Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There’s a lot of studio equipment to get familiar with and with it, a lot of terms to learn.

If you’re new to studio lighting, it is easy to get intimidated by the amount of stuff you have to learn. The jargon alone is enough to make your head spin. Fortunately, none of the things you need to be successful in the studio are particularly complicated, there is just a lot of it. The purpose of this article is to serve as a primer to introduce you to some of the most basic studio lighting equipment, and terms you will need to navigate a photography studio.

This is not a comprehensive list, and with new tools and techniques being invented all the time, it could never be.

A little warning: Some of these terms are used differently by different photographers. Others get interchanged with one another. While it can be confusing at times, it’s not necessarily wrong. However, it is useful to know about when you hear someone refer to a flag as a gobo or refer to ambient light as continuous light.

Types of light

Strobe – A studio strobe is a dedicated flash unit. They can sometimes be referred to as a monobloc or monolight. Usually mains powered, more battery-powered offerings are being brought onto the market all the time. Power output between models can vary greatly, with cheaper strobes offering as much power as a cheap third-party flashgun.

Strobes are powerful flash units that pretty much dominate studio photography.

Continuous light/HotlightContinuous lights serve the same lighting functions as strobes, but they don’t flash. Instead, they are high-powered lamps that can usually be fitted with modifiers in the same way as strobes. While mostly associated with video, continuous lights still have their place in stills photography. There are a lot of LED lights coming onto the market at the moment, and many of them are viable options.

The hotlight moniker comes from the fact that they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that sit close to the bulb as they present a fire hazard. This does not apply to LED lights.

Flashgun/speedlightFlashguns are any small light with a hot shoe mount for placing on top of your camera. They are highly portable, and some come with reasonably high power outputs. Although their versatility is ultimately limited to their size and power output, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in off-camera lighting.

Flashguns are small but competent light sources that are invaluable for portable studios.

Light functions

Key light – Your key light is the main light with which you are shaping your subject. This will usually be the brightest and most prominent light in your scene.

Fill Light – A fill light reduces the intensity of shadows created by your key light, thereby decreasing the overall contrast in your scene.

Rim light/backlightRim lights light your subject from behind to help separate them from the background. Often, rim lights are positioned so that only a sliver of light is visible on the sides of your subject.

Background light – As it says on the tin: background lights light the background.

Hair light – Hair lights are used to add emphasis to your subject’s hair. They can also be used to help bring up the exposure of your subject’s head if it is blending into the background.

Ambient light – This is any light that is present before the addition of any other lighting sources. This could be from lights in the room or daylight from a window or outside.


UmbrellasUmbrellas usually come in silver or white and can be attached to your strobe via a mount. By firing the strobe into the umbrella (which reflects the light back to your subject), you are creating a much larger light source which creates a softer light. Although mostly directional, umbrellas can have a lot of spill, and they aren’t the easiest modifier to control.

Umbrellas are your most basic modifier. They are good for soft, diffused light, but they are hard to control.

Translucent Umbrellas/Shoot-thru UmbrellasTranslucent umbrellas don’t reflect light, but are instead made of diffusion material which you aim the light through. This softens the light, much in the way of other modifiers, but without the benefit of directionality.

Translucent umbrellas also provide soft light, but they aren’t as directional as softboxes.

SoftboxesSoftboxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once attached to your light, a softbox acts to shape and soften the light so that it is more flattering. Softboxes also tend to be quite directional, and they are easy to control and further modify.

Softboxes are the workhorse of the photographic studio, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Strip boxesStrip boxes are softboxes, but they are long narrow rectangles that produce a much narrower beam of light. These are great for lighting a subject from behind for a rim lighting effect.

Striplights are a useful type of softbox that offer very directional light.

Octaboxes – Also a type of softbox, an octabox is octagonal in shape. The rounder light source is useful for shaping the light for portraits. Octaboxes also tend to be quite large, making them an ideal modifier for portraits.

Reflectors (the modifier kind) – The reflector is a modifier that goes directly on your strobe. They channel the light in a specific angle for very directional light. They are also a very hard light source. Most are designed to take a variety of grids.

Reflectors, like this 110-degree reflector, provide a very directional and very hard light source.

Snoots – Snoots are modifiers that are designed to focus your light in a very narrow beam. They are great for both hair lights and background lights.

Snoots direct your light into a very tight and controlled beam.

Barn doors – Barn doors are fitted with two to four flaps for you to manually adjust the aperture the light is let through. These flaps can help you narrow the focus of your light on a specific aspect of your subject (such as their hair), or they can be used to flag the light from hitting a spot that you don’t want it to.

Beauty dishBeauty dishes are directional modifiers that are somewhere in between soft and hard light. They are great for beauty photography (hence the name) as well as fashion and portraiture altogether. They often come with grids and diffusion socks to give you even more options in how to use them.

Beauty dishes offer a contrasty light somewhere between hard and soft.

Grids/HoneycombsGrids are modifiers for your modifiers. Placed on a reflector, or softbox, or beauty dish, they narrow the beam of light further and help to ensure that the light is only falling on your subject (or where you want it to).

Grids help you to further modify the directionality of your light.

Gobo – A gobo is placed in front of a light source to change the shape of the light. This can be as simple as narrowing the beam and be as complicated as creating complex patterns. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a Venetian blind with light streaming through. Now imagine the pattern on the wall. The blind is acting as an effective gobo and shaping the light.

CTO Gels – Color correction gels are used when you need to correct the color temperature of a given light. For example, if you have a gridded beauty dish that is particularly warm (like mine), and you want to use another light as a hair light, that second light might be very cool compared to your key light. By placing an orange CTO gel on your hair light, you can match and balance the color output of both lights.

Color Gels – You can also use gels towards a creative end. You can gel your lights to produce just about any color that you want to.

Reflectors (the reflective kind) – Reflectors are an important part of any studio kit. These allow you to reflect light from your key light back onto your subject. They are a means of creating a fill light without using a second dedicated light source. Reflectors come in many shapes and sizes, from the ubiquitous 5-in-1 reflectors to fancy tri-flectors sometimes used in beauty portraits.

Reflectors and diffusers are two vital tools when it comes to shaping and controlling your light in the studio. Also shown here is a reflector stand.

Diffuser/Scrim – A diffuser is a piece of translucent material that you place in front of a light source to alter the shape of the light or to reduce the intensity of the light. Some diffusers do both.

FlagsFlags are used to block (or flag) light from falling in your scene where you don’t want it to. You can use them to stop excess light falling on your background, or you can use them to reduce the exposure on the parts of your subject that aren’t the focal point. For example, sometimes, I like to use flags to help underexpose everything from the neck down in close portraits. This helps to ensure that the face is the main focus of the image.

