Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro

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

Need some tips? Read these dPS articles:

Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro

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

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

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

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

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

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

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

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

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

1. The Basics

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

color wheel - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

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

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

Color Harmony

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

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

Monochromatic versus Analogous

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

anise seeds - Tips for Using Color in Your Photography

Example of using color in a monochromatic way.

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

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - mountain scenic photo

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

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

Complementary Colors

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

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

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

2. The Key or Dominant Color

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

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

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

Red is the dominant color in this image, clearly.

3. Advancing or Receding Colors

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

Tips for Using Color in Your Photography - sunset photo

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

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

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

4. Feelings and Color

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

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

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

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


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

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

1 – Cameras

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

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

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

clematis flower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

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

2 – Lenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

This image was taken using a dedicated macro lens.

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

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

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

pink coneflower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I used freelensing to photograph this coneflower.

3 – Artificial Lighting

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

4 – Tripods

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

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

white flowers - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I photographed these aster flowers without a tripod.

Camera Settings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Fill the frame with your subject

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

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

The more colorful, the better

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

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

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

Keep things clean

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

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

Think simplify.

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

The eye immediately focuses on this rose stamen.


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

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

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

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

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

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

portrait of a Kayan girl - improve your photography

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

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

Photography is More Popular Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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

Make Time to Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Prepared

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

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

Thai woman in traditional costume - improve your photography

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

Review and Critique

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

lady and giant soap bubbles - improve your photography

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

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

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

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

Art and Science

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

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

Pink dahlia photo - improve your photography

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

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

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

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects

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

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

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

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

Limiting the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you need to do

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

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

Neutral Density Filters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the Shot

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

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

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

Use Live View

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

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

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

How to Create Silky Smooth Water Effects - lake shot

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

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

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

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


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

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

Rekindling the Romance of Black and White Photography

There is a renewed interest in the romance of black and white photography for several good reasons. First, hyped color is becoming boringly predictable. Second, automated software presets and templates deliver a predictable variety of pre-digested looks that can be applied to any image and deliver similar results.

Just as Hollywood movies have fallen into the same predictable themes and plots, color digital photography has lost some of its originality to over-processing. As you noticed, the common theme here is predictability. Serious photographers want to do unique and serious work and that all points to a resurgence of black and white images.

In the Beginning

Heidelberg Pipes - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

There was a certain warmth and personality to black and white prints in the days of film and darkrooms. Photographers got involved with this medium for more than a technical exercise, it became a conduit for personal expression and emotional input. It was a way for the photographer to be involved in every aspect of the process.

Black and white prints were produced in a more personal way than color prints. While color prints were cranked-out mechanically by drugstore photo labs, black and white prints were produced one at a time by photo-artisans, many times in makeshift darkrooms.

These darkrooms didn’t have to be state-of-the-art facilities; any room large enough to house a small enlarger, four 8×10 trays, and a clothesline would do. Many times bathrooms were taken over for the evening simply because they had running water, a countertop, and electricity; the three necessities of a well-equipped darkroom.

Taping off the small window with a bath towel and duct tape was simple, and a hand towel stuffed under the door sealed the deal. A nightlight wrapped in Rubylith made a perfect safelight.

Tybee Window - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

You can make a stronger statement with black and white than you can with color. Nothing “pops” like good black and white.

Black and white was a labor of love

The lure of black and white was personal expression more than technical achievement. The drugstore produced stacks of little glossy snapshots in an envelope, but YOU were creating one-of-a-kind masterpieces worthy of wall placement. The wannabe artists weren’t really in a bathroom, they were in a custom photo lab.

Creativity was the mystical elixir that compelled us all to work in hot, cramped little rooms without proper ventilation, dipping and dripping various chemicals on clothing, tables, and floors. The acidic smell of stop bath and fixer lingered in the air and on hands and clothing for hours.

Hawaii Lava Rocks CR750 - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

The RGB image above provided over 4 billion colors that could be pushed and shaped. This monochrome shot provided only 256 tones to do the same job. With film, this would be nearly impossible but with digital…

Sometimes entire 25-sheet packs of photo paper were needed to produce a single perfect print. But all the expense and inconvenience was willingly paid for the sake of the prize and the pride of the print. In the end, the masterpiece was paraded around for all to appreciate.

