The dPS Ultimate Guide to Food Photography

The post The dPS Ultimate Guide to Food Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

What was once a weird little niche in photography is now a worldwide phenomenon. Food photography is only growing in popularity if the 32 million posts currently on Instagram are anything to go by.

Food photography is here to stay, but it’s not an easy genre to master.

Our guide gives you some of the top tips and tricks to help you get mouth-watering results.

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Equipment

Cameras

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The first thing to think about when you’re on the hunt for a new camera body is the size of the sensor.

Whether you decide to buy a camera with a cropped sensor or invest in a full-frame, your budget will likely determine your choice.

The important thing to know is that your camera and lenses behave differently when they have a cropped sensor than a full-frame.

Every camera has a crop factor. This is a number used to describe how much the camera is cropping your image in relation to the standard 35mm.

A full-frame camera matches the 35mm cropped standard of a traditional film camera. It has a sensor size of 24mm x 36mm. A cropped sensor is smaller than this and is therefore cheaper for camera manufacturers to make. It doesn’t match a lot of lenses and the final images look different.

The Canon Rebel, for example, has a crop factor of 1.6. This means that you multiply 1.6 times the focal length of your lens to get the actual focal length that it will look like your pictures were taken at.

On a full-frame camera, a 50mm lens behaves like a 50mm. Put that same lens on a camera with a cropped sensor, it behaves more like an 80mm.

Lenses

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Lenses are where you should spend the most significant part of your budget. You should look at them as a long-term investment in your craft.

Here are the factors to consider:

Sharpness

Your biggest concern when shopping for a lens is sharpness.

Prime lenses are preferred when shooting food because they are sharper than zoom lenses.

Zoom lenses have more moving parts that enable the zoom to function. This tends to result in lower image quality and sharpness.

Prime lenses are usually ‘faster’. They have a larger maximum aperture, which enables quicker shutter speeds.

They also give you a much tighter depth of field, enabling you to isolate your subject and get that really nice blurred background we all love in food photography.

The 50mm Lens

The 50mm can also be a useful lens, especially if you don’t have a zoom. This lens is good for overhead shots and tablescapes. However, it can give you some distortion when taking a portrait-style shot. In food photography, the 50mm is actually considered a wide-angle lens.

The 50mm f/1.8 is often referred to as the “nifty-fifty” because it gives you decent results for a very low price. If you’re just starting out and your budget is tight, get this one.

The 24-70mm Lens

Although primes are ideal, it’s actually very useful to have one zoom lens in your kit, such as a 24-70mm.

It’s very sharp for a zoom lens, and really versatile. Many food photographers consider this a staple in their kit.

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The 60mm Macro

If you’re shooting with a cropped sensor, then a 60mm macro is a great choice.

On a cropped sensor, it’s more like having a 100mm. If you upgrade to full-frame, you can use it like you would a 50mm.

This lens allows you to get 3/4-angle view shots of your subject with a nice bokeh on a cropped sensor.

You also won’t get the distortion at this angle that you would when shooting with a wider focal length, like a 50mm.

The 100mm Macro

An excellent lens to have in your kit is a 100mm macro lens. This lens is not only for macro or close up shots, although it’s great at these, too.

By pulling further away from your set, you can get very nice portrait-style shots as well. The focal length will give you a great blurred background.

If you go for the 100mm/105mm macro lens on a cropped sensor you will be shooting at a focal length of 150mm.

This will be a very tight crop, which can be a problem if space is an issue.

Tripods

A tripod is a must for food photography. It helps you create consistent images and frees up your hands to style according to what you see through your camera.

The biggest requirement in a tripod is stability. A tripod needs to be able to handle the weight of your camera and lens.

When shopping for a tripod, look for one with both adjustable height and orientation. This is where you have a center column that you can move.

Make sure that it has rubber feet to avoid slippage, and that it has a high payload.

Payload refers to the amount of weight the tripod is able to withstand. It needs to bear the weight of your camera, lens, and any other additions such as a bracket or extension arm.

Food Styling

The objective of food styling is to make food look it’s very best. Most food needs a bit of doctoring to make it look presentable for the camera.

Here are some things to consider when approaching food styling:

Use the freshest food possible

The food you shoot needs to be as fresh as possible so that it looks appealing in your images. When shopping for your ingredients, take care to buy the freshest and best-looking items available.

Always have your scene, lighting, and camera ready before placing your food on set.

When you’re adjusting with your lighting and camera settings, use a substitute in a similar color and shape as your food as a stand-in. Replace it with your “hero” (your main food subject) at the last moment, so that it looks as fresh and appetizing as possible.

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Buy more than you need

When shopping for groceries, be sure to buy more than you think you’ll need for the shoot. Food dries out, melts, goes brown, or otherwise begins to look unappealing within a short time frame.
It needs to be replaced with fresher items.

Depending on the food, you may also need a lot of the items to fill the frame.

Plating

The most important factor when choosing the dishes on which you will present your food is the size.

Objects can look very different to the camera than to the eye and often look bigger than we expect. For this reason, it’s a good idea to choose smaller dishes than you would ordinarily use.

Present your subjects on salad plates or smaller dinner plates. Large plates can dwarf the main subject and dominate the frame.

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Garnishes

Herbs and spices, and items such as croutons, can enhance your food shots.

Sprigs of various herbs like rosemary can be tied together with kitchen string to make little bouquets you can use to add context to your food story.

You can enhance a plain bowl of soup with a drizzle of cream and a sprinkling of chopped chives.

The key is that your garnishes should make sense within the wider context of your scene. If you’re shooting salmon with a lemon dill sauce, then don’t garnish it with basil.

When using herbs, use the freshest possible and replace them as you shoot. They wilt or oxidize quickly. Cut herbs can be kept fresh in the refrigerator much longer when wrapped in some wet paper towel.

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Props

You need to have a collection of food photography props.

A prop is any item you use on set to enhance the image. In food photography, this is typically kitchenware, like plates and flatware, serving bowls and utensils, and linens.

When selecting your props, think about your food photography style and what types of props would complement it.

If your style is really clean and elegant, or more refined, such props would not make much sense and you’d be better off with more delicate pieces.

In general, stay away from very bright colors and bold patterns, as they distract from the food. Colorful pieces can add a point of interest, but they need to work with the overall composition and feel of the photo.

Don’t use a lot of props. A couple of the right props can have a lot of impact in telling a visual story, but too many will distract the viewer and dominate the image.

When selecting your props, start with one or two pieces, perhaps a neutral salad plate and a vintage knife or spoon. If in doubt, keep it simple.

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Backgrounds

You’ll need a variety of interesting backgrounds on which to place your food.

Use a variety of items for your backgrounds, like fabric, craft paper, or large floor tiles. You can also get creative and make your own.

Buy sheets of wood and paint or stain them yourself. There are also some great online resources for buying professional food photography backgrounds and they ship worldwide.

When shooting food, neutral or cool-toned backgrounds like blue generally work best.

Lighting

Lighting modifiers

Whether you use natural or artificial light, you’ll need to modify your light source.

One important item in your kit is a diffuser. This is a panel of sheer white material that you place at the edge of your table to soften the light that hits your scene.

You’ll also need some simple tools to bounce and absorb the light. You can buy a professional 8-in-1 reflector kit, with foldable discs in a variety of materials to use in your shoots, as pictured below.

The silver reflector, for example, can brighten your food, while the gold reflector will add warmth. It usually comes with a diffuser as well.

For a DIY version, you can also use simple black or white cardboard purchased from a craft or dollar store. White brightens your scene, while the black absorbs the light.

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Lighting styles

You should have an idea of what you want your final image to look like before you pick up your camera. Do you want the light to look soft and dimensional, or are you looking for striking contrast?

The greater the contrast between light and dark, the more dramatic your image will be. Often, your subject will dictate the light you choose.

The next time you shoot, photograph your subject in both soft and hard light and note the difference. How does each approach affect the final result? Many photographers tend to gravitate to one or the other as part of their style.

Side lighting

This is when your light is coming from directly beside the food.

Side lighting is a good approach for a lot of your food photography. It works for most set-ups and is easy to use.

Place a reflector or bounce card on the opposite side to the light. Depending on how much shadow you want on the side of your food, move it closer or farther away, or use a smaller or larger reflector.

When shooting white and airy scenes, you still want some shadow to add dimension.

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Backlighting

Backlighting is when you position your light behind your food.

If you imagine the face of a clock, it’s at 12 o’clock. This is an ideal position for beverages or soups, as it adds a sheen and highlights the liquid properties of food.

