Tips for Creating Compelling Nature Photography

The post Tips for Creating Compelling Nature Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Karthika Gupta.


Nature photography is one of the most common forms of photography out there today and in this article, I’m going to give you tips for creating more compelling nature photography.

Instagram alone has more than 80 million posts under the hashtag #naturephotography. Not to mention that variations like #naturephotos and #naturephotoshoot have their own massive following. No matter what genre of photography you practice, getting out in nature and capturing images of the natural world is always fascinating.

Perhaps some of the charm and pull of nature photography has to do with the fact that it is free, easily accessible (depending on where you are), and there is never a shortage of subject matter, light or even creative framing – all elements that contribute to a stellar photo.

Tips for Creating Compelling Nature Photography

Nature photography doesn’t have to be boring or mundane. Nor is nature photography only images of dramatic landscapes in exotic faraway locations. Even your house plant or tree in your backyard can become compelling nature photography if done correctly. There are a few things you can do to take your nature photography from boring to amazing.

Focus on the subject

Look at any photography course, cheat sheet, or guide. It will talk about the importance of your subject as it relates to the overall image. The subject is everything. A subject can make or break an image, and I don’t say that to just sound dramatic.

Some photos have so much going on that we are confused about the message. On the flip side, some images use a shallow depth of field to focus on one element, yet nothing else gives context to what is going on in the image. We are often left wondering what the intention of the image is.

Don’t let that happen to you. Focus on the subject based on what story you are looking to tell. Ask yourself if the subject helps or distracts from that story.


We were photographing wild horses in Utah when the sun set. My subject was still the horses but, for me, the element of the setting sun just added more drama to the scene.

If you want to photograph a tree in your backyard in the Fall, wait until all the leaves turn a bright red color to complement the story of fall colors. If you want to photograph a landscape at golden hour, figure out the direction of the sunset and watch the weather to see if conditions are right for a dramatic golden hour and sunset.

Understand what you are photographing and the story you want to tell. This will help you conduct the right kind of research needed for executing your shoot and the results you want.

Understand the light you are working with

If there is one thing I would shout from the rooftops as it relates to photography, it is about the importance of light in photography.

There is no such thing as bad lighting. Lighting is just different at different times of the day.

Not all lighting is the same in terms of quality of light. Light is just different at different times of the day. Sometimes the light is perfect – that warm, soft glow that translates beautifully in pictures. Other times, the lighting is harsh and strong. I wouldn’t say that type of lighting is always bad – it is just not the same every time.


Morning Light In The Tetons


Harsh mid-day sun in the Himalayas

Image: Setting sun along the Oregon coast

Setting sun along the Oregon coast

The sooner you train your eye to read the different types of light, and what it can do to your images, the sooner you will be able to analyze your imagery better. You’ll also get photos closer to the style you like without wasting too much time in post-processing. No amount of editing can really fix an image taken in poor lighting conditions.

As it is with nature photography, you cannot always control your light source, that is, the sun. There might be many instances that you are out in nature during the harsh midday sun. This light is strong and very warm. Learn to use that to compliment your photos.

If you can get outside during golden hour, use that light to add some drama to your nature photos. But make sure that you don’t photograph directly into the setting sun as it leads to a lot of sun flare entering your frame (unless that is the effect you are after). It can also make the shot appear muddy and blown out to the point of not being able to see the subjects clearly.

Focus on the details

Most of us focus on the bigger picture when we photo nature and landscapes: big skies, large mountains, or even vast open waters. But there is something to be said about slowing down and noticing the details around you. The feel and texture of sand, the colors of pebbles at the beach, the curling leaves under flowers or the colors of a butterfly’s wings. There are so many ways to include details in your images to create compelling nature photography.

Just because something is larger than life, doesn’t mean it is the only thing that matters. Details create depth, texture, and complement the narrative.


Explore colors in nature

I recently came across a YouTuber who prepares natural paints from colors found in nature and uses that for her art. I found it fascinating to watch her grid stones and use their powder for colors, harness indigo from blueberries and red from wild roses. There are countless colors that are found in nature if only we know where to look.

Use colors to convey emotions and meaning. We all know that some colors are associated with certain types of feelings in the eyes of the viewer. Yellow evokes happiness and enthusiasm. Red means strength and energy. Orange shows creativity and warmth. Green signifies harmony and growth.

Use colors in your photography to give that element of wow to your images. Nature has an abundance of color all around – just look for it.

Tips for Creating Compelling Nature Photography

Simple always triumphs complex

I alluded to this earlier in the article, where I talked about the chaos in an image. Clutter can be messy and sometimes put off a person in real life. Some busy photos where there is a lot happening can be complex and chaotic. Life is crazy enough. We don’t always need to take that into our art.

Nature Photography has the power to transform us to a magical and fantastical place, someplace calm and peaceful. By simplifying our photos, we can transport the user to a place of calm so that they can emotionally connect with our images.

Image: I used a simple black foam board to highlight the white and the fellow of these flowers.

I used a simple black foam board to highlight the white and the fellow of these flowers.

I hope these simple tips help you create more compelling nature photography. Nature has the power to heal in so many ways, and by using that effectively in our imagery, we can convey that narrative to our audience.

Do you have any other tips for creating compelling nature photography? Share with us in the comments!

The post Tips for Creating Compelling Nature Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Karthika Gupta.

How to Find and Photograph Wild Landscapes for Epic Images

The post How to Find and Photograph Wild Landscapes for Epic Images appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jeremy Flint.


Wild Landscapes can be described as “unspoiled areas of land including hills, mountains, and rivers where wild animals, trees, and plants live or grow in natural surroundings and are not looked after by people.”

Venturing into the wild with your camera can be a great adventure that provides a unique opportunity and rewarding exploration to photograph untouched and pristine landscapes. Embarking on such a trip requires careful planning before you go.


Sinai Mountains, Egypt

The first thing you will need to do is choose a wild landscape location to visit. How to go about finding these places is simply a matter of looking for potential destinations. Certain areas around the world are famous for their wild landscapes and rugged beauty including the majestic mountains of Scotland, the highlands of Iceland, the Grand Canyon in the USA, the Canadian Rockies, the deserts of Namibia, Patagonia in South America and many more.

Closer to home, you can find wild landscapes within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and amongst local nature.

Two UK-based photographers worth following who like to photograph wild landscapes include, Thomas Heaton and Alex Nail. Both produce great visuals of wild landscapes, outdoor photography and nature, and are very inspiring.

Once you have found a suitable location, there are several things to consider before going out to photograph wild landscapes.

Go prepared


Brecon Beacons, England

When going on a shoot, make a packing list and be prepared from wearing the right gear to having plenty of food and drink supplies to keep your energy levels up.

Take the right clothing

The clothing you take will determine how comfortable you will be. For example, appropriate rain gear is essential if this is the forecast. In sunny weather, you may be uncomfortable in too much clothing, and in colder weather, you will be chilly if you don’t wear enough layers. So you will need to wear appropriate clothing.


Choose the appropriate footwear for the terrain you will be walking on. A sturdy pair of waterproof walking boots with good grips on the souls are essential for long walks over rough grounds with rain forecast.


Supplies of food and water are important to keep you fuelled and hydrated. Take more than you estimate for your journey in case of any difficulties, such as burning more calories than expected on a long hike to your destination.

Consider wild camping


Torres del Paine, Chile

Consider taking a lightweight tent and camping out overnight somewhere to photograph an epic scene of the wilderness. There are advantages to wild camping beside a great view. They include being able to capture the sunset and sunrise, and not having to walk to the destination twice.

The right camera gear

Travel light, especially if you are going to stay out overnight somewhere. Cut back on the camera equipment you take as much as you can. Make room to carry other essentials such as food and drink supplies. Only take the lenses you think you will need, such as a wide-angle lens.

Other equipment

Be sure to take a map with you as a precaution. Also, take a fully-charged phone with a GPS app or an ordinance survey map for directions.

Let people know where you are going

It may seem obvious, but it is essential to tell people where you are heading, and for how long, as a safety precaution. This helps in the unlikely event that you experience any unforeseen circumstances. This could include bad weather (for example, thick fog on a mountain top) or sustaining an injury where you are unable to return at the anticipated time.

You will feel more comfortable in the knowledge that someone knows where you are if you require assistance.

Time your visit

Wild Landscapes 04

The Rockies, Canada

When shooting a wild landscape, it is important to consider the weather conditions.

Time your visit to go and shoot when the weather is good or dramatic. It depends on the kind of image you want to achieve.

There is no such thing as ‘bad weather’ for photography, as in different conditions, you’ll gain different results. For example, a wild stormy sky is great for a powerful and energetic image. Calm and still conditions can give you a minimalist outcome. Each has its own appeal.

You can even shoot landscape images in the midday sun if you prefer to visit during the day.

