My Digital Photography

Enhance Your Digital Creativity

Archive for the ‘Photography Tips and Tutorials’ Category


Panning and Tips for Adding Motion to Your Street Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

One of the things I teach people on my photography workshops and tours is how to do panning. It’s a great technique to add to your skillset for shooting great street photography. Panning helps to isolate a moving subject and freeze it while at the same time blurring a potentially boring or ugly background.

panning street photography

I happened upon this bike race in Trinidad, Cuba. The street was full of people and the scene was very busy. So I chose to pan the riders as they went past to add a sense of motion and speed.

See the difference in this shot where I did not pan and everything is sharp. Notice how busy the scene is and the bikers are almost lost. Doesn’t it look like they are going a lot slower or frozen in place here as compared to the image above? 

Tips for doing panning

Here is a video from Gavin Hoey and Adorama TV where he demonstrates how to do panning. He also walks through the camera settings to use to get started and how to adjust them as needed. Have a watch.

Street photography with slow shutter speeds

Here is a different approach to adding motion blur to your street photography, by photographer Doug McKinlay. In this video, he talks about the need for a neutral density filter if there is too much light, and using a tripod to blur moving subjects or part of your scene using long exposures.

Panning demonstration

Finally, here’s one more video that has a really good demonstration of how to execute panning, and what not to do as well.

I hope that gives you some ideas and starting points for adding panning and motion to your street photography.

The post Panning and Tips for Adding Motion to Your Street Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.


7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Photography can be a lonely business, but there is no reason why that has to be the case. Of course, there are many that enjoy the solitude. If you’re a photographer who enjoys more of a community there are some great ways to get together for group photography.

The reasons to join a group are varied, and even if you’re a lone ranger there are likely some ideas here for you. Linking up with others could just be about an online community, or meeting up in person. However you like to do group photography, here are seven ideas for you.

7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Who’s going to take your photo if you always photograph alone?

1 – Create a photo walk

One of the easiest and most informal types of group photography event is the photo walk. These are often organized by photography clubs, and there is a popular one run annually by Scott Kelby. The nice thing about a photo walk is each participant can go at their own pace. The general idea is to have a start point, a finish point, and a time limit. You may choose to walk together as a group, or split off individually.

There may be some members who pass on tips to other photographers, making this type of event an informal workshop. At the end of the walk take some time to get to know your fellow photographers by having a meal, or stopping for a drink somewhere. Finally, share the photos you’ve taken that day on an agreed social media platform of some description.

7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Some people like to take all their gear to the photo walk! Or is the check-in for that flight this way?

2 – Photography clubs

Joining a photography club is one of the best conduits for group photography. Through a club, there is the possibility to organize many of the other ideas mentioned in this article. Photography clubs typically meet at regular intervals of perhaps once a week or once a month, though lots of activity can occur online between meetings.

The best place to find these clubs is through searching social media, your local community center, or perhaps there is a school club near you. These clubs are a great place to learn new photography skills, with evening post-processing workshops being fairly typical. Are you having trouble finding the right club for you? You could always start up your own group!

7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Meeting up with other photographers at a photo club is social, and is also a great way to learn.

3 – Group photography projects

These are projects that a number of photographers partake in together. The idea at the end is to have a body of work under a common theme taken by every member of the group. A project like this could well lead to a group exhibition or a collaborative photography book.

In most cases, you’ll work on the photography individually, though the leader of the project may seek to curate your work in a certain direction. The following are a few ideas that you could try:

  • Subway project – Most big cities have a mass transit system, with many stations. The aim of this type of project would be to take one photograph per station. The larger cities usually have many stations, so dividing up the workload makes sense. In projects like these, it’s often a good idea to seek permission from the authorities before beginning to do any photography.
  • 365 days or 52 weeks – Instead of working on your own project share it with others, and ask them to make photographs on the same theme as your own! The dPS weekly photography challenge could form the basis of this project.
  • Food photography – Everyone loves good food, so combine this with your photography. Each photographer can pick a country. Then make food from that country, and photograph it. You could even make this into an international cookbook.
7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

This photo was taken as part of a subway project in Seoul. It was a big challenge to photograph all the stations.

4 – A photography team

There are times when forming a photography team will give you the edge as a photographer. The more you move into the commercial world of photography the more this becomes a need, as you can’t be everywhere all the time. Think of events like weddings, sports, or festivals. The need to cover all your angles means teaming up with other photographers so they can be where you’re not.

  • Event photography – Having more than one photographer allows one of you to concentrate on the wider scene, while the other covers moments closer to the action. Think of when tennis players go from singles to playing in pairs on a team. In doubles they have different roles and need to complement each other.
  • Portrait photography – Another great example of when a team of photographers is needed is portrait work with strobes. In this scenario, there is one main photographer, but having other photographers or assistants there to help with lighting equipment is desirable.
7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Teaming up with other photographers can be a great way to pool resources.

5 – Create an association

Related to creating a photography team is making an association. In this case, you’re creating more of a guild, and indeed a photo team could be formed from members of that guild. A grouping of photographers like this will look to use each other’s strengths, to form a stronger unit when a client comes along.

Such an association might look to create a stock library of their images, albeit on a much smaller scale to larger firms such as Getty Images. Other models for such a grouping of photographers would be the Magnum organization, though of course on a smaller scale.

7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

The more the merrier as long as you don’t step on each other’s toes!

6 – Weekly challenges

Weekly challenges are a good way to do group photography on an individual basis, and you can decide to opt out of weeks that are not your style. There is a great weekly challenge run by Digital Photography School, and you’ll find other photography communities that run a similar program as well.

It’s of course, possible to organize these on a more local level, where perhaps you meet up in a coffee shop together once a week to make your own challenge.

7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects

Seasonal photo challenges are a yearly staple for many photography groups. Spring is often a popular theme.

7 – Enter a photo competition

A final way you can interact with your fellow photographers is through a photo competition. The weekly challenge is, of course, a competition, but there are many different types of competition. Among the biggest contests are those organized by National Geographic or Sony to name but two. These are annual competitions and often have themes for contestants to try and fulfill.

There are also photography contests that require you to tell a story through a sequence of perhaps 10 photos. Once again these contests can be adapted to you and your community. If you have a photography club, why not take a leaf out of the bigger company’s book, and make a competition. A little competitive edge within your group can often be a great way of pushing you out of your comfort zone to help you produce even more amazing results.

How will you do your group photography?

There are many good ways to collaborate with others and do more group photography activities. Have you tried any of the ideas in this article before?

Perhaps you have a new more novel way to make a photography community that can be shared here. As always I’d love to get feedback from you, so leave your comments and I shall endeavor to respond.

The post 7 Great Ideas for Group Photography Events and Projects appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

The holy grail of travel photography is a stunning photo looking into the vast distance taken at sunrise or sunset. It seems to just work as a blend of color, composition, and light to create something that often makes the viewer utter that famous word that any photographer wants to hear, “Wow!”.

