring to stick with simple filters now, but it is nice to know this option is available and neatly integrated.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

2.4 Keywords

These are perhaps self-explanatory. Any keywords that you applied in Lightroom to any given RAW file will be seen by ACDSee too. This is useful for when you want to find images of specific locations, events, or people, provided you specified those keywords in Lightroom in the first place. Obviously, if you have not, ACDSee offers enough image management tools to have you covered.

2.5 Location

ACDSee will navigate to the default Lightroom Catalog in the Pictures folder on your computer, so keep in mind you may need to change the location. There is no way to select several Catalogs at once, so if you have more than one (which is very likely), the Catalog Import process will need to be repeated once for each one.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

Make sure Lightroom is not running while attempting to Import a Catalog.

Depending on the size of the Catalog being imported and your computer hardware specifications, the process might take up to a few minutes to finish. In fact, it took ACDSee over 30 minutes to process my Catalog. More than enough time to take a break from work and have a cup of coffee (you will have to wait for the Import to finish before you can use Photo Studio for anything else).

Admittedly, the Catalog was quite large, with a year’s worth of RAW files, and stored on an external hard drive on top of that. And not the fastest sort either. Be that as it may, importing will certainly be quicker than having to apply the filters and ratings manually, and nowhere near as tedious.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

Once the process is finished, you will find (upon navigating to the corresponding folder) your RAW files to contain the same labels, ratings, and metadata entries as applied in Lightroom. Honestly, this is great. The only omission that I can think of is that ACDSee does not seem to take Flags into account, so any images you may have marked with Pick or Reject Flag in Lightroom will not have the filter imported.

Part of the reason is that ACDSee simply has no Reject Flag equivalent, even if marking a file with backslash key tags it in a similar fashion to how Pick Flag works in Lightroom. Something to improve upon perhaps.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

The ratings and labels Lightroom is showing…

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

…are now transferred to ACDSee. And it gives you a good before-after glimpse too/

Plugins are added

Here is something that’s as unexpected as it is brilliant; ACDSee supports plugins designed for Adobe Photoshop. If you have been using Lightroom, this may be of relevance to you, too, as so many of these plugins are also meant for Adobe’s standalone RAW converter and image management software.

I have no idea how much work had to go into this little trick, but it is a massive attraction for anyone who is not fully satisfied with the extent of default ACDSee tools.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

Long time no see, Silver Efex. Fancy finding you here.

While I have not done any extensive testing – I rarely, if ever, use plugins anymore – I was able to verify this with one of the most well-regarded plugin packs by Nik Software (now owned by DxO after being nearly killed-off by Google). Color Efex worked like a charm. I encountered an occasional error here and there, but often to no direct effect on the functionality of the software or the plugin, so while annoying, it was rarely terminal.

I also tried a couple of plugins by Topaz some time ago and they worked without issue. The full list of officially supported tools can be found here.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

It is necessary to path the location of the already-installed plugins. To make sure ACDSee can locate the plugins correctly, first go to Edit mode. Then, select Options from the Tools menu at the top of the screen, or simply hit Alt + O. Once the Options panel is displayed, choose Edit Mode from the list on the left. There, you will be able to select the GPU that ACDSee will use to speed up processing, among other things.

What we need is the bottom-most field called Adobe Photoshop Plugin Paths. A couple of directories will be listed by default, but in some cases (as with Nik), they won’t be enough. You need to specify where the plugins are located. Since I am interested in using Nik Software, I added (click the Add button) a new path that leads to C:\Program Files\Nik Collection. The destination of your plugins might be different, so make sure you set the path correctly. Once you’re done, click OK.

From Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy

If the plugins are supported and the path has been specified accurately, you will find the plugins listed in the Photoshop Plugins section of the Tools menu (still in Edit Mode).

I won’t claim there is no chance of errors happening – after all, those plugins were never really intended for anything but Adobe. Yet the fact that they work so well despite that is an impressive and convenient achievement no matter how you look at it.

Just keep in mind that not everything might work as expected every single time, or it may take time for some plugins to be properly supported.

Final Words

Breaking and rearranging an established workflow is not a pleasant experience. Especially if the previous routine worked well and it is the company’s decisions, rather than the quality of the tool, that has become an issue. With that in mind, it is good to know that less-dominant software developers are going out of their way to show how welcoming they can be.

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate attempts to make the transition from Lightroom as simple and straightforward as possible, not only by offering a plethora of powerful (and often similar) post-processing tools but by also taking steps towards preserving any image organizing you may have already done with Lightroom.

It’s not perfect and there is certainly room for improvement (perhaps edit transfers are not as far-fetched as they might seem?), but what has been done is by no means a small feat and will save any new user hours of rating and filtering what has already been done before.

Whichever software you will find yourself choosing next (or sticking with), there is plenty for the giant developers to learn from such attention to detail.

Disclaimer: ACDsee is a paid partner of dPS

The post Switching from Lightroom to ACDSee Photo Studio: Making the Jump Easy by Romanas Naryškin appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Christmas goes by in the blink of an eye. But taking photos helps us to savour the moments long after the tree is gone and the kids are grown up. When you follow these 5 tips, you’ll have better and more meaningful photos this year.

First - 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

1. Don’t Get Caught Off Guard

The first step to photographing an upcoming event like Christmas is to do a little planning. Start by considering the traditions and moments that you want to look back on in photos. Write an actual list so that you don’t forget what’s on it.

When you’re finished writing out your list, do this exercise to help you figure out what is truly meaningful about those moments. When you do this exercise, you’ll be able to capture deeper themes in your photos.

Take each moment and ask yourself, “What about this moment is important to me?”