Choose a viewpoint and composition

When it comes to photographing an epic wild landscape, you will want to choose a viewpoint and composition that captures the location well. Seek out strong compositions that show the majesty of the place, such as a striking mountain range or some intriguing details.


It is worth setting your camera on a tripod, especially to help shoot in low light or blustery weather where the conditions can adversely affect the outcome of your images. This will assist in providing more stability and essentially sharper pictures.


Wild Landscapes 05

Sossusvlei, Namibia

When photographing wild landscapes, consider the light to create great images. You can photograph spectacular scenes by using light creatively. Capture sidelight (when the sun lights the landscape from the side, often creating interesting shadows and textures), backlight (shooting in the direction of the sun where your subject can be silhouetted or have bright edges) or front light (where the sun is coming from behind you and straight onto your subject). You can also include the sun in your shot to make images with different tones and brightness.


Photographing wild landscapes can be a great adventure and an opportunity to explore pristine and untouched landscapes. You can find wild landscapes within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and amongst local nature. Remember to consider clothing, footwear, food and water, camera equipment and a map and be sure to let people know where you are going. Choose an interesting viewpoint, use a tripod and be creative with light. Share your pictures of Wild Landscapes with us below.

The post How to Find and Photograph Wild Landscapes for Epic Images appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jeremy Flint.

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

The post How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.


Long exposure techniques are a fantastic way to inject interest into your photography. By nature, these techniques present your images in a way that is different to how the world is perceived by the human eye. Blurring moving elements within your frame (whether that be water, people or clouds) can also be a tool to help you isolate and focus on the elements of a scene that you want your viewers to focus on. This makes long exposures a valuable asset for composition and design. While most long exposures last for a matter of a few seconds, there are tools available that will allow you to do extreme long exposure photography – even in the middle of the day.

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

This tutorial will show you how to use a 16-stop neutral density filter to do extreme long exposure photography. It will take you step-by-step through the equipment you need, the steps you need to take to get started, and the considerations you need to make to overcome some technical issues. There is also a list of tips at the end to help you get the most out of your 16-stop ND filter.

Why 16 stops?


Using the long exposures provided by a 16-stop ND filter, you are able to blur moving elements (such as clouds and water) to simplify your frame and reduce visual clutter.

Long exposures, even with strong 10-stop neutral density filters, are usually limited to low light situations. For the most part, this is fine as that means you will be out at golden hour or blue hour when the light is at its very best for most types of photography.

What a 16-stop ND filter allows you to do is to extreme long exposure photography in the middle of the day when the light levels are at their highest. For example, a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second (sunny 16 rule) turns into an 8-minute and 44-second exposure when you put 16-stops of neutral density filter on the lens. This kind of exposure time turns the water and clouds into an almost ethereal, milky texture that works well visually. By blurring these elements, you are also potentially reducing visual clutter and contrast in your scenes, making them more visually appealing.

What you need


Apart from the filter, this technique is going to require a few other pieces of equipment as well.

  • A camera with a Bulb setting.
  • A sturdy tripod that will hold still for several minutes or more.
  • A release that will allow you to trigger the camera without touching it.
  • An exposure calculator.
  • A 16-stop ND filter. (This tutorial will work the same with any strength of ND filter.)

How to do it

Once you’re out on location, setting up for a long exposure is pretty easy. In fact, these steps remain the same whether you are using a three-stop filter or a 16-stop filter.

Step 1: Set up your camera and line up your composition.

Make sure to attach all of your releases or filter holders at this point as well. Anything you can use to reduce the chance of camera movement between now and the time your exposure finishes will help to ensure there is no camera movement affecting your images. Take your time with this step and if you need to, take as many test shots as possible. Once you put the filter on, you will be stuck in place for several minutes.

Be sure of your composition before you get to that point.

Step 2: Meter and calculate exposure


Here, a metered shutter speed (without the filter) of 1/160th of a second becomes 6 minutes and 49 seconds once the 16-stop ND filter is applied.

If you’ve taken test shots, you already know what your exposure is (without the filter). If not, read the camera’s meter. Take the exposure it has given you and input it into the exposure calculator of your choice to calculate the exposure required for 16-stops of ND filter. This will give you your required exposure for your final image.

There are a lot of exposure calculators available on iOS and Android. They all provide the same end result, so pick whichever one you would like.

Step 3: Set focus

Set the focus where you want in the frame and then place the camera in Manual Focus mode. Autofocus will not work at all with a 16-stop filter. It is way too dense. Putting your camera into manual focus will make sure that the camera does not attempt to focus when it can’t, thereby rendering your photos out of focus.

Step 4: Switch to Bulb

Put your camera into Bulb mode to allow it to keep the shutter open for as long as your exposure requires.

Step 5: Attach the filter


With everything in place, you can now attach your filter. If you’re using a rectangular slot-in variety, attach the holder to the ring you’ve already placed on your lens. If you’re using a screw-in variety (shown), be very careful not to jostle your set-up because, if you do, you will have to start the process again.

Step 6 – Input shutter speed


My trigger is controlled by my phone, so the shutter speed is inputted into the app as shown.

With the filter set up, you just need to input your shutter speed into whatever trigger you are using. In these examples, I am using a Pulse trigger which allows me to control it from my phone. There are a lot of available options at a variety of price points. Be sure to choose one that doesn’t require you to hold down a button for ten minutes though.

Step 7 – Release the shutter

With that done, the only thing left for you to do is to start your exposure and wait.

Easy as that

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

This process may seem like a lot of steps, but it is quite easy. As long as you take care not to move the camera throughout the process, you will be fine. You will be able to set it up in a minute or so once you have practiced a bit. The key here is to know your equipment and to practice the movements so you can perform them as second nature.


Now that you know how to create long exposures with your 16-stop ND filter, there are a few technical considerations you should bear in mind.


Image: Noise is a problem when taking long exposures and is especially prone to showing up in the sh...

Noise is a problem when taking long exposures and is especially prone to showing up in the shadow areas of your images. Be prepared to take care of it.

Unfortunately, long exposures with digital cameras mean noise. The longer the exposure, the more noise appears in your images. If you use a higher ISO to achieve shorter exposures, that will also increase the noise levels in your images.

To alleviate this as much as possible, try to avoid really, really long exposures if they are not necessary. If your camera has a Long Exposure Noise Reduction (or similar) feature, turn it on (remember that this will double your exposure time). It will also help if you to familiarize yourself with noise reduction software, either inside Photoshop or Lightroom, or other third-party program.

Hot pixels

Image: The two circled white dots are hot pixels. They’re easy enough to clone out just as lon...

The two circled white dots are hot pixels. They’re easy enough to clone out just as long as you are aware of them in the first place.

Hot Pixels are an unfortunate side effect of long exposures using digital cameras. While there is no way to truly avoid them, you need to be aware of their existence as they have the potential to ruin your efforts. These defects happen when your sensor gets hot during a long exposure (a simplified explanation, but it will serve).

To deal with them, you can heal, patch, or clone them out in Photoshop. Alternatively, you could use the Long Exposure Noise Reduction (or similar feature as appears in your camera system), but be aware this doubles your exposure time. If your exposure is close to nine minutes, that now means that all of your exposures will take about 18 minutes.

Light leaks


While light leaks of this nature can be easy to take care of, there are a few steps you can take to make sure that they don’t appear in the first place.

With such long exposures, light leaks can be a common problem. These happen where excess light falls onto your sensor. This can happen where the filter attaches to the lens, or it can happen where the lens attaches to the camera. It can also happen through the viewfinder.

If you’re worried about light leaks, you can buy dedicated accessories that help to prevent them. If the leak is coming from the lens mount, you can also wrap material around it for a cheaper option. Some camera brands have a little rubber rectangle attached to the camera strap. This handy little feature is used to cover your viewfinder during long exposures. Simply slide off the exterior case over your viewfinder, and slide the rubber rectangle from your camera strap in its place. This will stop the light leaking in through the viewfinder.

Another option is to shoot a wider composition than you need and crop the light leaks out. This wouldn’t be my preferred method, but it will work in a pinch when you have no other choice.

Changing light

Image: This image is underexposed by several stops. Although it was taken at the exposure the meter...

This image is underexposed by several stops. Although it was taken at the exposure the meter dictated, the light dimmed significantly during the exposure, meaning the original exposure time was inadequate.

In the middle of the day, your exposure will be close to a near-constant. Later in the day, however, light levels can start to change rapidly.

If you meter for a long exposure of a hypothetical half hour in the late afternoon, it is entirely possible the light will lower in intensity during that time. Therefore, the actual time required for correct exposure will be much much longer. This will result in underexposed images.

You can compensate by preparing for that possibility beforehand. Choose a longer shutter speed than your meter dictates if you suspect that the light will change on you. This will be mostly guesswork based on plenty of experience though, so be sure to be out practicing as much as possible.

