How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

All visual artists have a common goal of creating an image with impact. But unlike painters who start with a blank canvas and add to it, photographers start with a sometimes chaotic scene and must decide what to remove from it. Which parts of the scene should be included and which excluded to create the greatest impact?

Mobius Arch by Anne McKinnell - How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

This rock arch, known as Mobius Arch, frames the mountains in the background.

Part of your job as the photographer job is to bring order to the chaos by deciding how to arrange the elements in the scene in your camera’s frame. You cannot just hold up your camera and expect to make an impactful image. You have to evaluate the scene and discover what elements of design are there to work with and how you are going to use them to create your composition.

There are visual clues to good composition all around you. Clues that will help you see with your photographer’s eye if you take the time to slow down and take notice of them. The elements of design are there, but sometimes you don’t notice them until you go looking specifically. That’s the key – you have to go looking for them. Once you start looking for a particular element of design, you will be surprised how often you will discover it in the world around you.

Valella Valella by Anne McKinnell - How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

These creatures are called Valella Valella. As they wash up on shore, they create a leading line that guides the viewer’s eye into the frame.

1. Lines

Lines are one of the fundamental building blocks of composition. They direct the eye around an image and give the viewer a path to follow. Understanding the power that lines have in graphic design, and how different lines have different effects on the viewer, will help you add more impact to your images.

  • Horizontal lines exist in almost every scene. They tend to be calming and give a sense of peace and tranquility.
  • Vertical lines tend to be associated with strength and power. Think of skyscrapers, trees in a forest, or waterfalls — all features of strength and grandeur.
  • Diagonal lines add energy to an image and give a sense of movement.
  • Curves create a graphic design that makes an image easy to look at by leading the viewer’s eye through the frame. They can be c-curves, s-curves, arches, circles or spirals.
  • Leading lines can be any type of line that leads the viewer’s eye toward the main subject.
North Algodones Sand Dunes, California by Anne McKinnell - How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

The lines in these California sand dunes lead the viewer’s eye into the frame toward the main subject.

2. Color

Colors determine the viewer’s emotional response to an image. They set the mood and determine what part of an image gets the most attention.

One of the most impactful ways to use color in your composition is to look for complementary colors. Complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel such as blue and orange, red and green, purple and yellow.

Sea Nettle by Anne McKinnell - How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

Blue and orange are complementary colors.

3. Patterns

The human eye is drawn to patterns in the same way that our ears are drawn to the beat of music or the chorus of a song. The visual rhythm that the pattern creates makes order out of the chaos. It can give an image a sense of movement as our eyes travel from the first element to the next.

Filling the frame with a pattern is a sure way of turning a snapshot into a compelling photograph.

A pattern is simply a repetition of a graphic element such as a line, shape or color. Usually, a pattern is made up of at least three repetitions, but the more the better!

Jing'an Temple, Shanghai, China by Anne McKinnell

These prayer ribbons create a repeating pattern in the frame.

4. Symmetry

Despite everything we have been taught in photography about the rule of thirds and keeping things off balance and out of the middle, symmetry has always been associated with beauty. In a symmetrical composition, your main subject is placed at center stage and the eye is encouraged to travel in a circular center around the frame. This will make a scene feel harmonious and calm. But it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds!

The difference is in the details. It’s in the absolute perfection of the symmetry. A composition that is almost symmetrical will seem off and boring, one that is perfect will seem awe inspiring.

To make a photograph that is symmetrical, you will have to hone your eye to find items in the scene that are symmetrical and leave everything out of the frame that does not fit. The composition should have symmetry from corner to corner, which means that the background if there is one, must be symmetrical too.

Legislature in Victoria, British Columbia by Anne McKinnell - How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

This photo uses both symmetry and frame-in-frame as design elements.

5. Frame-in-Frame

One way to quickly add a new dimension to your subject is to give it a frame inside the boundaries of the image. The edges of your photograph are the first frame. Then, you want to add another frame around your subject, which is internal to the photograph.

The idea is to add interest to your photograph by framing your main subject inside another frame. This isn’t always possible, of course, but if you keep your eyes open for opportunities you will start to notice them more often.

Windows and doors are one of the most accessible frames for this technique because you find them everywhere. If you have a wonderful view from your window, try including the window in your image. Remember you can look from the inside out or from outside looking in.

Hatley Castle by Anne McKinnell - How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

This gazebo provides an arch that frames the garden and castle outside.


The next time you are out photographing, keep one of the above elements of design in mind and go looking for it. Being purposeful about your composition is how you will progress from taking snapshots to making great images.

If you’re ready to dive deeper into composition and the elements of image design, be sure to check out Anne’s eBook The Compelling Photograph – Techniques for Creating Better Images.

The post How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Surprising Habits That Will Make You a Better Photographer

When you’re learning photography, it seems natural to pay the most attention to the gear and techniques you use to create images. You’ve probably received advice about developing great habits like photographing every day, carrying your camera everywhere you go, trying different compositions, learning processing skills, and backing up your photos. These things are important, no doubt! But there is more to becoming a better photographer than that.

Getting the shot often comes down to being there at the right time, so these tips have to do with getting out in the field and staying out in the field. If you cultivate these surprising habits, you’ll surely become a better photographer.

Canon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell - better photographer

#1 – Research Locations

Before you set off on your photo shoot, doing a little research can go a long way to making better images. First, think about what potential subjects are available. I like to create a Pinterest board and start collecting images I like from the location. Once you get an idea of what is there, how can you create images that are different from what you have seen? Is there a different perspective you want to check out? Or maybe a night shot? Don’t forget to take note of the direction of light in the images you see. Imagine what it would look like at a different time of day.