For example, you might put “opening presents on Christmas morning” on your list. That’s an obvious one. But ask yourself, “What about the kids opening presents is important to me?” Perhaps the answer is something like, “seeing the look of delight on their faces.”

But don’t stop there; you’ve only gone a little bit below the surface. Now ask yourself, “What about seeing the look of delight on their face is important to me?” Maybe the answer is, “I remember what it was like as a kid and I want to pass that magic and excitement on to my kids.”

Sleep - 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

Do you remember when you were a kid how hard it was to fall asleep on Christmas Eve? After putting the presents under the tree, I snuck in to take this photo of my son as he lay sleeping. This is the book we were reading for his bedtime story.

Now you’re getting somewhere! But you can still keep asking that question until you get right to the bottom. What about “passing on magic and excitement” to your kids is important to you? “Well, this is such a short time in their life. Soon they’ll be grown up and stressed out like me. I just want to slow that down and make their childhood good.”

You’re finally getting deep, so ask the question one more time. “What about slowing down and making their childhood a good one is important to me?” Maybe the answer is that “these are the most formative years of their life. If their childhood goes well, they’ll likely grow up and become good and strong adults themselves.”

By asking the question, “what about this moment is important to me,” you will discover the deeper themes in your photos. Now you can look for those themes in other moments too. Where else do you find the magic and excitement of growing up?
Get in touch with the things that will shape your children as they grow and the things you care most about.

Instead of a few random snapshots of Christmas morning chaos, you can photograph all sorts of meaningful moments to look back on.

Better Christmas photos 01

This is one of the most meaningful photos I have of Christmas time. Not only do I love the quiet moment and beautiful candlelight, but the photo was taken at my grandma’s church on Christmas Eve. It was my son’s first Christmas Eve church service and it was our first Christmas without my Grandma. The photo reminds me of the traditions and hope that is passed down the generations in our family.

Sick - 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

A tender moment between mom and daughter. Our daughter came down with a fever this Christmas. Giving our kids gifts is an exciting part of parenting, but so is comforting them when they are sick. I knew this was a moment worth capturing.

2. Prepare for the Light

You’ve got your list of moments to photograph and you’ve checked it twice! Now you need to consider the type of light in which you will be photographing. When you’re able to handle the light, your photos will look better.

Go ahead and use the flash on your camera (or phone) if you have to. It’s better to have a photo lit with flash than a dark and blurry photo that isn’t worth looking at.

Better Christmas photos 02

This was our first Christmas together as a family. I had read that you shouldn’t use the flash on your camera, so I didn’t. Unfortunately, the photo is so dark you can’t see us. I wish I had used the flash!

Better Christmas photos 03

I used the popup flash on my camera for this photo. It doesn’t always work out this nice though. If you’re going to use the little built-in flash on your camera, then get as close as you can to your subject. The flash will light them up, but not affect things in the background so much.

If you have a DSLR camera and you’re going to use flash, consider using an external flash called a speedlight. When you use an external flash you can bounce the light and your photos will look far better than the little pop-up flash on your camera.

Better Christmas photos 04

An on-camera speedlight was used to light this photo. It was pointed up toward the ceiling so that the light would become softer as it bounced back down toward my son. The Christmas lights in the background are far enough away that they weren’t affected by the flash.

But whenever possible, use natural light. When you’re taking indoor photos, one of the best sources of natural light during the day is a large window. Many of your holiday events will happen in the living room, and most living rooms have a large window which lets in lots of light.

Place your Christmas tree beside the window instead of in front of it and allow the window to become a large, soft light source, making your photos look beautiful.

Better Christmas photos 05

Here the kids are at Grandma’s house. There is a large window to the right which is lighting them up. The Christmas tree is tucked into a corner away from the window.

Better Christmas photos 06

Again, there is a large window providing light for this photo. The tree is tucked away from the window allowing the lights to keep their glow.

When the sun goes down, and you don’t want to use flash, try using lots of lamplight in your photos. The lower placement of lamps simulates the position that the sun is in during golden hour or sunset. The lampshade diffuses the light making soft sidelight for your photos.

Better Christmas photos 07

This photo was lit with two lamps. The warm, soft light provides ambiance for the moment.

3. How to Make Your Photos Look More Exciting

There is a secret that will instantly make your photos look more exciting. Use a low angle! It sounds simple and it is. Just crouch down a little bit and look up at the person you’re photographing. If it’s an exciting moment then use a low angle to make it look exciting in the photo.

You should take note that low angles are not generally good for formal portraits. A low angle exaggerates a person’s size and adults don’t usually like that. But, if it’s a portrait of an athlete or rock star then a low camera angle is a must.

Better Christmas photos 08

We all remember how fun it was to play with the empty wrapping paper rolls as kids. I wanted to make this moment look epic so I crouched down for a low angle.

Better Christmas photos 09

When my son unwrapped his emergency set he wanted to play with it immediately. I went for a low angle because in real life we always look up to see a helicopter flying. It’s just a photo of a boy with his toy helicopter, but I wanted a more dramatic effect. Notice the burst of backlight coming from the big window in the background.

Better Christmas photos 10

This low angle gives us the fun perspective of the toys looking up at everyone.

4. Tell a Story With Your Photos

As you’re photographing your most important moments, in beautiful light, from interesting angles, be mindful of the fact that you’re photographing a story. Your story is filled with characters (your friends and family), with an emotional plot that takes place in many settings (around the dinner table, the Christmas tree, at church, in front of the fireplace).

Photograph the unique personality of each character. Take more than one photo of each moment and link them together to show the plot-line. Make sure to include the background as part of the setting for your character’s story.

The photos below illustrate a story being told over time.

Better Christmas photos 11

This was the year that my son first learned to print letters and read simple words. Here, he’s writing the tags for Grandma’s presents.

