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

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

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

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

I totally agree!

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

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

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

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

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

Colour is a form of expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Using color as an element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Using color to evoke a feeling

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

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

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

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

Kandinsky felt that colors evoked these feelings and states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Capturing the inherent qualities of your subject using color

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please let me know by commenting below.


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


5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

First - 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

1. Don’t Get Caught Off Guard

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep - 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Better Christmas photos 01

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

Sick - 5 Ways to Take More Meaningful Photos This Christmas

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

2. Prepare for the Light

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

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

Better Christmas photos 02

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

Better Christmas photos 03

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

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

Better Christmas photos 04

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

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

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

Better Christmas photos 05

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

Better Christmas photos 06

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

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

Better Christmas photos 07

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

3. How to Make Your Photos Look More Exciting

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

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

Better Christmas photos 08

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

Better Christmas photos 09

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

Better Christmas photos 10

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

4. Tell a Story With Your Photos

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

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

The photos below illustrate a story being told over time.

Better Christmas photos 11

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

Better Christmas photos 12

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

Better Christmas photos 13

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

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

5. Practice Before Christmas Day

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

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

Better Christmas photos 14

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

Listen to Your Heart

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

Better Christmas photos 15

This is one of the most precious photos I have.

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

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

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

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


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

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 3 of our most popular eBook guides:

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

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

Bonus Parter Offers

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

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

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


How to Use Still-life Subjects to Understand Focal Lengths

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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

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

What is focal length?

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

What is normal?

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

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

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

Why is this important?

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


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

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

18mm lens.

35mm lens.

55mm lens.

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

Depth of field

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

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

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

180mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


160mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


100mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


70mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


55mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


35mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


18mm - Using still-life to understand focal length


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


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

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


7 Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

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

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


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

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

7 Ideas to get you out of a rut

1. Andy Warhol Pop Art

Rowanpopart - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

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

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

2. Rothko’s Color Fields

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

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

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

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

Beechpath - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

3. Escher’s Perspectives

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

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

Pooltrees - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

4. Monet and Impressionism

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

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

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

5. Rembrandt and Chiaroscuro

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

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

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

Daisy - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists

6. Mondrian Grid Patterns

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

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

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

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

7. Mandalas

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

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

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

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

Fruitmandala - Seven Style Tricks to Steal from Other Artists


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

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


Tips for Planning and Capturing a Creative Portrait

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

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

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

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

creative portrait of a woman

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

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

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


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

creative self portrait

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

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

Self portrait lighting diagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

creative portrait of a man

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

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

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

creative portrait of a man

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


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

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

  • Ambient light
  • Strobe light
  • Continuous light

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

creative portrait setup

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

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

creative portrait of a man

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

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

creative portrait of a woman

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

Shaping the light, light modifiers

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

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

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

creative portrait of a woman and man

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

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

Studio, location, and features

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

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

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

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

creative portrait of a man

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

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

Props, makeup, and hair

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

creative portrait of a woman

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

creative portrait of a man

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

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

Editing and retouching

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

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

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

Creative portrait photography before

Before processing.

Creative portrait photography after

After processing.


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

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

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


Tips for Photographing Reflections to Create Stunning Images

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

It can’t be denied. There’s something special about reflections that makes them a unique aspect of photography. Maybe it’s because a reflection just like a photograph is a gateway to another world, parallel but restricted. Also just like photography, reflections are a simplification of our world; they turn a 3D reality into a 2D representation.

In a way, photography can make ”reality” and reflections more equal, by cramming the former into 2D while retaining the natural, 2D state of the latter.

01 reflections photography tips

Before we get into the exciting art of photographing reflections, let’s think a bit more about why they’re so attractive, and how we can find new ways to photograph them. Since you’re definitely going to have your own ideas about this mystery, I’d love it if you shared them in the comments below at the end of the article.

02 reflections photography tips

Why photograph reflections?

Reflections have always had an immediate attraction to me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. They’re like visual illusions dropped into everyday life. They turn the world upside down, add a hint of confusion to a scene, and show us things we can’t immediately see the source of.