Studio accessories

Light stands – Simply a stand to hold your light source. Ensure you have one that can hold the weight of your light. A high-powered, dedicated strobe requires a lot more support than a speedlight.

This image shows a boom arm attached to a lighting stand on a dolly. It’s a fantastic and versatile bit of kit.

Dolly – A light stand with wheels. Most useful.

Boom arm – A boom arm is a light stand that you can position at any angle between completely vertical and completely horizontal. These are useful to get your lights high up and also to place your light at angles a traditional light stand wouldn’t be able to manage. You can mount different varieties of boom arms to other light stands as well as permanent fixtures like walls.

Reflector Stand – A dedicated stand designed to hold a reflector in place.

Background/backdrop – A backdrop is any surface that you place your subject in front of. These range from paper and vinyl rolls to bare or decorated walls to pieces of painted canvas.

This image shows a painted canvas background. At the top of the frame, you can just see grey and white vinyl rolls on a motorized support system.

Background stand/support – Any support system designed to hold a backdrop in place. These can be free standing or wall mounted.

Clamps – Clamps and other fastening devices come in all shapes. You can (and should) use these to hold all manner of things in place. Backgrounds, flags, reflectors, gels, and many, many other things need to be held in place. For example, bulldog clips are indispensable for holding canvas backdrops up, whilst double-headed clamps can affix to a table and hold a flag or reflector.

This image shows a selection of clamps and clips that will you always find a use for in the studio. The double-headed clamp is holding up a piece of black foam core for use as a flag.

Rails – In bigger studios, you might see lights fixed to fittings on the walls and ceiling. These rails allow you to move your light relatively freely around a space without the hassle of a light stand.

They also help to keep cords out of the way of you and your subjects.


Quality of Light – Quality in this instance refers to the physical characteristics of light. These include shape, intensity, and color.

Lighting pattern – A lighting pattern is a specific technique in which a light is placed in a prescribed manner for predictable and established results. Examples of these include butterfly lighting, Rembrandt lighting, and split lighting.

PC Sync Socket/Cable – The PC sync is a means to connect your camera to a flash with a cable. You can use this option in lieu of triggers.

Triggers – Triggers are devices that allow a camera to communicate with your lights and ensure that your flashes fire while the shutter is open. These range from very basic models with just one function, to complex devices that allow for full control over the settings of multiple lights.

Triggers allow your camera to communicate with your flash so that they work in sync with one another.

Slave mode – In slave mode, a flash will detect the light from another flash via a sensor and fire. This is great in situations where you have multiple lights, but only one basic trigger.

Mount – A mount is the means in which a modifier is attached to a strobe. A lot of lighting manufacturers have their own proprietary mounts associated with their systems (Bowens, Profoto, Elinchrom, etc.) So you will need to ensure that any modifier that you buy will fit the system that you own.

This is the shape of the commonplace Bowens S-mount.

Modeling light – Many strobes come fitted with two bulbs. One is a flashbulb, where your strobe light comes from, and the other is a modeling bulb that is on whenever the strobe is not flashing. This makes it easy for you to see what the light is doing to your subject. As a bonus, if you’ve cut out all ambient light (like you should in a studio environment), modeling lights give you the ability to see.

That’s a start

While this list is not, and can never be, a complete list of studio lighting equipment, it should serve as a decent primer to get you started in the world of studio photography. If you feel that I’ve missed something important, please add it in the comments below.


The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Guidelines for Creating Your Photography Contract

The post Guidelines for Creating Your Photography Contract appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Guidelines for Creating Your Photography Contract

If you’re any level of a photographer working with clients, you need to have a contract.

When photo jobs go awry, it’s often due to a lack of communication.

A contract protects not only you but also your client in the event of any unmet expectations.

Here are some inclusions you may want to consider.

Who is the agreement between?

First of all, you need to state clearly who the contract is between and identify each party. You can identify yourself as “the Company”, and your client as “the Client.” The photo shoot itself can be referred to as “the Event.”

Note that the agreement supersedes any prior agreements between the parties, and that the only way to add to the agreement is to do so in writing, and that this amendment must be signed by both parties.

In short, if anything changes between the signing of the agreement and shoot day, you’ll need another contract.

What are the reservations?

You should have a section on your contract about the Reservations.

This means you note the date the shoot is scheduled for, and your policies about rescheduling, postponement and cancellation.

Make sure the client is very clear on the consequences of any of these changes.

For example, many photographers require a 50% non-refundable deposit in case of cancellation, so they don’t miss out on potential work that could have been booked that day.

Photography Contract - Darina Kopcok-DPS


I recommend having a section that notes that you as the photographer/company have the right to terminate coverage and leave the location if you experience inappropriate, threatening, hostile or offensive behaviour from a person at the event that calls your safety into question. This may be a rare occurrence, but it’s worth putting into your contract so you can assert your rights in case you’re a victim in an unsafe situation.

This could be relevant to a female wedding photographer being harassed by drunken guests, for example.

Shooting time and additions

Note that shooting time commences at the scheduled start time and ends at the scheduled time, regardless of when the client shows up. If a client is very late, then the shoot goes to the agreed upon time and no later.

I also highly recommend that if you’re a commercial photographer, that you state clearly that the client or a representative from their company must attend the shoot to provide creative direction and approve the final images.

You’re not responsible for the final aesthetic if they are not there to provide feedback and approval.

Furthermore, reserve the right to cancel the shoot and retain the deposit if the client or their representative does not attend.

Seriously. This happens.

Photography Contract -Darina Kopcok-DPS

Expenses incurred

This is where you might note that there could be additional expenses incurred that may not be part of the original quote, such as parking, props on a fashion or product shoot, or groceries on a food shoot.

These kinds of expenses are usually TBD (to be determined) and not part of the initial estimate. This should be made clear up-front so you don’t end up taking a cut from your earnings to cover these things.


You are responsible for a lot on a shoot, but certain things are unforeseen and out of your control. Things such as obtrusive staff, lateness of the client and staff, the weather, schedule complications, incorrect addresses provided by the client, or restrictions of the chosen location.

Venue and Location Limits

Unless you’re shooting at your studio or a rental, the client is usually responsible for providing an appropriate place for the photographic work to take place.

If the venue is found to be limited in space or otherwise hinders you from carrying out your work in a safe manner (or one that doesn’t allow you to produce the desired result), reserve the right to request moving to another location or cancel the shoot without penalty.


Who is responsible for securing permits?

The second you put a tripod down in a public place, you can very likely get asked to move along by a police officer or other type of city official. This can be disastrous on a commercial shoot where the location has been scouted and is essential to the storyboard or narrative of the final images.

Permits can take some time to secure, so keep this in mind if this job falls on you.

