How to Avoid This Travel Photography Mistake: Taking Snapshots

The post How to Avoid This Travel Photography Mistake: Taking Snapshots appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.


When I teach travel photography workshops, I am always quick to encourage people not to rely on interesting subjects. An interesting subject does not always make a good photo. A good photographer does. So, in this article, you’ll learn to avoid just taking snapshots.


© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Travel snapshots

Taking snapshots when you travel is so easy. You find yourself in different, stimulating environments. They’re packed with exotic, compelling subjects provoking you to squeeze a quick photo as you rush by. Thinking the impressive subject is enough to create an appealing photograph is a mistake.

Pay attention to lighting, timing, and exposure. Taking snapshots without this care rarely hold anyone’s interest. You might find the most fascinating subject and not do it justice due to a lack of attention or time given to it.

Also, be careful of misconceptions about camera equipment. There are two main ones I notice.

‘I have a professional camera, so I take professional photographs’.

Just as a good subject does not make the photograph, nor does a good camera. A good photographer makes good photographs. Don’t rely on your camera to be creative. It cannot be. It is smart, that’s for sure. The artificial intelligence in modern cameras is phenomenal, but they are not creative. You are.


© Kevin Landwer-Johan

‘I only have my phone or compact camera so I can’t take good enough photos’.

You don’t need to stick to taking snapshots with a compact camera or phone. Don’t limit your creative expression because of the equipment you use. Sure, there are limitations with that kind of camera. You can still creatively capture interesting subjects when you put your mind to it.

Take your time

Slow down a little and think about how to make whatever it is that’s interesting into a great photo. Don’t rely on the subject alone. Every place you go, from Thailand to Turkey, you’ll find compelling subjects.

Something iconic needs to be treated with more imagination because everyone photographs it. To capture a photo of a monk in Chiang Mai or the Istiklal tram in Istanbul, you need to think outside the box. Everyone who’s been there has snapshots of these subjects.

Take your time when you find something engaging to photograph. Think about the lighting. Consider the best angle to photograph it from. Check out the background and make sure it’s relevant. Look at it for a while and ask yourself why you want to take a photo of it.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Don’t take only one photo

The first composition you make will not always be the best. Often it will be the most clichéd. The one everyone else takes.

Experiment with different angles and lens focal lengths. Make horizontal and vertical compositions. Try a dutch angle or two.

Always think about filling your frame. What’s within the edges of your viewfinder or monitor? Is everything you can see relevant and supporting your main subject? If not, do something about it. Change your angle, aperture or lens. Or wait. Sometimes you have to pause for people or traffic to move out of the background space. This will help your subject will stand out.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Be in control of your camera

Relying on an auto exposure mode and averaged metering gives you predictable results. Your camera is programmed to make even exposures. It’s not going to choose to expose for the highlights and let what’s in the shadows fall into blackness. Nor is it going to selectively slow down your shutter speed and purposefully allow motion blur to happen. You have to do these things.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Knowing your camera and how to control it will help you intuitively see when you can incorporate creative techniques. This will diversify the photographs you take. If you’re happy to use your camera like a point-and-shoot, then snapshots will fill your travel photo albums.

Taking your camera off the auto settings can force you to slow down (until you become more familiar with it). You can then think about all aspects of picture-taking at a more relaxed pace. Great photos are rarely quick.

Even most of the best street and travel photos are not taken on the spur of the moment. They are planned. They are preconceived. They are anticipated before the action happens, or the light becomes perfect.

When you do see something amazing happening and must react quickly, flick your camera back to auto. Take a few photos, and then, if you still have time, pop it back onto manual mode. Now you can get creative with your aperture and shutter speed.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Take a travel photography workshop rather than a tour

Many people use their camera predominantly when they travel. People have more time to take photos of interesting subjects when they travel. The problem is remembering all those settings. How can you get the most out of your equipment when you seldom use it?

Taking a travel photography workshop at the start of your vacation or journey will kickstart your creative process. You can learn to be more confident with your camera when you have a better understanding of how it works.

Picking up your camera and being stressed because you’re uncertain if it’s going to do what you want is not fun. A good tutor will walk you through the essentials of using your camera and build your confidence to do so.

A workshop will also give you hands-on experience on location. You’ll learn how to see the most interesting subjects and what to do with them. On a photo tour, all you usually get is a guide showing you interesting things to point your camera at. A workshop will equip you to take great photos wherever you go because you’ll learn how to use your camera in a multitude of different situations.


© Pansa Landwer-Johan

Avoid photographic clichés

It’s not difficult to avoid photographic clichés when you stop and think about it – even with iconic subjects. Slow down and enjoy the moment. Create a beautiful memory of it by thoughtfully composing your photos instead of taking snapshots.

Diversify your research. Don’t rely on Instagram to show you where the best photo opportunities are to be found. These are the places everyone will go and take the same boring pictures.

Think outside the box. Infuse your photos with creativity by looking for alternatives. Even if your subject is iconic, make it fresh and new in the way you choose to photograph it.

Do you have any other tips on how to avoid taking snapshots when doing travel photography? Do you have any stories to share? Please do so in the comments section.

The post How to Avoid This Travel Photography Mistake: Taking Snapshots appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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.

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.

8 Tips to Minimize Memory Card Problems

The post 8 Tips to Minimize Memory Card Problems appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.


Memory cards are a crucial component of digital photography. Here are 8 tips to help minimize memory card problems.


The unfortunate result of a memory card issue

What is a memory card?


A memory card is a storage accessory that records the image data you make while taking photographs with a digital camera.

Square or rectangular in shape, a memory card slots into your camera and reads/writes each image file you create.

At the end of a shoot, the memory card can be removed from the camera and connected to a computer where images are then transferred for viewing, editing and storage.

There are many different memory cards built to suit different needs, camera models and budgets.

To have an in-depth look at memory card specifications, check out our article here.

Memory cards are no doubt an amazing piece of technology, but they do require care. Fortunately, a bit of research can help minimize memory card problems.

1. Use a good card reader

As I mentioned before, there are various types of memory cards, each with different specifications and levels of quality. There are also card readers of different qualities to match.

Card readers are the devices that transfer data from the memory card to your computer.

While card readers seem like a pretty straight-forward piece of equipment, you don’t want to run the risk of corrupting files as you upload them to the computer.

Investing in a good memory card reader can save a lot of stress down the road.

2. Purchase quality cards


Uh, oh…the result of using a cheap memory card. Unfortunately, this image couldn’t be saved.

Purchasing a good memory card is key to safeguarding your images. While quality cards may be more expensive, a cheap memory card can compromise your photography.

Brands like SanDisk and Lexar are a go-to for professional photographers. Steer away from deals that look ‘too good to be true’ or obscure brands with poor reviews.

3. Eject your memory card from the computer safely

8 Tips to Minimize Memory Card Problems

While it might seem harmless to remove your memory card from the computer without ejecting, you could be putting your next shoot at risk.

Not ejecting your card may result in corrupted data or card failure. To minimize memory card problems, always eject your card through the computer before removing it.

4. Turn your camera off before removing your memory card

Another simple way to minimize memory card problems is to turn your camera off before removing your card. Removing your memory card while the camera is still on can interrupt the writing process and potentially corrupt your image files.

In addition, avoid shooting while your camera battery is low. If your camera runs out of power while reading/writing it can be detrimental to all the data on your memory card.

5. Don’t completely fill your card with images

It sounds counter-intuitive, if you have the space, why not fill the card…right?

The fact is, just like a maxed-out hard drive, a card nearing capacity under-performs, and this can compromise your images.

