Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE

The post Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Vista at Dead Horse State Park, Utah. Fourteen images stitched in Microsoft ICE.

You’ve no doubt seen panoramic images and perhaps even know how to make them. Whether using the tools built into programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, or perhaps another dedicated panoramic creation program, or even the sweep-panoramic capability of many cellphone cameras, you’ve used this technique to make images larger than you could make them in a single shot.

In the past, the choice was not as great, and the main stitching programs not as diversified in their capabilities. The programs that did exist to create panoramas were complex, sometimes expensive, and didn’t always work well.

When the first version of Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor), a program from the Microsoft Research Division of the software giant came out, it had all the things I sought in software utilities. It was simple, it worked well, and it was free – bingo! Although other options have come along for photo stitching, I still find ICE, (now at version, a favorite.

Panorama images are not new nor a product of the digital age. This image was made from Rincon Point in San Francisco in 1851 using multiple photo plates seamed together.

Image stitching – What is it?

When working with panoramic programs you will read the term “image stitching.” It is an apt phrase for the process by which a series of photos are composited together to make a larger image, much like scraps of fabric stitched together to make a quilt. The mark of a good photo-stitching program is how well it can piece the separate images together without showing the “seams.” Check another box for Microsoft ICE – it does that job extremely well.

The Mars Rover uses robotic cameras and panoramic stitching techniques to make high-resolution images.  NASA Photo

Considerations when photographing a panorama

The quality of a finished product is usually dependent on the raw materials that go into it. The same is true of creating a panorama photo. The better your technique in making the individual images, the better your finished panorama will be.  I will not be doing a deep-dive into panorama photography techniques, as that is a whole subject itself, but instead, I’ll list some of those things you’ll want to consider when making your shots.

One real benefit of ICE is that even with less than perfectly created images, it will still do a respectable job in creating a panorama. Of course, with better images, the result will be better too.

Here are some techniques to help you when shooting your images for a panorama:

Camera settings

As you sweep across your scene, making multiple shots, there will be variations in the light. If you leave your camera in an automatic mode, each frame will be slightly different too. ICE has what is called Exposure Blending and uses an advanced algorithm to compensate for this. Thus, it smooths the seams between individual images. However, if you give it better images to work with the result will be better too.

The best practice is to put your camera in full manual mode, find and set an exposure that is a good average for the scene, and lock that in.  Try to pick an aperture for maximum depth of field as well.

The same goes for focus. Find a point where as much of the image will be in focus, (the “hyperfocal distance,” typically a third of the way into the scene), focus there and turn off autofocus.

Lens selection

There is no “just right” lens focal length to use when making panoramic images. The field of view that represented in your stitched image will be dictated by how many photos you make and the sweep of your pan, not the lens focal length.

One might think a wide-angle lens would be a good choice, as fewer shots would be required. But that’s not necessarily true. The best choice is a lens with the least distortion as any lens distortion will be magnified as you stitch images together. Thus, a good, basic 50mm prime lens could be a great choice.

Sometimes, depending on the scene you want to capture, a longer telephoto might work well. Lens quality and minimal distortion trump wide focal lengths here.

A panoramic tripod head allows you to mount the camera so that the lens nodal point is centered over the pivot point of the pan. Thus, minimizing parallax errors.

Nodal point and parallax issues

Wazzat!!?? Yes, you can get complex very quickly and encounter cryptic terms if you want to when making panoramic photos.  Attention to detail results in higher quality panoramas. And, if you decide to pursue this technique, you will want to learn about these things in time.

Very briefly, the nodal point is the spot within a lens where the light rays converge.  Setting up your camera such that the pivot point of your pan is at that spot will produce an image with the least distortion.  This is most important in images where objects in the shot are both close and far in your scene.

Parallax is the difference in the apparent position of an object when viewed along two different lines of sight.

To see a quick example, hold your hand out at arm’s length with your thumb up.  Close one eye and put your thumb over a distant object.  Now close that eye and open the other. You will see your thumb “jump” off the object to a different position.  This is parallax.

When setting up your camera, pivoting around the nodal point will reduce or even eliminate this. And serious panorama photographers will purchase special panorama tripod heads to get this exact spot for any given lens they might use.

Highly serious gigapixel panorama photographers making images with hundreds of composite images might even use motorized computer-controlled heads like the Gigapan to make their shots.

Check out some of the Gigapan images like this made from some 12,000 individual shots. Alternatively, look at this taken from a similar setup on the Mars Rover.

Bringing it back down to Earth, you need not get nearly that sophisticated if you don’t want to.  There are less expensive heads for panoramic photography if you choose to try that and many Youtube videos and instructional articles on setting nodal points.

For starters, you needn’t even worry about all of that to give panoramic photography a try. The beauty of ICE is that even with something as simple as handheld images shot with a cellphone camera, it does a very nice job of assembling a panorama image.


Here are some things to do when making your images for use in a panorama:

  • Consider your composition – Good composition is just as important in making a panorama image as any other photo.  If your cellphone supports the sweep panorama feature, you can sometimes make a shot with it to help pre-visualize what you want to do with your DSLR.
  • Level the tripod – You will know your tripod wasn’t level if you get an “arched” looking composite panorama.
  • Mount your camera in a vertical (portrait) orientation – You will get a taller aspect ratio in your final shot and an image less “ribbon-like” when you assemble your panorama.
  • Hand-marker – Shoot a photo of your hand in front of the camera as the first and last in your panorama sequence. This will make it much easier to determine which images belong to a panorama “group.”
  • Camera Settings – Use full manual exposure and focus for the reasons outlined above.
  • Overlap – As you pan making each shot, overlap each image about a third so ICE will more easily find the match points when making the composite.

This is the screen you will see when first opening Microsoft ICE.

Bringing it into ICE

Bringing your images into ICE and letting it assemble your panorama is the easiest part and a big reason to like this program. ICE accepts most Raw photos, .jpg of course, and even layered Photoshop files.  You will need to know this is a Windows-only program and won’t work on your Mac. However, there are plenty of iOS alternatives. One which is also free and well-regarded is Hugin.  I can’t say I have any personal experience with it, however, being a PC guy.

Here’s where you will find the download for ICE. Be sure you get the proper version, 32 or 64-bit for your particular PC. The program will work in Windows 10, 8, 7 or even Vista SP2. There is a lot of good information as well as an interesting overview video on the page.  The installation usually goes quite smoothly.

After you have the program installed, there are various ways to bring your images in for compositing into a panorama:

  • Running ICE as a stand-alone – ICE can be run just fine as a stand-alone program and you can bring your images in from wherever you have them stored. You can do this either by opening ICE and clicking New Panorama from Images or by opening another window in File Explorer and dragging and dropping the images into ICE.
  • Launching ICE from a Folder – Typically, once you install ICE, if you select all the images you want in your pano from a folder and then right-click, you will see an option to Stitch using Image Composite Editor.  Select that, then ICE will launch with your selected images brought in.
  • Using ICE as an External Editor from Lightroom – You can set-up Adobe Lightroom to use ICE as an External Editor.  This is my preferred way as I often do some basic pre-editing to my shots in LR before bringing them into ICE.  Once you have set-up ICE as an External Editor, select all the images in the pano group you will be using. Then, in the Lightroom menu, click Photo -> Edit In -> Microsoft ICE.  You will have the option to Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments.  Pick that, click Edit, and ICE launches with the images ready for compositing.

There are four basic steps in ICE; Import, (the images have been imported here), Stitch, Crop, and Export.

Four basic steps in ICE

1. Import

If you’ve used one of the three methods above, you’re likely already seeing your images in ICE ready for Stitching. If you are running ICE in stand-alone mode and have not already imported your images, you will see three Options across the top of the screen:  New Panorama from Images, New Panorama from Video, and Open Existing Panorama. Choose the first option, navigate in Windows Explorer to where your images are located, select those that make up the panorama group, and click Open.  Remember, ICE opens Raw files, Tif, Jpg, PSD, and perhaps some other image file types.

You will find that in most cases, the default setting for ICE works well. If you are confused about some of the terms and menu options, you can click Next (at the top right of the screen), and ICE proceeds to the next step using the defaults.

If you choose to try some other things, here are a few options:

Rather than use Auto-detect in Camera Motion, you may wish to use Rotating Motion. It will give you more options for adjustment later. I have not found the Planar Motion options to be useful, (and to be honest, don’t really understand them. Such will be the case with ICE for most people – there are options and terms that will take more knowledge of the process. And, while they might have applications, most times will not be necessary.  Keep things simple, and you’ll most often be pleased with the result.)

This is the Stitch step. Ice has composited individual images.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the Projection options. ICE will almost always choose the correct one by default. If you wish to try the others, go ahead and see what you like best.

2. Stitch

Click Next or select option 2 – Stitch from the menu. The screen will show Aligning and then Compositing Images with progress bars as the work is done.  Depending on the size, number, and complexity of your images, this could go quick or could take several minutes.  Once done, your stitched image will appear.

Depending on the camera motion type chosen, you may have another set of options under Projection with terms like Cylindrical, Mercator, and a collection of other types you may not understand. I suggest trying the different options and seeing which makes your panorama look best and the least distorted. You can also zoom into your image with the slider or by using your mouse scroll wheel. Clicking and dragging above or below the panorama will allow you to adjust the shape further. Try various things – whatever helps to make your panorama look best.

3. Crop

Click Next, or Crop to move on. Here you can crop the image to choose what to include in the finished panorama. Usually, you will have some rough edges, depending on how you shot the images and composited them. If you click Auto-Crop, the program will crop to the largest points where it can make a rectangular image. You can also manually drag the sides of the crop.

Auto-Complete works like the content-aware fill in Photoshop and will try to fill in missing pieces in the image. Sometimes, especially with things like the sky, it works amazingly well. Other times with more complex patterns, not so much.

Give it a try and see if you like the result. You can always turn it off if you don’t like it.

The Crop Step. You can crop manually, Auto crop, and use the Auto Complete feature if you like.

Note how the Auto Complete feature has filled in missing parts of the image at top and bottom.

4. Export

Once complete, you will want to save your resulting panorama.

Because you have stitched together what are often high-resolution images to start with, your panorama file can be huge. That’s great if you need to print a wall-sized poster. If you don’t need something that big, consider turning down the Scale by inputting a smaller number. If you know what size (in pixels) you want the finished image to be, you can also enter that number in the Width or Height boxes, and the other will adjust to maintain the aspect ratio.

For example, to print a 12 x 48-inch poster at 300 dpi, you would need an image 3600 x 14,400 pixels.

If your panorama at 100% is over 20,000 pixels wide, that’s overkill and may result in a much larger file than you need.

Or, if you’ll be displaying your panorama on the web where you may only need a file 2400 pixels wide, why make a monster file?

