How to Prevent, Detect, and Recover from Dumb Photographer Mistakes

The post How to Prevent, Detect, and Recover from Dumb Photographer Mistakes appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.


I make ’em, you make ’em, all photographers make ’em sooner or later – dumb photographer mistakes.

Today’s cameras are now essentially computers, and the saying about computers is, “They do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.”  Leave a switch in the wrong position, forget to restore a setting after taking a prior image, or toggle any myriad of other possible things other than they should be and it’ll happen – the “gotchas will getcha.”

I’ve yet to meet the perfect photographer, the one that never makes dumb photographer mistakes.  The difference is learning to quickly discover a problem, determine what the problem may be, and knowing how to quickly recover.  The intent of this article is to cover some of the more common mistakes and perhaps spare you the pain of learning them the hard way.

“Smart people do stupid things. Stupid people don’t learn from them.”
Frank Sonnenberg

Image: We all make ’em – Dumb Photographer Mistakes. When the gotchas getcha, being able to qu...

We all make ’em – Dumb Photographer Mistakes. When the gotchas getcha, being able to quickly recover is key.

The “Happy Idiot”

The worst mistakes you can make in photography are the ones you don’t detect until later, after the photo session, maybe even back home when you finally sit down to edit your shots.

Before digital, this was the kind where you might happily shoot an entire session, get home, open the back of the camera and see you’d forgotten to load any film.

This might still happen in a digital camera if you have the setting “release shutter without card” turned on and then never “chimp” your shots to see what you’re getting.


When in a store in demo mode, it might be fine to have the shoot without card mode enabled. In all other cases, it’s a very bad idea.

Some photographers will tell you that chimping your shots (checking them on the LCD after taking them), is a sign of an amateur.  Okay,  you “perfect photographers” might not need to do this.  Me?  I chimp whenever I can.  The times when I’ve been burned most often were when I didn’t check.

One of the best things digital photography gives us is the ability to immediately review our images after taking them. We can do so right there in the field where we can immediately detect and remedy any problems.

I still bow to the wedding photographers who used film. They shot an entire wedding and were so confident in their abilities that they rarely had any nasty surprises when they developed the negatives.

There’s nothing worse than snapping away like a “happy idiot,” clueless that you’re just making those dumb photographer mistakes.

Something’s wrong here

In the medical world, they talk about “early detection.” Catch a problem early, and you can reverse it. You minimize the damage and perhaps even find a cure.

So let’s use that medical terminology; symptomdiagnosis, and cure as we look at some typical dumb photographer mistakes you might make.


Everyone will make dumb photographer mistakes occasionally. A smart photographer can quickly identify symptoms, diagnose the problem, and affect a cure to recover quickly.

Focus Faux Pas

Flubs, foul-ups, and a few other f-words can describe what happens when you fail to get fine focus in your photos. Worse is that while we can sometimes rescue an exposure issue in editing, to date, there is no cure for a misfocused, unsharp, image. Let’s use our terms to address some of the dumb photographer mistakes you might make.

Symptom – The entire image is fuzzy, nothing sharp in the shot

Diagnosis – If you’re using Autofocus, is the switch “on”? Are you half-pressing/holding/getting focus lock and then squeezing the button the rest of the way to trip the shutter?

I’ve seen many newbies either push the shutter button in one quick motion (both shaking the camera and not allowing it to get focus before making the shot). I’ve also seen them half-pressing, getting focus, releasing, and then pressing the button a second time.

Image: Did you forget to turn on the Autofocus switch? Or used Manual Focus and then forget to turn...

Did you forget to turn on the Autofocus switch? Or used Manual Focus and then forget to turn it back on? When you are having focusing issues, this should be the first check.

Another possibility is that the shutter speed is too low. If you’re handholding the camera, remember the “Reciprocal Rule,” which simply means your shutter speed should be at least the inverse or your focal length. So, with a 50mm lens, that would be 1/50th. Out at 400mm, that would be 1/400 second.

You might get away with a slightly longer shutter speed if your camera or lens has image stabilization. However, it’s better to err on the side of a faster shutter speed when you can.

Of course, if you want to freeze a fast-moving subject, a shorter shutter speed will be required.

If you’re manually focusing, such as when making landscape photos, you can go to live view. Use the magnifying feature to check critical focus on a particular spot, and then make your shot. But here’s the “gotcha” with this one. (Don’t ask me how I know about this.) You use that method to make your photo, then go onto making other shots, but forget you’ve turned off autofocus. The camera may still fire, even if the focus is slightly off. While you might not detect a very slight misfocus while in the field, you’ll cuss later when back in edit, you detect your mistake.

Cure – There is no editing cure for photos where the focus is soft.  Yeah, I know Photoshop and other software has some tools that claim to fix blurry photos.  Some are even using  Artifical Intelligence (AI) to do it now.  It sorta, kinda works, but there is no substitute for getting it sharp in the field.  Learn proper focusing techniques.  Let’s look at some other typical focus flubs.


Understand and use the autofocus points in your camera. Most cameras will default to the center point, and if your subject is not in the center, you may not get focus on the subject you want.

Symptom – Some things in the image are sharp, just not where you wanted

Diagnosis – Did you use the focus-points in your camera and put them on what you wanted in focus? Beginners often don’t know about focus points, merely using the default center point. Then, when what they wanted in focus wasn’t in the center, they wonder why the subject isn’t focused. Another possibility is too wide an aperture giving too limited a depth of field. A good example is a group photo where people in the front row are in focus, but the second-row people aren’t.

Cure – There’s no cure for the shots you already made that are blurry. However, if detected in the field, check to be sure you are using the focus points properly.

If your subject is moving, perhaps continuous (servo) focus might be appropriate. Be sure your aperture selection gives you adequate depth-of-field too.

Image: When working on a tripod, turn off the image stabilization. It won’t help, and in fact,...

When working on a tripod, turn off the image stabilization. It won’t help, and in fact, might hurt image sharpness.

Symptom – You were on a tripod, but your shots are still slightly soft

Diagnosis – Is the stabilization switch on your camera or lens on?

Cure – When working on a tripod, turn off the auto stabilization.  It won’t help and could possibly hurt your images, attempting to compensate for motion that isn’t there.

Switches and buttons and menus, oh my!

There are so many settings in modern cameras that it can be overwhelming. Many of the auto modes can be lifesavers, relieving the “chores” of photography and letting the photographer instead concentrate on being creative.

They are great when they work.

Where they fail is when the camera is “fooled” by circumstances where an intelligent photographer would choose differently, or when settings are inadvertently left on or off.

Let’s look at some examples.


Spot metering has its uses, but forget to switch back to something like matrix/evaluative metering when you’re done, and you will puzzle over why your images are wildly exposed.

Symptom – The exposure seems completely out of whack, regardless of the mode you’re using

Diagnosis – Did you go to Spot Metering for a previous shot and forget you left that on?

Cure – Many cameras now warn the user they are in spot metering mode with a “!” mark in the viewfinder.  Spot metering has very specific uses, and in those cases, it’s terrific.  In most other cases, it will wildly mess up your exposure and leave you to wonder why.

Image: Auto Noise Reduction works by taking a second black frame and combining it with your exposure...

Auto Noise Reduction works by taking a second black frame and combining it with your exposure. You get to wait while it does that. Decide if that’s acceptable before engaging the option.

Symptom – You make a shot and it seems to take the camera a long time before it’s ready to make another.

Diagnosis – If you have the Long Exposure Noise Reduction feature turned on and are making longer exposure images, the camera will take a second “black frame” image and then use that to reduce noise.  Sometimes that’s great, but realize it will take twice as long for the camera to process and store the image, sometimes making you wait.

Cure – Use the Low Exposure Noise Reduction feature only in special circumstances (perhaps when doing astrophotography where high ISO and noise might be involved). Otherwise, turn it off.

Image: You might use multi-shot bracketing to make images you’ll combine later. Be sure to tur...

You might use multi-shot bracketing to make images you’ll combine later. Be sure to turn it off when done or you’ll get a surprise when making subsequent shots.

Symptom – You click the shutter, the countdown timer activates and then fires off five shots

Diagnosis – You probably set up the camera with a 2-second timer and also for a 5-shot bracket.

Cure – This is a great feature when you want it, but after you’re done, return the settings to single-shot and turn off the countdown timer setting.  Otherwise, when you only want a quick single shot, you’ll wait while the time counts down and then get several.

Image: You might have an occasion to only want .jpg images, but don’t forget to put it back to...

You might have an occasion to only want .jpg images, but don’t forget to put it back to Raw when you’re done. Your editing options are much more limited with .jpg files. You will be very sad if you intended to make Raw images and only come home with .jpgs.

Symptom – You get home from a session and all of your images are .jpg, no raw images to be found on the card

Diagnosis – You probably did an earlier shoot where you only needed .jpg images. You set the camera to do that, and then forget to put it back.

Cure – You can still work with .jpg images, but you will have greatly reduced editing options.  Chimping will not tell you when this is happening as the image you see on the LCD is always a .jpg. So make it a habit to always put your camera back in Raw Mode after a shoot if you’ve changed it.

Return to a standard

I could go on about all the settings, buttons, and dials you might have in the wrong position, what will tip you off, and how to correct such problems. There are dozens of “gotchas” when this occurs.

The common cure is to always return to your personal defaults if you’ve strayed for a special situation. Make it a habit to check and return your settings to your defaults when you put the camera away. Then, when you’re driving down the road on the way home and Bigfoot (Yowie in Australia, or beasts with a few other names in other parts of the world), suddenly steps out of the forest, you can quickly turn on the camera and have a better chance of getting the shot.