Photography Contract -Darina Kopcok-DPS

Film & copyright

The photography you produce for a client still belongs to you, as the creator of those images. A lot of clients think the images belong to them because they are paying you money to produce them. They need to be educated on copyright.

In the commercial world, clients commission you to produce photos that align with their brand. They then pay you a separate fee to license those images for a specific use and time frame.

You should have a separate Usage Agreement in addition to your contract that outlines usage parameters.

Limit of liability

In the unlikely event that you are not able to perform to the guidelines laid out in the contract due to injury, illness, an “act of God,” or another event outside of your control, you should not be held responsible.

You should, however, make every effort to reschedule the shoot. If this isn’t possible, then ordinarily all payment received for the event should be returned.

If digital files are lost, stolen, or destroyed beyond your control, including but not limited to hard drive or equipment malfunction, your liability is to return all payments.

The limit liability for a partial loss of originals should be a prorated amount of exposures lost based on the percentages of the total number of originals.

Capture and delivery

You are not liable to deliver every image taken at an event or shoot.

The number of final files to be delivered is up to the photographers discretion or is based on an agreement made between the photographer and client before the signing of the contract.

In this section, you can make a note of when you’ll be delivering the files by and how they will be delivered, such as JPG or TIFF files.

Photography Contract -Darina Kopcok-DPS

Post-production and editing

The final post-production and editing styles, effects, and overall aesthetic of the image are at your discretion unless you’re working on a specific type of job where the editing will be done in-house, say by a magazine or ad agency.

Nothing is worse than working hard on editing and then having clients put crazy Instagram filters on your images. Prohibit any alteration to your photographs unless there is an agreement with the client as to what those alterations will be, like putting text on a photo.

Payment schedule

If you’re asking for a deposit (and I hope you are), make sure to put that in your contract.

How you manage payment for the remainder is up to you. Many photographers allow thirty days for receipt, however, any late payment after that is subject to interest – usually 15-18%.

Also, note a policy around any NSF charges and if there are any consequences the client needs to be aware of in terms of not paying on time.

For example, you can state in your contract that non-payment after three months is subject to legal action.


At the end of the agreement, I suggest that you lay out the agreed upon pricing.

If you don’t have a separate usage agreement, you can include the usage terms here.

For my commercial work, I typically don’t give my clients a usage agreement until the images have been paid for in full and prohibit the use of my images until then.

I find this works well for me. Clients should not be using your images publicly unless they have paid for them, or it is a violation of your copyright.

I even state this term on my invoices and draw their attention to this in my email communication upon sending it.

Some clients can take a long time to pay you unless you draw specific boundaries around payment and the use of your images.

Photography Contract -Darina Kopcok-DPS

Signature field

There should be an area where both you and the client can sign and date the contract.

It’s best if you use electronic signature software such as Hello Sign so that clients don’t have to spend their time physically downloading and scanning a signed contract back to you. Everyone is busy, right?

If you use a CRM software, it may already offer such a feature. For example, I use Dubsado, which is a CRM system for creatives. I can send clients emails and contracts directly from within the user interface.

I have all the other features of a client management system for around the same price I would have to pay for signature software alone.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this has given you some idea of what you can put in your contract.

Be sure that your contracts are dated and signed before you consider a job booked.

Go over them with the client and make sure the terms and conditions are understood. A lot of people don’t bother to read stuff before they sign it and you don’t want to deal with any surprises.

Please note that this post is for educational purposes only and doesn’t constitute legal advice, as I am not a lawyer and cannot advise in that capacity.

To make sure that any or your contract or written agreements are legally binding, and will cover you in an event of a discrepancy, please contact an attorney.

The post Guidelines for Creating Your Photography Contract appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Time Management Tips for Photographers

The post Time Management Tips for Photographers appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

Photographers these days need to wear many hats. Not only do you have to shoot and edit your images, but you also need to spend time on social media, market to clients, and keep up with all of the day-to-day administrative tasks of running a business. It’s enough to give even the most organized person a headache. To top it off, time management can be something that creative people often struggle with.

As a creative person, who prided myself on my productivity until I started my own business, it’s taken me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to get the most out of my day without a ton of stress and overwhelm.

If you’re tired of feeling busy but not productive, here are some helpful tips.

Choose three priorities for your day

Most people don’t have a great sense of how long a given task will take them. They overload their calendar with to-do’s and then feel inadequate or frustrated when they don’t check them all off at the end of the day.

Of course, this tip will depend on what you need to get done. You may have a shoot day or need to spend the whole day editing, and therefore will be focused on one task. However, you’ll also likely have a couple of small things you need to complete in a day, like send an invoice and return a few emails or phone calls.

The point is that you should focus on three priorities a day, and tackle them in order of importance.

This tip is also known as The Rule-of-Three from the book Getting Results the Agile Way, and it’s meant to prevent you from running from task-to-task without a clearly defined outcome.

In the Rule-of-Three, you define three tasks to do in a day, three tasks for your week, and also three tasks for your month, and your year.

Start each day by defining the three things you will focus on and make sure to check in with yourself about staying on track. Pay attention to how long it takes you, and notice any patterns that emerge in working on certain tasks. That will give you more information to refine your time management strategies.

Time Management for Photographers-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Track your time

When you get started with trying out different time management techniques, be sure to track your time.

For the first year-and-a-half of running my photography business, I wrote down everything I did in a day in a small notebook, as well as how long it took me.

If this sounds like a super time-consuming and anal thing to do, it’s actually not. It really takes a second to check your watch and make a note consisting of two or three words describing your task.

Even better, you can use a time-tracking app like Hours Tracker.

The  information you get from tracking your time is gold.

If you find that you’re spending a lot of time on certain tasks that are not completely necessary, you can take steps to reduce the time you spend on them, or cut them out altogether.

For example, if you think you’re only spending a half an hour a day surfing the web, you might find you’re constantly going down the rabbit hole and that it’s closer to two hours.

Use an online calendar to schedule time blocks

One of the most effective ways to increase your productivity is to work in time blocks and schedule them into an online calendar like Google.

Organizing your schedule instead of working off a to-do list helps to apply discipline and order to your tasks.

You dedicate specific time windows to your tasks, thus making them a priority and the only focus during that time. It helps to minimize distractions and the mental burden of switching tasks.

Use an online calendar to schedule your tasks as non-negotiable events. If you’ve been doing things the analog way – writing out to-do lists or keeping a paper journal – you might find using an online calendar much more effective.

An online calendar can help you schedule meetings and send out notices to invitees. You can create recurring events in your online calendar, set up reminders, and you can access the calendar from multiple devices.

Make sure you schedule breaks into your calendar. It’s a really bad idea to sit in front of your computer screen all day without getting up regularly to stretch, eat a proper meal, or just take a few minutes for some R&R.