But why is it then that so often when you look at your own sunrise or sunset photos they don’t look so stunning? Here are 5 reasons why your sunrise or sunset photos don’t live up to your expectations.

5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning - sunset on the coast

#1 – What’s the point?

I remember a picture editor once told me, “This might sound controversial, but a sunrise or sunset is actually pretty boring.” What he was referring to was the lack of compelling subject matter in a photo of a sunrise or sunset like for example an empty beach with just the setting sun.

While sitting on a beach and seeing a sunset can seem like a wonderful experience, unfortunately, the camera cannot replicate that. Most successful photos of sunrises or sunsets have a point of interest in them, in that there is a subject that is the main story and the sunrise or sunset is providing the light and the atmosphere.

That story doesn’t necessarily have to be a person or an object in the frame. The story could be the beautiful scenery or the crashing waves against the coast. But the key point is that there is something that gets the viewers’ attention. So, don’t just rely on the sunrise or sunset, try to build your composition using it as an addition rather than the story.

boring sunset photo - 5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning

This photo just isn’t very interesting. There’s a lack of interesting clouds or even water movement.

In this image, the big rock in the foreground, footsteps in the sand and the people all add interest and context to the photo.

#2 – Clouds or no clouds?

For example, one element that can dramatically improve your sunrise or sunset photos is some clouds. Take your generic empty beach scenario from above, but this time add some dramatic clouds that the light can bounce off and suddenly you’ll go from something mundane to something that looks fantastic.

The clouds here add drama to the scene.

Of course, you can’t control the elements and no clouds in the sky means, there’s nothing you can do. In that scenario, you just have to work harder to frame your shot and give the viewer a point of interest.

While you generally want some clouds in the sky, too much cloud cover and you will often find the light seems flat and dull and the whole photo looks uninteresting (unless the sun can set below the clouds and light them up from underneath). So, in conclusion, while you ideally want some clouds, it’s important not to have a completely overcast day. You can, of course, plan your shoots around times when you will have the best conditions.

5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning

#3 – Are your highlights and shadows correct?

One of the big challenges in photographing sunrise or sunsets is the vast contrast you get between highlights and shadows. Your highlights are the light areas of your photo (such as the sky for example) and your shadows are the dark areas in the photo (for example your foreground).

If either is pushed too far you will get completely white areas for highlights and completely black areas for shadows. This means that these areas contain no pixel details and is something you want to avoid.

The problem you face when photographing sunsets or sunrises is that your sky will be bright, and your foreground will be dark (a high dynamic range). The way that you can ensure that your highlights and shadows are exposed correctly in this scenario is to use a graduated neutral density filter to balance out the difference in the highlights and shadows.

There are also other techniques such as exposure bracketing as well that can help you achieve this in post-production and actually just brightening or darkening these areas in a software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. But whatever you decide, just make sure that your highlights and shadows are exposed correctly and fine-tune them if you need to in post-production.

5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning - clipped shadow areas

The blue areas on this photo indicate where the shadows are being clipped (black with no detail).

Here the same image has been adjusted in post-processing to hold more detail in the shadow areas. 

#4 – The image isn’t framed correctly

One of the key elements in ensuring the final photo looks great is to frame your composition correctly.

The easiest way to do this and a good starting point for any photographer is the famous Rule of Thirds where you try to place key points of interest on the intersection of the lines. But the Rule of Thirds is also worth remembering for your horizon line. Usually, you will find that placing the horizon either on the top third or the bottom third will look better than slap bang in the middle.

Horizon centrally framed.

Using the rule of thirds, the horizon here is on the lower third – off-center.

But try to consider the whole picture when framing your shot. Think if there are any areas that are just wasted space where you can crop in tighter. Or if your camera angle is slightly off and you can benefit by just moving a little to either side.

The beauty of photography these days is that you can usually take as many photos as it takes to get your shot framed right. So, play around with your composition and capture a few alternatives that you can then review later in post-production.

5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning

Your camera may have the option to display the Rule of Thirds grid when you’re shooting or in image playback mode.

#5 – You haven’t fixed mistakes

Usually, the first bit of feedback that I often give newbie photographers when I look at their sunrise or sunset photos is on elements that could easily be fixed in post-production. Whether you are an advocate of post-production or not there are certain things that you simply should not forego on any photo.

The two biggest of these are:

  1. Ensuring that your photos are straight, that means the horizon line needs to be dead straight.
  2. Making sure you have the correct white balance for the photo (if you haven’t already done so when taking the photo). Think about the scene that you are showing, is it a warm and golden scenario or is it a cool and crisp setting? Either way, tweak your white balance until it is correct.

If you do nothing else in post-production, just making sure these two settings are correct will immediately improve your photos.

5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning - crooked horizon line

This image is clearly not straight as can be seen from the horizon line.

Here the image tilt has been corrected.


Sunsets and sunrises are wonderful times in the day to photograph things. The soft golden light can transform an ordinary scene into an extraordinary one. When done well, they are often the photos that will be the “show stoppers” in any portfolio.

But always remember that a sunset and sunrise needs to work in combination with your composition and subject matter to create a wonderful photo. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to capturing great photos of sunrise and sunsets.

Now it’s your turn to get involved. Share your great sunrise and sunset photos below.

The post 5 Reasons Why Your Sunrise or Sunset Photos Don’t Look So Stunning appeared first on Digital Photography School.


4 Ways To Make Better Street Portraits While Traveling

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

One of my favorite things about travel photography is the opportunities it provides to meet interesting people in the street and make portraits of them. Here are some of the things that I have learned that you can put into practice when you are traveling and make street portraits.

Street portraits and travel photography

1. Ask people for permission

It’s surprising how you often get the best results when you ask people for permission to make their portrait. This doesn’t apply all the time – you might see somebody interesting who doesn’t notice that you are there and you get the opportunity to make a great candid portrait.

But more often than not you can get a better result by approaching people and asking permission. The good thing about this approach is that it gives you a great excuse to go up to somebody and ask if you can make their portrait. A good way to phrase it is to explain that you are undertaking a project asking interesting people to pose for you.

Problems can arise with this approach if you don’t speak the local language. But that doesn’t stop you communicating with good body language and a smile. You can point to your camera to indicate you are asking for permission to make a portrait.

It’s worth overcoming the challenges

An alternative approach is to work with a local person who can translate for you. This may be a local photographer who you have made contact with and who is interested in helping you out. Or it may be a fixer who you pay to help you communicate with local people and find photo opportunities that you are unlikely to come across by yourself.

Once you have somebody’s permission you have an immediate advantage that you can spend some time with them to work on creating a good street portrait. For example, let’s say you see an interesting person who is standing in the sun and as a result, the light is too harsh to make a good portrait. If you approach them to ask for permission you can then ask them to stand in the shade so you get the best light.

