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How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

Highlight-Weighted Metering Mode

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Different metering modes for different situations

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

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

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

Enter Highlight-Weighted Metering for Select Nikon Cameras

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

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

Accessing Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

Exposing for the Highlights

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

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

Metering Mode Comparison

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

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

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

Some Caveats

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

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

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

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

Another example

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Matrix metering, unedited RAW file.

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

Highlight-weighted metering, unedited RAW file

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

How to Supercharge Your Photography with Highlight-Weighted Metering

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

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

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


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

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

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


Landscape Photography: It’s All About the Light

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

Landscape Photography: It's All About the Light

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

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

Reflected Light

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

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

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

Overcast Light

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

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

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


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

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

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

Direct Light

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

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

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

Morning and Evening Horizontal Light

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


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

Open Shade

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


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

Combination Light – Direct and Diffused

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


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

Manmade Light

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

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


Photography Exercise

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

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


How to do Abstract Nature Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

Abstract nature photography 01

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

What is abstract photography?

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

Abstract nature photography 02

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

Abstract nature photography 03

Capturing nature with photography

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

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

Abstract nature photography 04

Getting started

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

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

Abstract nature photography 05

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

1. Distance

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

Here is an example from the realm of macro photography:

Abstract nature photography 06

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

Abstract nature photography 07

2. Focus

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

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

Abstract nature photography 08

3. Time

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

Abstract nature photography 09

A bonus for advanced (and daring) photographers

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

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

Abstract nature photography 10


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

Abstract nature photography 11

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

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


Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

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

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

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

#1 – Be present in the moment

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

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

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

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

#2 – Be observant of your surroundings

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

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

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

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

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

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

#3 – Be real about your travel photography goals

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

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

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

#4 – Be aware of your gear choices

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

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

Tips for Taking Documentary Style Travel Photos

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

#5 – Be confident in your skills

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

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

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

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


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

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


Weekly Photography Challenge – Light Painting

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

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

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

Weekly Photography Challenge – Light Painting

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

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

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

If you need more help try these articles:

Share your images below:

Light painted train caboose.

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

The ultimate light painting is fire spinning.

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

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

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

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


Video Tips – Two Light Painting Techniques for you to Try

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

Make a Light Spiral

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

Light Paint an Old Barn

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

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

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


3 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

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

#1 – The Details

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Lens choice

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

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

#2 – The Local Landscape

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

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

#3 – The Grand Scene

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

Use the foreground

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

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

Bonus tip – Bring it all together

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

4 Tips to Help You Take Better Autumn Photos

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

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


How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

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

When it comes to people photography, one of the most common pieces of advice is to “fill the frame” with your subject. In general, this is a good rule of thumb that can dramatically improve your photography right away. However, sometimes rules are meant to be broken, and learning how to use negative space in people photography can also be valuable in delivering a varied and useful gallery of images.

People Photography Negative Space

What is Negative Space?

When you’re photographing people, the subject of your image is always the person (or people) in your frame. Similarly, the negative space of an image is anything other than the subject. It’s the foreground, the background, and the visual “breathing room” all around your subject.

Although it can be counterintuitive, allowing a bit of space around your subject helps draw the viewer’s eye directly to the person you’re photographing. This, in turn, emphasizes their importance in the final image.

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

How Do You Do Negative Space Well?

So, how do you make sure that your negative space looks intentional and not accidental when you’re photographing people? Here are a few tips that will help get you started combining negative space images and people photography.

Think in Thirds

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

When creating a negative space image in people photography, aim for your subject to take up one-third of the image, and the negative space to take up roughly two-thirds of the image. Following guideline ensures that your subject is large enough to be seen while also creating a ratio that’s visually pleasing to the eye. You’ll also notice that using this ratio as a general framework for your images allows you to implement the rule of thirds in your negative space images, which further helps to ensure that your images are composed well and are aesthetically pleasing.

Face the Space

Rule of Thirds Photography - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

If you elect to follow the rule of thirds and compose your subject off center, spend some time experimenting with the direction your subject is facing. Is the image stronger when your subject is facing the negative space or facing away from the negative space? As a general rule, try to pose your subject so they’re looking towards the negative space. This is particularly important if the person you’re photographing is walking, running, or playing sports.

