The Date & Time On My Camera Don’t Matter

Okay, let me admit it right at the beginning: I never set the clock on my camera. There. I said it. Daylight Saving Time Defused Germany has just switched to daylight saving time and like Groundhog Day, there is yet again a flurry of Tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts and YouTube videos reminding you to … Continue reading The Date & Time On My Camera Don’t Matter

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Top 10 Mistakes that Cause Blurry Photos

Cedar Key

If your photos are not sharp, you are not alone! The most common question I get asked by beginning photographers is “how do you get your images so sharp?”

Blurry photos is very common issue with a whole plethora of possible culprits, making it very difficult to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. But if you go through this list of the top 10 mistakes that cause blurry photos, you will probably find the answer that works for you.

1. Your shutter speed is too slow

This is the #1 culprit of blurry photos. You might think you can hold perfectly still for half a second, but I assure you there are very few people in the world who can. When hand-holding your camera, remember this rule of thumb to avoid blur caused by camera shake – your shutter speed should be the reciprocal of your lens’ focal length – that is, if you’re using a 60mm lens, your exposure should be 1/60th of a second or faster. With a 200mm lens, use at least 1/200th of a second, and so on. Camera shake is magnified the longer your telephoto length, so wider angle lenses will suffer its effects much less.

Using a 400mm lens, I selected a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second to reduce the possibility of camera shake.

Using a 400mm lens, I selected a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second to reduce the possibility of camera shake.

Some lenses and cameras have image stabilization technology built into them – particularly with longer focal lengths. Image stabilization usually allows you to slow your minimum shutter speed by around three stops, meaning that a 60mm lens can now handle shutter speeds as low as 1/8th of a second without camera shake.

What is YOUR minimum shutter speed?

In addition to this rule of thumb, it’s important to know your own personal minimum shutter speed. We all shake a little, some more than others, so it’s good to know at what point camera shake becomes an issue for you. Try an exercise to find out: put your camera in shutter priority mode and make the same photo at 1/500th of a second and keep going slower and slower. Back at your computer, look at your images and see when you start to notice the blur. Personally, I don’t usually go below 1/125th of a second if I’m hand-holding my camera.

2. Not using a tripod

Sunset Arches

If you’re experiencing camera shake and you can’t use a faster shutter speed (due to low light conditions) or you don’t want to use a fast shutter speed (because you’re purposefully trying to blur something in the frame) then you need to steady your camera another way such as using a tripod or monopod.

When you use a tripod, image stabilization is not necessary and may even be counter productive, so it’s a good idea to get in the habit of turning it off when you put your camera on a tripod and turning it back on when you take it off.

3. Bad camera holding technique

For the best stability, practice the official photographer position: stand with your feet slightly apart, one staggered forward, and firmly planted to stabilize your body right-to-left and back-to-front. Support the camera with your left hand by holding the lens from underneath, and use your right hand to grab the grip and gently press the shutter button. Tuck your elbows tight to your chest and use the viewfinder rather than the live view screen, as holding the camera to your face will also help hold it steady. Some photographers even go so far as to listen to their breathing and heartbeat, taking care to fire the shot in between breaths and beats for maximum stability.

Proper technique when hand-holding your camera.

Proper technique when hand-holding your camera.

4. Your aperture is too wide

The size of the aperture also has a direct effect on the sharpness of your photo in that it determines depth of field, which is how much of the image is in focus from front to back.

When a lens finds focus, it locks in on a specific distance known as the plane of focus. If your focus is at, say, 15 feet, everything 15 feet away from the camera will have maximum sharpness, and anything in front of or behind it will start to fall into blur. The amount of this effect depends on the aperture.

If you use a wide aperture, like f/2.8, the depth of field is very shallow. This effect is emphasized with longer focal length lenses. So if you are using a telephoto lens and the aperture is f/2.8, there may be only a razor thin sliver of the image that is in sharp focus. If you use a small aperture, like f/11 or f/18, the depth of field is larger so more of the image will be sharp.

Choosing the right aperture depends on the type of image you want to create. But if you are trying to get everything in the frame as sharp as possible, try using a small aperture (a larger f-number such as f/11 or f/22). However, by using a small aperture you will need to use a slower shutter speed to compensate for the loss of light. See problem #1.

5. Not using autofocus

How good is your eyesight? Not great? Wearing glasses? You should probably be using autofocus. These days cameras are sophisticated – let them do what they are good at. Another thing to keep in mind is that your viewfinder should have a diopter on it. It’s a little wheel next to your viewfinder that allows you to adjust how clearly things appear when you look through it. It is particularly useful for people who should be wearing glasses but are not.

Black Vulture in Flight

6. Not focusing in the correct place

Even if you have a sharp, clear prime lens on a bright day, using a small aperture and a fast shutter speed with a low ISO, it doesn’t count for much unless you can get the camera to focus on the right spot. This is even more crucial when using a wide aperture, which can create a razor thin depth of field. A slight miscalculation in the focus can throw the subject completely out of the focal plane, or give you a portrait with a perfectly sharp earlobe and blurry eyes.

Often photographers leave their cameras set on auto-area AF mode, which tells the camera to use its best judgment to decide what part of the picture should be in focus. Most of the time modern cameras are pretty good at this, particularly if the subject is prominent in the frame. However, with more complex compositions the camera can get confused and try to focus on the wrong thing. To specify the focal point yourself, switch to single-point AF area mode.

f-spotWhen you look through your viewfinder, you should see an array of little dots or squares laid over the display. These are your focus points, and they show you where in the frame the camera is capable of finding focus. In single-point AF area mode, you can use the camera’s direction pad to select one of these dots, and the camera will always focus on that point and that point alone.

To tell the camera to focus, you would normally depress the shutter button halfway before pressing it the rest of the way to take the shot. This works pretty well, but can be sensitive – if you press too lightly, it may come unpressed and try to re-focus after you’ve already found your spot. If you press too hard, you might make the exposure before the focus is ready. If you take multiple pictures in succession, it will try to focus again before each shot. For these reasons, some photographers swear by the back focus button instead.

This is a button on the back of your camera, probably near your thumb. It might be labeled “AF-On” or simply “Fn”, and it might be set up by default or you might have to activate it in your camera’s menu settings, but it can be assigned to take over the autofocus function. When you press it, the camera focuses and won’t focus again until you press the button again. This way, you can re-compose and take shot after shot, and the camera won’t lose your focus every time you hit the shutter button.

7. Using the incorrect focus mode

There are three main autofocus modes that every camera should have. The first is single-shot focus, usually called AF-S or One-shot AF; it is meant to be used with still subjects. The second, continuous autofocus (AF-C or AI Servo) is specially designed to track movement through the frame, so is best to use when your subject is in motion. The third is an automatic mode, AF-A or AI Focus AF, and likely the default setting on your camera. It reads the scene and determines which of the first two modes it should use.