In general, backlighting is very flattering to food. It makes it gleam and brings out its texture.

However, it can be tricky to work with because it can cause your image to be too bright at the back, and too dark at the front. Too much contrast means the back of the photo will be blown out, with a loss of detail blurring into the main subject. Not enough contrast will result in a blown out photo or one that looks washed out, which is what happens when you shoot with too much light.

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Side backlighting

Side backlighting is a combination of the first two types of lighting. It’s the best of both worlds and the easiest to work with. Here, our light is placed between 10 and 11 o’clock.

With this lighting style, you get the surface shine provided by backlighting without the risk of overexposure. You also don’t have to reflect as much light onto the front of the food because the light is coming at more of an angle.

When using side backlighting, you’ll have to play around with the height of your light relative to your scene, depending on how you want the shadows to fall.

The closer your light source is to your set, the softer the fall-off will be.

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Camera Angles

Camera angle can have a powerful effect on your final image.

Before you pick up your camera, you need to think about what kind of food or dish you are shooting and which camera angle will help bring out its best features.

There are three main camera angles used when photographing food: overhead, 3/4 angle, or straight-on.

The 3/4 Angle

The 3/4 angle is when your camera is placed anywhere from 25 to 75 degrees in relation to your subject.

The 3/4 angle is a popular angle because it’s so versatile. You can usually show the front and surface of the dish, as well as the sides.

You see this angle a lot in commercial food photography.

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The Overhead Angle

The overhead angle is the 90-degree angle. This has become a very popular angle lately due to Instagram.

This angle definitely has several positives. It’s good for fitting several elements into a scene, like in a tablescape. This also makes it a great storytelling angle. You can see a variety of props, ingredients, or dishes of food in the frame when you shoot from overhead. It is also often easier to compose your shot using this angle than a 3/4 angle or straight-on.

However, the overhead angle doesn’t work for every type of food shot. It eliminates depth, which gives a more graphic pop to an image but is not suitable for every type of food.

With the overhead angle, what you most emphasize is the shape of the food and various elements of the scene.

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The Straight-On Angle

This straight-on camera angle is most suitable for “tall” foods, like burgers or stacks of brownies or pancakes. It emphasizes the height of a dish.

When you’re shooting burgers and sandwiches, the bun or the top piece of bread hides what is inside, so taking the shot from anywhere above the food doesn’t make sense.

Remember, the objective is always to focus on the best features of the food.

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Composition

Compositional tools can help us make better photographs, however, not each tool will work for each image.

Before you begin to shoot, know the goal of your image. What is the mood?  What is it that you want to convey? What is the purpose of your shot and how will it be used?

Good food photography evokes the viewer’s emotions. Composition is one of the main tools that help us do this.

Line

Line is the most basic element in visual composition. Lines lead the eye through a photograph to key focal points and elements and keep the viewer’s eye focused on the image.

There are a couple of things to be aware of when working with lines. When using lines to direct the viewer’s eye, they should point to the main subject, or into the frame.

Lines should also never point outside of the frame, as the eyes will be forced to leave the image. This weakens the image and can cause the viewer to lose interest.

Rule of Odds

The rule-of-odds states that when photographing a group of objects, having an odd number of elements in the frame is much more visually interesting than having an even number of elements.

Odd numbers create a sense of balance and harmony and provide a resting point for our eyes, whereas even numbers of objects can divide our attention and compete with each other.

When there are more than five elements in an image, it becomes difficult for the mind to register the higher number. For this reason, it’s a good idea to compose many elements into groups of odd numbers whenever possible.

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Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is intended to help you place the main elements and focal point within the composition.

Think of an imaginary grid that divides the image into nine equal parts, like a tic-tac-toe grid. The ratio is 1:1 per rectangle.

Rule of Thirds is a great place to start. It helps add harmony to your images and helps you take the first steps in composition as a new photographer. In fact, it can work for many images, particularly landscapes.

When it comes to food photography, however, this rule can be limiting. You can end up making images that are unbalanced and awkward.

The Phi Grid is a similar concept that is more powerful than the Rule of Thirds. Both grids look almost the same, but the centre lines of the Phi Grid are closer together.

The Phi Grid

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Phi Grid

The Phi Grid is an expression of the Golden Ratio. It helps you create a balanced and naturally pleasing image.

The Phi Grid follows the ratio of 1:1.618, a ratio that is a constant in nature and one we automatically gravitate toward.

It appears throughout the natural world, from a nautilus shell to the number of petals in a flower.

You can find the golden ratio everywhere in the world around us, though no one can explain exactly why it exists this way.

You can use this knowledge in your photography. Thinking about how the eye moves through an image and incorporating some expression of the golden ratio will help you create images that the brain will recognize as aesthetically attractive and harmonious.

Negative Space

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Positive space is the space taken up by your main subject. Negative space is an area where your eyes can rest. It provides balance, a bit of breathing room, and emphasizes the subject.

Negative space can portray movement and give context to an image. It may also give the viewer the idea that there is a story beyond what the eye is seeing.

In food photography, there is a tendency to shoot with a lot of negative space due to text placement, particularly when it comes to magazine work, product packaging, or advertisements.

When an image doesn’t make use of negative space, it can feel a bit claustrophobic and cluttered. Also, when there is too much going on in an image, the viewer is unsure of where to look.

Repetition

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Repeating elements also add interest to an image. Repetition can occur spontaneously in the subject or can be created by added elements such as props and supporting ingredients.

Sometimes patterns can become monotonous, so breaking up a pattern can create a stronger photograph.

There are various ways to create a break in pattern, such as with a break in color, shape, size, or texture. Where you place this break is crucial; you want to place it in one of your focal points or along intersecting lines.

Color

Color is an important part of a composition. It evokes emotions and creates a sense of mood within an image.

Cool and dark colors such as navy blue and black recede, while light or warm colors like yellow bring objects forward.

Backgrounds and surface colors that are too bright can detract from our subject; they should be chosen according to the mood you want to create, as well as in harmony with your chosen elements.

Color combinations can be monochromatic when they are tonal variations within a single hue. This approach has its place, but utilizing complementary colors is a great technique to apply to food photography.

Complementary colors appear directly opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, or blue and orange.

The color scheme you choose to work with will, in part, be dictated by the food you are shooting.

Your colors should also be balanced in terms of not having too many colors in a frame, which will appear chaotic.

Texture

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One of the best ways to add interest to your photographs is with texture. It adds contrast and detail and enhances food subjects.

Texture occurs naturally in food, but can also be used effectively in backgrounds and surfaces, and your props and linens, as long as it’s not overdone.

Lots of texture in the food, linens, and backgrounds composed together can look too busy and overwhelm the viewer.

Editing Your Images

Adobe’s Lightroom is an excellent post-processing program. It’s more intuitive and easier to learn than Photoshop.

I recommend using Lightroom to do your global adjustments and then to fine tune your image in Photoshop if need be. For example, if you need to work on specific areas of the image.

Let’s look at the most important tools:

The Histogram

 

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It’s important to have a basic understanding of the histogram to make the proper adjustments to the exposure and tones in your image.

A histogram maps out the tonal range of an image. Brightness is graphed on a grayscale. Every pixel in the image is assigned to a value.

Black is on the left, while white is on the right. You can find the shades of grey in between.

The distribution of the tones in the histogram will tell you about the overall exposure of the image.

A big peak in any of these regions means that the image has a lot of pixels at that particular density. An open gap in the histogram means that there are no pixels at that density.

Check if you have a strong peak at the black or white end of the histogram. If you do, your image could be underexposed or overexposed.

Generally, most images look best if they contain both dark and light values. Otherwise, they may lack contrast and look flat.

Cropping

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It’s a good idea to crop and straighten your image before you start making global adjustments.

To straighten an image, start in the Transform panel and click on -> Auto.

If this doesn’t work, you can try one of the other settings, or do it manually under the Crop Tool.

To access the Crop Tool in Lightroom, click on the grid symbol under the Histogram in the top panel. Or hit R for the keyboard shortcut. This will allow you to crop your image by bringing in the corners with your cursor.

Note that when the lock is closed on the lock symbol, the tool will crop each side of the image evenly.

If you would like to freeform crop, simply click on it to unlock it.

White Balance

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White Balance in a very important aspect of post-processing your food pictures.

I recommend shooting with a grey card and adjusting your white balance in post-processing. This removes incorrect color casts and ensures that your whites are truly white.

A grey card is a piece of grey plastic you can buy at a camera supply store. It is exactly 18% grey, which is what your camera looks for when metering a scene.

