Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE

The post Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Vista at Dead Horse State Park, Utah. Fourteen images stitched in Microsoft ICE.

You’ve no doubt seen panoramic images and perhaps even know how to make them. Whether using the tools built into programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, or perhaps another dedicated panoramic creation program, or even the sweep-panoramic capability of many cellphone cameras, you’ve used this technique to make images larger than you could make them in a single shot.

In the past, the choice was not as great, and the main stitching programs not as diversified in their capabilities. The programs that did exist to create panoramas were complex, sometimes expensive, and didn’t always work well.

When the first version of Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor), a program from the Microsoft Research Division of the software giant came out, it had all the things I sought in software utilities. It was simple, it worked well, and it was free – bingo! Although other options have come along for photo stitching, I still find ICE, (now at version, a favorite.

Panorama images are not new nor a product of the digital age. This image was made from Rincon Point in San Francisco in 1851 using multiple photo plates seamed together.

Image stitching – What is it?

When working with panoramic programs you will read the term “image stitching.” It is an apt phrase for the process by which a series of photos are composited together to make a larger image, much like scraps of fabric stitched together to make a quilt. The mark of a good photo-stitching program is how well it can piece the separate images together without showing the “seams.” Check another box for Microsoft ICE – it does that job extremely well.

The Mars Rover uses robotic cameras and panoramic stitching techniques to make high-resolution images.  NASA Photo

Considerations when photographing a panorama

The quality of a finished product is usually dependent on the raw materials that go into it. The same is true of creating a panorama photo. The better your technique in making the individual images, the better your finished panorama will be.  I will not be doing a deep-dive into panorama photography techniques, as that is a whole subject itself, but instead, I’ll list some of those things you’ll want to consider when making your shots.

One real benefit of ICE is that even with less than perfectly created images, it will still do a respectable job in creating a panorama. Of course, with better images, the result will be better too.

Here are some techniques to help you when shooting your images for a panorama:

Camera settings

As you sweep across your scene, making multiple shots, there will be variations in the light. If you leave your camera in an automatic mode, each frame will be slightly different too. ICE has what is called Exposure Blending and uses an advanced algorithm to compensate for this. Thus, it smooths the seams between individual images. However, if you give it better images to work with the result will be better too.

The best practice is to put your camera in full manual mode, find and set an exposure that is a good average for the scene, and lock that in.  Try to pick an aperture for maximum depth of field as well.

The same goes for focus. Find a point where as much of the image will be in focus, (the “hyperfocal distance,” typically a third of the way into the scene), focus there and turn off autofocus.

Lens selection

There is no “just right” lens focal length to use when making panoramic images. The field of view that represented in your stitched image will be dictated by how many photos you make and the sweep of your pan, not the lens focal length.

One might think a wide-angle lens would be a good choice, as fewer shots would be required. But that’s not necessarily true. The best choice is a lens with the least distortion as any lens distortion will be magnified as you stitch images together. Thus, a good, basic 50mm prime lens could be a great choice.

Sometimes, depending on the scene you want to capture, a longer telephoto might work well. Lens quality and minimal distortion trump wide focal lengths here.

A panoramic tripod head allows you to mount the camera so that the lens nodal point is centered over the pivot point of the pan. Thus, minimizing parallax errors.

Nodal point and parallax issues

Wazzat!!?? Yes, you can get complex very quickly and encounter cryptic terms if you want to when making panoramic photos.  Attention to detail results in higher quality panoramas. And, if you decide to pursue this technique, you will want to learn about these things in time.

Very briefly, the nodal point is the spot within a lens where the light rays converge.  Setting up your camera such that the pivot point of your pan is at that spot will produce an image with the least distortion.  This is most important in images where objects in the shot are both close and far in your scene.

Parallax is the difference in the apparent position of an object when viewed along two different lines of sight.

To see a quick example, hold your hand out at arm’s length with your thumb up.  Close one eye and put your thumb over a distant object.  Now close that eye and open the other. You will see your thumb “jump” off the object to a different position.  This is parallax.

When setting up your camera, pivoting around the nodal point will reduce or even eliminate this. And serious panorama photographers will purchase special panorama tripod heads to get this exact spot for any given lens they might use.

Highly serious gigapixel panorama photographers making images with hundreds of composite images might even use motorized computer-controlled heads like the Gigapan to make their shots.

Check out some of the Gigapan images like this made from some 12,000 individual shots. Alternatively, look at this taken from a similar setup on the Mars Rover.

Bringing it back down to Earth, you need not get nearly that sophisticated if you don’t want to.  There are less expensive heads for panoramic photography if you choose to try that and many Youtube videos and instructional articles on setting nodal points.

For starters, you needn’t even worry about all of that to give panoramic photography a try. The beauty of ICE is that even with something as simple as handheld images shot with a cellphone camera, it does a very nice job of assembling a panorama image.


Here are some things to do when making your images for use in a panorama:

  • Consider your composition – Good composition is just as important in making a panorama image as any other photo.  If your cellphone supports the sweep panorama feature, you can sometimes make a shot with it to help pre-visualize what you want to do with your DSLR.
  • Level the tripod – You will know your tripod wasn’t level if you get an “arched” looking composite panorama.
  • Mount your camera in a vertical (portrait) orientation – You will get a taller aspect ratio in your final shot and an image less “ribbon-like” when you assemble your panorama.
  • Hand-marker – Shoot a photo of your hand in front of the camera as the first and last in your panorama sequence. This will make it much easier to determine which images belong to a panorama “group.”
  • Camera Settings – Use full manual exposure and focus for the reasons outlined above.
  • Overlap – As you pan making each shot, overlap each image about a third so ICE will more easily find the match points when making the composite.

This is the screen you will see when first opening Microsoft ICE.

Bringing it into ICE

Bringing your images into ICE and letting it assemble your panorama is the easiest part and a big reason to like this program. ICE accepts most Raw photos, .jpg of course, and even layered Photoshop files.  You will need to know this is a Windows-only program and won’t work on your Mac. However, there are plenty of iOS alternatives. One which is also free and well-regarded is Hugin.  I can’t say I have any personal experience with it, however, being a PC guy.

Here’s where you will find the download for ICE. Be sure you get the proper version, 32 or 64-bit for your particular PC. The program will work in Windows 10, 8, 7 or even Vista SP2. There is a lot of good information as well as an interesting overview video on the page.  The installation usually goes quite smoothly.