Cactus Flower

8. Not using manual focus

While I’m a big advocate of autofocus, there is one particular time when manual focus comes in very handy. When your camera is on a tripod and you are using a wide aperture to achieve a very shallow depth of field, and you want to make sure the most important thing in your frame is sharp, switch to manual focus and then use the LCD zoom function to magnify the display by 5x or 10x allowing you to make tiny adjustments to the focus to get it just right.

9. Junk on or in front of your lens

If you have a big smear on your lens, that is going to affect the clarity of your image. By the same token, if you put a cheap plastic filter in front of your lens, that is going to degrade image quality as well. If you always use a UV filter, you might want to try taking a few shots without it to see if the quality of your UV filter is negatively affecting your images.

Using an aperture of f/20, everything is sharp from foreground to background.

Using an aperture of f/20, everything is sharp from foreground to background.

10. Poor lens quality

This item is last on the list for good reason; it is the most common thing for beginners to blame their blurry images on, but it is rarely the real reason. Still, lens quality does make a difference.

Lens quality is determined by the materials and construction inside the lens itself, which is usually made up of several pieces of glass precisely aligned in order to focus, zoom, and correct for optical aberrations.

Some lenses are simply sharper than others or are better in different ways. Some lenses may be sharp in the center, but get blurry around the corners and edges of the image. Some are clear at certain apertures but slightly fuzzy at others. Some lenses cause colour fringing around points of contrast. Every lens has a unique character that may or may not be useful to the type of work you’re doing. It’s also worth noting that each lens has a “sweet spot” – a certain aperture at which it performs its best. This is usually in the middle of its aperture range, around f/8 or f/11.

For the sharpest image quality, fixed focal length lenses usually take the cake. It’s not always convenient to carry around two or three lenses rather than a single all-purpose zoom, but their simple construction makes even the cheapest prime lens crystal clear.

The post Top 10 Mistakes that Cause Blurry Photos by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Bird Photography Tips for Beginners

The colour and texture of birds’ plumage makes them fascinating subjects for photography, made all the more exciting by their fleeting and elusive nature. With a lot of patience and practice, and the help of these tips, you’ll soon be on your way to making memorable photographs of our feathered friends.

Roseate Spoonbills in Flight by Anne McKinnell

Equipment

To capture the best bird photography, the most important thing you’ll need is a lens with a very long focal length. How long, exactly? Generally, the longer the better for maximum magnification. But keep in mind that lenses get remarkably heavy – if you’re hiking up a mountain, it might not be practical to carry an extreme telephoto lens, which can weigh in at over ten pounds.

A 70-300mm zoom lens is one of my favourites because it is very versatile and some of them are fairly lightweight. But you’ll get a sharper image with a fixed focal length lens. I recommend trying out a 300mm or 400mm prime lens.

The extra weight of a long lens will increase the likelihood of hand shake blur, which will then be magnified by the distance between you and your subject. If you’re working with a heavy lens, a tripod or monopod will be a great benefit for taking the weight of the lens.

Great Blue Heron by Anne McKinnell

If you want the increased flexibility you’ll get by not using a tripod or monopod, be sure to use a very fast shutter speed to compensate for the hand shake blur.

Camera Settings

Exposure

When photographing birds, using shutter priority mode and a fast shutter speed will ensure you are ready for any action that might happen, even if the bird is standing still at the moment. You never know when it will take flight and you want to be ready when that happens.

Using a wide aperture like f/2.8 or f/4 will give you a shallow depth of field, which helps to isolate the bird from its background and direct attention to its shape and colour.

When you want to have total control over the shutter speed and aperture, use manual mode and set the ISO to auto. That way, the camera will decide which ISO is the best to balance the exposure.

If you have a colourful sky, one option to try is to expose for the sky and allow the bird or birds to become silhouettes.

Seagull In Flight at Sunset by Anne McKinnell

Focus

How you focus on your subjects will depend on which approach you’re taking, as well as what equipment you have. Some lenses and some camera bodies auto focus faster, and much more accurately than others, so some experimentation is needed to get a sense of how quickly your auto focus motor moves.

Birds are moving subjects, so if you do use auto focus, change it to the “continuous focus” mode (usually called AF-C or AI Servo) which tracks motion. However, you might find that you get better results by learning to focus manually.

There should be an AF/MF switch on your camera and/or lens. If you switch it to MF (manual focus), you can turn the focus ring on your lens to adjust it by hand. This is fairly easy when your subject is still, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to do this quickly enough to lock in on a moving subject.

Juvenile Bald Eagle flying by Anne McKinnell

One method is to set up a perch (such as a bird feeder), with your camera on a tripod, and pre-frame and pre-focus your shot where the bird will be. When it lands, you just have to hit the shutter. There will be no focusing delay, so you can get the exact moment you have been waiting for.

Getting the Shot

Timing and Location

Birds are very active in the spring – the ground softens, plants and seeds starting coming out, and bugs are everywhere. They finally get the feast they’ve been struggling to find all winter. Similarly, in autumn they are avidly gathering food before the frost sets in. Both of these seasons are the best for finding birds near the ground – and whatever the time of year, early mornings and sunny days will draw the most action.

American White Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California, by Anne McKinnell

You might get lucky walking along a forest path, making photos of birds as you see them, but because birds see us as predators they will usually flee at the sound of our footsteps.

Instead, you may have better luck by finding a location birds enjoy, hiding yourself, and waiting. This is where the patience comes in to play! The better you hide yourself, the safer they will feel coming near you. Tuck yourself in next to a tree or bush, or hide behind a blind to camouflage yourself, and try to stay as still and quiet as possible.

One of the best places to start photographing birds might be your own backyard. Keep your camera handy with the right lens and camera settings for bird photography so that when one lands in your yard, you’re ready.

Female Sooty Grouse by Anne McKinnell

You can also seek them out in their natural habitats such as local forests, waterways, and beaches. You can find exotic and interesting species by visiting zoos, bird sanctuaries, and humane societies, or you can take a trip to a nearby national park or nature preserve. Birds that live in areas with more frequent human visitors will likely be less skittish and camera-shy.

Composition

Take care not to neglect your background. It should be clean and simple. Too much clutter will distract attention from the subject itself. Use your perspective and point of view to remove unwanted background objects from the frame, and choose a large aperture to blur them out.

Tips for the Field

  • The better your camouflage, the more likely the birds will come near you. Cover your camera with a green or brown sweater to mask its strange appearance.
  • Wear neutral clothing and avoid bright colours.
  • Make sure to remove or cover all reflective objects on and around you, including your equipment, camera bag, cell phone, and any jewelry you might be wearing.
  • If you do find yourself needing to get closer to a bird, keep a low profile. Don’t approach them directly, but rather move toward them in a zig-zag pattern. Keep very quiet and avoid making quick movements and startling them.
  • Birds often choose favourite perches. Even if it flutters off before you can get your shot, if you wait silently for a few minutes, it may come back.
  • Birds are easily startled, so a beeping camera can frighten them away. Turn off any beeps your camera might make.
    The same goes for flash – turn it off or your bird will be startled by your first shot and quickly leave.