To avoid this issue, invest in a large memory card, keep an eye on your image-count, don’t fill your card over 85-90% capacity, and always have a spare card at the ready.

6. Don’t switch devices without formatting


Switching a memory card into different camera devices risks compatibility issues that can corrupt the data of the whole card.

If you need to change equipment, formatting a card before use or using a new memory card is the safest way to go.

7. Don’t delete files in-camera

If you take a photograph you aren’t too keen on, it’s tempting to erase the image then and there. However, deleting photographs individually in-camera can result in corrupted images.

Going through and deleting images can also soak up valuable shooting time. Wait till you have uploaded your files to the computer before you start deleting content.

8. Format your memory card before using it

8 Tips to Minimize Memory Card Problems

At the start of a new shoot, you want a memory card that is ready to read/write plenty of new data.

To do this properly, it’s a good idea to format your card in-camera first.

Selecting the format option in your camera menu will clear the card, readying it for new image files.

Formatting before a shoot also minimizes the likelihood of scrambling new images with lingering data left on the card from previous shoots.


Memory cards are amazing little pieces of technology. With a few simple steps, you can minimize memory card problems, allowing you to focus your attention on image-making instead!


Do you have any other tips for minimizing memory card problems? Or have you had corrupted cards and lost files? Share with us your tips and stories in the comments.

The post 8 Tips to Minimize Memory Card Problems appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

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.

Learn these Two Techniques for Dramatic Light-Painted Photos

The post Learn these Two Techniques for Dramatic Light-Painted Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.


“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” – Alfred Steiglitz

You will find many quotes from famous photographers about light.  They know it is the very essence of photography.  The word is from the Latin roots, “phos” for light, and “graphe” for drawing or painting.  So, photography is quite literally, drawing or painting with light. In this article, you’ll learn two techniques for dramatic light-painted photos.

This "Autumn Apples Still Life" is in the style of the Dutch Master's paintings.

A single-exposure light painting. This “Autumn Apples Still Life” is in the style of the Dutch Master’s paintings.

Typically, we open the camera shutter for a slice of time, and whatever light exists in the scene creates an image on the sensor (or perhaps the film if that’s the medium you’re still using). The quality, quantity, and color of the light are recorded. Where there is no light, nothing is captured.

There is a basic difference in light painting photography. Rather than simply capturing the existing light during the exposure, you, as the photographer, will use light to “paint” the scene. Use more on the portions of the scene you want highlighting, less or even none on those places you want subduing.

Think of it as painting on a black canvas. Where you apply paint (light in the case of photography), an image will result — no paint (light), no image. And, of course, there are all kinds of quantities in-between.


You can later add some other touches in editing to go even more in a painterly direction.

Two approaches

There are two basic techniques for dramatic light-painted photos:

1. Single exposure

Here you determine how long you will leave the shutter open. This will often be multiple seconds or even longer. While the shutter is open, you “paint” the subject with your light, emphasizing the portions of the scene you want to bring out, leaving in shadow those you want subdued.

Your working time will be the shutter duration, and you will make your entire image during that single exposure.

2. Multiple exposure

This technique is somewhat like the previous one in that you paint a portion of the subject with light during what will often be a multi-second exposure.

The difference is that you will take multiple shots of the subject, each time painting just a portion of the scene. Then in the edit, you combine these multiple images, much like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, into the final composite image.


“Goin’ Down in the Mine” – This is a single exposure light painting with some additional light from the lantern.

Single exposure technique

Scene considerations

What you decide to make the subject of your light painted photo is strictly up to you. Favorite subjects of mine are still-life images in the style of the old Dutch Master’s paintings. These use simple, static scenes. There is an emphasis on very directional lighting with portions of the image well-lit while other portions may be in deep shadow.

It is easy to find a few simple items and create a nice still-life scene. Perhaps put up a backdrop to simplify the shot, turn off the lights and let your flashlight be your sole source of light as you make the shot.

When starting to learn this technique, this can be a great place to start.


“Doc Brown Makes a House Call” – Thematic scenes which tell a story can make nice subjects for still life light paintings.

I also like to make these kinds of light paintings with items in the shot which show a theme or tell a story. I was fortunate to initially learn light painting in a workshop put on by area photographer, Caryn Esplin. Espin not only taught our group the technique but also had various thematic sets we could photograph.

Several of the images in this article, I made during that workshop.

Motion types – light trails

Most of what we cover here will use a light to “paint” the subject.

A different kind of light painting is where the light IS the subject. It too, uses a long exposure, and when the light moves during that exposure, it creates light “trails.”

Sometimes this will be the lights of moving objects, such as the streaks of light created by moving vehicles or other illuminated objects. Other times, the photographer, or perhaps an assistant, will “draw” with a light source, creating the image with the light.

"Rush Hour - Boise, Idaho" - Lights that move during a long exposure will create light trails. This is a type of light painting, just not the kind we'll discuss in this article.

“Rush Hour – Boise, Idaho” – Lights that move during a long exposure will create light trails. This is a type of light painting, just not the kind we’ll discuss in this article.

There are many variations of this style of light painting, and the light used may not always be a flashlight. Special light “wands,” some even programmable, can be purchased for all manner of amazing effects. Steel wool spinning where an ignited piece of steel wool is spun, throwing sparks, and creating light trails is another example.

Image: If a light moves during a long exposure, you will get light trails.

If a light moves during a long exposure, you will get light trails.

Any moving object which emits light will create light trails during a long exposure. While that is a fun technique and one I’d encourage you to try as well, it’s just not the type which is the subject of this article.

Instead, we concentrate on using a light source, typically a flashlight (aka a “torch”), to paint our subject with light.

Single exposure: step-by-step

Location – Total darkness

You will be using a flashlight to make your image during a long exposure and want to be able to control exactly where that light does and does not fall. Ambient light is not what you want.

Try to work in a location that is quite dark. You can check if it is dark enough by making a shot with the exposure setting you intend to use, but not lighting it. You should get a black frame or at least only see a faint background of objects you might want to include.

You can light paint portraits, but your subject will need to sit very still during the long exposure.

“The Thousand-Yard-Stare.” You can light paint portraits, but your subject will need to sit very still during the long exposure.


Most cameras will work for this if they go into full manual mode. You will need to be able to control the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed manually. Plus, you’ll need to focus and lock the focus manually.

If you will be shooting longer than the camera’s longest shutter speed (often 30-seconds), you will also need to be able to go into Bulb mode. This will allow you to keep the shutter open as long as you like. Usually, 30 seconds or less will be fine, but that depends on the subject, your light source, distance from the camera, and other exposure factors.

If you find your exposure will be longer than 30 seconds, you will also need a shutter release so you can hold the shutter open longer in bulb mode. There are very affordable corded releases.

If you need to be working further from your camera so you can both light the scene and trigger the shutter, a remote cordless shutter release can be a great way to go.


Single Exposure Technique. 10 Seconds, f/16, ISO 100 with Canon 6D and Canon EF 24-105 f/4 IS Lens at 58mm.

Lens selection will depend on your proximity to the subject.  For tabletop still life shots where you’ll usually be just a couple of feet from your subject, a 50mm prime can be just right.  The “nifty-fifty” (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens) on my Canon camera is sharp and a perfect lens for this kind of work.

Pick your sharpest lens and an appropriate focal length to fill the frame with your subject.

A tripod is practically a must for this kind of long-exposure photography.

The camera must not move during the exposure. Whatever way you have of doing that will work, but I personally believe any photographer worth their salt owns a good, stable tripod.  Have a good tripod and use it.


Here is the U.S., we call it a flashlight. In other places, it’s called a torch. What we’re talking about is a battery-powered portable light source that you can direct onto your subject.