After you have the program installed, there are various ways to bring your images in for compositing into a panorama:

  • Running ICE as a stand-alone – ICE can be run just fine as a stand-alone program and you can bring your images in from wherever you have them stored. You can do this either by opening ICE and clicking New Panorama from Images or by opening another window in File Explorer and dragging and dropping the images into ICE.
  • Launching ICE from a Folder – Typically, once you install ICE, if you select all the images you want in your pano from a folder and then right-click, you will see an option to Stitch using Image Composite Editor.  Select that, then ICE will launch with your selected images brought in.
  • Using ICE as an External Editor from Lightroom – You can set-up Adobe Lightroom to use ICE as an External Editor.  This is my preferred way as I often do some basic pre-editing to my shots in LR before bringing them into ICE.  Once you have set-up ICE as an External Editor, select all the images in the pano group you will be using. Then, in the Lightroom menu, click Photo -> Edit In -> Microsoft ICE.  You will have the option to Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments.  Pick that, click Edit, and ICE launches with the images ready for compositing.

There are four basic steps in ICE; Import, (the images have been imported here), Stitch, Crop, and Export.

Four basic steps in ICE

1. Import

If you’ve used one of the three methods above, you’re likely already seeing your images in ICE ready for Stitching. If you are running ICE in stand-alone mode and have not already imported your images, you will see three Options across the top of the screen:  New Panorama from Images, New Panorama from Video, and Open Existing Panorama. Choose the first option, navigate in Windows Explorer to where your images are located, select those that make up the panorama group, and click Open.  Remember, ICE opens Raw files, Tif, Jpg, PSD, and perhaps some other image file types.

You will find that in most cases, the default setting for ICE works well. If you are confused about some of the terms and menu options, you can click Next (at the top right of the screen), and ICE proceeds to the next step using the defaults.

If you choose to try some other things, here are a few options:

Rather than use Auto-detect in Camera Motion, you may wish to use Rotating Motion. It will give you more options for adjustment later. I have not found the Planar Motion options to be useful, (and to be honest, don’t really understand them. Such will be the case with ICE for most people – there are options and terms that will take more knowledge of the process. And, while they might have applications, most times will not be necessary.  Keep things simple, and you’ll most often be pleased with the result.)

This is the Stitch step. Ice has composited individual images.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the Projection options. ICE will almost always choose the correct one by default. If you wish to try the others, go ahead and see what you like best.

2. Stitch

Click Next or select option 2 – Stitch from the menu. The screen will show Aligning and then Compositing Images with progress bars as the work is done.  Depending on the size, number, and complexity of your images, this could go quick or could take several minutes.  Once done, your stitched image will appear.

Depending on the camera motion type chosen, you may have another set of options under Projection with terms like Cylindrical, Mercator, and a collection of other types you may not understand. I suggest trying the different options and seeing which makes your panorama look best and the least distorted. You can also zoom into your image with the slider or by using your mouse scroll wheel. Clicking and dragging above or below the panorama will allow you to adjust the shape further. Try various things – whatever helps to make your panorama look best.

3. Crop

Click Next, or Crop to move on. Here you can crop the image to choose what to include in the finished panorama. Usually, you will have some rough edges, depending on how you shot the images and composited them. If you click Auto-Crop, the program will crop to the largest points where it can make a rectangular image. You can also manually drag the sides of the crop.

Auto-Complete works like the content-aware fill in Photoshop and will try to fill in missing pieces in the image. Sometimes, especially with things like the sky, it works amazingly well. Other times with more complex patterns, not so much.

Give it a try and see if you like the result. You can always turn it off if you don’t like it.

The Crop Step. You can crop manually, Auto crop, and use the Auto Complete feature if you like.

Note how the Auto Complete feature has filled in missing parts of the image at top and bottom.

4. Export

Once complete, you will want to save your resulting panorama.

Because you have stitched together what are often high-resolution images to start with, your panorama file can be huge. That’s great if you need to print a wall-sized poster. If you don’t need something that big, consider turning down the Scale by inputting a smaller number. If you know what size (in pixels) you want the finished image to be, you can also enter that number in the Width or Height boxes, and the other will adjust to maintain the aspect ratio.

For example, to print a 12 x 48-inch poster at 300 dpi, you would need an image 3600 x 14,400 pixels.

If your panorama at 100% is over 20,000 pixels wide, that’s overkill and may result in a much larger file than you need.

Or, if you’ll be displaying your panorama on the web where you may only need a file 2400 pixels wide, why make a monster file?

You can also input numbers into the width or height, and the image will adjust the other setting to maintain the aspect ratio. Your use for the panorama will dictate how large you need to output it.

The Export Step. If you were to export this image at 100% scale as a .tif image it would be 19772 x 5833 pixels and be 149MB. For use on the web, you could drop to something like 2400 x 708 (scale just 12.14%) as a .jpg at 75% quality and it would be just 372k. Export your images according to how you will use them.

You also have the option to choose the file format. ICE can output as .jpg, .psd, .tif, .png, or .bmp. Again consider how you plan to use the image. A .tif file will be much larger than a jpg. If you choose jpg, you can also choose the compression level with the Quality settings.

When you’ve made your selections, click Export to Disk and ICE will give you the option of where to save the file. If you came from Lightroom, you will still need to specify the output location. ICE does not automatically put the resulting panorama back into the Lightroom folder where you started.

One option not immediately evident is the ability to save a panorama project. Before exiting the program, look in the top left corner of the screen for the icons there. The last two, which look like disks if hovered, will say Save Panorama and Save Panorama As. These allow you to save your project as an .spj file. This is an ICE file type which can be loaded back in using Open Existing Panorama from the main menu. This could be useful if you intend to make various output sizes or file types from your original images.

32 images shot in two rows to get more of the sky.

ICE does a great job stitching even more complex images.

The final result of the previous multi-row stitch.

Set your camera in continuous mode and shoot, panning with your subject. Bring the images into ICE and stitch as usual. You can get a sequence like this very easily.

Same technique with continuous mode.

The final result.

Nifty tricks – Video, Tiny Planets, VR, and more

There are a few other things ICE will do beyond simply making panoramas.  It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the specific steps to do these things, but I simply wanted to make you aware of them so you can explore further if you like.

This is a 360-degree pano shot as video and imported into ICE. The video will not be as high resolution. 360-degree panos, however, open VR possibilities.

Video Input

First, your input file can, instead of being a group of still photos, be a video file. Video is lower resolution than images taken with most still cameras, but there may be other reasons you want to use it as an input format.  One of those is multi-image action. (See the sample photos). You can do this with multiple images shot as stills or using a video. Capture the action, input the video into ICE, choose the portion of the video you like and then select the action points you want in the finished pano.

Give this a try, and doing it will make the steps clearer.

ICE can also be used to create “tiny planets.”

