How to Use Foreground to Create Depth in Your Images

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

Cannon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

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

What is the foreground?

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

Paradise Meadows by Anne McKinnell

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

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

Trona Pinnacles, California, by Anne McKinnell

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

How is the foreground used?

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

Green Point, Newfoundland, by Anne McKinnell

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

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

Boone Hall Plantation, South Carolina, by Anne McKinnelll

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

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

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland, by Anne McKinnell

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

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

Salton Sea, California, by Anne McKinnell

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

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

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

Successfully Copy Photos from Your Memory Card to your Computer

Before you can begin editing your photos you need to get them safely off your camera and onto your computer. Unfortunately this process is often hijacked by (well-meaning if misguided) software which purports to do the work for you but leaves you wondering just where your photos really are! So, to help you understand your options for getting your photos onto your computer, here’s what I recommend.

First of all: Take Charge!

The first thing to understand about getting photos from your camera card or camera onto your computer is that you’re in charge. Any application that opens and tries to grab your photos for you can be closed down. If it is not the application you want to use then do just that – close it.

Now you can take charge and manage the process in a way that makes sense for you.

Choose your application

If you’re using Photoshop then you can use Bridge to import your photos. If you are using Lightroom then you can launch Lightroom and import your photos using it. If you don’t have either program, or if you prefer to manage the process yourself, you can do so using Finder on the Mac or Windows Explorer on a PC. I’ll cover this process first, then look at Bridge and Lightroom.

Importing using Finder or Windows Explorer

import-photos-using-Windows-1When attached to your computer, a camera or memory card works like any drive, so you can view its contents. You can also copy photos from the memory card onto your computer’s hard drive manually using Explorer or Finder.

On a PC, if the AutoPlay dialog appears when you insert your camera card or attach your camera, choose the Open Folder to View Files option.

If the dialog doesn’t appear, simply launch Windows Explorer and select the drive that represents your camera or memory card.

Navigate to the folder that contains your photos – there may be multiple folders depending on how your camera stores images on the card. You can select the photos, then drag and drop them to the folder of your choice. It’s often easier if you first open the target folder in a second Windows Explorer window so you can drag from one to the other.


The process is similar using Finder on the Mac. If iPhoto launches – stop it from downloading any photos and close it. Then you can drag photos from your camera card open in one Finder window, to a folder of your choice open in a second window.


Importing Photos using Bridge

If you are using Photoshop, launch Adobe Bridge and choose File > Get Photos from Camera. Click the button to open the Advanced Dialog.


From the “Get Photos from” drop down list select the drive letter that corresponds to your camera or card.


You can now see and select the photos to import. This is one benefit of using Bridge over Windows Explorer – you will see thumbnail images of your raw files so you can see what you are importing.

On the right of the dialog select the folder in which to place the images. Typically this will be inside your My Pictures folder on your computer but you can choose any location that makes sense to you. However, if you want to find your photos later, on it is essential that you pay attention to the choices you make here.

import-photos-using-bridge-3Once you have selected the folder to import the images into, you can, if desired, select a subfolder. In this way you can group photos by shoot, date or something that makes sense to you.  Bridge will create the folder for you if it doesn’t exist, so choose an option from the Create Subfolder(s) list and, if required, type a name for it or choose the date to use – either the capture date or today’s date. If you don’t want to organize photos in a subfolder then click None.

import-photos-using-bridge-4You can also select to rename files on import, or not. Choose Do not rename files if you don’t want them renamed or alternatively select a naming convention from the list.

If you have advanced naming requirements for which the dialog does not provide an appropriate choice, scroll to the bottom of the list and click Advanced Rename to open the Advanced Rename dialog where you can create quite complex naming conventions. Whatever choice you make check the entry just below the dialog where Bridge shows you an example of the naming convention in place so you can check to see if it is what you want.


In the Advanced Options area you can choose other options including Convert to DNG – which is handy if your camera captures in a manufacturer specific format such as CRW, NEF, PEF and so on, but you prefer to work with DNG files. Select this option and Bridge will do the conversion for you.

You can also select Delete Original Files although this is not recommended. It’s best to make sure that the images are correctly copied onto your computer before the originals are deleted so I suggest you leave this option disabled.

Bridge offers a backup option so it will make a copy of your photos on import. To do this, click the “Save Copies To:” checkbox and select an alternate location (such as an external drive) in which to save a copy of your photos.


If you have a metadata template already created you can select this from the Apply Metadata drop down list.

In future you can create such a metadata template in Bridge by selecting Tools > Create Metadata Template. I suggest that you complete the IPTC Core Data for Creator as well as Copyright Notice, Copyright Status and Rights Usage Terms. Also complete the Type Of Source entry in the IPTC Extension group. When completed this will give you a good all round metadata preset to apply to all your images. For more information on IPTC Copyright Metadata check out this article: Lightroom: Add your IPTC metadata on Import.