Some will have focusable beams, which can be a nice feature. Some might have multiple intensity settings, which is also useful. If you can find one that has a neutral-white (about 4500-5000K) output, that’s even better.

Standard incandescent bulb flashlights will tend to have a warmer, yellowish color light while most LED bulbs are blueish in color.

The Zanflare F2 is a nice flashlight for tabletop light painting.

The Zanflare F2 which can be purchased with a 4500-500K bulb is a nice and inexpensive light for light painting.

A nice light for table-top light painting is the Zanflare F2 which can be had with a 4500-5000K bulb.  It has two power output settings and can usually be purchased for under $10.00 US.

Another very affordable light I recently purchased for longer range outdoor light painting is the Energizer ENPMHH62. It’s under $15.00 US. You can pay a lot for fancy “tactical” flashlights, but I’m not sure they will improve your light painting photography unless perhaps you need to light something very far away.

Camera settings

If you’re working inside where you can turn the room light off and on, set up your shot with the lights on. Focus on the subject, then turn off the autofocus, so the focus stays locked at that spot. Failure to do this will have your camera hunting for focus in the dark, and that will certainly ruin your shot.

If you’re outside and it’s already dark, use your flashlight to help set up the shot and get good focus. Turn off autofocus and lock it in once you have it.

Put your camera in full manual mode. Set the ISO as low as you can for the lighting conditions, remembering that a lower ISO setting will help reduce noise in your shot. Because you can make the shutter speed as long as you need to, you can often get away with ISO 100. Try that and adjust it later if you need to.

See if you can work with the “sweet spot” – the sharpest aperture for your given lens – usually about f/8 to f/11. This should also help give you an adequate depth of field. Stop down to f/16 or even f/22 if you really need the depth of field. However, realize smaller apertures significantly increase the amount of light, and the time of the exposure you’ll need to make a proper exposure.

As for the shutter speed, that depends on how much light you’re working with, the proximity of your light to your subject, the brightness of the subject itself, and how long you need to properly paint your subject for the look you desire. There is no “right” answer to this.

Start with good average settings – something like ISO 100, f/8 for 20 seconds. Once you make a shot and evaluate it, you can make adjustments for subsequent shots.


Ready, set, paint!

With everything ready to go, set the 2-second timer to trip the shutter (or use the remote), trip the shutter and start painting your subject with the light.  Here are some things to keep in mind when doing so:

  • You will probably want to direct your light from the side, above, or maybe behind the subject.  Lighting from the front, the same position as the camera view, will result in an image that looks flat and uninteresting.
  • Shadows are every bit as important as the light.  You are not going for an image that is evenly lit, looks like it was taken in ambient light or was done with a flash.  Deep shadows, light on parts of the subject you want to draw attention to and shadows elsewhere will add to the drama you’re seeking.  Again, look at the still life Dutch Master’s painting style for clues on how to light your subject.  Less can really be more here. Caryn Esplin, the photographer I mentioned earlier, uses the expression “Reveal and Conceal.”
  • Use your light like a paintbrush, moving it in circular motions.
  • Do not allow the beam of light to point at the camera or you will create light trails on the image.
  • To be able to pinpoint smaller areas of your subject, consider “snooting” the flashlight, that is, putting a piece of tape, a cone, or something else on it to reduce the size of the beam.
  • Brighter objects in the scene will need less light, darker objects more.  You will also want to leave some portions of the scene dark to better emulate the painters’ style and add drama.
Cross Lighting brings out the texture and adds drama to this image.

Simple subjects can make good light paintings. The cross-lighting brings out the texture and the deep shadows add drama in this “Pigskin Portrait.”

  • Shoot, chimp, evaluate and adjust, and shoot again.  Adjust your camera settings as necessary for the best exposure.  Look at your image and think about what you might do differently.  You might get lucky and nail the shot on your first try. However, it’s more typical to make lots of images, trying different things and later choosing the best.  Digital film is cheap.  Don’t be afraid to make LOTS of shots.
Image: “Patriotic Pickup.” Put it on an Australian flag and you can call it a “Lan...

“Patriotic Pickup.” Put it on an Australian flag and you can call it a “Land Down Under Ute.”

Multiple-exposure technique

This is the second of the techniques for dramatic light-painted photos. While in the previous technique, the photo is made and the subject painted all in one long exposure, this technique involves making multiple exposures. Then you combine them like the pieces of a puzzle into the final image.

Making each of the individual exposures is essentially identical to techniques used in the prior method, but instead of having to light paint the entire scene in one shot, smaller pieces of the scene are done individually.

For example, say you wanted to make a light-painted photo of an old truck at night with the Milky Way overhead in the sky. You could make the background shot of the stars first, then using your flashlight, make a shot lighting just the front tire. Then light the grill, hood, or perhaps the interior. Add some light from the side, back, and on the grass in the foreground. Each of the individually lit shots would be a piece of your puzzle.

That’s exactly the technique used by Richard Tatti, the guy whose online Youtube tutorials taught me this method. The only difference is that he, being an Australian photographer, calls what I would describe as a pickup truck a “ute.” (Editor note: As an Aussie, we also call them “you-beaut utes!” Total slang, of course.)


One image was made for the sky and mountains, followed by about 10 other shots, each lighting a different location in the scene. This uses the multiple-exposure technique.

Richard does a nice job describing the light painting and photographing of a scene, as well as how to edit and combine the individual images into one in this tutorial. So I will suggest you view that for the step-by-step how-to. 

I will simply list the steps you’ll be taking.

In Lightroom

After making the individual shots, Lightroom is a good tool for preparing, sorting, and perhaps doing some minor editing to them. Be sure to sync them, so they are all the same size before the next step. The next step is where you select the individual images you will use and then use the “Open as Layers in Photoshop” command to export them into Photoshop. To do this, go to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop.

Image: Decide which of your images you want to use as “pieces in your puzzle,” select th...

Decide which of your images you want to use as “pieces in your puzzle,” select them all, and then send them out using “Open as Layers in Photoshop.”

In Photoshop

This might take some time, especially if you have lots of layers, but when done, you will see the individual photos all lined up in a Photoshop layers stack.

Find what you would consider your “base” or bottom layer in Photoshop, and if it is not already in the bottom position, click, hold and drag it to that spot in the stack.


If you shot on a tripod and the camera didn’t move during the series of exposures (which is what you need to do), this step might not be necessary. However, if the camera moved even a tiny bit, you will want to align the images. It’s not a bad idea to do anyway; it just takes a little more time.

Click the top layer, hold down Shift, and click the bottom layer, so all are selected. Then click the Edit->Auto Align Layers->Auto->OK. Let it work; it’ll take a bit.

Once done, if you see any white edges, crop the image to eliminate those.

Lighten Blending Mode

At first, you will see just the top layer in the stack. Let’s turn the lights on.

Click the top layer in the stack to select it. Then hold down Shift and click the next to last layer, so all but the bottom layer is selected. Then click the Lighten blending mode.

Presto! The lighted portions of your image will all appear, much as if you’ve turned on all those individually lit portions of the image. Cool huh?

Image: Selecting the layers and then applying the “Lighten” blending mode will turn the...

Selecting the layers and then applying the “Lighten” blending mode will turn the lights on!

Use the Eyeball

The little icon to the left of each layer is an eyeball. If you click it on any individual layer, you can toggle that layer, making it visible or invisible. In this case, if you click it to make it invisible, the “lights” on that layer will be turned off.

Think of the eyeballs as light switches. Click them on and off on each layer, and it’s like individually switching the lights on each portion of the shot. It’s a great way to see the effect of that layer on the entire shot.