Hawaii Lava Rocks CR750 Toned - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

This original RGB capture of the lava pools in Hawaii presented a challenge. How to capture and delineate detail in the extreme shadows and highlights. Tough enough for color but almost impossible for monochrome.

Those were indeed magical escapades, but ones that can still be replicated (to some extent) today in the digital world. The stifling air, low light, and acrid aroma may be a thing of the past, but the personal expression and purity of purpose are all waiting to be relived.

The Romance

Black and white photography quietly transports your mind into a playground of creative thought; a semi-guided tour into your imagination. Black and white photography doesn’t enclose your mind inside the bookends of a specific color scheme. It sets your imagination free to discover a place filled with emotion and open to interpretation. Black and white photos deliver moods, not just pictures.

Color can totally capture your mind, but not always in a good way. Here’s what I mean. Once you see a color picture, mental blinders close the deal. You can no longer imagine the scene your way. Before you know it, you find yourself subconsciously critiquing the color rather than interpreting the subject. Color captivates your mind but black and white enables you to dream.

The Reality

Both film and digital cameras capture color information and transpose that color into black and white images. But there’s a significant difference in the way it’s done. Black and white film in the hands of an old-school darkroom artist can produce a print that captures the imagination, though a straight RGB-to-B/W conversion from even a good color photo can deliver ho-hum results. Here’s why.

Black and white film is composed of silver-halide particles that are uniquely sensitive to specific colors but this spectral fingerprint doesn’t automatically carry over to digital image sensors. A scene’s colors captured with panchromatic film will produce different values than the same scene captured by digital sensors.

This means that YOU must get involved shaping the luminance (brightness/contrast) values, and adjusting the chrominance (spectral / color) values of the RGB image. Color frequencies influence the tonal values when converted from color to black and white. Fortunately, both the chrominance and the luminance are controlled in virtually all RAW Interpreter software.

Digital cameras follow a purely statistical recording process and thus, don’t emphasize the strength of one color over another. Different film manufacturers (Agfa, Kodak, Ilford, and others) parsed these color values slightly differently. The photosites in your digital camera’s image sensor simply count photons (the atomic level of light measurement) and use electrical current to set the gray levels.

These values vary based on the camera’s current ISO, white balance, and color mode settings. Just as both black and white and color images captured with film cameras were influenced by various colored filters, these color settings affect both color and tonality values in digital captures.

BountyRGB - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

This is the original RGB image shot in San Juan Puerto Rico.

The Problem

When a digital image is captured in monochrome (Black and White) mode in JPEG format, the camera discards all RGB information and retains only a very sparse number of gray tones. While this sounds like a logical way to arrive at black and white values, it’s not!

Monochrome negates the nuances of spectrally-weighted color transformation. Quite simply, the process removes the emotion and personality of the image. Each camera’s engineering team determines the way each color is parsed as a gray value, and we know how emotional engineers are. There’s a reason we tend to avoid guys with pocket protectors at parties.

Bounty BW in-Camera Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

This is a simple conversion from RGB to B/W with no adjustments, as your camera would do.

When you capture images in black and white (Monochrome) mode, you are literally at the mercy of the engineers who wrote your camera’s algorithms. But while some very interesting color/monochrome translations are provided by camera manufacturers, you are still locked into someone else’s interpretation. So what to do?

Bounty CR BW750 - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

This is the conversion from RGB to Grayscale using Camera Raw’s HSL Grayscale tools. The intensity and saturation of eight different colors determine the internal contrast of the gray tones.

The Solution

There are several ways to address this problem.

  1. Record all images in both B/W JPEG and RAW formats.
  2. Investigate the interesting results that can be achieved when monochrome images are captured in one of your camera’s “scene” presets. Experiment with your camera’s settings to get a fair sampling.
  3. When digital images are captured in RAW format, all spectral (color) information can be accessed (see below) and used to influence the tonal values.
BountyColorize - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

To add a little sparkle to your monochrome, try the Colorize option in Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation dialog box.

The Two-Stage RAW Approach

When these controls (provided by Camera Raw and a number of other RAW Interpreter software apps) are involved in shaping the spectral information into B/W, some absolutely magical results take place.

Remember, both the luminance and the chrominance need to be optimized for the best results in RGB-to-Monochrome conversions. I suggest that the chrominance be addressed first and the luminance second. This combination of controls provides all the tools you’ll need to take total control of your black and white images.