Seriously, for any situation where you don’t have time to fiddle with all your settings, you want a standard that will pretty much give you quick point-and-shoot capability. I can’t tell you what that is for you, but it’s your base settings. It’s the place you most often work from and use for a good majority of your photos.

For me, this is the “P” or Program mode of my camera, Single-point Auto-focus, Auto White Balance, and Auto ISO. Sure, that’s quite automatic and perhaps not where I’ll ultimately go. Maybe I’ll be using Aperture Priority, Continuous Focus, and ISO 100 or even Manual exposure mode, but it’s a great default to work from.

My brain might (hopefully) be better, but the camera is quicker. Plus, the engineers that developed auto modes were no dummies. When seconds count, and Bigfoot appears, I can be ready.

Program in specialized settings

I love that I can also have more sophisticated set-ups stored in the Camera User (C1 and C2) modes on my Canon 6D. Many other cameras have this option too, a way to set-up and store various settings and then recall those so that with a spin of the mode dial, you can use all those settings.

For example, should I want that 5-shot bracket with a 2-second timer, Evaluative metering, ISO 200, Auto ISO, Aperture Priority with a f/11 f-stop, and perhaps a few other things thrown in, I can get there with a turn of the dial to C1 or C2, wherever I have that combination stored. When done, I put the dial back to my standard. Quick to turn on, quick to turn off, no “gotchas.”

Mistakes are lessons inside out.”
Matshona Dhliwayo


My Canon 6D has two memory storage locations; C1 and C2. They are great for entering more complex camera settings with the ability to turn them on and off with the turn of a dial.

Filter forgetfulness

I wish I didn’t know about this one first hand.

I was shooting earlier in the day with my circular polarizer on. Later that evening, as the light was getting low, I knew I’d have to perhaps raise the ISO a bit, so I did. So why was I still having to use longer shutter speeds and wider apertures than I thought I should? Oh well, I made my shots figuring I could deal with the issue later in post-production.

As I was putting the camera away, I saw my blunder – the polarizer was still on! Arghhh!!

I’d needlessly given up two-stops of light because I hadn’t taken the filter off when I was finished using it. I won’t make that mistake again. The takeaway? Turn your mistakes into lessons so you won’t repeat them.


Here’s a fun and educational game to play with your photographer friends.

Play “Stump the Chump”

Here’s an exercise I’ve used with photo students to teach them to quickly detect, diagnose, and recover from a camera problem. I take their camera, have them turn their back, and then purposely change a setting, flip a switch, or do something else that will create a problem. I might even swap in a dead battery or a full storage card.

When they turn around, I hand them the camera. They have three minutes and three shots to put things right and make a good image. The fourth shot, when the three minutes are up, must be a good one.

This exercise teaches them the controls of the camera and how to detect and cure camera problems. It’s all too easy to inadvertently bump the wrong button, select the wrong menu item, or leave a setting in the wrong position after a previous shot.

Something else to practice is learning where all your camera controls are in the dark. How many times have you fumbled in a low light or night photo session because you haven’t memorized the basic buttons and settings on your camera? When the situation is fleeting, and you must get the shot now, having to futz around with the camera is the mark of a rookie.


Take a page out of the Boy Scout Handbook when packing your camera bag for a photo session or trip and Be Prepared! It will head off many dumb photographer mistakes.

Be prepared

It’s the Boy Scout motto – Be Prepared!  You will head off many dumb photographer mistakes by taking the time to check, maintain, properly pack, and re-check your gear before you go.

Here is a checklist that you might want to copy and save:

  • Have the camera bodies and lenses you might use?  Don’t carry more than you need, but also don’t leave home something you might want. Learn how to properly pack for any given photo session or trip.
  • Batteries fully charged?  You wouldn’t start a trip with a half-tank of gas.  Don’t go out with a battery only half-charged.  Don’t be “half-gassed.”  Have extra, fully-charged batteries and charger.
  • Storage cards off-loaded, formatted, and empty before you go?  Always have more storage than you expect to need.  You never want to have to delete photos in the field so you can make more room.  Don’t use your cards for long term storage.  After a session, offload your images to your computer, make a backup elsewhere, and then format your card with the camera.  Deleting images with the card in the camera increases the risk of file corruption.
Image: A smudge on your lens can ruin an entire photo session if it goes undetected. Clean your lens...

A smudge on your lens can ruin an entire photo session if it goes undetected. Clean your lenses before a shoot and then periodically look at them during a session.

  • Lenses cleaned? A big smudge, undetected can ruin an entire session.
  • Have your filters? Digital editing tools have greatly reduced the need for specialized filters, but the one for which there is no substitute is the circular polarizer.  What you want will, of course, depend on what you expect to be photographing.
  • Tripod cleaned, screws tight?  Is your tripod plate or L-Bracket on the camera or attached to the tripod?  Not being able to mount your camera to the tripod, or having something break or fall off, will ruin your day and maybe your camera too.
  • Sensor cleaned?  Yeah, you can remove sensor dust specks in editing, but save yourself the work by checking it before a shoot. Clean it when necessary or have a pro do it if you feel you don’t have the skills.
  • Have your camera strap? When going handheld, the camera strap is your “safety belt.”  Fumbling and dropping an expensive camera has been known to make grown men cry.
  • Have a camera rain cover? Check the forecast, and if in doubt, have a rain cover.  I just keep one in my pack at all times.
  • Have photographer comfort items Hat, gloves, sunscreen, and bug repellant?  When you’re miserable, your photos will suffer.
  • Water and snacks? A happy photographer is a well-fed, well-hydrated photographer.


“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Eleanor Roosevelt


It’s been said that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. I would add that if you’re not more adventurous and explorative with your photography, always shooting the same subjects with the same camera settings, in the same way, you’re likely in a rut. You might make fewer mistakes, but you will also make fewer unique and exciting photos.

The same goes for learning what you can do with your camera. If you always work in full Auto or Program mode, always use Auto-Focus, always shoot .jpg or rely too much on your camera to do your thinking, you’ll make fewer mistakes, but just average photos. Be adventurous, go full-manual, try new things, and make some mistakes. It’s okay. When you do, think about what went wrong and try it again.

As for the just plain “dumb photographer mistakes,” the kind we covered here, they are a fact of photographic life. You’re gonna make ’em.

Learning to quickly detect, diagnose, and rapidly recover – that’s the mark of a pro. We can also learn from each other, so be a little humble and share your mistakes here with your fellow photographers in the comments section below. We can all have a chuckle and then perhaps not have to make those same mistakes ourselves.

The post How to Prevent, Detect, and Recover from Dumb Photographer Mistakes appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

6 Ideas for Creative Funfair and Amusement Park Photography

The post 6 Ideas for Creative Funfair and Amusement Park Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.


When the nights draw in its time for funfair and amusement park photography. When a fair comes to town, it’s an opportunity to photograph something new and vibrant for your portfolio. The bright lights, constant movement, and enthusiastic crowds provide endless photographic opportunities throughout the evening.

funfair and amusement park photography

My favorite time to photograph the funfair is during the blue hour – that hour or so before night truly falls. It creates an incredibly dramatic backdrop for the lights and colors that you’re going to photograph.

It’s a good idea to get on location an hour or more before the scheduled blue hour so that you can plan your route through the attractions, work out what looks interesting to shoot, and even start to plan some compositions.

But what about the actual process of taking the photos? How do you decide what to shoot and how you’re going to take the images?

Decide on your shutter speed

There’s a real risk when shooting funfair rides that they’re going to look static and very unimpressive. This usually happens because your shutter speed is too short, and so the action is frozen without any sense of movement.

funfair and amusement park photography

Lengthening your shutter speed up to half a second or more can lend a real feeling of action and excitement to your funfair and amusement park photography. But don’t forget that you’ll want to ideally put your camera on a tripod so that the rest of your shot stays clear and in focus!

It’s my preference to use shutter priority mode for this kind of image. Each ride will be traveling at a different speed, so you’ll need to adjust as you move from shot to shot in order to get the most dynamic images.

Watch the crowds

The story doesn’t stop at the rides – it’s going on all around you! Take a step back from focussing on the thrill-seeking action to see what the people on the ground are doing.

funfair and amusement park photography

Almost everyone at the funfair will make a great subject, and they’ll be bathed in gorgeous, atmospheric light from the rides and stalls. Take some time to watch the action and see where people naturally stop and do interesting things.

Look for great compositions and stand yourself in the perfect place to capture people enjoying their environment. Be ready to capture fleeting emotions and interesting behavior.

You might want to use a shallow depth of field to make your background less distracting. Getting everything in focus means there is more competing for your viewer’s attention.

Look for the unique angles

At any funfair you go to, there will be at least a dozen other photographers who are also looking for a great shot. You’re not in competition with them, of course, but it’s always nice to come home with a unique photograph.

funfair and amusement park photography

Once you’ve got a ‘safe’ shot (you know, the kind of image you often see posted online after the funfair), challenge yourself to see the same scene from a unique angle.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Look up. See what the ride looks like when you frame it against the sky.
  • Use the architecture of the town that you’re in.
  • Shoot through something to get an interesting foreground effect.
  • Go completely abstract.
  • Experiment with leading lines.

Try an unexpected technique

The bright lights of the funfair provide an opportunity to try out techniques that you wouldn’t traditionally associate with this kind of photography. It’s a great time to experiment and see what works for an alternative take on funfair and amusement park photography.