Sometimes after viewing what a given layer is doing, you may not choose to use that layer at all. If not, leave the eyeball off for that layer.

Image: Work a layer at a time using masking layers and a brush set to black to rub out pieces you do...

Work a layer at a time using masking layers and a brush set to black to rub out pieces you don’t want or perhaps want to reduce the opacity.

Fine-tuning with masks

If you’ve not worked with layers and masks in Photoshop before, this part can seem intimidating.  It need not be.  You will simply use a layer mask and the paintbrush tool set to black to, as Richard calls it, “rub out” any parts of the lighting layers you don’t want to appear.  You can also adjust the opacity of a brush or of the layer itself to control how much impact that layer has on the overall image.

For more on using layer masks, read this article.


This is the same scene as before, but with a different camera angle and different choices about how I used each lit layer.

Go let your light shine!

Light painting is a lot of fun and a great way to produce some nice images. Because of the nature of how you move the light over a subject, no two images will be the same, and what you create will be uniquely yours.

The single exposure method is a great place to start, and if you are a beginner photographer, using the manual settings of your camera will be a good lesson. You will quickly learn the relationships of light and the camera controls; ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, for adjusting your exposure.

The multiple exposure method is a great way to work in larger settings. You can light a tree here and another way across the field if you want as you’re not restricted to making the image all in one click of the shutter. Blending the individual images in Photoshop will also teach you a lot about layers and masks, something that can sometimes be a challenge to learn.

If you make some nice images, post them in the comments so we can see what you’ve created. Also, if you have problems or questions, post something in the comments, and I’ll see if I can help you.

Now, grab your camera, tripod, flashlight/torch, and try these techniques for dramatic light-painted photos. And go let your light shine!

Author’s Note – Just as this article was being submitted, I held a light-painting workshop for my fellow members of the Boise (Idaho) Camera Club.  Have a look at their work here.




The post Learn these Two Techniques for Dramatic Light-Painted Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Photograph a Local Project When Traveling is Not an Option

The post How to Photograph a Local Project When Traveling is Not an Option appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jeremy Flint.


If traveling is not an option, a great way to enjoy your photography is to go out and shoot a project in your local environment. Your local patch provides a wonderful opportunity for photography and is a location often overlooked and taken for granted. To photograph a local project is a hugely satisfying undertaking, especially because you don’t have to go far to achieve it.

Staying near to home also provides ample time to visit a particular place, and means you can reach a location with ease. As travel is minimal, you will incur lower transport costs and you can go back to a particular location as often as you like. Shooting locally is also a great way to practice and improve your photography whilst getting you out with your camera. Have you ever thought about what local projects to photograph and how to go about it? Well, here are some of the best ways to achieve this goal.

Choose a subject that interests you

Image: Blenheim Palace, Oxford

Blenheim Palace, Oxford

This may seem obvious, but the first thing I recommend doing is to consider and choose a subject that interests you for the project. This way, you will be more motivated to go out and shoot it.

Focus on one aspect such as a local landscape, a river, a local park, a zoo, a piece of coastline, a particular time of day, birds and wildlife in a wetland area, a particular season or even a famous building or local landmark.

Whilst finding and shooting a project close to where you live, photo opportunities can present themselves when least expected.

With a bit of luck, your timing can be greatly rewarding.

For instance, I recently shot some images of a local landmark ‘Blenheim Palace’ in Oxfordshire. It is a gorgeous historic building surrounded by wonderful parkland, manicured landscapes, and woodlands.

I planned to photograph the autumn colors during my visit and was fortunate to encounter a unique and unexpected exhibition of artworks by Maurizio Cattelan. The exhibition included these carpets of union jacks (pictured) which provided a unique point of interest in the images.

Once at your local destination consider the following:

Select a lens


Starling murmurations, England

The fun starts once you have found a subject for your local project and you are at your location.

Think about what it is you are photographing, and the best way to capture it. This will give you insight into the type of lens you should use. If, for example, you live in a city and have decided to do cityscapes at blue hour, you may opt for a wide-angle lens. That way, you can fit more of the city into one scene. It would also allow you to fit in large architectural buildings, or capture bustling street scenes.

Another scenario may be that you want to capture local markets where you live. In this scenario, you may opt for a wide-angle lens to capture the overall nature of the market, and a portrait lens, such as a 50mm or 85mm, to get some more intimate people shots or detail shots of things sold at the market.

You may also decide to challenge yourself by using just one fixed prime lens, such as a 50mm. You could capture a range of subjects that give insight into the area where you live.

Alternatively, you may choose a telephoto lens to zoom in closer to subjects such as distant wildlife or birds. A telephoto lens is a great way to compress perspective, bringing foreground subjects closer to the background like these starlings.

Experiment photographing your subject


Starling murmurations, England

One thing I recommend doing when you photograph a local project is to just experiment photographing your subject.

Try using different camera settings and techniques and see what works and what doesn’t. For example, if you want to achieve a faster shutter speed as I did to capture these birds in flight, you could raise the ISO.

You may also want to experiment with your aperture. Shooting in Aperture Mode (Aperture Priority) is a great way to do this (if you are not yet on Manual Mode) as the ISO and shutter speed automatically adapt when you change the aperture setting. I achieved a wider, more detailed field of view by reducing the aperture and increasing the f-number to around f/8.

You may prefer to make certain parts of your image sharp (rather than the whole scene) and throw the rest out of focus. You can achieve this by opting for a larger aperture (smaller f-number) such as f/4. This can give you some nice bokeh backgrounds too, especially if moving to an even smaller f-number like f/2.

Change your angle

Image: Starling murmurations, England

Starling murmurations, England

Once you have taken some shots, try changing your perspective to get a different angle on your subject. You may find a different vantage point results in a better composition and image. Another way to change your angle besides repositioning yourself is to move your lens in closer and change your framing.

If you are working with a tripod, vary the height of its legs to give a fresh angle.


The great thing when you photograph a local project is that you can go back and re-shoot anytime. This would be much more expensive and time-consuming if you had to travel to capture your pictures.

Sometimes you won’t get the photo you desire the first time around, so a good option is to return and re-shoot. Unforeseen circumstances and factors out of your control that may warrant a reshoot include adverse changes in weather, building works in operation, too many people and wildlife that may not be present.


Blenheim Palace, Oxford

Going back to reshoot is a good exercise and a great chance to practice your skills too. It can help you improve your photography by learning from your mistakes and offers an opportunity to capture your project in various lighting conditions. Why not time your reshoot with a different time of day to capture some different images for your project. Alternatively, capture the same images just under different lighting conditions.

Each return visit can provide something new to photograph too. That’s because you are likely to see something different on your return in terms of your subject or pattern of light.

You may also decide to change lenses for the reshoot, or decide to focus on close up details on one visit and wide shots on another.


So go grab your gear and get out there to photograph a local project. It is a great way to capture a subject of interest that is on your doorstep and is a brilliant way to hone your skills.

Be sure to experiment with aperture, shutter speed and ISO, vary your angle of view and reshoot to improve your pictures.

What local project are you thinking of photographing? Share your thoughts and images with us below.


The post How to Photograph a Local Project When Traveling is Not an Option appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jeremy Flint.

Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos

The post Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.


Wildlife photographers are a dedicated bunch.  They spend money to travel to exotic places, brave miserable conditions, deal with whatever light conditions are present at the time and then sometimes don’t even see the animals they came to photograph.  Pandas in China, tigers in India, lions on the Serengeti, polar bears in the frozen Yukon or maybe gorillas in the Congo.  You could spend a lifetime photographing wild animals in their native lands.