Once you get an idea of what is there, how can you create images that are different from what you have seen? Is there a different perspective you want to check out? Or maybe a night shot? Don’t forget to take note of the direction of light in the images you’ve seen. Imagine what it would look like at a different time of day.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

This is the location where the Joshua Trees are the densest in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

The second part of your research should be looking at maps and figuring out where exactly the best subjects are located and how to get there. Is the location close to the road or will you have to hike there? How long will it take?

#2 – Watch the Weather

Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast will dramatically affect your photos. Remember, bad weather is usually a good thing for photography! Storms bring the potential for seeing dramatic clouds, wet leaves, and even rainbows. You’ll get photos with fewer people in them too.

Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

Waiting for a break in the weather resulted in this rainbow at Cathedral Rock, Arizona.

When I was visiting Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona, I noticed that there were a lot of people around and it was difficult to get a photo without a lot of tourists in it. Then it started to rain and everyone left. I waited in my truck for 45 minutes during the downpour. Mine was the only vehicle in the parking lot, and when the rain began to die down, I headed out and was rewarded with a beautiful rainbow. I had the location all to myself.

If a clear sky is in your forecast, instead of photographing your scene with a plain blue sky, you might have the potential for a great night shot.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to check when the sun rises and sets and when the moon rises and sets. If you’re going to be on the beach, tides are also important.

#3 – Carry Less Stuff

Whether you choose to go out with your camera and only one or two lenses or switch your whole system to a lightweight mirrorless system, you’ll undoubtedly find that you can hike farther and get to more remote locations with less weight on your shoulders. The potential for finding unique subjects and unique compositions increases the farther away you get from the beaten track.

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas, by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

I don’t think I would have made it this far up the hill if I had carried all of my heavy gear.

#4 – Don’t Forget the Comfort Essentials

Despite the last tip about carrying less stuff, it’s equally essential that you carry the right stuff to allow you to stay out there longer. Anything that makes you uncomfortable in the field will probably cause you to leave earlier than otherwise.

Thirst, hunger, being cold or wet, getting bitten by bugs and looming darkness are just a few things that can make you leave a location too soon. A few things on my “always carry” list are food, water, rain jacket, sweater, bug spray, and a headlamp. These items will get you more potential shots than that extra lens.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell habit better photographer

I probably wouldn’t have this photo if it were not for my trusty headlamp that I used to make my way back through the cacti in the dark.

#5 – Hike With a GPS

Getting lost is one of my fears when I’m out exploring, so I have started hiking with a handheld GPS. It took me awhile to get used to it because it’s not the fancy kind with built-in maps. All I do is mark a waypoint where I park my truck and then it tracks me as I walk. No cell signal or internet required. I can always figure out the direction to get back to my waypoint, or even follow my tracks to go back using the exact route I took to go out. It’s worth it to carry a couple of extra batteries for it too.

Now that I have the GPS, I am more willing to go off the trail and explore new things. It’s a whole new level of freedom!

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico, by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

At Bisti Badlands, New Mexico, it is very easy to get lost with no trails and strange rock formations in every direction. My GPS was a lifesaver.


These tips should help you figure out where to go when to get there and make sure you are comfortable in the field so you can stay as long as you like to get that special shot. Sometimes photography is a waiting game, but if you are comfortable you can be patient and wait for the magic moment to happen.

The post 5 Surprising Habits That Will Make You a Better Photographer by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Take Care of Your Camera in Cold Weather

Mid-day, mid-winter, Alaska light. It just doesn't get any better.

Where I live, it gets cold. Not your “Brrr, I need to put on a sweater” kind of cold, but genuine, bone-chilling, spit-freezes-before-it hits-the-ground, kind of cold. Here in Fairbanks, Alaska, winter temperatures regularly drop far into the negatives, and yearly we suffer through snaps that send the mercury plummeting to -40F (-40C).

You’d think that in such conditions I wouldn’t want to step outside, let alone take photos, but you’d be wrong. Winter light, what few hours there is of it, is absolutely beautiful. That sweet, crisp glow can pull me from the deepest funk, and lure me out with a camera in hand. During many long winter nights, the aurora borealis dances overhead, and that too can draw me from my cozy cabin, into the snowy forest to make images. On the days I made the two images below, it was seriously cold, but that light, yep, that light will get me outside.

Low winter sun, and frosted birches near Fairbanks, Alaska. AK-FAI-Winter-sun-112172-17

To venture out in those temperatures, you’ve got to be prepared. You need the right clothes to stay warm, and you’ve got to make sure your camera equipment is ready too.

Forget about fashion

To shot the aurora during mid-winter in Alaska you need to dress warm!

To shot the aurora during mid-winter in Alaska, you need to dress warm!

You’ve got to dress right. It doesn’t matter what the light is doing, if you get frost-bite on your fingers, and can’t operate the camera. When dressed in my winter-photo clothing, I feel a bit like an onion, wrapped in layer upon layer. From inside to outside my system goes like this: long underwear, fleece or wool sweater and pants, down or synthetic vest, 800 fill down jacket with hood, windproof Thinsulate pants, two pairs of thick wool socks topped by expedition quality winter boots, a musher’s style hat complete with ear flaps, a balaclava or face mask, and thin nimble gloves with a pair of expedition overmitts dangling from wrist straps. Last, I’ll often throw a couple of chemical hand-warmers into my jacket pockets. When temperatures drop to -40F, it’s best not to mess around.

Two of my clients on an aurora photography tour, dressed for the weather.

Two of my clients on an aurora photography tour, properly dressed for the weather.

The author's well-worn NEOS overboots.

The author’s well-worn NEOS insulated overboots.

Stay Charged

The fluctuations of electricity mean that a cold battery cannot kick out the same amount of electricity as a warm battery. This means that on a brutally cold day, your camera or flash batteries will last only a small fraction of the time they normally would at room temperature. It’s a problem easily solved by carrying a spare battery or two.