Better Christmas photos 12

The following Christmas he had begun to spell out words on his own.

Better Christmas photos 13

After our family Christmas trip to Grandma’s house was over, both of the kids were really sad. So as they went to bed that night, they drew pictures to mail to Grandma. But my son wrote her a whole letter. He had never done anything like that before.

It’s exciting when we bring our kids into our traditions. Something as simple as filling out a gift tag is a huge step in their growth and part of a bigger story.

5. Practice Before Christmas Day

Christmas isn’t just about what happens on December 25th. For most families, Christmas has a month-long lead up. So work on your list of things to photograph, but remember to start photographing Christmas before it even gets here.

Practice looking for deeper moments in beautiful natural light (or using your external flash). You’ll be far more confident when the big day arrives and you don’t have time to over think the photos you’re taking.

Better Christmas photos 14

This was my first Christmas using a speedlight with my camera. As soon as our tree was up I began experimenting so that when Christmas arrived I would know how to use it. This shows a pretty good balance of ambient light from the tree mixed with the light from my flash.

Listen to Your Heart

When your heart tells you to pick up your camera and snap a photo, do it. Don’t hesitate, just take the photo. It may not turn out to be the perfect moment or the best angle. But at least you’ve got a photo.

Better Christmas photos 15

This is one of the most precious photos I have.

The photo above is my daughter and my grandma. It was just a fun little moment that they were having together. My camera is never out of arm’s reach at Christmas time. I saw this moment and clicked a few photos. I didn’t know then that these would be the last photos I would take of my grandma. My little girl won’t remember this moment, but she will always be able to look back and see the love that her great-grandma had for her.

Your Checklist for Deeper Christmas Photos Than You’ve Ever Taken Before

  1. Make your list of important moments
  2. Look for beautiful light and have your external flash ready
  3. Use low angles to make exciting events actually look exciting in your photos
  4. Tell a story with your photos
  5. Practice before Christmas day

The post 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas by Mat Coker appeared first on Digital Photography School.


All dPS eBooks just $9 Today! (Save up to 80%)

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

It’s that time of year again where here on dPS we put together some amazing deals in the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

In that time if you’re subscribed to our newsletter or watch the blog here you’ll get access to some mega-discounts on dPS products as well as some very special offers from our partners.

It all starts today with all of our dPS eBooks available for just $9 each (USD).

That’s up to 80% off! But don’t delay – this deal will be gone in 48 hours.

With 23 titles in our eBook store there’s loads to choose from and at this price if you see more than one that you like you can create your own little bundle of photography training and still not break the budget.

Here are 3 of our most popular eBook guides:

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are eBooks on post processing, lighting, black and white photography, travel photography and much more.

Be sure to checkout all 23 titles here to find the guide that will take your photography to the next level.

Bonus Parter Offers

This year we’ve added some extra special bonuses for anyone who makes a purchase during our 12 days of Christmas.

Buy anything during this week and you get access to exclusive partner bonus offers – like saving $200 on online photography courses from our friends at the New York Institute of Photography.

The post All dPS eBooks just $9 Today! (Save up to 80%) by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Filed Under Cameras and Equipment, Digital Photography School

Make no mistake, this is, in fact, a review of the X4 Circular Polarizer from Breakthrough Photography. That being said, the entire subject requires a little bit of photographic geekiness in order to grasp the full understanding of the product being reviewed. So, if you absolutely don’t want to add any more brain wrinkles feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs. If you do skip…shame on you.

Geeky stuff about polarizers

Polarizers – we’ve all heard of them and the majority of us photographers have used them extensively from one time or another. How do they work? And more importantly, how do you know when you’ve found a good one?

These are all great questions and oddly enough these things aren’t always well known by even some experienced shooters. Polarizers are just filters. These filters work to sift out polarized light which commonly occurs in our photographs from reflections and glare. The noticeable byproduct of this filtration is the reduction of said reflections and glare as well as the deepening of colors and most noticeably, the darkening of the sky.

Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Polarizers come in two flavors: linear and circular. It’s somewhat of a weird concept as all polarizers are in fact linear…but not all linear polarizers are circular. That might sound slightly cryptic but that is not the intention.

At their most basic definition, the way polarizers work is to filter our non-linear rays of light. Circular polarizers further enhance this effect by adding what’s called a quarter-wave plate to the camera side of the linear polarizer. The quarter wave plate serves to essentially convert the incoming light into a helix and the polarization effect can then be dialed-in to whatever degree is needed. This is of great benefit because the majority of SLR and DSLR cameras are sensitive to polarization and linear polarized light can cause internal camera metering to malfunction.

The X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Now that you’ve had a crash course in how circular polarizers work, it’s time to talk about the X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter by Breakthrough Photography. This will be my fourth time evaluating filters by the folks at Breakthrough. With each piece of gear I have been consistently impressed with the build and optical quality to such an extent to where I find it difficult to list any faults. The X4 CPL is no different.

Breakthrough Photography currently markets this polarizer as being the “world’s most advanced circular polarizer” so I put the X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter to the test to see just how this claim holds up in real-world shooting.

Build Quality

The construction of theX4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter is blackened brass, much like their line of X4 ND filters. The filter housing is robust and feels extremely sturdy. Deep traction grooves are cut around the bezel and provide for a solid grip even with gloved or wet hands.

Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

An interesting property of brass is that unlike other metals such as aluminum it is non-galling. This means that it is less likely to bind and become stuck when stacking multiple filters. The filter bezel turns quite smoothly when engaging or disengaging the polarization effect.

The optical element is made from SCHOTT Superwhite B270® optical glass. Each side of the glass is then treated with eight layers of Breakthrough Photography’s proprietary nanotec® and MRC (multi-resistant coatings) optical coatings which cause dirt and moisture to essentially slide right off of the glass itself.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Overall, the build quality of theX4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter is exceptional and it looks great to boot. The company also backs the filter with a 25-year guarantee.