You can also input numbers into the width or height, and the image will adjust the other setting to maintain the aspect ratio. Your use for the panorama will dictate how large you need to output it.

The Export Step. If you were to export this image at 100% scale as a .tif image it would be 19772 x 5833 pixels and be 149MB. For use on the web, you could drop to something like 2400 x 708 (scale just 12.14%) as a .jpg at 75% quality and it would be just 372k. Export your images according to how you will use them.

You also have the option to choose the file format. ICE can output as .jpg, .psd, .tif, .png, or .bmp. Again consider how you plan to use the image. A .tif file will be much larger than a jpg. If you choose jpg, you can also choose the compression level with the Quality settings.

When you’ve made your selections, click Export to Disk and ICE will give you the option of where to save the file. If you came from Lightroom, you will still need to specify the output location. ICE does not automatically put the resulting panorama back into the Lightroom folder where you started.

One option not immediately evident is the ability to save a panorama project. Before exiting the program, look in the top left corner of the screen for the icons there. The last two, which look like disks if hovered, will say Save Panorama and Save Panorama As. These allow you to save your project as an .spj file. This is an ICE file type which can be loaded back in using Open Existing Panorama from the main menu. This could be useful if you intend to make various output sizes or file types from your original images.

32 images shot in two rows to get more of the sky.

ICE does a great job stitching even more complex images.

The final result of the previous multi-row stitch.

Set your camera in continuous mode and shoot, panning with your subject. Bring the images into ICE and stitch as usual. You can get a sequence like this very easily.

Same technique with continuous mode.

The final result.

Nifty tricks – Video, Tiny Planets, VR, and more

There are a few other things ICE will do beyond simply making panoramas.  It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the specific steps to do these things, but I simply wanted to make you aware of them so you can explore further if you like.

This is a 360-degree pano shot as video and imported into ICE. The video will not be as high resolution. 360-degree panos, however, open VR possibilities.

Video Input

First, your input file can, instead of being a group of still photos, be a video file. Video is lower resolution than images taken with most still cameras, but there may be other reasons you want to use it as an input format.  One of those is multi-image action. (See the sample photos). You can do this with multiple images shot as stills or using a video. Capture the action, input the video into ICE, choose the portion of the video you like and then select the action points you want in the finished pano.

Give this a try, and doing it will make the steps clearer.

ICE can also be used to create “tiny planets.”

Virtual Reality

Use ICE to make a 360-degree pano from still images or a video.  Then create an image that can be viewed as an interactive pano and be rotated by the viewer.  Post it to Facebook or view it on a VR device.  There are numerous online tutorials teaching how to do this.  Drone footage can make for an especially interesting VR image.


Microsoft ICE is powerful, can produce high-quality panorama images, and is very easy to use. It also does a good job when accepting the default choices. ICE can use simple images made handheld from a cellphone or hundreds of images on a Gigapan robotic system with a DSLR. There are also fun things like multi-image motion images, tiny planet creation, and virtual reality possibilities.

Oh yeah…and it’s free!  What’s not to like?

Go download it, give it a try, have fun, and share your images with us in the comments below.


panoramic images with Microsoft ICE

The post Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Make an Animated GIF in Photoshop

The post How to Make an Animated GIF in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Ana Mireles.

Don’t you love GIFs? I do. They are fun, creative, and a great way to grab attention. In a world full of images (animated and otherwise), you need to create original quality work to stand out. Stop following trends and make your own using Photoshop in just a few simple steps.

A GIF is a file format that supports animated images in the smallest size, which makes it very appealing for any online platform. The famous acronym stands for Graphic Interchange Format, and it became trendy for Internet humor, but now it’s a powerful tool.

Five reasons to do your own GIF

  • Showcase your product/brand in action or being used.
  • Do a call to action on your website.
  • Show a step by step example of any instruction.
  • Enhance your visibility.
  • Grow your social media audience.

What you need

You can make GIFs from words, video snippets, or a sequence of photographs. This last one is the technique I’ll show you. While technically you could use any series of images, a coherent set of photographs result in a more engaging GIF.

To achieve this, plan your photo shoot to maintain either the same light or the same framing, and use it to tell a story. If you need some inspiration, check out “8 tips – How to do storytelling with your images.”

If you are doing any post processing on your images like changing the size or format, you can save a lot of time by doing it in a batch. You can learn how to do this in the article How to Batch Resize Your Images Quickly Using Photoshop ( If instead, you are making more complex adjustments I recommend you create an action and then apply it to all of them. If you don’t know how to do this read How to play Photoshop Actions on Multiple Images with Batch Editing.

Now that you have all your images ready to go, open Photoshop and go to Menu -> File -> Scripts -> Load Files Into Stack. On the pop-up window, choose the files you want to import and click OK. This opens all your images as layers within the same file.

Once the images are open, you need to animate them. If you usually work with still images, you may need to go to Menu -> Window -> Timeline to make the Timeline panel visible. It will appear at the bottom of your screen, and it will show a thumbnail of the top layer.

Open the drop-down Menu from the right of the panel and click on Make Frames from Layers. Now you should see the thumbnail of all the files you imported as layers.

If you need to change the order, drag and drop them to correct. Once everything is as you want it, it’s time to determine the animation settings.

First set the time each one will show before changing into the next one. You’ll see a number on the bottom of each frame and an arrow next to it. If you click on the arrow, you’ll open the drop-down Menu to set the time. Do this for each one, as they can be different from each other. You can see a preview by clicking on the play button.

As the last step, you can choose how many times the animation repeats. Under the frames, you can find a menu where you can set this. GIFs usually run on a loop so I will put ‘Forever.’ But you can decide to do it differently.

As I mentioned at the beginning, GIF is a file format; therefore it is something you determine at the moment of saving. When saving a photograph, you would normally choose .jpg or .tiff. However, this time you need to choose .gif. You can find this option under Save for Web. Here, you can choose the amount of color, whether you want it dithered, and if you want a lossy compression. All of these choices determine the file size. You can move them around to choose the best combination of size and quality.

If you now open your saved file in Photoshop, it will be a layered image that you can continue to work on. If you want to see it animated just click and drag it into your browser.

I hope you enjoyed the article.

Please share your GIFs with me in the comment section.

If you are feeling inspired and want to keep exploring animated images, you can experiment with time-lapse and stop motion. Check these articles to get you started:


how to make an animated gif in photoshop

The post How to Make an Animated GIF in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Ana Mireles.

Capture One Pro – Should You Make the Switch?

The post Capture One Pro – Should You Make the Switch? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

This may be a familiar scenario? You’re on a shoot, and you’ve tethered your camera to Lightroom. Everything is going well, but you still have many shots to do. The clock is ticking, and you can feel the time crunch. Out of the blue, Lightroom crashes, and you have to unplug everything and restart your computer. All while your client is tapping their foot and breathing impatiently down your neck.

Welcome to the reality of tethering in Lightroom.

Now don’t get me wrong, Adobe Lightroom is a great program.

I have used it for years. It’s a powerful database for your image files. Lightroom has excellent color management tools and other features, such as noise reduction and spot removal, that make it the only program that many photographers use. In fact, the speed and stability of tethering in Lightroom is one thing that has improved by leaps and bounds in 2019.

But if you shoot a genre of photography that requires tethering, like food or still life, or if you’re a portrait photographer, you still may want to consider moving over to Capture One Pro (COP).

For years, I personally resisted making this change. I didn’t want to learn yet another program or complicate my workflow. But when Lightroom kept crashing and freezing on a career-changing shoot with a big ad client, I decided to make the switch. As a still-life shooter, I find that COP is unbeatable.

If you’re a pro-shooter, or semi-pro, I would say Capture One Pro is a must. If you’re a hobbyist, you still might find learning this image processor worth your while.

This article is not meant to be a tutorial. Rather, I want to walk you through the features and benefits of using Capture One Pro. There are tons of resources online if you want to learn how to use the program, many of them found in Capture One Pro when you log onto the interface.

What is Capture One?

Capture One Pro is a RAW file editor and management system. It’s been around for about 20 years and is made by Phase One, a Danish manufacturer of open platform-based medium format cameras.

The software supports Phase One’s own cameras of course, as well as over 400 DSLR’s, such as those made by Canon, Nikon, and Sony.

In fact, COP has entered into a relationship with Sony. If you’re a Sony user, Capture One Express is a free imaging editor that comes with your camera that includes some of the essential editing and workflow features found in Capture One Pro.

Getting started with Capture One

The first thing to know when getting started with this software is that the interface is nothing like Lightroom. For those used to using Lightroom, Capture One Pro will be confusing to you.

This is often what frustrates Lightroom users in the beginning, causing them to give up before they get started.

There are many differences between the programs. What has become intuitive for you to do in Lightroom, may not work in COP.

COP has the library features of Lightroom with the advantages of Photoshop to work in layers.

It’s an all-in-one solution for many photographers.

Advantages of using Capture One

So why is Capture One worth a new learning curve? Let’s take a look:

Superior tethering

As you may have gleaned from the introduction, tethered shooting is incredibly stable in COP, whereas Lightroom is known to be super-glitchy.

Another advantage is that COP has a built-in Live View function.

If you’ve used the Live View function on your camera, you may have noticed that you can only use it in natural light, or when you’re using a constant light source like an LED or the modeling lamp on a monohead.

However, Capture One offers a Live View function within the program itself.

If you’re a food, product or still life photographer, this feature will drive your productivity through the roof. You and your stylists can make the incremental tweaks necessary in still life photography, all while viewing the components within the frame on a computer or laptop monitor.

In addition, it has an Overlay feature. It allows you to upload cover art, such as a product packaging layout or a magazine cover, so you can make sure that your subject fits into the parameters required by the project.

Sessions versus Catalogs

Both Lightroom and Capture One Pro double as RAW photo editors and organization software for your image files. However, their organizational structures are not the same.

Lightroom can open one Catalog at a time. These Catalogs can be divided into multiple Collections and Collection Sets.

In COP, photos are organized into Sessions. These are ideal for separating single client sessions, and various collections. For example, stock photography or personal photos. This is a better approach to large sets of images.

Similarly to Lightroom’s Collections, you can create Session Albums and move your images from several folders on your hard drive to a Favorite Session folder without physically moving them.

COP creates an automatic folder structure within the Session. It creates four default folders every time you start a new session: Capture, Selects, Output, Trash.

The Capture Folder contains all the images that were shot tethered or imported from your SD card. Once you make a selection of your favorite images, they will automatically be moved to the Selects Folder. If you want to delete specific images, they will be moved to the Trash folder by default. However, they are not permanently erased – you can move them back.

The Output Folder is the folder where your exported images will be sent unless you choose a different folder.

The power of Layers

Capture One Pro offers the functionality of the Lightroom Library interface, with the power of Photoshop Layers.