Bengal Bath – Photographed in the wilds of India or in a zoo? You tell me.

Or, you could take a cue from Simon and Garfunkel –

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo”

                     – “At the Zoo” – Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

I’ll grant you, photographing a lion in the zoo doesn’t have the same thrill as being on safari. If you have the time and the money to do such things, by all means, go for it.  For many of us though, the zoo offers a chance to photograph animals we’d never see otherwise and, using the tips we’re about to cover, you can still make some very nice images.  You don’t have to tell your friends where you took them, right?


It’s hard to make a zoo photo look like it was taken in the wild with a chainlink fence in the background. Go with a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus if you can.


In the bush, the challenges of photographing wildlife are likely finding the animal you’re seeking and, depending on the species, perhaps trying not to get eaten.  At the zoo, there are cages, glass or at least barriers designed to separate you and the creatures.  Safer, yes, but also a little frustrating when you’re trying to make a nice photo.

Let’s look at some workarounds for zoo photography.

Image: Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is ri...

Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is right up against the wire, there’s not much you can do.

Image: Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large a...

Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large aperture, and you can do this. This could probably be cleaned up further with the cloning tool in post-production.


Zoos are getting better at designing structures so that the animals aren’t always behind bars or chainlink fences, but sometimes you will still have to deal with this.  If the animal is up close to the fence, you might have no choice but to include it in the shot.

But, if you can wait until the beast moves further away from the barrier, this trick can work.  Get close to the fence if you can, then use a wide aperture.  Zoom into and focus on the animal.  You may find that the limited depth of field pretty much renders the fence as a blur, barely showing up at all.  Often you can clean up what remains of the fence or bars when editing.

Image: Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some...

Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some editing, a pretty nice Panda Portrait results.


An aquarium is a zoo of sorts where all the animals will be behind glass. Note how I rescued the turtle image with editing and monochrome conversion.


Sometimes the barrier between you and the animal will be glass.  You’ll have to deal with grime, scratches, and reflections.  Carry a cloth in your bag when you go to the zoo and clean a spot on the glass where you’ll be shooting.  Get as close to the glass as you can, again with a wide aperture to help blur any scratches.  If reflections are a problem, consider throwing a jacket or cloth over your head or perhaps just the camera to help eliminate them.  Later in editing, the dehaze tool can be your friend with photos made through glass.

Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos


Many times I’m glad there’s some distance between the animal I’m photographing and I. (The Komodo dragon was a scary guy for sure!). The difficulty becomes making the animal in your photo more than just a speck in the shot.

You’ll have even more difficulty with this if you’re visiting a wild animal park where instead of the animals being in smaller cages or enclosures, they roam a wide area, and you drive through the park on a tour bus. There’s only one solution here – longer telephoto lenses.

More about lenses in a bit, just know that to get those nice portrait shots, you’re often going to need some bigger glass.

Image: Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you...

Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you’ll capture a more engaging image.


Though you’ll be photographing animals at the zoo, you’d prefer to have your images look like they were taken in the wild.  Your story about photographing zebra on the Serengeti plains will fall apart if there’s an obvious chainlink fence in the background.  So, a couple of possible options here:

  • Fill the frame with the animal, including as little of the background as possible in the shot.
  • Zoom in and use a wide aperture so the background blurs.
  • Consider your vantage point when composing your shot.  Could you move a little to put natural vegetation, rocks, or something not manmade in the background to better simulate the animals’ natural habitat?

Watch, wait and be ready, and you can capture animals behaving as they do in the wild.

Capturing behavior

A photo of a lion just standing there might be okay, but a shot of a lion roaring…that’s the one you’d like.  Images that capture animal behavior are the prize winners.  The difference is waiting for the moment. Waiting, waiting, and perhaps waiting some more.

Perhaps you’re not up to being another Dian Fossey living with the mountain gorillas so you can get that unique photo.

Or there’s Guido Sterkendries, who spends weeks in the stifling heat of the Brazilian rainforest on a perch in the treetops to photograph poison dart frogs.

But, rather than just taking the minute or so the average zoo visitor views each exhibit, you might have to wait, watch, and be ready when the animal does something interesting.  Also, watch for animal interactions and make photos that tell a story.


Mamas and babies can make good photos. Look for animal interactions that tell a story.

Set up, be ready, and perhaps have continuous mode and servo-focus activated. Then, when it happens and the subject does that intriguing behavior, fire off a burst of shots to guarantee you’ve got that one really great shot.

After all, would you rather go home with a boring photo of every animal in the zoo or just one superb shot of one animal engaging in some really interesting behavior?

When to go

Sometimes you get to a particular animal exhibit at the zoo and the animal is nowhere to be seen. Or maybe he’s over in the corner, zonked out and sleeping – hardly a great photo subject.

Often the trick is to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler, and the animals are apt to be more active.

Photographers are also quite familiar with the “golden hour.” Not only will the light be better during these times, but the animal’s up, about, and ready for their closeup. Feeding time can also provide some action.

If you can, talk with the zookeepers to find out the best time to come, especially if you have your sights set on shots of particular animals. They will be a great source of information.

Including people

Sometimes the action at the zoo can be on the other side of the cages, the antics of people reacting to or aping for the animals.  Keep an eye out for these kinds of behaviors too.  Sometimes people are the funniest animals.


If you’re going to spend a day at the zoo, you may not want to bring your whole photo kit. Firstly, it’s not much fun schlepping it around. Secondly, while you’re intent on making a shot, an unscrupulous bandit could help themselves to some of your gear.  Thirdly, you really don’t need that much for zoo photography.

Here are some things you might want:


Something with the ability to go manual if necessary and, of course, shooting Raw is almost always better.


A Canon 100-400 zoom was a great lens to have to allow these bird portraits. Wildlife photographers use long lenses and at the zoo, they can help too.


You might very well be able to get by with a good wide-range telephoto for zoo photography. Something like a 70-200mm, or if you have something longer like a 70-300 or 100-400, better still.

You’re not apt to need a wide-angle lens at all.

The only other possibility is for zoos that have a butterfly exhibit where a macro could be useful.  One or two lenses should have you covered.

Image: Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a mac...

Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a macro lens.


You may find that some zoos prohibit tripods, so it would be a good idea to check before you go.  A monopod can be a good substitute.


Probably not.  Again, some zoos will prohibit them, they spook the animals, and you’re not apt to want a “flash look” anyway.

Polarizing filter

This can be a good idea.  The fur of many animals is shiny and a polarizer can help tame that, also giving you richer colors.


Cloth is great for cleaning the glass on animal enclosures that use that.


You will encounter a variety of lighting situations at the zoo, from dark animals lying in the shade to light animals in the sun, to the dreaded speckled light situation.

Some animals may barely move while others may leap wildly about.

There’s no substitute for knowing your camera and how to deal with varied conditions.  Often going fully manual, both for exposure and focus will be your best option.

Fences or glass in the foreground can too easily fool the autofocus, so be careful there.

Image: Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photogra...

Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photography. Again, have a long lens and if you’ll be handholding the camera, keep the shutter speed high.

In general, a wide aperture to blur the background, coupled with a fast shutter speed to freeze any animal movement, is good.  You may also be dealing with a long focal length, and having to handhold is a recipe for camera shake/blur.

Try to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible.  Also, keep the ISO low to minimize noise.  In varied lighting conditions, you may also want to consider Auto ISO if you understand how it works with your particular camera.

Continuous mode can be a good option so that when an animal does something interesting, you can fire a burst of shots, helping guarantee you capture the moment.