BowersBWMix - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

The chrominance settings reside in the Black & White Mix panel.

Bowers Basic BW Panel - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

The luminance is adjusted in the Basic – Black & White panel.

In Camera Raw, toggle back and forth between the original RGB image and the current settings using the P-key, noting the colors in the original and the influence that each color slider has on the final product.

Bowers SBS - Rekindling the Romance of Black and White

When either of these processes is put to work, you become creatively involved in converting colors into gray tones and the magic of silver halide interpretation gets replicated in the digital process. And here’s the kicker… using digital controls, you can surpass the mile markers established by the black and white masters of the past.

This is scary good stuff, and Ansel would have loved it.

The post Rekindling the Romance of Black and White Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

This Photography Training is Guaranteed to Improve Your Photography [48 Hours Only]

Are you looking to give your photography a boost?

If so – for the next 48 hours we’ve got a bundle of training resources that you’ll want to snap up.

It’s the Ultimate Photography Bundle and it’s back for 2 days only.

The Short Story:

Here’s what you need to know about this bundle of photography training:

  • It contains 26 eBooks, 21 courses, 1 membership and 10 amazing tools
  • It is valued at just over $5000 USD
  • It is currently 98% off and yours for $97 USD
  • This offer disappears forever in less than 48 hours
  • There’s no risk – buy it today and if you’re not 100% satisfied Ultimate Bundles will refund the purchase

There’s so much covered in this bundle. There’s training on travel photography, landscape photography, black and white, portraits, post production, making money from photography and so much more.

Check out what’s included here but don’t delay because it’ll be gone in a snap.

Here’s how long is left:

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The Longer Story:

Earlier this year our friends at Ultimate Bundles released this Ultimate Photography Bundle and when we saw it we were quite amazed by what they’d included.

For example one of our writers – Gina Milicia – has her best selling ‘How to Direct and Pose Like a Pro‘ Course in the bundle. This is definitely one of the highlights of this bundle and one we’re very excited about because Gina is an accomplished photographer and brilliant teacher.

Gina’s course is normally priced at $297 – 3 times what you’ll pay for the full bundle which also gets you over 50 other resources including:

  • Light & Airy Lightroom Presets by Cole’s Classroom ($67)
  • The Essentials of Street Photography and Street Photography Conversations eBooks by James Maher ($19.95)
  • Colour Portrait Tools by Gavin Gough ($59)
  • Photoshop for Portrait Photographers by David Molnar ($197)
  • Easy Way Photography Photoshop Essentials Workflow by Adam Williams ($200)
  • Food Photography Behind the Scenes: Bright Food, Dark Shadows by Nicole Branan ($20)
  • Lighting 101: Foundation & Light Shaping by Pye Jirsa ($99)
  • Intentional Documentary: The Session Workflow for Documentary Family Photographers by Marie Masse ($149)
  • The Winning Creative’s Way by Christina Scalera ($997)
  • Our own dPS Essential Guide to Black and White Photography eBook ($19)

Everything I’ve mentioned already normally cost $2104 and we’re just scratching the surface of what’s included – see the full list of what you get here.

Don’t Miss It This Time

Many dPS readers picked up this bundle when it was first offered in February but we heard from quite a few of you that you missed out.

Thankfully Ultimate Bundles have brought it back one last time for a quick 48 hour flash sale.

This is the last time it’ll be offered so don’t miss out.

30 Day Happiness Guarantee

As I mention above – this bundle is covered by a 30 day happiness guarantee – so you can snap it up today before it’s gone and rest easy that if you don’t find it quite fits your need that the team at Ultimate Bundles is happy to refund your purchase price any time within 30 days of purchase.

dPS is proud to be involved in this Ultimate Photography Bundle as an affiliate and partner because we know it will help you to improve your photography.

Secure this bundle of great training here now before time runs out.

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21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas

Panoramas are a great way to approach photographing landscapes. By allowing you to capture a larger amount of the scene in front of you, it is easier to portray what you actually saw with your eyes in your photographs. Software has made it stupidly easy to stitch your photos into panoramas; however, there are still some considerations you can take to get the most out of your landscapes and make better panoramas.

panorama of mountains and a lake - 21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas

This article presumes you already know how the basics of capturing a sequence of images and to how to stitch them together as panoramas in Lightroom or another dedicated software package.