Do you have any other bird photography tips you’d like to add to this list? Please share in the comments below.

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Seven Steps To Reclaim Valuable Disk Space By Cleaning Up Lightroom Orphans

Here's a method to reclaim valuable disk space by deleting orphaned RAW files that Lightroom accumulates over time. Continue reading

The post Seven Steps To Reclaim Valuable Disk Space By Cleaning Up Lightroom Orphans appeared first on Photography Tips from the Top Floor.

Using Balance in Your Landscape Photography Composition

How to use Balance in your landscape photography

If you want to take your landscape photography to the next level, it’s time to start thinking about how you balance your subjects. The most powerful compositional tools that you have at your disposal are your knees, and your feet.

Simply stepping to the side a couple of feet can change your landscape compositions drastically. Take things one step further (weak pun intended) and bend those old knees to get a lower point of view. Now things might start to look more interesting.

The reason why I say this is because horizontal and vertical movement will allow you to achieve the ideal balance of subjects in your landscape images. If you’ve got a camera with one of those flippable LCD screens, you’ll be able to get right down on the ground or way up high on your tripod. Nice.

So what do I mean by ‘balance’?

Composition basics - using balance in your landscape photography

Something Wicked

I’m referring to how you balance subjects in your image on the horizontal and vertical planes. Simply plonking your interesting subject slap bang in the centre of your image might work, but there are times when you might get a better composition by placing it to one side of your image, and counter balancing that with something on the opposing side.

With my image above ‘ Something Wicked’, I wanted the moody storm clouds to be the main subject but it was essential to capture it bearing down on the mesa. By devoting the lower third of the frame to the mesa and the upper two thirds to the menacing clouds above, I balanced the subjects to my liking.

Subjects can’t move but you can

There may be times when you actually use interesting space to counterbalance your main subject, don’t assume that your spaces have to be filled with obvious subjects. I like to invite my viewers to think about what’s in that space, drawing their eye to what at first appears to be nothing, but upon closer inspection reveals something interesting.

Balancing subjects in images that feature reflections is really important. Perhaps you want to give more emphasis to the reflected elements? Movement from left to right, or up and down, can really place those elements exactly where they need to be. Moving one foot to the left might eliminate a pleasing mountain ridge in the distance. Dropping down a few inches might bring it back.

How to balance reflections in landscape photography - Gavin Hardcastle

With my image of Mono Lake above, I found that if I got too low to the ground, I lost some of the mass in the reflected clouds. The ideal vertical position was at an agonizing semi crouch that had my quads screaming. If I’d moved a little more to my right I would have lost the foreground tufa mound that you see in the lower left corner, which adds depth to the image.

I’ve done this so many times that I no longer think about doing it, something just clicks and I know the shot is in the bag. When you’re starting out however, this might require a bit of conscious thought, so here are two tips I always teach to my workshop students.

Do the Squat

After you’ve taken a shot with your camera at normal height on the tripod, squat down for a few seconds and survey the scene from a lower perspective. Make it a habit and I can virtually guarantee* that you’ll see a better shot around 50% of the time.

Do the Cobra

Rather than shuffling left to right, I often like to crack out my Cobra impersonation and move my head from side to side while trying to maintain the same height. By doing this I can see how my foreground subjects move around the subjects in the distance. If you see some bloke with a tripod on a cliff edge who looks like he’s doing some type of shamanic dance, that’s me setting up a shot.

This sounds really obvious, but I notice a lot of photographers don’t bother with these two basic moves. There’s more to composition than your standard tripod setup.

Composition tips for landscape photography

My shot of Los Arcos Park in Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) is a prime example of how ‘doing the Cobra’ helped me to visualize the ideal composition for having El Capitan (the central sea stack) positioned so that it fits just right in that gap. If I’d moved just 12 inches left or right I would have lost that pleasing ‘equidistant’ position. If I’d moved lower (the Squat), that foreground rock would have obscured the footsteps in the sand that lead your eye towards El Capitan.

Go Handheld

Yes, yes, I realize I’m a one man tripod enforcement unit but I’ll often start a shoot without the tripod so that I’ve got the freedom of movement to find the best compositions. Once I’ve discovered that ideal balance of subjects along the vertical and horizontal planes, I’ll grab the tripod and take the shot. This will save you a lot of fiddling around with the tripod, especially if you’re rocking one of those flimsy box store tripods that belong in the recycling bin.

Try it out

Go out and try the ‘Squat and Cobra’, then post your comments here to let me know your results. Being conscious of how you balance your subjects will give you better landscape images, and with practice, will become automatic.

** Guarantee is virtual and only worth the paper on which it is written.

For more articles on composition try these:

The post Using Balance in Your Landscape Photography Composition by Gavin Hardcastle appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR

Try to make your HDR images look as realistic as possible

Try to make your HDR images look as realistic as possible

If you have been photographing for more than a year or two, you will have heard about HDR (which stands for High Dynamic Range). We have probably seen them, the “overcooked”, over processed HDR images that float around the photo websites. For some photographers, the process seems to force them to overdo their images and after a while that seems to be the only result they are trying to achieve. Do a Google search on “bad HDR” and you will see what I mean. The images have halos,  the colours are surreal and look metallic, the contrast is off and in short, the image is really messy.

When I first shot HDR, I fell into this trap too. These results caused many photographers to say that HDR is not a useful technique and is really gimmicky. That perception is partly true. HDR in the hands of someone who cannot use it effectively can result in some weird looking images, however, HDR done properly can produce some incredible results. To see some good examples of HDR done properly, visit the website HDR Spotting and take a look at the editors picks. There are some astounding images there. The colours are amazing, the contrast is perfect and the detail in the shadows and highlights, sublime. That is what HDR should be. It should be the best combination of the highlights and the shadows properly exposed, the image should look as real as it can. So, how do you get this right you might be asking, read on to find out.

What is HDR?

As I said earlier, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Your cameras sensor has the ability to capture light and colour. The extent to which your camera can do this is called the dynamic range. More specifically, if your camera can render lots of details in the shadows and the highlights in the same shot, then it has a high dynamic range. Over the past few years, digital sensors have become so much better at capturing more detail. This is a huge benefit for photographers and of course for HDR photography. This means that we can get more details out of every image and as a result, the HDR images will be that much more detailed.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR image

How do I shoot HDR?