For you as a photographer, reflections offer a way to create a certain atmosphere. It can be mystery and confusion, but also vastness, such as sky reflected in a lake, or calmness, as a reflection requires a relatively still surface.

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections

Thanks to their mirroring effect and the interaction with the (unreflected) surroundings, reflections are useful tools if you’re trying to tell a story with your photograph — as you always should!

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections

Where to find reflections

What is your first thought when you think about reflections? Is it a mirror, perhaps, or a beautiful lake on a wind still evening?

One great aspect about photographing reflections is that they can be found in so many places and created by a variety of surfaces. Whether you’re into photographing landscapes, portraits, products, flowers, or street scenes, you can utilize reflections to add something special to your photos.

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections

The most obvious place to find photogenic reflections in nature is in connection with water. And wherever there is life, there is water, so the opportunities are basically endless. It can be anything from large bodies of water and wet sand on a beach to a raindrop on a frog’s head.

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections

For more urban photographers, water is of course still an option (puddles are sometimes great for other things than jumping into), but buildings provide another world of options. Start with shop windows and glass buildings, and go on from there. Reflections are fun and beautiful, and we don’t hesitate to incorporate them into our cityscapes.

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections

If you don’t feel like leaving the house or find yourself at a party, do not despair, you can still exercise your photography skills. Mirrors are the obvious surface to use to add another dimension or an interesting twist to your photograph. But windows and polished tables or counters are also great. And don’t forget the opportunities of a well-placed wine glass!

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections

How to capture reflections

Photographing reflections is pretty easy, but there are a few things to think about before and while you’re doing it. These are just a few tips:

  • Unless intended, make sure you don’t show up in the reflection. Change your angle and move around to find the best place from which to take your photograph so you don’t appear in the image.
  • Framing is essential! Use the elements of the space you’re in to create an interesting composition and experiment to discover what creates the greatest effect.
  • Lighting might be a bit tricky. For instance, in a picture of a natural scene reflected in a lake, the reflection is often quite a lot darker than the reflected scene. Use that to create an effect in your image or use filters to even out the lighting difference. It’s up to you!

Tips for How to Photograph Reflections


Those are some of the basics of one of my favorite types of photography. Do you like photographing reflections, and if so, why? What is it about them you find attractive?

If you have photographs to show or tips to share, I’d love to see them in the comments below!

The post Tips for Photographing Reflections to Create Stunning Images by Hannele Luhtasela-el Showk appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Weekly Photography Challenge – Wide-Angle

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Different lenses produce a different look and effect in your images. Wide-angle lenses add depth and dimension to your images and give them a sense of three-dimensionality. They can be used to add humor and add interest as well. But, you must use a wide-angle lens properly.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Wide-Angle

The key to using a wide-angle lens is to get close to your subject. Really close! Not so close that you can’t focus, but close enough to make the subject appear larger than real life.

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

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

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

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Wide-Angle by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Quick Video Tutorial – 8 DIY Photography Hacks for the Kitchen

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Here is another fun video from the team over at COOPH. This time they’re playing with ordinary household items found in your kitchen.

Here are 8 DIY photography hacks you can do at home

Watch as they play with some eggs, kitchen utensils, have fun with a cheese grater, make a DIY softbox for a flash, play with reflective surfaces, flour, and some fruit!

Get cracking (pun intended) and see what you can come up with trying these tips out.

The post Quick Video Tutorial – 8 DIY Photography Hacks for the Kitchen by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.


The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

If you do any photography for clients, either on a regular basis or whenever work comes your way, there can be a tendency to be somewhat creative when answering questions about your skills, abilities, and expectations. You might be asked to shoot a wedding when you don’t necessarily have the gear or experience to do what the client expects. Or someone might ask you to take product photos when your background is in portraits.

It’s not uncommon to be on location at a photo session and have things suddenly go awry or get strange requests from your clients. Even in the editing phase, you could very well find yourself dealing with a situation that you aren’t ready for. In times like these, it’s important to remember three simple words we have all heard since we were kids – tell the truth. You might not like the immediate results, but it will work out for the best for you and your clients in the long run.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

Set your client’s expectations

Not long ago I was asked to do a portrait session for a high school senior. I knew the family and we were all looking forward to the session. But about a week before we were scheduled to take photos, we hit a bit of a wrinkle. Her parents asked if their daughter could have her two dogs in the photos as well. I had a moment of panic because this was a situation for which I was quite unprepared.