Time Management for Photographers-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Use a CRM System

There are so many apps and productivity tools to help people manage their time, projects and life better. You may even be using some of these already.

However, if you’re not already using a CRM (client relationship management) system, you can be missing out on a massively helpful tool that can cut out the necessity of having several apps for several different uses.

A CRM system is a client management and relationship building tool that will help you keep track of your clients and projects. You can do things like record the dates you last communicated with a client and set a reminder for follow up.

However, most CRM’s offer so much more, including accounting tools and contract writing capabilities.

I use and recommend Dubsado, which is a CRM system for creatives. You can create branded contracts you can send out for electronic signature, send an email directly from the user interface, and keep track of all your prospects and clients in a visually pleasing and easy-to-navigate system. It even integrates with your Google calendar.

If you’re using contract signature software like Hello Sign or Adobe, you can get the same function in Dubsado with all the other benefits for a similar price tag.

Other options are Nutshell and Insightly.

Time Management for Photographers-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Nix Multi-Tasking

The research is in: multi-tasking is way overrated.

Multi-tasking tends to be viewed positively, but the latest research shows that it is detrimental to your productivity and quality of work.

High-quality work is dependent on how much time you spend on a task and the intensity of your focus. If you can increase your focus, you can get done more done in less time.

Working on several tasks at a time overloads the brain. When you work on several things at once, you’re switching mental functions, which ends up being counterproductive.

According to Gloria Mark, researcher and author of Multi-Tasking in The Digital Age, the average knowledge worker switches tasks every three minutes. Once distracted, it can take nearly half an hour to resume the original task. That is 30 wasted minutes because you checked your email and responded to a message.

No wonder the average worker works for three hours out of a typical eight hour work day – even if they’re not constantly looking at Instagram or Facebook.

Put away your devices

So as you can see, one of the biggest ways to ruin your productivity is to constantly check your email and social media throughout the day. Those seconds or minutes can add up to huge amounts of time wasted and ruin your focus on the tasks on hand.

Put away your phone, close the browser window with your open inbox, and concentrate on the task that is in front of you.

Decide on a couple of times a day when you will check and respond to emails and Instagram posts and stick to it.

When I combined this with blocking my time, I was astonished by the result. I literally accomplished three times more in a day than I did when simply floating from task to task, responding to each text and email as I received it.

Time Management for Photographers-Darina Kopcok-DPS

Try the Pomodoro Method

The Pomodoro Technique is a hugely popular time management tool designed to keep you as productive as possible.

In this method of time management, you choose a task you would like to get done and set a timer for 25 minutes to work focused and without interruption.

You can do this for 25 minutes, right?

When the timer rings, take a short break that is non-work related, like stretching or having a snack.

Once you have done four “pomodoros,” you can take a longer break, like 20 or 30 minutes. Your brain will take this time to assimilate new information.

Set one day aside for errands and admin

This is another productivity hack that works wonders for some people. Have one day set aside in the week where you will attend to all of your personal errands or business admin or a combination of both.

There may be things that you do on a weekly basis, like meal prep or laundry, that can all be relegated to one day, allowing you to focus on business tasks for the rest of the week.

You may want to have one day of the week put aside when you schedule all your meetings or medical appointments. Alternatively, you can do all of your admin like invoicing, accounting or even scheduling your social media.

To sum up

There are a lot of time management techniques and tools out there that can help you boost your productivity and reduce stress and burnout.

No all of them will work for you, but these are some of the more popular ones that you might want to try.

Whether you’re a hobbyist photographer or a pro, chances are you have a ton going on every day.

Finding ways to be more efficient can end up adding hours to your day and even help you sleep better.

The post Time Management Tips for Photographers appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darina Kopcok.

The Real Reason You Need to Print Your Photos

The post The Real Reason You Need to Print Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

Each creative pursuit has its own fulfillment. It is that moment when we can stop and see that our finished creation. A play is written and performed – a score is composed and played by musicians – poems written and then read out loud. The fulfillment of our creative pursuit as photographers is a printed photograph.

When you print a photograph, it becomes physical. A print is the embodiment of the digital file. As a print, it becomes part of our daily physical existence. As a constant part of our life the print comes to play a role in our life, perhaps effecting us in ways we didn’t expect.

Making small prints

A few prints that I stumbled across from my childhood. Each time I come across these memories, I’m reminded of my place in my family as a son, a grandson, and now a father myself.

Coming to life

When something lives in the digital world, it is easily scrolled past, or swiped away and forgotten forever. Digital photos live a ghostly existence.

We experience digital photos like a dream. Just as a dream vanishes when we wake up, a digital photo vanishes as we scroll past it or close the file. But as a print, your photograph becomes part of the real world and a part of your life.

One day I saw one of my digital images – a headshot – on a huge billboard. I was so surprised I had to circle the block just to see it again! I had seen that same image on the internet many times, but to see it in the real world brought on emotions that had never arisen when viewing the photo online.

Yes, “an image is an image” whether it is digital or printed. But a printed image has a different existence – a bodily existence – and becomes part of your world as something physical rather than ghostly or dreamlike.

Printing photo books

Before setting out for the East Coast, I knew that I wanted to make a photo book after the trip. Part of the fun was anticipating the project, then living the adventure as we traveled. But the creative experience was not complete until I had finished the book. A lot of the fun was selecting the paper, the lay-flat style and the dimensions.

Daily life

Consider the difference in the way we normally experience digital and print photographs.

A print is displayed somewhere and might remain for a very long time. However, a digital photo is at your mercy – only viewed on your whim and dismissed almost immediately. If you do not wish to see them, they are gone. A digital photo is not ever-present as a print is. Digital photos count on you to come looking for them.

A digital photo is given a physical existence when printed. When it is displayed at home or in our studio, it becomes part of our daily life.

Display your prints

Most people are quite tactile – collecting books, rocks, and small keepsakes. Our family often brings home a jar of dirt from the new lands we visit.

Inspired and called

When printed, our photographs are ever-present reminders of what is important in life.

Unlike the fleeting excitement that digital photos bring as we scroll past them, the inspiration of a printed photograph is always there to view.

When you’re bored of the flow of digital photos, you shut them off. However, you don’t turn off a print; it is there whether or not you wish to see it at that moment. This is important because when we choose our prints carefully, they can be sources of encouragement when we need it most.

An ever-changing sea of digital images is part of your daily landscape. Images pound you like waves, only to disappear once they’ve made contact. They exhaust you as they hit all day long. You live in a chaotic world where you are most likely to forget what is important in life.

You should print photos that inspire you and call you to a good life. The portraits you hang can remind you of who is important in life. Even the landscape you print can calm and inspire you in tough moments.