Part 1 – Gear

Such a specialized technique may seem like it requires a lot of specialist gear to get right, but that’s not the case. Of the three items listed below, only two are absolutely necessary and as someone interested in landscapes, you probably already have the most important one.

1) Tripod

21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas - camera on a tripod

A tripod is an absolute necessity if you want to create better panoramas.

This first one is probably obvious, but it’s the most important when it comes to creating better panoramas. All of the images in your sequence need to line up perfectly and the only way to ensure that is with a good, sturdy tripod. The tiniest of movements between your photographs can cause Lightroom to fail when stitching your photos together.

failed panorama - 21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas

You never know when an image might not get through the stitching software. Do your best to get it absolutely right in camera to avoid situations like this one (notice the disconnected railing).

Disheartened may be the feeling you get when you see the words “Unable to merge the photos. Please cancel and review the selection.” So, please, for your own sanity, use a tripod when shooting panoramas.

2) Panoramic tripod head

21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas - tripod head detail

If you have a tripod head that can turn in measured increments like this one, attach your lens to the tripod if you can (using a tripod collar), rather than your camera body.

This is an optional piece of kit, but I promise you, if you plan on doing panoramas often, make sure you have a panoramic head on your tripod. These heads rotate on the center axis of your camera and help minimize distortion in your final image.

Panoramic heads are also marked with numbers from 0 to 360 degrees so you can make your camera movements with absolute accuracy. There are a lot of good panoramic tripod heads available and you will be able to find one in the same price range as other styles of heads.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I’m talking about the cheap kind that you can find in a normal price range. There are panoramic heads with motorized components made for the explicit purpose of stitching together photos. I’m not talking about those. If you can afford one, by all means, go for it, but unless you specialize in panoramas, it’s unlikely that you would ever need to even consider one.

3) Spirit level

spirit level - 21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas

Spirit levels will help you guarantee that all of your shots line up in the stitching software.

While you can still achieve good results without one, using a spirit level will help you make sure that your panoramic sequence stitches together with a minimal amount of distortion. This is important when you have compositional elements at the edges of your frame. If those elements get distorted too much, they will wind up (either partially or fully) outside of your crop.

You may already have one or more built into your tripod, but if not, you can buy one that fits your cameras hotshoe for a reasonable price.

Part 2 – Capture

Camera craft is easily the most important aspect of capturing better panoramic images. From getting a correctly aligned sequence of images, to focus and exposure, there are a lot of elements that you need to get right in camera to ensure that your images come out well.

4) Practice your movements

To be fast, you should be able to operate your camera and your tripod without thinking about them. In fact, these movements should be ingrained as muscle memory. How do you do this? Practice, lots of practice.

21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas - panorama of a scene outside

Practice your camera and tripod movements when it doesn’t count. For example, I had an hour of down time in a hotel, so I took a few sequences through the window.

One of the best ways to go about getting that practice is to make some time to set up in a low-value environment. So when your practice images are (inevitably) bad, you won’t have missed any images that were worth taking. It can be as simple as going into your backyard and setting up there for an hour.

Once you’re set up, go through the motions of taking a panorama in slow, deliberate steps. Make sure that every action from focussing through to the actual camera movements is perfectly executed. Go through the motions a few times and when you are sure that you have it down, speed up a little. Again, repeat this until you’re satisfied that you have it down. Then speed up again.

Keep practicing like this until you’re performing all the actions without even thinking about them. Doing this for just an hour will reduce your chances of a mistake when you are standing at the edge of a lake in that once in a lifetime perfect light.

If you really want to hammer it down, don’t just practice like this once. If you have some downtime, try using that time to reinforce these skills instead of, say, scrolling through your phone.

5) Take notes

21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas - notes on paper

Notes don’t have to be complicated, they just need to be clear enough that you understand them without much effort.

Taking notes will ensure that you are an organizational genius. It doesn’t matter how you take your notes, whether it be on a notepad, your phone, or in voice recording app such as Evernote. As long as you can annotate the file numbers where each of your panoramas starts and stops, you’re on to a winner.

Editor’s tip: You can also take a shot of your hand in front of the lens before and after your pano shots so you can mark the beginning and end of the series that way as well. 