When you have your import settings selected and configured to meet your needs click Get Media to import the images.


You will see a dialog showing you the progress of the import process.


Importing Photos using Lightroom

If you’re using Lightroom then it is the obvious choice for managing the process of importing photos from your camera or memory card. From the Library module click Import, then select the source in the top left corner of the Import dialog.


Across the top of the screen you will see only two choices, Copy as DNG and Copy. This reflects the fact that you’re importing images from a camera card or camera – the options Move and Add are not available for this process (if you do see Move and Add as available options, it appears that Lightroom isn’t recognizing your camera or camera card correctly and even though they may be available you should not use either of these choices).


Next, open the File Handling panel on the right of the screen and select the kind of preview to create – Standard is a good choice. You can choose Build Smart Previews or not (if you’re unsure, check Build Smart Previews).

Checking Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates will ensure that Lightroom doesn’t import images again, that you’ve already previously imported. This is one feature available in Lightroom which is not also available in Bridge.

In Lightroom you can also choose to make a backup by making a second copy of your photos to an alternate location as you import them.


File Renaming panel allows you to rename images on import – you can select from a range of naming templates and even create your own. Here I’ve chosen to use the Custom Name – Sequence template so I’ve typed the Custom name and the sequence is set to start at 1:


The Apply During Import panel has an option for applying metadata to the image upon import. Unlike Bridge the drop down list for Metadata presets also includes an option New which you can use to create your own metadata preset. I suggest you complete the IPTC Copyright and IPTC Creator details, and in the IPTC Extension Administrative select Original digital capture from a real live scene from the Digital Source Type drop down list. Type a name for the preset and from the Present drop down list click Save current settings as new preset.


In the Destination panel you’ll need to select the location into which the images are to be copied. If you’re copying them to your hard drive then typically you’ll select your C drive, then your My Pictures folder which should be in your Users area.

If you save your images to an external drive then select the external drive and the folder into which the images should be imported.

If the folder does not exist you can create a subfolder on import by selecting the Into Subfolder checkbox and type a name for the folder that Lightroom should create to import the images into.


From the Organize drop down list you can select to put the images into this folder (Into one Folder) or to organize them by date. Whichever choice you make you can see a preview of what’s going to happen in the folder list, allowing you to check and make sure that everything is going to be imported and arranged to your requirements before you go ahead and complete the import process.


When you’re ready to import the images click Import.

Whatever process you choose to use for getting images off your camera card onto your computer the acid test for whether it is a good system or not will be if you can find your images later on. Also be aware that it’s advisable to make a backup copy of your images in case your computer is stolen, damaged or your hard disk crashes. For this reason a backup on a removable external drive is a sensible choice.

Having an import routine that you understand, and can reliably execute, is a necessary first step for any photographer. The worst possible scenario is to have copied your images from your camera card to your computer and erased them from your card, only to discover that you cannot find the images. It’s a scenario that way too many users have encountered – don’t let it happen to you!

Find a video version of this blog post here:

Do you have any other copy and import tips? Please share in the comments below.

The post Successfully Copy Photos from Your Memory Card to your Computer by Helen Bradley appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Creatively Recolor Photos with Color Tables in Photoshop


If you’re looking to use some creative enhancements on your photos in Photoshop CS6 or CC then the new Color Lookup adjustment is one to consider. The Color Lookup adjustment is used to remap the colors in an image to a set of colors that comes pre-configured and stored inside a color table file. Color Tables are used primarily with film but they are also useful for applying creative coloring to photos.

You don’t need to know anything about color tables to use this feature, as is a default set of color tables in Photoshop that you can use. Better still, if you like the effects and you subscribe to the Creative Cloud you can grab more color tables from the Adobe Speed Grade application, store them in the Photoshop Preset\3DLUTs folder, and use them inside Photoshop.

To see the Color Lookup adjustment at work open a photo and choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Lookup. This opens the Color Lookup dialog where you will find three settings; 3DLUT File, Abstract and Device Link. Select one of the options from one of the dropdown lists to see it at work. When you do this, the colors in the photo will be remapped.

For example the Soft_Warming.Look in the 3DLUT collection warms up the image.


The Moonlight.3DL option gives the image the look of being shot on a moonlit night.


You can experiment to see which of the options you like.

Some of the options open up additional Data Order and Table Order settings which let you create different effects. The Device Link collection on a Mac includes some additional options which are not available on a PC.


Like any other Adjustment Layer the Color Lookup option has a mask you can use to mask out the effect on selected areas of the image. You do this by selecting the mask and then paint on the image with black or grey to remove the effect from that area of the image. Paint with white to bring it back.


You can also use a blend mode to blend the Color Lookup adjustment into the image layer below and reduce its opacity if desired.