Print and frame your digital photos

In my son’s room, there is a picture of him and my grandmother together. It has been there for years. It’s also on my computer. I can tell you the exact folder it’s in, but I haven’t seen the digital file since I made the print. I made the print for my grandmother and received it back when she died. It once reminded her of the joy of her great grandchildren and now it reminds me of the joy of my grandparents.

A stronger experience

While I can hardly recall any of the images I just scrolled through online, I can still remember some of the images in the photography magazines I read as a kid.

When I knew a new issue of Photo Life was due out, I’d check the mailbox every day until it came. I knew the feel of it when I reached into the mailbox. The cover photo would strike me first, then the smell of the brand new magazine. I suppose I did all but taste those photographs!

Imagine the life of those photos. The photographers would conceive their ideas and work away until they had their collection of images. The photographs were developed, culled, and selected by an editor. Once printed, the magazine was shipped around the world. Finally, it would get carried by post for photography lovers to grab from the mailbox or snatch from a newsstand. We’d carry them with us, reread them, and add them to our collection of back issues.

Print versus digital photos

You can close a photo book and put it away, much like swiping away a photo. But a book is placed on the shelf, while a digital photo is swiped away and obliterated into 1’s and 0’s.

The digital world is a gift

Digital photos are important – just as imagination, thoughts and dreams are. But dreams disappear, thoughts are forgotten, and imagination begs to come to life in the real world.

There are many gifts that the digital world has given us. Perhaps most of all the digital world gives us a place to play and experiment before we decide which photos to make real. We have transcended many of the limits of film (although many of those limits may have been healthy for our creativity).

Even though our creative activity is not complete until we have made a print, we don’t need to print all of our digital photos – only the ones that deserve to rise up and become worthy of embodiment.

Create something that becomes real

While there is joy in taking photos and viewing them digitally, our satisfaction is not properly realized until we have printed our photos. A photo that isn’t printed is like a script that is never performed, or a musical composition that is never played. There is still value in the digital photo, just as there is value in a script or musical composition. But the value is mainly the hope that one day the digital photo will be printed and share a bodily life with us – to inspire us, cheer us, and remind us.

The post The Real Reason You Need to Print Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits

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

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

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

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

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1. Be inspired by history

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

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

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

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

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2. Check the costume faithfulness

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

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

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

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

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3. Set the scene

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

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

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

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4. Give your subject a character

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

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

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

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

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5. Don’t forget the post-processing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Secrets for Stunning Creative Bird Photography

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

Do you want to capture stunning bird photography…

…that goes beyond the usual, standard bird photos?

You can!

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

Images that are creative, unique, and original.

Sound good?

Let’s dive right in!

1. Get Low for Gorgeous Bird Photography Backgrounds

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

Get down low.

Really low.

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

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

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

Why is this so important?

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

Therefore, you’ll capture some beautiful bokeh.

And beautiful bokeh?

Makes for a stunning bird photo.

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

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

It really does make a huge difference!

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

2. Shoot in water for stunning reflections

Do you want to capture especially gorgeous bird photography?

One of my favorite ways to do this…

…is to shoot reflections.

Let me explain:

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

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

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

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

First, shoot by still water.

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

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

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

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


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

Bottom line?

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

3. Capture action for compelling bird photos

One of the biggest problems with beginning bird photography…

…is that it’s static.

The bird just stands in the frame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing I’d recommend:

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

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

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

4. Shoot through vegetation for unique images

Another way to capture original images…

…is to find a subject.

Get down low.

And shoot through some vegetation.

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

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

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

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

Make sense?

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

5. Capture silhouettes for dramatic bird shots

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

Shoot silhouettes!

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

Here’s how you do it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative bird photography: next steps

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

You know how to produce amazing backgrounds.

You know how to generate interest.

And you know how to capture incredible foregrounds.

The next step…

…is to get out and shoot!

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

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

Zoo Photography Tips

I recently took a trip to the zoo to do a test on a camera that I was reviewing and thought I’d share a few tips that I put into practice along the way.

Zoos are great locations to practice photography as they present us both with a great variety of subjects (both animals and the people watching them) but also with some real challenges. Some of the things you’ll need to overcome in getting great shots at a zoo include:

  • Distance – the space between photographer and animal
  • Moving Subjects – animals rarely stay in the one place for long
  • Tricky Lighting – foliage and indoor/outdoor shooting can prove to be challenging
  • Cages and Glass – while many zoos are improving in how they contain their animals and are giving them more natural surroundings the challenge of photographing them without the distractions of reflections off glass or grim looking bars both in the foreground and background add to the ‘fun’ of zoo photography

Zoo Photography Gear

What camera and gear will you need to get good photos at a zoo?

The answer to this question will vary a little from photographer to photographer depending upon their style, the type of shots that they want to take and the type of zoo that they’re visiting – however, a long zoom lens will almost always be handy to have attached to your camera.

Camera/Lenses – This means you’ll either need a DSLR with an attachable longer focal length prime lens or telephoto lens (something with an upper length of 200-300mm would probably be handy) or a point and shoot camera with a super zoom lens (probably a 10-12x Optical Zoom).

Also consider taking a macro lens if you’re lucky enough to have one. At our zoo we have a number of enclosures where they are handy (a butterfly enclosure for example).

Tripod – Also consider a tripod or monopod (depending upon the weather and how light it is, you’ll probably find that in some animal enclosures you’ll need to use slower shutter speeds which mean you’ll need the extra stability).

Lens Hood – the combination of shooting outdoors, having limited angles to shoot from (which means sometimes you’ll need to shoot into the sun) and that at times you’ll be shooting through glass means that a lens hood might be handy to have. I actually left mine in the car and as it was a bright day my images suffered considerably as a result.

Zoo Photography Tips

1. Points of Interest – Before you start photographing an animal ask yourself ‘what is it about this animal that interests me?’ What has drawn you to photograph it above other animals around you? Does it have great colour, is it in a humorous pose, is it about it’s expression, is it something about it’s surroundings? The reason to ask these questions is that they help you to identify potential points of interest for your image (something that will take your shot to the next level) and will help you to determine how to approach the shot.

2. Get in Close – as with many styles of photography, if you’re able to get close to your subject you create a feeling of intimacy with it and are able to capture details that you’d not otherwise have been able to see. Of course with animals in cages this is a challenge and getting close will almost always need to be done using a longer focal length (you can of course help a little by shooting for as close as you can get – without breaking any zoo rules). Tightly cropping the animal’s face or body helps you get shot with a real impact but also helps eliminate any distracting elements in the photo.


3. Focus on the Eyes – the eyes are the ‘window to the soul’ in portrait photography and a similar thing is true when shooting animals. Get the eyes in focus and in a prominent position in your shot and you’ll help create a more personal connection between your subject and the viewer of your image.