6) Longer lenses

Instead of using your wide-angle lenses, use longer focal lengths when making panoramas. 35mm, 50mm and 85mm are all good choices depending on the scene in front of you. The longer focal lengths allow a different perspective by bringing everything forward in the frame, unlike wide-angle lenses that push everything back.

Because you are both shooting in portrait orientation and stitching together multiple images, you will still get a wide view of your scene with the sky and foreground intact.

Create Better Panoramas - using a longer focal length

Long lenses are great for panormas. The images for this panorama were shot at 200mm. However, 50mm, 85mm and any focal length above that, will help to bring your subject forward in the frame.

7) Manual exposure

For the best results, set your camera to Manual mode for the duration of your sequence. If your exposures don’t match from frame to frame, then the software may not be able to merge your panorama.

If your scene is simple and has relatively few elements in it, you may get away with Aperture Priority mode. However, if one half of your image has a mountain or a building and the other half a clear sky, the difference in exposures will result in unusable images for the panorama merge.

8) Small aperture to help with stitching

Another way to make sure the stitching software performs well is to use a small aperture to keep everything in the frame as sharp as possible. Using apertures like f/11 and f/16 will go a long way in helping you to get sharp panoramas.

You can use larger apertures if you’d prefer, but just be aware that it might result in the software being unable to merge your panorama.

9) Focus somewhere inside your frame

Create Better Panoramas - wide shot of a path in the forest

In this image, I focused two-thirds of the way down the path, set the lens to manual focus, and then reframed the camera to start at the left.

When focusing, it seems easy enough to set your focus somewhere in the first frame of your sequence. If you’re focusing to infinity, that’s fine, but if you’re focusing on a point closer to you, your focal point may not wind up in your final crop.

It takes longer and requires you to be careful not to jar the camera, but consider setting the focus on your main focal point of the image. Then switch to manual focus and recompose the camera to your starting position.

This does create an extra chance for things to go wrong. However, you have to ask yourself whether it’s better to have an out of focus image because of a mistake or an out of focus image because you didn’t bother to take the necessary steps in the first place?

10) Portrait orientation

camera on a tripod shooting vertically - Create Better Panoramas

When shooting panoramas, you have access to all the information in the horizontal aspects of a scene. Maximize your information in the verticals by shooting in portrait orientation.

Because you will be creating one big image out of many smaller images, it’s a good idea to maximize the amount of real estate you have to create the final photo. Instead of keeping your camera in landscape (horizontal) orientation, put it into portrait (vertical) orientation so that you get as much information as possible on the vertical axis of your scene.

As far as the horizontal, you can always take more photos at either end of the sequence to make sure you get the most information, but this isn’t the case with the vertical.

11) Excessive overlap

example of image overlap - Create Better Panoramas

In this sequence of three images, you can see just how much overlap there is. With the left and right images lined up, the middle image is barely visible. Overkill? Maybe, but it’s worth it for peace of mind.

When you are taking the images that you will stitch together, be overly generous with the amount you leave as overlap from one image to the next. Yes, this will result in you needing more frames for a complete sequence and it will require more processing power as well. But it also gives you more leeway in the stitching process and it will result in better final images.

12) Overshoot

Create Better Panoramas - panoramic scene

Taking more images than you need for your final panoramas will provide you with a wealth of options for composition once you’re back at the computer.

When creating panoramas, there’s only one hard and fast rule (apart from the tripod) that I adhere to. That is to take more images in a sequence than I think I need. For example, if you’re trying to create an image of a church and you get all the images you think you need in five frames, shoot five more.

If you allow yourself excess on either edge frame, you will have far more compositional choices later. On top of that, you will also negate any potential distortion that may cause your focal point to be cropped during merging. Trust me, the wiggle room this provides is well worth the tiny bit of extra time and space on your memory card.

13) Be fast

Because you are taking multiple images for each panorama, there is a chance that elements in your scene may be moving. Water and clouds can prove to be a huge headache in the stitching process. You can alleviate this to a degree by being fast. Once your first shot is created, your hands should be already moving to change the camera to its next position.

14) Bracket for HDR

HDR pano shot - Create Better Panoramas

Merging to HDR and stitching panoramas in Lightroom works really well. Merge each individual frame to HDR first, then stitch them together as a panorama.

Should you find yourself in a high contrast scenario, feel free to bracket your exposures for HDR blending. I have had good results in Lightroom with blending each frame (from a bracketed set of exposures) into HDR individually and then merging them all together as a panorama.