After I thought about it for a little while, I realized I had two choices, neither of which was all that appealing. I could have said yes in which case I would be agreeing to something that I was not ready for. Or I could have said no in which case I would have run the risk of angering the client and maybe even losing their business to another photographer who would agree to take the photos they wanted.

The truth of the matter, though, was that I simply didn’t know the answer so I told the client just that. Rather than say yes or no, I laid my cards out on the table and hoped for the best. I explained that I would be willing to give it a try but I had no experience with this sort of situation, and there would be a chance the pictures wouldn’t turn out at all.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

This high school senior wanted some pictures with her dogs. I obliged but tried to be as honest as possible regarding my comfort level and experience with this type of photography.

Honesty is the best policy

Instead of being upset or angry, her parents were quite pleased with my response and told me they appreciated me being upfront about it. They felt more comfortable working with someone who was willing to tell the truth rather than spend money on a photographer who just told them what they wanted to hear and might not be able to deliver on the results.

On the day of the shoot, I continued the trend of being open and honest and suggested a couple options for photos, many of which the family quite liked. I even enlisted the help of the parents. Even though the photos aren’t going to win any awards or get printed in magazines, the family was more than pleased with the results. They liked the collaborative nature of the photo session as well. They felt like they could trust me and knew that I would do everything in my power to get some photos they would like, and in the end, that’s what really mattered.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

We enlisted her mom to help!

This type of honesty can go a long way towards making sure your clients know what to expect when they book your services. Getting everyone on the same page before, and during, the photo session can help make sure they know what they are getting and you know that you haven’t promised something you can’t deliver.

Work with a safety net

Being open and honest with your clients is a little tricky and can involve walking somewhat of a fine line because as a photographer you are getting paid to know what you’re doing and you have to project a certain degree of confidence. After all, people are paying you to know what you’re doing so you had better know how to do it!

That being said, if you are honest with your clients about what you can do, it can give you a great deal of wiggle room when out actually doing a photo session. It also helps build a relationship of trust with your clients.

I normally shoot photos on location at parks and open areas around town. When I was taking pictures for another high school senior the two of us met up at a local garden, talked about school and college, and then got to work on the photo session. I started by giving him some very specific directions to get some good shots in the bag – the slam dunks if you will. He politely obliged, and we took some pictures that turned out just fine when I reviewed the images on my camera.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

This young man was willing to try some new locations and poses for his senior photos. We got some good ones in familiar spots first, and then tried a couple of experiments just to see what would happen.

Get the safe shots then experiment

After that, I spoke to him quite plainly about some ideas I had and asked if he would be comfortable trying some pictures that might be different than what he expected. Instead of just barking orders I explicitly said: “I’ve got an idea and I’m not sure how it will turn out, but would you be up for trying something and see what happens?” This sort of talk put him at ease, and he told me he appreciated that I was straightforward and plainspoken with him, and he gladly agreed to experiment with some poses and locations that were new to both of us.

I don’t have quantitative data to support this, but I have a strong suspicion that if I had played the classic “fake it ’til you make it” approach I would have been nervous, fidgety, and a little on edge the whole time. Instead, my honesty about the photos we were taking helped make the session comfortable for both of us and we got some pictures that both he and his parents liked quite a lot.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

Neither of us had ever been to this spot before, but I asked if he was willing to try something new and he was all for it.

Be open to ideas – but be honest if you aren’t sure about it

Here’s one final example of how important honesty is when working with clients. Not long ago I was asked to shoot photos of a family in early November in time for them to get their Christmas cards printed. We discussed the details of the shoot beforehand and she gave me examples of the types of pictures she was hoping to get. I assured her that I could certainly get that same look and feel. (I really meant it too because I knew the location, I knew my own capabilities, and I was entirely confident I could get the shots she wanted.)