A backup battery will let you swap out the cold, dead one in your camera, but there is a hitch: the spares should not be kept in your camera bag, but in an inside jacket pocket. That way they are warm when they go into the camera. When the dead battery warms back up in your pocket (with the help of the aforementioned chemical hand warmers) it will be ready to use for a while again. I find I can shoot at extremely cold temperatures for the better part of day by cycling two batteries back and forth from my pocket to my camera. Though this will vary a lot, depending on how power-hungry your camera is.


Avoiding Bad Breath

The cold comes with other risks, one in particular, can ruin your day of photography, and that is – watch your breath. I mean it. A mistimed, warm, humid, breath will condense on your lens, resulting in a layer of milky frost on the glass. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your lenses, no amount of sharpness will make up for that kind of damage. Wiping at it, usually just smudges it more, and defrosting it inside (see below), can take hours. Watch where you breathe, if you turn your camera around to check lens settings, don’t exhale. I also usually wear a neck gaiter or balaclava that I pull up over my mouth and nose. So with your mouth covered, your breath is directed up, where it frosts on your eyelashes instead of your camera.

This is what happens if you accidentally breathe on your lens during a cold weather shoot.

This is what happens if you accidentally breathe on your lens during a cold weather shoot.

Lens Caps Exist for a Reason

Breath is the usual culprit of fogged lenses, but when shooting at night, there is always the chance that natural frost will form. To avoid this, use your lens cap when you aren’t shooting. If you are walking from one location to another, taking a break, or searching for a new composition, put the cap back on your lens. When I’m out shooting the aurora at night, my cap is on my lens, even if I’m just walking a short distance to a new shooting location.


Back Indoors

Last, and perhaps most importantly, is the return indoors. You know how on a hot day, your cold beer glass gathers condensation? Ever watched how those drips can form and run down the bottle, pooling in a messy ring on the hard-wood table? Imagine that happening to your camera gear. It can, and it will. When you step back indoors to take a break, warm up, or finish up for the day, place your camera and lenses into an airtight bag.

A properly bagged and sealed camera, ready to be taken back indoors after a cold outdoor shoot.

A properly bagged and sealed camera, ready to be taken back indoors after a cold outdoor shoot.

Ziplocks are good, but I favor light-weight roll-top dry bags like those used by boaters to keep their gear dry. These are tough, reusable, and work like a charm. Once sealed up tight in a ziplock or dry bag, condensation can’t form on your gear. Just let your camera warm up to room temperature before you pull it out.


The cold scares a lot of photographers, and make no mistake, a frigid, mid-winter Alaskan night is nothing to mess around with. But with a few precautions – warm clothes, spare batteries, avoiding frost, and protecting against condensation – you can take advantage of the stellar beauty of crisp, clear, days and nights like this one.

The post How to Take Care of Your Camera in Cold Weather by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.

6 Easy Photography Techniques to Diversify Your Portfolio

In today’s world of digital photography there is an even greater demand and possibility to capture unique and different photos. Over time, every photographer will develop their own “cheat sheet” of techniques that they find pleasing, and more importantly, that their clients can use. There are numerous techniques and styles to diversify your portfolio, but here are six of my personal favourites to get you started.


1 – Put Yourself in the Picture

You see a beautiful vista and think the only thing that can improve it is having a person in the photo, to convey a sense of scale. But, you haven’t seen a single person in hours and are unlikely to see anyone anytime soon. This is when you can be your own model, and put yourself in the photo.

  1. Simply set your camera on a tripod and attached your cable release.
  2. Work out where and how you will appear in the photo (sitting down, leaning, etc.).
  3. Compose the photo and take a trial shot to ensure the lighting and composition work.
  4. Set the self-timer on your release for enough seconds to allow to get to the spot you need to get to (I find that 10 seconds is more than enough time for me).
  5. Press the release start the timer, then get into position (take your time, you can always add more time if you need to).
  6. Look at the result on your camera and make adjustments as needed (where you stand, etc.).
  7. Repeat the process until you are happy with the result.

It will take a bit of trial and error, but the key is to make sure the photo looks natural. The great thing about putting yourself in the shot is that you also have a model release (providing there are no other people in the photo).

2 – Tilt-Shift Photography

Without getting into huge detail, this type of photography, also known as diorama effect or miniature faking, is essentially a technique that uses the illusion of blurring parts of the photograph, to turn a real world scene into something that looks like a miniature model. This effect can either be created while taking the photograph using a tilt-shift lens, or more commonly, in post-production using Photoshop or Lightroom (there are plenty on tutorials showing the step-by-step process available).

Tilt-shift photography is a great way to add diversity to your cityscapes.

Tilt-shift photography is a great way to add diversity to your cityscapes.

Photos that are taken from a high view point looking down work best (not directly from above), and you need to ensure that the main point of interest is sharp, as that will work in contrast to blurred parts of the image. Experiment with some of the photos you have and you may be surprised by the outcome.

3 – Silhouettes

One of the great aspects of photographs that utilize silhouettes is that it simplifies the photograph to a basic level, of showing the subject in a two dimensional format. There are no textures, just a general outline of the subject. To capture successful silhouettes you need to find a subject that is easily recognizable in this basic format (i.e. people, buildings, etc.).

Simply compose the photograph keeping the sun in front of you (it doesn’t have to be behind the subject), and if your silhouette is not dark enough, stop down the shutter speed a couple of stops (shooting in Manual mode, or use -2 Exposure Compensation in Aperture or Shutter Priority) until you get the desired effect. Remember to make sure you turn off your flash. The best time for silhouettes is at the beginning or end of the day, when the sun is low in the sky.