6 Ideas for Creative Funfair and Amusement Park Photography

The shot above was taken using ICM (intentional camera movement) techniques. A long exposure combined with moving the camera can create an abstract image with a painterly feel.

You could also perhaps try zoom bursts for a different kind of dynamic action. Or have a go at making custom bokeh shapes to convey different messages in your photographs. Never stop experimenting – you don’t have to show anyone the shots if they don’t work!

Convert to black and white

Funfairs are a fabulous riot of color, but sometimes that’s not what we want in our photography. If a shot just seems too intense and busy, it’s always worth seeing if a black and white conversion works.

6 Ideas for Creative Funfair and Amusement Park Photography

When you’re deciding if a photograph is a good candidate for black and white conversion, there are a few things that you want to keep in mind. Your shot should have good contrast between light and dark areas so that the image doesn’t end up flat and lifeless.

Black and white images also often rely heavily on composition for their impact, so make sure that your subject is both interesting and well-placed in the frame.

Make sure that you experiment with different color temperatures during the black and white conversion too. The nature of the colorful and changeable lights at the funfair means that some ‘recipes’ for post-processing will work better than others.

Photograph the funfair during the day

The funfair doesn’t disappear during the day. Instead, it looks completely different. Taking your camera to the funfair during the day can open up a whole different set of possibilities to shoot.

funfair and amusement park photography

Instead of photographing the movement and excitement of the rides, try to capture the time when the fair workers are setting up ready for the day. Look around at the colors too – they’re very different from the colors you see at night once the sun has gone down!

This would be a great time to think about approaching some of the attraction holders and asking if you can shoot their portraits. And if you do this during the day, they’ll remember you when you go back in the evening, perhaps even posing for you again during a quiet moment. (Remember to get their details so that you can send them the picture.)

Time to get out and shoot!

No matter your level of experience, there’s something for everyone when it comes to funfair and amusement park photography. If you’re a beginner photographer, then taking a tripod and shooting long exposures is a great way to try night and long exposure photography for the first time.

If you’re more experienced as a photographer, then a whole world opens up with candid shots, portraits, and experimenting with creative angles and techniques.

Have you done any funfair and amusement park photography recently? Show us your pictures in the comments!

The post 6 Ideas for Creative Funfair and Amusement Park Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

The One and Only Thing That Will Make Your Photography Better

The post The One and Only Thing That Will Make Your Photography Better appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.


This is a fantastic time to be getting into photography.

Even if you don’t take into account the wonderful array of options you have for equipment and the like, there is an enormous amount of information available at the click of a button to anyone who wants to learn any kind of photography. There are millions (I’m sure) of written and video tutorials that you can access at a moment’s notice with a device that you keep in your pocket. There is also a huge number of coursesbooks and real-life photographers offering tuition and workshops all over the world. I do feel this abundance is a great thing for photography as a whole.

However, this abundance comes with a subtle trap. When fallen into, it can hinder your progress and growth as a photographer.


With a wide array of techniques, equipment and possibilities available, now might just be the best time to start learning photography.

The trap

It’s easy to spend time consuming content and learning new things. Some outlets, like Youtube, are designed to keep you consuming for as long as possible – and long after you watched what you intended to in the first place.

The problem is, when you go from tutorial to tutorial consuming information indiscriminately, you are only part-learning it. Sure, the theory is important, but knowing something isn’t the same thing as being able to do it.

It’s also easy to sit and think about photography and what you can do with all of the information that you have accumulated.

Image: You can read about black and white conversions all you want, but until you actually put that...

You can read about black and white conversions all you want, but until you actually put that information into practice, it’s just that: information. It’s not yet a skill.

What isn’t so easy is the most important step. Reading about and thinking about photography is great, but neither one is actually photography. Putting all of that information to use is the difficult part. It’s the one thing I see people struggle with consistently (myself included at times). Boiled down, it’s basically the same thing as lusting after and buying that fancy, expensive lens, but then never using it.

Break the cycle

The cycle goes like this:

Read/watch a tutorial — think about it a bit — read/watch another tutorial — think about it a bit — rinse, lather, and repeat.

When you get stuck in a loop like this, you’re only doing half the job of learning something new. Unless we’re talking about something really easy like where the shutter release is on your camera and how to use it, most things require actual practical experience to learn properly.

Take something like Rembrandt lighting.

Sure, you can read a tutorial and know that your light source should be at a 45-degree angle to the side of your subjects and 45 degrees above and pointed down. However, if you get something like that right on the first try, there’s more luck involved then anything else.

Techniques like this have a lot of nuances that are not very easy to infer without practical experience. Many factors can interfere with getting them right that you might not be able to read about, meaning you have to figure it out for yourself.


In this example, I had a new modifier to figure out. To do so, it was a matter of trying it at various angles and positions to see what it did and didn’t do.

The new cycle I would propose looks a bit like this:

Read/watch a tutorial — think on it — act on it — evaluate — alter — evaluate.

Keep going like this until you feel that you have a complete understanding of whatever it is you are trying to learn.

Going back to the Rembrandt example, if you’ve read a tutorial and took some time to figure out how to implement it, you could then set up a practice session and put what you’ve learned to the test.

Once you’ve tried it, you can evaluate the results.

Let’s say that the triangular highlight that appears on the shadow side of the face with Rembrandt lighting isn’t quite right.

Here you would identify that problem and then try to figure out why it has happened that way. Then you would try the technique again and again until you’ve sorted that out, and you have images with perfect Rembrandt lighting.

Image: Once you’ve figured out one technique, you can now try to break it. Add things flags an...

Once you’ve figured out one technique, you can now try to break it. Add things flags and reflectors and fill lights one step at a time as I did with the same modifier in the previous example.

You shouldn’t stop here though. Continuing with Rembrandt: now you can start to experiment and add to it.

What does the setup look like if you add a reflector?

How does it look if you add a fill light or a hair light?

What does it look like when you have your subject move into a different position?


Taking incremental steps like these will help ensure you learn everything you want to more thoroughly.

Going through questions like these with practical, incremental experience will not only help you to learn faster but will help you to learn more thoroughly. Also, because you have intentionally tried a variety of things that probably don’t work, once those scenarios come up in the real-world application of your new skills, you will be able to identify and fix those problems immediately.

Every aspect of photography

Image: This concept encompasses every aspect of photography. From basic camera craft to lighting and...

This concept encompasses every aspect of photography. From basic camera craft to lighting and to post-processing. Focusing on one skill at a time is the fastest way to learn.

It doesn’t matter if the technique in question is a lighting pattern, using different metering modes, manual focus, or post-processing techniques. The process is the same.

Learn it. Use it. Master it.

One thing at a time

If you want to learn as much as possible in photography, there is no set order in which you do things. I do suggest, however, that you only do one thing at a time.

Early on, things will be easy (like learning where the basic controls of your camera are, how to focus, and using manual mode) and won’t take much time. If you focus on each of these basic skills in isolation, you’ll probably find that they all mesh together a lot easier. Then, before you know it, you will be tackling much more complicated skill-sets and techniques.

That said, the most important thing of all is that you need to do your best to get out and practice.

The post The One and Only Thing That Will Make Your Photography Better appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Back to Basics: Deciphering Shutter Speed and Motion

The post Back to Basics: Deciphering Shutter Speed and Motion appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.


One of the things I love about photography is its simplicity. Now, I know that might be a contested statement in today’s seemingly endless world of digital photography. There are hundreds of cameras, likely thousands of lenses and virtually limitless combinations of the two. Not only that, but there are so many ways we can use our cameras. Landscapes, portraiture, street photography, architectural, abstract, wildlife, nature…the list continues. And yet, for all it’s technological and creative facets, the basics of photography remain alarmingly simple even today.


The principles of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO constitute something called the “Exposure Triangle” and yes, I know, you’ve probably heard of it before today. The thing is, it is often these most fundamental nuances of photography that present themselves with the most difficulties, especially for beginners (and some pro) in photography.

It’s shutter speed and motion that we will be discussing today in this edition of “Back to Basics”. To be more precise, we’re going to be talking about the ways shutter speed relates to motion so that you will gain a more concrete understanding of how shutter speed affects your photos.

Shutter speed or shutter time?

Many years have passed since then, but I still remember how confused I was the first time I understood that shutter speed had absolutely nothing to do with how fast the shutter of my camera opened and closed.

Up until then, I had intuitively assumed that some cameras were simply made with faster shutters than others. I mean, come on, give me a break! I was new.

Anyway, I finally realized that shutter speed refers to the amount of time the shutter remains open…and not how fast it mechanically opens or shuts. So many concepts about shutter speed seemed to click (pun intended) in my mind.


One of the greatest epiphanies brought about by this sudden revelation was the direct relationship between the time the shutter is open and how apparent subject motion became within my images. In reality, Einstein was right when he put forth that everything is indeed relative.

So, in a way, there are no slow or fast shutter speeds. There are only longer or shorter shutter times relative to the inherent motion of your camera and subject.

Let’s drill down a little deeper on this.

Shutter speed and the effects of motion

For just a moment, let’s pretend you are the fastest runner in the world – absolutely no other human can beat you in a race. That’s great.

But now I want you to picture yourself running next to a cheetah.

Suddenly, your speed doesn’t seem quite so fast, but let’s not stop there. Let’s say that cheetah decides to race the world’s fastest jet plane, and the jet wins every time. Then put that furiously fast jet up against the speed of light, and, well, you get the idea.

The point is, your camera’s shutter speed interacts with motion in the exact same fashion.