Street portraits and travel photography

That’s the approach I took with the portrait above, created in a mosque in Delhi. The man approached us in the mosque and explained a few things to us about what we were seeing. When we met him he was standing in the sun. After a few minutes of conversation, we asked if we could make a portrait of him and he said yes. It was easy to find a shady place for him to stand.

2. Photograph character, not beauty

It may be tempting to look for beautiful or handsome people to photograph. And who could blame you? But you’ll create more interesting street portraits full of character if you find interesting people. This means people of both genders and all ages (except children, see next point).

For example, I made the portrait below in the town of San Antonio de Areco in Argentina. This town is famous for its atmospheric bars and gauchos. While taking photos in one of the bars somebody told me there was an elderly couple down the road who loved talking to people and having their photo taken. We went to check out the situation and found the couple sitting out on the street. We had an interesting conversation and I made this portrait.

Street portraits and travel photography

This also shows how you should be open to opportunity. If people are friendly and make suggestions like this, go with the flow and see where it takes you. Interesting things often happen this way.

3. Don’t take too many photos of children

A few years ago I traveled to the town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia. We were walking through the town’s main square and noticed there was a lot of children. It turned out that it was a national sports day and as part of that event, local school children were in the square to participate in sporting activities.

Eventually one of the children noticed that I had a camera and started jumping up and down in front of me, asking me to take his photo. Of course, then other children joined in and soon I had a mob of kids in front of me who all wanted their photos taken. Which I did, and I have a nice memory because of it.

Street portraits and travel photography

Luckily a teacher came along and shooed the kids away. The point of this story is that kids are often easy to photograph, especially in places where they get excited whenever they see a foreigner. But they are not likely to feature in your most interesting or memorable photos.

As a subject, they are too easy. Plus, you have to consider that in some countries local people may view strangers photographing children as suspicious. You’ll get better results by avoiding kids and finding interesting adults.

4. Look for interesting backgrounds

My final tip is to look for interesting backgrounds or places and wait with your camera to see what happens. Have you noticed how some photographers walk rapidly from one place to another, taking photos of anything that catches their eye? The aim of this exercise is to get you to slow down and become attuned to the rhythm of the place you’re in.

If the background is interesting enough, you can wait for somebody to pass by and add an element of human interest. People will usually think that you’re photographing whatever’s in the background and probably won’t even realize they are in the photo.

Here’s an example of that. I found this beautiful scene in Guatemala and waited to see what would happen. Eventually, a man cycled by and I was able to make this photo.

Street portraits and travel photography


When you are traveling with the intention of creating street portraits it takes some work to get the best results. Following the tips in this article, and getting used to approaching people to ask if you can make their portrait will help you a lot with the process.

The Candid Portrait

If you’d like to learn more about street and travel photography then please check out my popular ebook popular ebook The Creative Portrait. Use the code DPS20 for a 20% discount on your first order.

The post 4 Ways To Make Better Street Portraits While Traveling appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Tips for Light Painting and Some Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

In this article, I will focus on light painting objects in night scenes during a single long exposure (rather than multiple exposures combined in Photoshop) and some of the pitfalls I have experienced. I hope you will gain an understanding of how different light sources, intensity, and warmth can illuminate your foreground elements in a balanced way to provide a creative twist to your shot.

A beautiful night sky filled with stars is often laced with compelling foreground elements that can provide context and intrigue to your shots. You have likely seen many examples of these things in other people’s work such as a saguaro cactus under The Milky Way in the middle of the desert, a homestead cabin in the middle of an old pasture, or a boat floating on a still lake.

Light painting DSC 1215

This single exposure captures The Milky Way over a field of yellow wildflowers in central Minnesota. I used light painting to emphasize the flowers which were an important part of the scene.

I am positive you can think of foreground elements in your personal environment. Although silhouettes of those foreground elements can provide you with stunning imagery, you may consider using light painting techniques to emphasize the foreground elements of your shot.

What is light painting?

Light painting is a night photography technique where you use a light source to illuminate an object (in other words you “paint it”). The digital camera era has made light painting much more common as it is easier to check and compensate for your exposure of the shot. Because light painting provides so many creative options there are many forms it can take.

In order to do light painting, you will need to carry a little bit of extra equipment and have some basic knowledge about your camera’s manual settings. A grasp of these basic camera settings will increase the enjoyment of your night out by helping you make beautiful imagery.

Camera Settings

Manual Mode will be necessary to shoot your long exposures. You should be aware of how to switch to Manual Mode and then adjust your aperture and shutter speed. For night photography, you will want to use a large aperture (e.g., f/2.8) and slow shutter speeds of often 5 seconds or more.

ISO changes will be necessary in order for your camera to pick up the most amount of light possible. I recommend beginning at ISO 800 and then adjusting accordingly as you learn about your particular scene and shooting conditions. It is important to remember that a really high ISO will require you to post-process out digital “noise” and each camera model has a range of ISO values it can shoot at before it will become very grainy.

White Balance adjustment is critical to shooting at night and for light painting. Look in your camera’s manual or play with your camera settings to ensure you can access manual White Balance and you can create lower or higher White Balance values. White Balance is measured in Kelvin and most cameras will represent it with “K” after the White Balance value (e.g. 4500K).

I bounced the light off the snow to light this shot because direct light caused the totem to become too bright and out of balance.


An appropriate light source is necessary to do light painting. You should consider bringing multiple light sources that have both wide and narrow beams as well as multiple color temperatures. You may consider things such as a headlamp, cell phone, flashlight, or professional lighting as these have different beam widths and intensities.

To determine the warmth of your light source, check the box as it may tell you the temperature rating. For instance, many lightbulbs from the store will say 4500K on the side of them. Some professional lighting sources will allow you to adjust both the temperature and intensity of the light, so you may consider those as you progress and become more proficient at light painting.

Beyond the camera and a light source, a tripod is the next most important thing you can bring when shooting long exposures. Ensure your tripod can remain stable for long (up to several minutes occasionally) exposures.

A friend is a great addition to a night of light painting! Your friend can help sidelight objects while you take the photos, provide for creative solutions to problems, and keep you safe as you move around in the dark.

Light painting 0314181950b

I use this LED light panel which allows me to control the light intensity and color.

Basic Light Painting Techniques

Each night has unique conditions that need to be accounted for, but I like to begin each night with a familiar set of steps. Set your camera up on a tripod and take a few test shots. I usually start at f/2.0, ISO 800, 10-15 seconds, and 4500K.

From those base settings, you can experiment with ISO, shutter speed, and set a White Balance that looks good to you. Once you have the settings for the scene right, set up a composition you like and which ties together the necessary foreground elements. Begin your exposure then use a light source to paint the foreground in front of you.