Filter size

Image: For the most versatility, consider opting for a filter system that will fit the complete rang...

For the most versatility, consider opting for a filter system that will fit the complete range of your lenses so you have the choice to use it at all of your available focal lengths.

Image: Alternatively, feel free to shoot wide and crop in. Not ideal, but this works just fine. Crop...

Alternatively, feel free to shoot wide and crop in. Not ideal, but this works just fine. Cropping is also a useful way to get rid of light leaks that appear at the edges of your images like in the example shown.

If you opt for the screw-in variety of filters, you may find yourself limited with the lenses you can use. In my case, I bought a filter that would fit my 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, and almost immediately found that I wanted to put it on my 70-200mm to crop in close on a particular building.

I was convinced that I wouldn’t want to use it on anything but the wide-angle lens. You can always buy stop-down rings, but if you think that you’ll use your filter on a  variety of lenses, a filter that fits a slot-in system may be the better choice for you.

Releases, triggers, and remotes


As mentioned, there are a lot of options to fire your shutter without touching your camera. It doesn’t matter which you pick. However, it would be best to altogether avoid any releases that require you to hold down a button for the entire duration of the exposure. For thirty seconds, this may not be a problem, but in terms of ten-minute exposures, you are just increasing the chance that you might slip and ruin your frame.


Here are a handful of tips to help you get the most out of the technique.



If you want shorter exposure times without using a different filter, you can increase your ISO. Here, changing the ISO from 100 to 400 (2 stops) has cut the exposure time by over 75%.

If you don’t want to wait around for, say, ten minutes for an exposure, you can halve it by upping your ISO one stop. This may introduce some more noise to your images, but as long as you don’t try to go past ISO 800, and your exposures are under or around 10 minutes, you should be fine as long as you are aware of the possibility.


Image: In overcast conditions, the effect of the 16-stop filter can emphasize the flatness of the li...

In overcast conditions, the effect of the 16-stop filter can emphasize the flatness of the lighting. This may or not work with what you are trying to achieve.

Image: Conversely, the technique also helps to emphasize hard lighting and the contrast in such scen...

Conversely, the technique also helps to emphasize hard lighting and the contrast in such scenes. Use this to your advantage.

This is no rule, but I’ve found that this technique works well with subjects in direct light as the heavy contrast suits the technique. In overcast conditions, the flatness of the light is emphasized, and the results can feel a little less than inspiring. Again, this is not a rule and if you have no choice but to shoot in overcast conditions, do so anyway.

Moving things


On a rare and anomalous sunny day in Manchester, this river was full of numerous boats that constantly went through my frames. The near ten-minute exposures have caused all evidence of them to disappear.

The longer your final exposure, the less any moving thing will show up in your frame. Is there a lot of river traffic in your scene? A bunch of tourists? Chances are those things will have left your frame by the time your exposure is finished. If you’re at a particularly crowded spot, see if you can make your exposure as long as possible to increase the chances that every unwanted element is removed from your frame.

Be sure of your composition

This technique is a very slow and deliberate form of photography. If you get something slightly wrong, it will cost you a fair amount of time to try again. To prevent having to do that, take your time with every single step in the set-up process and make sure that it is right. Composition, in particular, is vital for you to get right before you press the shutter release.

Embrace the time

Whilst your camera is recording your exposure, you will have a lot of time standing around. Take advantage of it. Take the opportunity to appreciate the scene around you without the viewfinder to your eye. Mindfully think about any other compositions in the area. It’s easy to start worrying about the remaining time on the exposure clock, but I encourage you not to. Instead, take a quiet few minutes for granted when you have nothing to do but stand next to your camera.

Be aware of your surroundings


I was aware of the tide coming in here (I was counting on it) but did not expect it come this far in less than ten minutes.

Because you are going to be standing around for at least a good few minutes, it’s important that you pay extra care to your surroundings during your exposure. During normal-length exposures, you won’t usually have a problem with things like the tide coming in and submerging your tripod during the exposure. With exposures that last into the minutes or hours, that’s more than a possibility.

Simply put, pay attention to your environment and keep yourself and your equipment safe.

End results

Finally, here are a few examples of some of the results you can expect to achieve with a 16-stop ND filter.


How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

That’s it

If you already have experience with long exposures, the only thing new to you with this technique is the amount of time the shutter will be open. The skills may be basic, but the extra few stops of ND filter can lead to wonderful results.

I encourage anyone interested in long exposures to give the technique a try. If nothing else, experiencing the mindful, deliberate, and slow approach to photography that this technique commands are well worth the effort. Also, it is a nice departure from the faster-paced styles of photography.

Share your extreme long exposure photography with us in the comments below!

The post How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography

The post How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.


Are you bored of doing portrait shoots in the studio or the local park? Try mixing things up with an urban portrait shoot. The city streets, the buildings, the laneways – this is your cinematic backdrop. All you need is a little bit of planning and a lot of imagination. If you’ve never done a shoot like this before, you might be wondering how to choose locations. In this article, I will run you through my process of choosing urban landscapes for portrait photography


Bailey in a window, Brisbane. I took this shot with some off-camera flash outside my local library. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 23mm f1.4 lens.

An urban portrait shoot in my city? No way!

You may think that your city or your town has nothing of interest, but it does. You just have to look with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I’ll be on a photo walk with another photographer, and they don’t seem to see the potential that their town has to offer. “Wow, look at that doorway!” I’ll say. With a puzzled face, they reply, “It’s just a doorway!” 

No, it’s not just a doorway – it’s a potential scene in your next urban portrait shoot. 

Image: Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with...

Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Every town or city I’ve ever been to has its charms and a unique look: from modern glass and steel skyscrapers to historic buildings to run-down industrial areas. There are so many aspects of urban locations that you could include in your shoots: laneways, street art, doorways, neon signs, steel shutters, and traffic trails, just to name a few. 

There’s also the unique way that light falls in urban environments: harsh beams of light that fall between buildings, beautiful soft light that you find in doorways and under bridges, and in Brisbane, dazzling light reflecting off skyscrapers. The possibilities are endless.

The best time for an urban portrait shoot

The best time for an urban portrait shoot is whenever you and your client or model are both available. Regardless of the light, the weather, or the locations. The success of the photoshoot is ultimately in your hands. 

My favorite time for doing urban portrait shoots is just before dusk. This allows you to get a good mix of golden hour photos with sunlight, blue hour photos as the city lights come into play and nighttime shots with artificial light. 


Alyssa in an industrial alleyway, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 60mm f2.4 lens.

Location scouting

I usually run portrait shoots for around 90-minutes, allowing me to shoot in 6-8 locations. 

It’s best to do your location scouting at the same time of day that your shoot will take place. This is so you can look at the light, see how it falls, and plan accordingly. In practice, though, I usually end up doing my scouting during the day. 

Before I arrange the shoot, I take some time to wander about the city to find 8-10 locations close together. The reason I look for more places than I’ll need is to be flexible on the shoot. Cars or trucks can block alleyways, big crowds could move through the area at the time of the shoot, or the lighting could be all wrong. There’s a whole lot of things that could make the location unsuitable when you arrive at the scene.

Although it’s tempting to plan to shoot in two locations at opposite ends of town, unless you have easy access to transport on the day of the shoot, it will be impractical. Photoshoots can be tiring for everyone, so asking your client or model to walk several city blocks and back again to shoot in one location may not be the best idea. 

What to take during location scouting

When you’re scouting for locations, have a notepad and pen ready along with your smartphone. When you see somewhere that you like, take a photo on your phone for reference and jot down some notes. I always draw a map of the city streets in my notebook. Then I plot the locations on it and plan a direction for the shoot.

What I’m looking for during my walk is a cool urban location in which to place the client or model. Some locations will leap out at you, and you will know that you should take some photos there. Others may not reveal their charm until later when the lights are low. 

Image: Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. F...

Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. Fujifilm X-T3 with 56mm f1.2 lens

As you’re wandering around, there’s a couple of things you need to keep in mind:


What is this place going to look like at dusk or nighttime? Remember that for many shots, you will be shooting with a wide-open aperture, or close to wide open, so many of the details in the background will be blurred. 

Potential risks

It may look cool, but is this place dangerous in any way? Think of how you will place the model or client in this scene – are there any risks that you need to be mindful of? Is there a lot of traffic? Is it a dangerous neighborhood? You should consider all of this when you’re planning, as safety should be your top priority for these shoots.

Below are some of my go-to shots when I plan an urban photoshoot. I took all of these within a few blocks of each other in central Brisbane, Australia. 

Neon lights

Neon shots are a favorite with the Instagram crowd, and it’s easy to see why. They are so much fun and a great image idea to have up your sleeve.

Neon signs are something that, quite honestly, I never usually notice. However, as soon as you start looking for them, you’ll be amazed at how many your town has.