Back to Basics: Deciphering Shutter Speed and Motion

A shutter speed (or think shutter time) of 1 second is no problem at all when your camera is mounted securely on a tripod. Take the camera off the tripod and shoot handheld at the same shutter speed, and it becomes difficult not to introduce camera shake into the image.

The same is true for subject movement; we can blur or freeze motion depending on our selected shutter speed.


Perceivable subject motion is due to the relationship between the amount of time the shutter is open and the speed of the subject itself.

Practical examples

Let’s pick a shutter speed randomly; we’ll say it’s 1/60th of a second. If you’re shooting a still object which has absolutely no motion in relation to your camera, like this switched off ceiling fan, then everything appears calm and still.

Back to Basics: Deciphering Shutter Speed and Motion

For the time being, we’re just going to pretend that you love shooting photos of ceiling fans. So you decide to snap another image with the fan now switched on, and the situation changes.

The blades of the fan are now moving through space much faster than 1/60th of a second shutter speed can capture with the result being perceived blurring of the blades.

Image: At 1/60th of a second, the blades have blurred

At 1/60th of a second, the blades have blurred

This is where Einstein sweeps in to save us. All we have to do to take control of the motion of the blades is to make our shutter speed faster than the speed of those ceiling fan blades. Let’s dial it in.


At 1/125th of a second, the motion begins to become less pronounced…

Image: …and 1/500th of a second all but completely freezes the motion of the blades. Another s...

…and 1/500th of a second all but completely freezes the motion of the blades. Another stop faster (1/1000th) and the motion would be completed arrested.

The implications of this are absolutely profound for you and your photography. Once you understand that shutter speed is the deciding factor in controlling the amount of perceived subject motion in your images, you can then control how apparent that motion appears in your photo.

How does shutter speed relate to ISO and aperture?

So how exactly does the shutter speed play into the whole Exposure Triangle thing? I’m glad you asked.

All of the pieces of the Triangle: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed; all of them determine the amount and duration of light that enters your camera. Each of these factors complements each other in that you can achieve similar exposure outcomes by adjusting the variables in relation to one another. In our case, since we’re dealing with shutter speed, we’ll be needing to adjust our aperture and/or ISO to compensate for our shutter speed selection.


Entire articles (and books) here at Digital Photography School have been written on each of these subjects, so I’ll be brief. But be sure to check out this cool cheat sheet on the Exposure Triangle for more info.

Simply put, for every full stop of adjustment in shutter speed you make, you are either doubling or halving the amount of light which enters your camera. This means a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second is twice as fast and lets in half the amount of light as 1/125th of a second.

Alternatively, a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second is approximately twice as slow as 1/125th, and therefore lets in double the amount of light. So, 1/250th of a second is one stop faster than 1/125th of a second with 1/60th of a second being one stop slower.

You still might be saying, “but what does this have to do with aperture and ISO?” We’re about to find out, I promise.

The connection comes into play when you realize that ISO and aperture are also measured in stops, albeit in slightly different ways, but in stops nonetheless. This means that we can directly relate shutter speed to our ISO and aperture by thinking in terms of stops.


Let’s say we are shooting a moving subject at 1/60th of a second at F/5.6 and ISO 100. The image is exposed correctly, but the subject is blurred. We find that a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second (two stops faster) will freeze the motion, but it also leaves our scene underexposed by two stops since we have effectively decreased the amount of light by a factor of four.

To maintain our exposure, we must somehow compensate for the reduced amount of light from the faster shutter speed by either increasing the ISO by two stops or shoot an aperture that is two stops wider than F/5.6. So to maintain the same exposure, our new exposure settings would be either 1/250th of a second at F/2.8 and ISO 100 or 1/250th of a second at F/5.6 and ISO 400.

Some considerations for shutter speed

Here are a few helpful tips that you should keep in mind when it comes to shutter speed. Some of these are simply good everyday practices, and others might be new to you.

  • The longer the focal length of your lens (higher zoom), the more apparent subject motion and camera shake will become. So plan accordingly if you are intending to employ longer shutter speeds by making sure you have a sturdy tripod and even a remote shutter release for your camera.
  • At times there will be situations when you can’t equalize your exposure using your camera settings alone and still achieve the level of motion you want for your final photos. This is where a good quality neutral density filter will truly be worth its weight in gold. I recommend keeping at least one in your bag no matter what sort of photography you shoot.
  • When shooting long exposures of the night sky, make use of the “600 Rule” to approximate the longest shutter time possible before stars begin to streak based upon your lenses’ focal length. The 600 Rule states that 600 dived by your focal length will give you an approximate maximum shutter speed from which you can base your other exposure factors.
  • Reduce camera shake when shooting handheld by implementing what’s known as the “Reciprocity Rule”. Simply put, this guideline states that you should not shoot a shutter speed which is slower than 1 over your focal length. This means that with a full-frame sensor and an 85mm lens, you should never shoot slower than 1/85th of a second. If you’re using a crop sensor camera, then the formula would be 1 over (focal length x sensor crop factor). You can find the crop factors for virtually all digital camera sensors with a quick web search.
  • Use mirror-lockup (if your camera has this feature) when making long exposures. In DSLR/SLR cameras, the mirror mechanism flips out of the way during exposure. This can cause camera shake, especially when using a lightweight camera and lens setup. Mirror-lockup moves the mirror out of the way prior to exposure so that the camera remains as steady as possible.
  • Cover your viewfinder during extremely long exposures. Much like mirror-lockup, DLSR/SLR cameras make use of an optical viewfinder which means light can creep in through the viewfinder during long exposures. It’s a good idea to cover the viewfinder with tape, a lens cloth, or the dedicated viewfinder cover that comes attached to some camera straps should you be shooting ultra-long exposures (upwards of a minute or more) to ensure stray light doesn’t ruin your exposure. Some older film DSLR cameras actually have a build-in viewfinder cover for this exact reason.

Summing up shutter speed

If you’re just getting into photography, I hope this article on deciphering shutter speed and motion helps to demystify some of the enigma surrounding shutter speed (time) and aids you in becoming a more confident photo maker.

If you’re a seasoned photographer, then hopefully the information here will serve as a gentle refresher course on just how simple it is to control your photos using only the most basic of photographic principles.

Shutter speed is directly related to motion and therefore becomes a relative construct based on the inherent motion in our scene (or camera). Depending on the desired outcome, we can control the perception of this motion using our shutter speed.

Shutter speeds that are relatively slower than the motion in the scene will cause blurring. Shutter speeds relatively faster than the motion within the scene will freeze that motion. That is truly priceless knowledge, and once you learn how shutter speed interacts with aperture and ISO, you will be able to have virtually complete control over your photography. Once you understand the basic fundamentals of photo making, everything else becomes almost secondary.


Do you have any other tips on shutter speed and motion that you would like to share? Please do so in the comments!

The post Back to Basics: Deciphering Shutter Speed and Motion appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions

The post A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.


Do you want to capture amazing photos of birds? If so, you have to master bird photography compositions.

Composition refers to the arrangement of elements within the photo. And it’s often the difference between a creative, compelling image, and an image that just falls flat.

In this article, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about bird photography composition. I’m going to give you several tips that ensure you capture beautiful bird photography compositions, without fail.

Sound good?

Let’s dive right in.


The composition basics: Capturing a gorgeous bird photo

When you take a bird photo, everything in the frame matters.

The bird. The position of the bird. The position of the bird’s head. The background. Any elements behind the bird. Any elements in front of the bird.

It’s all important.

Because the key to a gorgeous bird photography compositions is keeping the shot focused on your main subject.


You want to make sure that the bird stands out in the frame. You want to make sure everything else in the photo emphasizes and enhances the bird.

So how do you do that?

A few simple ways, starting with:

Simplify the entire composition to make the bird stand out

If your composition is chaotic, then the viewer is going to get lost.

And that’s absolutely not what you want.

Instead, you should aim to simplify the composition as much as possible. The best compositions tend to include a bird and a background. That’s it.

A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions

While it’s possible to create beautiful shots by including additional birds or interesting features (e.g., shells, flowers), I recommend avoiding that as much as possible. These mess up compositions more often than they enhance them.

Also, in the interest of simplicity: If there’s anything in the frame that’s distracting, get rid of it. So make sure there are no branches behind the bird. Make sure there’s nothing in the background that dominates the frame or draws the eye.

That’s how you’ll keep your bird photography compositions beautiful.

And speaking of backgrounds:

Aim for a uniform, simple background that makes the bird pop

If you want a beautiful bird photography compositions, then you need a beautiful background.

What does this involve?

First, the best bird photography backgrounds are simple. They’re also uniform.

Like this:

A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions

Notice how the background is a nice uniform color.

It keeps the attention on the bird. It doesn’t distract.

To create a background like this, you want to start by ensuring a large separation between the bird and the background. One trick is to get down low, on the bird’s level; this will cause the ground behind the bird to fall away, creating a more distant background.

You should also make sure you use a decently wide aperture, such as f/5.6 or f/6.3 (the particulars depend on the size of your bird, because you don’t want to accidentally make parts of the bird soft!).

Finally, you should ensure that the background doesn’t include colorful elements that catch the eye. Before you take a shot, look behind your bird, and ask yourself: Will anything in the background dominate the frame? Will anything pull the viewer away from the bird?

If the answer is “Yes,” then you should consider moving slightly to the left or right so that you’re no longer stuck with a distracting background.

Use the rule of thirds to position the bird’s eye

Now that you know how to capture beautiful backgrounds, it’s time to look at your main subject and how to position it.