4. Get down Low - photographing an animal down at their level is another way of creating a sense of closeness and intimacy with your subject. This might mean you need to get down on your knees (and get a little dirty or look a little silly) but it will give your shots punch.

5. Eliminating Reflections – shooting through glass is a real challenge and something to avoid if you can. If you can’t get around it get in close to the glass, give it a wipe with a cloth (or your sleeve) to get rid of finger prints, find a spot that is less scratched than other parts, use a lens hood and/or your hand to try to eliminate any reflections and attempt to shoot at right angles to the glass. If you can’t eliminate reflections you might also like to try to work with them. Take a few steps back and incorporate the reflections of those watching the animals into the shot (hard – but if you get it right it could make for a great shot).

6. Shooting through Cages – there’s nothing worse than trying to shoot through the wire or bars of a cage. On occasions you’ll be able to find a wider opening (look for the bigger gaps around gates) but when you have to shoot through cages get up as close as you can to them, use a longer focal length, choose a wider aperture and wait for the animal to move back from the cage. In many instances when you do this you’ll not even notice the distraction of the cage at all. But what if you are using a point and shoot with no control over aperture? Try switching to portrait mode which is a mode that uses a wide aperture and should narrow your depth of field.

7. Shoot People – speaking of people – they also make a great subject when at the zoo. Don’t just focus on the animals but look for the wonderful reactions of those around you as they react to the animals (they can sometimes be more animated than the animals as they mimic them).

8. Look for Humorous Situations - animals do the funniest things. Keep your camera up to your eye for that moment when the monkey points at you, the giraffe picks it’s nose with it’s tongue (sorry – they do do it) or when the Emu pokes its head through the cage to steal something out of someone’s bag.

Zoo-Photography9. Treat Animals as Moving Subjects – to overcome the problem of your subjects always being on the move consider shooting with a fast shutter speed. You might like to switch to shutter priority mode at a fast shutter speed or let your camera do the work by shooting in ‘Sports’ mode. You can also help with this by shooting in continuous shooting mode so that when your subject is on the move you capture a burst of shots quickly one after the other.

10. Plan your day - I’m a fairly spontaneous kind of person but when it comes to photography have learned that it’s worth thinking ahead. When you get to the zoo get yourself a map and work out which animals will be on your hit list. Also note any feeding times that are publicised (these can make for some action shots). You might also like to find a zoo keeper to ask them what times certain animals are more active. Another good strategy is to head to the gift shop of the zoo and take a quick look at their postcards and picture books that might give you a little inspiration and a few ideas on good shooting angles for different animals.

11. Patience – occasionally you’ll stumble upon an animal in the perfect pose for a shot when you first see it – but in many cases you’ll need to wait for it. Once you’ve picked the animals you want to capture give yourself extended periods of time to camp out at their enclosures. This way you’ll hopefully see them in a variety of positions and with different expressions. This is what often takes your zoo shots to the next level.

12. Think About Context – the beauty of zoo photography is that you get relatively close to animals (something that is obviously difficult in the wild). The challenge is that the environment is not a natural one and that on many occasions there will be distracting elements in the background or foreground. Where possible try to shoot from angles where ‘natural’ looking elements are included (vegetation etc) – but where there are distractions you might like to try using wide apertures (small numbers) which narrow depth of field and throw foreground and backgrounds out of focus. Also try cropping with focal length (or later at home with photoshop).

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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

Zoo Photography Tips

How to Photograph Flowers

Earlier in the week I had the chance to sit down with a photographer whose specialty is photographing flowers. As I tend to do with pro photographers – picked his brain as we chatted and took as many notes as I could. Here’s what I gleaned from him and his flower photography experience:

By the way – he also recommended two flower photography books – Photographing Flowers: Inspiration*Equipment*Technique by Sue Bishop and Field Guide To Photographing Flowers by Rokach

Preparation is key

Getting your gear together and in working order, choosing the right lens, having a tripod set up and then preparing to take the image. Pause and examine your subject before pressing the shutter. Some questions to ask:

  • how to crop it – get in close or take a wider angle shot?
  • what is the focal point/point of interest? Insect, stem, colour, texture, shape etc?
  • what angle will you shoot from to get the best perspective?
  • how much depth of field do you want?
  • how is the subject lit?
  • which flower is the best specimen for your photo?
  • what distractions are there in the background and foreground?
  • which is the best format to shoot in? (horizontal or vertical)

Highlighting subjects

One of the questions above is worth a little extra consideration – ‘what distractions are there in the background and foreground?’

Gardens are filled with all kinds of potential distractions. They might be the tool shed, a fence, other flowers, the clothes line etc. A decision needs to be made whether you want to include these elements or remove them from your shot. Either option is legitimate but in most cases you’ll probably want to remove them unless they in some way enhance your shot. There are a number of options open to you if you want to remove distractive elements:

  • move them – some distractions can be moved pretty easily so that they’re not in your frame
  • move yourself – find a new angle to shoot from that has a less distracting background
  • crop them out - go for a tighter framing of the flower either by using a zoom or moving physically closer to it
  • use aperture to narrow depth of field – as we highlighted in our introduction to aperture, if you choose a wider aperture (small numbers) you’ll decrease the depth of field. As you do this you make elements in the foreground and background more and more out of focus.
  • move your subject - I’m not a big fan of intervening in a scene too much but some photographers will move the flower to a new location for the shot. This might include getting someone to hold the stem on a different angle or could even mean picking the flower and taking it elsewhere. If you’re going to do this make sure you are aware of the environmental impact of your photography.

Don’t ignore the dead, marked or dying flower

Sometimes carcasses of flowers can present you with wonderful subject matter. While the perfect flower is the one you’ll probably be drawn to first sometimes the more interesting shot is the ‘ugly duckling’ beside it.

Identify a focal point

As in all types of photography you need to think about where you want your viewers eye to be drawn. Consider setting it off centre using the rule of thirds – but do find something in your frame that will grab your viewer’s eye and carefully think about how to position it.

Go abstract

Sometimes going in extra close and focussing in on a part of the flower can create wonderful and unusual images that take on an abstract quality. Look for contrasting colors, patterns and textures.

Focus is Key

Sharp focus is important in all forms of photography but in flower Macro photography it is crucial and even a tiny adjustment can have massive implications for your shot as the depth of field is so small. In macro photography your depth of field is a game of millimetres so attention to detail in focussing is something to be worked upon.

Identify the point of interest that you want to be in focus and then work hard to ensure that it’s as sharp as possible. This can be a real challenge, especially outdoors on breezy days where you’ll probably end up taking a lot of images and relying on luck to some degree! You can improve your ‘luck’ a little by photographing in a more controlled environment (taking flowers inside for studio shots, shielding them from wind or just choosing to do your photography on a still day).