Both Lightroom and COP provide global adjustments that alter the entire image, as well as a set of tools for local adjustments you can apply to smaller portions of the image.

However, COP includes the option to create local adjustments on multiple layers. Lightroom users have to switch from Lightroom to Photoshop to access multiple layer adjustments.

COP’s layers options are less powerful than those in Photoshop but more powerful than Lightroom’s single layer tools.

Sure, you can do some masking type of adjustments with Lightroom with the adjustment brush and other tools. After all, the adjustment tools in Lightroom have improved with every upgrade.

But if you’ve made several adjustments and need to go back a few steps, remembering which adjustment you made can be confusing.

With COP, you have a clear overview over of all the adjustments that you applied to the image.

You can create radial masks and linear masks, and you can fill masks over the whole layer and erase parts of the mask. Also, you can create masks by luminosity, applying adjustments to only the highlights or shadows in your photo.

Last but not least, you can change the opacity of these masks.

For example, if you’ve have created a color treatment you had in mind, but the colors are too saturated and bold, you can turn down the opacity to reduce the strength of those colors. All while keeping your color treatment intact.

Better color management

There is so much flexibility when it comes to color management and color grading in COP.

First of all, Capture One has individual color profiles for every camera. So, when you import the image files, you get something similar to the preview on the back of your LCD screen.

Lightroom files, however, have a more neutral starting point. This is great for photographers who favor more muted palettes.

Conversely, in COP, the colors look brighter and more vibrant before you make any adjustments. The adjustment options in both programs will give you similar results, but the starting point will be slightly different.

The color tools in COP are also incredibly powerful and versatile.

While Lightroom has the HSL (Hue-Saturation-Luminance) panel with sliders and RGB curves adjustments, COP offers a few more ways to work with color.

You can use the Levels Tool, Tone Curve, Color Editor, or the Advanced Color Editor.

The color options include shadow, mid-tone, and highlight adjustments for Color Balance and a channel dedicated just to adjusting skin tones. COP also has a luminance curves adjustment option.

Some disadvantages to using Capture One

One caveat to using Capture One is that as a less-popular image processor, there are far fewer options when it comes to supporting third-party products like presets and plug-ins.

However, COP has a feature called Recipes, which are similar to presets.

The other major disadvantage is cost.

For US$10 a month, you can have both Lightroom and Photoshop.

COP is US$20 USD a month if you choose the subscription option. It’s $180 USD if you pay for an entire year at once.

Unlike Adobe, however, Capture One also offers the option to buy the latest version of the software outright for $299. Adobe now offers a subscription-based service only – much to the ire of many photographers.

Take Capture Pro for a test run

The best way to get started with Capture One Pro is to download the 30-day free trial and import some of your images from your hard drive.

Set aside some time to go through the tutorials and really get to know the program. Think about how you might set up a workflow were you to make the switch from another RAW editor such as Lightroom.

To sum up

Like any program, there are advantages and disadvantages and there. There is no perfect program.

The bottom line is that you want to make an informed choice. Hopefully this introduction to Capture one Pro has helped you understand some of its benefits.

Do you use Capture One Pro or considering making the switch? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


capture one pro - should you make the switch?

The post Capture One Pro – Should You Make the Switch? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Catalog Photos Like a Pro: ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Review

The post Catalog Photos Like a Pro: ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

ACDSee software has been around since the earliest days of digital photography. For 20 years, it’s been competing with Adobe Photoshop. Today, with Adobe offering its top image-editing programs by subscription only, there’s more room than ever for alternatives. ACDSee offers a compelling subscription model of its own, but it also maintains a full suite of standalone products. Photo Studio Standard 2019 is among them, and I’ll review it here.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - default layout

The default layout in Manage mode of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019. You can move things around as you wish and close any panes you don’t need.

Aimed at keen photographers with growing photo collections, ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 is ideal for sorting, finding, and viewing photos. It also has a set of editing tools that will quickly make your pictures look good for the web or printing. We’ll look at all this in detail. To avoid wasting anyone’s time, this program recognizes and opens raw files but it’s not a raw editor or metadata editor – it’s a pixel editor. You have no control over how raw files are processed and can only save 8-bit files.

Embedding ACDSee metadata into DNG files

Preview of a DNG file. You can embed ACDSee metadata into DNG files, unlike other raw formats.

This review of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 will include the following:

  • Starting up
  • Manage mode
  • Photos mode
  • View mode
  • Edit mode
  • Other features
  • Conclusion

Starting up

One thing that struck me immediately about ACDSee software was how quickly it opened. Sometimes I wait 2-3 minutes for Photoshop CC to start. There are technical reasons for that, like the plug-ins I have loaded into it and its sheer girth. Perhaps it connects to my Adobe account, too. Whatever. Photo Studio Standard 2019 opens in around 15-20 seconds every time.

Manage mode

Digital asset management (DAM) is the great strength of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019. In Manage mode, the software offers all you need for sorting and locating your images. Like many people, you may already have your folders arranged chronologically. This is handy for sifting through them using the folder pane of ACDSee, but the software gives you lots of other ways to find pictures.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - folder pane

Here, I’m using the folder pane in Manage mode to browse photos. I’m not the best organizer, but I do have most folders labeled chronologically.

Calendar pane

I latched onto the Calendar pane within minutes of opening ACDSee. Even if you have your folders arranged by date, it’s so quick to rifle through your photos month by month using the calendar. You can widen the search by choosing multiple months or use single days to narrow it. I used this feature straight away to dig out a few files I might’ve overlooked as potential stock photos.

Catalog pane

The ACDSee Catalog pane gives you several ways to find what you’re looking for: color labels, keywords, ratings, saved searches, categories, and auto categories. Of course, you have to add most of this info yourself to the images, but that’s easy using the software. Auto categories come from EXIF data, so you can filter results by the lens or aperture used, for instance.

cataloging photos with ACDSee software

There are various ways to filter photos in the Catalog pane, some of which rely on you having rated, keyworded, labeled, tagged, or categorized your photos already. In this screenshot, I’m looking at photos taken with a particular lens.[/

Map pane

ACDSee includes a Map pane. Drag your photo(s) onto the place where they were taken, hit Save, and the GPS coordinates are automatically embedded into the EXIF data. Cool! That wasn’t a feature I expected at this price point (Lightroom has it), but it does show how thorough this software is in what it does.

Embedding GPS coordinates into photos

Dragging a photo or several photos onto a spot on the map and hitting “Save” embeds GPS coordinates into the metadata.

Shortcuts pane

The Shortcuts pane offers a way of bookmarking files you know you’ll often need. It makes it that little bit quicker to find any special photos – perhaps a collection of your best-ever shots.

Image Basket

Another neat feature of Photo Studio Standard 2019 is the Image Basket. Normally, when I’m preparing a gallery for the web, I create a new folder on my desktop to work from. The Image Basket is a way of gathering original files together without having to copy them elsewhere.

Keywording in ACDSee

Keywords are an invaluable way of quickly finding what you’re looking for, but they can be time-consuming to add. ACDSee is ahead of Adobe in this respect. It’ll import any keywords you’ve added elsewhere to the IPTC data, but it has excellent keywording capability of its own.

Adding keywords to images

The ability to create large keyword sets of up to 250 is enough to satisfy any lexicologist. I wouldn’t normally need that many, but 40 or 50 isn’t uncommon. Adobe software is restrictive in this respect.

A welcome feature of the new ACDSee ‘Quick Keyword’ tool is the ability to use 25 rows by 10 columns of words (i.e., up to 250 keywords). In Lightroom, you can only have 9 keywords max per set – a source of frustration for many users. ACDSee has its own metadata field that is stored in the database rather than embedded in the file, but you can embed it into suitable file formats.

Photos mode

In Photos mode, ACDSee catalogs all images from the location(s) of your choice and puts them on display so you can scroll through them. Like the Calendar pane, it’s an easy way for you to search visually and find pictures. Hovering the cursor over a thumbnail brings up a larger preview with vital info such as image dimensions, file size, and folder location.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - Photos mode

Photos mode on the daily setting. You can scroll through your whole database, but it’s still divided by daily, monthly or yearly headings.

View mode

Double-click on a photo in Manage or Photos mode and you’ll bring up a large view of the image in ACDSee’s View mode. Various viewing options are available as well as useful editing tools like Auto Light EQ™ and Auto Lens. You can rapidly scroll through files in this mode and tag images or add ratings, labels, keywords, and categories. It’s an extension of Manage mode if you want it to be. Clicking on Edit mode from here takes the open picture into editing.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - View mode

View mode is the place to be if you want to browse large previews of your pictures. Double-clicking on any picture in Manage or Photos mode brings you here, too. You can also perform a few basic edits in this space or categorize photos.

Edit Mode

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 has plenty to offer in terms of editing but something has to be sacrificed at this price point, and that’s parametric (non-destructive) editing. Photo Studio Standard is a pixel editor only, so you make physical changes to rendered images. You can still leave the original file untouched, but as soon as you finish editing and save a file, there’s no going back and tweaking your adjustments. This is more important if you’re in the habit of reworking pictures or if you edit extensively and want your work to be reversible.


There are a couple of tools under the “Repair” heading. The red-eye reduction tool is something I’d probably never have a need for, but I tested this with a public domain image. Works well – easy to use.

Correcting redeye in photos

With this close-up view, I found myself wishing the size of the adjustment would go slightly larger, as it barely covered the dilated pupil. But still, the red-eye has gone. Most portraits won’t be as near to the subject. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the few glitches I encountered in ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 was a malfunction among the repair tools. I can get the Heal tool to work, and it does a nice job of blending the sampled pixels into a new area. But the Clone tool hasn’t worked for me even after a reinstall. I just get a blacked-out image. This appears to be a bug in the program, as it works flawlessly in other ACDSee software I have on my PC.


Under the “Add” heading you can insert text into your photos or a watermark (the Watermark feature is new in 2019). The default watermark is the ACDSee camera logo, but you can use your own graphic if you want. There are also borders, vignetting, special effects and tilt-shift choices here.

tilt-shift photo effect

The Tilt-Shift tool makes Manhattan look miniaturized.

Personally, I’d be most likely to use vignetting out of these, as it helps direct the viewer’s eye and is a useful photographic tool. It can be fun to add borders to your photos, too, which you can customize in this case with a wide selection of textures or any color you choose.

I counted 54 special effects in ACDSee’s collection, and each is modifiable in some way. Even the ones that don’t instantly appeal might work for you with some adjustment, so there’s a lot to go at. Among my favorites are Collage, Lomo, and Orton. The latter is great for creating a dreamy look.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - Orton special effect

This is the Orton special effect, making a peaceful scene even dreamier.


Under “Geometry”, ACDSee provides rotate, flip, crop, and resize tools. There are some thoughtful touches among these tools, like the ability to control darkness outside the crop area. The Rotate tool also has a cropping feature, so you can level the picture up if necessary and correct wonky horizons.