Alyssa, Brisbane. This neon light is outside a takeaway shop in central Brisbane. I was attracted to the three different colors the sign had.

Beer kegs outside a pub

As soon as I saw these beer kegs in a laneway outside a pub, I knew I wanted to incorporate them in a shoot. I’ve used them as both a background element and also as a prop for models to sit on.

In this shot of Anne, I struck gold. By chance, it was one of the busiest days for pubs in the year – Melbourne Cup Day. There were a few dozen kegs in a laneway all stacked on one another. I lit this shot with an LED video light.


Anne in front of beer kegs, Brisbane. I love the shape, color, and reflection of the kegs in the background. Fujifilm X-T3 with an 8-16mm f2.8 lens lit with an LED video light.


Many Australian cities are blessed with alleyways. In many ways, they are the perfect place for photoshoots. Expect atmospheric lighting, an industrial look, street art – and best of all – little traffic. While Melbourne may be the laneways capital of Australia, Brisbane has many too.

Image: Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights p...

Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights provided in this shot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Telephone booth

This is a really fun place to use for some shots – if you can still find one these days. You may also have to take some time to explain to younger clients or models on how to use a public payphone!


Alyssa in a phone booth in Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens.


Reflections are a go-to image idea for urban portrait shoots. Many buildings provide you with glass or reflective surfaces.

Image: Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Old signage

I love history and nostalgia, but sadly there isn’t much left in my city. One day I noticed this sign and thought I’d love to do some shots here.

Image: Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Take your next portrait shoot to the streets

Urban portrait shoots can be a lot of fun. If you’ve never done one before, I hope that this guide has inspired you to look around your city for urban landscapes for portrait photography.

For your first time, you can always ask a friend to be your model if you want to try things out and see how the images look. Practice makes perfect.

Remember, safety is a very important factor in a shoot like this – both for your client or model and for yourself.

Urban shoots have helped me grow as a photographer. I feel more creative, I see possibilities for images in the mundane, and they’ve also helped me to think on my feet and improvise. ­­­­

So what are you waiting for? An endless array of scenes is right on your doorstep. Take your next portrait shoot to the streets.

Do you have any other tips for scouting urban landscapes for portrait photography? Share with us in the comments!

The post How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money

The post 11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kav Dadfar.

Stock photography is a tough industry to master. The competition is fierce and prices have been falling over the last decade. But if you are willing to put the effort in and have a long term plan, you can certainly reap the rewards. As a photographer who has been involved in stock photography for over a decade, I have certainly seen the highs and lows. So here are my top tips for shooting travel stock images and how to make money from it.


1. Include people

Picture buyers are always looking for something new and fresh. Including a person can often be what makes your images unique to the thousands of others that already exist. Including a person in the shot also gives the image some context and shows more of an experience rather than just documenting a place.

Some scenes are busy enough that you don’t need someone to pose. But if you do need someone, don’t be afraid to ask a stranger. Rarely have I found that anyone says no. I always offer to send them a copy of the image to sweeten the deal. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the more generic-type shots. It more about maximizing your sales potential by shooting a variety of different images.


2. Get a model release

So once you have included a person when shooting travel stock photography, it is a good idea to get a model release. If the person or people are mainly unrecognizable, or if you intend to sell your shot for editorial purposes only, you won’t require one. But be aware that some stock agencies will require a model release even if it is someone’s hand showing in a photo. Of course, there are times where it simply isn’t feasible, for example, if you are photographing a crowd of people. Getty Images have a great model release form that you download here.


3. Shoot portrait and landscape

When shooting travel stock photography, you should always shoot a landscape and portrait version. Not all scenes work in both landscape and portrait, so sometimes it might not be possible. But if you can, it will come in really useful.

But not only portrait and landscape, try to capture some different compositions. For example, place your point of interest on the left or right. Leave room above and below. You are already at the location so you might as well cover as many possibilities as you can. You never know when a buyer will ask if you have that image in a different crop. Doing this will mean that for example, your image may get used as a double-page spread or a front cover.

11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money

4. Leave space for copy

It is important to shoot images with dead space to allow for copy or headlines to be put in. Sometimes this can mean breaking those all-important rules of composition you have spent years perfecting. But it’s worth it to make those sales.

As mentioned above, you can always shoot multiple versions of the same shot. Try to imagine where and how your image will be used in a publication (or even a website), and compose your shot with that in mind.

Image: There was plenty of free space at the top of this image for the copy to be placed.

There was plenty of free space at the top of this image for the copy to be placed.

5. Choose the right agency

This might be pretty obvious, but it’s important to submit your images to the correct stock photography library. If you shoot travel stock photography, then a specialist travel site is best. If you shoot still life, then an agency that specializes in this would be more successful.

Beyond that, spend some time researching the agency that you are thinking of submitting to. For example, are you happy to see your images sold for a few cents? Consider what your commission rate will be as well as they vary greatly from one agency to another.


6. Think carefully before submitting to Microstock

Every single person I have ever spoken to who submitted to microstock sites regrets doing so down the road. Of course, there are probably some photographers out there who are very happy with their returns. The problem is that you will need such a huge collection of images with a wide coverage to see any returns that will be worth your time. This is because microstock sites sell images for cents. Ask yourself, would you prefer to sell one image at $25 or 250 at 10 cents?

11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money

7. Find fresh angles

If you really want to make your images stand out and catch the buyer’s eye, photograph it differently! Every picture buyer has seen the classic shot of the Eiffel Tower, and it has been on the cover of hundreds, if not thousands, of publications. So the same is not likely to catch many prospective client’s attention. It’s not always easy, but if you can capture something different or unique, you might end up with a few sales from it. This could be as simple as photographing something from lower down or higher up.

11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money

8. Unique location

As well as finding fresh angles, find new locations. Iconic locations such as London or New York, are constantly changing, so there are always potential new places from which to capture photos. This could be from a new rooftop bar with a unique view of Manhattan or new art installation on the streets of London. Even if your location isn’t ever-changing, finding somewhere with a view that not everyone photographs can be very useful.


9. Quality over quantity

This is often a bit of a contradiction when it comes to stock photography because stock photography is a numbers game. The more images you have, the better your chances of making a sale. However, the key is that they have to be quality shots that people would be willing to pay for. This is the reason that it will take most stock photographers a few years to get a wide enough coverage of images to see a decent return.

Try to always shoot the best locations at the best possible time of day. More often than not, this will be sunrise or sunset, but you will need to assess each scene individually. Your aim should be to capture each shot in a way that you can sell it.

11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money

10. Stay local

Shooting good travel stock photography doesn’t always mean jetting off to far-flung locations. You can often produce great travel stock images a lot closer to home. If, like me, you are lucky enough to live near an iconic place (for me it is London), then you already have endless photo opportunities.

Shooting locally has other benefits as well.

You can revisit locations easily if the weather wasn’t great. You don’t have to worry about the additional travel expenses that eat into your profits. In fact, you will probably find that your local shoots end up having a far better ROI (return on investment) than traveling to other places.

11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money

11. Do something different

Another way that you can try to capture different types of images is to use different technology. For example, drones have now been around a while and can offer a completely new and unique view of something that may have been photographed a lot. But there’s no denying it’s getting harder and harder to fly drones in many places. So if it’s something you are interested in, it’s probably a good idea to get a license. But drone images do sell pretty well, so it is worth considering.



For most people stock photography will never be the main source of income. However, with some preparation and planning, you can certainly make some extra money from your hobby or profession. The key to being a successful travel stock photographer is to treat it like a business as much as possible. Keep your costs as low as you can, and shoot as often as you can.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Do you make money from shooting travel stock photography? Share with us in the comments!



The post 11 Tips for Shooting Travel Stock Photography to Make Money appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kav Dadfar.

9 Ways to use Reflections more Creatively for Stunning Photography

The post 9 Ways to use Reflections more Creatively for Stunning Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Ana Mireles.

Mirrors or windows, ponds or lakes, it really doesn’t matter where you find them, reflections are eye-catching. In this tutorial, I’ll give you some ideas and inspiration on how to use reflections more creatively for stunning photography.

Creative use of reflections for stunning photography tutorial

We’re fascinated by reflections ever since we discover ourselves in a mirror, it’s no wonder we remain captivated by them. If you want to know about the technical aspect of reflections check out Rick Ohnsman’s article Understand Light and Color to Improve your Photography. Here, I’ll tell you nine ways to use them in your photographs.

1. Avoid a dull sky

The first tip to use reflections more creatively is to photograph them during bad weather. After the rain we usually find the sky to be grey and dull. Luckily the rain creates puddles, and water is a great reflector. Next time you find yourself shooting during a rainy day try looking down to the ground instead of up to the sky.

Look for water reflection for bad weather conditions

If you want to take this idea to the next level, you can add a flash to your photo-shoot. To learn how to do it check this article: Using Rain Puddles to Create Unique Reflection Photos.