If you try this, make sure you don’t use the Auto Tone function in Lightroom’s Merge to HDR dialogue box. It will treat each image as an individual and will make it next to impossible to stitch your images together as a panorama. Instead, wait until your panorama is merged and then make your adjustments manually.

15) Use your GND filters

Create Better Panoramas - pano of a mountain scene

When creating panoramas, use your GND filters to your heart’s content.

Likewise, you can use graduated neutral density filters to your heart’s content. If you have a tricky horizon line, such as a mountain range, just move your filter into the appropriate place between taking the images. As long as you are careful to not move your camera, this will work just fine.

Part three – Post processing

Because you are stitching together your images in software, the post-production stage of creating panoramas cannot be ignored.

16) Create a system to differentiate sequences in Lightroom

After a heavy session of shooting images for panoramas, you may find yourself inside Lightroom utterly confused. Triple that confusion if you were shooting HDRs and panoramas together. With so many similar images, it can difficult to figure out what starts and stops where.

An easy way to deal with this at the time of shooting is to devise a way for you to know when a sequence starts and when it ends.

All I do is wave my hand in front of the lens for the first image, then I take the first frame again having removed my hand. At the end, if I’m starting another panoramic sequence, I do it again. Inside Lightroom, all you have to do is look for the images that fall between the shots of your hands.

thumbnails of pano shots in Lightroom - Create Better Panoramas

It doesn’t matter how you differentiate your sequences, but you definitely need to do something. It will save you hours of frustration and confusion.

I also use the color label system in Lightroom. After identifying a panoramic sequence, I select them all and right click and select “Set Color Label > Blue” from the menu.

Other options include taking a photo with the lens cap on or holding a piece of paper in front of the lens. You could do anything for this as long as it helps you figure out where things begin and end.

If you combine this with taking notes, then you should never find yourself in a state of confusion.

17) Do Lens Corrections and Chromatic Aberration removal first

Create Better Panoramas - lens correction panel in LR

An important step to take before you start the stitching process is to apply any Lens Corrections and removal of Chromatic Aberrations before you stitch the images together. Any vignetting or distortion caused by your lens can have drastic effects on your panoramas and it’s best to deal with them before they have a chance to become a problem.

18) Use boundary warp

merge to panorama in LR - Create Better Panoramas

Using boundary warp in LR Merge to Panorama can help ensure that you get everything you intended in your frame.

The Auto Crop function often works well to get rid of the white space around a stitched panorama, but sometimes elements in your scene (foreground elements most of the time) can wind up cropped out of the composition. You can use the boundary warp slider in the Merge to Panorama dialogue box to adjust how your image is cropped.

It doesn’t always work, but if you are unhappy with how things appear, remember to try the boundary slider as it may fix your problem.

19) Crop

If you’re at all like me, then cropping is a bit of a dirty word. You know, get it right in camera and don’t sacrifice the resolution and all that jazz. In terms of panoramas, throw that out of the window. Not only should you crop to your heart’s content, but you should revel in it.

If you have overshot a scene, you probably have a really wide image. The thing is, those really wide panoramas often aren’t very pleasing. Go in with the crop tool, and find a strong composition inside of your stitched frame.

Try to think about it like this – your image, straight out of the stitching software is what you saw at the scene. Instead of composing your image while behind your camera, you’re now composing it with the crop tool. Because you (hopefully) took more images than you needed and you have far too much information to best present your subject. Just get rid of the excess and leave only what needs to be there.

20) Consider standard crop ratios

Create Better Panoramas - ultra wide panorama shot

Here is the original panorama straight out of the stitching software. While cool, the format is a bit wide for most uses.

As mentioned, ultra-wide panoramas are a hard sell. They are cool from a technical standpoint, but in terms of composition, they tend to fall short. Instead, consider using crop ratios already associated with panoramic images. These include 16:9, 16:10, 1:3, 6:17, 1:2.

The first two of these are already crop presets in Lightroom. The last three are all aspect ratios native to dedicated panoramic cameras. In order, they are the Hasselblad Xpan, the Fuji GX617, and the Lomography BelAir.

16:9 Ratio

16:10 Ratio

1:3 Ratio

6:17 Ratio

1:2 Ratio

As you can see, there are plenty of options for established crop ratios.