Virtual Reality

Use ICE to make a 360-degree pano from still images or a video.  Then create an image that can be viewed as an interactive pano and be rotated by the viewer.  Post it to Facebook or view it on a VR device.  There are numerous online tutorials teaching how to do this.  Drone footage can make for an especially interesting VR image.


Microsoft ICE is powerful, can produce high-quality panorama images, and is very easy to use. It also does a good job when accepting the default choices. ICE can use simple images made handheld from a cellphone or hundreds of images on a Gigapan robotic system with a DSLR. There are also fun things like multi-image motion images, tiny planet creation, and virtual reality possibilities.

Oh yeah…and it’s free!  What’s not to like?

Go download it, give it a try, have fun, and share your images with us in the comments below.


panoramic images with Microsoft ICE

The post Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos

The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How would you like to learn a little “photo magic?” A magician not wanting to reveal his secrets might tell you his trick was all done with “smoke and mirrors.” The expression speaks of a kind of deception used to fool the viewer. No fooling here though, as you’ll learn the technique. You really will photograph smoke and later, mirror your image to add even more interest. So it really is smoke and mirrors. Shall we begin?

Abstract smoke photography - Firebird

Can you see the Firebird? How was this done? Read on for the tricks to this abstract magic.

Tools for the trick

Here’s what you will need to create your photo:


Most cameras will work for this kind of photography. Being able to use manual control and manual focus will make things easier. You will also need to be able to fire a flash mounted off-camera using either a wired or wireless method. A lens which will allow you to focus on an object a few feet away will be best. The shots shown here were done with the Canon “nifty fifty”, a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens mounted on a Canon 50D camera. For a relatively inexpensive lens, it is very sharp.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Use stick Incense

A package of 40 incense sticks from the dollar store is probably enough for a lifetime of smoke photography.


You will want an external flash you can mount off-camera. The pop-up flash on the camera won’t work for this. You will be mounting the flash off to the side of your shot so it illuminates the column of smoke pointing perpendicular to the direction you’re pointing the camera. Having a light stand on which you can mount it will be helpful. You also don’t want any of the light to hit the background or flare into the camera, so a snoot which will direct the beam of the flash at the smoke column works well. You may also be able to fashion a “barn-door” arrangement with cardboard (or even tape). Whatever works to keep the light only on what you want – the smoke column.


The flash will provide plenty of light and also freeze the action, so you really aren’t concerned about motion blur. The advantage of a tripod is simply to help you compose and frame the shot and provide some consistency.  If you don’t have a tripod or simply prefer to handhold your camera, that’s okay too.

To better see the smoke and also give you more flexibility later in editing, a black or very dark background will work best. Black posterboard, black cloth, the black side of a reflector, or whatever you have should work. Because the column of smoke you’ll be photographing will be relatively small, you won’t need anything very large.

Smoke-producing object

Incense, the kind that comes in stick form, works very well for this kind of smoke photography.  It’s cheap, burns for a long time, and produces just the kind of smoke needed.


Unless you have an absolutely calm day with no wind, shooting outdoors probably isn’t going to work. Even the slightest air currents will affect your smoke pattern. Shooting indoors, particularly in a modern home, might be a good way to test your smoke detectors but having the alarm go off just as you’re getting started with your work is rather disruptive.  I found shooting in the garage to be a good option. It was dark, the air was still, and after the session, it was easy to open the door and clear the smoke. Just be aware of the requirements needed; still air, no smoke detectors, (or at least temporarily disarmed ones), the ability to make the room dark, and a door or window you can open afterward to clear the smoke afterward, and you’ll be set.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Setup diagram

Setting up

The diagram above shows a basic setup. Put your camera on a tripod a couple of feet from where you will place the incense stick.  Taping the stick to light stand may allow you more flexibility in positioning it in the frame, but whatever you use, you will want to frame the shot so you put just the tip of the stick at the bottom of the frame, leaving a couple of feet above for the column of smoke. Whether you use a portrait or landscape orientation with your camera is up to you, just remember the smoke will drift around. Being a little loose with the framing isn’t a bad idea, you can always crop later.

The background should be a couple of feet behind the incense stick. If you light properly, it won’t show anyway so this isn’t crucial.

Position the flash on a light stand so it’s to the side of the camera and points perpendicularly to the camera angle. You will be side-lighting the smoke. Some photographers also put a reflector on the opposite side to bounce a little light on the other side of the smoke. You can experiment and see if you like that.  The shots here use only the one flash. As mentioned above, what is crucial is that no light fall on the background nor flare into the camera lens. A snoot is the easiest means of achieving this.

Abstract Smoke Photography - smoke photo straight out of camera

The smoke patterns are constantly changing and no two will be alike.

Camera and flash settings

In the darkened room where you’re working, use a flashlight or other dim lighting so you can still see the incense stick and do your framing. Focus on the tip of the stick, then turn off the autofocus so the focus stays locked.  Leaving on autofocus will almost guarantee frustration, as while shooting, the camera lens may hunt, trying to find and focus on the drifting smoke.

Shoot in Raw mode, (which you usually do, yes?) Doing so will allow greater editing flexibility later.

Set your camera around ISO 200, f/8 and about 1/60th of a second for starters.

Leave the flash off.

Make a shot before lighting the incense in the darkened room.

You should get a totally black frame and that’s what you want with no flash.

Now put the flash in manual mode and set it to about half power. You should have already connected it to the camera with a cord or perhaps set up a radio trigger so it will fire when the shutter is tripped.

Make a shot with the flash on and you should be able to just see the tip incense stick.  If so, you’re now ready to get smokin’.

Abstract Smoke Photography - The Seahorse

This image is straight out of the camera. Note the tip of the incense stick at the bottom right.

Making your photos

Light the incense stick, blow out the flame and a thin column of smoke will rise from the tip.

Make a shot and check it. Is it focused?

Be sure, as you don’t want to make a whole series only to later find out they aren’t sharp. If you need to adjust your focus or perhaps go to a smaller f/stop for more depth of field, do so now.

Also, check the exposure. If things are too bright, drop the flash power or reduce the ISO. If the smoke is too dim, do the opposite. You want to clearly see the smoke, but nothing else.

If all looks good, keep making shots. Occasionally wave your hand near the smoke column or gently blow on it to vary the smoke pattern. You will want some variety so you can later choose your favorite shots.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Smoke photo mirrored and colored with a gradient

This is the same image as the one before it, but horizontally mirrored and colored with a gradient.

Basic editing

What program you want to edit with is up to you. You will want to adjust the blacks so as to leave only the white smoke details. Then adjust the whites, highlights, shadows, exposure, and contrast by eye, tuning the shot to your liking.

If there are elements you wish to eliminate, paint them out with a black adjustment brush or use layers and masks in Photoshop if that is your preferred technique.