2. Fill empty spaces

Similar to the dull sky problem, you can have an area that lacks detail or any visual interest. If it’s made of a reflective material the answer is easy, just find the right angle to capture it. What may have been a boring object, is suddenly filled with details that complement your composition.

Search for the right angle to add reflections

3. Create texture

Reflections don’t necessarily have to be mirrored images of reality. The texture of the material or surface will distort the image and you can use that to capture color and shapes. For example, the ripples of water reflecting buildings.

Reflections create textures

Remember that you can also zoom-in and photograph the reflection as a texture to use later in other images.

4. Abstract photography

Speaking of photographing a texture alone, this can give you some inspiration for doing abstract photography. There are many different angles to approach this subject and reflections are definitely a good one. Here’s an example, but if you feel interested in going deeper into it, check out some Abstract Photos to Inspire You.

Textures alone are great for abstract photography

5. Change perspective

Shooting common places or subjects that are not interesting enough is always a challenge. Photographing its reflection can be a great alternative to capture it creatively. This forces you to move, crouch, and generally change your point of view. Also, you’ll be looking at the subject backward, and sometimes just a little shift can make the difference.

Look for the reflection to change perspective

6. Creates symmetric shapes

Symmetry is beautiful and pleasing. On a subconscious level, it gives us a soothing feeling. I don’t mean just placing your subject in the center and make it identical on both sides. Of course, this is an option, but it’s not the only way. Reflections can create symmetric shapes that can help the overall image become more interesting.

Symmetry helps your composition

7. Frame your subject

You can also use reflections as a way to direct the viewer’s attention to your subject. For example, placing your subject as a reflection in a mirror or a window literally frames it. If you want to get more creative you can also use a pair of eyeglasses or a spoon.

Frame your subject

8. Overlapping planes

One of my favorite qualities of reflections is that they show you two, or more scenes on the same plane. When you look at a mirror you are also seeing what is behind you. With a window, you can even add a third plane when you also add the scene from inside the room, and so on. If you compose the subjects from each scene in a harmonic way you can create a surreal or dream-like image.

Compose different scenes in one

9. The reflection IS the subject

Last but not least, a reflection can be a subject in itself. You can make a project or a series just about reflections, it’s just a matter of finding a concept to build upon. If you need some inspiration, I highly advise you to read this Guide to Creating Unique Conceptual Photography.

Use reflections as the main subject

Come up with an idea and just run with it. I hope this article sparked some inspiration so you can use reflections more creatively! Share your reflection photos in the comments section below and, most of all, have fun!



The post 9 Ways to use Reflections more Creatively for Stunning Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Ana Mireles.

9 Great Lensball Perspectives for Creative Photography!

The post 9 Great Lensball Perspectives for Creative Photography! appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Bond.

One of the most effective ways of getting more out of your photography is to change the perspective. It’s a great way to explore your camera without needing to get additional equipment. The same concept can be applied to lensball photography, where a change in your lensball perspectives can lead to a burst of creativity with your work. It’s easy to think of lensball photography as a one-trick pony, rather like, say, a fish-eye lens. As any fish-eye lens owner will tell you though, there are plenty of ways to add creativity with that lens, and the same is true of refraction photography with a lensball.

In this article, you’ll learn about nine different lensball perspectives, and how you can go about using them in your photography.

1. The standard lensball perspective

Image: This shows a standard lensball perspective. It shows the tree as the main subject in the ball...

This shows a standard lensball perspective. It shows the tree as the main subject in the ball. There is also context provided by the area outside the ball.

The standard photo might vary from person to person. A lot of people choose the second item on this list, so this is of course subjective. In this type of photo, the lensball will be a significant part of the photo, it will absolutely be the main subject. Where you place the ball and the subject you choose to have within the ball are subjects covered in this article.

Typically the ball will be off-center within the frame, and will fill around forty percent of the photo. The remaining portion of the photo is likely to be the foreground the ball is sitting on, and the background that has been blurred out as part of this photo. This type of photo will be taken using a macro lens, or a lens with a long focal length.

2. The lens ball as part of the scene


The ball can also be used as part of the scene. Here, the interplay with the arch works well.

A popular alternative to the above photo involves bringing the background into play. This style of photo will need a wide-angle lens, so you can get reasonably close to the lensball, while taking a more standard landscape photo. In this photo, the lensball has become more of an accent in the photo, yet it’s still a focal point for the image. You’re looking at using repetition in your image, with the background of your photo appearing inside the ball as an upside-down image.

There are a number of strategies you can use to enhance this type of photo.

  • The tunnel – A classic in photography, this works very well with the lensball as well. Use the infinity point of the tunnel and place the ball at this point in the photo. The tunnel will then frame the photo, and there’s a good chance the image in the ball won’t be noticeably upside down.
  • Holding the ball – Holding the ball while photographing it is a popular form of lensball photography. Using a wide-angle lens will allow you to hold the ball, and include a lot of the background in your frame.
  • Flipping the image – As the background is prominent in your frame, you might want to use post-processing to flip the image within the ball. You can learn how to do this here.

3. Getting closer

Image: In this photo, the lensball fills the frame, and you can barely see the edge of the ball.

In this photo, the lensball fills the frame, and you can barely see the edge of the ball.

Alternatively, you can get much closer to the ball, and use a macro lens for your photo. You will need to scout a good location for this type of image.

In this photo, you’re using the ball much more like an external lens. Through the use of the macro lens, you can get close enough to the ball that you’re only photographing a portion of it. This allows you to use the curve of the ball as a line coming through your frame, with the main subject photographed within the ball. The outside of the ball will be blurred, even with a smaller aperture. With this in mind, keep the aperture to around f/8. This will give you a sharper image inside the ball.

4. Splitting the horizon line


Lines that can be bisected by the ball work especially well.

A great technique to use with the lensball is splitting the horizon.

This works well because of the effect refraction produces. If you line the ball up with the horizon line, the inverted image in the ball will invert along this line. When aiming for this type of photo, it’s important to get the horizon line exactly lined up. Getting this wrong is as bad as not getting your horizon line straight on a regular landscape photo. The following are some ideas that will help you acheive this type of photo.

  • Holding the ball – Holding the ball up to the horizon line with your hand can be effective. It’s tricky to get the exact horizon line. Take multiple photos until you’re happy the horizon line within and outside the ball is lined up.
  • Minimal landscapes – In order to split the horizon line, you need to be able to see the horizon line. Look for coastal, desert or other locations that don’t have objects blocking this line.
  • Use the tripod – With the ball steady on a wall, or perhaps a rock you could use a tripod. With the camera on a tripod, you can make sure the horizon line is lined up. Once you’re ready to take the photo you’ll know this won’t shift as you take the photo.

5. Bending the horizon line

Image: This photo shows the fisheye-like effect of the ball. You can see the horizon line in the bal...

This photo shows the fisheye-like effect of the ball. You can see the horizon line in the ball is bent and distorted.

The lensball’s fisheye-like lens properties can, of course, be used in exactly the same way as a fish-eye lens. You can bend the horizon line in the lensball by raising or lowering it away from the horizon line. This can be used to creative effect with your photo.

If there is a lot of interest in the foreground, you could include more of these within the ball. Equally, if the sky is really dramatic, and you want to include more of that, you can. Simply lower the ball away from the horizon line, and watch the line bend towards the top of the ball, and more sky fill the bottom portion of the ball.

6. Distorting your main subject

Image: This abstract portrait is the result of lensball distortion.

This abstract portrait is the result of lensball distortion.

In addition to bending the horizon line, you can use the lensball to produce other distortions as well. Once again, think of the distortions a fisheye lens can make, and apply that to the lensball. You can use the ball to distort elements of your main subject, providing you can get close to your subject. This works well when the subject is smaller, so this won’t be effective with large architecture.

You can use this distortion to great effect with portrait photography. Here the aim is to distort part of the body, for instance, the eyes, to get a more creative portrait.

7. Photographing down onto the ball

Image: Shooting directly down onto the ball can give interesting results.

Shooting directly down onto the ball can give interesting results.

A simple trick involves photographing down onto the ball.

Place the ball on the ground, and stand over the ball to photograph it. No inverted image will appear in the ball, but you will see a magnified version of what the ball is sat on.

This can work well for surfaces that have a texture. For instance, gritty sand or a pebble beach works well. Those photographers looking to create a series of lensball photos that have variety could attempt this style of photo.

8. A worm’s eye view


The worm’s eye view can work well. Note the ball is placed at the infinity point of the image.

The worm’s eye view means photographing below the ball and looking up. The only realistic way to do this is holding the ball above yourself, or better still, ask someone to hold the ball for you. This will mean a person’s hand will be in the photo, so look to incorporate this into your composition as best you can. Finally, you’ll need to find an interesting subject to photograph.