Take a picture with your grey card in the scene. In Lightroom, take the White Balance eyedropper and click on the grey card. It will automatically read the proper white balance.

The Basic Panel

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This panel is where you may end up doing a lot of tweaking before you settle on a final look.

Exposure affects the brightness of the range of tones in your image, however, playing with your shadows and highlights, and your whites and blacks will give you a more precise balancing of tones than simply relying on the Exposure slider.

Check if the bright areas look muddy, or the shadows still need more light. Move the sliders to points where the image looks good overall.

You will likely need to go back and readjust your exposure slider once you have made edits with the other sliders.

Vibrance & Saturation

Vibrance is also an important slider in editing food photography.

It’s a better editing tool than Saturation because it’s more subtle. It adjusts the less saturated colors without intensifying the already saturated ones.

Vibrance will first boost the saturation of the muted colors and then the other colors.

Whether you actually use the saturation slider depends on the image. In general, a conservative approach is what works best when editing food photography.

If you decide to use this slider the slider, nudge it up a tad, to about +5 or +6.

Tone Curve

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New users often find the Tone Curve challenging,  but it’s one of the most powerful tools found in Lightroom.

The Tone Curve is a graph that maps out where the tones in your images lie. The bottom axis of the Tone Curve starts with Shadows at the far left side. It ends with Highlights on the far right end. The mid-tones fall in the middle, in a range from darker to lighter. They get darker as you move lower, and brighter as you move up the axis.

You can control the lightness and darkness of your tones. Adjust the Point Curve itself or the Region Curve.

The Region has sliders for each part of the tonal range. As you drag each slider, the curve, and the image both change.

To make adjustments with the Point Curve, click on the area you want to affect. This will create an anchor point at which to control the tone.

Dragging the point up lightens that tone; dragging it down darkens it.

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Assess the mid-tones in your image to see if they are already bright.  If not, click on the middle of the tone curve and bring the point up.

If they are too bright, bring the curve down. Check the other parts of your image.

If you’re just getting started with learning the Tone Curve, play around with the Region sliders first. Take note of how the various sliders affect the curve.

Whichever approach you choose, be sure to watch the histogram as you make changes. This way you’ll make sure that you are not losing important detail.

HSL

HSL stands for HueSaturation, and Luminance. This is where you balance the colors in Lightroom.

Color adjustments are usually more subjective than tonal adjustments. This is because color gives a photograph a sense of mood.

There are two ways to make color adjustments in this panel. You can adjust them all at once under HSL/All. Or each color individually under the Color tab at the top of the panel.

The Hue tab or section at the top of the panel is where you choose how warm or cool you want each color in your image to be.

For example, I find that greens almost always look off. I slide the greens slightly more towards the left or right to get them looking more realistic.

To add more warmth – meaning more yellow – to your greens, slide it to the left. For a cooler hue, sliding it to the right adds more blue.

The Saturation slider in the basic panel adjusts the color of the whole image. But the saturation sliders here adjust each color individually.

If you adjust a color to be more saturated, this will affect the saturation of that particular color throughout the whole photo.

Whether you’re working in the basic panel or the HSL panel, saturation requires a light hand.

Lastly, Luminance affects the brightness of the color. These sliders are more valuable than the saturation sliders, so work with these first.

Editing in Lightroom is all about balance. The same goes when working with Hue, Saturation, and Luminance adjustments.

Sharpening

Sharpening should be the last editing step. It adds contrast between pixels and edges, which creates definition and a more refined look.

However, you don’t need to apply sharpening to the whole image because, in food photography, there is not much point in sharpening the props and the background.

The focus is on the food, so that is what you sharpen.

To do this in Lightroom, mask out the image to select the areas of the image you want to sharpen. Hold down the Alt/Option key while clicking on Masking in the Sharpening panel.

Lightroom will show you where the sharpening is being applied in white. Your image will look like an x-ray.

Slide it to the right. The further right you go, the less the image will be sharpened.

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You will find that you will be in the +70-80 range for sharpening for food photography.

In Conclusion

There is a lot to learn when it comes to shooting food, but hopefully, this guide has given you an overview of what’s involved and some ideas about how you can improve your images.

The more information you have, the more empowered you can be in your creative decisions.

Above all, lots of practice is what is going to take you to the next level in your food photography.

The post The dPS Ultimate Guide to Food Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

There’s been an explosion of interest in photographing costume portraits over the last few years. From movie cosplays to historically-inspired portraits – there’s no end to the kind of costumes that could make their way into your portrait portfolio.

Shooting someone who is playing a role can bring a whole new dimension to your images. It can add depth and vibrancy to your portfolio. People often lose their inhibitions about being in front of the camera if they are pretending to be someone else!

With that in mind, here are my top five tips for creating portfolio-worthy costume portraits.

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1. Be inspired by history

Fabulous costume portraits have been created throughout history, both in photography and in other kinds of art. Julia Margaret Cameron, for example, was a British photographer born in 1815 who used to shoot people dressed up as characters from Shakespeare. Her contemporary, David Wilkie Wynfield, would photograph his friends wearing fancy dress in the style of the great 16th-Century Venetian artist, Titian.

And don’t just stop at taking inspiration from photographer either – there are thousands of years of portraits to take inspiration from. In the portrait above, I took inspiration from a painting called La belle ferronnière by Leonardo da Vinci. Other times I’ve been inspired by different historical artists – Rembrandt lighting is a popular technique amongst photographers too and a great place to start!

Never be afraid to try self-portraiture when you’re experimenting with different lighting and looks inspired by historical portraits. It can take a bit of practice to get it right, and you will almost certainly be your most patient model! The shot above is the result of an hour locked in my studio experimenting with light and self-portraiture. I cannot recommend the Fujifilm camera system and app highly enough for shooting self portraits. You can focus and shoot at the touch of your phone screen!

Costume portraits are a great excuse to step away from the kind of lighting that you would usually use and try something different. If you always use studio lights then how about trying some available light? That’s how artists would have mostly worked in the past, and if it worked for them then it must be worth trying! Equally, if you usually work with available light then perhaps this is an excellent opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try something tight and controlled with studio lights?

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2. Check the costume faithfulness

I’m not suggesting for one moment that you should become a victim to historical or film accuracy in your costume portraits. But it does pay to just think through all of the elements that your subject is wearing or surrounded by.

In a costume portrait, even more so than a regular portrait, every aspect of the costume and any props contribute to the story being told by the final image. Ideally, nothing should appear in the final image that wasn’t intentionally put there to be a part of the story.

So if you are shooting a portrait inspired by a period of history, or perhaps inspired by a film or comic book, just take a little time to research your inspiration before scheduling a shoot. Check that your costume, accessories, and props aren’t going to be jarring to the story you are trying to tell.

This is where it might be worthwhile working with costume designers if you are new to styling costume portraits. Their expertise and advice on putting together and styling different kinds of costumes could save you an awful lot of time and heartache in the long run! Of course, there are always opportunities to hire costumes from theatres too – it can be a surprisingly cost-effective option.

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3. Set the scene

Think about the scene that you want your character to inhabit. Are they royalty sitting atop a beautiful throne, or are they a post-apocalyptic warrior tracking danger through the forest? Scouting out a location and sourcing props to suit can be half of the fun when it comes to staging a costume portrait!

You can find great locations in the most surprising places. I have shot in front of huge roller shutter doors on industrial estates, in a scrubby bit of forest that looked like a dreamy estate in the final images, and against an old stone wall in my back garden. With the right lighting, lens selection, framing choices, and post-processing the most unexpected locations can look great in portraits.

But, of course, there’s always the option to head into the studio! Taking a subject into the studio and placing them against a plain backdrop can serve to really highlight the story you are telling through their costume and appearance. It puts the focus squarely onto the subject. This style of studio shooting can be a double-edged sword. There’s less room for mistakes in this kind of controlled studio portrait, but the payoff can be more than worth it when it comes to portfolio-worthy images.

4 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

4. Give your subject a character

When people usually sit for portraits they are playing themselves. So when you have someone sit for a costume portrait, it is helpful if you can have them play a role. It can help them to get into character more quickly and easily.

Before you do the shoot – while you’re pulling together your styling and location – think about the character that you’re looking to capture and write down a few thoughts as part of a shoot plan.

Are they a brooding young Victorian poet who lost their love? Perhaps they’re an underground rebel trying to uncover a government conspiracy four decades in the future? This is the driving force behind the entire shoot, so gear everything towards bringing this character to life.