Light painting DSC 5562

This image of the Aurora Borealis captures the beauty of the boreal forest and the subtle aurora behind it. I used standard settings (ISO 2000, f/2.2, 20 seconds) and a light panel to make this image.

Selecting a light source is important. Its qualities will determine how it can be used. There are three considerations you should think about:

  1. What is the intensity of the light?
  2. How wide is the beam?
  3. What is the color temperature of the light?

Keeping these things in mind will help you immensely when you go out to shoot. A wide beam can help you light close objects while a more focused beam can light a more distant one. I often use a professional light panel because it gives me control over the beam intensity, width, and warmth.

A good light source will help you get over the pitfalls identified below.

Pitfall #1: Not matching the color balance

When I first began doing light painting, I had a really hard time matching the color of my light and the context of my scene. Your camera will key in on bright objects in the shot such as the moon, a street lamp, or the Aurora Borealis which will become the dominant temperature in the shot.

Keep this in mind as you take your test shots because you will need to adjust your White Balance according to those light sources. If the White Balance of your light source is adjustable set it to the same as the camera. If you cannot control the temperature of your light source (e.g., a cell phone) then consider adjusting the White Balance of your camera to match the light source. You will know the light source and camera are calibrated together properly when the color of your foreground elements look natural (neutral) to your eye.

I’ve provided some examples of images below which came out well and some that did not (according to my eye) due to incorrect White Balance calibration. You should be able to spot images demonstrating the matching warmth pitfall that we just reviewed. I’ve left some thoughts in the captions of the images to reflect on each further.

Light painting DSC 7887

It is not too hard to diagnose what’s wrong with this image – I did not properly calibrate the temperature of my camera and light source. The light source is too cold compared to my camera’s settings.

Light painting DSC 2136

The calibration of camera and light source were close on this one, but the temperature was a bit too cold on the light source as evidenced by the bluish tinge to the tree on the left.

Light painting P3090697

A good match! I was able to use the white of the American Flag to calibrate the light source and camera to get good colors from both the flag and the aurora.

Light painting DSC 9355

This is a good match on the color balance. There were a moon and aurora on this night, so I only used a headlamp to softly light this sled dog that appears to be watching the aurora.

Pitfall #2: Not balancing the light in your scene

Choosing the right beam width and intensity will help you balance the lighting of the foreground elements to the rest of the scene. A digital camera set at ISO 800 or above is incredibly sensitive to light and it is very easy to “blow out” a shot by overexposing the foreground elements. Here are a few tips to help balance the light in your scene.

  • A broad beam will help evenly light an entire scene and a narrow beam can light specific aspects of the scene. I have provided thoughts and examples below about when my light source width was appropriate and when it was incorrect.
  • If you have close foreground elements consider bouncing your light source. I often use reflective surfaces like snow to indirectly light the foreground through bouncing. If you cannot bounce the light, try side lighting or lighting the object from behind.
  • You can decrease the exposure by closing down the aperture. I have found increasing the aperture (say from f/2.0 to f/4.0) and increasing the exposure time make it dramatically easier to create a balance of light in the scene.
  • It stands to reason that if you paint an object for a long time with the light it will show up brighter. You will find that duration is critical when light painting and often less is more. Try light painting the object in a short burst of one half, to one second of light and see if it adequately lights the object.
Light painting P9110093

Blowout! I was light painting these autumn aspens to capture the fall colors with the Aurora Borealis. However, my beam was too narrow for the work I wanted to do.

Light painting DSC 8007

A small beam allowed me to light up this “old man’s beard” hanging from spruce trees in Southeast Alaska. A wide beam would not have worked here as it would have lit the entire scene.

Light painting DSC 7085

Here I wanted to capture the glacier face and the aurora together so I placed my light panel behind a block of ice. This masked it from direct view and allowed me to bounce the light off the snow.

Light painting P9110170

A passing car provided the lighting for this shot, and I liked the warmth of the light a lot! The broad beam was most appropriate here.

Food for Thought and Wrapping Up

I hope this article can help you get over a couple of the steep learning curves of light painting. Remember, any light source at your disposal can be used to light your scene and each may have its own unique benefits. Experiment with headlamps, cell phones, car headlights, and professional lighting sources to see what each can provide to the shot.

I hope you enjoy your night out! As I always like to say, “Pixels are cheap”, so make lots of them as you learn light painting.

The post Tips for Light Painting and Some Common Pitfalls to Avoid appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Tips for Photographing Real Estate Interiors

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

In this article, we’ll address the challenges you may face when photographing real estate interiors and a few ways to combat the issues. Shooting bracketed images is the most common and effective way to handle high contrast interiors. Read on below for tips on how to shoot and process interiors.

The problem

Most real estate photographers have entered a room at some stage in their career and thought, “Ah… a dark room with a bright window. Just what I do NOT need!”

Using straightforward post-production techniques to fix either over or underexposed parts of a photograph is practically impossible. So walking into this kind of scene can make your heart sink. The good news is that it’s not so hard to get around the problem posed by these scenes once you are equipped with the right techniques.

Achieving a well-exposed photograph of a dark room with a bright window initially seems impossible. Expose for the interior and the windows are blown out. Expose for the windows and the darker parts of the room are plunged into shadow.

Photo exposed for the interior (1/4 second at f/8), notice the windows are overly bright.

The difference between the brightest and darkest areas, known as dynamic range, is just too great. This is a High Dynamic Range scene, or HDR for short.

Photo exposed for the windows (1/125th at f/8), now you can see the inside is almost completely black.

Our eyes cope with HDR scenes by adjusting the size of our pupils, letting in more or less light as we encounter darker or brighter areas. The brain balances it all out and everything seems well lit.

Unfortunately, when it comes to a dark interior with a bright view, even the best DSLR cameras can’t capture the entire brightness range with a single exposure.

Photo at normal exposure (1/30th at f/8), here you can see some areas are too dark, and the windows are too bright. The camera cannot hold detail in the entire scene, the contrast is too great.

There are two ways you can resolve this issue

  1. You can add light to brighten the room and reduce the dynamic range.
  2. You can take multiple exposures and combine them using software to emulate what our eyes and brain do.

Adding light

To brighten the room, you’ll generally need to supply extra lighting. Just turning on all the available lights is unlikely to solve the problem.

One option is to bring along portable lighting. However, this is another skill to master, another thing to carry, and even though the cost of lighting is falling it’s still another expense. You may also need to bring an extension cable, and hope that the property has power.

You could also use professional flash units, mounted off-camera and triggered remotely. The term professional is important here because less powerful flash units rarely deliver enough light to solve this particular problem.

Effective use of flash units also requires skill. You’ll probably need several flashguns, and the knowledge of which units to use and where to put them. Again, it’s more expense and a lot more kit to carry, especially when you include stands for the units too.

Taking multiple exposures

So what about multiple exposure approaches? One method is the Photoshop approach where you take only two photographs, one correctly exposed for the room and one for the windows, and open them in separate layers in Photoshop.