When resizing, the default algorithm is Lanczos, but it’s worth experimenting, depending on what you do with your photos. Lanczos gives a sharp result when downsizing, for instance, but if you want to back off that a little and achieve smoother edges, try Bicubic.


ACDSee offers some powerful tools under “Exposure/Lighting,” not least its excellent Light EQ™ technology alongside traditional tools like levels and curves. Light EQ™ is similar to curves, only better in some respects since it treats highlights, mid-tones, and shadows separately. That’s only possible to a degree using curves without layers.

ACDSee Light EQ technology

Here, I’m using ACDSee Light EQ™ to adjust the tone of the image. By having the Exposure Warning switched on, I can ensure a good tonal range without losing detail in the shadows or highlights. As soon as pixels appear in red or green, I back off the adjustment slightly. I have the histogram showing the blue channel, as that’s the nearest to clipping at both ends.

The auto buttons in these exposure/lighting controls are also worth a hit every now and again. Personally, I find the auto setting in Light EQ™ tends to make things too bright, but it might provide a better starting point.

You can set your black and white points using eyedroppers in levels and also define the clipping limits under “tolerance.” (Don’t worry if this means nothing to you – it’s only one of several options.

I should mention, too, that ACDSee provides an Edit Brush and gradients with many of these controls, so you can apply edits to selected parts of the image.


Under “Color,” you’ll find White Balance, Color Balance, Convert to Black and White, and Color LUTs. The White Balance tool is excellent, though, like all white balance tools, it relies on neutral tones in the image to use as reference points.

You could also correct color using the Color Balance tool, especially in conjunction with the floating histogram. A good thing about the ACDSee histogram is you can stretch it out as far as you like for a detailed look at tonal distribution. There’s a hue/saturation tool alongside color balance.

Using the histogram - ACDSee software

You can make the floating histogram as compact or elongated as you wish.

“Convert to Black and White” is new to ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019. Based on the colors you know are in the image (e.g. blue sky), you can adjust their brightness to alter the contrast of the final result. This also lets you emphasize different areas of the photo. Good stuff! Contrast is also affected by the RGB percentages, which must always add up to 100. A high proportion of red usually creates more contrast in cloudy blue skies, for instance. Colorized monochrome images are possible, too, under Convert to Black and White.

ACDSee Convert to Black and White

Using the new “Convert to Black and white” feature, I’ve increased the brightness of cyan a fair bit to make the fire-escape steps stand out more. Then I’ve colorized the picture with sepia-like brown tones.

One of the best things in ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Edit mode has to be Color LUTs. These let you alter the look of your photos (often drastically) via numerical color shifts. They’re like photo filters on steroids. ACDSee LUTs are good, but you can also download LUTs from the web and load them into the program.

Using color LUTs in photos

The lower half of this picture has the ACDSee “Turin” Color LUT applied to it. Look closely and you’ll see it’s darker with deeper blue windows and yet has a more cyan sky. You can use the Edit Brush or gradients on many edits.


Sharpen, blur, noise, and clarity all lie under the “Detail” heading. These are all pretty standard. The sharpen tool is like unsharp mask with amount, radius and threshold settings. Typically, you use a low radius for high-frequency photos with a lot of fine detail or a higher radius to bring out coarse detail across a wide area. A sharpening mask slider would be a nice bonus here if I were compiling a wants list. That would be quicker than selective sharpening with a brush.

Other Features

In case all the above isn’t enough, there’s more. For instance, the external editor feature in Manage mode lets you swiftly open images in other programs. Perhaps that will be Photoshop or it could be ACDSee Photo Editor 10, which would complement Photo Studio Standard well.

ACDSee also has a dashboard that gives you stats on equipment used, database size, and photo counts that show you how prolific you’ve been at various times.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 dashboard

The ACDSee Dashboard, indicating prolific use of a Sony RX100 in my case. There are numerous other stats available.

You can create PDFs, PowerPoint files, slideshow files, zip archives, contact sheets, and HTML albums straight out of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019, too. There really isn’t a lot you can’t do.

More new stuff

ACDSee also introduced AutoSave and Auto Advance features in 2019. AutoSave does away with the “do you want to save changes?” dialog when you move onto another image. Auto Advance is good for rating, labeling, or categorizing photos, as it moves onto the next image automatically once you’ve clicked.

Also new in 2019 are customizable keyboard shortcuts, support for HEIF files (used on later iPhones), and print improvements that let you adjust for differences between what you see on screen and what your printer produces.


As much as I understand the benefits of SaaS and subscription software models, I think there will always be a market for standalone products that consumers can update when they want.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 is, first and foremost, a great photo organizer. I’ve never seen better. It’s quick as a browser – doesn’t hold you up – and it gives you workflow choices. There are lots of nice touches to make tasks easier. It’s not especially advanced as a photo editor, but you can achieve a lot without layers, 3rd-party plugins, and even Adobe’s unassailable repair tools.

If like me, you prefer taking photos to organizing them, ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 is the ideal way to get your collection under control. It drills into your database from several directions and helps you find any picture. Many people will want to supplement the editing capabilities with other programs, but you won’t find much better than this for photo management.

Disclaimer: ACDSee is a paid partner of dPS

The post Catalog Photos Like a Pro: ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Disqualified Due to Image Manipulation

The post Wildlife Photographer of the Year Disqualified Due to Image Manipulation appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Africa Geographic announced its 2019 Photographer of the Year title, awarded for a dark, captivating close-up of an elephant.

Just days later, the image was disqualified and the Photographer of the Year title revoked.

winning image

In a statement that’s become more and more familiar in past years, Africa Geographic explained that “post-production work by the photographer resulted in certain tears in the ears of the elephant not being accurately reflected.” This violated one of the Photographer of the Year entry rules:

“Entries should be a faithful representation of the original scene. Localized adjustments should be used appropriately. The objective is to remain faithful to the original experience, and to never deceive the viewer or misrepresent the reality.”

Africa Geographic provided another, unedited version of the same elephant:

elephant unedited photo

Note the holes and rips on the elephant’s left ear.

The CEO of Africa Geographic went on to say: “We are gutted to have missed this detail about the rips in [the elephant’s] ears…That said, we will take this on the chin and improve our systems going forward.”

When asked about the image, the winning photographer claimed that the violation was unintentional (that it accidentally occurred when he was “cleaning up the image,”) and the contest judges have accepted this explanation.

This brings to mind a few questions:

First, how unintentional was this violation? Looking at the disqualified photo, I have trouble believing that the photographer removed the holes and rips in the elephant’s ears by accident. Did the photographer not realize that such post-processing violated the contest rules?

What are your thoughts? Did the winning photographer know that they broke the rules?

And the second big question:

Should this type of editing be allowed? 

This is a much more difficult question, one that comes down to our values as photographers. Personally, I lean toward prohibiting this type of editing. There’s something important about showing an animal as it truly is, including all the hardships it’s faced, which I think the rips and tears in the elephant’s ears exemplify.

But I’d love to have your input:

What are your values when it comes to editing nature photography? What should be allowed in nature photography contests?

The post Wildlife Photographer of the Year Disqualified Due to Image Manipulation appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services

The post Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services - Digital Photography School

From professionals to amateurs and hobbyists, to kids just getting started with their first camera, one issue remains constant: how to store photos. If you shoot with your mobile phone, you’ve likely encountered a “Low on storage space” error message at least once. If you use a desktop computer or laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve had to deal with ever-shrinking hard drive space due to an increasing abundance of photos. One option that seems ideal is to use the cloud-based options that have become so prevalent in recent years.

However, if you value data privacy, you might want to think twice before uploading your images to popular online services.

Some are free, but the hidden costs could far outweigh the benefits.

It’s difficult to come up with a perfect answer to the question of whether or not your photos are safe in the cloud because there are so many variables to consider.

I’m going to examine some of the more popular options for photographers. I’ll dive into their Privacy Statements and Terms of Service documents to see what they really do with your pictures.

Hopefully, this will give you the information you need to make an informed decision about where to store your photos.

Cloud storage can be a great option for your images, but make sure you know what you’re agreeing to when you upload your photos.

1. Google Photos

Originally part of the Google+ social platform, Google decoupled this service to operate as a standalone offering in May 2015. Some of its greatest benefits, which also help make it one of the most popular options for photographers, involve storage limits – or lack thereof.

Anyone with a Google account can upload unlimited JPEG files up to 16-megapixels in size, and unlimited videos up to 1080p in resolution.

Google automatically analyzes your photos for people, objects, and locations that you can search for. There are also options such as shared albums and access from a variety of devices that make the service even more attractive. Indeed, Google Photos seems like a no-brainer, and there is a lot to like about it no matter what type of photographer you are. It’s also the default option on most Android phones, so you might be using it unawares.

Google’s algorithms can automatically recognize people, objects, and even pets.

Things start to get a little murky when you dig deeper, though. Google’s Terms of Service is lengthy, but one tidbit that’s worth pondering has to do with the rights you grant to Google when you upload images to Google Photos or store any other data in your Google account:

You give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

This means that Google can use any pictures you upload to Google Photos for, among other things, promoting their services and developing new ones.

Google goes on to say that their software analyzes your data, including photos and email, to provide you “tailored advertising” in addition to checking files for viruses and scanning emails for spam.

Don’t be surprised if you upload pictures like this to Google Photos and then start seeing ads for pet stores online.

This gives me pause as a photographer. On the one hand, it’s nice knowing that all my images are automatically scanned and analyzed by Google’s artificial intelligence algorithms. It makes it easier to organize, sort, and search for pictures. But all that information is also being used to tweak the ads I see in my daily online browsing. By providing photographers with free photo storage, Google is also providing itself with billions of data points to help send advertisements to everyone who is using their storage.

Should you be worried?

Google is serious about privacy, and it works hard to limit the ways in which your data is shared with other companies. Its Privacy Policy is pretty clear on how they protect your data from bad actors, but rest assured Google is definitely getting plenty of data from your photos that they use internally. And don’t be surprised if you take photos of your new sneakers, upload them to Google Photos, and then start seeing ads for Nike and Reebok when you surf the web. If that’s fine with you, then go ahead and use Google Photos and enjoy the benefits that come with it.

The sharing options in Google Photos make it easy to share pictures with family and friends.

2. Apple Photos

While not exactly known for social sharing, Apple Photos is used by so many people simply because it’s the default option on most Apple devices, including iPhones. Many people store at least some of their photo library using Apple’s cloud-based offering, even if it’s just to sync with their other devices and not store permanently. In terms of data-mining and analysis, Apple takes a much more locked-down approach than Google, which they explain in their Privacy Policy as well as their Approach to Privacy.

Apple Photos is great for storing snapshots from your iPhone and can be used for DSLR images too.