Once you have your subject dressed up and with makeup done, equipped with props, and in the location you have chosen, all these elements should come together to help them portray the character. It’s their portrayal of the character that will shine through, tell the story, and truly make your shots portfolio-worthy.

5 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

5. Don’t forget the post-processing

You’ve styled an amazing shoot in a fantastically atmospheric location with a great team, and you’ve collaboratively told a compelling story. So what is next? Post-processing – that’s what.

The choices you make on the computer or in the darkroom after the shoot really help you focus the storytelling. Good post-processing can help elevate a portrait to something extraordinary.

You can make stylistic choices in post-processing that you may not otherwise make if you were shooting regular headshots or family portraits. For instance, when I shoot images with an apocalyptic theme, I tend to add lots of layers over the top to create a grungy look to the piece. If I am shooting something inspired by a sci-fi movie, then I often choose to push the colors quite hard to resemble the film grading used by cinematographers. Moreover, if I shoot something medieval- or viking-ish, I usually dull all the colors down and make the finished shots look “dusty” and worn.

With practice, you’ll find your style for post-processing costume portraits. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and do something different from your usual approach. Everything about these images is already completely different from how most people would approach a regular portrait. It’s a chance to experiment!

6 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

Now that you’re armed with my top tips for shooting costume portraits, it’s time to try it out yourself! Remember to create a character, set the scene, and think about every element that you’re placing in the image. That way, you’ll tell a compelling and consistent story that shines through in the final image.

I’d love to see your attempts at shooting costume portraits. Post an image in the comments for everyone to see!

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

12 Photography Errors You’ll Make When You’re New to Photography

The post 12 Photography Errors You’ll Make When You’re New to Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Bond.

It’s a universal truth that everyone has to start somewhere. It’s also true that when you start something new, you’ll make mistakes. All the expert writers on this site will have gone through this process – myself included. In this article, you’ll learn about 12 common photography errors that are typically made, and how you can quickly correct those mistakes. So read on if you want to avoid some of the pitfalls of photography, and fast forward to creating amazing photos!

To demonstrate that everyone has to start somewhere, the photos used here are among my earliest photos. Taken with an SLR camera, and of course in the days of film. There are plenty of mistakes in the set of images in this article. At this point, I certainly knew my way around an SLR camera, but clearly there were still things for me to learn.

1. Crop in the wrong place in pursuit of minimalism

You’ll have heard photography is the art of subtraction. That is, removing unwanted elements from your frame will give you better photos. You’ve arrived at a popular location to take photos, only to find crowds of people there. The solution is to begin your photo, where the head of the tallest person in that crowd ends.

In other words, crop your photo halfway up the side of a building. While this does remove that unwanted element, it leads to a poorly composed photo in the pursuit of minimalism. This could arise from other objects like parked cars, or wires in the wrong place in your image. So what can you do instead of this overly tight composition?

  • Arrive early – One of the best ways to avoid crowds of people or cars is to arrive early. Wake up for sunrise, and get that great angle before the crowds get in the way of it.
  • Multiple photos – Set you camera up on a tripod, and take a sequence of photos of the same scene. Ensure people are moving around. Then stack the photos in Photoshop, and use the median function to remove people from the photo.
  • Cloning – You can use clone stamping to remove elements in the photo you don’t wish to be there. This requires some skill, but can be used to remove wires, people and sometimes larger objects.

This is a photo that would benefit from more foreground being visible. There is too much dead space at the top of the image.

2. Photograph into the light

Not taking the time to plan when you’ll visit a location will lead to this mistake. Perhaps you’re on a walking tour, and your next location is a famous landmark. It just happens to have the sun behind it, with all the interesting detail of the object obscured by bad light. The same is also true when you photograph a person towards the light, unless you’re reflecting light back onto them or using external flash then the portrait is likely to be lacking. So what solutions are there for this problem?

  • Know the light – Do your research on the location you’re visiting, and make sure to arrive when the sun is in the right direction. You can use suncalc for this purpose, it shows the direction of the sun in relation to time of day and geographic location.
  • Change sides – In some cases, you can move to the other side of a building, where you’ll be able to photograph a person from the other direction. This is a relatively simple solution that can improve your results.
  • Light modifiers – The use of reflector discs and or off-camera flash can make portrait photography towards the light possible.
  • Digital blending – Photographing towards the light, when the main subject is larger than you’d be able to light with external flash? You can instead bracket your photos, and use digital blending with your image. This is an effective solution when you want to photograph towards a sunset.

A photo that’s reasonably composed but that would have benefited from being taken at another time of the day. This type of photo would work well during blue hour.

3. Never change your point of view

If all your photos are taken from a standing position, or perhaps seated position when you’re eating, then you’re missing a trick. A change in perspective is a great way to produce much more interesting photos.

That’s not to say there aren’t great photos to be taken in a standing position. A lot of street photography and portrait photography uses this perspective to great effect. There are plenty of other angles to use though, and adding variety to your photography through these angles is a great idea.

Changing your angle might be as simple as kneeling down, or as challenging as finding access to a high vantage point from a nearby building. The worm’s eye view and bird’s eye views can be used to great effect.

You don’t need to photograph straight up or straight down though. Photographing from lower down might emphasize a leading line on the road that much more, or allow plants and flowers to become a more important element within your frame.

Clearly the focus of the image is the roof tiling and the eagles. Area’s to the top and bottom of this image are not needed, and different framing should have been used.

4. Over reliance on post-processing

One of the common photography errors you can make is an over-reliance on post-processing. The aim as much as possible should be to get your result in-camera.

Your camera is, after all, an incredibly powerful creative tool. Of course, it’s important to learn post-processing. If you don’t do so, you’ll be at a disadvantage. It’s a good idea to learn how to use your camera and post-processing in conjunction with each other.

What can happen if you allow your skill in post-processing to outstrip your knowledge of the camera?

  • Fix the photo – Instead of getting the photo right in camera, the idea is to correct mistakes in post-processing. This will stall your progression as a photographer, and it makes you a lazy photographer.
  • New photography techniques – Post-processing can add that “x factor” to your image. So much so, that you may progress more slowly in learning new camera techniques.
  • Transformations – It’s possible to make some quite radical changes to your photo. Compositing images is certainly something you should learn. It’s also possible to just change the sky in a landscape scene to something more dramatic. In doing this, are you as motivated to return to a location many times, until you get a dramatic sky in real life?
  • Filters – Post-processing is all about subtle changes. Overcooking your photo by using a filter at too strong a strength might make your photo stand out, but perhaps not in a good way.

This photo needed to be taken at another time of the day when the sun lights up the building. The lamp to the left also adds nothing and should be removed by changing the angle.

5. Not learning your camera settings

Your camera is fulling of settings that affect your image. A lot of these settings are connected to one another as well. The relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is fundamental to photography. You need to take the time to learn each of these settings on their own, and how changing one of them can impact another setting. The first and most important thing to do here is to stop using your camera on automatic.

One setting at a time

You won’t learn everything at once, but you want to get to the point that you subconsciously know the correct settings to use. It’s a good idea to spend time getting to know one particular camera setting at a time and what it does.

A good setting to focus on is aperture.

Learn how aperture can be used to control the depth of field, blur the background, and perhaps produce a starburst in your photos. Having learnt how this setting works, move onto a new setting and learn that one.

This detail photo would have been improved by using a larger aperture. At the time this sort of lens wasn’t available to me.

6. Not using selective focus

Getting sharp images is an important part of photography. To get the sharpest images you’ll need to learn how to use the focus settings on your camera correctly. One of the most important of these settings is selective auto-focus.

Another of the common photography errors is to let your camera decide where to focus for you.

Instead, you should be in control of this process.

It’s not always the case that you’ll want to have your focus point in the center of the image. Use selective focus, so your camera focuses where you want it to focus. Your camera will have a grid array that can be seen through the viewfinder. Use your camera’s direction controls to move the focus point to the appropriate position, and you’ll be ready to photograph.

The photo uses the rule of thirds, so composition is okay. The tree on the left is somewhat distracting though.

7. Going it alone

Photography is a great past time to practice on your own. It dovetails very well with nice long walks by yourself in the country or city. Indeed you can learn a lot about your craft through self-exploration, and perhaps reading articles on sites such as this one. To only do this would be a mistake though. There are a lot of good reasons to seek out and befriend other photographers. Here are a few things you’ll gain from teaming up with other people.