Generally speaking, you’ll have a single bird in your photos. And you need to position this bird carefully.

You don’t want to put it smack-dab in the middle of the frame. That’s a recipe for a boring, static composition.

Instead, I recommend you place the bird so that its eye falls along a rule of thirds power point.

What is the rule of thirds power points?

They’re simply points that are a third of the way into the frame, both vertically and horizontally.

The eye in this photo, for instance, falls along a power point:

A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions

It’s a third of the way down, and a third of the way from the left.

Now, the rule of thirds is misnamed; it’s a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule. But it is a great way to position your bird and will ensure that the shot feels a lot more interesting.

So use the rule of thirds whenever you can to position your bird within the frame.

Point the bird into the frame to add movement

I’ve talked about positioning your main subject using the rule of thirds, but there’s another aspect to positioning that you should always, always consider:

The direction the bird is pointing.

You see, most bird photos have some empty space in the frame.

And when they do…

…you want to point the bird into the empty space, rather than away from it.


You see, by making sure the bird is looking into the empty space, it adds a sense of completeness and a sense of motion to the frame. The viewer’s eye follows the birds line of sight, and everything feels satisfying.

Whereas if you point the bird out of the frame, the whole shot feels tense. The viewer wants to know what’s outside the frame, with no resolution in sight.

That’s why bird photographers love to point the bird into the frame. It’s far more satisfying, and can turn the shot into something powerful.

Capture the bird in a creative pose for increased interest

Now, when it comes to bird photography, you can capture birds in a normal standing pose.

And that’ll get you some nice photos.

But sometimes…

This isn’t enough.

If you want to create truly creative bird photography, you need to go beyond the simple standing pose. And capture the bird doing something interesting.

What counts as interesting?

For one, preening birds look really interesting. They appear wonderfully tranquil as they clean their feathers.

A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions

And birds that are sleeping also give off a sense of peace that I love.

You can also go for action shots: Birds feeding, for instance, can create a lot of interest. You can capture photos of birds that are about to catch food, are currently catching food, or have just caught food. Think of a bird with a huge fish in its mouth.

It’s guaranteed to add interest.

Cool, right?

You can also go for shots of birds fighting or, as is a common bird photography practice, shots of birds flying. Photographing birds in flight can be a challenge, but a really rewarding one.

So whenever you’re able, don’t just take a standard bird photo. Go beyond this.

Make something unique!

A quick guide to amazing bird photography compositions: Conclusion

You should now have a sense of the best ways to capture beautiful bird photography compositions.

And remember:

Getting amazing compositions isn’t hard. You just have to use the tips that I’ve given you, and you’ll be taking stunning photos in no time.

Have other tips for gorgeous bird photography compositions? Share them in the comments!


The post A Quick Guide to Amazing Bird Photography Compositions appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

How to Plan the Perfect Landscape Photo

The post How to Plan the Perfect Landscape Photo appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Bond.



The best photography comes from having a plan. That’s especially the case when it comes to landscape photography. In this article, you’ll learn the practical steps you can take ahead of time so you can get the best possible results. Follow these steps to plan the perfect landscape photo, and you’ll get amazing results every time.


This photo needs the seasonal salt marsh plants to give it that extra punch.

Know where the perfect landscape photo is

The first step is finding a great location to photograph. If that’s in your local area, you’ll almost certainly know where the local money shots are. What if you’re traveling to somewhere new, though? Well, there are several things you can do before you visit, which will give you a head start. It is good planning to make a list of photos you wish to take ahead of time. To do that, look to do the following:

  • Choose a location – The first step is going to be choosing a location. Keep this to a defined area like one city, or a national park. If the country is small like perhaps Iceland, you can look to that as your location.
  • Famous landmarks – Now within that location, start looking for the standout places that people visit, not just for photography, but because they’re amazing. Make a list of these places, and choose which ones you would like to photograph.
  • Other photos – Now it’s time to search online for inspiration from other photographers. This may lead you to replicate one of these photos. If you’re concerned about this then avoid this step, and go to the location with a clear mind about how you will take your photo. Sites like 500px, Instagram and Flickr can be good resources for this step.
Image: If the location is far from where you live, ask people who have visited there before for thei...

If the location is far from where you live, ask people who have visited there before for their advice.

Visit the location ahead of time

Where possible the next step for you to plan the perfect landscape photo is to visit the location before you photograph it. There are three possible ways you can go about doing this. Each has its drawbacks, but if you can, then this step will help a lot.

  • Day trip – If your location is nearby, you could make a day trip without your camera. This is aimed at getting you that vital on-the-ground information.
  • Arrive early – A lot of landscape photos are sunsets. Arrive several hours before sunset to thoroughly explore the area for the best location to get a good composition. Taking a sunrise photo? Then arrive the evening before so you can see the location while it’s still light ahead of your photo the next day.
  • Online maps – Should the location be an airplane ride away, the only way of visiting the location early is online. While you won’t get all the information, using services like Google maps street view can allow you to explore a location remotely ahead of time.
Image: This photo is of the new skyscraper in Bangkok, the Mahanakhon.

This photo is of the new skyscraper in Bangkok, the Mahanakhon.

Sunrise or sunset?

A lot of landscape photos will be either sunrise or sunset locations. Make sure you know where these are ahead of time.

You’ll need to work out your route from where you’re staying to these locations. You also need to arrive around one hour before sunrise or sunset happens. With sunset or sunrise skies comes big differences in the dynamic range. Make sure you’re familiar with techniques like bracketing and digital blending before you go out to take these photos.

Finally, don’t always photograph towards the sun, turn around and look for the golden light and see if that makes a good photo as well.

Image: One of my friends is a Balloonist who has, on occasion, taken me for a balloon ride.

One of my friends is a Balloonist who has, on occasion, taken me for a balloon ride.

Contact a fixer to plan the perfect landscape photo

There are lots of situations in photography where you will need a fixer. A fixer is someone who helps you facilitate the photograph you want to take. This fixer could take several forms depending on the situation or location you want to photograph. These are a few examples of fixers that you could need to deal with.

  • Security guard – A lot of cityscape photos are taken from the rooftop of tall buildings. Contacting the security of that building to ask for permission ahead of time is a good idea.
  • Restaurant or bar manager – There are some restaurants that have amazing viewpoints. Some of these will allow you to photograph from their premises. Once again, you need to contact them ahead of time to arrange this.
  • Photographer – Contacting local photographers to ask them for information is a great idea. If you’re lucky enough to find someone who will show you the local places to photograph, be sure to return the favor when you have the chance.
  • Tourist company – In some cases, joining a tour can get you to a location you want to photograph but otherwise could not reach. For example, if you want to take an aerial photo of a location, one solution is booking a balloon or helicopter ride! Remember, not everywhere will allow you to fly a drone.

This photo required a longer focal length to compress the scene.

Bring the right equipment

Make sure you have the right equipment with you to get the photo you want. The list below is a suggested packing list for landscape photographers. The location you’re photographing from will have a big bearing on which items from the list below you actually take.

  • Tripod – A tripod is essential for all landscape photographers, whatever the conditions. Getting sharp images is important, and you’ll get this when using a tripod.
  • Camera body – The newest camera body may not be as important for daytime landscapes, but if you’re photographing the Milkyway, having a new camera body is invaluable.
  • Lens – If you have researched your location properly, you’ll know whether the primary photo you intend to take requires a wide-angle or telephoto focal length. There is nothing worse than getting a location and realizing your lens doesn’t allow you to compose the photo the way you wish.
  • Remote trigger – A remote trigger or perhaps a cable release will mean you don’t need to touch the camera on the tripod. This will remove the chance of camera shake.
  • Filters – These are always worth packing as they take up minimal space. Neutral density filters are great for long exposure work, and graduated neutral density filters are also nice to have. A circular polarizing filter should be packed to give your photo more punch. Looking for a little creativity? How about packing an infra-red filter?
  • Other equipment – Looking to make a landscape that’s a little different? A lensball allows you to capture the scene in front of you in a unique way. It’s like having an external lens. How about light painting? You’ll need to bring things like a torch or an LED light stick for this.
Image: Filters are a vital piece of equipment for all landscape photographers.

Filters are a vital piece of equipment for all landscape photographers.

Know the local conditions ahead of time

Finally, make sure you’re checking the weather ahead of time. If your schedule is flexible enough, check the 5-day forecast and choose a day that works best for the sky. The long-range forecast can’t always be relied on though, so also be prepared to drop everything on the day if the right conditions develop for your photo.


Of course, this means using a reliable weather service or app on your phone. There are several of these out there. The recommended ones are and These sites give good forecasts, though it’s worth checking them as you get nearer the intended day of your photo as they are updating their information. Then on the day itself, you can check their satellite images for up-to-the-minute information. These satellite images give information on current positions of clouds or any rain.

The sun

Another factor to consider is the sun, and that’s not whether it’s a sunny day or not. The sun’s position in the sky changes throughout the year. That means you can plan your trip to coincide with when the sun will be in the best position in the sky for your photo. To get this information use or the photopills app for your smartphone.


Seasonal changes to the landscape can make a dramatic difference as well. Plan for when there will be spring or fall foliage you can make use of. In the winter, the snow can also be pretty.

Tide times

Those of you doing any photography along the coast will need to know the tide times. The landscape scene along a coast can change dramatically depending on whether it’s high or low tide. Again, tide times change throughout the year, so you should be able to plan your trip so that the level of the tide is perfect for your photo.

It’s also important to know from a safety perspective. If you can only access your location at low tide, you need to know how long you can safely photograph from that low tide position.