Ideally your subject will be wonderfully lit without you needing to offer any assistance, however the world of outdoor macro photography is often far from ideal and there might be a need to intervene with either artificial light or some kind of reflector.

Using a flash is something to experiment with. Generally you’ll find that direct flash on automatic mode might wash photos out a little so consider using a flash diffuser and/or bouncing your flash off another object. I find that the more subtle and indirect the flash is the more natural your shots will look.

Reflectors can also be handy in shooting flowers as they give a nice, natural, diffused light into areas of your subject that might not be getting natural sunlight. Experiment with different colored reflectors as they can really impact the colors in your shot.


Point and Shoot Cameras – if you’re shooting with a point and shoot camera with no interchangeable lenses you’ll obviously have less options here. You will probably have the ability to switch your camera into macro mode (which will allow you to focus a little closer and will tell the camera to use a large aperture giving you a shallow depth of field). Some point and shoot cameras do have the option of a macro lens attachment also to allow closer focussing (see your owners manual).

DSLRs – if you have a camera that allows interchangeable lenses (DSLR and some prosumer cameras) you might like to consider buying a purpose built macro lens. Most of the major camera manufacturers offer a range of them. For example offers a number including ones at focal lengths of 50mm, 60mm, 100mm (the one I own), 180mm etc. Each will have it’s own specifications and strengths (do some careful research before buying). Obviously a shorter focal length means you need to get physically closer to your subject to really hone in on your subject while longer ones allow you to shoot from further back (helpful when photographing insects).

I hope that you’ve found the above notes from my chat with a Pro Flower Photographer helpful. We did cover a lot more ground but I can only type so fast! Feel free to add your own flower photography tips in comments below.

Don’t forget to check out the two books on flower photography – Photographing Flowers: Inspiration*Equipment*Technique by Sue Bishop and Field Guide To Photographing Flowers by Rokach.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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

How to Photograph Flowers

4 Reasons Not to Write off Shooting in Automatic


In this post Natalie Norton from explores why shooting in automatic can sometimes be worth doing.

Sometimes photographers have a complex about shooting in automatic. I shoot primarily in Aperture Priority (and am not here to knock manual settings AT ALL), but I have a tender place in my heart for ol’ Auto. Here are 4 reasons not to write her off too quickly.

1. If you’re relatively new to photography.

If you’re relatively new to photography, Auto can give you a great opportunity for exploration, frankly because it’s less to think about. You have the freedom to “go out on a limb” artistically speaking that you wouldn’t be able to were you going mad metering light, selecting shutter speeds and fiddling with apertures. I really believe that photography takes a certain amount of training of the eye to fall into your personal artistic niche- you’ve got to be free to do that, no strings attached. You can’t surpass the limits of shooting Auto until you become familiar enough with your camera (and photography in general I must add) to know what they are. I shot in Auto for over a year before making the transition over. Shamelessly! The images were superb and it is very rare (like it’s NEVER happened to me once) for anyone to look at a great image and say, “Wow, but did you shoot that in Auto?” No one cares. A good image is a good image is a good image. Period.

ANY friend of mine who comes to me early on in their photography “career” asking for lessons is forbidden from shooting in any mode other than AUTO for at LEAST 3-6 months. In my mind that’s enough time to get your framing style down to the point where it’s just, for lack of a better word, automatic. . . second nature. When that happens, THEN you’re ready to explore other settings. I’ve known too many photographers who are technically off the chart but can’t frame an image worth poo. Don’t fall into that trap by plugging up the artist in you by focusing too much on the technical aspect. It will come. It will. I PROMISE.

This is from the first wedding I ever shot. I shot the whole thing in Fine Quality (as opposed to RAW) and Auto.

2. It can save you when you’re just not QUITE sure.

I have a little “trick” that I use every so often.

If I’m busy shooting away in manual or AP and I’m just not 100% sure I’m nailing the shot, I’ll fire off a few frames in Auto just to be safe. That way if I’ve muffed my shot, there’s still hope. It’s been amazing for me, as it’s saved me a few times over. It’s also been great because it’s given me confidence. There’s nothing like the insecurity of not knowing if you’re really capturing what you hope you are. Yes, I know, LCD screens are helpful. But let’s just face it, they could be a whole heck of a lot bigger. Plus, if you’re shooting anything other than a 100 year old woman who couldn’t move if she wanted to, you don’t have time to check to be sure you got the shot after each frame. You’re rippin’ shots off just about as fast as you can and don’t have time to check to be certain you’re nailing each and every one. There’s nothing as depressing as coming home, uploading and finding that an entire batch is totally underexposed.

Over time you’ll come to where you’re generally happier with the images where you were the boss of your camera rather than the other way around. Mmm. That feels good.


I wasn’t quite sure how true I could get the color of the shoes by shooting manual. I knew the bride’s maid was going to grab them and put them back on at any second, so I chose to grab the shot quickly in Auto and “take my chances.” Score!

3. The terms: Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual mean nothing to you.

Awesome! Less pressure! Just don’t mess where you aren’t yet comfortable. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was Ansel Adams. Just keep pressing forward. You’ll feel inclined to learn when you’re ready. No rush. Just don’t pick your son’s first birthday party as your day of camera setting exploration. . . set a time and run a test shoot. Play it safe!!

Bride 2.jpg Bride 3.jpg
I shot this bridal shoot back when I had little idea of what the word Aperture even meant. I shot RAW, and in AUTO.

4. Your subject won’t sit still.

Sometimes I run into issues shooting in manual when I’m doing candid shots of kiddos. They’re constantly running in and out of the light, and up and down and around and through and over and under and. . .you get the picture. I can’t switch my settings fast enough to catch them before they’re on to the next adventure. When that’s the case I click over to automatic and thank my lucky stars! She’s so good to me!! Sure if I had time and patience I could fiddle and faddle around to get the precise setting, but generally I’m working against the light, against the clock (a 1 hour sitting) and against the patience of a two year old! I’ve gotta be quick so that I have a broad selection post shoot.

Example: I shot the most darling little boy the other day at a beach that also has forest, caves and cliffs. He’s just the coolest little kid ever AND he’s got enough energy to put my 3 year old to shame (and if you know Cardon you understand that that’s REALLY saying something. . .REALLY). He was EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t fire off a shot before he was on the move again. I was going haywire trying to focus. The changing light as he would run in and out of thick forest (remember I live in Hawaii, the canopy is dense) and climbing up onto bright cliffs, was really throwing me for a loop, so I hopped on over to Automatic and yippee! She saved the day.

This sweetie kept on wanting to tug on her hood. I had to fire off a shot quickly without having a chance to even think let alone mess with settings. Auto to the rescue!

