Great Reasons to put a Carabiner in your Photo Kit

The post Great Reasons to put a Carabiner in your Photo Kit appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The carabiner is a device most closely associated with mountain climbing, but now it finds application in so many other things.  In this article, we’ll explore a few ways you can make good use of a carabiner as a photographer.

Interestingly, the carabiner was not initially invented for climbers.  The history of the device is interesting with an inventor nicknamed “Rambo.” It’s not a story I’ll detail here, but worth a read.  The carabiner is essentially a loop with an easily opened “gate.” It allows quick clipping onto objects and then which closes by means of a spring.  Some carabiners also have a locking mechanism which prevents the gate from inadvertently opening.


Inexpensive carabiners are great for many of the applications we’ll discuss here. However, note, they are clearly marked “NOT FOR CLIMBING.”

Not for climbing

Carabiners come in a multitude of sizes and designs.  Those specifically made for climbers are carefully designed, tested, rated for strength, and marked with their load-bearing capabilities.  At the other end of the spectrum are the lightweight versions often sold for just a few dollars in hardware stores and the like.  These are often marked “Not for Climbing” as they are not built with the same care or performance capabilities of the climbing-specific types.

Image: The huge almost 8-inch carabiner on the left might have some good photo applications like car...

The huge almost 8-inch carabiner on the left might have some good photo applications like carrying multiple items or hanging an extension cord, but it’s not for climbing. The other three are climbing-rated carabiners. The one at the far right is a locking type.

For the purposes described in this article, we will cover possible uses by photographers. For those applications, the lighter weight, non-climbing versions may work fine.

As a disclaimer, I know very little about climbing. I am not a climber and certainly would not begin to suggest you take anything in this article as instruction on how to use carabiners for climbing. If that’s is your intention, go find an expert – someone you trust with your life.

In the climbing world, that really is the purpose a carabiner may serve.

Security and convenience

Carabiners serve two main purposes for climbers:

Safety – Carabiners are used as quick attachment devices to clip into climbing ropes. Those ropes act as safety devices so should the climber fall, the rope and the carabiner restrain the climber and save them from disaster.

Convenience – On the side of a mountain, it’s just you. Fumble and drop something, and it’s gone. Unable to carry a heavy load, you need a strong, lightweight device that provides security as well as easy access to your equipment (sometimes with just one hand). That’s just the job for which the carabiner is well-suited.

Safety and convenient use of carabiners by photographers is what we’ll address.


When fragile things fall onto hard surfaces, bad things happen.  That is why climbers use ropes and carabiners – as safety devices.  If you’ve ever dropped a camera, lens, or other valuable photo gear, you learned this lesson the hard way.  So, what if we could come up with a few tricks using carabiners to provide some safety for your photo equipment so you aren’t punished by the law of gravity?

Image: A simple DIY camera-to-tripod safety tether as outlined here. The top knot is a clove hitch,...

A simple DIY camera-to-tripod safety tether as outlined here. The top knot is a clove hitch, the bottom one a cats-paw knot.

Camera-to-tripod tether

I do a lot of landscape photography and like to mount my camera to my tripod with a Swiss-Arca compatible L-bracket. The bracket clips into the lever lock mount at the top of my tripod. I prefer the lever clamp to twist knobs. It’s quicker to work, easier to see if it’s locked, and unlike a twist knob, doesn’t require periodic checking. After taking a few shots, when moving to a new location, I put the tripod over my shoulder and walk to the new spot with the camera and lens still mounted to the end of the tripod.

Now, I know I’m not the only one to do this – I remember watching Art Wolfe’s “Travels to the Edge,” where he’d routinely carry his camera like this. I like to be cool like Art – silhouetted against the sun with my tripod and camera over my shoulder. Never did I see his camera fall off the tripod and I’ve never had mine fall off…yet.

I’m afraid that one day I’ll be walking, carrying the camera this way, and suddenly feel the tripod get lighter and hear a crash behind me. I know my blood would run cold. A clamp failure or unplanned release could spell disaster and certainly, make a grown man cry. Rather than have that happen, I came up with this idea.

Get two carabiners and tie each to opposite ends of a short length of rope. Paracord works well for this as it’s light and strong. Don’t over-engineer this. You want to pick carabiners and cord with a load strength of maybe 50-lbs or greater to be on the safe side, but not so large as to be cumbersome. What is important is to tie the cord to the carabiners with the proper knot. If the rope comes loose from the carabiner when the need arises…yup…that would be bad.