Once you have manually aligned the two layers (using the Difference blending mode to guide you, zooming in may help as well), with the darker image on the bottom, you then select the blown-out windows on the top layer (the image exposed for the inside of the room). Using a layer mask, make the window areas transparent, and the properly exposed windows in the second shot will show through from underneath.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely results in a convincing and realistic looking image, as two exposures are not enough to cover the entire range of brightness that our eyes perceive. Additionally, the photo exposed for the window will underexpose the window frame and any ornaments on the windowsill, making them look darker than they should be.

A more effective approach involves taking multiple exposures to capture different lighting levels (bracketed photographs) and using HDR software to merge them into an image that’s well-exposed throughout. Shadows are corrected without additional lighting, and bright areas are pulled back without appearing artificial.

Bracketing is very popular with real estate photographers because it overcomes the problems associated with the alternative approaches. All without the cost and inconvenience of more equipment on location – except for one good quality tripod!

Bracketing exposures

Correctly capturing the exposures is key to obtaining the best results with this approach. So let’s look more closely at how professionals do this when photographing real estate interiors so that you can master it yourself.

Essentially, you take a series of identical shots at the same aperture – but using different shutter speeds. A constant aperture keeps the depth of field the same while changing the exposure allows you to capture well-exposed images for all the different lighting levels in the scene.

It is called exposure bracketing because the varying exposure settings are “bracketed” between the slowest and fastest shutter speeds needed.

The Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function, built into most DSLR and mirrorless cameras, greatly simplifies the process, allowing you to take three or more bracketed exposures with just one shutter release.

In many situations, especially outdoors, it will also save you having to use a tripod. Any camera movements during shooting (inevitable in hand-held shots) are small enough that software with robust alignment features can automatically correct them.

Camera settings

You start the AEB setup by selecting Aperture Priority (Av) mode.

The rest varies between camera models, but typically involves three steps: selecting AEB and continuous shooting mode, choosing the number of bracketed frames, and choosing the number of EV steps between each shot.

Your camera’s user manual will cover the steps needed for your model.


Exposure bracketing techniques for interiors

Lighting differences in an interior scene with views through the windows are so great, that taking bracketed exposures may involve more than just setting up AEB and taking the shots, especially when you want the highest quality results.

The main problem comes from the camera’s choice of shutter speed for the baseline or “normal” exposure (0 EV). Bright light through a window can influence a camera’s automatic exposure, resulting in a photo set that is skewed towards underexposure.

Another problem is that capturing the scene could demand more exposures than your camera’s AEB provides. Also, since a low ISO is best to minimize noise in the shadows, you may need quite long exposures. Without a tripod, that will result in blurred images that could ruin the shot.

Quick technique

Even though exposure bracketing is more involved when photographing interiors with window views, you can use a relatively quick technique when the lighting differences aren’t too great and your camera offers a broad AEB exposure range. This is how it works.

After selecting Aperture Priority (Av) mode, point the camera at an area of the room that is neither too dark nor too bright, just ‘average’, and well away from the windows.

Note that the shutter speed when the camera is pointed at the sofa is 1/10th.

Take note of the shutter speed your camera displays for that area. Then switch to Manual mode, make sure the shutter speed is the one you noted, activate the AEB function and take the photos.

While this will certainly be better than a single exposure, you lack control with this technique and you can’t always select the right number of photographs to be taken.

Advanced bracketing technique

When you want to maximize output quality, use this advanced bracketing exposure technique to ensure that you take all the exposures needed to cover the entire lighting range. This gives you far more control, although it takes a little longer and the process is slightly more complex.

This video steps you through the technique, from camera setup to determining what exposures to use, through to taking the photos themselves.

One of the main advantages of this technique is that it establishes precise shutter speeds that match the maximum levels of darkness and brightness in the room. It does this by determining the shutter speeds for both extremes of the lighting range.

This is important because misjudging the correct exposure for the darkest areas can result in an image where the interior isn’t bright enough. While failing to capture the brightest areas results in washed-out looking windows.

How to find the shutter speed for both extremes

You can choose between two methods to find the shutter speeds for the darkest and brightest parts of the scene:

  • Spot Metering method.
  • Histogram check method.

Spot metering method

This is the quickest way to find your needed shutter speeds. Start by selecting Aperture priority, or Av mode, then choose the Spot Metering option from the camera menu.

Spot Metering mode.

Find the longest shutter speed by focusing on the darkest part of the room. While watching the exposure meter in the camera’s viewfinder, adjust the shutter speed until the camera shows it to be the best exposure for that part of the room. Make a note of the recommended shutter speed.

Find the shortest shutter speed by focusing on the brightest part of the room, and repeat the process to find the best shutter speed. Again, note the recommended speed.

Histogram method

The second method to determine the two shutter speeds is more precise and works like this:

  • Set the camera’s LCD screen or image preview to display the brightness histogram.
  • Take a test shot of the darkest area of the room, then examine the histogram.
  • If the left side of the histogram shows a vertical line at the start of the graph, then there are dark areas you’ve not yet captured.
  • Take another shot with a longer shutter speed and repeat the process until the histogram trails off to a flat line on the left. When you see that, you’ve identified the slowest shutter speed needed.

  • Now take a test shot of the brightest part of the room, and again examine the histogram.
  • This time look for a vertical line on the right of the histogram. If you see one, then you’ve not yet captured the brightest parts of the scene.
  • Keep taking shorter exposures, checking the histogram after each one until it shows a flat line to the right of the graph. When you see that, you know the shortest shutter needed.

Many DSLR cameras have a feature that shows overexposed parts of an image. When activated, the highlight warning system makes overexposed areas blink or flash when viewed on the LCD screen. If you see this, increase the shutter speed until the blinking areas stop flashing.

How to bracket your exposures

Once you know these two shutter speeds you can use them in two different ways – one that uses the camera’s built-in Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) option, and one that does not.

The full manual method

  • Switch the camera to Manual mode
  • Set the shutter speed to the shortest of your measured shutter speeds and take a photograph.
  • Decrease the shutter speed by one stop (EV) and take the next photograph.
  • Keep reducing the shutter speed by one (EV) stop for each photograph until you reach the longest of the two shutter speeds you measured.

The semi-automated method

  • Open the HDR Exposures Calculator app from HDRsoft.
  • Enter the shortest and longest shutter speeds into the app.
  • Select the maximum number of bracketed frame your camera supports.
  • Select an EV Spacing of 2 if your camera supports it, otherwise go with the highest EV spacing it offers, then click “Get Exposures”.
  • Follow the instructions given by the HDR Exposures Calculator, making sure you have set the camera to AEB mode and selected Continuous Shooting mode before taking a bracketed set.

Additional tips to take the photos

You now know how to measure the longest and shortest exposures you will need, and how to set up your camera to take all exposures between them. Correct technique is important too, so here are some steps to follow to make sure you get good results.