Making an HDR image involves 3 distinct and separate processes. I will go into detail on each one, but at a high level, they are as follows:

  1. Image Capture
  2. HDR Processing
  3. Image editing in Photoshop

Lets start with image capture first. This is the photography part of this process. It’s pretty simple really. Set up for your shot as you normally would. Make sure you have your subject well composed and you are ready to go. The difference between HDR and normal photography, is that with HDR you will take either three to five bracketed images of the same scene. The reason for the number of images is that you will blend these images together in a dedicated HDR product.

My recommendation for HDR software is Photomatix Pro. It is a programme that has been around for many years now and has some really good editing functions. It’s probably the most widely used software when it comes to HDR. Photoshop also has an HDR function, but in my opinion, its not as refined as the Photomatix Pro yet. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Photoshop fan, it is an incredible tool, I am sure that Photoshop will have something within their functions that will be competitive in time, but for now, I still use Photomatix.

Step #1 –  Image capture

These are the steps I follow when I intend to do an HDR shot. They are not rules, nor are they inflexible, they just work for me. You need to find what works for you and gives you the best results, this method has helped me get my best results, so try it out. Tweak it and change it as you need.

  1. Use a tripod – it is a good idea to put your camera on a tripod for HDR, especially if you are shooting in low light. I have done some handheld HDR but only in bright conditions. The tripod will also help you get your composition right.
  2. Put your camera into Manual mode “M”
  3. ISO Settings – it is a good idea to keep your ISO settings at 100 or as low as your camera will go. That way you will avoid introducing unnecessary noise into your images. The process of HDR allows you to capture the dynamic range of light and colour in the scene. Using high ISO settings is great when you are trying to shoot a low light scene and capture it in one shot, but for HDR you will want to keep it as low as possible.
  4. Set your aperture to anywhere between F/8 and F/ 11 and don’t adjust your aperture between shots.
  5. Adjust your shutter speed so that you are exposing the scene perfectly according to your cameras light meter.
  6. Capture one image at this reading
  7. Underexpose by one or two stops (depending on the scene) and capture another image by adjusting your shutter speed.
  8. Do this twice on either side of the perfectly exposed image.

This will result in five images being captured.

Below are the three images I used in making the HDR image you see above. Take a look at how the colours and exposure don’t look good at all.

3 Different exposures for the HDR image above

3 Different exposures for the HDR image above

Some photographers use five shots for their HDR shots, some use seven or up to nine. I have found that three to five shots seem to work best for most scenes. I have only used nice shots on a few occasions, but have not been happy with the results. The colours seem to be “muddy” and unclear once processed. If necessary, shoot seven images and see how that works.

Once you have completed the shoot, download the images to your computer. It is important NOT to edit the images before blending them into an HDR image. Some of the shots might look over exposed or under exposed, thats OK, in fact they must look like that. The software will deal with these issues, so don’t be concerned that the images look bad out of camera, they need to be processed and then the magic begins.

Click on - Load Bracketed Photos

Click “Load Bracketed Photos”

Step #2 – HDR processing

I will be explaining the Photomatix software in this article. I have tried HDR with each new version of Photoshop and I am still happier with the results I get from Photomatix Pro. You can download a trial version of Photomatix from their website. It is fully functional, the only thing is that the trial version puts a watermark on the image. This is OK for trying it out, you will see exactly what the software can do, if you think it is worth it, then you can buy it. Ok, so here is how you take your images into Photomatix Pro

  1. Open Photomatix Pro (or if you’ve set it up as a Lightroom plugin, select your bracketed images, right click and choose “edit in” and Phototix Pro)
  2. Click  ”Load Bracketed Photos” and then click on “Browse” and select the images you have taken (you can also drag and drop them into the box)
  3. Click OK once the images appear in the box
Select the options displayed on the screen above

Select the options displayed on the screen above

Preprocessing options are available.  Make selections on the box as shown in the screenshot above. Then click preprocess and Photomatix Pro will begin to tone map the images into a composite 32-bit image. This process is generally quite quick, between 30 seconds and a minute.  Once complete, click on the Tone Mapping button.

Use the “Remove ghosts” function if you have people or moving objects in your images. If you don’t have this, then you wont need to use this function.

The HDR editing screen

On this screen, you are able to select a variety adjustments that will create an overall change to the image. There are no absolutes here. Each adjustment makes minor or major differences to the image and the combination of the adjustments provides diverse options.

HDR-Screen-600

At the bottom of the screen you will see different “treatments” (or presets) which you can use as a starting point to your image editing process. I would avoid using these as they are generally overdone. Try and use the functions on the left hand side to edit your image.

Below are the details about each function on the left hand side of the screen and what each does. One of the best ways to see what a function does is to slide it all the way over to the left and then to the right and see how it affects your image, but here are the details:

General Settings

  • Strength - affects the degree to which contrast and detail are enhanced in the image. A value of 100 gives the maximum amount of enhancement. To get a more natural effect, move the slider to the left. The default value is 70.
  • Color Saturation – controls the saturation of the RGB color channels. The greater the saturation, the more intense the color. Move the slider right or left to change the setting. A value of zero produces a grayscale image. The value affects each color channel equally. The default value is 46.
  • Luminosity – controls the compression of the tonal range, which has the effect of adjusting the global luminosity level. Move the slider to the right to boost shadow details and brighten the image. Move it to the left to give a more “natural” look to the resulting image. The default value is zero.
  • Detail Contrast – controls the amount of contrast applied to detail in the image. Move the slider to the right to increase the contrast of the details and give a sharper look to the image. Note that increasing the contrast also has a darkening effect. Move the slider to the left to decrease the contrast of details and brighten the image.
  • Lighting Adjustments – affects the overall ‘look’, controlling the extent to which the image looks natural or surreal. When the Lighting Effects Mode box is unchecked, move the slider to the right to make the image look more natural and to the left to make it look more ‘painterly’ or ‘surreal’. Use this carefully as it can have an unpredictable effect on your image.
  • Lighting Effects Mode – the checkbox lets you switch between two modes for the Lighting Adjustments setting,where each mode produces slightly different results. Checking the box tends to produce results with a type of ‘Magic Light’ effect.

More Options

  • Smooth Highlights – reduces the contrast enhancements in the highlights. The value of the slider sets how much of the highlights range is affected. This control is useful for preventing white highlights from turning grey or uniform light blue skies becoming dark blue-grey. It is also useful for reducing halos around objects placed against bright backgrounds. The default value is zero.
  • White Point and Black Point - these sliders control how the minimum and maximum values of the tone mapped image are set. Moving the sliders to the right increases global contrast. Moving them to the left reduces clipping at the extremes. The White Point slider sets the value for the maximum of the tone mapped. The Black Point slider sets the value for the minimum of the tone mapped image.
  • Gamma – adjusts the mid-tone of the tone mapped image, brightening or darkening the image globally. The default value is 1.0.
  • Temperature – adjusts the color temperature of the tone mapped image relative to the temperature of the HDR source image. Move the slider to the right to give a warmer, more yellow-orange colored look. Move the slider to the left for a colder, more bluish look. A value of zero (default) preserves the original color temperature of the HDR source image.