The following are some subjects that work well for this angle.

  • Tall buildings – When close together these can form a tunnel-like look when looking straight up. Place the ball at the infinity point of this, and take your photo.
  • Repetition – When you’re standing under something like a roof of repeating umbrella’s or lanterns, you can use the lensball to capture this.
  • Dramatic sky – Sky photos can work well if the sky is interesting enough. This type of photo will be more interesting with a strong subject.

9. Reflection

Image: Reflection works very well in lensball photography.

Reflection works very well in lensball photography.

Photos that involve reflection will give you a strong composition. Of course, you need to use the right angle to maximize this reflection. In this case, your perspective will be as low to the angle as you can get.

However, there are scenarios where you can get great reflection photos without the need to get on all fours. In both of these cases, use a circular polarizing filter to increase the strength of the reflection.

  • Ball on reflection surface – In this case, you’ll need to get a low angle, so you’ll be on the floor. Marble surfaces or a puddle will work well here. Your aim is to reflect the ball itself in the puddle.
  • Ball in front of reflection surface – In this case, you’ll see a reflection surface like a large pond. It’s obviously too large to place the ball into it, but you can still capture the reflection. The ball needs to be placed or held in a position near to the reflection surface. Now within the ball, you’ll see both the reflected and the actual image. These images will both be refracted, so the reflected image will be the one that appears the right way up.

Creativity is in your hands

A change of perspective is a great creative option for every photographer and can lead to some really compelling results. The lensball, when thought of as an external lens, is a great creative tool. When used properly, it is capable of creating a great series of photos under the one theme.

So if you have a lensball, you can go out and try some of these ideas. If you don’t have one, why not get hold of one?!

Finally, we love to see your photos at digital photography school, so why not share some in the comments section below?



The post 9 Great Lensball Perspectives for Creative Photography! appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Bond.

Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours

The post Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Always be on the lookout for interesting scenes in cities. I saw this view in Taipei from a metro train and went back at dusk.

You have two days and two nights to photograph a city you’ve never been to before. How will you make the most of this opportunity and come away with amazing photos?

You could just turn up without much advance thought and deliver a stunning set of images that fits the brief perfectly. Leaving things to chance is not always the best plan, though. You will be better prepared and more confident if you research and plan your trip in advance.

Whether you’re working for a client, an editor, or taking photos for your own portfolio, these tips will help you make the most of your trip. Here is a guide to photographing a city and the best it has to offer in 48 hours.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Find what is unique about your destination and capture it.

What’s unique about the city?

The first question you need to ask is what makes the city unique? Does it have stunning architecture? An incredible food scene? Unique modes of transport? Vibrant markets? Make sure you keep this in mind as you plan your trip.

What types and styles of images are you being asked to deliver?

What type of shots are you, your client, or your editor expecting? Find out what their expectations are in as much detail as possible. Is there a particular style or theme you need to shoot for? Will your images be used to accompany a story on a particular subject, for advertising, or as a standalone photo essay?

Think of the final use of your photos. Will you need to capture landscape or portrait orientation photos? Do you need to shoot images with negative space to allow for text to be overlaid?

Image style is an important consideration. Is your client looking for bright, colorful photos? Images showing well-known landmarks? Hidden gems? Photos with a shallow depth of field? Moody black and white images? Photos of people experiencing the city? It’s important to get agreement on this too.

Create a mood board

Visualizing your shots before you go can help the planning process. One way you can achieve this is by creating a mood board for the trip, showing the types and the style of photos you will aim to produce. The good news is, it’s easy to do with a tool such as Pinterest.

A mood board can also be handy if you don’t have a formal brief. If you create one for yourself or your client showing the type and style of images you propose to take, this can stimulate further discussion. It might be exactly what they’re after, or it could prompt them to get involved in the process and suggest changes.

photographing a city-matt-murray

On my list of shots for Taronga Zoo was an iconic view of the Sydney with animals – thankfully, this giraffe helped me out!

Weather and climate

The next thing to research is the expected weather and climate at your destination. Bear in mind, some destinations, such as London and Melbourne, are notorious for variable conditions all year round. Getting a sense of what to expect will help with your daily planning and can guide your choices for clothing and equipment.

For example, if you’re heading to Asia during the wet season, you’ll need to think about taking clothing and camera gear that is water-resistant, whereas if you’re on a trip to somewhere hot and dry, such as Dubai or Death Valley, you may need to consider a hat and sunscreen.

Next, look at the sunrise and sunset times for the city when you will be there and plan your day accordingly. Make a note of them and think of the most important shots you need to capture at those times. These times will also indicate the number of daylight hours you have on location.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Autumn in Sydney was a good opportunity to capture golden leaves.

Online planning resources

Two resources that can help you are the Photographers Ephemeris and PhotoPills. These handy guides for photographers also give you information like how long the blue hour and golden hour last for, the direction of the sun at sunrise and sunset, and much more. This can be very helpful, though, remember, in built-up environments, you’ll never truly know how the light falls on your scene until you’re there.

Background city research

Researching your destination is one of the most important things to do before you leave. Learn as much as you can. Potential sources of information include travel magazines, travel blogs, official tourism websites, and YouTube videos. It’s also worthwhile downloading guidebooks from companies such as Lonely Planet, or if you’re on a tight budget, you could borrow them from a friend or your local library.

As you’re doing this research, make a note of previous coverage the destination has had in published articles or photo essays. If you plan to use the same or similar angle, aim to capture the destination in a unique or better way.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Image research

Pay close attention to the types of images used to illustrate and promote this city. What style are they? Do they fall into a particular genre? What kind of lenses do you think the photographer used? This is all useful information.

Then turn to more visual references. What kind of images show up for your destination using a Google image search? Is there a famous view of the city you’d like to capture? Next, search on Instagram. Look at images used by the official city or country accounts, popular hashtags for your destination and even geolocation image searches.

Take a look at recent Instagram posts, carefully reading the description. Was the image taken in the last few days? If it was, this might help you understand the weather or lighting conditions at your destination. If there is no context to when the image was taken, it could’ve been from last month or last year.

Another key place for researching your destination is stock photography sites. What images are the best sellers for the city? Keep these in mind when you’re shooting. As well as your main client, think of other markets where you could sell your images such as stock libraries.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Always look for detail shots at your destination that show the way of life.

Create your shot list

I love travel photography as it includes so many other genres. On a single assignment, you can include landscapes, cityscapes, street scenes, portraits, food shots, detail shots, architecture, and documentary-style images. Remember this as you create your shot list.

First, lock in the locations you need to be for sunrise and sunset and have a rough plan for the rest of the day. Plot these locations on a map and make sure you’re leaving yourself enough time to look around and photograph unexpected sights. Sometimes the best shots at a destination are not the things you expect to see, but things you didn’t expect to see.

Then list the next most important shots for you or your client. Make these a priority.

Try to capture well-known landmarks in a new or interesting way. This could be through the frame of a doorway or window, a reflection, or a completely different angle or viewpoint not used before.

Jot down a reminder to get a good variety of images at each location you visit – landscape orientation, portrait orientation, images with negative space, and images that crop well for Instagram. Also, think back to why this city is unique or exotic and make a note to get images of the food, people, clothing – anything that’s different.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Booking your hotel

Now you’ve created your shot list, look at the key locations on your map, and book a hotel nearby. It can be tempting to save money by staying at a hotel further away, but being close to your proposed photography locations is a huge advantage. Not only will it cut down on travel time, but you will also have the advantage of popping back to your room whenever you like throughout the day.

Quite often when I’m photographing a city, I head back to my hotel for a break. You can have a quick rest, grab a hot or cold drink, back up your images, and review the progress you’ve made ready for the next round of photos. You may even need time to warm up or cool down depending on the weather.

With your hotel search, always be on the lookout for historic or beautiful hotels that could provide additional photographic opportunities for you. Also, remember to choose a hotel where you feel like your gear will be safe when you’re not there.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Carry a travel tripod so you can capture scenes with a slow shutter speed.

Packing your kit

Versatility is the key when packing your kit. Fast zoom lenses are generally the travel photographer’s best friend. Also, look at the notes you made during your research. What type of lenses do you think the photographers used? Does your client expect any images with a very shallow depth of field? Do they want images taken with long telephoto lenses or ultra-wide angle lenses?

Plan your kit, taking into account these considerations along with the expected weather conditions. For a two-day trip, I would typically take the following:

  • Two camera bodies that use the same batteries and lenses, at least one of which is weather resistant.
  • Two zooms covering a wide focal range, at least one of which is weather resistant.
  • One or two small fast prime lenses – these are very handy for low light conditions and shallow depth of field shots.
  • As many reliable high-quality SD cards as you have. Make sure you format them before your trip.
  • As many batteries as you have for your camera system.
  • A small travel tripod and some neutral density filters.