  1. Securely mount the camera on a tripod, and ensure the camera is level.
  2. If the camera is mounted on a tripod, switch off Auto Image Stabilization.
  3. Set the built-in flash to Off if your camera has one.
  4. Attach a remote shutter release to reduce the risk of blur.
  5. Select Manual mode and set an aperture suitable for the lighting and depth of field required.
  6. Set the ISO value, 100 is ideal. Digital noise (the electronic equivalent of grain) increases as the ISO value increases, so keep it as low as possible. Try not to go beyond ISO 400.
  7. Determine the shutter speed required to best expose the darkest part of the room and the shutter speed to best expose the brightest part. See the section above on finding the shutter speeds for both extremes.
  8. Take the exposure bracketed photos as detailed in the previous section.

Once you’ve returned from the shoot, process the images in HDR software. There are various photo applications that can merge multiple exposures to HDR. Photomatix Pro is the first choice among many real estate photographers because it offers presets optimized for interiors, achieving the natural look they strive for.

Using Photomatix Pro with real estate interiors

Photomatix Pro is designed to be easy to use, so you should get comfortable using it pretty quickly.  Here are a few tips to help you get the best out of it for your interior photographs.

Check the Align Source Images option with On Tripod selected (even when you use a tripod, there can be some small camera movement between shots).

Don’t activate the option to remove ghosts. This is important in real estate images as adjusting for ghosting when there isn’t any reduces image quality. If you absolutely must use de-ghosting, for example, because something moved outside a window, be sure to use the selective de-ghosting option, so it can be applied to just the affected window.

When you adjust the merged HDR image, use the drop-down list above the preset thumbnails to show just those related to the Architecture style (or “Real-estate” depending on your Photomatix version).

Lastly, you can use the Finishing Touch panel’s straightening tool to correct sloping floors or walls that aren’t upright. Finally, use the cropping tool to remove edge areas of the photo affected by wide-angle lens distortion or chromatic aberration.


Although getting good photographs of real estate interiors can seem daunting, particularly when bright windows are involved, the right techniques and software make it is achievable without bulky, expensive equipment.

The main points to remember are:

  • Exposure bracketing is the key technique.
  • For simple scenarios, you can bracket based on an average exposure.
  • For other situations, work out the brightest and darkest exposure along with the shots in between.
  • Spot metering or the histogram can help you determine these exposures.
  • You can take the exposures manually, or using AEB and the HDR Exposures Calculator app.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask about the tips in the article and taking bracketed exposures of interiors? If you do, please let us know in the comments below. If you have any tips of your own, you’re welcome to share them too.

Disclaimer: HDRsoft is a paid partner of dPS

The post Tips for Photographing Real Estate Interiors appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Ways to Challenge Yourself as a Wildlife Photographer

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

As a wildlife photographer, often it can seem challenging enough just to find your subjects out in the field, let alone get close enough to take that perfect image. However, to develop as a photographer, constantly challenging yourself is a key ingredient to learning and growing, helping you to tell stories in a more meaningful and creative way through your images.

In this article, I will give you a few ideas to explore when you next head out on a nature photography shoot, to keep you challenged and growing as a photographer.

1 – Take one lens

One lens - wildlife photographer

Restricting yourself is often a great way to encourage creativity. Working with constraints can help you to think outside the box and explore ideas or ways of working that you might have missed in other cases. As photographers, having a boatload of lenses at our disposal means we have options to capture the world in a multitude of ways. Yet still, within this, we often become restricted within our view, choosing to consistently work with convention rather than explore creative options.

For example, if you are going to work with birds you will likely select your long telephoto, whereas, for insects or flowers, the obvious choice is a macro lens. However, if you decide to restrict yourself to a certain lens or focal length you have to use that in order to explore and create a photograph. That means that sometimes you’ll have to work in a new way, choose a different composition, or go for a different type of image than you would normally attempt.

For example, taking a macro lens out for a full day of shooting you might feel restricted. But the 100mm focal length (common for most macro lenses) is actually highly adaptable for working with a variety of subjects from landscapes to tiny insects, or even people and street images. Prime lenses further enhance this restriction, forcing you to zoom with your feet.

However, after a number of days solely focused on each lens in your bag, you’ll have a much greater appreciation for the wide variety of subjects and images it can produce. Thus helping you to be more creative with your choices in the future.

2 – Work wide

Shooting wide two deer in a field - wildlife photographer

For most wildlife photographers, the long telephoto is our safe haven. We know that when using a 300mm, 500mm or 600mm lens we can frame up our subjects and get wonderful clean portrait images. Allowing us to concentrate on our subjects and not necessarily needing to worry about the other elements in the landscape.

The thing is that, although telephotos are fantastic for filling the frame and showing close details of distant creatures, they don’t give an impression of scale. Images show with a long lens almost seem less immersive than shots taken with shorter focal lengths.

Of course, one of the biggest problems is that shooting wildlife with a wide lens is often a lot harder, (depending on the subject) than your traditional long lens wildlife photography. But this is a great learning curve. Yes, the complexities of predicting animal behavior, working out positioning for remote cameras and triggering them at the perfect time without always being able to look through the viewfinder is difficult. But the struggles will certainly push you to be a better wildlife photographer in the long run.

Try working with a wireless remote in the garden to get started. A simple bird feeder or setup for urban mammals is a great way to hone your skills, to add another string to your photographic bow.

Remote camera triggers - wildlife photographer

Remote camera setup

Remote triggered wideangle

Remote-triggered wide-angle shot.

3 – Add movement

Often, I hear wildlife photographers talking about always getting the image tack sharp. But in reality, how much in nature ever freezes dead still? Adding motion to your images is a great way to explore and develop your shooting style, adding drama to images and also helping the wildlife you’re recording to come alive in your frames.

When working in the field it can be tempting to always have that 1/1000 of a second shutter speed dialed in. Learning how and when to slow your shutter to display movement is a great skill, but it takes practice to get it right.

Often I find that for large moving creatures, such as deer, a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second allows enough movement into the frame to make great panning shots. In contrast, birds with their fast-moving nature mean that often 1/100th or 1/60th easily provides enough movement within the frame for lovely streaking effects.

a deer running - wildlife photographer

Birds in flight - wildlife photographer

Of course, in addition to panning with slow shutter speeds, keeping your camera dead steady and allowing the creatures to move is another effective technique for creating unique and captivating images of nature’s patterns and movements.

4 – Pick a theme and stick to it

Another way to challenge yourself as a nature photographer is to set yourself a theme to work on. This could be a practical theme like birds in flight, animal portraits, or in the landscape images. Another option is exploring a certain location or place with a geographical theme or even delving a little deeper to explore emotions or feelings as a base for a set of images.