  • Feedback – One of the best ways to improve as a photographer is feedback. Some of the best feedback you’ll receive is from fellow photographers.
  • Collaborations – Not all photography is easy to achieve on your own. Once you start using off-camera flash to photograph models, working as a team makes sense.
  • Learning – Tapping into the knowledge base of other photographers is invaluable. Different people learn about different things in photography, so being able to share that knowledge helps a lot.

The horizon line isn’t straight, showing this photo was taken too quickly. Another indicator of this is not waiting for the man to move out-of-frame. A rushed photo, and a poor result.

8. Not developing your own style

This is true not just in photography, but in many art forms. It’s easy to look to famous photographers, or perhaps local established ones, and look to emulate their photography. It’s a good idea to learn about how photographers take their images on a technical level. Once you know how other photographers work though, it’s then time to interpret these techniques in your own way.

There are, as mentioned, many benefits to joining a group of photographers, but one potential pitfall is developing their style of photography. Learn what makes their photography work, then spend a bit of time of your own developing a style that suits your work.

A photo that is spoiled by the wire at the top of the frame. Simply moving forward and using the same composition would have removed this wire from the photo.

9. Not learning new techniques

As you progress and become comfortable in your skin, you’ll come to one of the next big photography errors. You’ve developed a style, but then stopped progressing. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially if you’re getting attention for the photography you’re now producing.

Photography is always evolving and to stay at the vanguard of the field you need to be learning new techniques. They might not necessarily become your signature style, but learning new ideas allows you to freshen up those styles that are your signature techniques. This might lead to you combining two photography techniques. You might learn a different way of post-processing your images that allows you to improve all the photos you take in the future.

This was once a photo I liked. Today, I know that it really needed a graduated neutral density filter for the sky. This aspect of photography was something I’d not learnt at this point.

10. No main subject

How do you elevate a good photograph into a great one? To do that you’ll need a narrative to your photo, and that means a main subject.

It’s possible to take nice photos of a landscape or abstract detail photos that are very eye-catching. A silhouetted person on the brow of a hill instantly adds more story to your scene, making it a stronger composition. A detail photo with one part of the image that’s different? Now you have a photo with a subject.

Sometimes the main subject will be readily available, like a single tree in a landscape scene. At other times you may need to wait patiently for a person to walk into your scene, thereby giving your scene its subject.

This is an awkward photo that lacks a main subject, and leaves a lot of dead space on the right.

11. Too many distracting elements

In photography, you want to keep it simple. Once you’ve settled on a strong main subject, you need to frame it correctly.

Another regular in the photography errors list is a busy photo. This is often because the background has too many elements, but distracting elements can also extend to the foreground. How can you eliminate extra elements from your scene such as unwanted wires? It’s true that you could use post-processing. On the other hand, you can develop your photographer’s craft. So what options are there?

  • Angle – That means changing the angle, perhaps as dramatically as walking to the other side of your main subject.
  • Focal length – You can also use different focal lengths, longer focal lengths will compress your scene which might allow you to remove things you don’t want from the frame.
  • Aperture – Get stuck on automatic mode and you won’t learn about this. A great way of removing a busy background is to blur it out. You can do this by using a large aperture, the resultant shallow depth of field will blur the background but keep your main subject sharp.
  • Closer – Walking closer to your subject, when that’s possible, means you’ll remove elements from your frame. They’ll now be behind you, but you might need to use a wider focal length to take the photo.

The water makes some nice patterns, but the photo lacks interest. In addition to this, the bottom is overexpose. A well-placed GND filter could have fixed that problem.

12. Bad composition

There are some basic rules of composition, and it’s worth knowing what they are. These are things like the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing. It’s also true that not every photo benefits by doggedly sticking to the rule of thirds, those photos that use minimalism for instance might not work so well. It is a good idea to know what composition techniques work though, and to look at how you can apply them to your photography. When you don’t do this you’ll begin your photographic journey with awkward composition mistakes.

Chloe, I miss you. This is quite a nice photo of this dog. The foot should not have been cut off though, and the angle is clearly from a standing position. Kneeling down might have worked better here.

Cut down on your photography errors!

As you’ll see, there are lots of photography errors you can make. Are there any on this list you’ve made? Perhaps there are other photography errors you’ve made while learning, and you can share them with the community here? As we all know, making mistakes is a part of the learning process.

So now it’s time to pick up the camera, and having read this article, hopefully you’ll know more of the photography errors to avoid!

 

The post 12 Photography Errors You’ll Make When You’re New to Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Bond.

The Real Consequences of Taking a Break from Photography

The post The Real Consequences of Taking a Break from Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Have you ever felt fed up with your photography? Disillusioned? Frustrated? Uninspired? Burnt out? If that’s the case for you, you are not alone in those feelings. Most of us feel that way at some point or another, often on multiple occasions. Fortunately, there is and always has been a lot of sound advice available for when you feel that way.

Advice that prompts you to try new techniques for a different perspective and a fresh outlook is one great example of common advice that may help you to overcome the frustration.

Sometimes doing something different, like getting out of the studio, can be enough to give you a fresh perspective on things.

This article discusses one particular piece of common advice that’s given to photographers a lot. You will have probably heard (or read it) given to someone else at some point, even if it hasn’t been given to you. That advice is when you feel this way, take a break from photography. On the surface, this can seem like a great idea and a great piece of advice. However, once you dig a bit deeper and dissect the possible outcomes (as this article does), you should see that the repercussions of following through with a break from photography can be significant.

Where is this coming from

This topic is quite personal. I followed this advice several years ago after struggling with severe burn out. Because of this, the topics discussed in this article are based on some of the things I experienced after taking a break. That said, even though this is quite personal, I try to keep that aspect out of this article as much as possible and keep things analytical and leave the anecdotes to a minimum.

Even so, you’re situation and experiences won’t be the same as mine. I may have experienced these consequences, but that doesn’t mean you will. If you are considering taking a break from your photography, do have a good, hard think about if any of this applies to you.

There are benefits

Taking a break did allow me the chance to spend time creating images that matter to no one other than me.

As mentioned, the advice photographers often get is to take a break from photography. This does have some benefits (and I did experience those).

By taking a step back, you can gain both space and time to give things an honest appraisal and discover exactly what is causing the feelings of frustration that led you to the point of wanting to take a break in the first place. This a huge advantage and if used well, you can take that insight and fix, or cut out, whatever was causing your frustrations.

Some of the things that are easier to evaluate from a safe distance include: what you like and don’t like, the direction your photography is heading in, your working habits, and your personal values and how they apply to your photography.

I used to use a white background a lot because I loved it. At some point, I stopped loving it and became bored, but didn’t realize until I took a long step back.

That time can also give you the opportunity to let some information sink in. If there’s a concept or a technique that you just can’t wrap your head around, stepping away from actively pursuing it gives your brain the opportunity to work on the problem in the background.

The downsides

While the positive consequences of taking a break can be obvious, some of the potential negative consequences are less so.

Habits and systems

As you develop as a photographer, so does your list of processes and systems that help you achieve what you do. A post-processing workflow is just one example of something that may be disrupted by taking an extended break from photography.

If you’ve been involved with photography for any amount of time, you have gradually built a series of habits and systems that you go through every time you take photos. This could be your post-processing workflow, it could be the way you research locations, or it could be the way you conduct yourself on social media.

The thing is, these habits and processes were built step by step. You didn’t just wake up one day and have a complete post-processing workflow in place.

When you decide to take a break, you’re taking a break from your habits and routines. If these were developed over years of practice and daily ritual, what happens when your break is over? Chances are, when you come back, you may very well struggle to jump back into those complex habits. Instead of building things up gradually, you are trying to get back into a routine all at once. This can extremely difficult at the best of times.

While on my break, I spent a fair amount of time shooting landscapes for fun and as an excuse to be outside. While fun, landscape photography requires a very different approach and set of processes to portraits.

If you think about this just in the context of social media, posting content everyday (or at least regularly) can be a significant job with plenty of work going into each post. Stopping that routine and then trying to come back to it months later could be overwhelming and it might take significant effort to overcome a challenge like that.

Once you add that to the possibility that once you step away from social media, you may very well recognize just how toxic it can be, which makes it all the harder to willingly step back into that arena.

Things change

Depending on how long your break is for, things that you take for granted can change dramatically. My break lasted a couple of years. In that time, Photoshop transformed into something only slightly recognizable. Lightroom transformed into the go-to for photographers, and Instagram went from iOS users only to taking over the world.

You can probably see the disadvantages here. In this technological world, everything changes at a ridiculous pace. By taking time out, you are removing yourself from a position where you can adjust to these changes as they happen. When you decide to come back, you now have an enormous workload of stuff that you have to learn or relearn just to put yourself at the same level you were before.