Advanced Options

  • Micro-smoothing – smoothes local detail enhancements. This has the effect of reducing noise in the sky, for instance, and tends to give a “cleaner” look to the resulting image. The default value is 2. Important note: The Loupe may not properly show the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting when the area magnified is uniform. If you want to see the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting at 100% resolution on a uniform area such as the sky, you will have to select an area that contains an object in the scene in addition to the sky.
  • Saturation Highlights – adjusts the color saturation of the highlights relative to the color saturation set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than zero increase the color saturation in the highlights. Values lower than zero decrease it. The default value is zero.
  • Saturation Shadows – adjusts the color saturation of the shadows relative to the color saturation set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than zero increase the color saturation in the shadows. Values lower than zero decrease it. The default value is zero.
  • Shadows Smoothness – reduces the contrast enhancements in the shadows. The value of the slider sets how much of the shadows range is affected. The default value is zero.
  • Shadows Clipping – the value of the slider sets how much of the shadows range is clipped. This control may be useful to cut out noise in the dark area of a photo taken in a low-light situation. The default value is zero.

Once this part of the process is finished, then it is time to take the image into Photoshop. Save the tone mapped image and then re-open it in Photoshop.

Step #3 Image Editing in Photoshop

This is a very basic workflow. It will enhance the lighting and tonality in your images. These techniques are discussed here at high level.

Shadows and Highlights

Photoshop has a function called Shadows and Highlights. Use this tool to bring out detail in the shadows of your image. Use it carefully, if you overdo the treatment on the shadows, there may be some unsightly image degradation or “noise”. This function is not great for adjusting highlights, so use it for the shadows only. This tool is found in Photoshop as follows: IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > SHADOWS AND HIGHLIGHTS. The adjustments of AMOUNT, TONAL WIDTH and RADIUS should all be kept aligned close to one another to ensure that the adjustment looks realistic.

Shadow and Highlights function in Photoshop

Shadow and Highlights function in Photoshop

Levels Function

The levels function in Photoshop is for adjusting the lighting in an image. This means that if your image is a little dark you can push up the exposure slightly and see more details in the image. The levels function shows a representation of a histogram. Move the sliders in to touch the edge of the histogram as a general rule. This will ensure that your image has a good representation of highlights and shadows.

The Levels functioning Photoshop

The Levels functioning Photoshop

Hue and Saturation

Once the exposure and lighting has been adjusted and looks correct, then you may begin adjusting the colour in the image. The tool to use will be the Hue and Saturation tool. The important tip here is not to adjust the master channel but rather to adjust by each channel independently. To do this, click on the top toggle button that says “default”. A drop down menu will appear and each colour channel will be available from there. Slide the Saturation Slider to the left to desaturate (remove colour) or to the right to saturate. That way you have the best control of the colour in your image.

Hue and Saturation Function in Photoshop

Hue and Saturation Function in Photoshop

Dodging and Burning

These functions are localized adjustments. By using a brush tool, you are able to make certain areas of the image darker and other areas of the image lighter. This is useful for adding the finishing touches to your image. There is also the sponge function which is a saturation tool which can saturate colours at a local level.

Sharpening

Almost every image that comes out of a digital camera requires sharpening of some sort. The easiest and quickest tool to use is the Unsharp Mask tool and it works effectively.

Unsharp Mask Tool in Photoshop

Unsharp Mask Tool in Photoshop

The Unsharp Mask has three separate sliders: Amount, Radius and Threshold. As a general rule you can keep the Amount anywhere between 80 and 120%, Radius can be set between 1.0 and 3.0 pixels and Threshold is generally at zero. Adjust the sharpness of the image according to each image requirement and beware of degrading the image by over sharpening. You will easily notice if an image is over sharpened by the appearance of a “halo” around certain edges in the image. The idea is to sharpen the image but not make it overly sharp and lose image quality.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR image

Once you are done, save your image and thats it! Have a go, try different settings in different light, let me know what you think and how your images turn out. If you have any questions, drop them into the comments box below.

Please leave your comments and questions below. If you want more HDR tips, try some of these articles:

The post Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Practical Tips To Build Your Street Photography Confidence

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The noble pursuit of street photography requires a good measure of cunning and bravado. Of course, there is the ever present hurdle of luck and opportunity. Beyond knowing your streets, their patterns and ad hoc events, getting that wonderful shot is a guessing game.

When you are in the right place and you see the converging paths that will result in a great decisive moment, you need to be able to capture the scene. This can be learned and practised. Here are some practical tips to help you build your street photography confidence.

I feel like I’m wearing a sign that says, “Look everyone, a street photographer!”

I know what you mean. When I first started out, doing street photography, I was so focused on seizing photo opportunities I could see people staring back at me. On numerous occasions people I spotted as a potential photo saw me and moved away. Market vendors are deeply suspicious and, even now, I still get glared at.

I quickly realized I was missing shots because I was looking conspicuous and acting a bit weird. That slow purposeful walking and excessive bobble headed looking, then stopping and staring for longer than normal people stop and stare. Very conspicuous.

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What changed?

Tourists. London is a tourism mecca and even on week days, the capital is buzzing with visitors from all corners of the globe. I take quite a lot of photos of tourists but, when I don’t want them in my shot, they can be quite annoying. In fact, tourists annoy everyone as they parade through other peoples’ photos with no remorse. Here’s the real value though. While people are irritated with tourists being in their way, they are also tolerated. Others, particularly locals, don’t shy away from their business. They jostle through the visitor throng, or continue their conversations. Tourists are, for the most part, ignored!

This was a great revelation for me and, as a street photographer, I decided to be just like a tourist.

Don’t look conspicuous

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Dress casually and for walking

Check the weather and wear layers for the best and worst of the predicted forecast. I would steer clear of photographer jackets and other ‘practical’ photographer clothing. Think tourist: jeans, sweaters, hoodies, etc. I’ve tried a street photo walk in a three piece suit after a morning meeting. Don’t wear a suit either!

Personally, I recommend a small camera

Before you all jump to berate me, this is my recommendation for being inconspicuous as a street photographer. I used to walk the streets with a 1D Mark IIn and a 50mm f/1.2L lens. An extraordinarily capable camera with a decent fast lens. More often than not, the people I paused to photograph would see this camera and curtly move aside because the professional wants to take a photo and we’re in the way. And the shutter! On a train, I would stealthily raise this camera and fire off a shot. The looks I would get from people being loudly ‘papped’!