How do you plan the perfect landscape photo?

Having read this article, you’ll have a better feel for how to plan your landscape photo.

Which of the above steps will you put into your planning phase? Are there things you do when you plan your landscape photos that were not included here?

We’d love you hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section of this article. Then, once you have taken your landscape photo, you can share it in the comments section.

So now it’s time to start planning, and taking better landscape photos!



The post How to Plan the Perfect Landscape Photo appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Bond.

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography

The post 10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kav Dadfar.


It has never been harder to make a living from photography than it is in this day and age. But that doesn’t mean the game is over for you as a photographer. There are still plenty of ways to make money from photography if you are willing to make the effort and have a well-thought-out plan. So here are 10 ways to make a living from photography.

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography

Portrait photography

Portraits can be a great little money earner for any photographer. There is even more opportunity for those photographers in smaller towns. Yes, there may not be as many potential customers but the competition will also be much smaller. From the initial shoot fee to prints (digital or analog) and frames, there is an opportunity to make additional sales on top of just the portrait shoot. So any portrait photographer has a few potential steady income revenues.

The overheads to start with are also fairly minimal as you can offer location shoots or even set up a small studio in your home to keep you going until you can get a proper space to work.


Event photography

Event photography is another good genre of photography that offers great opportunities for earning money. Events can be anything from birthday parties to trade events or even company events like Christmas parties.

The advantage of this genre of photography is that there is always going to be a demand for it. So if you can get a good reputation, then word of mouth can spread and get you more and more work.



Similar to other genres of photography, there is always a steady supply of work for a photojournalist. Being a photojournalist is hard work, both physically and, more importantly, emotionally. But it can also be one of the most rewarding genres of photography as it has the power to change the world.

If you are willing to make the sacrifices needed and are good at capturing photos that tell stories, then this genre of photography could be for you.

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography

Wedding photography

A few years ago, weddings would have been one of the top earners in this list of 10 ways to make a living from photography. But like most genres of photography, things have changed.

Less than a decade ago, an average wedding photographer could command $2000 plus per wedding and easily shoot 30-40 weddings a year. Unfortunately, the influx of photographers who undercut each other in price has had a detrimental effect on wedding photography. There are photographers now offering to shoot weddings for a few hundred dollars.

Nevertheless, wedding photography is still a market that has lots of opportunities to make money.


Product and food photography

As long as people are making things to sell or eat, they will need images of their products to help sell them. Product and food photography is a great source of income and a steady stream of work for any photographer.

It can be a little mundane for some, but I actually enjoy the process. I really like that I can shoot at my own pace and control every aspect of the shoot. This is not something anyone who works as an outdoor photographer gets to experience. From local restaurants to design companies, there is an endless amount of work available if you can find it.


Commercial photography

Commercial photography can consist of things like:

  • Shooting lifestyle campaigns or adverts for tourist boards and companies.
  • Photographing hotel rooms and venues.
  • It can consist of both interior and exterior shots with or without people.

I find it works really well combined with my editorial work as I often find myself getting an audience with someone in a position of power in these areas through my various commissions.


Editorial photography

Editorial photography was a great source of revenue for photographers.

This changed with the introduction of digital photography all those years ago, which led to the slow demise of staff photographers. It is cheaper and easier to use stock images than it is to send a photographer out to photograph a feature. The other benefit of using stock photos for an editor is that they can see exactly what images they are purchasing.

There are still higher-end magazines like National Geographic and agencies that will commission a photographer for an editorial feature, but they are few and far between.

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography

Stock photography

Gone are the good old days of being able to make a living solely from stock photography. But all is not lost.

Assuming you are getting work from one of the other aspects of photography on this list, you will be accumulating a body of images that you can more than likely put with a stock agency. Whilst this won’t make you rich, it could provide a nice additional income. Just make sure to get model release forms where possible, and find the right agency for your style of photography.

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography


Selling prints is another good revenue stream, whatever your genre of photography is. Big names aside, most of us photographers are not going to be lucky enough to sell prints for thousands of dollars. But, again, like stock photography, if you have a body of work, you might as well try to earn an income from it.

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography

Sports photography

Sports photographers will always be in demand as long as our love for the various sporting games continues. If you can get yourself in with a good agency or accreditation and get those awesome shots that are grace the pages of newspapers and websites worldwide the next morning you can make a very good and steady living. To get to that level will take time and a lot of hard work.

But there are also lots of opportunities at the local level of photographing such as school sports days or even local sporting events. These are much easier to get into and can provide a steady income to supplement your other photography work.


10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography: Conclusion

Whilst many photographers specialize in one specific area of photography these days, most photographers have to be willing to offer a few of these services. I shoot a lot of editorial and food photography and some commercial projects. I then use stock and print sales to increase that revenue stream.

Whatever genre of photography you specialize in, it’s important to diversify your work. Not only because of the income but also because you might make contacts that will lead to other jobs within your chosen genre.

Remember to price yourself accordingly and try not to work for free. Always keep in mind that if you don’t respect your work enough to be paid for it, why should someone else?

Do you have any other ways to make a living from photography that you’d like to add to this list? Share with us in the comments!

10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography

The post 10 Ways to Make a Living from Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kav Dadfar.

What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography

The post What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.


If you want to be a food photographer, you’ll likely start your career shooting restaurant photography. This is how most food photographers get their start. Restaurants have smaller budgets, so they’re open to working with new photographers.

However, photographing for restaurants isn’t that easy. Not only do you have to be skilled at shooting food, but you also need to be able to shoot interiors and portraits of the chef and other staff.

Restaurant photography can be a lot of work, and there are a lot of ins-and-outs you should know to make sure you don’t end up getting burned by this very specific type of shoot.

What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography

Ask for a shot list

Before you can give a potential client an estimate, you need to know what you’ll be photographing in order to estimate how long the shoot will take you. For example, beverages can take longer to photograph than a plate of food, as managing reflections in glass can take time and be challenging.

You should base your estimates on the project scope. If you can’t estimate how long the shoot will take you, you can’t price your services accordingly. Get a breakdown of how many food images will be required, how many drinks etc.

Some restaurants want you to bring in your own surfaces, dishes, linens etc. for a more magazine editorial feel. In this case, note that it will take longer to shoot this type of scene than it will shooting their own dishes on the restaurant tables.

Scout for the location and light

Check out the location beforehand so you know what you’ll be up against in terms of lighting. You’ll also need to figure out where to set up your equipment and workspace. This should be done with agreement from the manager or proprietor.

It’s important that if the restaurant is open when you shoot, that you’re as unobtrusive to the patrons as possible. See if the client can close off a section of the restaurant where you can work without bothering anyone, and vice versa. 


Discuss styling the food

When shooting for restaurants, you should make clear on the outset that you’re not a food stylist and therefore are not responsible for how the food looks.

Food styling is a different occupation. It requires a separate skill set from photography. Your job is the lighting and image capture, not the plating of the food.

Of course, you should always be aware of garnishes and stray crumbs, and generally, make sure the food looks its best for the camera. I’ve been known to send back a sloppy looking burger or two.

The point is that clients need to make sure their chef is up to the task. Otherwise, they should hire a food stylist to guide them. A food stylist can be pricey and not feasible for an already tight budget. In the case that a client refuses to hire one, they should know that the look of the food on the plate ultimately falls on them.

Make sure you state this in your contract. You have a contract, right?

What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography

Bring a food styling kit and some basic props

While you won’t be plating and styling the food, you should still bring along a basic food styling kit that includes items such as tweezers, cotton swabs, and small brushes to tame errant garnishes or clean unwanted crumbs and drips from the plate. You want to do the best job you can with what you’re given.

It’s a good idea to come prepared with some props as back up. Bring a stack of linens in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and maybe some cutlery. Sometimes clients want their own tables, flatware, and dishes shot as they are experienced by the patrons, but many have a branding direction in mind that requires a specific look or ambiance. 

For example, when clients wanted me to create dark and moody images for them, I bring in small, dark dishes and vintage cutlery – the opposite of the large, white dishes you see in most restaurants. 


Use a tripod

If you shoot only in natural light, be aware that most restaurants are too dark for food photography.

You’ll need to shoot by a window and use a tripod so you can decrease your shutter speed and make a longer exposure. This won’t work for photographing people, however, as they will be blurry with a slow shutter speed.

If the images will only appear on the web or in social media, you can crank up the ISO and fix the noise in your images later in post-production.

When I scout the location, I try to take a few test shots and see how they look in Lightroom before making my lighting decisions.


Shoot horizontally

Have a conversation with the client about how they would like the images shot. Most restaurants only need images for their website. Interactive web design often requires that images be shot in landscape orientation.

If the client will be printing some of the images on a menu, this may require a vertical format (and a higher resolution). Make sure to discuss the best picture orientation with the client. Make note that if they want both, it can take you up to twice as long to shoot the images, as not only will you have to adjust the camera, but you’ll have to recompose each image.

Shoot tethered 

I always hook up my camera to a laptop so the client can view the images captured by my camera. Shooting tethered allows you to see a larger, more accurate rendition of your shot than you can get from the screen on the back of your camera. You can use Lightroom or Capture One Pro for tethering. Make sure you have a high-quality tethering cord. 

What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography

Work with the client

Ultimately, you want to produce good work that makes the client happy. For this, the client needs to be involved in the process. They must be present at the shoot to provide creative direction and approve the images that are captured. That way, they can’t come back and tell you they don’t like them, or that they don’t align with the branding or aesthetic they had in mind.