Optical Performance

Of course, the real question about the X4 CPL concerns its optical quality, which in turn will greatly impact the final quality of your finished photographs. When it comes to photography filters, the sharpness, vignetting, and color cast, are the three main points of interest for most photographers.

While it’s great to talk about all these points actual test images speak louder than words. So have a look at the sample images as you read my thoughts on the results and judge for yourself.


In terms of sharpness, the X4 CPL exceeds all expectations. No image degradation was observed even at the maximum strength filtration.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

To left is the image without the X4 CPL applied. The image at the right is with the X4 CPL. Both zoomed to 1:1 for comparison.

Images remained crisp and detail was not lost due to the addition of the filter.

Color Cast and Vignetting

A common problem seen with polarizers and most filters, in general, is the unwanted color casting sometimes encountered. The color cast happens due to the coloration of the optical glass and often worsens in lower quality filter systems.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

An image with a high color cast from an ND filter. Low-quality polarizers can carry the same effects.

The images produced by the X4 CPL seem to be completely free of this discoloration just as they are advertised. No discernible color cast was observed in any of the test images I made using the filter.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

The same is true for vignetting. Darkening of the corners of the photos was not observed even at the strongest filtration setting.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Final Thoughts on the X4 CPL

There’s a certain feeling of uneasy optimism which begins to surface whenever I come across gear which does not seem to have any obvious weak points.”Have I missed something? Is this really that good?”

Having reviewed multiple pieces of kit from Breakthrough Photography I can say that they have consistently produced insanely high-quality photographic gear that is innovative, sturdy, and relatively cost-effective. I use quite a few of their filters in my own personal photography work and have put them into environments from Death Valley to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and everywhere in between (or least it seems).

The X4 CPL has thus far given no reason for me to believe that its quality would not serve any serious photographer’s needs for years to come. The build quality is heavy-duty and the image quality, especially sharpness, is outstanding. It retails for $129-159 USD (depending on filter size) at the time of this review. Find out more details about the X4 CPL here, or shop Amazon for the size you need here.

Rating 5/5 stars – my first ever! 

The post Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Quickly Process Your Holiday Photos with Luminar’s Accent AI Filter

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Post Production Tips

The holiday season is upon us, and suddenly everyone seems to be in a rush. We all have a million things to accomplish in just a few short weeks. At this time of year, I’m always scrambling to get my Christmas photos processed and ready for viewing. Feeling overwhelmed once again this year I decided to turn to Luminar by Macphun, soon to be Skylum, and try out their unique Accent AI Filter. It’s supposed to be a super simple and quick way to get beautiful images.

What is the Accent AI Filter?

AI stands for Artificial Intelligence and this filter is designed to do all the hard work for you. It uses artificial intelligence to assess the image and then applies the required adjustments to the image. This means that each image is processed according to the individual shadows, highlights, and colors present within the photo. The Accent AI Filter allows you to make quick, impactful adjustments with just one slider.

Locate the Accent AI filter in Luminar by clicking on the “add filter” button or by selecting the workspace called “Quick and Awesome”. This workspace combines the Accent AI filter plus the Clarity and Saturation filters to create a dynamic combo of super quick adjustments.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Find the Accent AI filter quickly using the “add filter” button.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

The Quick and Awesome Workspace is easy to use for super simple adjustments.

Time to edit some photos

Each holiday season I have to process a large number of images. The first set of images usually belongs to the commercial realm. I’m often shooting photographs that are used to promote various Christmas art sales. When I’m staring at a collection of 300 images and a rushed timeline, a quick post-processing workflow is so important. I need to download, tweak, and upload and deliver digital images to clients for their social media campaigns. It’s fun, but it can be overwhelming when it needs to be completed in such a short frame of time.

Using Accent AI with commercial images

It’s time to test the Accent AI filter on these commercial images and see how it handles the varied lighting conditions at these venues. These images of a Christmas craft sale located here in Canada were shot in a heritage building.

The lighting was pretty terrible, and on this particular day, it was cloudy, so I was challenged by these factors along with the fact that many of the pieces were quite shiny. It was a challenging situation, especially when I had to photograph the items during gallery hours and I couldn’t set up any lights. I had to use what was available.

Image #1 –Only one adjustment

For the following images, I had to use fairly high ISO settings and a wide aperture of f/2.8 to f/4. In the case of the image below, I moved the slider on the Accent AI Filter over to the right and was able to quickly and easily adjust the image without making any other tweaks. The item in the image is clear and easy for customers to view. It only took me a few seconds to prepare this image for upload.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

I quickly applied the filter to this image. The result is certainly good given the lighting and conditions in the art gallery.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here’s the full image after processing.

Image #2 – Applied as a mask

In this second image, I found that the Accent AI filter created too much of a yellow tone that took away from the beauty of the color of the red hat. The wall looked yellow, and I didn’t like this effect. However, I really liked the way the filter treated the hat itself, and I think it brought out its details and rich color.

So I applied the Accent AI Filter as a mask. I added a second layer (just click the + sign next to the word “Layers”) and painted in the filter over the hat. The resulting image took just a few minutes to create.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

When I applied the Accent AI filter to this entire image it made the wall quite yellow.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here I used a mask to apply to filter to just the hat so that the wall remained white.

The Accent AI Filter helped me to edit my photos for clients quickly. It handled the editing of images taken under some fairly challenging lighting circumstances with high ISO settings. I think this speaks to the capabilities of the filter to assess each image and adjust it accordingly.