Successful silhouette photographs need to be a form that people will easily translate.

Successful silhouette photographs need to be a form that people will easily translate, something recognizable.

4 – Using Motion Blur

Motion blur is a truly fantastic way of adding dynamism to a photograph. Whether it’s the blur of movement of objects, people walking, playing sport or dancing, water, clouds in the sky, or even light trails from passing cars at night, a photograph with the correct motion blur can stand-out in any portfolio. Digital photography makes it incredibly easy to experiment with motion blur. The key is to ensure that it looks intentional, and not like camera shake.

To capture any sort of motion blur you will need to play around with the shutter speed. Put simply, the slower the shutter speed, the more movement you will capture, thus meaning more blur. Depending on the speed of the object, and also your creative vision, you will need a different shutter speed. Motion blur usually works best if there are sharp parts in a photo that contrast against the blur, so when using slow shutter speeds you will often need a tripod.

Motion blur is a great way to convey movement and speed and can add real dynamism to your images.

Motion blur is a great way to convey movement and speed and can add real dynamism to your images.

5 – Bleached Effect

This is one of the Lightroom preset effects that I love using on certain type of photos. Usually for portraits where the light is fairly flat and uninteresting, and I feel the photo feels gritty, harsh, and could benefit from muted tones. There are lots of different preset effects in Lightroom, and sometimes it’s worth having a flick through them to see if there are any that can enhance a photo. Like always, the great thing is that you can always revert to the original.

There are plenty of presets on Lightroom. Have flick through them and you might find something that enhances the photo.

There are plenty of presets on Lightroom. Have flick through them and you might find something that enhances the photo.

6 – Unique Angles

Capturing unique photos is becoming more and more difficult, so sometimes you really have to think beyond the obvious eye-level shot. Get above objects and they look completely different. Get close to them and you start to capture details that people normally don’t see. Crouch down and capture a low angle, suddenly the scene takes on a completely different look. Next time you have captured the first photo, to go beyond that and capture a few more, but at completely different angles.

I had to stand on my chair to capture this photo.

I had to stand on my chair to capture this photo.

This list is by no means all encompassing. Infrared photography, HDR, black and white photography, the list goes on and on. The important thing is to experiment and try out new techniques that you enjoy, find pleasing, and also help the final outcome. Over time you will build up a set of techniques and you will actively take photos for use with those techniques.

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite techniques? Share them below.

The post 6 Easy Photography Techniques to Diversify Your Portfolio by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Foreground to Create Depth in Your Images

One of the biggest hurdles in photography is the fact that our majestic three-dimensional scene is rendered into a mere two-dimensional image, and the physical depth that we experience in real life is lost. To resurrect this spacious feeling, we can create the illusion of depth where there is none, by using strong elements in the foreground.

Cannon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

When we make a photograph, our natural urge is to get a clear shot of the main subject, without other objects getting between it and the lens. That’s exactly what makes foreground elements so powerful though – they’re unexpected, and sometimes even counter-intuitive. Like any other compositional element, they create shapes, lines, and patterns that lead the viewer’s eye through the image and can be used to enhance its visual impact.

What is the foreground?

When you are working with a grand vista landscape scene, you can often divide it into three sections: the foreground, mid-ground, and background. For example, the scene below contains some colorful shrubs in the foreground, a pond in the mid-ground, and trees in the background.

Paradise Meadows by Anne McKinnell

The foreground, mid-ground, and background areas are not at fixed distances, but are understood relative to each other. The foreground consists of anything that lies between you and your subject, which is typically considered to be in the mid-ground (but not always). The background is made up of everything behind the subject.

You can think of a photograph like a stage: you have the upstage – that’s the background. It gives setting and context to what happens below it. Center stage is the mid-ground, where the bulk of the action takes place. But downstage – the foreground – is the closest to the audience, and therefore the most intimate part. It is capable of whispering to them and luring them into the action. It is the most easily seen and heard, and therefore understood, and can reveal the finer details of the story.

Trona Pinnacles, California, by Anne McKinnell

Not all photographs have three sections though, some just have a foreground and a background, and some have no depth at all.

How is the foreground used?

The foreground should contain some key point of interest, such as a human figure, a tree, a boat, some flowers, rocks, or anything else that is comparatively near to you. Composing in this way evokes depth, and gives your image the illusion of that missing third dimension.

Green Point, Newfoundland, by Anne McKinnell

When you’re composing a photo and you feel that it’s looking a little too flat, placing something in the foreground can instantly add a sense of depth. Exactly how this is done depends entirely on your subject, and on your own creative decisions. This can mean physically adding something to your scene, if you are able to. But most of the time, you’ll be looking for objects in the surrounding area that would make an interesting foreground, and changing your perspective – either by moving your camera higher, lower, or to one side – to incorporate those elements inside of the frame.

For example, imagine a group of oak trees in a field, all standing in a row. If you photograph them head-on, they’ll all look more or less identical – their size, distance, and focus will be the same, and the composition will likely be a flat, static one. However, if you change your perspective and shoot them from one side, everything changes. One becomes closer, and therefore larger, while the others shrink in comparison. When a viewer sees this image, their eyes will immediately fall on the tree in the foreground first, and the implied line created by the row will pull their gaze inwards towards the other trees. Suddenly, the composition has depth!

Boone Hall Plantation, South Carolina, by Anne McKinnelll

Likewise, you could change your perspective by lowering your camera angle to incorporate rocks, flowers, or anything else that is on the ground, into your image. This use of foreground will provide a point for the viewer’s eye to enter the image, and any lines created in the foreground will direct their eye into the image.

Like any other compositional element, the foreground is only helpful if it adds to the impact of the image. If it doesn’t help tell the story, or worse yet, if it distracts the eye, then it isn’t working as a benefit to your image. Your foreground should be an important part of the scene, and not something distracting. Look for things that point towards the focal point in some way.