Abstract Smoke Photography - horizontal and vertical mirroring

The Gordian Knot – This image was mirrored both horizontally and vertically and then colored with a gradient.

Mirrors and colors and abstracts, oh my!

You got the smoke, now what about the mirrors? Yes, the white smoke patterns on a black background are interesting but you can take this much further. I used Corel Paintshop Pro, but Photoshop would work too. Or for that matter, any photo editor that supports layers will work. (Keep in mind Lightroom does not support layers so while you can edit, colorize, and do other things with it, the mirroring part is beyond its capabilities).

Here are the basic steps:

  • Open in your basic edited smoke image. Select the entire image and copy it.
  • Paste the copied image on top of itself as a new layer.
  • Mirror (flip) the upper layer horizontally or vertically. (In Photoshop, Edit, Transform, and Flip Horizontally or Vertically).
  • Change the blending mode on the upper layer to Lighten. You will now see the upper layer mirrored and superimposed over the lower layer and some interesting patterns will be created.
Abstract Smoke Photography - Alien Gas

Alien Gas – A straight smoke shot later colored green.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Negative version of smoke photograph - Purple Haze

Purple Haze – Now, take the image above, reverse it so it’s a negative, (the black becomes white and the green becomes purple), then mirror it both horizontally and vertically.

You can move the layers so they overlap each other in various ways and change the pattern. You might want to make the canvas larger and put the mirrored image next to itself or even have multiple layers with the image flipped both horizontally and vertically.

You’ve now entered the realm of abstract art and anything goes.

Maybe you’d like to add some color?

Create another layer at the top of the stack and fill it with a gradient.  Now use the Overlay or Soft Light blending mode and watch your smoke take on the colors of the gradient.

If you’d like to hand-paint the smoke,  create a blank layer at the top. Turn the blending mode to Overlay, and using the Brush tool (and a color of your choice) to paint the smoke, watching the white smoke take on that color while the black is left untouched.

Try putting a photo on the upper layer and switching the blending mode on that layer to Overlay.

Abstract Smoke Photography - The Witch Doctor

Like Rorschach inkblots, what you see is very individual. I call this one – The Witch Doctor

Something I find fascinating with these abstract smoke compositions is that they resemble Rorschach InkBlots. Everyone interprets them differently and can see different images in what are, after all, just random patterns of drifting smoke. The titles on these shots are what I interpret.

What do you see?

Smoke in other photos

You may have reasons to want to include smoke in your photos that is not an abstract interpretation. The same basic technique can work with side lighting.

The “Smokin’ Hot Peppers” was lit with two flashes, one on either side of the vase and an incense stick placed in and behind the peppers in the vase.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Smokin Hot Peppers

A flash on either side of the subject was the only difference here, otherwise, this image uses the same technique.


Here’s one last trick that could work for you when you want something that looks like smoke but you’re in a no-smoking workspace.

Get some dental floss, fray it a bit, and tie it to a penlight or small flashlight letting the light shine down the length of the floss and onto your subject.

Now make a long exposure during which you keep the floss constantly moving. Smokeless smoke, just another option to have in your bag of photo tricks.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Pseudo Smoke Effect - Simulated Smoke

Looks like smoke, but it isn’t.


You’ll find that photographing smoke is all about the lighting. Side or backlighting will work best and a dark background helps the smoke show up better. Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of experimenting.

Give it a try and make a little photo magic. And share with us in the comments below!



The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Compose Photos with Impact Using Elements of Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Lines

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

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

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

2. Color

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

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

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

Blue and orange are complementary colors.

3. Patterns

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

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

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

Jing'an Temple, Shanghai, China by Anne McKinnell

These prayer ribbons create a repeating pattern in the frame.

4. Symmetry

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

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

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

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

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

5. Frame-in-Frame

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

7 Tips to Improve Your Skyline Photos


Is there a more iconic photograph to depict a big city, than a beautiful photograph of its skyline? Skylines can provide stunning photographs that have a big sale potential, but to capture those wow shots, you have to be prepared to plan for them in advance, and to allow time and patience, as well as determination, to capture them. Here are some tips to help you capture striking skyline photos.

1 – Plan in Advance

Like most types of photography, you will need to plan, and research, in advance to get the perfect skyline shot. It’s all about finding the right location, so before you even get on the plane you should have an idea of where you might be able to get a good view from, and with Google Maps it’s now easier than ever to plan your skyline photos. Start by looking at where the city center is on a map, and identify vantage points around it that could give you a good view. Keep in mind that if want to capture a wide photo of the skyline you will need to be a fair distance away.

Parks, river fronts, lakes, and harbors generally offer a good view of the skyline (if they face in the right direction), so look for these on a map, and make a note so that you can scout them out when you’re on location. You can also research image libraries to see what already exists, that can give you an indication of what viewpoints are available.

2 – Speak to Locals

No one else knows the city better than the residents and locals, so get friendly and take advantage of their knowledge. After all, the people who live in a city will often, over time, go beyond the post card locations and might be able to offer you advantageous advice, which gets you a unique image.

For example, as a Londoner, I know that most people head to the river or one of the number of bridges across the Thames to get a photo of London’s skyline, but you could actually get a very unique view from some of the amazing bars such as the Vertigo Bar.


Speaking to locals means you could get unique views that others won’t see.

3 – Lenses, Tripods, and Filters

I’m one of the biggest advocates of not carrying too much equipment, however when you are photographing skylines it’s best to ensure you have what you might need. These include:

  • A tripod if you are photographing early morning, late afternoon, or at any other time that might need long exposures.
  • A wide angle lens is usually what you will need, but there may also be occasions where you need a telephoto lens if you are far away from the skyline.
  • An array of filters – these could be anything from Neutral Density filters to Polarizing filters and more.

The key is to make sure you have everything you need, as you might not get a second chance. So it might be worth paying for a taxi there and back, to avoid having to carry lots of heavy equipment or leaving something behind.

4 – Early Morning and Late Afternoon Light

It is not a coincidence that most of the skyline photos that wow, are usually taken at dawn or dusk. The hour after sunrise, and the hour before sunset, give a beautiful light, which can transform any scene. In fact, you can get two very contrasting photos taken from the same place at different times of the day. Instead of getting to your location at these times, aim to get there half an hour earlier so that you are set up and ready to go.


Early morning and late afternoon light is a great time for photographing skylines.

5 – Wait for Night

After the sun has set it is tempting to pack up and go home. However, one of the best times to photograph the skylines of a city is at night, when the whole place lights up. Wait around for an hour or so after sunset, and you can capture the city skyline at its most glamorous. You will definitely need a tripod if you are planning to photograph at night, as you will have long exposure times, so make sure you leave your home or hotel room with it. Remember to keep safe at all times, and ensure that if you are photographing at night, you are in what are considered safe parts of the city.