By doing so, our brains are able to imagine the subject traveling through the negative space, which creates a more compelling and believable image. In addition, directing the person you’re photographing to look towards the negative space creates an image that looks more candid, which is a great way of adding diversity to some of your posed session images.

Bring it to the Center

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Keep in mind that not all negative space images have to be offset! Try bringing your subject to the center of the frame while simultaneously allowing plenty of “headspace” around them in your image. This technique is similar to the idea of white space in graphic design, rests in musical composition, and high-end clothing stores that leave plenty of space between the clothing on the racks.

By limiting the proportion of the image that causes our mind to “think”, we’re emphasizing the importance of the objects that do exist in the frame, thus increasing their perceived value in our brain.

It’s Not All About Neutrals

White Space in Photography - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Negative space images don’t have to be all about neutral backgrounds and bokeh that obscures the background beyond recognition. Whether you’re at a favorite lake or their family’s historic farmhouse, negative space images can be a great way to subtly reference location without making it the star of the show!

Look for backdrops that are relatively uniform in color and/or pattern, which will invoke the same visual feeling of breathing room and rest around your subject, while simultaneously visually cueing your location.

Why Does Negative Space Matter?

Now that you know how to create images of people that utilize negative space, it’s also helpful to understand why negative space images are important and why you should consider incorporating at least a few into every photo session.

Emphasizing Scale

Newborn Photography Scale - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Using negative space when you’re photographing people can help to emphasize the size of the person you’re photographing. For example, if you’re photographing a newborn and fill the frame in every image you take, you may have missed the ability to convey just how small newborn babies are relative to their surroundings.

By including varying degrees of negative space in your images, you will be better equipped to emphasize the scale of a newborn. Similarly, you could also consider using negative space images to convey how small a bride and groom are compared to the vast beach they were married on.

Give Your Clients Options

Headspace in Portraits - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

If any part of your business plan includes offering digital images to your clients, keep in mind that many of your clients will want to post the images you’ve taken on social media. Many of the popular social media platforms are not very conducive to typical “fill the frame” portraits, forcing your client to either cut off the top of their head or cut off their shoulders (leaving them looking rather like a floating head as above).

Similarly, if a client requests a certain image printed on a canvas, images with negative space allow you to accommodate that request without worrying about part of the image getting cut off by the gallery wrap. By including negative space in a few images, you’ll be giving your clients more options and less frustration!

Give Yourself Options

Original shot with negative space on the left.

Not only do images with negative space give your clients flexibility, they give you additional flexibility as the photographer as well!

Want to submit your image for the cover of a local magazine? Many editors want images with plenty of negative space to accommodate headline text. Want to start offering a Christmas Card design to your clients? Negative space images help make that easier. Want to advertise mini sessions on Facebook? Try placing the text in the negative space of one of your favorite images.

Using Negative Space in Photos - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

The negative space in this image allows room to add a text overlay.

Making an effort to utilize negative space every time you photograph people will give you more ways to use your images.

Wrapping it Up

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

In a nutshell, using negative space when you’re photographing people can help bring attention to your subject. It can also showcase locations in an unobtrusive way. Negative space also helps emphasize movement and scale, add variety to your images, and offers more flexibility to both you and your client. It’s a great technique you can implement right away and it costs nothing!

The post How to Use Negative Space in People Photography by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

A major goal when starting out in photography is to get off Auto mode and onto the semi-automatic Aperture and Shutter Priority modes. Is it daunting at first? It can be, but I promise that wrestling creative control away from your camera and into your hands is one of the first and greatest joys of digital photography.

I teach people that a deeper reason exists for the name priority mode. The obvious one is you’re prioritizing control of shutter speed or aperture and surrendering control of the other. But also, you can teach yourself to base this decision on your shot priority.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

Flag dancers in Liberty Square – Taipei, Taiwan. Shot priority: Freeze motion. Shutter speed: 1/500th.