It should also be noted that you can have too much of a good thing. In some instances, the filter created too much of an unnatural HDR look. It’s important to adjust the slider accordingly and subtly. In this case, I didn’t want a heavy HDR look, and I had to be careful just how much of a boost I applied to each image.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here I purposely applied the filter to illustrate the point that the Accent AI filter can become too “heavy-handed” if you take it too far.

Using the Accent AI Filter for art images

I also tested out the Accent AI Filter on some images I created for use on Art Cards. The following image was shot with the purpose of being used as a Christmas card. I usually make a collection of 10 images that are all winter or Christmas themed. In years past I’ve slaved for hours, carefully editing the work. This year I decided to see if the Accent AI Filter could handle my art photos as well.

In the image below of an ice-crusted coniferous tree, I was struggling with a very hazy atmosphere. I wanted the yellowish tree to stand out from the green of the trees behind. I also wanted to define the ice and create an image that showed the unique nature of that moment in time. Remember I said to be careful in applying the filter too heavily, but in this case, I cranked it all the way to the right.

The brown of the tree branches stood out from the yellow of the tree needles, which is good. I also like how defined the ice became on the strands of dried grass below. There was no banding present, and the image still had a fairly natural look. In this case, the heavily applied filter worked perfectly.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here’s the unprocessed image.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here you can see the Accent AI Filter at 100 percent.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

The changes made to this image are considerable with the filter at full strength.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here’s the completed image.

Using the Accent AI Filter to adjust family snaps

Annually, I take a quick photo of the family to document the year. These images are not spectacular. They are family photos that are cherished on a personal level and document the changes each year brings. But they have to be shot quickly as my family isn’t overly patient when it comes to photography. I decided to see how the Accent AI filter would handle the editing of these photos.

Again the lighting is often challenging as they are usually shot on Christmas Eve. I wanted to see if the filter could enhance these memories and also help to fulfill my obsessive photographer tendency to want to take professional quality images all the time. In this case, I messed around a little and wanted to see how the filter affected the portrait.  This time I used Luminar as a plugin for Lightroom.

So I made a few adjustments in Lightroom first. I straightened the image and cloned out the cat’s tail. Then I moved over to Luminar and applied the Accent AI Filter. I like the resulting image. The filter helped to put a little bit of definition into the boys faces and balanced out the light. All in all, it worked pretty well.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

With the filter to almost 50% strength, the image is still pleasing.

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here you can see the subtle difference the filter made in this image. Look closely at the detail in the blue t-shirt (after image the right of the line)

How to Process Your Holiday Photos with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar

Here you can see the changes in a side by side back in Lightroom. The image on the left shows the Luminar adjustments.


In conclusion, the Accent AI Filter in Luminar is an effective tool that can help you to adjust a large range of images. The filter is highly “intelligent”. It saves several steps in post-processing. If I were to edit these images without using the Accent AI Filter, I would have had to apply several different filters and spend time carefully adjusting their effect on the image. The Accent AI filter streamlined the process for me.

Also read: Speed up Your Workflow with the Accent AI Filter in Luminar and Batch Processing for more on how to apply this handy filter as a batch to a whole set of images at once. 

Here’s another image finished with slight adjustments using the Accent AI Filter.

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Quickly Process Your Holiday Photos with Luminar’s Accent AI Filter by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use Still-life Subjects to Understand Focal Lengths

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Do you think that using an 18mm lens or a 100mm one will only zoom in or out your scene? Why are camera lenses are measured in millimeters? Do you know what those measurements mean for your photo? If you’re not sure which lens to use and why I invite you to keep reading and learn about focal lengths and how to use them.

The most common consideration when choosing your lens is whether or not you need to zoom in or zoom out. Therefore logic dictates that you would use a wide-angle lens for landscape photography and a telephoto for a detail of that landscape. Another well-known factor is the distortion of wide-angle lenses, so for example, if you want to do a portrait you would instead use a normal or a telephoto lens.

But how about shooting objects or photographing still life subjects? Which lens is better? I’ll use this subject to illustrate the characteristics of different focal lengths that normally get less attention.

What is focal length?

When light comes in through the lens, it passes through a small hole called a nodal point. The distance from that point to the sensor when your lens is set to infinity is called the focal length and this is measured in millimeters. A smaller distance gives you a wider angle of view and that’s why it’s called a wide-angle lens. Therefore a bigger distance gives you a narrower angle of view which is called a telephoto lens.

What is normal?

When you say a normal lens, it means that it will see more or less the same angle of view as the human eye. Anything longer than the normal focal length is a telephoto and everything shorter is a wide-angle lens. This measurement depends on the size of your sensor because the measure of its diagonal is what determines “normal” for that camera.

For example, in analog photography, it was a very standard measure because there were only so many negative film formats. A 35mm film had a normal lens of 50mm, this can be translated into digital cameras that have a full frame sensor because it’s about the same size as 35mm film. If you have a cropped sensor camera, that “normal” lens becomes a telephoto.

Left – longer lens more zoomed in. Right – wider lens more zoomed out.

Why is this important?

As I mentioned before, zooming in or out is the most obvious impact of the focal length. But what happens when you are shooting something where you can achieve that by getting closer or further from your subject? How do you choose your lens? Well, that’s where the other characteristics of the focal length come into play.


A photograph is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world. By changing the focal length you can compress or extend the distance between two objects, or between the subject and the background. Let me show you with a series of images taken of the same scene but with different focal lengths.

I put a measuring tape next to the objects so that you have a reference and see that they were separated by the same distance even if it doesn’t look like it in the various images.

18mm lens.

35mm lens.

55mm lens.

Notice how the distance between the shells seems to change. With wide-angle lenses, things will seem further apart from each other, compared to how they look with a telephoto lens. Now, you probably also perceived another difference between the images, and that is the focus. Which brings me to the second characteristic.