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

During the photo session, one of the family members asked about some different types of pictures. Rather than blindly agree with everything she asked for, I slowed down and discussed the details with her on the spot. I knew the capability of the lenses I had with me, I knew the setting and the lighting, and I asked her several questions in order to make sure I was giving her honest and straightforward answers.

Soon enough I found myself standing atop an eight-foot ladder shooting straight down at a collection of hands on a tree stump. While it was certainly something I had not imagined beforehand I was able to set expectations with the client, build a safety net in case things didn’t work out, and ultimately get a shot that everyone liked.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

Not the type of picture I’m used to taking, but I explained that and the family didn’t mind at all.

Be honest with yourself

I want to make it clear that as a photographer working with clients you should absolutely possess a high degree of knowledge regarding your craft. You should understand lighting and composition, and know how to work with your subjects (even if they’re inanimate objects) to get the pictures you want. You should know your camera like the back of your hand and have a firm grasp on the fundamentals of exposure like aperture, shutter, and ISO.

But you should also know your own limitations, and understand what you can do as well as what you haven’t yet learned. Essentially you need to make sure you don’t over-promise and under-deliver when crunch time hits.

This is a mistake that a lot of new photographers make, myself included. It’s thrilling to get a new camera and some lenses and think that you can suddenly start taking on paid jobs. I know, I’ve been there! But if you take time to learn your own limitations and be honest with yourself about what you really should and should not be doing, you will find yourself producing better results while also having a clear idea of how you can improve over time.

Here’s a photo that illustrates what I’m talking about

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

I took this picture without being honest with myself. When I look back on it now I notice so many problems that were plain as day if only I had been willing to see them. This mother and her girls look great, but as their photographer, I really should have known better before agreeing to do their photos.

I had gotten a DSLR and a 50mm lens about a year before this and I thought I knew everything there was to know about photography! But in reality, there was a vast chasm between what I thought I knew and what I actually knew.

  • I didn’t understand the relationship between aperture and depth of field, hence the reason the girl in the foreground is out of focus.
  • I didn’t fully understand the capabilities and limitations of my gear and shot at much higher ISO values than I should have in this scenario.
  • My knowledge of light, shadows, and composition was lacking.
  • I didn’t know how to edit my RAW files to get the final images to look how I really wanted.

The list could go on, but the lesson here is that if I had been willing to own up to my shortcomings I would have either waited to do the photo session until I actually did know what I was doing. Or I would have been more forthcoming with the clients about what I could do and what they could expect.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients

This shot turned out okay, but there was a lot I didn’t know about using external speedlights when I took it. I should have taken more time to learn what I was doing first.

Do the right thing

One final note, or perhaps a bit of advice, is to be forthcoming with your clients about the limits of what is culturally and legally permissible. If you’re in this business long enough you might be asked to shoot photos at a spot where photography is prohibited by custom or by law. (Note: if you are ever asked to take photos on train tracks, do not do it. Not only is it dangerous and life-threatening, but train tracks are private property and you will likely be trespassing if you shoot photos on them.)

Alternatively, someone might inquire about taking pictures at locations that are particularly dangerous to themselves or you as the photographer. Sometimes even the subjects you are shooting might want to engage in risky activities or behaviors that are either illegal or, as your gut instinct might tell you, just plain wrong.

Trust your instincts

It’s best to be upfront and honest if you find yourself in these situations. Tell your contacts or potential clients, “Thanks, but no thanks.” and explain that you just aren’t willing or able to meet their request. “But my friend did it, and it was no big deal!” they might reply. If they do…stand your ground, maintain your integrity, and advise them to look elsewhere for their photos. Don’t compromise your integrity and professionalism to get pictures you know you shouldn’t be taking.

The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients


One of the best feelings in the world is when I see someone pick up a camera, get inspired, and start using it to create images with meaning, impact, and a sense of artistry. Digital cameras make photography easier than ever before but if you are working with clients whether it’s shooting weddings, portraits, products, real estate, or any other type of transactional relationship you have to be honest with them and yourself to build a rapport and sense of trust that can lead to long-term partnerships.

The post The Importance of Being Honest With Yourself and Your Clients by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.