This article identifies four major shot priorities: to freeze motion, to imply motion, to create a shallow depth of field, and to create a deep depth of field. The goal is to get you to ask which of these is your priority for your next shot and then to select the appropriate mode and settings to achieve that.

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority mode is marked with an “S” on Nikon and Sony cameras and “Tv” on Canon mode dials. Like your eyelid, the shutter opens and closes to expose the camera sensor to light. Through selecting this mode, you can choose how long it opens.

With Shutter Priority mode, you’re prioritizing shutter speed as the crucial element for the image you want to take. Your camera will then select a corresponding aperture to create a correct exposure. It is the mode to use when your priority is either freezing motion or implying motion.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

Traditional dance performance at Haemi Fortress, South Korea. Priority: Freeze motion. Shutter speed: 1/1000.

Priority #1 – To freeze motion

Much of the time when shooting, you require sharp images in crisp focus. Shutter speed is the most critical factor affecting image sharpness; however, requiring image sharpness isn’t a fully-fledged shot priority. Here, we’re talking about freezing fast motion.

Select this mode to freeze action in sports fast-moving water in landscapes, and other fast motion. For example, a runner could be frozen with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, whereas motorsports might require 1/2000th or faster.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

For this image of flag dancers in Taipei’s Liberty Square, I selected a shutter speed of 1/800th to freeze the motion. As well as freezing the dancer, the fast shutter speed also froze the flag and ensured the writing was crisp and legible.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

At the ghats by the River Ganges in Varanasi, India’s holiest city, I saw a procession of ladies heading downstairs and a cow heading up towards them. The animal looked ready to charge at them! I had just been shooting a game of cricket so my camera was already set to 1/1000th in Shutter Priority mode. I began shooting as the cow charged at the last two women before veering away. The cow and the women’s facial expressions were frozen, preserving a fleeting moment.

Priority #2 – To imply motion

Using Shutter Priority mode, implying motion is a beautiful effect that you can easily apply to your images. Everything from slight motion blurs to light trails to dreamy water effects are possible with a variety of moving subjects.

Imagine that you’re shooting handheld street photography and you chance upon a pair of dancing street performers. You decide you want people viewing your images later to be able to get a sense of the action, so choose to imply motion as your shot priority. Because a shutter speed of 1/500th would freeze the performers, you could try 1/250th and work down from there until the desired motion blur is achieved.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

While working as a tour photographer in South Korea, I was tasked with capturing tourists prepare green tea leaves. To imply motion, I took a sample shot at 1/50th and then worked down until I achieved this blur. This image was 0.4 seconds – admittedly pushing the acceptable limits of handheld photography – but thanks to my lens’s image stabilization and steady hands, I ended up with this interesting shot.

Now imagine you’re on the rooftop of a tall building at nighttime and you have a tripod. Because of the added stability a tripod allows, you can open up your shutter for significantly longer. Through selecting the right settings, you can achieve crisp backgrounds, blurred subjects, and light trails that build on top of each other.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

A nighttime cityscape of Seoul’s Han River and Namsan Tower featuring blurred white and red light trails. I used a shutter speed of 15 seconds to allow the light from numerous cars to reach my sensor, accumulating into long streaks of light in the final image. No golden rule exists for the number of seconds, so just enjoy experimenting.

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority mode is marked with an “A” on Nikon and Sony cameras and “Av” on Canon dials. Like an iris in a human eye, aperture represents the hole that opens to expose the camera sensor to light. Through selecting this mode, you can choose how wide or narrow to open the aperture. The lower the f-number, the wider the hole. Controlling aperture is mainly used to affect what is known as depth of field.

You’ve seen portraits where the subject is in crisp focus but the background is beautifully blurry; this is called a shallow depth of field. Also, you’ve seen fantastic landscapes that are in sharp focus throughout the image from front to back; this is a deep depth of field.

Through selecting Aperture Priority mode, you’re marking aperture as the crucial element for the image you want to take. Your camera will then select a corresponding shutter speed to create a correct exposure. It is the mode to use when your priorities are creating either a deep or shallow depth of field.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

Stall owner at the Mother’s Market in Imphal – Manipur, India. Priority: Shallow depth of field. Aperture selected: f/2.0.