The reason for shooting around a theme is to train yourself how to showcase and express your ideas through images more effectively. As a photographer, you are a visual storyteller. So being able to draw from inspirations, ideas, and emotions and express them photographically helps you to tell better and more powerful stories through your images.

Aim to develop a couple of small bodies of work, maybe three sets of three images, each with a different focus as a training exercise. It’s a great way to focus on areas where you’re less confident and give yourself a mini-assignment to develop and shoot to keep you focused on improving your work.

Shooting a set of images (3 images of deer)

5 – Shoot like you have one roll of film

A final way to challenge yourself is to go out on a shoot and pretend that you only have 36 images or a single roll of film. This is to force yourself to be more critical and picky with your images, choosing the perfect moment to get a shot rather than just taking a number to be sure one will be okay.

Shooting with a limit slows you down and makes you consider things more intently, thinking through your exposure, composition, and technique before shooting. The idea is that you only shoot one frame per subject, aiming to get it perfect on every image.

You can do this even more strictly by getting hold of an old school 1gb or 2GB memory card, the modern equivalent of a single roll of film. You can pick them up cheap on eBay and they are great training aids.

Small SD and film

Of course, if you want even more of a challenge why not try shooting an actual roll of film. With each frame literally costing you money, you will soon focus your shooting in order to make sure you nail it out on location. It’s good fun and a really great learning tool!


So there you have it, a quick rundown of five ways to challenge yourself as a nature or wildlife photographer to help develop your photography.

By focusing on specific challenges and setting yourself goals and tasks, you’ll certainly see your photography improve. As well, you will have more confidence going for those creative images when you’re on your next shoot.

The post 5 Ways to Challenge Yourself as a Wildlife Photographer appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

In this article, you will get five simple exercises to help you improve your photography.

How to grow as a photographer

Everyone, from beginners to professionals, seeks to improve their photography. Yet we often struggle to do just that, repeatedly asking the question, “How do I actively move my photography forward?

macro photography flower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Learning to take top-notch photographs isn’t like learning a musical instrument, where you can practice fingerings and scales while slowly gaining skills. When it comes to improving photography, the path often seems nebulous, difficult to grasp.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are more focused ways of improving your photography. Below, I discuss five of these exercises, which, if done consistently, will help you improve your photography by leaps and bounds.

Exercise #1: Photograph every day for a month

The first exercise is simple; photograph every day. This may sound easy, but it often isn’t. With a job and family and life, it’s surprisingly difficult to get out and do photography.

But I’d like to emphasize this, if you’re serious about improving your photography, start here. Make sure that you use your camera each day, even if you only take one image. Carve out a particular time of the day that works. Or, if it’s easier for you, carry a camera around in your purse/backpack/briefcase, and bring it out during your lunch break.

macro photography flower abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I’ve found that there’s a sort of magic that comes from photographing—not just consistently—but daily. Your camera becomes a familiar tool in your hands. You start to see compositions everywhere. The photographic medium starts to make sense.

Trust me, if you do this your work will improve fast.

Exercise #2: Make 10 unique images of one subject

One of the main barriers to photographic improvement is not the technique so much as it is the ability to see.

A great photographer often views a subject and starts to visualize the many possibilities, quickly rejecting those which won’t work, and selecting that which does.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Hence, choose a subject and start by taking the obvious photographs.

Then, rather than moving on, force yourself to look for more. Get in close and take some more abstract or detail shots. Move back and look for more environmental images. Alter the background, the angle, and/or the lighting. If you normally use a tripod, try working handheld, or vice versa.

macro photography flower aster abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This exercise is meant to improve your ability to see. It is meant to take you out of your comfort zone so that you go beyond the obvious, and start looking deeper at your subject. Once that is ingrained, the photographic possibilities begin to open up, and your images will become unique and more satisfying.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Exercise #3: Share only one image per week

Let me explain this one. Part of improving one’s photography involves becoming a better self-critic. If you cannot recognize where you need to improve, then it’s very difficult to improve at all. But if you can pinpoint your strengths and your weaknesses, then you can improve upon the weaknesses—and harness your strengths.

To this end, I recommend joining a photo sharing site, one that is geared towards photography. Flickr, 500PX, and Tumblr would work well (or the dPS Facebook group). Then post one, and only one, image per week. Make sure that you’ve looked through your recent work, and that the image that you’re sharing is your best.

Before posting, think to yourself, “What is it that makes this a strong image? What would make it better? And what was it that made me reject the other images in favor of this one?” Take note of your responses, and remember them the next time you’re out in the field.

macro photography flower coneflower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

So why can’t you just do this privately, rather than posting to a photo sharing site?

I find that there’s a bit of pressure that comes from posting your pictures publicly. This forces you to work slightly harder in identifying your best images. However, if you would strongly prefer not to post your images publicly, you could adjust the settings on your chosen sharing site so that only you can view the images—but imagine that you’re assembling them for a gallery showing.

Exercise #4: Critique at least 10 images per week

Similar to Exercise #3, but with a slightly different focus. Learning to critique your own work is great, but it’s also important to look at a broad array of photography with a critical eye. Hence, join a photo critique forum, and critique at least 10 images per week.

There are a number of forums out there that I recommend for nature photographers like myself: Naturescapes, Nature Photographers Network, and are all good ones. They should allow you to make a free account in order to comment on other images.

macro photography flower abstract pink - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This will help you in a few ways. First, constantly looking at images will help you to internalize compositions and get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to improve your own photography if you don’t have a sense of what good photography looks like.

Second, it may give you ideas for your own photography. By this, I don’t mean that you copy other people’s photographs directly. But you can take note of interesting techniques, camera settings, and compositions, and incorporate them into your own work.

Third, being forced to articulate, in writing, what you find pleasing about an image will go a long way toward being able to understand how to make your own images more pleasing.

Notice that I’m not telling you to post your images on the critique forum—but if you feel confident enough to do so, then that is an excellent way to improve as well.

Exercise #5: Work in another genre of photography

This exercise is for those who would self-identify as intermediate or advanced photographers. Early on in your photographic journey, I would recommend focusing on a single genre and improving within that genre.

street photography ann arbor nickels arcade - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I took a break from macro photography to work on my street photography skills.

However, once you have a decent amount of experience, I find that it is really beneficial to get out of your comfort zone by working on another photographic genre (the more different, the better!). Stick with this genre for an entire month.

street photography ann arbor - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This forces you to expand your photographic eye and think in new ways. It can often generate unique ideas that you can apply to your primary area of photography. And when the month is up and you switch back to your favored type of photography, you’ll likely find that you’ll be seeing the world in a whole new light.

ann arbor street photography - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

In conclusion…

If you’re seeking to improve your photography, follow the exercises discussed above.

If you photograph every day, focus on expanding your photographic eye, look at numerous images and learn to critique your own, and expand your photographic horizons—you will soon be on your way to a higher level of photography. I wish you the best of luck!

macro photography flower abstract tulip - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Have any exercises that you’ve found useful for photographic improvement? Share them in the comments!