People change

If you’re a portrait photographer, or any sort of social photographer, this is probably the most applicable point to you.

Much as the tools of the trade change over time, so will your network. Once you’re on a break, any previous contacts or clients will move on and find another photographer. Models, make-up artist and other collaborators may move on or change focus themselves.

Over time, your network of clients, collaborators and co-conspirators changes organically. However, if you’re on a break, you don’t have as many opportunities to add new people to your network.

This applies equally to social media and real life networking.

If you weren’t on a break, this would still happen, but your network would still be growing naturally. However, if you’re not there to grow that network, the holes that these people leave will be empty once your break is over. If your break is an extended one over a couple years, you may come back to find that the network that you put a significant amount of time and effort into building is decimated.

Piecing it back together

All of these things on their own may not seem insurmountable, but once you add them all together, they can accumulate to an enormous challenge that will set you back in both time and effort.

Having to refocus on these things also means that once you’ve decided that you’re ready to come back to photography, you have to put a great deal of time into the things that aren’t photography.

For a lot of people who are frustrated and disillusioned with their photography, it is often these ancillary administrative tasks that cause the feelings of frustration and disillusionment in the first place.

Weigh your choices

If you are in a position where you are considering taking a break, I understand and I empathize. A lot of photographers have been there before.

Before you make a decision, please, please take the time to consider all of the possible consequences of taking a break.

Again, my circumstances will be different from yours and your consequences may not look remotely like mine, but there will be consequences that you may not be able to see yet. Please try to take them into account.

Have you taken a break from photography or considering it? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

The post The Real Consequences of Taking a Break from Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography

The post 5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Do you want to capture stunning bird photography…

…that goes beyond the usual, standard bird photos?

You can!

In this article, I’ll give you 5 bird photography secrets that will ensure you consistently create incredible bird images.

Images that are creative, unique, and original.

Sound good?

Let’s dive right in!

1. Get Low for Gorgeous Bird Photography Backgrounds

Here’s the bread-and-butter of creative bird photography:

Get down low.

Really low.

It may seem tough. You might prefer to stay up high, away from the dirt and water and mud.

But if you want incredible bird photos, you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. You’ve got to get down low.

Specifically, you need to get on a level with the bird. Your lens should be about even with the bird’s eye.

Why is this so important?

When you shoot from down low, the distance between the bird and the background is greatly increased. And that causes the background to be far more blurred.

Therefore, you’ll capture some beautiful bokeh.

And beautiful bokeh?

Makes for a stunning bird photo.

This is how professionals capture such dreamy backdrops in their bird photography.

They get down as low as they can go. That’s all.

It really does make a huge difference!

Try it. I can guarantee that you won’t regret the resulting shots.

2. Shoot in water for stunning reflections

Do you want to capture especially gorgeous bird photography?

One of my favorite ways to do this…

…is to shoot reflections.

Let me explain:

A photo of a bird is nice. It’s standard. It can be beautiful.

But if you add a reflection, the image immediately becomes far more captivating. Viewers are instantly sucked into the scene.

The reflection adds a sense of subtle beauty and delicateness – one that you can’t get any other way.

Now, here’s how you capture gorgeous bird reflections:

First, shoot by still water.

Mudflats (with puddles) work well. Same with sheltered lakes.

If you’re struggling to find water still enough to generate full reflections, try shooting during the early morning. That’s when the wind tends to be a lot less noticeable.

Second, make sure the sun is low in the sky. (The lower, the better.) This will ensure that the reflection includes some nice colors.

You also have to be careful not to get too low over the water.

Why?

If you’re too low, the full reflection won’t come through. And a broken reflection has far less power than a full reflection.

Bottom line?

Find some birds near the water, and start taking photos!

3. Capture action for compelling bird photos

One of the biggest problems with beginning bird photography…

…is that it’s static.

The bird just stands in the frame.

And while there are methods of making this type of photo work, it’s often just a boring photo.

That’s why you should spice up your bird photos using action.

Once you’ve found a subject, watch it through your camera. Keep your finger on the shutter button.

Then, as soon as it starts to move, take a burst of photos. The more photos, the better!

Of course, you’re going to have a lot of failed shots. But you’ll also capture some keepers. And these will (with a little luck) blow you away!

Some of my favorite shots involve birds flapping their wings, preening, or feeding. If you wait for this behavior, you’ll get some stellar action shots.

One thing I’d recommend:

When you’re watching a bird through the camera viewfinder, keep some space between the bird and the edge of the frame.

Because birds can rapidly change their size – just by opening their wings. And clipped body parts are one of the easiest ways to ruin a bird photo.

Just remember these tips, and you’ll be capturing some great action photos in no time!

4. Shoot through vegetation for unique images

Another way to capture original images…

…is to find a subject.

Get down low.

And shoot through some vegetation.

This creates a gorgeous foreground wash – one that frames the subject without dominating the photo.

To pull this off, you generally have to lie flat on the ground. I advise experimenting with a few different angles – move around your subject, testing different possible foregrounds.

Note: It’s important that the vegetation is very close to your lens (and very far from your subject). Because the farther the vegetation is from your lens, the more in focus (and distracting) it becomes.

It’s also important to limit the amount of vegetation in the photo. You don’t want to cover up the bird entirely. Instead, you want to frame the bird with the vegetation.

Make sense?

Then start taking some shots with a foreground wash. You’ll love the shots you get.

5. Capture silhouettes for dramatic bird shots

Here’s one more way to capture creative bird photos:

Shoot silhouettes!

Silhouettes are really easy to pull off – and they look incredible.

Here’s how you do it:

Go out as the sun is just about to set. Find a subject (birds with a clear outline are best).

Then change your position so that the bird is between you and the setting sun. Ideally, the bird blocks the sun from your camera. This will prevent the sky from being completely blown out.

Make sure that the bird is in front of as much of the sky as possible.

That is, you want to frame the bird with sky – and you don’t want any dark patches behind the bird (from trees or other objects).

If you’re struggling with this, try getting down as low as you can. Because the lower you get, the more sky you’ll include in the frame.

Finally, ensure that you drastically underexpose your subject. One trick is to set the exposure based on the sky next to the bird.

That way, you’ll get a beautiful sky – with a nicely silhouetted subject.

Creative bird photography: next steps

Now you know how to capture stunning, original bird photos.

You know how to produce amazing backgrounds.

You know how to generate interest.

And you know how to capture incredible foregrounds.

The next step…

…is to get out and shoot!

Have any tips for creative bird photography? Share them in the comments!

The post 5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

5 Surprising Macro Photography Ideas to Jumpstart Your Creativity

The post 5 Surprising Macro Photography Ideas to Jumpstart Your Creativity appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Are you struggling to come up with amazing macro photography ideas?

Do you need a bit of a creativity jumpstart?

That’s okay! Because in this article, I’ll give you 5 macro photography ideas – all geared toward getting you out of that creative rut.

Are you ready to start taking stunning macro photos again?

Then let’s get started.

1. Find lights in the background for amazing bokeh

One of the best ways to do creative macro photography…

…is to capture gorgeous bokeh.

(That is, a beautiful, smooth, creamy background.)

And here’s how you do that:

First, find a subject that you really like. A flower, an insect, or some plant life will all work well.

Choose a wide aperture (one in the f/2.8 to f/5.6 range).

Then zoom in, until you’ve isolated just your subject.

Here comes the important part:

Slowly move around your subject, while looking through your camera’s viewfinder. The key is to find a ‘bokeh-generating’ background.

Now, bokeh-generating backgrounds involve light. The best bokeh often comes from bright lights and colors in the background.

More specifically, look for pinpricks of light and colorful reflections.

For instance, sun coming through trees creates amazing bokeh – because the trees break up the light.

Leaves in golden-hour light also create gorgeous bokeh. The golden light on the leaves reflects and makes a creamy, colorful backdrop.

Most scenes have at least a few bokeh options – so don’t settle for a subpar choice.

Instead, use the bokeh to create a masterpiece!

2. Shoot into the sun for gorgeous backlit macro photography

Nature photographers often shoot using frontlight – where the light comes from over the photographer’s shoulder, and lands on the subject.

This often works well. But it can get boring after a while.

If you want to get creative…

…try using backlight.

Backlight comes from behind your subject. It’s great for creating silhouettes – and it’s also great for producing creative lighting effects.

The light can pass through part of your subject, making it turn translucent.