At night, the city lights make it come alive.

6 – Utilize Your Hotel

One of the best places to take photographs of a city skyline is from your hotel. A lot of the big hotels in cities have amazing open-air swimming pools, or roof top bars with beautiful views across the city. This means you can get great photos right from your doorstep. So prior to booking your hotel room, research and keep this in mind, and when you arrive at your hotel you can always ask if they have a room with a view of the skyline. I have lost count of the number of times I was able to take skyline shots from my hotel – and sometimes even from my own room (use the polarizer to eliminate reflections from the window)!


These are just some of the photos I’ve managed to take from my hotels.

7 – Add a Point of Interest

Most city skylines have been photographed thousands of times, so sometimes it’s good to take a step back and add a point of interest to the foreground. Not only will this give you another differentiating shot from the same location, but it will also tell a different story which could be completely unique. Be on the lookout for people admiring the view, a runner with a dog, or cyclists, all of which make great foreground points of interest.


An example of how adding a point of interest can make a photograph tell a much more interesting story.

There is no doubt that skylines can provide some incredibly striking photographs which can be stand-out shots on their own, but which can also work as part of a portfolio. But like all types of photography it takes planning and perseverance to ensure you capture the photos that will do the scene justice. Follow these simple tips and you’ll be on your way to capturing great skyline photos.

Do you have any tips or advice for photographing skylines? Share them and your skyline images below.

The post 7 Tips to Improve Your Skyline Photos by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review: Flashpoint Zoom Li-on Flash

01 Packaging

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: you’ve fallen in love with Speedlight flash photography, but you gripe at having to lug around lots of odds and ends for your remote triggers, not to mention boxes of backup AA batteries. Isn’t it time for flashes to catch up with DSLRs and be powered by rechargeable batteries, and have more discrete wireless triggers? It turns out that these features DO exist, but not with Speedlights made by major camera manufacturers.

Announced by Adorama earlier this year, the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on TTL Flash is a new and affordable system that has the key feature of being powered by a rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer battery. This battery promises to power your flash longer than any other hot shoe mount Speedlight on the market, and it does so while keeping the flash unit at a relatively compact size. When paired with the Flashpoint Commander Transmitter and Receiver set, you have an intuitive, compact way of using the flash off-camera. Sound appealing? Read on for more specs and details.

What’s in the Boxes

02 In the Box

To be clear, the flash unit and the commander (transmitter and receiver) are two separate items that are sold separately. You don’t need to have the Commander set to use the flash unit on its own.

The Zoom Li-on unit, made specific for either Canon or Nikon, arrives in a nicely packaged box containing:

  • (1) Flashpoint Zoom Li-On TTL flash unit
  • (1) Lithium Ion Polymer battery pack
  • (1) Battery charger with cable
  • (1) Protective case for flash with a mini-stand unit

The Flashpoint Commander set arrives with a rather large transmitter (it’s about the size of a Pocket Wizard), and a much smaller receiver (about the size of a thumb drive). The transmitter runs on a pair of AA batteries.

Best Flash Feature: The Battery

Boasting more power than any AA battery, the lithium ion battery is the standout feature of the Zoom Li-on unit. It packs 11.1 volts and 200mAh, and a fully charged battery delivers up to 350 full power shots, with a recycle time of less than 1.5 seconds. You’ll need 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery, but it will function just fine on partial charges. On the unit’s display, there is also a battery icon in the upper right corner that will indicate how much power your battery has left. For longer shoots, it’s recommended that you purchase an extra backup battery, since the flash unit can’t be powered by any other means.

04 Charging

Other Flash Features: Comparable to Most Major Speedlights

Besides the rechargeable battery, the Zoom Li-on flash has all of the other functionality present in other Speedlights today. These features include standard TTL mode, Manual mode, Exposure Compensation, Front and Rear Curtain Sync, Laser Autofocus Assist, High-Speed Sync, group control, and Slave and Master optics, to name a few. This flash also has complete IR TTL control connectivity with Canon and Nikon flashes, meaning you don’t necessarily need to convert your entire Speedlight system. Other triggering modes for the flash include hotshoe, radio controller, 2.5mm sync port, and optical slave.

The flash head has a built-in wide angle diffuser and white bounce card. It also rotates 180 degrees in any direction and tilts over 90 degrees. It can also automatically or manually zoom from 24-105mm. Basically, if you’re familiar with the Nikon SB-900 or Canon 580EXII, the Zoom Li-on flash is similar in size and layout of its controls. Thanks to my familiarity with Canon Speedlites, I was able to unbox the unit and set it up intuitively without referring to the included instruction manual.

Flashpoint Commander Set: All About Convenience

The accompanying Flashpoint Commander set enters a crowded market full of all kinds of remote trigger options, but their main advantages are, an affordable price point and lots of power, packed into relatively small units. Using this set, you can view and change your flash output and trigger your flash remotely from 150+ feet away. There are also 16 channels and 16 groups of control so that you can handle multiple units of remote lighting. The newest version of the transmitter also comes with a 3.5mm sync port, allowing for a direct cable connection to the PC socket of your camera.

03 Details

The transmitter is slightly larger than a single Pocket Wizard Plus III and it sits nicely in your camera’s hot shoe mount. Unlike most other trigger systems, the receiver looks nothing like the transmitter, consisting of a flat unit that simply plugs into the side of the Zoom Li-on flash. After syncing channels and groups via manual switches on the transmitter and receiver, that’s all you need to do to set it up.

Two complaints: you’ll need slim fingernails or a tool to hit the switches on the channel sections of both units, and the group dials are a little too easy to turn, opening up room for possible syncing mistakes. On the whole, this Commander set is impressively compact and easy to set up, although you’ll want to keep an extra eye out for the tiny receiver as it seems very easy to misplace.

05 Umbrella

Flashpoint Zoom Li-On Flash and Commander Set in Practice

To test out the flash unit, I worked put it through three separate scenarios: table top food photography, on-the-fly event photography, and a posed portrait session.

For the food photography session below, the Zoom Li-On flash was paired with the transmitter and receiver and handheld to camera left. Shot in manual mode with no diffuser, the outcome was a soft, natural light that I’d expect from any speedlight.

07 Example Food

The on-the-fly event photography scenario was a quick red carpet photo op with Laila Ali. Fired in ETTL mode on-camera, the Zoom Li-on’s smooth rotating head feature plus fast recycle time came in extremely handy, and I was able to pull off the desired shots without turning to my Canon 580EXII, which I had mounted to a second body just in case.