Use the neck strap on your camera

Raising a camera from your side to your face could be enough to be seen. With your camera around your neck, raising it to your eye is much less apparent. Of course, you can point your body and shoot ‘from the hip’ without moving the camera.

Carry a small bag or backpack

I take a spare battery, SD card, lens cleaner pen, business cards and a waterproof bag. That’s all, for the entire day’s shooting.

You don’t need a tripod.

Now step forth and be bold

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So now you look pretty much like a stereotypical tourist with a camera, how do you act like one?!

Tourists look around a lot and walk slowly, but casually, taking in the scenery. As an exercise, try putting your camera in its bag and just walk around taking in the location. Can you still carry off that casual saunter with your camera in your hand or around your neck?

The second tip, and equally as important as the first, is to look through people rather than at them. Tourists look at the scenery and other people are simply obscuring their view. People will quickly realise they are not the focus of your attention if you are looking past them to what is behind them. It will take a while, but you’ll become practised with seeing a potential photo whilst still looking nonchalant.

Personally, I shoot with a rangefinder. Most of my shots are from around 15 feet away, so I leave my lens focused at that distance for quick response captures, like when someone walks toward you.

Otherwise I will focus for distance and then frame the shot. The trick here is to focus on another object which is the same distance as your subject. Then turn to your subject and shoot. You have minimized the time you are gazing at them by focusing elsewhere.

Street Portraits

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Occasionally I will see someone who would make a great street portrait. I carry business cards around and this supports my brand as a street photographer. It’s this that gives me that needed boost to actually approach someone.

Be bold and polite and, this is imperative, know how you want them to pose. You have one chance to get them in position, after all, they’re doing you a favour.

As I approach the person I might say, “Hi, I really like your outfit/tattoo/hair/etc and I wondered if I can take your portrait?”

Take one shot. Check composition on your LCD. Take one more if necessary.

This is where I thank them and hand over a business card. I explain I’m a street photographer and point out my web site so they can go find their picture. This post photo exchange makes me feel less of an intruder and, hopefully, they are not fazed by the two minute distraction either.

Final thoughts

Hopefully these small tips will help you take street pictures while getting over the nervousness of simply trying to take photos. Through practice and experience, you will learn how people react and what you can get away with.

I don’t like to invade the intimate privacy of people or chase them down or ask them to walk back along the route I liked, so I do have a line I won’t cross, but I don’t miss a shot through lack of confidence.

Good luck!

The post Practical Tips To Build Your Street Photography Confidence by Michael Walker-Toye appeared first on Digital Photography School.

10 Most Common Mistakes in Landscape Photography – and How to Overcome Them

If you’re serious about landscape photography, it won’t take you very long to realize the fundamental problem of the craft: not every landscape that catches your eye will easily translate into a compelling photograph.

When we experience a place, the smells, sounds, the warmth or chill in the air, and our own emotions combine to give us an overall impression. Our job as photographers is translate that overall impression into a photograph.

Every landscape photo needs to be carefully crafted with the final image in mind.

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park, California, by Anne McKinnell

There are many problems we run into along the way that can prevent our overall impression of a scene from shining through in the final image. The following are the most common traps to expect, and how you can avoid them.

1. Crooked Horizons

Most landscape photos will feature the horizon – a dead giveaway to the picture’s overall perspective. That means that if the line dividing land and sky is not perfectly straight across, the whole picture looks totally out of whack. There are a few ways to make sure your horizon squares up right:

  • Grid Overlay
    On most DSLRs (and some compact cameras), you can overlay a grid on either your viewfinder, your live view screen, or both. Align your horizon with one of these lines.
  • Electronic Horizon
    Newer, higher-end cameras often have a built-in electronic level. When turned on, it will gauge the camera’s position in space and tell you when it is evenly aligned.
  • Bubble Levels
    Some cameras have a bubble level attached and some tripods will have one as well. If you don’t have one built into your gear, you can purchase one that affixes onto the camera’s hot shoe. Just like a spirit level in construction, this will help you straighten your camera out.
  • Post-Processing
    If all else fails, every major photo editing software will feature a “straighten” tool which allows you to draw a line tracing the horizon. Using this, the program will automatically crop the image on an angle to make sure that the line is perfectly horizontal.

2. Eye-level Perspective

Most people photograph from an eye-level standing position producing photos that look as you would expect to see things if you were there. For a more interesting composition, try climbing on top of something, or getting close to the ground to achieve a different point of view.

3. Empty Skies

Without clouds, birds, or some other interesting feature, empty skies can turn out pretty flat and boring in a photo. Try to compose your picture with something interesting in the sky. If there is nothing interesting to show, raise your horizon line to the top third of the image to minimize how much space the sky occupies in the frame.

Pine Glades Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida, by Anne McKinnell

4. Hand Shake Blur

A blurry photograph loses almost all of its impact. Either use a tripod or use a fast shutter speed combined with image stabilization.

When it comes to landscapes, securing your camera onto a sturdy tripod will always yield better results. Even if you’re using short exposures, a tripod will allow you to compose your shot more precisely and lock its position into place while you shoot.

5. No Focal Point

Skies and mountains are lovely, but a picture can’t be all background. Your photo needs a focal point to hold the viewer’s interest. This can be anything – an interesting tree, a boat, a pier, a log – but no landscape photo is complete without a main subject.

Fisherman at Fort DeSoto, Florida, by Anne McKinnell

6. Cluttered Backgrounds

The opposite also applies – be careful not to focus too much on the subject and forget about how the background comes together. Pay attention to what is behind your main subject. If the background elements don’t add to the composition remove them if possible. Be careful that you have separation between each element, and don’t let them visually blend together (ie. two or more trees merging into a greenish blob). This is especially problematic when the objects are backlit or silhouetted.

7. Poor Lighting

When you rely on the sun to light your shots, you’ll find that some days the weather just doesn’t cooperate. Grey, cloudy days will give you muted, washed-out colours and not much in the way of shadows or contrast. Extremely sunny days might do just the opposite. Carefully consider the lighting conditions on your scene before you decide how to approach it.

  • If the sun is out, position it to one side of the camera to take advantage of the shadows and textures created by sidelight.
  • If the sun is in front of the lens, your scene will be backlit and you can make some dramatic silhouettes.
  • If the sun is behind you photographing the scene will be more difficult because the direct light will make the scene appear flat. Consider changing direction.
  • If there is no sun and the sky is white, use the soft lighting conditions to make close-ups.

Rainbow Rock, Valley of Fire, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

8. Underexposing

If the sky is overly bright (say, in the middle of the day), it can confuse the camera’s light meter, which will try to compensate by underexposing the rest of the image, resulting in a dark foreground. If this happens, use the exposure compensation to turn up the brightness, but not so much that the sky becomes blown out (turns white).

If you’re having this problem, try re-composing your image to include a darker area of the sky. This type of scene is a good time to use a graduated neutral density filter. These filters are dark on the top and clear on the bottom. You place it in front of your lens to darken the top half of the image and even out the exposure.