Priority #3 – To create a shallow depth of field

As a travel photographer specializing in portraits, creating a shallow depth of field is often my priority. This allows me to have my photo subject (i.e., a person’s face, and more specifically their eyes) in crisp focus, while the background melts away in a dreamlike blur. To achieve this effect, you want to select a low aperture value.

If you’re shooting with a kit lens, the lowest value available to you might be f/3.5. However, with a fixed focal length lens (prime), this will be lower, making this type of lens perfect for portrait photography. Let’s take a look at the two example images below.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

A Hindu lady showing her devotion during the Ganga Aarti ceremony – Varansi, India. When I’m out meeting people and taking portraits, I make sure my Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens is on my camera body. The aperture selected for this shot was f/1.4, ensuring a beautifully blurry background.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

A resident of Houtong Cat Village – Northern Taiwan. Aperture selected: f/2.8. This is a great example of shallow depth of field. The front of the cat’s paws are blurred and so is the back of its body. There is just a thin focal plane in sharp focus. The lower the aperture value selected, the thinner this slice of the focal plane becomes. For this shot, I spot focused on the cat’s left eye, ensuring that this was the sharpest spot of the image.

Priority #4 – To create a deep depth of field

By contrast, a deep depth of field enables front to back sharpness throughout an image, making it the shot priority to select for landscape photos. If the lowest aperture values provide the thinnest focal planes and the blurriest backgrounds, then surely the highest aperture values provide the best landscape settings, right? Wrong. Your lens may be capable of f/22 but please don’t select it.

The highest aperture values can create image distortion. I recommend not going above f/16 for landscape photography with a tripod, and not going above f/11 handheld. A solid choice for handheld landscapes is actually f/8 because it provides a mid to deep depth of field while enabling a lower ISO and faster shutter speed for a sharper image.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

Beautiful Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima, one of “The Three Views of Japan” – Hiroshima Prefecture. A higher aperture value creates a narrower hole through which light reaches your sensor. A deep depth of field is one of the main effects, which in landscape photos creates front to back sharpness. For this image, I selected an aperture of f/7.1 and spot focused on the pool of water in the foreground.

Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority

On the road to “Zero Point”, the end of the road heading north in the Sikkimese Himalayas, and looking back toward Yumthang Valley – Sikkim, India. This is a simple handheld landscape shot, for which I selected f/8 because my shot priority was a deep depth of field.


Remember these four major shot priorities and put them into practice using the Aperture and Shutter priority modes. Don’t forget to share your work and comments below.

The post Getting Your Priorities Straight – A Guide to Selecting Your Shot Priority by Ben McKechnie appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Aurora HDR 2018 is tremendously easy, fun software by Macphun, designed for processing HDR (High Dynamic Range) images. If you’ve been following popular contemporary photography for a while, you’ll know that dramatic HDR is no longer in style. It fell out of photography fashion as quickly as wine-lovers stopped drinking merlot. Knowing how create natural-looking HDR images is a very practical tool to have in your wheelhouse though, so let’s take a look at how to do that with Aurora.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018 - ice cave

Realistic & Detailed Aurora HDR 2018 preset.

When do you need HDR?

If you’re shooting a location where there are very bright tones, along with very dark shadows, your camera probably won’t be capable of capturing exactly what your eye sees. If you bracket your images as you shoot, you can capture the entire dynamic range of the scene – every tone from very bright to very dark.

What is bracketing?

Bracketing means you shoot multiple images of the same thing, changing the exposure of each individual image. Most photographers choose to shoot between three and five images, though as few as two will work. Sometimes a situation requires seven or more. By bracketing your exposures this way, you generate the raw materials you need to use in Aurora HDR to create a final image that records all of the bright and dark tones your eyes saw.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

My three bracketed images inside Lightroom.

Setting your camera up to bracket

First, attach your camera to your tripod, compose your scene and fine-tune your focus. Now, configure your bracketing. You can set the auto-bracketing feature (AEB) on your camera to shoot multiple images, approximately one to two stops of light apart, depending on the situation. The first image will be very light, or overexposed. The second image will be correctly exposed – or what your camera interprets as correct. The third image will be very dark or underexposed. Many photographers find three images to be effective, especially when they’re striving for a natural-looking HDR look but you can shoot as many as you think you’ll need.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018 - back of camera AEB on

Bracketing settings on a Canon camera.