06 Example Laila

Finally, the portrait session combined the Zoom Li-on flash, acting as the master, and a Canon 580EXII flash off-camera as the slave. Both flash units synced seamlessly, and thanks to similar control layouts, it was easy to figure out that the master/slave function on both units activates the same way (holding down the Zoom button).

08 Example KA

Overall, I declare the Zoom Li-on Flash a winner and a new staple to my camera bag thanks to its power, reliability, and the cost (and weight) savings of not having to haul tons of spare AA batteries. Are you inclined to give this flash a shot?

You can find the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on Flash at Adorama or on

The post Review: Flashpoint Zoom Li-on Flash by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Shoot Panoramic Photos

Image stitching is not new, neither is panoramic photography. Since almost the beginning, photographers have been intrigued with providing a wider view of a given scene. The reason is that panoramic images provide context. In a normal frame of a large expansive scene, we only see a small part of the bigger picture. A panoramic image however, gives us a broader view, and a context for that image. The word panorama is derived from two greek words, “pan” which means everything and “horama” which means that which is seen or the view. So, panorama literally means – a view of everything.

Stitched Panorama

A six image pano of Howe Sound, Squamish BC

Early on, photographers would make panoramics manually, by simply panning across a scene and taking sucessive images. Once the images were printed, they would manually stitch them by overlaying one image on top of the other, or even cutting them into place. This was a new way of viewing and capturing scenes. I saw my first panoramic image as a young boy. It was a huge scene of photographs that had been stuck together and overlaid. It was in a museum in the city where I grew up. I was intrigued, it gave me a view of the city I was living in, that I had never seen before. It gave me a whole new perspective on the place that I called home. I wasted many rolls of film as a youngster trying to do the same shots, but never managed to get it right.

One solution to this challenge was the panoramic camera. These cameras revolutionized panoramic photography. They were able to capture a panoramic scene of 180 degrees in a single shot. No more cutting and sticking photographs together. These rotating cameras captured great images of scenes and did it with ease. There were also wide-angle panoramic cameras that took in much more of a scene in a single image and again, changed the way we viewed images and scenes. These cameras changed the views, and contexts of many famous places. In their day, they were the pinnacle of technology.

Stitched Panorama

Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

Once again, the wheel of progress turned and all of this changed when digital panoramics became possible. The photographer only had to pan across the scene and take successive images, as in the past, but now the stitching process in the computer gave a seamless result. The photographer simply dropped these images into a photo stitching tool and voila, an amazing panoramic image magically appeared. Well, that was the idea anyway, in practical terms it was not so easy.

1. How to shoot panoramic photos

Autopano giga is a standalone software tool that stitches your images together. There are a few guidelines to follow when you do a photostitch. By following these guidelines, you will be almost guaranteed that your image will stitch properly the first time.

A. Shoot in Manual mode

Expose for your scene manually and don’t change the exposure between shots. You may have to do a light meter reading for the brightest and darkest parts of your scene. Adjust your settings to make sure that you have good exposure throughout the images and then start shooting.

B. Overlap your shots by at least 30%

Overlap each image by at least 30% if you are shooting in landscape orientation and up to 50% if shooting in portrait. By overlapping you will have duplicates of parts of your scene, this will allow the software to stitch the images together better and adjust for the perspective distortion too.

Stitched Panorama

Five images stitched, Jack Poole Plaza, Vancouver

C. Use a tripod

You can shoot handheld, but using a tripod will ensure that the images will be shot along the same horizontal plane. This can also help with the stitching process too.

D. Keep your aperture between f/8 and f/11

You will want to keep everything in focus, so be sure that your aperture is set to at least f/8. At f/2.8 your focal point may change and this could cause some parts of your image to be out of focus. It may also be a good idea to set your aperture to f/8, focus your camera, then switch to manual focus. That way your camera won’t be focusing on a different part of the scene in each image. At f/8 or f/11 the whole scene should be in focus.

Stitched Panorama

Six image Pano, Victoria Harbour on a snowy, windy day

Now the magic part, digitally stitching the images together. You can do this using Autopano Giga or Photoshop, my preference is Autopano Giga. To learn more about how to do this, take a look at these articles I wrote on image stitching: Walk Through and Review of Autopano Giga – Image Stitching Software and Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images.

Lets make this fun, upload some of your images that you have stitched, then tell us what software you used. Enjoy, happy shooting and stitching.

The post How to Shoot Panoramic Photos by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The Advantages of Renting Photographic Gear Before you Buy

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

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

Kenichi Nobusue

By kenichi nobusue

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

Benefits of renting photo gear

There are several advantages to renting photographic equipment.

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

    Jon Fingas

    By Jon Fingas

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

Renting – online versus local stores

Richard Fisher

By Richard Fisher

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

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

Benefits of borrowing photo gear

Giyu (Velvia)

By Giyu (Velvia)

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.51.13 AM

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

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

Simple Tips to Improve your Travel Photography – Include People in Your Images


With photography being more and more accessible, it has never been more imperative to take unique photos. After all, picture editors have thousands of images of pretty much every location to choose from, so as photographers we need to give them something different to stand out from the crowd. Including people in your travel photos can really add a uniqueness that would make them stand out.

Here are some simple tips on how you could include people in your travel photography:

For sense of scale

Including people in your photos is a great way to give the viewer a sense of scale and prospective. Our brains are much better at processing scale in photos when we can compare something we are familiar with. So next time you are on top of a mountain, next to a big tree, or in a vast wilderness, try to include a person in the image to give the viewer a sense of scale.


I took a few photos of this beach without anyone on it, but by far the most impressive is this shot that highlights the size.

Tell a story

Sometimes the difference between a good photo and a great photo is simply to include people. This can give context to what might be a generic scene, and help portray a story about that location. A cyclist on a path tells much more of an intriguing story than just an empty path.


Including people in your photos can help tell a story. This photo sold within a few days of going online.

Adding a point of interest

Simply adding a person, or group of people, to a scene can transform what would be a dull composition into something that instantly draws the viewer in. This is especially great in scenes where you have similar colours (e.g. water or snow) or even patterns like fields and sand. The person will act as an anchor, draw the viewer’s eyes and ensure that your image has a point interest.


This woman adds a point of interest to the scene that might otherwise look boring.

Creating a mood

Is the place you are photographing buzzing with activity? Or is it a place of tranquility in a big city? Including a person or people in your shots can really create a sense of mood and emotion in the final photo that might not exist without it. Try to think about the scene and what it could possibly be showing if you included a person in it.


The people in this shot help portray the serenity and calmness of the scene.

Be creative

If you are lucky enough to be traveling with a companion, think about using them as a model to help make your images more creative. But rather than just snapping away, try to think about the scene and what you are hoping to achieve. Sometimes you can push the boundaries even further and capture unique photos that you wouldn’t be able to get without a willing model.