Apple doesn’t make money from advertising, and all the analysis of your photos is performed on your phone and not in the Cloud, so Apple doesn’t really know what’s in your photos at all.

Whether you’re taking a photo, asking Siri a question, or getting directions, you can do it knowing that Apple doesn’t gather your personal information to sell to advertisers or other organizations.

The Memories and Sharing Suggestions features in the Photos app use on-device intelligence to scan your photos and organize them by faces and places. This photo data is shared between your devices with iCloud Photos enabled.

The downside of Apple Photos is that, unlike Google and other vendors, the free storage option is so minimal it’s almost nonexistent. Everyone with an iCloud account, which you need to use most Apple devices, gets 5GB of storage space for everything, including photos, documents, and other data. That’s not much, and it fills up quickly! Additional storage options are cheap, such as 99 cents/month for 50GB, but that’s a far cry from Google’s unlimited free option.

Apple Photos is convenient and secure, but you’ll run out of room real fast on the free tier.

Should you be worried?

Like Google, Apple is serious about the privacy of your data, but they go a step further in that Apple doesn’t even know what’s in your photo library. They don’t scan or analyze your images in the Cloud, especially not for training their Artificial Intelligence algorithms or selling advertising. However, the tradeoff is that you will run out of room really fast unless you don’t mind spending money on storage space.

3. Amazon Prime Photos

If you pay for Amazon Prime, you automatically have access to unlimited storage of full-resolution photos, plus 5GB of video storage. This can be a huge benefit to photographers of all stripes who want a secure place to store their pictures without worrying about intrusive advertising and data analytics. Amazon also has apps available for desktop and mobile that let you automatically upload your pictures.

If you pay for Amazon Prime, you have unlimited secure storage for photos.

When you upload photos to your Amazon account, they are automatically analyzed for faces, locations, and objects. This can be disabled, but Amazon clearly states that this data is only used for organizing your photos and not given to third parties.

Amazon doesn’t share your photos or any of the data derived from our image recognition features. Labels and data are only used to help you better organize and find photos in your collection.

There are other benefits to using Amazon Prime Photos as well, such as easy-to-use methods of ordering prints and creating albums that can be shared with others. However, as a photographer, you need to know that the Terms of Use specifically forbid you from using Amazon Prime Photos in a commercial capacity:

You may not use the Services to store, transfer, or distribute content of or on behalf of third parties, to operate your own file storage application or service, to operate a photography business or other commercial service, or to resell any part of the Services.

Amazon Prime Photos offers unlimited storage space, but their Terms of Use contains some notable restrictions.

Should you be worried?

Amazon doesn’t make any money off your photos or the metadata contained in your photos, and the security of Amazon’s data centers is as good as anything. If you already pay for Amazon Prime, this option is certainly worth exploring. However, you might want to investigate some of the automatic analysis options to make sure it’s not scanning your images in a way you don’t want.

4. Facebook and Instagram

Facebook owns Instagram and applies the same data policies to both platforms, so what applies to one also applies to the other. It’s so common to take photos and upload them to Facebook and Instagram that, for many people, these have become their de facto storage option for images. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Facebook lets you easily share your pictures and also analyzes them for people and places that can be useful when sorting through your images.

Facebook and Instagram are great for sharing photos. However, any data that can possibly be gleaned from them will likely be used for advertising purposes.

Since these platforms are free, and used by so many people around the world, it can be hugely beneficial for photographers or casual shooters to store their photos in Mark Zuckerberg’s cloud. Things start to get a little hazy when you start to dig through Facebook’s Data Policy.

We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others. This can include…the location of a photo or the date a file was created. Our systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them.

That’s just the beginning.

The full Data Policy describes dozens of ways in which Facebook scrapes through your photos and the rest of your data. The company makes money from advertising, and it’s clear that they will analyze and evaluate every possible data point in your photos as much as it can to benefit itself.

Facebook won’t share your personal information with advertisers, but upload photos like this and you’ll likely start seeing ads for baby products.

This information is primarily used for advertising and helps Facebook customize the ads and other content you see across its services. However, the degree to which Facebook lets third-parties have access to your information is uncertain. Many recent scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica data breach, have shown that Facebook clearly has some issues regarding data privacy. However, in recent months, the company has taken a much more aggressive stance on privacy – at least publicly.

Should you be worried?

If privacy and security are your main concerns, I would recommend staying away from Facebook for a lot of photo storage. While things might change in the future, for now, it’s best to assume that your photos are not going to have the same level of privacy as other platforms. You also need to double-check your account settings to make sure that only the people you want to see your photos can view them.

5. Flickr

With its recent acquisition by SmugMug, Flickr has seen a resurgence among photographers. Despite having a limit of 1000 photos for the free tier, it can be a good option if you value quality over quantity. The site has a freemium business model, which means that you can use the basic version for free but pay for more features if you want them. The free tier is supported in part by those who pay for the Pro version, but like a lot of other sites, advertising supports it.

Flickr collects a great deal of information about you and your photos, and its Privacy Policy is certainly worth a look if you want to use the site. They log and store information that you provide them when you sign up for an account, but also a great deal of information in the background too.

We collect information about the computer or mobile device you use to access our Services, including the hardware model, operating system and version, screen resolution, color and depth, device identifiers and mobile network information.

When you upload a photo with geographical data (i.e. from a mobile device) or manually geotag your photo, we collect the location of that photo. With your consent, we collect information about your location if you take a photo within the Flickr mobile application to add to your photo’s metadata.

Like other platforms, Flickr will automatically analyze your photos using its own artificial intelligence.

Flickr also stores and analyzes EXIF data in your pictures such as camera model, focal length, shutter speed, and more. Like Google, they also use image-recognition technology to automatically analyze and tag your photos. This helps in searching through your images, but it can feel a little Orwellian too.

Advertisers get a lot of data from Flickr, and there’s not much you can do to control it. Flickr suggests that you use on-device options such as “Limit Ad Tracking” features on your mobile phone, but that has nothing to do with the wealth of information the company is getting from your photos. Whether you like it or not, your images on Flickr are being used to help Flickr maintain and grow its business.

One interesting element of Flickr that most other platforms don’t have is the ability to change the license on your photos. While this won’t affect privacy or data security settings, it is a good way to help make sure others use your images in a way that you want.

Should you be worried?

Flickr has a better track record compared to Facebook, but just know that your photos will certainly be analyzed for advertising purposes.

Flickr is more widely used for artistic and creative photos as opposed to family, child, and friend photos.

6. Dropbox

As one of the pioneers in mass storage solutions for consumers, Dropbox has become a good option for photographers who want to store and even share their images. Their free option only gives you 2GB of storage, but that’s enough for hundreds or even thousands of photos, depending on the resolution and size. They make money from selling a service, not from advertising, and as a result, your images are about as close to secure and private as you will ever find.

Dropbox offers a range of benefits for privacy-focused photographers.

Their Privacy Policy states that Dropbox collects some basic information such as file size, time/date stamps, and device information but not much more. They don’t really care what files you store on Dropbox so long as they’re not illegal. (And like other services, they have to comply with court orders to hand over files when necessary.)

We collect and use the personal data described above in order to provide you with the Services in a reliable and secure manner. We also collect and use personal data for our legitimate business needs. To the extent we process your personal data for other purposes, we ask for your consent in advance or require that our partners obtain such consent.

We may share information as discussed below, but we won’t sell it to advertisers or other third parties. Dropbox uses certain trusted third parties (for example, providers of customer support and IT services) to help us provide, improve, protect, and promote our Services. These third parties will access your information only to perform tasks on our behalf in compliance with this Privacy Policy, and we’ll remain responsible for their handling of your information per our instructions.

Should you be worried?

Nope. When it comes to data security, Dropbox is one of the best in the business. You can rest assured that nothing in, or about, your photos will be analyzed, tracked, or given to advertisers or other third-parties. You have to pay to move beyond the 2GB free tier, but it’s money well spent if you value data privacy and security.

Dropbox comes with a price if you want more than 2GB, but it can be well worth it depending on your needs.


There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to cloud storage. Whatever option you choose, if you do want to store your images online, it’s a good idea to read through the relevant privacy and data policies to make sure your images aren’t being used in a way that you don’t want. There are plenty of options I didn’t even touch on here, and if you have a bit of time and technical acumen, you can even create your own cloud storage options using computer hardware at home.

All cloud-based services have benefits and drawbacks. Make sure you find one that fits what you need.

Make sure to do your due diligence when choosing a cloud service provider. If a free option catches your eye, you might want to dig a little deeper to find out just why it’s free and what they are doing with your photos. Also, if you value security and privacy, it might be worth it to spend some money on a solution that really does work for you.


The post Are Your Photos Safe in the Cloud? The Real Cost of Using these Services appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

No Filter? No Problem! 3 Simple Methods to Fix Your Sky in Post-Production

The post No Filter? No Problem! 3 Simple Methods to Fix Your Sky in Post-Production appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nils Heininger.

What you see is not what you get

Quite often, we look at an amazing scene, take out our camera, make a snap, and become disappointed. We are not able to capture what we saw. Sometimes it depends on the perspective and composition. Other times it is an issue of dynamic range. When we are working under a bright sky, the latter is a problem.

Dynamic range means the range of light, in which we can still see detail. It is everything between pitch-black and dazzling-white. The human eye has a very wide dynamic range. For us, it is not a problem to see all the detail in the sky, while also recognizing every rock on a mountain.

Our camera, however, has to find a compromise. It either gets the detail of the rocks and a blown-out (white) sky in the background, or it gets the detail in the sky, but just the dark silhouette of the mountain. Sometimes you want that effect, and sometimes it is merely disappointing.

If you are really into landscape photography, you might consider getting a graduated neutral-density filter. You can put the filter in front of your lens and darken part of the image while leaving the rest untouched. There are systems for square filters, which you fix on using an adapter in front of your lens. You can also get screw-on filters, which you fix directly onto your lens. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and there are many options for ND-grad filters.

If you are just occasionally shooting landscapes, or you don’t want to invest too much money at the moment, you can fix the images in post-production.

Here are three different ways you can fix your sky in Lightroom or Photoshop.

1. Graduated Filter in Lightroom

Fixing something in post-production does not mean that you can be lazy while shooting. When you take your image, you have to make sure that you get the necessary detail and find a good exposure. I always recommend shooting in RAW format as it saves far more detail than .jpg files do.

Lightroom’s graduated filter changes the exposure of a part of your image. It will never recover lost information. Shoot your image as balanced as possible. Find a compromise of getting some detail in the sky and some in your foreground.

Before you use the graduated filter, you should adjust the image in a way that the darker parts are well exposed, and the sky is blown out. In the example image, I pushed the shadows and the whites, to make the buildings pop. It all depends on your image. Just make everything except your sky look like you want it to be.