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland, by Anne McKinnell

Foreground elements can even be made of simple shapes and lines. In some cases, your foreground elements may be nothing but shapes and lines, like the paint on a stretch of road, the waves on the ocean’s shore, or the shadows cast across a wind-swept desert. Anything that forms a line towards your subject is especially effective. These are known as leading lines.

Similarly, a wall that stretches into the picture from the foreground will carry the eye along with it. The corners of your frame are especially strong points, and anything that leads inwards from them will have a particular impact. Textures are another compositional tool that can make for an interesting foreground.

Salton Sea, California, by Anne McKinnell

Arranging your composition so that there are interesting elements in front of your main subject is a very effective compositional tool that can evoke depth, by giving your image the illusion of the missing third dimension.

This week on dPS we’re featuring a series of articles about composition. Many different elements and ways to compose images for more impact. Check out the ones we’ve done so far:

The post How to Use Foreground to Create Depth in Your Images by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

It’s pretty much an accepted fact that the earlier and later parts of the day are best for photography, but if you want the absolute richest, warmest, most beautiful light, the hours directly following sunrise and leading up to sunset – known as the golden hours – are prime time for natural light.

This is when the subtle golden light from the low-hanging sun bathes the world in a warm glow, and shadows become long and dramatic, but not harsh.

Mono Lake, California, by Anne McKinnell

Those hours can be short-lived, though as once the sun starts to rise or set, it isn’t long before it climbs too high, or disappears altogether. To help you get every second out of each golden hour, consider these tips when you go out shooting.

1. Be There

The first step to making the most of the golden hours is knowing exactly what time that magic light is going to happen. Because the golden light is caused by our view of the sun, the timing will change with the seasons. Exactly what time the sun passes over the horizon depends the time of year and your location.

Sedona, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

The time of sunrise and set is easy to find in your newspaper or online and that is a good place to start to calculate when the golden light will happen. But golden hour may not be anywhere near as long as an hour depending, on the season and your location. For example, near the equator, the sun rises quickly and you may only get golden minutes. On the other hand, in far northern locations the sun may not rise very high in the sky at all and you might get golden light all day.

You also need to watch how the clouds are forming throughout the day, since clouds on the horizon will cut your golden hour short.

2. Prepare Early

The golden hour (or minutes) can pass very quickly, so if you’re not already out shooting when the golden light starts, it’s likely to be over by the time you find your subject, choose a composition, set up your camera, and take the shot. If you know in advance what time you need to be there, you can plan ahead. Go out a couple of hours beforehand so you’ll have time to get to your location, get set up, and be ready to take the photo by the time the horizon starts to glow.

Depoe Bay, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

By doing this, of course, you have to think into the future a bit. Rather than compose your image based on where the sun is, you must arrange your frame according to where the sun will be. To do this, think about the path the sun takes through the sky. It rises in the east, so you know where you can expect to see it first, and because it sets in the west you know which direction it’s moving. You can even find out the exact position where the sun will set on the horizon using various website and apps. Plan your shots with this information in mind. A compass will come in handy. Compose your photograph where the sun is going to be, then just relax and wait for the moment to present itself.

3. Balance the Exposure

The contrast between light and shadow isn’t as extreme during the golden hours as it is in the middle of the day, but there can still be a huge tonal range between highlights and lowlights (shadows). Especially if you’re trying to capture the sky itself in the picture, its brightness will almost certainly overpower the scene below it.

There are many ways to balance a difference in brightness between two parts of your composition. Bracketing your shots is a good start – use your camera’s exposure compensation feature (+/- button) to take several pictures of a scene with different levels of brightness. There might be a perfect exposure setting that captures both light and shadow areas.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

If you shoot in your camera’s uncompressed RAW format you’ll be able to individually adjust your photo’s highlights and lowlights in post-processing, reducing the contrast while preserving as much detail as possible. This way, if one area of your photo is too dark and another is too bright, you can tone down the whiter shades while bringing up the darker shades to create a well-balanced image. This level of control isn’t possible with compressed JPG files, which don’t save the subtle information in those areas.

If the sky is consistently too bright in your photos, consider using a graduated filter that is tinted at one end, but fades out and is transparent on the other. This will reduce the exposure on only half of the image. By putting the tinted half at the top it will darken the appearance of the sky.

Another option is to take your bracketed shots and combine them in post-processing to make a high dynamic range (HDR) image (Merge to HDR in LR or another method).

4. Use Fill-Flash

Rather than take light away from the brighter areas, your other option is to add light to the darker parts instead. You can do this with a continuous light source like a lamp. Moving the light closer to the subject will make it brighter, and pulling the light away will dim it.

Superstition Mountains by Anne McKinnell

Of course, if you’re outside you probably don’t have a lamp on hand. What you probably do have, though, is your on-camera (or off-camera) flash. Flash doesn’t always have to act as the main light source in a picture – it can enhance an existing light source (such as the sun) by simply adding light into the shadow areas of a photograph.

Flashes also don’t have to be used at full power. Nearly every camera will have a Flash Compensation option. This gives you the ability to turn the brightness of your flash up or down. A dimmer flash will still add light to your scene, but it won’t be strong enough to overtake the primary light source and create new shadows of its own. Using it in this way is known as fill-flash. When your subject is backlit, such as by a fiery sunset, use this method to prevent silhouetting. Bracket your shots using different flash settings to achieve the right balance of brightness between the foreground and background.