By turning my view slightly from inside the hot air balloon I was able to capture the people which not only gave the photo a sense of scale but helps to give it more context.

So next time you are about to take that picture of that beautiful landscape, or famous landmark, just pause and think if including a person will improve your composition.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, thoughts and tips below.

The post Simple Tips to Improve your Travel Photography – Include People in Your Images by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

10 Quick Photography Business Tips to Kickstart 2015

It’s that time of the year – everywhere you turn, people are talking about new year resolutions, goals and targets. Be it health related, relationship related or even business related. If you have a professional photography business or even if you are an serious enthusiast who has thought about becoming a professional photographer, here are some business tips to help kickstart 2015.

Memorable Jaunts Writing Business Goals Article for 2015

A new year is the perfect time to set up new goals for your business.

#1 Legitimize your business

This can mean different things in different parts of the world. But the end result is almost always the same. Take whatever steps needed to ensure you are following the law in setting up your business the right way legally. In most countries, that means registering your business name, getting a tax ID number, and filing the appropriate paperwork with the local government. When you are legitimate, clients will appreciate and respect you even more.

General Photography Business Tips From Memorable Jaunts for DPS

Becoming a legit photography business goes beyond business cards, gear and website.

#2 Create tangible, measurable and achievable goals

I cannot stress enough the importance of creating professional goals. They form the anchor for your business and help you navigate the waters when things are going great, and when the waters turn rough. When you have a clear vision of where you want to go, nothing can stand in your way. When you are having a bad photography day where everything seems to be going wrong, revisit your goals and they will help you correct your course.

Writing Goals for Your Photography Business

Glitter glue and Shinny Stars are a must for any goal writing exercise – puts you in a good mood!

#3 Invest in education

The photography industry, like most industries, is constantly changing and evolving. As professionals we often forget to take the time to update our own skills and knowledge. Luckily there are many different avenues to get an update on what is the latest and greatest in the industry. There is no lack of online classes, articles, or even YouTube videos. Or if you are like me, sign up for a workshop or two – it is a great way to not only polish your skills, but also meet other photographers and make a connection or two.

Memorable Jaunts Photography Education

#4 Showcase your brand

I really believe in the adage that there is only ‘One’ you. What makes your brand unique is you and your personality. There are millions of photographers out there, but there is only one you!  Differentiate yourself by showcasing your unique personality in your brand. You can do that in many different ways in your business – through videos, your interactions with your clients, the content on your website, and your images. My love for nature and the outdoors is very apparent in my images and my website. Travel is my inspiration and has its own page on my website. I love clean and fresh images and my editing style is minimalist – that is who I am, and my clients appreciate that and have come to expect it.

#5 Streamline your workflow

This was a great eye opener for me. Recently I sat down and documented my workflow from start (initial client inquiry) to finish (delivering products and getting paid). There was such an imbalance of time spent across various activities. Documenting the process not only helped me understand where I was wasting precious time, but also where I was spending too little time. I was able to automate some processes and streamline my workflow.

Another personal tip – I turn off the internet and shut off my phone when I am editing a family session or a wedding. This really helps me focus and manage my workflow.

Documenting your photography business workflow process

#6 Differentiate yourself from the crowd

Follow other photographers and gain inspiration from their work. But don’t imitate them – imitation stifles personal growth. Let your individuality shine through your own work. Not only will this help you stand out from the rest of the crowd, but it will also help you find your own voice and give you the confidence to take your art to the next level.

Memorable Jaunts General Photography Business Tips for DPS

My favorite motivational quote sits on my desk reminding me everyday why I do what I do.

#7 Spruce up your blog

We all know that having a blog is like having a voice on the internet. A blog helps clients interact with you. Make a conscious decision to update your blog regularly. Most people believe that updating your blog three times a week is really beneficial for SEO. If that is something that you can commit to, more power to you. Keep content fresh and exciting – don’t just blog about your sessions and post a bunch of images about the session. I categorize my blogposts as ‘Weddings’, ‘Portraits’, ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Personal’. Use your blog to showcase other aspects of your business – products you provide, gear that you love and why, or even who are you as a person – the face behind the camera.

#8 Maintain your gear

Check your equipment. This includes your primary camera, backup camera, and flash. Get cameras and lenses cleaned and serviced so that they are in top working order when you need them. I use Canon Professional Services Membership, which is a great service that is quick and efficient. Don’t forget the accessories – check reflectors for tears, missing tripod attachment plates, old batteries, and faulty memory cards. Keep everything ready for your photography season.

Memorable Jaunts General Photography Business Tips for DPS

I use a myriad of digital and film cameras – all my gear gets the same care and maintenance.

#9 Update your website with your latest work

I will be the first to admit this is generally one of the things I put on the back burner many times. However this is a key piece of the puzzle to attracting new clients. Showcase your best work on your website, blog, and other social media channels. Let your pictures speak volumes and keep the content fresh. Often times you are so busy photographing and managing your current clients, you forget about the new potential clients out there. Give those clients something new to look at so they keep coming back for more.

#10 Maintain your health and general well being

Perhaps this should be the first tip on the list. This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Managing a photography business is hard and exhausting – both mentally and physically. I love photographing weddings but after every wedding, I feel like I have been run over by a truck! Set aside time to exercise, eat healthy, and schedule ‘retreat time’. Time away from the computer and camera to enjoy the other finer things in life! After all what good is a great photographic career, numerous awards, and accolades if you are not able, mentally or physically, to enjoy the glory.

The post 10 Quick Photography Business Tips to Kickstart 2015 by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Using Graduated Neutral Density filters for Landscape Photography

You can see the effect an ND Grad has on the scene

You can see the effect a graduated neutral density filter has on the scene

One of the biggest challenges in photography is managing the light in your scene. It is for this reason that many landscape photographers love to be out shooting during the golden hours or blue hour when the light is beautiful and the contrast is manageable. Contrast is tough to manage on bright days and in certain scenes, but there are a few ways to work around this. In this article we are going to look at the usefulness of using neutral density gradient filters (aka ND grads). These filters have been around for a long time, most landscape photographers will have a set of them in their camera bag.

Filters or Photoshop?

In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate around whether it is better to use filters or to bracket the images and blend them in Photoshop afterwards or even use HDR to capture all the different tonality and light in a scene. In many cases this is a personal preference, and I switch between the two depending on the scene or the vision I have of the image I want to make.