Bonus round

21) Shoot panoramas of normal scenes for bigger files

Not every scene needs to be shot as a panorama. In fact, there is more than enough for you to accomplish as a photographer if you never so much as touch the technique.

However, panoramic stitching offers you another tool that may not be as obvious.

Create Better Panoramas

Shot normally, the resulting PSD file is about 35mb.

If you approach a normal scene (let’s say in a 2:3 ratio) and shoot it in a panoramic sequence, the extra information you capture in the vertical means that your final image size will be quite a bit larger than just a straight shot from your camera.

If, for example, you suspect that you will want to make a huge print of a particular image, this technique will give you some extra resolution to work with.

Cropping in from the panoramic sequence gave me a PSD file of 55mb, nearly twice the size of the original.


That’s a long list, but it’s not exhaustive. If you’ve stuck with me this long, you’re probably pretty serious about getting the most out of your panoramas.

If you’re just starting out with this technique, remember not to be too hard on yourself if you forget to use every one of these tips. Take it slow and before you know it, you’ll find that all of this becomes second nature with only a little bit of effort and practice.

The post 21 Tips to Help You Create Better Panoramas appeared first on Digital Photography School.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great

Have you ever heard the phrase “light is everything” or perhaps “composition is everything”? I know I have many times. But they can’t both be everything, that’s not possible. So what is really going on? Obviously, there is at least a grain of truth to both expressions. But are there other factors that make great photos?

tunnel with art work - What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great

As it turns out, there are and things are not quite as simple.

A photo with very poor composition will fall apart and it will never be a great photo. But a decent composition capturing the most fantastic light can be a good photo, if not a great one. On the other hand, a great composition in poor light can make a dull photo.

Creating a photo almost always includes some sort of compromise. Either the light is not great, the timing is not perfect, or it is not possible to get to the ideal location, because you can’t walk in thin air or on water. Or maybe the prime elements in the scene are not arranged perfectly.

There are so many factors that have to come together at the exact same time, that it seems impossible to make a perfect photo. And that is part of your life, as a photographer, but knowing what counts, can make your success rate of making great photos higher.

canals in Venice at night - What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great

What makes great photos?

It is a number of things that make a great photo and composition and light are obviously on that list, but what is the rest?

I find that there a five important factors that combine to make great photos. If you can maximize all five you will have a perfect photo. However, creating such a photo is really rare even for the very best photographers.

Let us have a look at them and then discuss in more detail.

5 factors that help make great photos

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great


You don’t have to maximize all five to make a great photo. A decent composition with fantastic light and timing, with fantastic post-processing, can make a great photo. The same goes for an outstanding composition. You will be able to make up for the lack of light to some extent. So you just have to balance the five factors without dropping any completely.

If one of the factors is somewhat lower, it can be compensated by one or more of the others if they score high. You could see it as the sum of the five pillars, that gives an indication of how great a photo is, as long as you don’t have any hitting the bottom.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great

They all work together

A completely failed composition, bad light, completely missed timing, non-existent story and poor image processing will tear a photo into pieces.

The factors are very often interconnected. For instance, the composition is often connected to the timing of capturing a moving object. And the light is connected to the timing, in the case of the natural light. The composition can also be connected to the light, a shadow or some light beam or another light source.

They are all dependent on each other, which increases the complexity. No wonder it is hard to create great photos! And no wonder some types of photographers, like those who do commercial studio and model photography, try to control some of the factors – namely the light – to be able to get a larger success rate on their photos.

Factor #1 – Composition

The composition is something that comes naturally to some people while others have to learn it. It is a fundamental skill to master as a photographer. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, try to copy other compositions you like, in your own way at different locations. That will quickly improve your skills.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - a city shot at night

Factor #2 – Light

The light can be many different things. There’s hard light, soft light, defused light, warm light, cold light, studio flash, the natural light just to mention some of the most commonly known types. Light is a big topic and it requires some research to get the full understanding. But that is not required to create great photos.

If you are into landscape photography, you will increase the quality of your photos by avoiding a blue sky in the middle of the day. Instead, go for sunrise and sunset times. The time after sunrise and before sunset is called the Golden Hour. Blue Hour also provides excellent light for landscape photography.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - sunset photo of fog over a mountain pond

If you are into flash photography you would do well by experimenting with an off-camera flash, rather than on-camera. As well try high-speed sync flash which opens doors for creative flash photography.