Depth of field

As you probably know, the depth of field (area in focus) depends on the aperture. A small aperture gives you a greater depth of field than a big one. But there is another factor involved and that is the focal length.

A wide-angle lens appears to have a greater depth of field than a telephoto at the same aperture. It is a common misconception that wide-angles have more depth of field than longer lenses. The reason it appears so has to do with the subject to camera distance, not focal length.

This effect is intensified by the fact that you will be physically closer or further away with each lens to achieve the same framing. Allow me to illustrate with this photos in which I maintained the same aperture but changed the focal length.

180mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


160mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


100mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


70mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


55mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


35mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


18mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


See how the photo taken with a 180mm lens has such a shallow depth of field that the blurry background even creates a halo that comes over the sharp focus subject. After that, each image got greater and greater depth of field by using smaller focal lengths.


In conclusion, there is no such thing as the best lens for the type of photography you are doing. It really depends on the results you want to get.

The post How to Use Still-life Subjects to Understand Focal Lengths by Ana Mireles appeared first on Digital Photography School.


7 Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

You’ve been taking photos for quite a while now but suddenly you notice your shots are looking a bit the similar. Same locations, same light, same style, same subjects.

Yes, you can travel to new places once in a blue moon, but you itch to get out with your camera all the time taking inspiring shots.


You want to create something new and individual but there is always that nagging feeling that everything’s been done.
Yes, friends and family love what you do, but you want to make an impression on your peers. Maybe even enter a competition or two.

Well, you can break out of the same old same old ruth, here’s how. Just borrow a little style from other artists – they’ve been making images for thousands of years and are well practiced at bringing in the new.

7 Ideas to get you out of a rut

1. Andy Warhol Pop Art

Rowanpopart - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

Warhol is famous for his multi-image saturated color artwork such as his portrait of Marilyn Monroe and his Campbell’s soup cans. There is little depth created and the work is all about the surface patterns.

For this first steal you need a straight forward head and shoulders shot against a plain background. There are dozens of videos on YouTube that show you the process for creating pop art, which is quite straight forward, even for a novice at photo manipulation. Choose colors to suit your decor or mood. It’s a lot of fun scrolling through the hues and selecting the color combinations that grab you.

2. Rothko’s Color Fields

Mark Rothko’s paintings are often a field of just one color. They are full of texture, light and shade and nuances of hue and tone. Completely abstract, they still encompass a gamut of emotions from calm reassurance to dark solemnity. Other works include bands of color or two juxtaposed fields.

For this style, try photographing a field full of texture and color such as rapeseed in golden hour light for a picture full of joy. A windswept, sandy beach or a derelict urban factory wall make great subjects to try.

You could create bands of color with long exposures and intentional motion blur smoothing out features that may distract from the visual idea.

The field of orange ephemeral leaves here is offset with the solid green of the tree for changes in texture and color. This would be a good subject for the motion blur technique.

Beechpath - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

3. Escher’s Perspectives

Famed for his impossible changes of perspective and tessellating patterns, Escher also looked at the natural world capturing unusual, thought provoking views. One of those was a woodcut of tire tracks holding a puddle reflecting trees. It’s one of those pictures where you do a double take. This isn’t the same as including reflections in rain covered streets, it’s more about capturing another world where the rest of the scene is merely background.

This example is a small pool in a beech wood. There is just enough “right way up” detail to explain the view point but not enough to change the subject.

Pooltrees - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

4. Monet and Impressionism

The work of the Impressionists is hugely popular, full of light and sparkle. This was achieved by placing complementary colors such as orange and blue next to each other. Your eyes mix the colors and create a myriad of tones that seem to dance across the surface.

You can recreate this effect by looking out for natural occurrences of complementary colors such as these orange and gold leaves against a blue sky. Overexposing the shot slightly helps to give the high key and luminance you need for this to work well.

Beech tree blue sky - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

5. Rembrandt and Chiaroscuro

Rembrandt was a master of Chiaroscuro, the use of deep changes in tone from dark to light adding drama and mood. He mostly used this style for portraits, his brightly lit figures coming out of a deep dark background.

It’s a lovely technique you can use on your portraits, as Rembrandt did, using a dark room and a simple light source such as a lantern. You could also use this style to add a different dimension to still life or macro subjects such as this ox eye daisy.

In this case the background was in shadow behind the flower and a reflector was used to direct more light onto the bloom itself. A little tweaking with Photoshop increased the depth of the darks.

Daisy - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

6. Mondrian Grid Patterns

Blocks of pure color carefully arranged and separated by black lines of a grid were Mondrian’s stock in trade.

To replicate this style, you could look out for grid patterns occurring in the environment, such as different color fields separated by stone walls, paintwork in urban decay, windows in office or apartment blocks, and reflections on water surfaces. You could even set up a still life on a black table using found textures and colors.

In this photo, the initial attraction was the colored reflections, the duckling was a happy accident!

Duckling red water - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

7. Mandalas

These are currently hugely popular across creative fields from adult coloring books to crochet.

This is a great style to use to organize still life subjects containing lots of small items in a cohesive structure. It can be most enjoyable and therapeutic to create the mandala in the first place. You then have the added bonus of the photo opportunity at the end.

This photo used a selection of fruit, leaves, and nuts on a slate table mat background. Nothing went to waste in this one.

You could try autumn leaves, sea shells on the sand, sweets, or mixed media. Get the family to join in for some creative bonding.

Fruitmandala - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists


So now it’s over to you. You can take some of these ideas and maybe some of your own inspired by this article and run with them. It’s time to get out with your camera and look around with an artist’s, as well as a photographer’s eye. Good luck, happy shooting, and please come and share your results in the comments below.