If there’s any mistake I see beginners making, it’s not filling the frame with their subject. Of course, not every shot needs to be a tightly cropped “portrait,” but the problem comes in when the subject in the image is so small it’s barely identifiable. Alternatively, the shot is so cluttered with other things that one questions what the real subject is. This is where a long lens can help with zoo photography.

Real wildlife photographers must sneak up on their subjects in places where enclosures don’t restrict the animals. So, often they will use – really – long, (and really expensive), glass. You need not go to that extreme, but you do want to make the animal in your shot the star, so frame accordingly.

Image: The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes nee...

The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes need to be sharp.

As when making portraits of people, when photographing animals, keep the eyes in sharp focus. Having other parts of the animal out of focus or a very limited depth-of-field is forgivable, but if the eyes are not in focus, the shot is probably a candidate for the delete button.

Use manual focus or learn you use your focus points to force focus on the animal’s eyes. Simply using the default center-focus point will likely fail you almost every time. Be the master of your camera’s focus.

This is a tricky one because enclosures, cages, and places where the animal will be won’t always allow this, but where possible, try to get on the same level as the animal.  Looking down on the subject just won’t be as impressive.  Perhaps you’ll have to put your camera on the ground or use something like a Gorillapod, (appropriate for the zoo, yes?) but do what’s needed to improve your shot.

Image: This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. The...

This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. Then again…


As with any photo editing, you want to use the tools and tricks in your editing program to improve your shot. Always consider whether a crop may help eliminate distractions or better highlight the animal. Use the exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders (if editing with Lightroom), to bring out the color and detail of the animal.

The Dehaze option may help, especially where you made a photo through a glass enclosure.

The new Texture slider can also work wonders, bringing out details in an animal’s fur.

Image: Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camo...

Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camouflage in his environment.

Don’t forget to take a look at going monochrome with some of your images.  Sometimes a black and white version of an animal image can be especially striking.

Go zoo it!

So grab your gear and get down to your nearest zoo.  You’ll have a great time, get some nice images, and if the song is right, “the animals will love it if you do.”

Do you have any other zoo photography tips? Share with us in the comments! Also, share with us your zoo photography photos.

The post Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings

The post The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.


When you bought your fancy camera with all its buttons and dials, you began a journey that few can endure.

Most people who buy a DSLR, never figure out how to use it. But the fact that you’re reading an article like this means that you’re determined to learn.

One of the most difficult phases of photography you’ll pass through is figuring out how your camera works. But once you understand even a little bit, the world of photography opens its doors to you.

If you’re new to photography, then this Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings is for you.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Start in auto mode

The Olympus Tough TG-6 comes with auto mode, more than a dozen scene modes, as well as aperture mode (one of the most used settings by photographers). This photo was taken by a child using a DSLR in auto mode.

Photographs are made with light

Buying paint and canvas does not guarantee that you will produce a nice painting, nor does buying a camera guarantee a good photo.

Your camera is a complicated piece of technology designed to capture the moment you see with your eye and make a picture. However, the main ingredient it uses is not ink or paint but light.

A poor photograph may be due to a lack of creativity. But many creative photos are ruined due to a wrong combination of camera settings used to make a picture. The most important camera settings are about what the camera does as it makes a picture out of light.

Using Auto Mode with Window Light

Small steps

Sure, cameras differ in their capability and quality, but it’s not really the camera that is ultimately responsible for how the photo turns out. You must have control over the camera to make it do what you want it to.

Every time you snap a picture, you need to make some decisions that are affected by camera settings:

  • Do I want my background to be in focus or not?
  • Should I freeze the action or capture motion blur?
  • Do I want my photo to be warm or cool-looking?
  • Is it best to capture a series of shots in burst mode or just one photo at a time?

These decisions, and many more, are represented by “camera settings.” You select certain settings so that the camera knows what to do when it takes a picture.

There are many settings and I want to walk you through some of the most important.

The best way to learn something is by taking small steps. Learn one step, and don’t move on until you understand it. Bookmark this and other articles so that you can come back to them as you grow in your understanding.

Confused about camera settings

This was my attempt to capture my son’s first steps with an advanced camera that I didn’t know how to use.

Auto mode

Let’s begin in Auto mode. Look for the dial on the top of your camera. You’ll either see the word auto or perhaps just a green box or icon.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Auto Mode

What does Auto mode do? It means that your camera will make all the decisions for you and choose all the settings. All you have to do is take the picture!

When you put your camera in Auto mode, you’re basically saying, “I don’t know how to work this thing!” There is no shame in not understanding how your camera works. If you are determined, you will learn over time.

It is possible to take nice photos in Auto mode. Part of the reason that auto mode can work so well is that it frees your mind from the technical aspects of photography that you don’t understand yet. Auto mode allows you to focus on the creative elements and use of light that you’re more likely drawn to.

Auto Mode Examples

Auto mode exercise

Go ahead and put your camera in Auto mode. Get out into the world and take lots of pictures. As you sort through your photos, make a list of the problems you run into. It’s easier to learn photography and grow when you’ve got specific problems that you can ask questions about.

Problems with Auto mode

You’re going to run into lots of problems in Auto mode, but how come? Shouldn’t your camera be smart enough to take a great picture on its own?

First, your camera has no idea what it’s looking at. So, it doesn’t know what you’re taking a picture of and it doesn’t know what you want the picture to look like.

All it’s trying to do is take a picture with the right exposure. Exposure refers to how bright or dark your photo is and it’s all the camera really cares about in auto mode.

You may see an inspiring scene in front of you, but the camera doesn’t. All it’s trying to do is expose your photo properly, and even that doesn’t work well many times.

Motion blur in auto mode.

Common problems in Auto mode include motion blur.


Blown highlights

Overexposed highlights are another major problem in Auto mode.

Over time, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you wish you could make your camera do. You’ll say, “I wish I could tell my camera to…”

The good news is, there is actually a way to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of and how you wish it would look.

How to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of

If you tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of, you’ll increase the odds of getting a better photo.

The way to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of is to use the scene mode option on your camera. Scene mode covers the most popular photography situations such as landscape, portrait, close-up, sports, etc.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Scene mode

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Scene modes


When you select the appropriate scene, you’re telling your camera what you’re photographing. Your camera will choose a combination of settings that are best suited to that situation. It’s going to choose roughly the same settings that an experienced photographer would use.

Sports Mode

You can use Sports mode when photographing quick moving kids, or when you’re photographing any action. There will still be imperfections in your photos, but you’re more likely to freeze the action.


Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Freeze Action

Freeze quick-moving subjects with Sports mode.


Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Portrait Mode

Portrait mode will help your camera achieve an out-of-focus background. That background blur is referred to as bokeh.


Landscape mode

Landscape mode will favor a greater depth of field in your photo. This will keep more of the foreground, midground, and background in focus. It tends to make colors more vibrant too.


Your camera will have all sorts of scene modes to explore. Consider the situation you’re in and see if your camera has a scene mode to help you out.

But still, your photos might not turn out great. Why? Because ultimately your camera is most obsessed with making your photo bright enough. And you might be pointing it at a scene that is really hard for the camera to capture properly.

Light and creativity

When you put your camera on Auto mode, it has to balance three main settings in order to make a picture out of light.

The three settings are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Each of these three settings contributes to the overall brightness or exposure of your photo. But aperture and shutter speed have creative effects as well.

Aperture contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo, but will also help make your background out of focus, or keep it in focus.

Shutter speed contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo, but will also help freeze the action or make your photo blurry.

ISO contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo but doesn’t really have its own creative effect.

I’ll show you how to begin taking control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings so that you can get a predictably good photo. I mean a photo that is bright enough without being too bright, a photo where the action is captured as you wish and the background is in or out of focus as you desire.