Go online and find a good video showing how to tie a rope to a carabiner. I like the catspaw knot for this purpose. The clove hitch is good too.


Walking with your camera on the tripod over your shoulder like in the inset image, if the clamp released your camera would be saved like in the large shot IF tethered. Otherwise…     = :-O

The length of the cord shouldn’t be much longer than the distance to reach from your tripod head to the camera. Usually, 6-8″ (15-20cm) will be about right. Get a split ring, the kind often used for keyrings, and mount that to the lug on the side of the camera made for a regular camera strap.

Now, clip one carabiner through the ring and the other one just under the mount on your ball head. (See the photo). Most ball heads will accommodate this. However, if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to find an alternate place on the tripod to clip the lower carabiner. Now head down the trail confident that if the clamp releases your camera, the tether will save it.

Yes, it might occasionally get in the way or prevent your ball head from completely free motion while photographing, but if so, unclip the carabiners while you work. The peace of mind I get as I walk the trail with my camera on my tripod over my shoulder is well worth a slight inconvenience.

Other uses for a safety tether

A similar DIY device, two carabiners connected by a length of cord, may find other applications in your photo work as a safety tether. The size and weight of the device you need to protect will dictate the strength of your carabiners and connecting cord, rope, or cable. People in lighting or theatrical work are likely familiar with such safety tethers. Having a heavy light fall onto the talent below would be bad, very bad.

Even if your photography doesn’t involve talent under lighting or other equipment, having expensive photo gear fall off a mount and crash to the ground is also bad. Consider devising ways you can create safety tethers for some of your other equipment with a little creative DIY engineering.

Image: A sling-style camera strap attached to the bottom tripod hole of a camera with a locking cara...

A sling-style camera strap attached to the bottom tripod hole of a camera with a locking carabiner-style clip.

Camera Straps

I get it, no one likes a strap around their neck, and most camera straps are a bothersome hassle. But like wearing your seat belt in the car, perhaps you need to consider the risk versus the inconvenience. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen photographers – even pros – holding their camera and taking a shot with the strap dangling down in front of them rather than around their neck. I see them shooting out the tour bus window, over the side of the boat, over a cliff edge or at the zoo with crocodiles below.

Also, I wish I had all the money wasted when cameras and lenses which could have saved with a strap instead were fumbled, dropped, and destroyed. I use an Op/Tech sling strap (Black Rapid is a similar well-known sling-strap designer). It is more comfortable, keeps the camera on my hip rather than my chest, an is still ready for quick action.

My work camera uses a different connection method. It uses a mount into the tripod screw hole and a snap-clip which is much like a carabiner. Before that, I modified my OEM strap and used a similar hardware store snap-clip.

I guess there are people who “free-climb” mountains with no safety devices, people who drive without their seat belts and, yes, people who don’t like camera straps. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Me? Camera straps, carabiners, and safety tethers are my friends.

Photographing near the edge

On a trip to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, we had a photo buddy in our group with less acrophobia than I. (We nicknamed him “Spiderman”). While photographing the canyon at Deadhorse State Park, he was uncomfortably close to the edge. I tried not to look and concentrated on my photography. Then I did look around…and he had disappeared! His tripod and camera were still there, but not him.


I feared the worst and cautiously peered over the edge…


A few minutes later, with a big grin, he stepped out from behind some bushes.

For our next trip, I’m considering rigging him with a safety tether.

Image: That next step is a doozy! My photo buddy “Spiderman” on a trip to Deadhorse Stat...

That next step is a doozy! My photo buddy “Spiderman” on a trip to Deadhorse State Park in Utah.

I tell that story to suggest this, using a carabiner and length of rope to allow you to make those “edgy shots” safely. The shots where you extend your camera and tripod over the edge, out the window, over the side of the boat, cliff, above the crocodile pit (Crikey!). All of those places where if you fumble or your clamp releases you won’t be getting your gear back. At least not in one piece. There’s also the potential danger to those below to consider.

I’m suggesting attaching your camera/tripod to a tether.  A good device if you do a lot of hand-holding of your camera with a wrist strap.  There are various commercial designs, or you can fashion a strap with a velcro fastening to go around your wrist and a carabiner to clip to a ring on your camera.  Fumble the camera and the safety tether to your wrist saves it.

While working near precipitous edges, it may also be a good idea to have a tether on yourself. However, if you decide to do so, you enter the realm of “climbing.” As I said, don’t look to me or this article for guidance on that subject.