The post 7 Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists by Janice Gill appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Tips for Planning and Capturing a Creative Portrait

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

There is saying, in the photography world, that an image can be taken in a hundred different ways. This is especially true, as you have probably already noticed when capturing portraits.

Portrait photography is probably the most popular genre, within the realm of the diverse world that is the art of photography. People take portraits so frequently, snapping selfies or photos of their loved ones, with mobile phones or cameras. In any case, this is pretty much what portrait photography is all about, capturing people’s faces.

However, as photographers, you will always be striving for higher excellence, whatever the style of your photography. It’s a natural cause, this is one of the reasons why photography is artistry. The drive for capturing better images, in the field of portrait photography, will eventually lead you to a higher dimension where you won’t be satisfied with just capturing a face, but rather the soul of your subject.

creative portrait of a woman

Lonely young and beautiful woman seating in a bar, next to a piano and a bottle of champagne, of 1920s time period. The woman is dressed in 1920s black evening dress and Gatsby-style diadem on her hair, there is a large old rusted window in the background where blue evening light invades the scene.

This dimension in photography is where creativity lay hidden. It waits to be unleashed by forces such as knowledge and the inspiration gathered along the way, as you were growing as a photographer. So let’s embark on a quest which will help you harvest the power of creativity in photographing portraits and escape the ordinary.

In the list below, you’ll learn the main ingredients that will help you harvest this creative force and take you to another level with your portrait photography.


Know the equipment you work with well. This is the baseline from where you need to start. Technical knowledge may not seem connected to art at first, but let’s examine the image below.

creative self portrait

Self-portrait with creative lighting involving a continuous light and a studio strobe.

This image was captured with a single exposure and there weren’t any alterations applied to it in Photoshop. A second curtain flash technique with slow shutter speed created the effect here. Camera White Balance was set to tungsten and the key light colored with CTO – to balance the colors with gels.

Self portrait lighting diagram

Surely you have noticed how technical knowledge and art correlate. Be it your camera settings, lens, or strobe lights, the more you know about your equipment the more options you’ll end up having to explore in bringing your artwork to realization.

Selecting the right faces, exploring your model’s hidden potential

Most photographers create their best work by working on personal projects. When working on a personal project, you’ll have the full control to choose the model sitting in front of your camera – you are the Art Director.

There are faces full of potential, although they are not faces of professional models (it could be people you see in the public transport or the streets), revealing great characters and features. You need to be able to see this potential and invite such people for a portrait photo session.

Keep in mind that although a person looks great, he or she may not feel comfortable sitting and posing for you at first. This will obviously affect the overall quality and purpose of the photo session.

Remember, as a photographer, it’s your job to bring a good vibe and mood to the set, in order to help your model relax and being able to explore his/her best features.

creative portrait of a man

Low key portrait of a black man wearing glasses and a black leather jacket, having his hands and fingers very close to his face.

In the first image above, is a man who booked a personal creative portrait session. It took four hours of working with him in order to reach a point where he was finally in the right part of his own creative universe, feeling free and exploring himself. He had never had such an experience before and was feeling quite nervous and shy at first.

The second image below is a good representation of working with a great character.

creative portrait of a man

Portrait capturing a model dressed in WWII pilot outfit holding Cuban cigar in his mouth. The creative look of this portrait has been achieved by the use of multiple strobe lights.


Light is the very reason why photography exists. Think about light, study light – how it spreads, how it bounces, how it is reflected, its specularity, etc. There is so much to light. Light is what will be rendering the reality in front of you, by reflecting and bouncing back into your camera lens.

Light has a quality which is defined by the source, intensity, size, and color temperature of the light. The best part is that you have full access to controlling any of this. Main sources of light for photographers are:

  • Ambient light
  • Strobe light
  • Continuous light

But as you move on to the next topic, you’ll see that there is much more to light than just being available in some form.

creative portrait setup

Photographic studio setup for a portrait session, the image features Bowens strobes, a white backdrop and light modifiers.

In the image, above, can be seeing a studio strobe lighting setup for a portrait session. Some characters may require really complex lighting in order to capture their personalities. Others just require one or two light sources – it will be up to you as an artist to determine this.

creative portrait of a man

Low key portrait of a man with a ginger beard and leather jacket, the scene features dramatic and creative strobe lighting.

The portrait above was photographed with only two strobe lights – portraying very well how the most appropriate lighting was selected to illuminate and capture the mood and personality of the person. While for the image below involved the use of six strobe lights.

creative portrait of a woman

Portrait of young woman on blue background wearing a purple dress – with a creative, multiple lighting setup and approach.

Shaping the light, light modifiers

All artists use different sort of tools that help them shape the fabric of their own inspirations and bring creative ideas to life. It is the same for us photographers too.

First, there’s the light, ambient or strobe, which is the raw material you work with. But this material needs to be softened or shaped, helping you in the process of reaching deeper dimensions of your subject’s features and character.

Light shaping tools will help you define your own creative realm – the realms of Game of Shadows, Game of Highlights and Game of Midtones, where you are the master controlling and balancing what sort of reality your light will render.

creative portrait of a woman and man

Tattooed rockabilly, demon, barber holding razor blade in his dark and demonic barber shop with pinup model as his evil assistant on the background next to a bottle of Jack Daniels.

For the creation of the image above, several light shaping tools were used and some of them were even further modified in order to produce the quality of light needed in this particular situation (the image was shot at 10 am in the morning but the idea was for dark – Sweeney Todd concept)

Studio, location, and features

Another very important ingredient to the process of building unique and creative portrait images is exploring what is around you. What is available or what you can build, light and create on location or in the studio?

Although portrait images are characterized by very tightly cropped frames, around the subject’s face – attention needs to be given even to the smallest details. Such details will greatly contribute to the overall contrast within the scene you are capturing.