And backlight can also create bright flares of light. When done right, this creates some stunning effects.

However, you should position the sun carefully.

If you get the naked sun in your frame, the whole shot will be ruined because the sun is simply too bright to be rendered by your camera.

Instead, put your macro photography subject in front of the sun. That way, the sun is blocked from view. But you still get some gorgeous effects.

In fact, I recommend experimenting with this. Try changing your angle slightly, so that the sun is placed behind different parts of your subject.

You’ll manage to capture some stunning shots – shots which you probably wouldn’t have initially imagined!

3. Shoot against a white sky for a gorgeous high-key look

Here’s a favorite macro photography idea of mine.

I use it all the time when I’m in a pinch!

Fortunately, it’s really simple:

Shoot against a white sky.

Let me explain:

One of the most important parts of a macro photo…

…is the background.

Without a beautiful background, your macro photos will often fall flat.

Now, the best backgrounds are simple and uniform.

And one of the great ways to create a uniform background?

Rely on the sky!

This works especially well on cloudy days. All you have to do is find a subject – then get down low. In fact, you often have to get lower than your subject.

Make sure that the background is completely covered by clouds.

Then photograph your subject and watch as it stands out against a gorgeous white backdrop!

(If the shot is slightly too dark, don’t worry. You can always lift the whites in post-processing.)

4. Freelens for stunning selective focus

Here’s another great macro photography idea for when you’re in a rut:

Freelens!

I’m a huge fan of this technique – because it gets striking, unique images.

Here’s how it works:

Turn on your camera, and make sure that your lens is focused to infinity.

Then turn your camera off, and detach the lens.

(I suggest you use a backup camera and backup lens for this because there is a risk of damaging your equipment.)

Now, the best lenses for macro freelensing are in the 50mm range. I’ve found that 50mm creates a nice balance of background blur and sharp focus.

Once you’ve detached the lens, turn your camera back on.

Then…

Experiment!

Note: With freelensing, you don’t focus by turning a focus ring. Instead, you focus by changing the position of the lens relative to the camera.

So keep the lens detached, and move it around at different angles.

Look for macro subjects, and see what happens when you shoot them with a freelensing setup. Also, notice how pulling the lens away from the camera increases the magnification of the lens. It also allows in more light – creating artistic light leaks!

Freelensing is a bit addictive. Once you’ve started, you’ll struggle to stop – because there are so many opportunities for gorgeous macro photos!

5. Shoot through a second subject for an incredible foreground

If you want an idea for especially creative macro photography…

…why not try ‘shooting through,’ or ‘cramming’?

First, find a macro subject. Flowers work especially well for this because they’re so colorful.

Get in close, and focus your lens on that subject. Choose a wide aperture, in the f/2.8 to f/5.6 range.

Then find a second subject. Place it in front of your lens. The second subject should be colorful – and ideally, similar to the first subject.

And…shoot!

The second subject (which remains out of focus) will create a beautiful foreground wash. One that looks great in macro photography.

Now, you don’t want to completely cover your lens with the foreground subject. Instead, place it partially into the scene. That way, it will create a nice wash, without dominating the shot.

This may take a bit of experimentation. But if you’re patient, you’ll capture some gorgeous macro photos.

And your creative muscle will feel energized again!

Creative macro photography ideas: next steps

Hopefully, you’re now feeling excited about macro photography again.

After all, you have lots of ideas for original, creative shots!

The key is to use them. So get out and shoot!

Have any more macro photography ideas? Share them in the comments!

The post 5 Surprising Macro Photography Ideas to Jumpstart Your Creativity appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen – Tips to Recharge When You’re Feeling Stuck

Lately, I have been feeling very burned out and unmotivated with my photography. Several months ago I was preparing for a summer away from my business. My days were spent photographing editorials, working on client images and writing photography articles to prepare for a three-month sabbatical. I was working non-stop for several weeks as well as managing other aspects of my life. All that hustle to be prepared seemed to have gotten the best of me. I was feeling completely unmotivated and stuck, almost to a point of being irritated to pick up my camera and take a few shots.

I knew this was a phase, and that I just needed to ride it out. But at the same time, I was trying to understand how to effectively manage this so that my craft and my business wouldn’t suffer too much.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

This was the scenery outside my bedroom window. I was so out of it that I did not even bother cleaning the window of raindrops before I took this shot (smudges seen in the bottom left of the frame) – I took the shot because I had to not because I wanted to!

As I write this article, I have spent the past 10 days living in a mountain village with incredible views of the Nanda Ghunti mountain range of the Himalayans right outside my bedroom window. My days are spent completely cut-off from most of the outside world, having copious amounts of tea, belly laughs with family, and intimate conversations by the fireplace listening to the frogs and beetles chirping all night long. I have probably lost many followers on social media, and I have several hundred unanswered emails. But I have come to the realization that time away from the outside world is just the thing I needed to recharge and get back my mojo!

So if you are like me and feeling a little deflated with your art, here are a few tips to help you overcome that lull and get back into it with renewed passion.

#1 – Permission to take a step back

Let me tell you something – burn out is very real and happens to everyone at some point in their lives, no matter what field of work you are in. For people in the creative arts, burn out tends to happen faster and more often because as a creative, all your senses are heightened and you are aware of everything around you 24/7. For photographers, burn out manifests either as a lack of interest in picking up the camera or disliking everything you create. If this sounds like you, acknowledge it and please give yourself permission to walk away from it all – even if it’s just for a day. If you can afford to take a longer break then do so.

#2 – Capture heartfelt stories and frames

As photographers, we have an incredible opportunity to document life stories – whether it is of people or for landscapes. The wrinkles and toothless smile of an elder speak volumes about his life’s journey. Don’t just take the shot and walk away. Spend a few minutes and listen with both your heart and your head. Then when you do take the shot, it will become so much more meaningful and special – even if it is just for you and your subject.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

On the left – A young village girl gave me the sweetest of smiles when I handed her an extra piece of candy that I had purchased for my kids. She pointed to my camera and asked me to take her picture and was giggling with laughter when I showed her the back of the camera! On the right – the local temple priest was going to town and as we were waiting for a ride together he started chatting with us. Everything about him calmed me down and gave me a sense of peace!

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

These three generation of women were chatting up a storm as I passed them by during a photo walk. When they saw a camera in my hand, they called me back to come take their picture! – I happily obliged and was offered a hot cup of chai in exchange – Before I walked away, I had made a new set of friends!!

#3 – Take a wabi-sabi approach to your images

A wabi-sabi method requires a slower, quieter approach to life. The concept is very similar to Japanese Zen gardens that promote tranquility and calmness. Slow down and quiet your mind. Stop chasing that next award winning frame for just a few minutes and open your eyes to all that is around you. Stop – Look – Feel and then click. This will make each frame more meaningful and help you convey the story better once you yourself understand what is unfolding around you.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

The fog was so thick that it covered the whole valley and only the tops of some of the trees were visible – this scene was so soothing and almost like a painting. It was the perfect zen for my troubled mind!

#4 – Rule of Thirds and negative space

Try and step away from rules and conformity. Resist the urge to put everything in the dead center of the frame. Instead embrace negative space, the rule of thirds and/or focus on singular elements in your frame. Not only will you create work that is different from the rest but you’ll also learn to approach life in a very different way – more relaxed and free flowing as opposed to stressful and rigid.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

#5 – Free-range photography

The best thing I can do for myself based on my personality is to practice free-range photography. For me, this means breaking free from my norm (leaving the status-quo and photographing something completely out of character). Not only does this clear your mind of preconceived photography habits and notions but also gives you a fresh perspective in the art of photography.

Do not approach this exercise with the idea of perfecting it and getting award winning shots. Instead, approach it with the idea of doing something different, making mistakes, and yet having fun with it.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

I am fascinated with the old doors, windows, and archways found in India. To me, their textures, colors and characteristics speak volumes about their history.

Conclusion

So if you are feeling stuck and burned out in your photography, know that it is absolutely normal and expected. Don’t fight that feeling. Instead, accept it and embrace it with open arms. Once you accept it, you will figure out a way to work around it and create a meaningful body of work because you have given yourself permission to recharge, renew and get reenergized with your craft.

The post How to Find Your Photographic Zen – Tips to Recharge When You’re Feeling Stuck by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Getting Creative with Aperture and Colour

Creative use of aperture and colour

 

Andrew S. Gibson is the author of Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras, on offer now at Snapndeals for a limited time.