You can see more about the travel kit I take in my article, The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography

photographing a city-matt-murray

Sydney Opera House sails with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

Traveling to your destination

As your trip approaches, keep an eye on the weather and current events for the city you’re heading to. Will this present any issues or challenges? Is there other gear you may need to bring? As I write this, I am preparing for a few days in Hong Kong, where there are currently protests taking place. I don’t think these protests will affect my trip or what I plan to photograph, but it’s good to always good to stay up-to-date with what’s going on.

Before I arrive at my destination, I always sort out some way to use my iPhone when I get there. This can mean either having a SIM card for the country I’m visiting or setting up international roaming before I go.

On the way from the airport or train station to my hotel, I look for interesting things to photograph. I have my phone at the ready with maps loaded up tracking the journey I’m taking. If I see something interesting, I screenshot the map, so I have the exact location on my phone for future reference.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Children playing in the Faroe Islands photographed on a telephoto lens.

Once you’ve arrived

You’ve arrived at your hotel, dumped your bag and are now ready to hit the streets and tick off that shot list. Before you go, make sure you have everything you need and leave anything you won’t need at the hotel. Remember to go easy on the air conditioning or heating – extreme temperature changes can fog up your camera lenses.

Take a few minutes to double-check your camera (especially your ISO and image quality settings), make sure you have fully-charged batteries and formatted memory cards. Then synchronize the clocks on your cameras at local time.

Regardless of the time I arrive, I always try to hit the streets as soon as I can to get a feel for the place. In tropical locations, shooting conditions are not always ideal during the middle of the day when it’s very bright with the sun overhead. It’s still possible, however, to look for opportunities to keep shooting. On a recent trip to Indonesia, I found the most beautiful light in a semi-covered market place in Borobudur. I took some of my favorite shots of the trip at that market.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Borobudur Market.

After the sun is well and truly below the horizon, you may think it’s time to head back to the hotel, but always see if there are opportunities to photograph food vendors or night markets. You’ll need either a fast prime or zoom lens in conjunction with using a higher ISO to capture handheld shots or a tripod for longer exposures.


When you’re finished shooting for the day, it’s time to head back to your hotel and backup your images.

For each trip, I create a new Lightroom catalog on my laptop. I then import the images into Lightroom, specifying that the images should be copied from my SD cards to an SSD hard drive plugged into my MacBook.

After the import, I copy these folders and the Lightroom catalog to a second SSD drive. I always keep these SSD hard drives in separate locations – one with me in my camera bag, and one in my luggage. As I review my shots in Lightroom, if there are any that I think are perfect for my needs or my client, I make another backup of those select images to DropBox. When I get home, I transfer the folders and Lightroom catalog from my laptop straight to my desktop computer.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Final thoughts

I hope these tips will help you think about what you need to plan and research when you’re in a city for the first time on assignment.

Always remember, though, despite the amount of research and planning you do, things are often out of your hands. If you can’t get that iconic shot due to weather conditions, street closures, scaffolding or who knows what else, don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Instead, concentrate on other opportunities that you can capture while you’re there to make the most of your time.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on photographing a city in 48 hours? Share with us in the comments!


photographing a city in 48 hours

The post Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography

The post An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Some photographs document an event or show a person, place or thing. These are photos of record accurately capturing an image that represents what we see. Other times we want to take a more artistic approach, making a photograph more about a feeling than solely about the subject itself. Sometimes the two mix, for instance in advertising photography, where we might want to accurately show a product but do it in an artistic way that invites the viewer to also feel a certain way about the product.

porsche abstract automotive photography

The beautiful lines of a Porsche and the curves of a twisting road. Put the two together to create a story.

When leaning toward the artistic and sometimes abstract interpretations of photo subjects, I like to remember the words of famous photographer Minor White:

“One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”

abstract automotive photography

You don’t need to show the whole car to tell the story. The colors and lines contribute to the image of this American legend.

Applying this to the subject of abstract automotive photography, my intent here is not to teach you everything there is to know about making abstract automotive photos, but to simply get your creative juices flowing. You’ll note that none of the photos here show a complete automobile, but instead depict details, pieces, and parts.

The focus here is the artistic concepts of form, shape, line, tone, color, pattern, light, and shadow.

blurry mustang shot

The shot is blurry by design. I wanted to create a feeling of motion here.

dashboard of mustang

You can also get creative with interior images. The zoom-blur effect was added later in editing.

car steering wheel composite

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? The patterns and holes in wheels can look like faces – a phenomenon known as Pareidolia.

Automobiles may be a mode of transportation, but they are also art objects – the work of designers who pay much attention to form as well as function. Know that an automotive artist purposely and artistically designed every detail of every car. We, as photographers, can explore that art, find the beauty, note how light plays across the curves and surfaces of an automobile, and use it to craft beautiful photos.

cars all in a row

You can make a shot like this on a car lot. It’s all about repeating shapes, lines, and patterns.

What and where

Finding cars to photograph and places to photograph them will depend on what’s available to you. I work part-time at a Ford dealership, photographing new cars for posting on the internet. These are not art photos. They serve the purpose I spoke of earlier: accurately representing the vehicles to interested buyers. The purpose, time, and volume don’t permit spending much time on each photo. However, when time does permit, the light is especially nice, or a particularly interesting car is available, I will get a little more creative.

mustang front angle

Find an angle that works and you can use it over and over. Can you tell I like this composition when photographing Mustangs?

abstract transmission composite

Why restrict yourself to the exterior components of a car? When I saw this transmission torn apart on the workbench, I asked the mechanic if I could take some shots.

You might not work at a car dealership, but you could probably talk a local dealer into letting you take photos of their cars particularly if you’d share some of your images with them.

Alternatively, perhaps you or a friend have a nice car you could start with. Begin making and showing some good work and, before long, you’ll have people asking if you can photograph their cars.

old cars

Car shows can be a great place for auto art photography. They often have a diversity of makes and models from different eras.

Car shows

Most areas have occasional car shows, where owners polish their vehicles to a mirror-like finish and proudly show them. Often there will be a nice variety of vehicles, sometimes exotics, hotrods, older classics, and antiques. Because the public is typically invited to these events, and they are held in public spaces, photography is generally not a problem.

In fact, the owners practically expect people to ogle and photograph their cars. One thing they will not appreciate (and will likely get you run off in a big hurry) is touching their beauties. Always be respectful and ask if there’s any doubt about whether you can photograph the vehicles.

And, above all, never touch the cars.

red Jaguar with raindrops - abstract automotive photography

Raindrops on red Jags…These are a few of my favorite things. The color, the diagonal lines, the iconic symbols, and the interest added by the raindrops on a freshly-waxed hood all combine to make this image work.

One problem is that there will typically be lots of people around. Because cars are covered with highly reflective surfaces, getting shots without people’s reflections can sometimes be a problem.

I have no real solution for this, other than to make two suggestions:

  1. When making tight shots of particular pieces of a car, the chances of getting a reflection in your shot is much less than if you were photographing the entire car.
  2. Learn to be patient. Frame up your shot, be ready, wait for the person in the shot to move on, and then quickly make your photo.
reflections in old cars

It can be hard to keep bystanders, or even yourself, out of the reflections in glass, chrome, and shiny paint.

red and white car

Fins up! How cool is this beauty, found at a local car show?

black and white old car

Sometimes monochrome is the best way to show the old classics, much like they might have appeared in an old film of the era. Sunstars are courtesy of the noon sun, a highly polished surface, and an f/22 aperture.


High-end automotive photography can involve as much care in lighting as any product or model session. There are studios specially designed to drive a car inside to photograph. I know a local guy who has such a studio. It has full hard cyclorama walls, a glossy white floor, and a lighting system that includes the largest softbox I’ve ever seen. The softbox has to be at least 30 feet long, maybe more!

abstract hood ornament compositions

Hood ornaments are art objects unto themselves. Then add a sunstar with a specular highlight and a small aperture. Both images were made in full noon sun.

front of car - abstract automotive photography

The hood emblem of an old Ford F-100 pickup reminded me of the symbol used by the superhero the Flash.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the shots in this article. They are all made outside with just daylight, no flash, sometimes on a tripod, but many times handheld. Often they were made in the bright noonday sun. Sometimes the bright sun is nice, such as when the specular highlights on chrome, combined with a small aperture, create sunstars.

The point is that you don’t need anything fancy to try this kind of photography. A creative eye, some imagination, and the ability to properly control focus, depth of field, and exposure are all you need.

rusing car - abstract automotive photography

The door handle is the only touch of reality in this otherwise purely abstract image.

Gettin’ funky in the junkyard

Even the nicest cars will wind up here one day – the junkyard.