A little more like the photo on the right than the photo on the left!

Good vs Bad Photo

Make one decision

The good news is, you can take some control of your camera without the burden of having to take full control. You can take control over one of the three main settings that are part of the exposure triangle. But how do you choose which one?

You can make this decision by asking yourself what’s more important; freezing the action, or blurring the background?

If you’re taking pictures of birds, sports, or other quick-moving subjects, you’re likely most concerned with freezing the action. If you’re taking a portrait, you’re most likely concerned with an out-of-focus background or, bokeh.

In order to achieve an out-of-focus background, we’ll begin with a setting called aperture.

Aperture Mode

If you’re most concerned with whether or not your background is in focus, choose Aperture mode (also known as Aperture Priority).

  • For Nikon and most other cameras, turn your dial to A.
  • For Canon, turn it to Av.
  • If you’re using a Fuji, you control the aperture with a ring on the lens.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Aperture Mode

When you put your camera on Aperture mode, you’re telling your camera that you want to control the aperture but you want the camera to control the shutter speed and ISO.

You use aperture to control whether or not your background is in focus, but what exactly is aperture?

To understand aperture, think about your kitchen sink. Picture turning the tap on full-blast. The water will come rushing out of the tap. But you could also turn the tap on gently so that there is a slow trickle of water.

That’s what aperture is, except with light.

Open your aperture up and get a strong flow of light coming through your lens. Close the aperture, and you’ll only have a trickle of light.

The creative effect of aperture

Open up your aperture and your background will be more out of focus (great for portraits). Close your aperture a bit and your background will be more in focus (great for landscapes).

The aperture is measured in numbers such as 1.8 or 3.5 or 5.6 or 8 or 11, etc. The smaller the number, the more open the aperture. The larger the number, the more closed.

Open aperture

This was an aperture of f/4. The background is out of focus. The more you bring your subject away from the background, the more out of focus the background will look.


In focus background

The aperture was set to f/11 for this photo so that the background is more in-focus.


The smaller the number and the more open the aperture, the more light that comes in and the more out of focus the background.

The larger the number and the more closed the background, the less light that comes in, and the more in-focus the background.

When you’re in Aperture mode, you use the scroller on your camera to open and close the aperture.

Choose Aperture mode when you’re most concerned about whether or not your background is in focus.

Image: If you close your aperture a bit, then you’ll have a greater depth of focus in your pho...

If you close your aperture a bit, then you’ll have a greater depth of focus in your photo. This photograph was made at f/5.6, but I would even recommend f/11 for landscape photos. Closing your aperture will help to keep both the foreground and background in focus.


beginners-guide-to-camera-settings-50mm lens

If you want your background to be blurred, then open your aperture as much as you can. That might be f/3.5 or f/5.6 on the lens that you’re using. If you have a 50mm lens then you can open all the way to f/1.8.


Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-50mm bokeh

The other way to help your background to go blurry is to step closer toward your subject.


50mm close up

The closer you get to them, the more the background goes out of focus.



Remember, ISO doesn’t exactly have a creative effect.

So what is ISO and when do you use it?

ISO is a magical setting that helps your camera to see in the dark.

So you would set your ISO according to the lighting conditions that you’re in.

  • Is it a bright sunny day? Then set your ISO to 100 or 200.
  • Perhaps the sky is overcast? Set your ISO to 400 or 800.
  • Are you in dim indoor light? Set your ISO to 1600 or 3200. Maybe even 6400!

You have two main options when it comes to ISO:

  • Set it to Auto and let the camera figure it out.
  • Take control of it yourself.

I recommend playing in Aperture mode with your ISO set to auto. That way, you can experiment with aperture and let the camera figure out ISO and shutter speed for you. In a moment, we’ll look at shutter mode. In that case, I recommend leaving your ISO on auto as well. Take control of ISO when you feel comfortable with the other settings.

A word of caution about ISO

The higher you raise your ISO to help capture the light, the more noise or graininess will be introduced in your photo – especially in low light. The noise or grain is intensified all the more if you brighten your photos in post-processing (with a program such as Lightroom).

I don’t always mind a little noise or graininess in my photos. Noise and graininess are normally considered an imperfection in our photos. To me, it reflects the graininess or imperfection of everyday life and the moment by moment struggle that we have as photographers when we take pictures.

My photos are filled with imperfections, as am I in real life. If everything in my photo looks good except for the grain, then I am happy. I have an old iPhone that I keep around just for its nostalgic graininess.

High ISO Grain

The grain or digital noise is easily seen in this high ISO photo. Generally, the newer the camera and the larger the sensor, the less of a problem you’ll have with noise.

Shutter Mode

If your main concern is freezing the action, then you should choose Shutter mode (also known as Shutter Priority).

  • Nikon – set your dial to S.
  • Canon – set your dial to Tv.
  • Fuji – look for the dial with numbers like 125, 250, 500, etc.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Shutter mode

If the aperture is how much flow of water is coming out of the tap, then shutter speed is how long the water comes out for.

Aperture controls how much flow of light comes into the camera, while shutter speed controls how long that flow comes in for.

The quicker the shutter speed, the less light that comes in.

The slower the shutter speed, the more light that comes in.

It’s generally the case that in bright light you should have a quicker shutter speed, and in dim light, you need a slower shutter speed. The danger with a slower shutter speed is that your photo may become blurry.

Why will your photo become blurry with a slow shutter speed?

Consider shutter speed being how long it takes for your camera to take a picture. A quick shutter speed means that the photo is taken so quickly that the action is frozen in the photo. But a slower shutter speed means that the camera takes longer to take the photo and any movement in the scene becomes smeared across the photo.

Two circumstances lead to a blurry photo. The first is that you have moved the camera while taking the picture – often referred to as camera shake. Maybe your hand shakes, or the camera vibrates as you take the photo.

Camera shake motion blur

You must hold the camera still and consider using a tripod when your photos turn out like this.


Another possibility is that your camera is perfectly still but your subject is moving. If the person you’re photographing is moving, they may be smeared across the photo.

Motion blur

But even if you put your camera on a tripod, a moving subject may cause motion blur.

So what does it take to freeze the action?

You’ll notice that shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. You’ll see numbers such as 1/125th or 1/2000th. Basically, the smaller the fraction, the more likely you are to freeze the action.

So 1/2000th will likely freeze the action, but 1/60th likely will not.

Slow shutter speed mtion blur.

Shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. The camera was held still so that the background was sharp, but the motion is blurred.


Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings - Freeze the action

A shutter speed of 1/500th of a second froze the motion of her hair as she turned.


Freezing the action.

A shutter speed of 1/2500th froze him as he bounced in the air.


Slow shutter speed creative effects

Silky waterfall shutter priority

These silky waterfalls were captured using a slow shutter speed. ISO 100, 1-second shutter speed


Slow shutter speed panning

The panning technique uses a combination of slow shutter speed and following the movement of your subject with the camera. The shutter speed was 1/20th of a second.

Other articles to explore

You now have enough knowledge to control the amount of background blur in your photo and to freeze or blur the action. You can also use ISO to help your camera see better in the dark.

Now it’s up to you to practice one little bit at a time until you’re comfortable and ready to move on.

Here are some more advanced concepts that may help you down the road.

Many people find it harder to master the introductory stage of camera settings than the advanced stages. Advanced techniques are easy to learn once you know the basics. Don’t be discouraged, and feel free to leave questions in the comment section below.

The post The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

Back to Basics: Understanding the “Sunny 16 Rule” in Photography

The post Back to Basics: Understanding the “Sunny 16 Rule” in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.