9. Hot Spots and Blown Out Highlights

It’s not just the sky that can blow out, though – a hot sun can cause glare on many surfaces. Watch your scene for bright spots caused by reflections or excess sunlight. Most cameras have a “highlight warning” viewing mode on the image preview which will show any pixels that have turned pure white. If you have blown out highlights, use the exposure compensation to reduce the exposure slightly until they are gone.

10. Lack of Dimension

Even though a photo is a two-dimensional image, a strong landscape composition gives the illusion of depth. When you’re setting up your shot, make sure to populate the frame in the foreground, mid-ground, and background.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana, by Anne McKinnell

When you are learning photography it can be hard to critique your own work and understand how to improve. After your next photo shoot, examine your images for these problems so you can avoid them next time. Looking at each of your images with a critical eye and considering how they could be improved will quickly improve your artistic eye and make you a better photographer.

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Balancing Color for Flash and Ambient Light using Gels

Flash with 1 CTO plus 1/8 CTOIn the last article Balancing Flash and Ambient Light Using an Incident Light Meter I did not mention color temperature or any correction for the colorcast in the background. There were however requests for it in the comments section, so in this article we will cover three ways of balancing color for flash and ambient light (tungsten yellow/orange which is approximately 3200°K, flash which has a color temperature close to daylight or 5500°K).

Color Temperature Explained

Before you go into the process of correcting color imbalance you will need to understand color temperature. A basic description of color temperature is based on the color characteristics of visible light from warm (yellows) to cool (blues) and the ability to measure this in degrees Kelvin (°K). Degrees Kelvin is a numerical value assigned to the color emitted by a light source. Visualize a lamp filament that is heated using an electric current. It starts off as black and starts getting hot. At a particular point it will become hot enough to start glowing, typically a dark red. As it gets hotter, it will change from dark red to orange to yellow to practically white. It is important to understand that technically, red light has a lower color temperature but is described as warm, while blue light is a higher color temperature but is described as cool. So remember that the terms warm and cool describe color, not temperature. This is a fairly extensive topic but for a quick explanation this should help.

Read more on White Balance and color temperature:

Since warm and cool are colors, we can change their characteristics by modifying color. In lighting we achieve this modification by using various colored gels of varying densities. Lets examine the first and simplest method.

Method One – Using Color Gels on the Flash

Here are two images of the same scene, one using Auto White Balance (AWB) and the next using Daylight White Balance (WB). The daylight WB is 5200°K while the AWB applied 3200°K. Clearly the Daylight WB is too yellow.

Auto WB

Image captured with camera set to Auto White Balance (AWB)

Same scene as above captured with the camera set to Daylight White Balance

Same scene as above captured with the camera set to Daylight White Balance

The Problem

The background room is lit by tungsten bulbs (typically around 3200°K). We will use a flash to light the main subject (approximately 5500°K).  This is a considerable difference that you will need to resolve. So if you can make both the light sources match in color temperature, you can then set the WB on your camera to that, and get a perfectly balanced image.

The Solution

To achieve this balance, you will use a color correction gel on your flash, to match the orange color of the tungsten bulbs. Theoretically both sources will now produce the same color. So if you set your camera’s WB to “tungsten” you will capture the background without any colorcast and it will look neutral. What about your primary subject? Since the flash output has been color modified to “tungsten”, the entire scene will look natural and devoid of any colorcast as long as the lights are close to the color temperature of tungsten.

Color correction is achieved using gels. These gels are manufactured by companies like Roscoe, Lee and ExpoImaging. Gels come in all sizes from large rolls to precut sheets. My preferences are the Rogue Gels made by ExpoImaging as they are the perfect size for flash heads and are attached using an elastic band. Each gel is marked for its strength and light loss. As a starter, for under $10 you can buy sample packs from most lighting supply stores.

Gels that create yellow/orange light are known as CTO gels (Color Temperature Orange). These gels are available in various strengths as follows:

  • 1/8 CTO Converts 5500°K to 4900°K
  • 1/4 CTO Converts 5500°K to 4500°K
  • 1/2 CTO Converts 5500°K to 3800°K
  • 3/4 CTO Converts 5500°K to 3200°K
  • Full CTO Converts 5500°K to 2900°K

I recommend you start with a full CTO and adjust by adding or reducing the color temperature correction by either combining gels or using gels of lesser strength. Since these gels add color they also reduce the amount of light transmitted. Based upon the gel that you are using, you will need to compensate for the loss of light. The typical light loss is mentioned in “f” stops with each gel strength. This information is typically imprinted on the gel or provided on a backing sheet of paper. You should use this information as an initial guideline for compensating your exposure.

This method will work reasonably well. However, it is not the most accurate, as it relies purely on a visual color correction. See the result in the following image:

The camera White Balance is set to Tungsten and the flash is gelled using a Full CTO

The camera White Balance is set to Tungsten and the flash is gelled using a Full CTO

Notice that the color of the subject is fairly accurate but the background is still a bit yellow/orange. The color temperature of the lights in the background may not be true 3200°K.

Method Two – Gels on the Ambient Light Source

In the second method, you will use gels over the offending lights if at all feasible. In this example consider it not feasible. However, you can use additional flash heads to overcome the problem of the tungsten colorcast. You do this by applying an opposing color gel to one or more flash light sources to fill the background. Keep in mind that based upon the size or the area and the intensity of the ambient light in the background, this too may not always be feasible. Take the additional flashheads (make sure they can be fired as slaves) and put a CTB (Color Temperature Blue) gel on each. What you are attempting to do is to negate the effect of the Tungsten by adding blue light to the ambient environment. Test your exposure and set the camera to “flash” white balance. Once again, you may need to add or subtract the gel intensity.

The set up. Note how the flash heads are concealed from view

The set up: note how the flash heads are concealed from view and pointed into the room that is the background

The CTB gels like CTO gels are available in multiple strengths as follows:

  • 1/8 CTB Boosts 3200°K to 3300°K
  • 1/4 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 3500°K
  • 1/2 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 3800°K
  • 3/4 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 4100°K
  • Full CTO Boosts 3200°K to near daylight

Once you are satisfied with the background color, go ahead and photograph the primary subject. Do not gel the main flash and leave the white balance on “flash”.

Color Bal

Color Correction using blue gels in the background

In each of the cases above there is still some color cast in the final image. This is because the lights in the background are not true 3200°K and we have been relying on tungsten color temperature for our corrections.

Method Three – Custom White Balance for Background and Matching Gels on Flash

Here you use custom white balance to establish an exact white balance setting for the ambient light. It is best to use a “white balance card” or a device like the X-Rite Color Checker Passport.