5. Set the Colour Temperature

Combining two light sources can cause other complications though – particularly with the white balance. Every light source has a different hue, or colour temperature. Incandescent bulbs have a yellow/orange (warm) cast, while fluorescents are sort of blue/green (cool). Our eyes adjust to those slight shifts on their own, but a camera has to measure the balance of the light so it can alter its colours, and ensure that a white object looks white and not yellow/orange or blue/green. Modern cameras can do this automatically, or you can manually select what kind of light to balance the camera to (daylight, indoor light, candlelight, etc.).

Devils Tower, Wyoming, by Anne McKinnell

The golden hours have a lot of warm coloured light, so if left on auto white balance, the camera will adjust its colours to be a little more blue to compensate. However, if you add in the light of a flash, which is cool in tone, one of two things will happen: the camera will keep the same white balance setting as before, and the flash’s light will appear even more blue, or the camera will re-adjust itself to the white balance of the flash, causing it to look normal but the rest of the picture to appear more orange.

When using two different light sources, it’s important to notice the colour temperature of each. Then, decide which of them you want to appear neutral, and which one should retain its natural colour. Rather than keeping your camera on auto white balance, set it to the type of light you want neutralized. If you shoot in RAW format, this can also be changed in post-processing.

Arch at Whitney Pocket, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

Remember, golden hour is not sunset or sunrise, but shortly before and after those times when your subject still has direct light falling on it. The magical golden light will transform your photos from ordinary to extraordinary. It’s all about the light!

The post 5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The Advantages of Renting Photographic Gear Before you Buy

We have all heard the expression “The gear does not make the photo. The photographer makes the photo.” That being said, the gear does certainly help in perfecting the art of photography.

If you are a professional photographer or even a serious amateur, you know that photography is quite an expensive profession/hobby. Good equipment can be expensive and by the time you build your day-to-day gear bag, it can set you back several thousands of dollars. Just when you think you have the perfect setup,  you hear about the latest camera or a faster lens than what you have just being released for pre-order. Gear lust is very real among photographers!

Kenichi Nobusue

By kenichi nobusue

This is where renting gear or even borrowing becomes a viable option for many professional as well as serious amateurs.

Benefits of renting photo gear

There are several advantages to renting photographic equipment.

  • The cost of renting is typically much lower than cost of buying the gear. This becomes more relevant if it is not something you are going to use too often (like a mega telephoto lens, fish-eye, or tilt-shift lens).

    Jon Fingas

    By Jon Fingas

  • Ability to try out the equipment and see if it suits your style of photography. Once you know you like a piece of gear, you can make the investment and know you’re making the right choice.
  • Using a rental as a backup system for assignments especially events like weddings or concerts.
  • Traveling light and having gear shipped directly to your hotel is an option many photographers mention as a plus for renting. This also eliminates travel-related anxiety around lost luggage and excess baggage charges.
  • Using a rental when your main gear is out for repair. This let’s you keep working while you wait for repairs to be completed.
  • Eliminating buyer’s remorse. It is true that not every piece of gear works for everyone. Often times we buy gear because a certain photographer that we admire has the same equipment, only to be disappointed that our pictures are no where like theirs.

Renting – online versus local stores

Richard Fisher

By Richard Fisher

There are many different options for renting photographic gear. You can do so from local stores in your area or online vendors. In the US, big camera chain stores like CalumetPhotographic and AdoramaRentals sell as well as rent photo gear. CalumetPhoto, one of the local camera retailers in my area, also has local stores where you can go to pick up and drop off rental equipment. They tend to have a wide variety of equipment but definitely recommend reserving gear, especially if you want it for a specific event like weddings, to ensure you get what you want.

There are online stores like Borrowlens and Lensprotogo that also offer a wide variety of lens, cameras and other equipment for rent. You order online and have the gear shipped to your home or location of your choice. Once you are done, you ship it back to them. There is definitely more flexibility in renting gear online but there is the added cost of shipping and insurance, as well as a slight risk that the gear might not arrive in time (any unforeseen circumstances like extreme weather).

Benefits of borrowing photo gear

Giyu (Velvia)

By Giyu (Velvia)

Sometimes you get lucky and have other photographer friends who let you borrow their equipment for a photoshoot, or just to test out – definitely one of the more cost effective ways of trying out photographic gear. However, for those of us who don’t have such awesome friends, there is another method of renting temporary gear that is starting to become popular.

Online companies like CameraLends provide access to a lending community where you can rent cameras directly from local photographers and film makers. On the CameraLends website, they offer a peer-to-peer lending community for photographers and videographers. Owners post unused gear to rent out to other photographers and you can rent gear directly from local photographers, faster and cheaper than traditional means. But this service is somewhat dependent on the market you are in. Not every market will have every piece of equipment available for rent.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.51.13 AM

Regardless of what method you choose to borrow or rent camera equipment, definitely try out gear before you make the investment to purchase it. The last thing you want to happen is buying equipment you think you want or need, only to find that it is really not benefiting your particular style of photography.

The post The Advantages of Renting Photographic Gear Before you Buy by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

3 Tips for Capturing Connections in Family Portraits

Capturing Conenctions in Family Portraits Article for DPS by Memorable Jaunts 01


We’ve all heard the dreaded words, “Okay everyone, look at the camera and at the count of three say Cheese!”. I have been guilty of using this technique too in my early days of as a family portrait photographer. I remember coming home from client photo shoots and kicking myself for not being original, botching up my client’s experience, and getting really mediocre images that lacked any emotion or connection.

Over the course of time, my style of photography evolved and I started investing more time and effort in making my clients feel comfortable before, during, and after their photoshoot. The results were images that were fun, fresh and full of emotions. Exactly the kind of images that I want in my portfolio. My clients love the experience and I often hear words like, “Oh that was so much fun!” or ‘Thank you for making it so easy”, and “I loved how you made us feel at ease”. I realized that if, as a photographer, I was having a good time interacting with and photographing my clients, they were having a great time too.