If you do tether your equipment, secure the other end of the rope to something secure, perhaps not yourself. You don’t want a falling camera and tripod dragging you over the edge too. Got all that Spiderman?

Image: Often the hook at the bottom of a tripod column just isn’t large enough to accommodate...

Often the hook at the bottom of a tripod column just isn’t large enough to accommodate a camera bag handle. A carabiner makes it work. Use this arrangement when you want extra weight and stability for your tripod or to keep your camera bag off the dirty or wet ground.

Convenience – What, where, and when you need it

Having what you need, where you need it, when you need it, and available for quick access and return to its storage location is essential to a mountain climber hanging on the side of a cliff. It’s also handy for a photographer who has hands busy operating the camera. Or doesn’t have the time to root through a backpack looking for something while the light is fleeting. Carabiner to the rescue! Putting easy access to equipment within reach is a hallmark of this little wonder.


Zip-tie and gaff tape a carabiner to a tripod leg and you have a “third-hand” hook. Keep a filter or other accessory bag right at hand while you work.

Creative photographers will come up with many uses for a carabiner, whether in the field or the studio. Others marketing all manner of other goodies and gizmos have also incorporated carabiners into their equipment designs to make them more useful.

Let’s look at some photos that show both some DIY uses as well as product designs that leverage the wonders of a carabiner.


Many products incorporate carabiners int their design. Here are just a few of possible interest to photographers. Urban Gear knife, TempaBright light/thermometer, Coghlan’s waterproof capsule container, Coghlan’s large carabiner carry handle, small carabiner keychains, Nite Ize S-biner, Nite Ize DoohicKey, LuxPro focusable flashlight, LifeLine weather-resistant First Aid Kit, and don’t forget the zip-ties.

Team these with a carabiner

You’ve seen some great uses for carabiners for a photographer, and hopefully, I’ve introduced you to something you can use. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest some other devices to throw into your pack to increase the versatility of carabiners even more.


My LowePro ProTactic 450AW backpack has MOLLE webbing on the outside giving many places to clip in carabiners and goodies.


Originally developed as the suspension lines used on parachutes, this strong and lightweight nylon cord is a great accessory to have in your pack.  It’s available in many thicknesses and strengths, a rainbow of colors, is easily cut when you need a shorter length and you can seal the ends with a match.  It’s great stuff and a perfect partner to a carabiner.

Image: Need to tighten a loose line? Clip on a carabiner, twist the carabiner until the line is tigh...

Need to tighten a loose line? Clip on a carabiner, twist the carabiner until the line is tight, then clip the carabiner back onto the now tightened line.

Binder clips

Yes, the kind used in the office.  They come in a variety of sizes so you can suit the size to the need.  A perfect photographic application is hanging a backdrop.  Put a few binder clips along the top edge of the backdrop, clip carabiners through the loops of each clip and you can hang the backdrop from a paracord line or rod.


Hang a backdrop with some carabiners used like curtain hooks on a line or rod. Binder clips work well for this, but these ProGrip TarpSharks were too cute not to buy a couple.

Zip ties –  (aka cable ties)

Zip ties are very lightweight, strong, and able to be pulled very tight and locked there. These are wonder devices.  When you can’t attach your carabiner directly to an object, try attaching a zip tie to it and before tightening, a carabiner as well.  The example above of attaching a water bottle to a carabiner is a good one.  You’ll think of dozens of other uses.  Zip ties can also save the day when straps or other things in your photo kit break and you need an emergency fix.

Gaffer tape

People in the film and theatrical professions know and love this stuff and no photographer ought to be without a small roll in their pack.  Don’t confuse this with duct tape, it will only make a sticky, hard-to-remove mess of your equipment.  Get real gaff tape and then go nuts with the many ways you’ll be able to use it.

Image: In the studio, an easy way to keep two joined extension cords from becoming unplugged.

In the studio, an easy way to keep two joined extension cords from becoming unplugged.


Not a lock, but at least a way to use a carabiner on your backpack zippers to discourage a potential thief from a quick grab of your gear.

The DIY photographer

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a real DIY nut! If I can figure out a cheaper, better, innovative way to do something, including my photography work, I’m all over it.

Carabiners certainly fall into the list of useful parts in the “goodies” bag I keep in my photo backpack.  I hope you picked up a useful tip here. If there’s something I missed that you’d like to share with the worldwide photographic community here on DPS, please include it and maybe a photo too in the comments section below.

Now go forth and photograph!