You are probably already familiar with the effect of aperture on your images. If not, here’s a quick recap: for any given focal length and camera-to-subject distance, use a wider aperture to get less of the image in focus. There’s a fair amount of science behind that statement (some of it subjective, such as the definitions of depth-of-field and sharpness) but the end result is that you can use wide apertures to limit depth-of-field and add a real creative edge to your images. Note that you’ll get the best results with a prime lens as they have wider maximum apertures.

I’m writing about using wide apertures in this article because they are exciting. You can use them to do wonderful things with composition, focus and colour. Today I’m going to concentrate on the relationship between aperture and colour, something that I hadn’t really thought about before until someone pointed it out in a comment on a previous article. It made me realise that a wide aperture alone isn’t enough to make a good image. Light (as always in photography) is important, and (unless you’re working in black and white) so is colour.

Creative use of aperture and colour

Here’s an example. I used an 85mm lens and an aperture of f2.0 to create a portrait with very little depth-of-field. Now, look at the model. She has fair skin and dark hair. She’s wearing a black top over another green top. There is very little colour. I emphasised that by placing her against a grey coloured background. I darkened the background in Lightroom and reduced the saturation. The end result is a portrait with a lot of neutral light and dark tones and very little colour. The colour has become a subtle and understated part of the composition.

Creative use of aperture and colour

Here are two more portraits. They were taken during the same shoot, just with different backgrounds. In both cases I moved the model away from the background so that it would go out of focus. The idea here was to have fun and play around with the colours. Unlike the previous example the colours are strong, rather than subtle.

The background in both portraits was a painted door. Perhaps it’s also another example of seeing – where many photographers would see a door I saw colour, because I understood that I could throw the doors out-of-focus by choosing the right lens and aperture.

Creative use of aperture and colour

This portrait has a different approach. We took the photos in a children’s playground, and I noticed that the model’s jumper was nearly exactly a match with the colour of one of the plastic climbing frames. I was able to position her so that the colour of the background (out of focus again) matched her jumper.

The key in all these photos is first in observing the colours (seeing what is actually happening in the scene) and then finding interesting ways to work with the colour palettes presented by the combination of clothes worn by the models and the environment we were in. None of these were pre-conceived concepts. I was simply reacting to the circumstances given to me.

It’s also part of learning about how lenses and aperture work. Once you understand that you can make the background go out of focus by moving your model away from it and using a short telephoto lens with a wide aperture, you can start seeing what the camera sees, rather than what you see when you use your own eyes.

Mastering Photography

Creative use of aperture and colour

Would you like to learn more about aperture and the other important settings on your digital camera? My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you get the most out of your camera. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take photos like the ones in this article. It’s available now at Snapndeals for a special price for a limited period.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Getting Creative with Aperture and Colour

Lenses and Seeing

Lenses and Seeing article

The lens is the ‘eye’ of the camera. The selected focal length and aperture determine the look of the photo. The lens you are using may also have other characteristics that contribute to the look.

These influence your approach to composition. The idea is to work with the visual characteristics of the lens you are using rather than fight against them. Ask yourself how you can get the best out of the lens you are using.

To start, you will need to understand why a telephoto lens is different from a wide-angle, and how depth-of-field is affected by aperture choice and focal length.

Let’s look at some examples taken with lenses that I have owned:

Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 lens

Lenses and Seeing article

I created this image by setting the focal length of the lens to 150mm and the aperture to f2.8. I focused on the grass in the foreground to throw the setting sun out of focus. By the way, I didn’t look through the viewfinder at the setting sun. That’s potentially dangerous. I used Live View to compose the image instead.

This is how the lens and aperture choice affected the photo:

Narrow depth-of-field: The combination of wide aperture, long focal length and close focusing means the depth-of-field is extremely shallow. Anything other than the blade of grass I focused on is out of focus, including the setting sun.

Compression: The long focal length appears to compress perspective, making the sun look bigger and closer to the foreground than it really is.

Narrow field-of-view: The telephoto lens has a narrow field-of-view and captures just part of the subject. This focal length is good for capturing detail, but not for including the entire scene.

Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens

Lenses and Seeing article

I set the focal length of the lens to 18mm, its widest setting, and the aperture to f11 when I made this image. These are the effects:

Depth-of-field: The small aperture was required because of the bright sun, but it also ensures that the entire scene is in focus. Every detail has been captured by the camera.

Perspective: I was drawn to this scene by the holes cut in the salt, and the lines created as they disappear into the distance towards the mountains. The focal length emphasises the lines and pushes the horizon into the distance, making it seem further away than it really is.

Wide field-of-view: The 18mm focal length has a wide field-of-view, which enabled me to capture the entire scene.

In many ways the focal lengths used to create the photos above are opposites. The telephoto lens brings the subject closer. Only part of the scene is in focus thanks to the wide aperture.

The wide-angle end of the kit lens, on the other hand, captures the entire scene and creates a sense of space by making the horizon seem further away that it really is. A narrow aperture ensures everything is in focus.

Canon 85mm f1.8 lens

Here’s a portrait taken with another of my favourite lens, an 85mm prime set to f2.8:

Lenses and Seeing article

Depth-of-field: My model is in focus, and so is part of the background. There is more depth-of-field than there is in the photo taken with the 50-150mm lens set to 150mm. And there is less than in the photo taken with the wide-angle lens.

Perspective: The 85mm lens is a short telephoto lens and it records perspective accordingly. Again, it falls somewhere in-between the 150mm and 18mm focal lengths. Like the telephoto lens the 85mm lens is good for capturing details. You cannot capture as much of the scene as you can with a wide-angle.

Holga lens

Finally, I’d like to show you a photo taken with a Holga lens. You can buy these plastic lenses for digital cameras from Holga Direct. This really is a good example of how the lens determines the look of the photo:

Lenses and Seeing article

Holga lenses have the following characteristics:

Lack of sharpness: A Holga lens is made from plastic and is not intended to give a good quality image.

Vignetting: Photos taken with this lens are characterised by heavy vignetting at the edges.

Conclusion

Hopefully the examples in this article have drawn your attention to how the focal length of the lens you are using and the aperture affect the look of the photo. The lens is the camera’s eye, and the characteristics of the focal lens you choose determine the look of the photo. With practise, you will learn to make the best use of your lenses.

Mastering Photography

Lenses and Seeing article

My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you make the most out of your digital camera. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take creative photos like the ones in this article.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Lenses and Seeing

Colour Composition: Using Subtle Colour

A photo with subtle colour

In my last article I wrote about using colour boldly. Today I’m going to look at ways you can use colour in a much subtler, gentler fashion.

Bold colours are most often found in man-made objects. If someone paints a wall bright red, for example, and you take a photo of it against a deep blue sky, then you are using colours that are just about as strong and deep as it is possible to get.

In nature though, colours are often much more subtle. And there are ways that you can use the subtlety of colour found in nature to create photos that capture the mood of the scene.

Let’s look at some examples to explain what I mean:

A photo with subtle colour

For this portrait I photographed my model against a cliff and use the cloudy white balance setting to warm it up. The background and the model’s skin and hair are all shades of brown. Apart from white, I don’t think there’s another colour in the image.

A photo with subtle colour

Here’s another portrait taken the same afternoon. The background in this photo is the sea, although it’s difficult to recognise as it’s out of focus. It was overcast, so the sea has come out grey rather than blue. But it suits the image. Just like the previous portrait, the colour palette is limited.

A photo with subtle colour

I created this photo by focusing on the grass in the foreground and using a wide aperture to defocus the setting the sun. I applied a low colour temperature in post-processing to give the scene a cool feel. Even though it is sunset, the colours are subtle.

A photo with subtle colour

Here is a close-up photo I took in a local museum. The colour palette is very subtle. The box is cream, and the background is green. There is some nice tonal contrast going on in this image.

So far, the examples I’ve given have all used soft or pastel colours. But you can still use bright colours such as red in a subtle way. Here’s an example:

A photo with subtle colour

My model was wearing a bright red jumper and headband, so I positioned her against a white coloured building to provide a neutral background. The neutrality of the background colours emphasise the strength of the red.

I hope the photos in this article and the last have given you some ideas about using colour in your photos. It’s a little more difficult to use colour with subtlety that it is to fill the frame with bright colours. But it does give you an extra tool for expressing yourself with. And don’t forget, you don’t have to settle for the colour palette that nature provides. Feel free to make the colours in your images more subtle by desaturating them in post-processing.

Mastering Photography

A photo with subtle colour

My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you make the most out of your digital camera. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take creative photos like the ones in this article.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Colour Composition: Using Subtle Colour

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