My advice is to learn about the type of light that is relevant to the kind of photography you enjoy doing.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - canals in Amsterdam

Factor #3 – Timing

The timing, depending on the type of photography you do, can be a matter of capturing that instant of a second that makes a difference. You have to capture a moment – the magic moment.

The moment of a fleeting kiss, the instant a football player kicks the ball, the moment the wave crash onto a rocky shore with a huge splash. Or as in this case, the instant four people put the same foot on the ground while walking at the same distance.

b/w photo of 4 people walking in a city - What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great

Other moments are more slow, like a sunrise. Nevertheless, it is still about timing.

You have to get up early, very early sometimes, to get to the location. That is timing. Or as in this case, getting a photo without any people, at the central station at blue hour is about timing too.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - train station Copenhagen

Empty Central Station in Copenhagen.

Factor #4 – The Story

The story of a photo can be anything ranging from “what delicious crumbles sitting on top of that cupcake”, to “what a fantastic round boulder on that beach” to a “touching relation between people”. A story can be somewhat abstract, yet there has to be a purpose of why you choose to include what you do in the photo.

Sometimes a story is complex and deep, while at other times it is simple “that is a nice boulder sitting in a beautiful landscape“.

You may not be equally good at telling all kind of stories, through your photos. This is perfectly alright and it is fine to stick to what you do best.

I find that story and timing can be very tightly connected as in this case of the image below. Capturing a gondola on a super busy Canal Grande in Venice, and making it seem like a peaceful romantic moment is not as easy as it may sound.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - canal in Venice with one gondola

If you can get a spot, you can literally stand on the Rialto bridge for hours, while you enjoy the view. The view is full of activity and happy people.

Factor #5 – Image Processing

The last and fifth factor could raise some discussion. One that I do not want to get into here. And if you are a strong believer in Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC) photos, this point will not be relevant to you.

If you believe in photo editing, you may also know that it is often the thing that transforms a photo from flat to an image that pops. In some cases, that is what makes or breaks a photo.

Image editing or post-processing is by no means easy and there are a lot of opinions out there. But even simple things like, adjusting white balance, exposure and contrast can be the difference that makes a photo pop.

If you are into documentary photography, there are certain things you are not allowed to do. You do not meddle with reality. But if you don’t do that kind of photography, it is in the post-processing phase that you can make your artistic interpretation.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - before and after editing

Before and After. A creative interpretation.

What to look out for

Image editing is a race car without a seatbelt. There are a number of things that can totally ruin your image and if you are not careful. Some of the classic problems from over-processing include halos, too contrasty and over-saturation, but there are many others.

What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great - example of image processing for creativity

This wedding photo of Alexander and Mia was shot in the worst possible light of midday with a blue sky. In post-processing, I have created a softer and warmer feeling to compensate.

A reason to build up your skills in image processing is that you can compensate to some degree for the other factors. You can enhance the good bits, and hide the less desired parts. Remove unwanted objects to present your photo is the best possible way, from what you captured in your camera.

A great side effect of upping your editing skills and paying some real attention to your photos is that you will get a better understanding of what make great photos. You will find things that degrade your photo (why did I include that dustbin?) and learn to avoid them next time you are on location shooting.

You learn by making mistakes and trying to fix them. The more times you fail, the better photographer you will end up being.

make great photos - Paris at night

Final remarks

In photography, there are no absolutes. Not two people have the same opinion. We do not all like the same, things so what some people would deem a perfect photo, others may not deem perfect. Yet, there are some tendencies and you could do worse, than paying attention to what people like and don’t like if you want to create successful photos.

Any critique is an opportunity to learn something new.

The post What Makes Great Photos? 5 Factors That Can Take Your Images From Good to Great appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Photography Challenge – Street Photography

Street photography is a fun and popular genre of photography that anybody can do. But it’s not as easy as it looks to get really good, storytelling images.

street photography challenge - shot on a street in Colombia

I shot this in Retiro, Colombia a little town not far from Medellin. It had a very old-world feel so I processed this image to match that style.

For this week’s photography challenge you’ll need to hit the streets and show us your best. If you need some tips, here are some ideas:

Weekly Photography Challenge – Street Photography

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.

Get some people in your street photography.

Try panning for something different.

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 Photography Challenge – Street Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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