Then click on the little rectangle in your toolbox. This is the graduated filter.

Applying the graduated filter is easy. Just left-click somewhere in your image, hold the mouse button, and pull it in the direction you want the graduation to happen.

In landscapes, we usually pull it down, as we want graduation along the horizon.

The tool marks the borders where the filter will affect the image. You can also see the intensity of the filter, by pressing “O.” This marks the area in red to give you a visual of the graduation.

If the selected area of your image somehow gets pitch-black, white, blue, or looks weird in any other way – don’t panic! Just check if the filter adjustments on the right are already active. Reset the filter adjustments by double-clicking on the sliders and the image will look like it did before.

Now you can adjust the sky. Usually, this means that you have to make the highlights darker. Pull the Highlights-slider to the left. I also added a little blue in the white-balance and pushed the whites, to have a little dramatic contrast in the sky. If you are irritated by the filter-marks, press “H” to make them disappear.

Still, there is a big issue with the image. As there is no straight horizon, the graduated filter also affects the buildings. This is not always a problem in landscapes – especially when using images of the sea, where the horizon is straight. If objects are towering above the horizon, there is an easy way to deal with it.

Add the Range Mask

The Range Mask helps us to quickly deal with deselecting some parts of the applied filter. In this case, we click on Range Mask -> Luminance in the filter options on the right. Here we can select which parts of the graduated filter will be affected. It’s a filter in a filter!

Luminance means that we can make the filter affect a certain range of brightness within the selected area. In the example, we want the filter to only affect the brighter parts (i.e., the sky) and not the darker ones (i.e., the skyscrapers). Hence, we will push the left marker of the range-slider to the right until we exclude the buildings from our selection.

That’s it!

Pros and Cons of the graduated filter in Lightroom

The graduated filter in Lightroom basically does the same thing that an ND-grad filter in front of your lens does – it changes a part of the image and leaves the other untouched. In Lightroom, however, you can choose between many different adjustments, while the physical analog ND-graduated filter will just make the image darker. You can also individually set up the area you want to edit and decide about the softness of its edge.

The disadvantage of the digital graduated filter is its limitations. You can’t recreate the information that your sensor did not capture. A filter in front of your lens will influence what your camera captures on its sensor. The digital filter can only work with what you have. You cannot push everything as far as you want and usually, you will lose some detail.

Still, the graduated filter in Lightroom is often a decent way to make your sky pop.

2. Mix different exposures with HDR

HDR is the abbreviation for High-Dynamic-Range. HDR images artificially increase the dynamic range of our camera by summing up the information of different exposures. Hence, you have to plan an HDR-image in advance.

While you are shooting, you have to create different exposures of the same image.

I usually take three images:

  1. A “well-exposed-compromise-picture” like I would take for applying the graduated filter in Lightroom.
  2. A darker image (silhouette with great sky-detail), one or two stops below the first.
  3. A bright one (good detail in the foreground, blown out sky), one or two stops above the first.

Make sure, these shots show the same image, and you don’t move your camera. It’s best if you shoot using a tripod.

If you are not familiar with calculating stops, there is good news – most cameras can do it for you. Your camera will likely call it “bracketing.”

Somewhere in your menu, you can select the bracketing setting. My camera asks me how many different exposures I need and how many stops they should differ from each other. Then I hit the shutter three times and have my three exposures.

Don’t forget to reset the bracketing, because it is more than annoying to have different exposures when you don’t want them.

The next step is quite easy. Upload your three exposures into Lightroom and select them. Right-click on one of them. Choose Photo Merge -> HDR and wait until the calculation is done. This can take a little while, depending on the image size and your computer speed.

A fresh window of photoshop should pop up. I always check the boxes Auto Align and Auto Settings and mostly use medium Deghosting. Deghosting is the process Lightroom uses to deal with small dissimilarities in the three images (e.g., moving people, clouds, waves).
Then you hit the merge button and wait again. Here is your finished HDR-image.

Wasn’t that easy?

Mix methods!

Sometimes, you won’t be happy with the HDR-image. You can still adjust it! Even though the image above looks a little innocent, there is a lot of detail in there. Get it out by applying local adjustments like a grad-filter.

Nonetheless, you have to be careful. HDR is still just a computer calculation, that does not know what you saw on location. If you do hard editing, you will find artifacts on your image. Artifacts are disturbances caused by processing an image.

Look closely at the example below, and you will find a black shade around the top of the highest tower. Artifacts like this often occur around areas of high contrast.

Pros and Cons of HDR

HDR is a quick and effective tool to make your sky pop. While the graduate filter in Lightroom can only work with the available information, HDR increases this information. If you check the file size of the original image, you will also find that the HDR image is often three times as big as each single exposure. If your computer is a little slow in processing images, it will have more issues with HDR images.
Another disadvantage is the preparation involved on location. You will need extra equipment to get a similar composition under different exposures. Movement in the image, as well as high-contrast areas, can also create artifacts.

HDR has often been overused to create an “edgy effect.” Don’t over-do it here. There is an easy rule of thumb – if you see that it’s an HDR, it is too much.

3. Make a composite in Photoshop

Composite means cutting out parts of one image and putting it above another. There have been many debates about this issue in the past and present. Are composites fake?

In our example, I think it is fine to cut out the sky of a good exposure and put it on top of the same scene. At least the sky looked like this some few seconds before. It was there – the camera simply couldn’t capture it.

To make a composite in Photoshop, you should already have adjusted the images in Lightroom. Prepare one image with a great sky and another one with a good foreground. Select both images, right-click, and choose Edit In -> Open as Layers in Photoshop. A Photoshop project with two layers will pop up.

In this example, I chose to treat the image with the blown-out sky as the background and put the blue sky on top of it. That means that we have to arrange the layers accordingly. Photoshop will always display the upper layer of your project. Thus, we need to keep the sky as the upper layer, but make the buildings disappear, so the lower layer is visible.

The best method to do this is to create a Layer Mask. It allows us to hide a part of the lower image without deleting any information. To create a Layer Mask, we select the upper layer and click on the little square-symbol with the circle in it. A white rectangle appears next to your layer.

Every white part of the layer mask will be displayed. The black areas will be invisible, while everything grey will be partly visible. Now, we need to fill the areas we don’t want to see (i.e., the buildings) with black. This process is called masking.

Masking involves skill and experience. A proper guide to masking in photoshop can fill books. In our example, we try the basics. We want to see the sky and hide the buildings. Thus, you have to mark the buildings with the Quick Selection tool (Press “W” on your keyboard). We need to select everything except the sky. For hiding the selection, we choose the layer mask and fill the selected area with black color (Edit -> Fill or press Shift+F5).

Now, you have your first composite. It looks a bit weird and artificial in the example. Usually, you need to make some adjustments after masking. Work on the layer mask for the edges of the building. This can be done manually brushing the parts you do not want to see.

You can also make some adjustments to fit the look of the sky and buildings. By using adjustment layers and pulling the opacity of the sky a little back, you will create a more natural look.

Pros and Cons of Composites

The big advantage of a composite is that you take two independent images and blend them into each other. It does not matter if the clouds or cars in the image move. You can control every part that you want to see. The result is pretty much dependent on your skills.

However, a composite is a lot of work. It takes a while to understand all the options, tools, and shortcuts to edit a layer mask. The amount of works depends on the scene. Editing the horizon of a seascape is easy. A skyline can be challenging. Put a bush in front of it, and it is easy to mess it up. You don’t want your image to look like the one below.

Which technique to use?

There is no right or wrong here. It differs from case to case. How much energy do you want to invest? Are your skills advanced? Did you prepare more than one exposure?

You can also mix methods or even manually create an HDR-image in Photoshop.

One day, I will get myself a bunch of ND-grad filters and work things out on location. Until then, I will continue using HDR or – if possible – get along with the graduated filter in Lightroom. So far, it has worked fine for me.

What do you think?

Is there a method you prefer? Do you work with ND-grad filters, or have another method of dealing with the issues of dynamic range? I would be glad if you share your own experiences and images in the comments below.


The post No Filter? No Problem! 3 Simple Methods to Fix Your Sky in Post-Production appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nils Heininger.

Image Resolution Explained – Seeing the Big Picture

The post Image Resolution Explained – Seeing the Big Picture appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Herb Paynter.

The very first thing you must understand about photography is that it is totally based on illusion; you choose to believe what you perceive. This concept didn’t originate with photography’s pixels and dots; it is the very basis for human sight. Your brain chooses to believe something to be true well beyond what your eyes can verify or recognize to be true. The very word “resolution” gives light to this concept. The resolving power of a lens is its ability to distinguish small elements of detail. This same issue is true concerning the human eye and its perception of images on a computer screen and the printed page. Each of these “interpretations” relies on a mechanism to carry out an illusion. The eye’s mechanism is rods and cones, cameras use photo receptors, computer screens use pixels, and printing machines use spots and halftone dots. The degree to which each device succeeds in their illusionary quest is dependent upon the resolution of the mechanism and the resolving power of the device.

Each system requires two elements – a transmitter and a receiver. Just as a magic trick requires both a salesman (the magician) and a customer (the viewer), each “visual” process requires a good presenter and a willing observer. The common phrases, “seeing is believing,” and “perception is reality,” pretty much define the benchmark of success. Now let’s get image resolution explained and show you where it’s is most effectively used.

Image resolution

There comes a finite distance when viewing any image where your eye can no longer distinguish individual colors. Beyond that point, your brain must sell the idea that detail indeed exists beyond that point of distinction. The detail you see when viewing an object at close range continues to be perceived long after that object is too far away to verify that detail. There are limitations to the normal resolving power of the human eye with “normal” defined as 20-20 vision.

In the image reproduction process, delivering an image with excess resolution becomes useless when the result of that extra resolution has no purpose. Thus, the gauge of all visual resolution must ultimately be framed by resolving capabilities of the human eye. Producing more image resolution than the eye can perceive doesn’t increase the detail or improve the definition, it just creates bigger files.

While you feel more confident when you pass massive amounts of pixels on to your printer, your printer doesn’t appreciate the excess. It throws all those extra pixels away. More ain’t better; it’s just more.

Dots, Pixels, Lines, and Spots

Beware of the numbers game that is played by manufacturers in the imaging industry. There is ample misinformation and misused terminology floating around that causes significant confusion about imaging resolution. Allow me to clarify some very foggy air beginning with terminology.

DPI (Dots per inch)

The term DPI is probably the most misconstrued acronym in the digital imaging world as it is loosely cast about in digital imaging and applied to just about every device. DPI, or dots per inch, is a reference to printing device’s resolution and describes the dots and spots that each technology uses in various combinations to simulate “tones.” Dots are neither pixels nor halftone dots. We’d all be a bit better off not using this term as it has little practical application.