The post Great Reasons to put a Carabiner in your Photo Kit appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography

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

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

porsche abstract automotive photography

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

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

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

abstract automotive photography

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

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

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

blurry mustang shot

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

dashboard of mustang

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

car steering wheel composite

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

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

cars all in a row

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

What and where

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

mustang front angle

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

abstract transmission composite

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

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

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

old cars

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

Car shows

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

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

And, above all, never touch the cars.

red Jaguar with raindrops - abstract automotive photography

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

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

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

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

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

red and white car

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

black and white old car

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


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

abstract hood ornament compositions

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

front of car - abstract automotive photography

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

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

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

rusing car - abstract automotive photography

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

Gettin’ funky in the junkyard

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

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

car in junkyard

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

junkyard abstract automotive photography

Corruption of Power

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

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

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

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

junkyard abstract hood

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

Getting really abstract

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

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

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

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

junkyard automotive abstract

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

junkyard abstract automotive photography

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

abstract car paint peeling

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

Go do it

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

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

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

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



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

10 Lightroom Tricks That Will Make Your Life Easier

When it comes to Lightroom, there is a lot to learn, and we tend to pay the most attention to the big things like understanding how to organize images and which sliders to use to improve our photos. But there are also lots of little Lightroom tricks that will improve your workflow and just make your life easier when it comes to working with your photos.

In this video, I’ll show you 10 of my favorite tricks that will make your life easier in Lightroom. There is also a summary of these items below the video for your reference. Enjoy!

1. Build Previews

Have you ever noticed that when you view images full size in the Library Module and you move from one to the next, sometimes Lightroom shows a message that says “Loading…” and it takes a minute for the photo to display properly? You can get around that by building previews before you start working on a group of images.

To do this, choose Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews.

I generally build standard-sized previews which are just big enough to fit in the Lightroom window. You can also build the 1:1 Previews which means you can view each image zoomed-in at 100% without having to wait, but that takes longer.

Building the previews first does take a bit of time, but you can do something else while Lightroom is busy with this task. Then when you are ready to work on your images, Lightroom will be really fast.

2. Auto Advance

When selecting your Picks or adding a star rating to images in the Library Module, you can have Lightroom automatically move to the next image, making it very quick to go through a selection of photos. To turn this setting on choose Photo > Auto Advance.

3. Solo Mode

In the Develop Module, there are a number of panels which, when expanded, can make it necessary to do a lot of scrolling to move between them. But with “solo mode”, only one panel can be opened at a time which means no more scrolling.

To turn this on, right-click to the left of one of the develop module panel titles (such as “basic”) and choose Solo Mode.

4. Quickly Reset a Slider

When you make a change to a slider in the Develop Module, and you simply want to reset it back to zero, you don’t have to actually move the slider back. Simply double-click on the name of the slider and it will reset.

5. Letter O Key

Did you know there are quite a few different crop overlays you can use to help you crop your photos just right? Click the crop tool in the Develop Module, and then try repeatedly pressing the letter O on your keyboard to rotate through the various crop overlays.

6. Letter F Key

When you think you are done and you want to view a larger size of your image to make sure everything is just right, press the letter F on your keyboard to view the image full screen. Press F again to go back.

7. Letter L Key

Another way to view your image without distractions is to use the L key on your keyboard. Press it once and all the sidebars and your desktop will turn grey. Press it again and everything goes black except your actual photos (this is called Lights Out). Press it a third time to return to normal.

8. Backslash Key

As a final check when you think you are done with your processing, press the backslash key on your keyboard to see the “before” version of your image before you made any changes in Lightroom. Press it again to see the “after” version.

9. Virtual Copies

If you want to make another version of an image without changing the original, you don’t have to actually make a copy of it on your hard drive. You can simply create a “virtual copy” and apply different settings to it. This virtual copy takes up no space on your hard drive and allows you to play with different looks.

10. Sync Settings

After you have finished processing one photo in a group, you can apply those exact settings to all the other photos in the group. This makes it very fast to process a whole group of images.

Go to the Library Module, select all the photos you want to apply the settings to, including the one you have processed, and click the “Sync Settings” button in the lower right corner of your screen. You can then choose whether to sync all or just some of the settings to the selected photos.

Lightroom can be overwhelming! If you want to learn the essentials of Lightroom so you can get started quickly and easily, check out my video course Launch Into Lightroom. In 22 short videos that total a little over 2 hours, you’ll be off and running.

The post 10 Lightroom Tricks That Will Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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

The post The Date & Time On My Camera Don’t Matter appeared first on Photography Tips from the Top Floor.

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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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.

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