NOTE: If you don’t have a camera with an auto-bracketing feature, don’t worry, you can bracket manually too. Create multiple exposures for each scene using your exposure compensation dial to increase and then decrease your exposure (make sure to use Aperture Priority and only change the shutter speed as altering the aperture will result in images that do not blend properly). It takes a little more time and patience while you are shooting but it’s worth trying if your camera doesn’t have an auto-bracketing feature.

How do you process the brackets?

After your shoot, upload your images to your computer just like you normally would. Aurora HDR runs as stand-alone software but if you’re a Lightroom user, it can be installed as a plug-in too.

Starting in Aurora HDR 2018

Double click the Aurora icon to open the software. Click the Open Image button.

`Aurora HDR opening screen.Choose the folder where your images live and select them. Click Open.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018 - select files

The Aurora dialog box appears with your selected images. Click the Create HDR button.

Note: Tick off the “Alignment” checkbox if you think there was any movement of the camera between shots. The program will scan the images and attempt to align them. You can also click the little gear icon for additional settings like removing ghosting (subjects that moved from image to image).

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Starting in Lightroom

Go to the folder containing the images you want to process in HDR. Click to select them. Right-click to bring up the menu. Select Export > Aurora HDR 2018 > Open Original Images. The Aurora dialog box appears with your selected images. Click the Create HDR button.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Note: If you made adjustments to your images in Lightroom, such as lens corrections, cropping, straightening, spot removal or noise reduction, instead of selecting Open Original Images, choose Use .TIFF with Lightroom Adjusters.

Aurora HDR’s Realistic Presets

Part of why I opened this article with the statement that Aurora HDR 2018 is both easy and fun is because of its presets. Along the lower part of the screen, just above the filmstrip, you’ll see a menu called Categories. Click on it to bring up the preset menu, then click on Realistic HDR.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

My four favorite natural-looking Aurora presets live in this folder:

  • Realistic & Detailed
  • Realistic & Balanced
  • Realistic Bright
  • Realistic Neutral

These presets make my images look and feel the way the ice cave looked and felt when I was there. To me, recreating an image faithful to that memory is what natural-looking realistic HDR is all about.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Choose your favorite

The best way to choose your favorite Realistic HDR preset is to scroll all the way to the left on the filmstrip and then work your way right, clicking each one. As you select each preset, the larger image above the filmstrip will show you a more detailed preview of how each preset affects the look of your image. Once you find your favorite, it might look so perfect that all you might need to do is save it. Or, you might want to personalize the preset before you save. Here are a few tips on how to do that.

Modifying the Opacity

Let’s say that you love the Realistic & Detailed preset but it’s just a touch too much. The first – and easiest – way to modify its effect is to reduce the overall opacity of the preset. To do that, click on that preset in the filmstrip. Slowly shift the slider to the left, reducing the opacity, and lowering the effect (I often find that between 75-80 is the perfect amount). Save the image at this point if you are happy with it.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Another method of reducing opacity is layer-based. Look to the upper right corner of the Aurora HDR develop panel, just below the histogram. See where it says Layers? The Opacity adjustment slider for that layer is just below that. You can increase it or decrease it (each layer) there as well.

Fine-tuning the preset

If you’d like to use your chosen preset as a starting point, you can easily modify it. On the right-hand panel of the screen, in the editing panel, just below the Layers section, you’ll see a section called Filters. The first one is called HDR Basic which adds clarity, contrast, vibrance, and a bit of saturation. I’m calling this adjustment out specifically because it does so much to your image.

Just for kicks, push the HDR Enhance slider all the way to the right, so that it’s at 100. Your image is now the opposite of what most people consider natural-looking HDR. Next, adjust the slider to zero to get a feel for what this slider does to your image.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Realistic & Detailed Aurora preset, with HDR Enhance set to 100. Compare this to the lead image of the same ice cave, with the HDR Enhance set at 50. This image is quite a bit more contrasty, with sharper edges throughout.