PPI (pixels per inch)

The basic structure of every digital image is the pixel. Pixels are the square blocks of tones and colors that you see when images are enlarged on computer screens (see the Eye illustration below). The measure of those pixels (typically in a linear inch) determines an image’s resolution and should always be addressed as PPI, or pixels per inch. This setting is affected by the Image Size dialog box in editing software. The higher the number of pixels in an inch, the higher the image resolution. Scanners, digital cameras, and paint programs all use the PPI terminology.

Of all the resolution terms in the industry, this is one that deserves top billing. While the rest of the terms need to be recognized, rarely will they have to enter the conversation.

When viewed in imaging software, these squares are referred to as pixels and should be defined in values of pixels per inch (PPI). This particular dialog defines the size of the “Eye” picture in this article. Internet images are defined by pixel count and concern the linear measurement of horizontal pixels in the image.

LPI (lines per inch)

LPI refers to the halftone dot structure used by laser printers and the offset printing process to simulate the continuous tones of photographic images. LPI refers to the number of “lines” of halftone dots used by various printing processes. “Lines” is a throwback reference to the days when actual lines were etched in glass plates to interpret photographic tones in early printing processes.

This LPI number is specific to the printing industry. Lower numbers refer to larger, more visible halftone dots (newspapers) while higher numbers refer to much smaller and less visible dots (magazines and artwork). I’ll get into the numbers later.

Spots and SPI (spots per inch)

A spot is a rarely used term that refers to both inkjet and imagesetter processes. With inkjet, it is the measure of micro-droplets of ink sprayed during the inkjet printing process. SPI, or spots per inch is a User-Selectable issue concerning the resolution choices when using some inkjet printers. Higher SPI also affects the quality of the printing process by slowing the speed at which the paper is fed through the printer. The spot “marking” size of both plate and imagesetters determines the quality of the shape of halftone dots produced and only applies to high-end lithographers and service bureaus.

Device real-world requirements for optimal resolution

Now we’ll look at each device’s real-world requirements for optimal resolution. How much is too little and how much is too much? The answers require a bit of explanation because there are some variables involved in the projects and the printing devices. First I’ll clarify some misconceptions about digital camera files, then I’ll address three specific printing technologies and give you some concrete examples.

Digital Cameras

The most common reference to camera resolution relates to the camera’s image sensor. These sensors contain a grid of cells called photosites, each cell measuring the light value (in lumens) striking it during an exposure. The actual number of cells contained in an image sensor varies depending on the camera model. When the number of horizontal cells gets multiplied by the number of vertical cells on the sensor, the “size” of the sensor is defined. The Nikon D500 sensor measures 4,288 x 2,848, or 12,212,224 pixels, making it a 12.3 mega (million) pixel camera.

The individual cells in the image sensor are covered by either a red, green, or blue filter called a Bayer array. Each cell records the filtered light, converting the combined values into individual pixel colors.

These pixels can produce any number of different size pictures for various purposes. Each printing process requires a different number of pixels per inch (PPI) to deliver optimal quality prints at a given size. This is because the technology used for each type of printing is different. For example, high-quality inkjet printers spray liquid inks onto paper using very small nozzles (usually 1440 spots per inch).

Laser printers

Most laser printers are either 600 or 1200 dpi devices meaning that a solid line printed horizontally will be composed of either 600 or 1200 dots. Type is printed using all these dots while halftone images can be effectively reproduced from 220-300 pixel-per-inch (PPI) images.

Inside these laser printers is a raster image processor (RIP) that generates halftone dots from square pixels. The value of each image pixel gets transposed into a halftone cell. The formula for exchanging this grid of square pixels into a diagonal pattern of variable-size dots goes way beyond explanation in this article, but it’s kind of like magic.

Laser printers simulate gray tones using the halftoning process provided by the printer’s RIP.

Inkjet printers

Inkjet printers use totally different technology to translate color pixels into printed images. Tiny spray nozzles distribute ink to specific parts of the image to deliver their version of the imaging illusion. The resolution (PPI) required to deliver accurate inkjet images differs from laser printers. This is because they do not use the geometric mechanism of halftone cells but instead, spray microscopic amounts of each ink to precise locations as determined by the pixel values.

Inkjet printers require significantly fewer pixels per inch (PPI) than laser printers to carry the illusion. Typically 150-200 PPI is quite sufficient.

Lithographic printing

Offset printing includes newspapers, magazines, and brochures. Each requires a slightly different lines-per-inch (LPI) pattern of dots. Newspapers are typically 85 LPI, magazines are 150 LPI, and high-end brochures and other collateral material require up to 200 LPI resolution.

Each line screen value is produced by a different PPI formula. While all these types of printing can be produced from 300 PPI files, all that resolution is certainly not required and is technically overkill. Even those high-end brochures technically don’t require this much resolution, but the early-adopted myth of 2xLPI persists yet today. The actual requirement for all high-end printing is only 1.4xLPI. Any more resolution simply gets discarded by the platesetter’s RIP.

In this calculation, newspapers (85LPI) need only 120 PPI, magazines require only 212 PPI, and even the best quality print is ideally produced with just 283 PPI.

In case you’re thinking that this is splitting hairs and irrelevant, consider this… using the 1.4 rule totally meets the mathematical requirement and saves a whopping 50% of the file size in storage real estate and transfer time.

I fully expect to hear some pushback about these numbers, but science and math don’t lie. Phobias about resolution are long entrenched, respected, and expected. However, in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much.


There are two unforgivable sins in preparing your images for proper resolution. Low-res and up-res.


The biggest sin of all is sending files to the printer/publisher with too little resolution.

That is a certain formula for poor results and shows up in the form of soft detail and bitmapped edges caused by normal sharpening.

Every form of print technology requires a minimum of pixels to produce fully-detailed and sharp images. So do not shortchange your project in this respect.

Remember, size your images for the final appearance and assign the PPI at that final size. If you want to see an 8”x10” image appear in print, make sure you address the issue of PPI in the Image Size dialog and before you save the file.

Monitor the Image Size dialog carefully when you make changes. Resample an image while watching the Image Size figure at the top of the dialog. Try to never let it increase. You can get away with a small increase but do so only when necessary.


Make it a rule never to increase your image size as it is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. You can’t create detail; you can only destroy it. Whatever size file (pixel count) you begin with is the largest pixel count you should print unless you’re okay with soft images.

Pixels are not rubber, and you cannot stretch them to a larger size without sacrificing the sharpness of the image. Your digital camera most likely provides you with ample original pixels to print most projects, try to stay within that original ratio.

You can increase the image size, but you can’t increase its detail. Every time you enlarge an image, you distort the pixels. So if you want to print sharp images, don’t enlarge them!

The major advantage to maintaining higher resolution files for an archive is that if an image ever needs to be cropped or enlarged, that extra resolution will undoubtedly come in handy.

It remains standard operating procedure in the printing industry to send all files to the printer with 300 PPI resolution. Cloud services, backup systems, and storage media sales folks certainly want you to continue the 300 PPI trend and rent more parking space on their sites.

Final thought

Make it your goal to make the best of this visual illusion called photography. Your camera, your computer, and your printer provide all the tools you need to perform your magic with great success. Enjoy.


The post Image Resolution Explained – Seeing the Big Picture appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Herb Paynter.

How to Achieve an Airy, Light and Bright Look in Photography

The post How to Achieve an Airy, Light and Bright Look in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Karthika Gupta.

The beauty of photography is that there really is no right or wrong way to take pictures (excluding any technical camera issues). It is such a subjective medium – what someone may consider a bad photograph, others might consider artistic. There are many different styles of photography. Dark and moody versus light and bright, or HDR and oversaturated versus desaturated and selective coloring. And there’s many more. But no matter your imaging preference, there is bound to be a market for that particular style of photography.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

Having said that, I gravitate toward images that have a clean, natural look. My aesthetic style lends itself toward light, soft pastels, and bright images that have a sense of freshness. I find that I am my most creative self when I put myself in situations that give me the ability to photograph in this way.

Give me a dark room, or a scene with lots of bold, warm colors and tons of contrast, and I feel mentally bogged down. I almost start to feel claustrophobic with all that color and contrast. Now perhaps this might seem a little silly, but that is my personal preference. It also goes back to my earlier comment about photography being a very subjective art form.

I get asked quite frequently about how I achieve this “light, pastel, and airy” look in my photographs. It’s not that hard. It boils down to a few simple tips. These tips will help you to better visualize your intended photograph, and thus help you to achieve the light, pastel look.

1. Lighting

I can’t stress enough how important the lighting is when using it to achieve a particular look for your photography. Not all lighting is equal. And I have to say that there is no such thing as bad light. Light is just different at different times of the day. Sometimes the light is perfect – that warm, soft glow that translates beautifully in pictures. Other times, the lighting is harsh and strong. I wouldn’t say that type of lighting is always bad; it is just not the same every time.

Once you train your eye to read the different types of light, and what the light can do to your images, you will be able to analyze your imagery better. You’ll also get photos closer to the style you like without wasting too much time in post-processing. No amount of editing can really fix an image taken in poor lighting.

a. Golden Hour light

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

For outdoor photography, if you want those warm, creamy tones, then schedule your photo sessions as close to sunset as possible. That last hour, the Golden Hour, is when you will get some of the best light. This is because as the sun sets closer to the horizon, the range of light is broad and spreads more evenly.

This type of light also lends itself well to the light, bright, and airy look that so many of us love in photographs. One thing to be aware of when you are using the Golden Hour lighting (a.k.a. shooting around sunset), make sure that you don’t photograph directly into the setting sun. This leads to a lot of sun flare entering your frame. It can also make the shot appear muddy and blown out to the point of not being able to see the subjects clearly, as shown in this image.

When all else fails, a little bit of editing in post-production can fix it.

b. Soft morning light

Soft morning light is another favorite lighting scheme of mine because the light is subtle and soft. It tends to be more even-toned than when the sun is high up in the sky.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

c. Harsh midday sunlight

High noon lighting can be thought of as a spotlight directly over your head. This overhead lighting tends to create unflattering shadows. These shadows result from the angles and protrusions on your face, like your nose and eyebrows. If you wait until the sun hits the horizon, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how soft the tones are and how beautiful and even the lighting is. At this time of day, you can open up your aperture to smooth out the background.

Sometimes when you are traveling or taking landscape shots, you cannot always control the time of travel. Here, you must make the best of the lighting situation and photograph scenes that will lend themselves to the light and airy look when tweaked in post-processing.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

I added a bit of contrast and brought down the blues in post-production just to keep with my style. I have nothing against blue skies but maybe not so much blue in my photos!

d. Overcast light/diffused light

This type of light is also great for images where you want an even tone. The clouds act as a natural diffuser and help to balance out the light falling from the sun. However, this light does tend to be a little flat. But the good news here is, when there is cloud cover or an overcast sky, you can shoot at any time during the day without worrying about harsh, strong shadows.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

This day in the marina was overcast with a lot of clouds. Considering most of the boats were also white, I had to blow out the sky a bit and use the accessories (like the yellow kayak) to add a pop of color.

e. Backlighting/open shade lighting

The bright, even lighting of open shade plays well into the light and airy style of photography. However, playing with backlit sunlight is another way to get that bright, fresh look. Light and airy photographers shoot backlight about 80% of the time.