The post Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Photographing Toddlers – 5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity

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

“Having a two-year-old is like having a blender that you don’t have the top for.” – Jerry Seinfeld

No doubt, you’ve experienced the frustration of photographing your own toddler or a family with toddlers. Frustration and anxiety come from not knowing how to relate to toddlers and get them to cooperate for photos. But there is a way to have a great experience photographing toddlers even if they are grumpy, unruly, shy or scared.

I’ve developed five strategies based on my own career as a portrait photographer and insights from childhood psychology.

If you struggle when photographing toddlers, these five tips will transform your experience and theirs too!

Photographing toddlers 1

This is often how a sibling photo with toddlers goes! There are times when you need to forget about the perfect photo and go for comical instead.

1. Meet the toddler where they are

“The fundamental job of a toddler is to rule the universe.” – Lawrence Kutner

Most toddlers are not interested in sitting for a picture. For them, life is all about exploration. They don’t understand the picture taking process. Photography is about cherishing their childhood and marveling at their growth.

Photographing toddlers 2 rec

Toddlers love to explore. They were born for picking up sticks and wandering off.

Begin by realizing that a toddler does not know what a photography session is about. They may even be confused or scared during this new experience.

I was photographing a family and the mom and dad told me that their little guy was terrified of the camera. When he saw my camera he burst into tears and ran away. It seemed like an impossible situation.

Photographing toddlers 3

Never fear when a toddler runs away from a photo. Turn it into a fun game of chase.

2. Promise to be patient

“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” – Franklin P. Jones

If you’re planning to photograph your own toddler or another family, you must begin by promising to be patient.

This should happen long before you pick up your camera. Patience must be built into your photo session. Make the decision in advance that nothing will cause you to become upset.

Photographers only feel impatient with toddlers because they’ve lost control and don’t know what to do. When you promise to be patient, your mind will be clear to think of solutions.

Photographing toddlers 4

Embrace a variety of emotions. Sometimes a grumpy look adds an interesting mood to the photo, especially in black and white.

When that little boy ran away from the camera, I had to be clear in my thinking and figure out what to do next.

Promise to be patient no matter what happens and then begin to create an environment in which toddlers will thrive.

Photographing toddlers 5

3. Develop a friendship

“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”– Henry Ford

Kids love to make new friends. During photo sessions with toddlers (or older kids), you must make time to befriend them. A fun grown-up is like a superhero leading them into adventures.

When a toddler is shy, give them time to warm up. They’ll let you know when they’re ready to be friends.

Photographing toddlers 6

Go ahead and provoke a great expression by being a comedian, toddlers will love it.

You can even make friends with misbehaving toddlers. Give them time to run free and pretty soon they’ll pull you by the hand to go play. This will give you great opportunities for candid photos.

The terrified little boy took about 20 minutes to calm down. In a few more minutes we were friends and my camera was no longer a threat to him.

Photographing toddlers 15

This was actually a grumpy moment, but nobody can resist a funny photographer!

4. Give the child high fives

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Toddlers love to show off and make you laugh, and they love to receive praise from grown-ups.

When they do something well, give them a pat on the head or a high five. Simple gestures like this bring them to life.

Note: Be aware of cultural differences. Touching an Asian (or more specifically, Buddhist) person on the head is an insult.

If they give you rocks, leaves, or sticks as gifts, receive them with excitement!

Photographing toddlers 7

Allow time for true joy to emerge.

Now that you’ve established an encouraging friendship, you can ask them to sit or pose. Get your pictures quickly, give the child a high five, and move on.

I didn’t force the terrified little guy to sit and smile properly. There was nothing but friendship, encouragement, and high fives. He would gladly sit for a moment or two. I was quick with my camera and captured many candid photos too.

When you focus less on telling the toddler what to do, and more on drawing out genuine happiness and laughter, you’ll get the photos you want without the stress.

You won’t even need patience if you create a toddler-friendly experience.

5. Don’t force the moment

“The quickest way for a parent to get a child’s attention is to sit down and look comfortable.” – Lane Olinghouse

One of the toughest problems you’ll face is toddlers not wanting to be in group photos. The more you try to force the toddler to sit for a photo, the harder it often becomes.

Photographing toddlers 8

All sorts of fun can happen between the poses. Look around your environment to see what fun elements can be used in your photos.

Photographing toddlers 9

Just moments later came a perfect pose and a smile.

Allow for a contrast of sitting for a photo and then time to explore.

When toddlers refuse to join in the family photo, I don’t force them. Every parent knows that toddlers love to interrupt what adults are doing. As soon as I start photographing Mom and Dad together, the toddler wants to be picked up. It’s a perfect moment for group cuddles, bringing out beautiful smiles from everyone.

That terrified little boy did not want to be in photos, but he did want to be comforted by mom and dad.

As he sat with them, I did things that would make him smile and laugh. I made a teddy bear dance on my camera. He smiled at Teddy which was as good as smiling at the camera.

Photographing toddlers 12 rec

Photographing toddlers 13

Photographing toddlers 14 rec

Bring in the background as part of the photo. Let the little one wander off and then call their name when you’re ready with the camera.

Bonus: Dealing with the toddler’s parents

We spend the first 12 months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next 12 months teaching them to sit down and shut up.” – Phyllis Diller

Sometimes the hard part is dealing with a toddler’s parents. Some parents will be easy-going and let you run the photo session the way it seems best to you. Other parents will not. They have a deep need for things to be orderly and go as they planned.

During the session, keep reassuring parents that everything is going well, even if it doesn’t feel like it to them. Assure and show them that you know how to handle toddlers and that you will make beautiful photos.

Photographing toddlers 16 rec

This moment took a lot of work. It was a tiny moment of stillness in the midst of chaos.

Remind them how much their child has accomplished in these early years of life. Inspire parents to see the fun of the moment. Remember, you promised to have patience with the toddler, and his/her parents!

Let them be toddlers

“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photographing toddlers 17

Remember what it’s like to be a two-year-old. They don’t care about pictures like we do (but they will one day).

Promise to be patient and then create an environment for toddlers to thrive. Even when they start out cranky, angry, shy or scared, you’ll let them be themselves and experience friendship and encouragement. This is what leads to wonderful photos of toddlers.

I’d love to hear about your experiences photographing toddlers in the comments below. Please share your thoughts and images of toddlers.

The post Photographing Toddlers – 5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Weekly Photography Challenge – Architecture

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Earlier I shared a few videos with images and tips for doing architecture photography, here.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco.

If you need some additional help with this one, check out these dPS articles:

Look for details and interesting lines and shapes in the architecture.

Look for lighting that highlights the features or textures of the building.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Architecture

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.

Try a different camera angle by looking up!

Look for interesting lighting and textures.

Wait for all the elements to come together.

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