In life, we are sometimes met with certain inalienable truths; water will always flow downhill, there will always be an unhappy baby on your flight, and the milkshake machine at your favorite fast food place will always be broken when you need it the most. There are also some self-evident truths that we must accept when it comes to photography; one being, one day, you will need to set your own exposure manually. If you’ve been shooting exclusively in Auto Mode or Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes, this can be an enormous challenge.

Take heart! I’m about to show you one of the easiest and most long-standing methods for calculating exposures. Using it will help you almost always get a usable baseline exposure when shooting your camera in full manual mode. Yes, really.

It’s called the Sunny 16 Rule, and it’s going to be your best friend.

Back to Basics: Understanding the "Sunny 16 Rule" in Photography

You may very well have heard of it before but never fully understood how simple it truly is to implement (and modify) this handy little formula to fit the situation in which you find yourself shooting.

Getting to know the Sunny 16 Rule

Understanding the Sunny 16 Rule couldn’t be more simple. It’s all based around the relationships between our three key elements of exposure: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

Sunny 16 had its roots in film photography when it was used to help photographers figure out their exposure when a light meter wasn’t available. However, it works perfectly well with digital photography too. In fact, since we have the added convenience of on-the-fly ISO adjustments with our digital cameras, the Sunny 16 Rule becomes even more universally useful.


As you might have guessed, the concept of the Sunny 16 Rule begins with bright sunlight and setting our aperture to…*drum roll*…f/16. Bright sunlight refers to unobstructed sunlight on a cloudless day; think noon with a clear sky, and its brightness is virtually constant.

After we’ve got our aperture set to f/16, we can now dial in our shutter speed based on the ISO we happen to be shooting. To calculate your shutter speed based on Sunny 16, all we have to do is put “1” over our ISO. This will be your shutter speed.

Keep in mind that some cameras measure exposure in full, half or third stops and your shutter speed might not be exactly the same as your ISO. For example, in half-stop increments, if you are shooting ISO 400 then your exposure would be (for slight underexposure) f/16 at 1/500th of a second. At ISO 100 your settings would be f/16 at 1/125th of a second. For ISO 800 it would be 1/1000th of a second and so forth.

As far as ISO settings are concerned, it is a good practice to “set it and forget it.” There’s not much need to adjust the ISO as we can vary our exposure using our aperture settings – unless the scene dictates otherwise…more on this in just a bit.

Back to Basics: Understanding the "Sunny 16 Rule" in Photography

Why the Sunny 16 Rule is so useful

The reason the Sunny 16 Rule is such a fantastic concept is due to the fact it gives us a usable exposure setting based on what will likely be the brightest light you will encounter – the sun. 

Once you know what your shutter speed will be at a given ISO and f/16 in bright sunlight, you can essentially estimate any exposures for darker environments. The reason for this is that ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are all connected. You can adjust each relative to the another so that you can control your exposures based on the needs of a particular scene. If you’d like to learn a little more about how ISO, aperture and shutter speed relate to one another, have a look at this great article on understanding the exposure triangle.

Perhaps one of the best things about working with the Sunny 16 rule is that it’s a great way to teach yourself to read light and adjust your exposure based around the creative requirements for your photo. Let’s look at some considerations to take into account when you need a little more control over your photographs when basing your exposures around the Sunny 16 concept.


How to modify the Sunny 16 Rule

Years ago, when I first heard of the Sunny 16 Rule, my first thought was “That’s great, but what if I don’t want to shoot at f/16?”

Indeed, a great question.

What happens when you need a more shallow depth of field than f/16 can produce? Alternatively, what if the indicated ISO-based shutter speed just isn’t fast enough or slow enough for your subject? Furthermore, you definitely won’t always photograph in blazingly bright sunlight (ironically not ideal for most photography).

The good news is that the Sunny 16 Rule is incredibly flexible.

Remember, the Sunny 16 Rule does nothing more than eliminate variables in your exposure to produce a baseline camera setting which you can then manipulate given your particular needs.


Virtually identical exposures in direct sunlight based on the Sunny 16 Rule with constant f/16 apertures and ISO-dependent shutter speeds.

For example, let’s say you’re shooting a subject that requires a more shallow depth of field, like a portrait or still life that is in bright sunlight. At ISO 100, your resulting Sunny 16 exposure would be f/16 at 1/125. For reference, here’s a sample photo I shot at those settings in direct afternoon sunlight.

Back to Basics: Understanding the "Sunny 16 Rule" in Photography

Needless to say that if I open up my aperture to f/2.8 (five full stops wider) in order to better blur the background, the resulting image will be completely overexposed, and looks something like this:

Image: Yes…there is a photo there.

Yes…there is a photo there.

So, how to remedy this problem? Since we are working from the Sunny 16 Rule, all we have to do is apply some basic photographic principles (remember the exposure triangle?) to normalize our exposure based on our new, wider aperture.

Seeing as we opened up our aperture by five stops, we simply need to increase our shutter speed by five stops to compensate.

So if my initial shutter speed were 1/125th at f/16, my new adjusted shutter speed setting at f/2.8 would be 1/4000th. Here is the resulting exposure:

Image: Blurred background and a normalized exposure based on the Sunny 16 Rule.

Blurred background and a normalized exposure based on the Sunny 16 Rule.

The same is true in the case of fast-moving subjects. If you’re experiencing unwanted subject motion at, say, 1/125th of a second at f/16, and you want to try a faster shutter speed of 1/500th of a second to help arrest the motion, you need to compensate for the faster shutter speed with a corresponding wider aperture setting to allow more light to come into the camera. In this case, 1/500th of a second – two full stops faster than 1/125th – so we would open our aperture by two stops from f/16 to f/8.

Some adjusted Sunny 16 baseline exposures

If you’re wondering about lighting situations other than bright sun, here’s a quick (but by no means definitive) list of baseline aperture adjustments derived from the Sunny 16 Rule. I’ve listed Sunny 16 at the top as a baseline exposure at ISO 100 and 1/125th of a second. To adjust your exposures for varying degrees of brightness, all you need to do is change your aperture.

  • Direct bright sunlight with harsh shadows: f/16 at 1/125th of a second and ISO 100
  • Indirect bright sun with soft shadows (shade/cloudy): f/11 at 1/125th and ISO 100
  • Overcast skies with little to no shadows: f/8 at 1/125th and ISO 100
  • Dusk/morning light: f/4 at 1/125 and ISO 100

I also want to point out the elephant in the room which is holding a big neon-yellow sign that reads, “Why not just bump up the ISO?”

In short, you can adjust your ISO settings to compensate for more or less light in the scene. Modern cameras are becoming better and better at reducing high ISO digital noise. The Sunny 16 Rule was based on the fact that most film cameras are limited to the ISO of the film used. In these cases, the ability to read and understand light becomes paramount.

The concept of Sunny 16 gives us digital shooters a way to nail exposures (or come close) every time in-camera without constantly checking our images after each shot.

Final thoughts on the Sunny 16 Rule

Of course, as with most things, the Sunny 16 Rule isn’t a true “rule” in the sense that you must follow it to the letter. Instead, it is a rule in the way that gives something to relate one thing to another; in our case it allows us to relate the luminance of available light to our camera settings to achieve predictable and reproducible results.

Sunny 16 is also a great learning tool to help us understand the nature and measurement of light. Going further, it is a guide that is extremely versatile once you understand just a few basic principles of exposure. I, for one, feel as if I don’t use Sunny 16 enough in my work. I think that is about to change.

Do you practice the Sunny 16 Rule? How has it affected your shooting? Let us know in the comments below!



The post Back to Basics: Understanding the “Sunny 16 Rule” in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

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