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At the end of the day, my job as a photographer is not only to take great, meaningful and beautiful pictures for my clients but also to make sure they have a great time and it is a pleasant experience. To that end, there are some things to keep in mind to capture connections among your clients

#1 – Family dynamics

It is very important to understand family dynamics prior to the photoshoot. This goes beyond the typical questions about the names and ages of the kids. Try and understand likes and dislikes of the people involved. If there are young children involved, take the time to understand personalities of the kids as individuals, and with their siblings. Is the family casual and easy going, or do they like formal, traditional posed pictures? Just because they like a particular style of imagery does not mean you have to stick to that. But certainly incorporate what they want first, then feel free to experiment.

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This family made it very clear that their new puppy was their second baby! – Rather than excluding the dog, I made sure to include him in almost all their images.

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Large family groups don’t have to be intimidating. Just engage with them and give them something to do.





#2 – Structure the shoot

Trust me, this is key and will ensure you maintain your sanity during the photoshoot. Have a plan of action. I make it a point to spend the first five minutes of every session educating my clients on what they can expect. The first few minutes is warmup time – testing the light, figuring out the right lens, etc. I let my clients know exactly what’s happening, and many times, I get a lot of beautiful images during this time. Clients are much more relaxed if they think these first few minutes don’t really count.

Then we incorporate an activity like walking along a path, climbing a tree, playing in the park, and I photograph around that activity. Finally we just sit down to enjoy each other’s company. This not only let’s the clients know exactly how we are going to spend our time but also helps keep me in check. Because let’s face it, for most of us, once we start clicking that shutter, it is so easy to loose track of time!

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A simple conversation that was set up resulted in some magical daddy-daughter moments.

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Sometimes just use hands to communicate connection among family members.





#3 – Make it fun

This is a critical part of capturing connections among family members during the photoshoot. For family portraits with little kids, try techniques like tickle-fest, blowing bubbles, rocking out those dance moves and other such methods to get the kids in the spirit of having fun. If kids are a little older, try cracking jokes. Bring some basic props if required and let the kids play. Photograph around the activity and capture candid moments of family interactions. If all else fails, it is okay to setup the shot and work the family into the pose. Make sure to keep clicking so that you can get some candids through out the whole process.

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Capturing Conenctions in Family Portraits Article for DPS by Memorable Jaunts 08

Bride + Bridesmaids + a catwalk pose = really fun images!




Remember that families that play together, stay together. Your job as a photographer is to capture these family dynamics in a fun and pleasing way. If your clients have a great time during the shoot, it is more than likely that they will love your images because they will remember the experience in a positive light.

The post 3 Tips for Capturing Connections in Family Portraits by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Using Golden Hour Light for Portraits


Most photographers will argue vehemently that the golden hour – that pocket of time just after sunrise and just before sunset – produces some of the most gorgeous light ever. Golden light shows up during this time, generally about an hour or so before sunset (after sunrise). However these times are not exact because golden light does depend on where you live. The further away from the equator you are located, the longer golden hour lasts. The closer to the equator you are, the shorter it is. Golden hour is also seasonal.


There is a reason why most natural light photographers tend to schedule their portrait sessions around golden hour – to maximize the amount of golden light that they can use and get amazing results for their clients.

Why do you want to use golden light?

There are several reasons why golden light is so sought after.

Golden light is very soft


Soft light illuminates the skin tones evenly.

Since the sun is almost setting or just rising during golden hour, the sunlight tends to be much softer than when the sun is high in the sky. During the golden hour, you can have your subjects look towards the sun and not have to squint or shield their eyes. Practice discretion on how long you want them to stare at the sun, and also take care not to point lens and cameras directly into the sun.

Golden light is warm


The warm colors of sunlight are striking against the green grass.

It is easy to think that any form of sunlight is warm – whether the sun is high in the sky, or close to the horizon. But in reality, the warmth varies as the sun moves across the sky. Sun near the horizon has less intensity of direct light since it must travel through more of the atmosphere. You may notice, it is much easier to look at a sunrise and sunset with the naked eye – not that you should because it can damage the retina. As per wikipedia, more blue light is scattered during golden hour, so the sun’s light appears more reddish.

Golden light has dimension

When the sun is high in the sky, particularly around noon, the overhead light is very harsh, creating strong highlights and dark shadows. This type of lighting is not very flattering or desirable especially in portrait photography. Most photographers will use external flash or even a reflector to add additional light to the subject’s face or body, to make the light more even. Because the contrast is lower during golden hour, shadows and highlights are not that extreme. In addition, the sun’s smaller angle to the horizon produces long shadows.


How do you use golden light?

Location scouting

Take the time to know the area that you are looking to do photography. There are many website and apps that can provide exact sunrise and sunset times. Some even take it a step further and provide golden hour times – which is specifically for photographers! Even the location matters when searching for golden light. If your photoshoot is in a park that has a lot of tree cover, the light will be further diffused, giving you the option of having a spotlight type effect for your portraits. If you are in a big city, take advantage of the natural block that tall buildings provide when photographing a subject.


Golden light can be challenging from a metering perspective. Most people leave it in standard (matrix or evaluative) mode and then play around in post-production to try and get the look they want. There is an easier way to eliminate all that time spent in front of the camera. Spot metering is my preferred metering method particularly for backlighting situations. I spot meter off the subject’s face or shadowy part of the image and then recompose and adjust exposure compensation half a stop or more to get the look I want.

Front lighting


Options for front lighting include the sun along the side of the subject as well as subject facing the sun.

Front lighting is when your subjects face the sun directly. Because of the low angle of the sun and the soft light, the sun isn’t as harsh and your subjects will not be squinting as they face the sun. The light is even and warm so make sure that is the look you want – gorgeous, warmly lit, imagery!