One might think it a strange place to make photos. However, for some reason (perhaps nostalgia?), many of us are fascinated by old things. In the auto junkyard, you’ll often find old classics quietly rusting in peace. The once-shiny paint fades to all kinds of interesting colors and patinas. And the layers of peeling paint and rust make an incredible canvas for abstract art.

car in junkyard

On the right, an old tour bus used by country star Gene Autry is now parked in Palouse, Washington. On the left, a tight shot of the abstract art to be found if you explore the rust patterns on the old band bus.

junkyard abstract automotive photography

Corruption of Power

A word of caution about junkyard photography: Always ask the owner if you can take pictures on their property.

Yes, oftentimes auto junkyard owners will puzzle over why anyone would want to make photos of a bunch of old beat-up and rusting cars. Ask nicely. Convince the owner you’re only there to make photos and you won’t be taking any spare parts home with you. You’ll often get the go-ahead.

Now, you’ll be working in an environment of sharp rusty metal, broken glass, spilled oil, gas, and other automotive fluids, so caution is important. (It might be a good idea to have your tetanus shot up-to-date and carry a first aid kit just in case.)

Whatever you do, just don’t head onto the property without permission, even if the area seems abandoned. You don’t want to meet the infamous junkyard dog or his angry owner.

junkyard abstract hood

You can likely still tell this is the hood of an old car. Even so, it’s really about the patterns, textures, lines, and colors.

Getting really abstract

It could be argued that the previous photos in this article really aren’t “abstract” images.

So let’s take a deep dive into really abstract automotive photography – the kind not everyone will appreciate. You’re almost guaranteed to have viewers ask, “What’s that??!!”

No matter. Abstract art is an acquired taste. But once the bug bites you, you’ll find an auto junkyard is practically a gallery of images all begging for your attention.

I took a photo workshop by noted photographer Art Wolfe earlier this year called “Photography as Art,” and he really opened my eyes to this kind of imagery. After the workshop, the auto junkyard became a whole new experience. It was suddenly a place where abstract imagery abounded and peeling paint, broken glass, rust, and decay were the stuff of great photos.

junkyard automotive abstract

It’s still an old car, but now we’ve entered the world of pure abstract art. Unlike photographing iconic landmarks, where your photo is pretty much what everyone gets, making these kinds of images guarantees your photo will be one of a kind.

junkyard abstract automotive photography

I have to wonder if this vehicle was painted numerous times over in its life, or if this is just how the paint ages.

abstract car paint peeling

I’ve seen abstract art like this selling for big money and displayed on the walls of corporate offices. I hope to someday figure out just how to tap into that market.

Go do it

I invite you to look at the shots here, look at other abstract automotive photography online, and get inspired. Then just go do it.

Make it a point to not photograph the entire car. Instead look at the shapes, lines, tone, color, and all the other artistic elements of the vehicle. Isolate these to make your shot.

If getting truly abstract images interests you, find some old cars in a junkyard and get in tight. Use the textures, colors, and patterns to make your shot. Be less concerned about what the subject is and more concerned about how the image feels.

Have fun and, if you get some good abstract automotive photography, share them in the comment section below. Best wishes!



The post An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Use a Pinhole Body Cap for Awesome, Creative Photography

The post How to Use a Pinhole Body Cap for Awesome, Creative Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Making a pinhole body cap is a rite of passage on any digital photographer’s journey. It’s a great way to get some of the unpredictability of analog photography without spending loads money on film or having to wait for the results to come back from a lab.

pinhole body camera image

But how do you make a pinhole body cap? And what do you shoot once you’ve made your pinhole body cap?

That’s what you’ll discover in this article.

What is a pinhole body cap and how do you make one?

First things first:

Let’s talk about pinhole body caps and how you make one. For that, you need to know what a pinhole camera is.

A pinhole camera is essentially a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light passes through the hole and projects an image on the opposite side of the box. It’s a tiny camera obscura – an optical phenomenon that has been known and used for hundreds of years. If you put photographic film or paper inside the box, you can record the image that the camera obscura produces!

So by modifying a camera body cap, you’re essentially creating a digital version of the camera obscura.

It’s very easy to do! You just need to buy a cheap body cap for your camera (don’t worry about it being on-brand and don’t destroy the one that came with your camera) and put a hole in the middle of it.

drilling into a camera body cap

I use a tiny drill bit (and a holder meant for model-making) to put the smallest hole I can create in the center of the body cap. Then I take a small piece of black construction paper and put a hole in it with just the very tip of a skinny sewing needle.

Next, tape the construction paper into place on top of the hole you’ve just drilled, lining up the two holes as carefully as possible.

Finally, place the body cap directly onto the camera body and you should be ready to go!

(Note: On some digital cameras, you may need to use a setting that allows you to shoot without a lens attached. If you’re struggling to find this, check your camera manual.)

What’s so special about pinhole shooting?

There are a few great features of pinhole camera photography that you might want to think about as you plan what to shoot. Using a pinhole body cap is completely different than shooting with a traditional lens.

creative pinhole shot of shapes

Concentrating on shape and texture can create striking pinhole body cap images.

Almost infinite focus

The first thing to note is that pinhole cameras have an incredibly large depth of field. You can’t focus a pinhole body cap, but that’s okay. You don’t need to. You’ll get images that are sharp throughout.

(However, this means you’ll lose any shallow depth of field or bokeh effects.)

Instead of blurring out any inconvenient backgrounds, you need to work with your surroundings in mind when you compose images.

No distortion

If you’re using a wide-angle pinhole body cap (the focal length of your pinhole body cap is the distance from the pinhole to the sensor), then there will be no lens distortion. When you are shooting architecture, the walls of the building will appear completely straight rather than curved as they would with many wide-angle lenses.

building against sky

Using hard light to create contrast can be a way to make images appear sharper.

It is possible to increase the focal length of your pinhole body cap by using extension tubes and the like (or a cardboard toilet roll with the inside painted black).

Test out different focal lengths and see what you can achieve!

Long exposure times

The downside of all that depth of field is that you’ll generally need a pretty long exposure time for most shots. This does mean that you can work with interesting blur effects. If you’re shooting urban spaces you can also blur out most of the people in the image, too.

On the other hand, you generally need to take a tripod with you when you go out shooting with your pinhole body cap. The exposures will probably be too long to handhold your camera.

blurry portrait pinhole body cap camera

Asking your subject to move while photographing them can produce interesting effects.

It can be interesting to explore either intentional camera movement effects or long exposures on moving subjects with a pinhole body cap. I particularly enjoy using a pinhole body cap to shoot portraits of people.

Try looking at the portrait work of Victorian photographers who used wet plates, or the more modern long exposure portraits (with a large format camera) by Sally Mann. These can provide some inspiration for your pinhole photography of people.

Help! All my images are soft!

The sharpness of a pinhole image depends largely on the size and accuracy of the pinhole you create when building your pinhole body cap. Unsurprisingly, putting a hole in a piece of construction paper is a pretty inaccurate way to build photographic equipment.

The smaller the pinhole, the more accurate the image will be. And the neater the edges of the pinhole, the more perfect the circle around your image will be.

comparison of sharp portrait and pinhole portrait

These two images are a direct comparison of a 35mm lens on a Fujifilm body (about a 50mm equivalent) and a pinhole body cap on the same body. The camera wasn’t moved between shots, and both images were cropped the same.

Ultimately, you’re going to need to embrace the heavy imperfections of this style when you plan what you’re going to shoot. Images will be in focus, but they will be very soft – and that’s not something you can correct afterward! If you really enjoy digital pinhole photography then you may want to explore some of the laser cut pinholes that are available on the market. They are very tiny, accurate circles and will create a more technically perfect image.

Of course, the smaller the pinhole, the longer the exposure you’ll need. This is because less light is hitting the sensor, so everything is a trade-off. With extremely tiny pinholes you can be looking at exposures of many minutes rather than a few seconds.

Seeing the world differently

I find that using a pinhole body cap forces me to approach photography differently. Because of the soft quality of the images and the large depth of field, I tend to focus on things like color and shape rather than the subject matter itself. It’s a great way to think about different kinds of composition rules.

tree in pinhole shot

If you end up with a pinhole that isn’t quite circular (like most of mine), that can also be a good thing to experiment with. Finding objects that fit inside the pinhole shape you’ve made can create some really unusual images.

What are you waiting for?

Time to get out and shoot! One of the best ways to improve your pinhole body cap photography is simply to head out and start capturing a ton of images. You need to learn how the things around you will translate into pinhole images. It’s only then that you’ll start to see the possibilities for pinhole photography.

Don’t be discouraged at first. It takes time to hit your stride with this style of photography. You may need to let go of some ingrained inhibitions and embrace the imperfections and flaws instead of aiming for technical excellence.

But eventually, you’ll be capturing some stunning photos!

We’d love to see your pinhole images! Share with us in the comments section.


The post How to Use a Pinhole Body Cap for Awesome, Creative Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

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