This means the sun is somewhere behind the subject. This is the tricky part. It’s more than just having the sun behind your subject. If you only do this, you’ll find that your images have a lot of sun flare – to the point of haze – and your camera autofocus may have trouble grabbing focus, resulting in out-of-focus shots.

The trick here is to block the sun from actually hitting your lens. My favorite way to do this is the use of trees. The branches and leaves act as a type of diffuser that filters the sun’s light rays from hitting your lens.

What you will get is called rim light from the rear of your subject. In front of your subject, you will achieve an even unshadowed lighting scheme. You might have to look for a natural reflector to bounce light back onto your subject’s face. Sometimes it is as simple as wearing something white so you can act as a natural reflector.

Yup, being a photographer also means being aware of fashion and color trends!

Another trick is to overexpose the skin tones by at least half a stop. Your highlights may blow out a little, but your subjects’ skin tones will look great. Of course, if you have a very interesting sky that you want to retain, you may not be able to overexpose your image. Most light and airy style photographers are okay with blowing out the details in the sky because this slight overexposure lends itself to a brighter image that is part of the light and airy look. If the background is important, you must consider that in your exposure calculations.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

90% of my shots have the sky blown out and I am okay with that. My style is consistent with what my personal preference is with my images. To each their own.

2. Scenery or background

Personally, I feel like scenery or background is as important as the lighting for a great image – no matter what the style. Gorgeous mountainous backdrops with tall pine trees will look more majestic than a messy backyard with overgrown grass and a swing set in the shot.

But don’t let a simple background deter you from taking a shot.

Every place has hidden treasures, and it is up to you as the photographer to seek them out. I have been known to clear out a client’s home if I feel some furniture or clutter is getting in the way of the shot.

For outdoors and travel photos, I wait patiently for crowds to clear if I feel all the other elements are there to make a great shot. After you’ve established where the good lighting falls, you can then search for the pretty scenery.

For light and airy photos, look for backgrounds that are white or have pastel colors. White or light colored backgrounds add even more “airiness” to the image. It is hard to achieve a light, bright look if you have a dark or black wall in the background.

Remember that both the lighting and scenery combined make for a natural recipe to that “light and airy look” that you want to achieve in your image.

When in doubt, choose a clean neutral-colored background that can make the subject pop even more by eliminating any distractions.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

3. Details

Often, as photographers, we tend to only focus on the lighting, location, and subject. We feel that once we have these three elements, all else will magically fall into place.

However, remember this; every single detail that is a part of the frame helps to make or break the image.

If you have the perfect soft light, perfect background, and perfect subject, but they happened to show up wearing a graphic t-shirt with neon shoes, then that is not going to get you that light and airy image! In fact, details like the clothing, accessories, and props play a huge part in the overall look and feel of an image.

For my portrait and editorial work, I am not afraid to send clothing and prop choices to my clients. It is there for them to use if they need it. This gives them an idea of “the look” that I am going for, and it helps me to get the images that I want for my portfolio based upon my style and my brand aesthetics. Props don’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Sometimes it is the little things like a simple off-white napkin that can do the trick.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

Clothing choices and color preference is given but my clients have the freedom to choose what they want to wear at the end of the day!

4. Camera settings

If you are shooting digital and have a camera that allows you to photograph in RAW format, then definitely do so. Images created in RAW format retain more of the original details than a JPEG file format. The RAW file format also provides the most leeway for making edits to the image in post- processing when looking to achieve a specific “look.”

Avoid extreme bright spots in your photograph by using the histogram feature on your camera. Digital images don’t handle the result of huge overexposure very well, so you’ll want to watch for that.

Karthika Gupta CulturallyOurs Light Bright Airy Photography Style

Having said that, I tend to overexpose my images by about 1/2 a stop about 95% of the time. I find that editing an underexposed image to the “light and airy look” is more difficult than adjusting a slightly overexposed image. I am less concerned about blown-out highlights than I am about dense shadows.

5. Consistency in photography and editing styles

Consistency in photography and editing styles is huge, and not something that too many photographers pay attention to. Photographic style develops over time. It takes a lot of practice, continuous shooting, and consistent editing procedure to make our pictures look a certain way and convey certain emotions. This is my 9th year in business, and my style has taken time to develop. After a lot of trial and error, I know what I like and how I want my images to look and feel – even if it is just for me!

Some people jump on the latest editing bandwagon and are all over the place in terms of trying everything out there. Tempting as it may be, I have found that it just leads to more frustration and anxiety when finding one’s style. When you are just starting out, go ahead and try out all the different styles of photography. See what you like and dislike. Once you have narrowed down your personal style, stick to it. That way, it becomes second nature and helps you develop a consistent and strong portfolio.


The post How to Achieve an Airy, Light and Bright Look in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Karthika Gupta.

Don’t Create Detail, Just Reveal It – How to Reveal the Hidden Details in Your Photos

The post Don’t Create Detail, Just Reveal It – How to Reveal the Hidden Details in Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Herb Paynter.

Just as cleaning the lenses of your eyeglasses clarifies what you see, cleansing your pictures of dull lighting will put the sparkle in your photos.

Have you noticed how many individual tools are available in your favorite editing software for changing the values of pixels? The array is dazzling, and most of this editing involves “localized” procedures (dodging, burning, painting, cloning, masking, etc.) affecting specific areas.

But here’s something to consider.

Unless the image you are working on is either damaged (either completely blown-out highlights, plugged-up shadows) or just contains too much unwanted clutter, you rarely need to create specific detail with these tools. The detail is usually right there just below the surface waiting for discovery. You need only make global adjustments to the tones within the darker and lighter ends of the range to achieve pretty amazing results.

When I took this shot of my wife Barbara fifteen years ago, I put it in the reject file because it was so dark. But carefully adjusting and lightening the shadow and middle tones in the picture separated the deep shadow tones from the middle tones. Now both she and the picture are definite keepers. No local editing was necessary, and there is no tell-tale evidence of a touchup. The image contained all the necessary lighter tones – they simply had to be uncovered.

Push tones instead of pixels

Post-processing digital images is usually a process of subtraction; removing the visual obstacles that are covering the underlying detail in a photographic image. This detail will reveal itself if you merely nudge the tonal ranges instead of the pixels.

The fact is…all the detail in every subject has been duly captured and is hiding in either the shadows or the highlights, waiting to be discovered.

The digital camera’s image sensor sees and records the entire range of tones from black to white within every image it captures. What is hiding within this massive range of tones is the detail. Unfortunately, the camera sensor has no way of knowing the detail that may be under (or over) exposed within that range. It simply captures everything it sees inside the bookends of dark and light.

Camera image sensors can capture a range of tones up to 16,000 levels between solid color and no color. This doesn’t mean that all 16,000-pixel values are actually present in the picture; it just means that the darkest to the lightest tones are stretched out over the significant detail that is hiding in the middle.

Adjustments made to the image in Alien Skin’s Exposure X4.5 revealed detail in the sunlit walkway and darkened archway that appeared lost in the original capture. No painting or cloning tools were necessary.

The purpose of this article is not to get geeky about the science, but to assure you that there is an amazing amount of detail that you can recover from seemingly poor images.

A basic JPEG image can display more than 250 tones in each color. While that doesn’t sound like much, you should know that the human eye can only perceive a little over 100 distinct levels of each color. No kidding! Technically, 256 tones are too many.

The balancing act

Here’s a sobering truth. Your camera can capture more detail than your eye can detect and more tones than your monitor can display. As a matter of fact, it can capture up to 16,000 levels of tones and colors. That’s more than any publishing resource (computer monitor, inkjet printer, Internet, or even any printed publication) can reveal. Each of these other outlets is limited to reproducing just 8-bits (256 levels) of each color. The camera’s light-capture range is even beyond the scope of human vision. The range (light to dark) of your camera is immense compared to any reproduction process. What this means is that the editing part of the photography process needs MUCH more attention than the image capture process.

This introduces a complex but interesting phenomenon. Your post-production challenge is to emphasize the most important details recorded inside the tones captured by your camera and then distinguish them sufficiently for the printer, your monitor, or the Internet to reveal.

Your camera captures an incredible amount of detail in each scene that isn’t initially visible. However, with the right software, this detail can be uncovered just as an electron microscope can reveal detail buried deep inside things that the naked eye cannot perceive.

Image editing is all about discovering and revealing what is hiding in plain sight.

Image clarity

Bringing a picture to life doesn’t always require additional touchup procedures. Sometimes, just massaging the existing detail does the trick. The Highlights, Shadows, and Clarity sliders were all that were required to transpose this shot from average to special.

Clarity is the process of accentuating detail. The dictionary defines clarity as “the quality of being easy to see or hear; sharpness of image or sound.” When we clarify something, we clear it up. We understand it better. We view an issue from a different perspective.

Many image editing software packages have a slider called “clarity.” The function of this slider is to accentuate minor distinctions between lighter and darker areas within the image. Each of the other tone sliders (Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, and Dehaze) all perform a clarifying process on specific tone ranges.

The real beauty of shooting with a 12/14-bit camera is the level of access you receive to the detail captured in each image. If you want to think “deep,” you can start with the editing process of your digital images. You’ll be amazed at what you will find when you learn to peel away the microlayers of distracting information in well-exposed photos.

Just as cleaning the lenses of your eyeglasses clarifies what you see, cleansing your pictures of dull lighting will put the sparkle in your photos.

Adobe Camera Raw controls reveal significant detail in the darker portions of the image by simply adjusting the Basic slider controls.

Learning to expose images correctly

The information you learn from excellent teaching resources like Digital Photography School teach you how to correctly set your equipment to capture a variety of subjects and scenes. Study the articles in this amazing collection and learn to shoot pictures understanding the basic tenets of good exposure. Poorly-captured images will hinder your discovery of detail. However, correctly exposed images will reward you with, not only beautiful color but, access to an amazing amount of detail.

Learn to harness the power of light correctly for the challenge that each scene presents by balancing the camera controls of ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. The more balanced your original exposure, the less post-processing will be necessary.


Every scene presents a unique lighting situation and requires a solid understanding of your camera’s light-control processes to capture all possible detail. Any camera can capture events and document happenings, but it takes a serious student of photography to faithfully capture each scene in a way that allows all that information to be skillfully sculpted into a detailed image.


The post Don’t Create Detail, Just Reveal It – How to Reveal the Hidden Details in Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Herb Paynter.

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