Color Checker Passport in Ambient Light

Image captured of  a Color Checker Passport in ambient light

Zoomed in for creating a Custom White Balance

Color Checker Passport – Zoomed in for creating a Custom White Balance

Image of the Color Checker Passport after Custom White Balance was established

Image of the Color Checker Passport after Custom White Balance was established

If possible, bring that image into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and determine the actual color temperature. In this case, it is 2400°K, which, as you can see, is vastly different from the 3200°K tungsten. No wonder there was still a yellow colorcast in the first method. Use this measurement to establish the gel strength needed for the primary flash. If you cannot use Lightroom or any other software to obtain an accurate color temperature reading, you will need to do a bit of trial and error to determine how much CTO to use. In this case we need to get to 2400°K. A full CTO will drop 5500°K to 3200°K and a 1/8 CTO will drop an additional 600°K bringing the correction to 2600°K which is fairly close to what we need. Leave the camera set to the custom WB and gel the flash with one Full CTO gel and one 1/8 CTO gel to get a well balanced image.

The correct White Balance for the background

The correct White Balance for the background

Using a Full CTO on flash head

Using a Full CTO on flash head

Flas with 1 CTO plus 1/8 CTO

Flash with a Full CTO plus a 1/8 CTO – a well color balanced image

One full CTO and one 1/4 CTO – the subject is a bit warm

One full CTO and one 1/4 CTO – the subject is a bit warm

In Conclusion

Always keep a set of color correction gels in your bag if you use flash on location.  Not only will you need them for indoor flash photography but the CTO gels are a ideal when using flash for portraiture at sunrise or sunset.

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10 Tips to Motivate You out of a Photography Rut

Are you stuck in a rut?

Have you reached a point where all your photos start to look the same? Feeling uninspired? Or maybe you haven’t gone shooting for a while at all?

It happens to us all now and then, kind of like writer’s block. When we get too comfortable with what we do, we get into a routine and everything starts to look the same. This is why it’s important for artists to break out of our own molds from time to time.

photography rut and motivation Prairie Dog, Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming, by Anne McKinnell

Prairie Dog, Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming.

To help motivate you out of your photography rut, here are some of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing.

10 Tips to Motivate You out of a Photography Rut

#1 Explore other art forms

First of all, just remind yourself that it’s okay to think about something other than photography for a little while! Allowing your mind to take some time off will relieve the stress and tension that builds the scaffolding for creative blocks. Instead, devote some time to exploring other art forms to feed your creative soul – go watch a play, listen to music, check out a museum, or read some poetry. All of these experiences feed the muse, where they become thoughts, which associate with other thoughts, to then become new ideas.

photography rut motivation - The Museum of Man, Balboa Park, San Diego, by Anne McKinnell

Museum of Man, Balboa Park, San Diego

#2 Look at other artists’ work

But how do you know what to do, if you’ve never done it before? For inspiration, see what other people are doing. Look at pictures from other visual artists that you admire, or find a photography exhibit at a local gallery or museum. Go to the library and flip through photo books. Absorb as much as you can. Which photographers do you like best? What is it that you like about each of them, and what do they all have in common? Think about how each photograph was created and ask yourself: which direction is the light coming from? What focal length, aperture, and shutter speed do you think were used?

#3 Look at your own work

Open up your boxes and folders of old photos – the older, the better! As you look over them, think about how you’ve progressed as a photographer. With each photo, ask yourself what you would do differently if you were taking it now, with all you’ve learned since that time. Be honest with your self-critique; admit to yourself when something doesn’t work out, but be sure to congratulate yourself when something does. Feelings of accomplishment build your confidence to create new things.

#4 Try a new style

There are many styles of photography – portraiture, nature, street, abstract… the list can go on and on. If you’re getting too embedded in your usual style, step out of it and try something completely different. If you usually photograph people, photograph animals or still life instead. If you’re into landscapes, you could try your hand at street or architecture photography. You could even shoot exclusively in black and white for a while. Just do something you’ve never done before!

Try some new processing techniques too!

photography rut motivation - Anne McKinnell

Car decorated with bible quotes at Salvation Mountain, California.

#5 Re-create an image

If you find an image (either yours or someone else’s) that really interests you, grab your camera and do your best to emulate it. Look closely at the settings, lighting, depth of field, degree of blur (or lack thereof), the camera’s angle of view, and try mimic it with the tools and locations you have at your disposal. This is a fun and educational exercise that really gets the blood flowing through your creative brain.

#6 Take a class

Talking to others about photography can do wonders to rekindle your passion; seek out other photographers and try to connect with them. This could mean taking a recurring class, a one-day workshop, or joining (or creating) a local photography club. The artistic critique – the practice of discussing your work, as well as the work of others in a group setting – offers so many new opportunities to see things from differing points of view. Feedback, whether strictly positive or even constructively helpful, is very nourishing to the creative spirit.

#7 Borrow some new equipment

Having a new toy to play with can spark all sorts of ideas and inspiration in your imagination. If you are lucky enough to have a fellow photo friend who happens to shoot with the same kind of camera that you do, maybe you can share lenses or other accessories (flashes, etc.). You can also check with your local camera store about renting lenses and camera bodies, or borrow through a reputable online lens rental agency.

On the other hand, if you want to go lo-fi instead, you could opt to get your hands on a 35mm camera (they’re everywhere – try a thrift store) and some film (yes, they do still make it). Limiting yourself to the 36 shots per roll forces you to think about each frame more carefully, and is a completely different way to approach photography.

photography rut and motivation Bicycle with flat tire and Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans, by Anne McKinnell.

The effects in this image of a bicycle’s flat tire were achieved using a Lensbaby.

#8 Offer your services

If the opportunity arises, volunteering your time and skills for a good cause is a great way to challenge yourself and help others. You could run a photo booth at a local fundraiser or offer to take portraits of your friends and family, and there are countless charity organizations that would jump at the chance to have their fundraisers and other efforts documented.

#9 Get a new perspective

Look at the world from a different point of view. This can be as simple as getting up high – on a ladder, a building, or anything else – or down low, by crawling on your knees and belly to get a worm’s-eye shot. But it can also mean a more dramatic change, such as altering your surroundings all together. Try finding a brand new location to shoot in, whether that location is just another neighbourhood or whether you’d prefer to…

#10 Take a trip

This is, of course, my personal favourite way to keep my outlook fresh.

Sunset at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, by Anne McKinnell.

Sunset at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Going to a completely new place lets you view the world with fresh eyes and renewed wonder, and lets you see all the little details that get glossed over when you’re accustomed to the place you’re in. For me, traveling and photography are almost inseparable.

Creative ruts and blockages happen, but sometimes it’s our own hesitation that makes them seem so daunting. A lot of the time, all we need to get over that wall is to try jumping on a trampoline instead!

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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

10 Tips to Motivate You out of a Photography Rut

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