I have a clause in my contract stating that I will not begin a shoot without someone representing the restaurant present. Also that the client will forfeit the deposit if I need to pack up my things and leave. Believe me, you don’t want to get into this situation. 

Collaborate with the chef

Involve the chef in the process as much as possible. When you make an appointment to scout the location, ask if you could meet the chef.

Making the chef feel like an important part of the process can make a big difference in the outcome of your shoot. The shoots that end up being the most easy and fun are the ones where the chef is enthusiastic about working with you and making the food look its best for its moment in the spotlight.

What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography

In conclusion

One more thing. Before you set foot in the restaurant with your camera, make sure you have liability insurance. Many restaurants won’t always think about this, but bigger clients will often ask for proof of liability insurance. If someone trips over an extension or tethering cord and decides to sue the restaurant, you can be included in that lawsuit. 

Shop around for the best insurance for you, and read the fine print carefully. You need insurance that is specific to the photography industry so you can make sure you’re covered in the types of situations you will be faced with.

You should also insure your equipment against theft, loss, and damage, including that from fire or flood.

Restaurant photography can be a great way to start building up your professional portfolio. Just make sure to do it right to avoid any headaches along the way, and to get your clients to hire you as their preferred photographer whenever they update their menu.

Do you have any other tips or experiences you’d like to share with us about Restaurant Photography? Do so in the comments!

The post What You Need to Know to do Successful Restaurant Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Light in Flower Photography for Awesome Photos

The post A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Light in Flower Photography for Awesome Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.


Flowers are brilliant subjects for photography. They are bright, colorful, and are stay perfectly still for you as long as the wind is calm. You don’t need any special equipment or lenses to take great photos of flowers either. You can get great photos with just a mobile phone or a basic DSLR with a kit lens. If you really want to elevate your flower photography to the next level, you need to pay very close attention to one thing – the sun – because the light in flower photography is everything.

Image: 85mm, f/2.8, 1/3000 second, ISO 2200

85mm, f/2.8, 1/3000 second, ISO 2200

Of course, there are other sources of light besides the sun, but this is the most obvious and easily-accessible one when considering flower photography. Unfortunately, you can’t position the sun exactly where you want it, but you can position yourself to make the best use of it. You can also take note of the lighting conditions when you go out to shoot flower pictures. Understanding how the sunlight, and your angle of view, affect the finished product is key to getting great shots.

Don’t let anyone tell you that if you want to get good pictures of flowers you have to do it in certain conditions like a cloudy day or the evening. In truth, you can get great flower photos almost any time as long as you pay attention to the sun and the shot you are trying to get. Let’s take a look at some different scenarios and see how they affect flower photography.

Time of day

The time at which you shoot, such as early morning or mid-afternoon, can have a huge impact on your flower photos. In addition to altering the amount of light available, shooting in the morning or evening changes the type of light. It also changes the angle at which it hits your flowers and the surrounding area.

I shot the picture below just as the sun was coming up. The blurry triad in the background is a street lamp that had not yet turned off. It added a nice background touch to the picture. This would have looked entirely different had I taken the picture a few hours later.

Image: 50mm, f/1.8, 1/180 second, ISO 400.

50mm, f/1.8, 1/180 second, ISO 400.

If you want your flowers gently illuminated for a soft, almost hazy appearance, then early morning or late evening is going to work great. However, if you want your flowers bright, sharp, and punchy, then harsh overhead lighting is ideal.

It all depends on the type of picture you want to take and knowing how the lighting conditions affect the final image.


50mm, f/2.8, 1/1500 second, ISO 200

A monarch butterfly joined me as I was taking the above picture in the afternoon. The bright overhead sun made the reds, yellows, and greens bright and crisp, which doesn’t happen in the early morning or late in the day.

The sun was directly overhead when I took the picture below. This caused each of the colors in this picture to shine. It turned out I wasn’t the only one interested in this particular magnolia flower.


50mm, f/1.8, 1/6400 second, ISO 200

You can get great pictures of flowers at any time of the day. Just make sure you know where the sun is and how it will impact your pictures. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to make better choices about the pictures you are going for.

Types of light in flower photography

Backlighting vs. front lighting

Backlight is when the main source of light comes from behind your subject. This can lead to some creative scenarios, especially when used to shoot subjects with rim lighting. Conversely, front light is when the main source of light comes from the front of your subject, usually behind the photographer.

Either one of these types of lighting works great for flower photography. However, you need to understand how backlighting and front lighting affect your flower pictures, so you know which one to use. I photographed the flower below with front lighting. The sun was behind me as I took the picture.


85mm, f/1.8, 1/3000 second, ISO 100

Front lighting makes the purples really stand out, especially against the background. There are also some prominent shadows along the left-hand side and at the base. These are neither good nor bad, just a result of using front lighting.

A similar flower, shot in the same location a few minutes later, reveals a much different image when employing backlighting.

Image: 85mm, f/2.8, 1/500 second, ISO 560

85mm, f/2.8, 1/500 second, ISO 560

Notice how the petals almost look like they are glowing as the sun shines through them. The shadows are more diffused, which is also due to the late hour of the day at which this was shot. Both pictures are good but in different ways. If you traditionally shoot flowers with front lighting, try doing some backlit shots and see if you like the results.

Image: Another backlit flower, where the shining sun made the yellow flower appear bright and radian...

Another backlit flower, where the shining sun made the yellow flower appear bright and radiant.

Sunny vs. overcast

There’s a common perception among photographers that cloudy, overcast skies make for some of the best lighting conditions. While I certainly enjoy shooting on days like that, the truth is, you can make any lighting condition work for flower photography. You just need to know how the light will affect your images.

One of my favorite flower photos I have ever taken was in the middle of the day just after a bit of rain. It’s a few coneflowers low to the ground. The overcast sky led to even lighting across the entire frame and rich, deep colors. There are no harsh shadows, no translucent petals, and no bright spots in the background. Instead, the frame is a mix of saturated greens, purples, and reds that I really like.


50mm, f/1.8, 1/640 second, ISO 200

Another example of this is the following picture, which I took in the morning after a night of thunderstorms. The clouds overhead dispersed the sunlight into all directions, which gave me an evenly-lit scene that worked great for this particular show.

Image: 85mm, f/1.8, 1/200 second, ISO 125

85mm, f/1.8, 1/200 second, ISO 125

However, these two pictures don’t mean you can’t take great flower pictures in bright sunlight. Far from it! Just know that flower images in bright sunlight will look much different than their cloudy-skied counterparts. The picture below is similar to the one above, but I took it on a bright sunny day.


50mm, f/1.8, 1/8000 second, ISO 360

This picture is neither better nor worse than the one above it, just different. Bright sunlight makes the red petals leap out of the frame. The rich blue sky and deep shadows of the grove of trees add a sense of space and depth that is missing in this picture’s counterpart.

Similarly, I photographed the purple magnolia flower below on a bright sunny day, but with just a bit of cloud cover. It’s kind of a cross between sunny and overcast and yields an interesting picture.


85mm, f/1.8, 1/200 second, ISO 140

The sun was off to the left, making the white inside of the flower petal shine out and compete with the purple in the foreground for the viewer’s attention.

I show all these examples as an illustration that you can get great shots of flowers in a variety of lighting conditions. The key is to use the sunlight (however it happens to be at the moment) to your advantage by knowing how it will affect your flower photos.

A comparison

If you can’t control the light in your flower photography, you can still control the angle from which you shoot your pictures. This has an amazing impact on how your flower photos turn out.

I shot the three photos below on a bright sunny day in about three minutes. The same flower is in each shot, and I used a 50mm lens with an f/2.8 aperture. The only difference is the angle from which I took each photo but that one simple thing changes each picture a great deal.

In this first picture, the flower is front-lit, meaning the sun was behind me and almost directly overhead as I took the photo. Notice the bright orange colors and stark shadows, which create a sense of depth and isolation. The background is shrouded in shadow because of the overhead light and the angle from which I took the picture. I see a lot of pictures similar to this online, especially on social media sites.

Image: 50mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 second, ISO 100

50mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 second, ISO 100

For this next photo, I stood in the exact opposite spot, looking up from below into the sun. Notice how the petals have become brilliantly translucent, and the greenery on the left is bursting with blurry bokeh.

It’s an entirely different version of the same flower and didn’t require anything on my part other than a simple perspective change.

Unlike the first picture, I don’t often see flower shots like this on social media. This is most likely because it’s just not something a lot of people think about doing.

Image: 50mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 second, ISO 100

50mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 second, ISO 100

I photographed this final image from the side, and what’s interesting here isn’t necessarily the flower but the background. From this angle, the background was entirely green, making the oranges and reds of the flower scream out by comparison. The lighting is similar to the first image, but this one is a lot more interesting to me because it’s a mix of colors instead of a flower against a mostly black background.


50mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 second, ISO 100

I really want to stress that none of the pictures in this tutorial are objectively better than any others. What I hope to have illustrated is that paying attention to the light in flower photography, as well as considering alternative viewpoints from which to shoot, can dramatically impact your flower photos.

Image: 23mm, f/5.6, 1/160 second, ISO 200. I had to hold my camera high above my head and fire off a...

23mm, f/5.6, 1/160 second, ISO 200. I had to hold my camera high above my head and fire off a series of shots hoping one of them would turn out. It did, and I’m so glad I didn’t just shoot a single sunflower from my normal eye level.

If you enjoy taking pictures of flowers, hopefully these images will give you some new ideas to consider. And if you haven’t spent much time out in nature capturing the beauty of blossoms like this, I hope you can find some time to go out, look at the lighting in flower photography and give it a try. You might be surprised at what you can get!