Most of the Realistic presets are set below 50 for HDR Enhance. If you want to stay in a natural-looking range but your image needs a touch more pizazz, slowly move the HDR Enhance slider to the right until you reach the level that feels right to you.

Additional fine-tuning options

As you work your way through Aurora’s Filters, you’ll see additional options like Color, HDR Structure and Glow. The preset you’ve chosen dictates the setting of each Filter. But again, you can shift each slider individually to give your image more, or less, pop.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

This HDR image was made from three exposures using the Realistic & Bright preset, set at an opacity of 80, with no other changes made.

To learn the effects of each tool, I suggest moving the sliders all the way to the right, so that the effect is at 100 and then doing the opposite, so the effect is at zero. Nine times out of ten I think the Aurora HDR design gurus have chosen the right level, and I leave the preset at its original amount. If you do choose to make a change just remember that if your goal is natural-looking HDR, a little Structure or Saturation can make a big shift in the appearance of your image.


Glow is an interesting option, giving images an almost Orton-like effect. While it’s a popular style option for many photographers right now, it’s not what I usually call natural-looking. In all four of my favorites, Realistic HDR presets, the Glow setting is set to 0. For ice cave images, 0 is the perfect amount but for some subjects, like this barn, a touch of Glow softened the natural look of this HDR image and made it feel more inviting.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

This HDR image was made from three exposures using the Realistic & Bright preset, set at an opacity of 100, with Glow set at 15. Both are very small changes but compare this image to the one above. This one has a little more of a bright, dreamy feel while still looking natural.

While I probably sound like a broken record at this point, remember to move the slider just a touch to the right if you want your HDR image to have that natural, I-just-stumbled-on-this-gorgeous-vista-and-took-this-amazing-picture sort of look to it.

Top and Bottom Adjustment

The Top and Bottom Adjustment Filter is a “selective adjustment” meaning that, unlike global adjustments, it only affects parts of your image. If you have an image where the sky reads overexposed and is much brighter than the foreground, or conversely, where the foreground is dark and underexposed, adjust the image using this tool.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018 - top and bottom adjustments

This HDR image was made with the same three exposures using the Realistic & Balanced preset, at 80% opacity, plus a Top Adjustment of -5 Exposure, +5 Contrast and +15 Vibrance. I added a Bottom Adjustment of +10 Exposure and +5 Warmth. Of the three final HDR images, this one feels the most natural and faithful to the barn itself.

For this final version of the barn, after applying the Realistic & Balanced preset, at 80% opacity, I ultimately decided that the sky was a bit too light and the barn was a little too dark. I added a Top Adjustment of -5 Exposure, +5 Contrast, and +15 Vibrance. I also added a Bottom Adjustment of +10 Exposure and +5 Warmth. These adjustments help to enhance the sky and even out the overall exposure of the image.

Of the three, this version is my favorite. Which is yours?

Saving your image

Once you’ve completed all of your adjustments, it’s time to save your image. If you started in Aurora and want to create a JPEG or TIFF, select File > Export and then select the correct folder and rename the file as appropriate for your workflow.

If you want to create a native Aurora .mpaur2 HDR file, select File > Save and then select the correct folder and rename the file. This format saves the history (and any layers) as well and allows you to continue to go back in and make changes to your image.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Saving your image to your Lightroom Catalog

If you started in Lightroom, it’s a snap to save your image. After you finish processing your image in Aurora HDR, click the Apply button in the upper right corner of the interface. This saves and also catalogs your image in Lightroom. The new file name will end in AuroraHDR2018-edit.tiff.

How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018

Your Turn

Hopefully, you’ve been following along and processed a few images in Aurora as you were reading this article. Now take a minute to upload your best natural-looking HDR version. Share with the dPS community about how you created it using Aurora as well as any other tips or tricks you’ve discovered.

Disclaimer: Macphun is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Make Natural-Looking HDR Images with Aurora HDR 2018 by Lara Joy Brynildssen appeared first on Digital Photography School.