I just want to reiterate that shooting in Auto doesn’t make you any “less” of a photographer by any stretch of the imagination. Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise. We’re all at different stops along the path, but every one’s destination is the same. Images that speak to us, that make our hearts sing and our spirit’s soar. . . images that make us feel and cause us to wipe a tear from our eye. Whatever you have to do to get to that point, it just doesn’t matter. So, give yourselves, and good ol’ Automatic, a break!

Happy Shooting!

Note: this post was originally posted in 2008 but has continued to get regular responses from readers – so we decided to republish it for those who may not have seen it.

Natalie lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu, HI with her wonderful husband and 3 crazy sons. See more of her work and writing at

Post from: Digital Photography School

How to Shoot Light Trails

One of the first subjects that I remember trying to capture as a teenager with my first SLR camera (film) was light trails created by cars on a busy road near my home.

I’d seen this type of shot in a photography magazine and was impressed by the eye catching results.

Light Trails continue to be popular subject matter for many photographers and they can actually be a great training ground for those wanting to get their cameras out of manual mode and to experiment with shooting in low light at longer exposures.

Following area few examples of light trail shots as well as some practical starting point tips for those wanting to give it a go.

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There is not just one particular type of camera and kit that you’ll need to capture light trails – however it is important to have a camera that allows you to have some control over exposure settings – particularly those that allow you to choose longer shutter speeds. This means you need a camera that has the ability to shoot in either full manual mode and/or shutter priority mode (something that all DSLRs and manypoint and shoot cameras have).

You’ll also need a tripod (or some other way to making your camera completely still) as you’ll be shooting with long shutter speeds which will make shooting handheld pretty much impossible.

Not essential but helpful to have with you are lens hoods (to help block lens flare from ambient lights), remote shutter release cables or wireless remote controls, patience and some warm clothes if you’re going out on a chilly night.

The Basic Principle:

At the most general level photographing light trails involves finding a spot where you’ll see the light trails created by cars, securing your digital camera, setting a long exposure setting on your camera and shooting at a time when cars will be going by to create the trail of light. Of course it’s a little more complicated than this – but the general factor behind it is longer exposures that will enable the car/s that create the trails to move through your image.


While there are a lot of tips that could be shared on the topic of photographing light trails – the main thing I learned in my early days of attempting to create these types of images was to experiment extensively. The beauty of digital photography is that you can do this with no extra cost to yourself and can get instant results (unlike when I did it on film and had to fork out for film and processing – not to mention wait days to see my results).

Setting Up Your Shot:

Photographing light trails is not difficult – it’s as simple as finding virtually any road with cars going down it once the sun goes down. But getting a shot that grabs attention means putting a little more thought into choosing your location, thinking about timing and framing your image. Here are a few tips on how to set your shot up:

  • Timing/Light – one might think that the middle of the night is the best time for light trail photography (and it can be) – however one very effective time to do it is just as the sun is going down (just before and after). If you shoot at this time you’ll not only capture light from cars, but ambient light in the sky which can add atmosphere to your shots. You also might find that earlier in the evening you get a little more ‘action’ in your shot with more cars and even the movement of people through your shot.
  • Creative Perspectives – some of the most effective light trail shots that I’ve taken and seen from others were taken from perspectives other than at the height of a normal person standing up. Get down low or find a place looking down on your scene that will create an unusual angle.
  • Location – the most obvious thing with location is that you’ll need it to be somewhere near a road – however there’s more to think about than that. Choose a location that adds interest to the shot in some way. This might be one where there are well lit buildings along the road, one where multiple roads merge together to create light trails in different directions, on the bend of a road so that the trails sweep through the image, near a roundabout so the trails create circular shapes, in the middle of dual carriageways (on a triaffic island) so that you get traffic coming in two directions etc.
  • Framing – the normal ‘rules’ of composition apply in this type of photography. Images need some sort of point/s of interest, the rule of thirds can be applied effectively, draw the eyes into your image using lines smartly, foregounds and backgrounds should add to and not distract from the image.


  • Aperture and Shutter Speed – I wish I could give you shutter speeds and apertures that will work in every situation – but as the ambient light and speed of cars will differ in every situation there’s no one exposure combination that will work in every setting.

    Having said this I’ve found that I usually shoot at shutter speeds between 10 and 20 seconds (which gives cars time to move through the frame) and with apertures in the mid range (start with something around f/8).

    The key is to start with something in the range above and to take a few test shots to see how the exposure works. You’ll quickly realize whether your shots are under or overexposed and whether the length of the exposure is long enough to let cars travel through the frame in the way that you want.

    If your shots are overexposed – close your aperture down (increase the f stop number) or if your shots are underexposed open it up (decrease the f stop numbers). If you want the car’s lights to go further through the frame go for a longer shutter speed and if you want it to travel less through the frame shorten it.

    Keep in mind that aperture impacts depth of field. If you need to go with a larger aperture you decrease the depth of field and more of your shot will be out of focus.

  • Histogram – One thing to watch out for is letting any light source in your image (whether it be headlights, street lights etc) washing out your image. Lights that burn too bright can cause distractions and draw the eye of your viewer away from focal points – ruining your shot. One way to quickly check out if there’s any area in your shot that is overexposed to this degree is to view the histogram on your shot. If there are areas that are blown out you’ll have a graph with a right hand side that is too high on the graph. Learn more about histograms here.
  • Choose a low ISO setting - this will give you images with as little noise as possible.
  • Shoot in RAW if you have it - this will enable you to have more control in your post production work – particularly in getting white balance right (something that can be important as you’re shooting in a situation with lots of artificial light that can cause all kinds of color casts in your shot).
  • Manual Focus - In low light situations cameras can struggle to get focusing locked correctly. The last thing you want is for your camera to be in and out of focus just as you need to hit the shutter release. Switch to manual focus and make sure your focus is upon a part of your image that is visually strong.

Timing Your Shot:

There is no right or wrong way to time your shot. Hitting the shutter just before a car enters the frame and releasing it just after it leaves the frame can create a lovely unbroken line – but sometimes shooting with shorter exposure times while the camera is in the frame can be effective also. Once again it’s about experimenting with different timings and seeing what effects it has.

Using Bulb Mode:

Many digital cameras have a mode on them called ‘bulb’ mode that allows you as the photographer to keep the shutter open as long as you wish. This can be very handy in this type of photography to time your shots with precision. If you use this you’ll want to be using a remote shutter release to stop any camera movement while the shutter is open.

Got some good light trail shots? Head over to our forum and share them with the DPS community.

Note: This is a ‘classic’ post from our archives – first published back in 2008 but updated this week with extra information. We hope you enjoyed reading it!

Post from: Digital Photography School - Photography Tips.


How to Shoot Light Trails