Backlighting is when you put the subjects between you and the sun. This creates a warm glow and looks really stunning. Make sure you expose for your subject’s skin tones. If you expose for the sun, then you will get a silhouette effect (which might not be the look you are going for, but is equally stunning).

Rim light


Rim lighting occurs when you are using the sun to backlight the subject. Here the subject is between you and the sun. If you have a darker background, you can see a faint glow outlining them. That is a rim light and it really helps the subjects pop out in the image, drawing attention to them, adding separation of subject from the background.

No matter what type of golden hour lighting you use, you are bound to get some awesome images. Experiment with various locations and techniques. Also go back to the same location at various times of the year and track how golden hour lighting changes – you will learn to gauge, judge, and use light as a key element in your portrait photography.

The post Tips for Using Golden Hour Light for Portraits by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Safety Tips for Travel Photographers (Particularly Women)

Let me first address the obvious that while this article talks about safety tips for women photographers, it does not mean that these tips don’t apply to men as well. Most are general tips that could be applied to both genders. Being a woman photographer who has started to venture out alone for photoshoots and solo photowalks, these are things that I notice and practice as I do travel photography.

Solo Hiking in the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park USA

Solo Hiking the Appalachian Trail – Great Smoky Mountain National Park, USA

It all started with a single trip. A couple of years ago while visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the US, I decided to flex my muscles and go for a solo hike with my young kids. This was supposed to be a bonding experience as well as a confidence booster that I could do this alone. So off we went, water bottle and camera in hand to hike a two to three mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

Half way into the trail, my confidence took a nose dive, as I realized I had done several stupid things – I vaguely remember telling my husband the actual trail we were going to take, we only had one bottle of water among the three of us, I was carrying 20lbs of photo gear and I had no emergency kit or even a phone. My kids, then 7 and 3, were hot and cranky and there was no end in sight. In my paranoia of either being attacked by a bear or a crazy psychopath on the trail, we literally sprinted the entire way. Thankfully, my husband had started off at the other end of the trail and met up with us. While it was an adreallian pumping, nerve racking experience, it did make me realize that with a few simple tips, one can travel smart, safe and actually have a wonderful time.

#1 Research, research and then do more research

Bird Photography in Chennai India

A google maps satellite search revealed a bird photographer’s paradise literally five minutes from home when I travelled to Chennai, India

There is no lack of informational resources for someone wanting to travel anywhere in the world. Between maps, guide books and online forums we can pretty much take a virtual tour in our pajamas and not have to leave the comfort of our homes. But if you are anything like me, the wanderlust bug is very prominent and the urge to escape the clutches of everyday life too urgent to ignore. Make sure you know everything there is to know about the place you want to visit. Scope out all the possible locations that interest you in detail. There are many online photography and travel forums where you can post questions around photographic opportunities for specific locations.

#2 Record and insure your gear

This is one of those business expenses that may seem like it is discretionary but trust me, it is absolutely critical especially if you plan to travel extensively. Having that peace of mind that your gear is as protected as it can be is very liberating.

#3 Blend in as much as you can

Safe Travel Tips for Photographers DPS Article Memorable Jaunts

A simple bag pack to carry your equipment might be the best travel gear to blend in with the locals

With a camera in one hand and a map/guide book in the other, chances are you already stand out from the local crowd. Try not to make it more obvious in the way you dress or behave. The smart thing to do is to blend in with the locals. Dress like the locals wherever possible, then if you have done your research and planned out your excursion you don’t need to hold on to the map (a sure giveaway that you are a tourist).

#4 Keep an updated itinerary with family and friends at all times

Safe travel tips for women photographers DPS Memorable Jaunts Article

Have a plan of where you want to go and what you want to do and make sure you communicate that to the right people

This seems like a no-brainer but often times is easily overlooked. It’s one of those travel smart strategies that could literally save a life. This is one time when having a game plan for where you want to go, and when you want to get there is advisable particularly for solo travellers. Avoid changing plans on the fly – especially if you have taken the time to research and scope out the best photographic opportunities for your trip. If you have to change travel plans, make sure changes are communicated to the right people, at the right time.

#5 Plan for emergencies

Lets face it – this is life, not a scripted, rehearsed, movie set. Chances are things are going to go wrong – travel plans may change, equipment may malfunction, batteries may run out. Regardless, have a plan of action for some of the more obvious mishaps. Keep numbers handy for any local camera shops in case you need to use them in a pinch – definitely a much cheaper option than having things shipped or mailed to you, especially if you are out of the country.

#6 Listen to your gut

Words like “gut feeling” and “woman’s intuition” do actually exist, and more often than not, they are spot on. Trust your instincts. At the end of the day missing a photo opportunity is not as critical as being safe. Don’t do anything that you are not comfortable doing.

#7 Carry only the essentials

Safe travel tips for photographers DPS Memorable Jaunts Article

We photographers LOVE our gear and cannot imagine being away from it. Most of us feel we need every lens and gadget for every shoot for those what if situations. But challenge yourself to pack light. Maybe you only want to shoot with a wide angle lens or the nifty-fifty. Carry only what you need and not all the gear you own – your body will thank you.

#8 Carry personal protection equipment

No, I am NOT advocating carrying a gun or other such personal protection mechanisms. Personal protection can mean different things to different people and can also differ based on the situation. For a while I carried pepper spray in my purse. Then I switched to a swiss army knife. Then I decided that my 90lb german shepherd dog was my best defense mechanism especially for local sunrise and sunset photo excursions. Choose what is appropriate and practical for you.

Do you have any safe travels tips to share based on your personal experiences? Feel free to share…

The post Safety Tips for Travel Photographers (Particularly Women) by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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