An example of this is when you are shooting in a studio you can use a snoot, or another light modifier, and create a spot of light or perhaps colorize your background, by placing color gels. Do not limit yourself to only thinking of the face you intend to capture, but rather on the grand scene of everything that will be captured in your composition/frame.

Following the same flow of thoughts and principles – you can turn even a simple room into a professional studio like has been done on the image below – photographed in a bedroom.

creative portrait of a man

An image featuring the founder of Vialucci media, Theo X photographed on a white background.

Things even get more challenging and interesting when shooting environmental, wide-angle portraits. A location can reveal so much about the personality of your subject and also contribute greatly to the level of creative quality in your images. All you need to do when you’re at a great location is help stylize the scene, frame well (appealing creative composition), bring the strobes in and work out the best of your models.

Props, makeup, and hair

This is a very challenging step that eventually one day you’ll take, but it is also very rewarding. By reaching the point of employing props, makeup, and a hair stylist – it will be solid evidence that a line was crossed with no option of turning back. This is the stage where you’ll be seeing beyond the ordinary qualities of your subject and looking to reach a deeper dimension – a state of creative vision.

creative portrait of a woman

A conceptual scene of a four-handed Queen seating on a throne receiving scripts from her Demon servant, and pointing at a Victorian style globe. The scene is lit by several light sources with different colors, rendering the whole scene in a very creative and original light.

creative portrait of a man

Creative portrait composite representing WWII pilot in the cockpit of his aircraft engaged in an aerial battle, with the enemy aircraft in the background.

The images above illustrate very well, the level of creativity obtained by employing props, makeup and hair into the photoshoot.

Editing and retouching

Processing or editing images has always been an integral part of the whole creative process. Although having all the advantages and power of digital technology, you shouldn’t abandon the universal rules and laws of aesthetics.

Think of retouching and editing as a process that helps you enhance the high-quality photographs you already capture and bring your creative vision to final realization. This is achieved without overdoing and diminishing the quality of your photographs.

The two images below are good examples of a photograph captured with simple lighting setup and processed just enough to clear and strengthen the subject’s appearance.

Creative portrait photography before

Before processing.

Creative portrait photography after

After processing.


Capturing creative images involves innovative and creative thinking – seeing things differently, thinking differently. That is why you always need to be on your own small quest for creativity, not bound only by what was covered here or elsewhere.

Come up with your own new solutions – in the process of which you only will add and improve your portrait photography.

The post Tips for Planning and Capturing a Creative Portrait by Nikolay Mirchev appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Review of K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

Filed Under Cameras and Equipment, Digital Photography School

A few weeks back I received the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight to test out and review. Now before I get into the review for this flash, I have to say that I have been a Canon photographer ever since I started my business in 2010. Even before I was photographing for clients, I always gravitated towards Canon gear just because I have consistently had great results with this brand. My very first film camera Canon AE-1 is still in my gear bag and continues to give me stellar results!

I completely understand and acknowledge that branded gear does tend to be expensive and is not in everyone’s budget, especially for those just starting out on their photographic journey. Having said that, there are some great companies with comparable gear in terms of quality and performance. In fact, sometimes, the quality and results are even better than their branded counterparts. This just goes to show that the skill and experience of the user makes a good photograph and not necessarily the gear you use.

Review of K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

For this review, I used the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight on a couple of different assignments – for wedding reception photos and an outdoor portrait session. I have to say that I was very happy with the results from this flash.

I have used my Canon external flash for the past four years and found the K&F Concept flash very comparable to the Canon 600 EX-RT version in terms of performance, look, and feel. Definitely worth looking into if you are in the market for an external flash for your photography needs.

#1 – Specs, Look and Feel of the KF-885

the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight looks very similar to the Canon 600EX-RT external flash. In fact, when I compared the two side by side, they looked almost identical in terms of size, weight, and the accessories that were included in the package.

The KF-885 flash has a slightly bigger monitor display compared to the Canon but having used the Canon brand, I had no trouble figuring out the menu options. In fact, I almost felt that the K&F Concept flash menu options were simpler and easier to figure out. The flash also comes with a built-in reflect board and a built-in wide diffuser to enlarge the shooting range.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. They both come with a flash case, a base stand, and a plain white diffuser cap.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. As you can see, they are almost identical in size and weight.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. The two flashes look almost identical to each other.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. The cosmetic difference is in the shoe mount for the flash. The K&C Concept one has a circular dial to tighten the flash to the camera shoe mount whereas the Canon one has a lever that is moved from left to right to lock in the flash to the camera body.

#2 Display Screen and Menu Options

The K&F Concept KF-885 speedlight has similar menu options to the Canon external flash. The On/Off button turns the flash on and off. The Mode button is to select auto and manual controls, multi-modes, and wireless modes (master/slave mode operation).

The circular set of five buttons is used to adjust the power of the flash when used in manual mode. The flash head also has a vertical rotation angle of 7-90 degrees and horizontal rotation angle of 0-180 degrees.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

#3 Usage

Being used to my Canon 600 EX-RT flash in manual and ETTL mode, I was able to quickly adjust to the K&C Concept KF-885. I also used both flashes for a couple of photos by setting the Canon flash as the master and the K&C Concept flash as the slave. The two flashes communicated with each other and I was able to use setups of both on-camera and off-camera flashes seamlessly.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

An indoor wedding portrait session made easy with the K&C Concept KF-885 External Flash

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The K&C Concept Flash handled poorly lit wedding reception areas quite beautifully.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight


Overall, I was very impressed with the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight. At a price point of $86, that is significantly less than its branded counterpart. This is a great option for someone who is looking to add an external flash to their gear kit but doesn’t want to spend a lot of money.

The post Review of K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.