I’d love to see some of your shots – please share them with us in the comments below.

The post A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Light in Flower Photography for Awesome Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography

The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Image: Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast...

Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast and tonality in your images in any type of lighting situation.

It should be no secret to any photographer that one light is all you need to achieve great results. While one light setups (in this context, specifically those that don’t involve the use of a reflector) are both well discussed and incredibly useful, sometimes it’s good (or even essential) to go beyond the basics. The next step in your progression is probably going to be to add fill lighting.

Fill light is one of those essential skills that every photographer should have a good grasp of no matter what type of light they are using.

Image: One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s us...

One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s useful to be able to take even more control over the contrast in your images.

This article will help to get you started with two types of fill lighting. The first of these is the use of the humble reflector. The other is to use a second dedicated light source. Both of these methods are very different in how they are implemented and what they can achieve. Mastering both will give you a more complete skill set with which to use in your photography.

What is fill lighting and what does it achieve?

Image: In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back...

In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back of the subject’s dress as pure black. Adding fill light (right) has brought those details back.

The concept of fill lighting is quite simple.

The idea is that you use it to light the shadows in your frame. What this does is:

  • Brings up the exposure of the shadow areas in your image.
  • Reduces overall contrast in your frame (much like landscape photographers use graduated ND filters to reduce contrast in their images).
  • Brings your final images more in line with how the eye sees the world, rather than the limited range of your camera’s sensor.

While really dark and contrasty images definitely have their place (I love them myself), images (especially portraits for clients) will benefit from a more even contrast ratio. I once heard it described (I’m sorry, I don’t remember where) that in lighting for TV and cinema, the shadows are always lit. This was a lightbulb moment for me as I had always wondered how cinematographers seemed to show a lot detail while still retaining a good amount of contrast. The answer was controlled fill lighting.

Two types


Image: Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as yo...

Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as you like with your fill lighting.

The most basic type of fill lighting is that provided by the ever so basic, yet powerful, reflector. You probably have at least one of these already (or you’ve made a few). Reflectors provide fill light by reflecting light (go figure) from your key back into the shadows of your frame. In a lot of cases, reflectors will be your first foray into fill lighting. However, they will also be one of your most-used pieces of kit altogether.

Secondary lights

Image: Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

You can also use a second light (or third and beyond) as your fill light. A dedicated fill light will do the same basic job as a reflector, but it is infinitely more controllable. You can fine-tune the exposure and shape of your fill light with a precision that reflectors just don’t allow.

Contrast ratios – The very basics

Image: Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This r...

Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This results in a low contrast image with shadows retained. Right: the fill here is four stops below key. The contrast is high and the shadows are deep, but all of the detail is present.

The very concept of a contrast ratio can seem technical and daunting, I know. However, it is not at all that difficult of a concept and it’s just not that technical. At the most basic level, a contrast ratio simply tells you how bright one light is in relation to one another in terms of the aperture of your camera.

If your key light is metering at f/8, that means that if you set your camera to f/8 and an appropriate shutter speed (lower than your camera’s max sync speed) you will achieve a correct (subjective) exposure in-camera.

Fill lighting will always be underexposed in relation to your key light. If it’s even to your key light, you will get flat, no-contrast images as a result. For a contrast ratio that provides low contrast, you will want your fill light to be at least one stop darker than your key light. Since our hypothetical key light is f/8, that means the key light in this instance needs to meter f/5.6. This is a ratio of 2:1 (which is more advanced and you definitely don’t need to know to get started).

In short, if you want less contrast, your fill light should be one to two stops under your key light. If you want more contrast, try three to four stops.


If you want to be as precise as possible with these ratios, you will want to consider a light meter. That way you can measure any light falling on the scene with the press of a couple of buttons. This is the easiest way to go about it and works in the studio and natural light. You can also meter the light bouncing off a reflector.

Image: A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However,...

A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However, they don’t tend to be cheap.

That does not at all mean that you have to use a light meter, though. While more difficult (especially if you’re new to lighting like this), you can do it with your histogram on the back of your camera. Take a test shot with just your key light on. Now take one with only your fill light on. (Note: you won’t be able to do this if you are using a reflector.) Because fill lighting should be raising the exposures on your shadows, the shadow area of the histogram of your fill light test shot should be further to the right than that of your key light test shot.  If the shadow areas on both histograms line up, you need to increase the exposure of your fill light. If the shadow areas of your fill light’s histogram line up with the mid-tones or highlights of your key light’s histogram, you need to decrease the exposure of your fill light. (I did say it was trickier.)

Image: Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill l...

Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill light, you can see the shadows are brought up quite a lot.

Of course, you don’t have to do either of these things. You can always eyeball the whole setup and try to adjust things on the go. I would say this is perfectly fine with experience, but as you start out, I encourage you to at least have a go with the previous methods. It will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes you to get to grips with the technique and fully understand what is going on with your light. The more you understand, the easier you will find it to adjust things on the fly. You will also be able to learn new techniques faster.

Fill light with reflectors

Image: Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are...

Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are.

Reflectors are:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to setup
  • Easy to use
  • Very effective

Getting started with reflectors as fill lighting

Image: Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Before you start to think about fill, you will want to decide what your key light (main light source) is going to do. Set up your key light so that it is shaping and lighting your subject the way that you want. Meter so that you have the exposure settings that you desire.

Image: A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows...

A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows underneath the subject’s features.

Now, evaluate the shadow areas that your key light is creating. If you’re using natural light, or strobes fitted with modeling lights, you can do this by eye. Alternatively, you can take a test shot and review it on the back of the camera.

Image: Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Place your reflector so that it is roughly opposite your key light. Evaluate what the reflector is doing (either by eye or test shot again).

Image: Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of...

Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of the image.

What you are aiming for is for you shadows to be brought up in exposure, but not eliminated altogether. If you want low contrast, bring your reflector in as close as possible. If you want more contrast, move it away.

Image: With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in t...

With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in the image has been reduced.

It can take quite a lot of practice before you learn to see the subtle changes a white reflector provides. The key is to get as much practice in as possible.

Set up an object and light it. Put your reflector wherever you want and start taking shots, being sure to move the reflector into different positions each time. Review each shot and try to notice the behavior of the light in each instance. This exercise will give you a pretty good idea of how a reflector is going to behave in any given situation. Do this exercise often and you will find you can see even the most subtle shifts in light where it was difficult before.

Another quick tip to help you see the difference in contrast in a scene is to squint. It sounds ridiculous, but squinting reduces your vision to blocks of value and you will be able to see the contrast in the scene more easily.

A second light

Image: A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shado...

A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shadows.

Like reflectors, using extra lights as fill is a fundamental skill, albeit one with a slightly steeper learning curve. That said, unlike reflectors, using a dedicated light source allows you full control over the power output, making it much easier than a reflector to control how the light is going to behave.

Image: Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adju...

Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adjusting the power of your fill light.

To get started using a dedicated fill light, place your key light in your desired position and set the power for your desired aperture. Let’s return to that hypothetical of f/8.

Image: Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Knowing your aperture, place your fill light where it will affect the shadows in the manner you would like and set the power output so that it will be underexposed in relation to your aperture. How much you underexpose for is entirely up to you. If you want, say, two stops of fill in this scenario, then you will want your fill light to meter at f/4.

Image: A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. I...

A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. It was set to meter 2-stops under the key light.

Take a test shot and see if you have your desired effect. Adjust as required and there you go.

Image: In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the...

In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the image are lifted and filled in with the fill light.

Taking it further

Image: You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different...

You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different sizes and shapes if it works.

Of course, you are not limited to a single fill light. You can have multiple fill lights lighting your subjects from both sides. You can also mix lights and reflectors for different strengths of fill lighting from various angles. You can pretty much do whatever you want in terms of designing a light set-up. You are only limited by the equipment you have at hand and what you can dream up.

Image: Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

An idea is only crazy if it might work and you don’t try it.

Tips for fill lighting

1) It’s often better to retain the shadows rather than fill them in completely. This is not a rule, but images that retain some amount of contrast are often more natural and pleasing to the eye.

2) Pay attention to the catchlights in portraits – Extra light sources mean extra catchlights. When you are setting up your lights (reflectors included), be sure to watch the catchlights in your subjects’ eyes. Catchlights can make or break a portrait, so make sure you are controlling them as much as you are the lighting itself.

3) Big light sources at a distance work very well as fill light.

Image: This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right...

This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right) from a distance work really well as fill lighting.

4) Don’t be a slave to the ratios – While using the ratios as a starting point can, and will, be a useful springboard, that doesn’t mean you should adhere to them rigidly. If something isn’t right, adjust as you see fit. Nobody cares in the end if your ratios are exactly 4:1, but they do care if your photos look right. Use your best judgment and change things up if you need to. Sometimes only the tiniest of power adjustments will completely change the end result.

5) Think outside the box – Any light source can be your key and your fill. You’re probably aware that you can use flash to fill-in shadows in natural light, but you can also use natural light as fill where your main lighting is provided by flash.

Image: Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a st...

Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a strobe. You can mix light sources however you want to achieve your fill lighting.

That’s it

Hopefully, that’s served as a primer to get you started and demystify fill lighting. Being able to control the contrast in your images with lighting is a fundamental skill that you will be able to use across multiple disciplines. It will allow you to bring a new level of depth to your images straight out of the camera.

Get out and practice, start simple and go slow, and you will master the basics in no time at all.

Try out some of these tips, and share your photos with us in the comments!



The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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