If I am shooting during golden hour I will most often use an ND grad filter. If I am doing a starscape, I will take two images and blend them, one for the sky and one for the foreground. The reason is this. At golden hour, I can expose for the ambient light and use a filter to keep the detail in the sky. If I want a starscape (not a star trail) I need to push my ISO up really high and if there is something in the foreground of the scene that is a little too bright, it will overexpose. My first shot will be an image that will expose the the scene properly. For my second shot, I will expose the sky to capture a starscape shot. Afterwards, I will blend them in Photoshop, which really works well.

In some cases, there is no substitute for an ND grad. If you want the waves in a seascape scene to become silky smooth or a river to look soft and white, then you will need to use ND grads. This effect cannot be made in Photoshop (not yet anyway). The best part about using ND grads is the surprise you get when you see the image on the screen. You will be amazed at the effect of capturing the blurred movement of different elements in your image.

What is a graduated neutral density filter (ND Grad)?

Essentially it is a rectangular, optically correct piece of resin or glass with a gradient from dark to light. It is called “neutral” because the dark part of the filter should not make any colour differences, or add a colour cast to the scene. This is not always true of cheaper filters, but the well established filter brands (Lee, Singh-Ray) leave very little colour cast on the final image. The reason behind using an ND filter is to hold light back so that the part of the scene that is brightest (usually the sky) does not overexpose. This effect creates a pleasing image. The sky is well exposed and the foreground is correctly exposed as well.

If you were to expose the scene without using an ND grad filter, very often, the foreground would be well exposed while the sky may simply be overexposed or, if you were to expose for the sky, the foreground would be very dark. As I said earlier, you can do blending in Photoshop, but sometimes, you may not capture all the detail in the sky and using a filter to capture the scene may be useful. Also, you will be able to spend more time shooting and less time editing afterwards!

A set of ND grads in varius strengths

A set of ND grads in varius strengths

When should you use an ND grad filter?

Most landscape photographers will use them at sunrise or sunset, during the golden hour. You can also use them during the day to slow the shutter speed to make water smooth and silky. Blurring moving objects such as people, cars, buses or even trees blowing in the wind is also an option. What you will get is a well exposed, daylight scene with some blurred movement. This can look really interesting and dynamic in your image.

The reason you will want to use an ND grad filter is that there can be a substantial difference, light wise, between the sky and your foreground. If you have more than a two stop difference, you will probably need an ND grad filter to correct that and get a good, well balanced exposure. This not a rule, but if you try and average the exposure and you are finding that your foreground looks too dark and your sky is too bright, maybe it is time to use the filter.

An ND Grad was used in this image to expose the sky and clouds correctly

An ND grad was used in this image to expose the sky and clouds correctly

Types of ND grad filters

ND grad filters have a few variables. The first is whether the filter has a hard or soft edge. There is a reason for this and both types are useful. The hard edge filter has a very definite transition between the dark gradient part of the filter and the part that is clear. The soft edge filter gently blends the gradient across the filter, so the line is less obvious. Each one of these filters are used on different scenes. For example, the hard edge filter is really useful if you have a very definite horizon line (i.e. a seascape or a landscape scene where the horizon is pretty flat and straight). The soft edge filter is used for scenes where there is no clear horizon (i.e. a forest or street scene). Learning when to use which type of filter takes some practice, but once you can visualise what the result will look like, it is pretty easy.

Hard Edge and Soft Edge ND Grads

Hard Edge and Soft Edge ND Grads

ND grads come in different strengths

The filters are made in different strengths to compensate for different lighting conditions. Depending on the dynamic range (the difference between highlights and shadows) in your scene you can choose an ND grad filter that will be darker or lighter. Darker filters hold back more light and lighter filters, hold back less light. ND Grads are made in the following strengths 0.3 or one f-stop of light, 0.45 or 1.5 f-stops, 0.6 or two f-stops, 0.75 or 2.5 f-stops, 0.9 or three f-stops. The important calculation to remember is to try and keep your sky and your foreground within one stop of one another. Also, ND grads can be stacked if the light is really bright, so you can make the sky even darker, depending on the effect you want.

How do I use an ND grad filter?

It is easier than you might think. There are some technical details to think of, but once you have used grads a few times, it is really quite simple. Here is a process that works pretty well in most lighting conditions:

  1. Set up your camera on a tripod and take a light meter reading of the foreground. Making sure that your camera is on Manual, point it down and fill the viewfinder with the foreground to take the reading.
  2. Take a light meter reading in the same way as above, of the sky.
  3. Work out the difference between the two exposures and use an ND Grad to get your scene to within one stop of light difference. As an example, if the sky is three stops brighter than the foreground, you can use an ND Grad that blocks two f-stops of light or a 0.6 ND Grad.
  4. Slide the ND grad filter into place in front of the lens and determine the best position for the gradient to be in your image. If it is a hard horizon (i.e. a seascape scene) use a hard edge grad, if it is a forest scene, use a soft edge grad.
  5. Expose for your foreground and make the shot.
  6. Check the result on your LCD screen, zoom in on the image to make sure everything is properly exposed. Make any adjustments and shoot another image if necessary.

That’s it, simple really. Of course, as I said earlier, it takes a fair amount of practice to become adept at using these filters, but the results are worth it.

In this scene, the ND grad allowed the sky to be exposed properly and slowed the shutter speed won enough to blur the water

In this scene, the ND grad allowed the sky to be exposed properly and slowed the shutter speed down enough to blur the water.

Image editing

Once you have captured your well exposed scene, you will want to take it into Lightroom or Photoshop to put the finishing touches to the image. There are many different ways to enhance the image and make it really pop. I am not going to go into all the different adjustments you could make to the image except for one piece of advice. I will generally select the sky and the foreground separately and make a layer for each of them, then make separate adjustments to each. You may want to make the sky even more foreboding if it was a cloudy day, or perhaps brighten up the foreground a little more to show the detail. By doing this you will get the most out of the the light in the scene. Many photographers will convert their ND grad images into black and white because the movement and softness of the water in the scene can look very compelling in monochrome. The choice is yours.

What’s next?

To do this kind of photography, you will need to buy an ND grad or two. Some of the cheaper ND grads are a good place to start, brands like Cokin are good, and they are not especially pricey. The more expensive brands offer top quality, and in some cases the filters are hand made. If you find that you really love the effect these filters give, then you may want to invest in some Lee filters or Singh-Ray. These are top filter brands and the results from these products are amazing.

The most important thing to remember is to invest the time in getting the technique right and knowing how to use the equipment. Photography is all about practice and getting the technique right. Yes, good equipment helps, but the most important thing is practice. Once you have mastered the technique with a cheaper filter, then consider making the investment in the more expensive ones.

A final image after being processed in Photoshop

A final image after being processed in Photoshop

The post Using Graduated Neutral Density filters for Landscape Photography by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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