Here is a video tutorial for the Color Table Adjustment Layer. It includes details of how to find and use the .Look files shipped with Speed Grade in Photoshop:

If you haven’t tried this technique before give it a go and show us what you come up with. For more Photoshop tutorials check these:

The post Creatively Recolor Photos with Color Tables in Photoshop by Helen Bradley appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Don’t Know What to Shoot? These 4 Photography Exercises Will Keep You Motivated

Whether you’re just getting into photography, or if you’ve been at it for years; you can keep yourself rejuvenated, and keep the creative juices flowing by always trying new things.

If you’re feeling uninspired photographically, that’s a sign that you need to shake things up by trying something completely different, or at least something that isn’t your usual style. You might be surprised at how small exercises can boost your creativity while teaching you new techniques and solidifying old principles in your mind.

Who knows, you might even discover a new passion!

To give your brain a little kick in the butt, challenge yourself to try some of these photography exercises. Even if they aren’t new to you, going out shooting with a new purpose feels refreshing and may lead to something completely new.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

Fire Wave at The Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, taken from a high perspective on an opposite hilltop

1. Change your perspective

Photographers often get in the habit of shooting at eye-level which tends to make photos repetitive and somewhat common. We know this, and so we take the odd shot on our knees or even occasionally lying on the ground.

But is this really enough? Aren’t there other vantage points?

Challenge yourself to go out shooting and never shoot from eye-level for a whole day. Instead, find a new vantage point any time you take a picture. Get yourself up high above your subject, and crouch and shoot from a low angle. But that’s just the beginning. Ideally, you should try shooting your subject from a variety of angles.

Take one shot from below and one from above. Then, take one even lower, and one even higher, if possible. Then, step back a bit. Then step forward. Move to your right, and move to your left. Taking the same picture from many positions adds variety and will help you understand it better. Plus, you may discover a way of seeing something that you didn’t expect.

If you resolve to do this with every picture you take, you’ll begin to really understand the subtle effect that perspective has on an image, which points of view work for which subjects, and how this can inform your shooting style from here on out.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

Another perspective on Fire Wave, this time taken up close, from a low angle.

2. Create a story

Rather than trying to capture your subject in one single image, try doing a series instead. Create what LIFE Magazine coined a “photo essay” – a series of images surrounding a single subject or group of subjects, each of which pinpoints a different aspect of its nature. This can be as simple as zooming in on its finer details, or photographing it in different contexts. This method of doing things defines the subject not only by how it appears in a single moment, but also by the way it changes (and the way it stays the same) over several moments. It also helps to craft your visual storytelling abilities.

Choose one subject and cover it completely, the way a journalist would. Do this either by photographing every aspect of it you can think of, photographing it through the course of a day, or by revisiting it over and over throughout a week. Include shots at different distances and using different focal lengths – include some close-up details and some wide compositions – and whittle all the shots down to around ten final images, making sure that no two photos are alike. When you have your picks, try to organize them in an order that tells a coherent story, whether it’s narrated or implied.

Terlingua Ghost Town Texas by Anne McKinnell

These three photos are from Terlingua, a ghost town in Texas.

3. Shoot in Black and White

For a whole day, turn your camera to Black and White mode and don’t take it off. Of course, you can convert your RAW images to black and white after-the-fact in post-processing, but as an exercise, try shooting them in Black and White.

At first the limitation may seem frustrating, but Black and White photography requires a completely different way of seeing the world in terms of shape, form, and contrast, rather than through the common visual cues that you’re used to. Composing your photos in this way will invariably improve your compositions in colour photography, too. You can play with contrast settings in-camera or in post-processing to perfect the highlight to shadow ratio which defines a good monochrome image.

Bandon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

Bandon Beach, Oregon.

4. Make manual long exposures

For this exercise, you’re going to take full advantage of digital photography’s instant feedback, and use it to play with making manual long exposures.

With your DSLR mounted firmly on a tripod, set the ISO to 100, set the aperture to the smallest opening (the largest f number like f/22 for example), and set the shutter speed to Bulb mode. When the camera is to Bulb mode, the shutter will stay open for as long as the shutter button is held down, but it’s a better idea to attach a wired remote shutter release to prevent camera shake.

Once you have your composition and your focus set, press and hold the button on the remote to hold the shutter open for a few counted seconds. Just guess how many seconds will be required based on the light level. Then, check your results. If the image is too bright, try again, but count half as many seconds. If the image is too dark, count twice as many seconds – or more, if necessary. Do this over and over again, in different scenarios and lighting situations. This practice will hone your ability to read the levels of light present at any given time.

You’ll get the most interesting results if there is a certain amount of movement in your frame, such as drifting clouds in the sky, crowds of people, or running water. The longer your exposure is, the more blurred that movement will appear to the point where water may seem like nothing more than mist, and people will disappear from the image altogether. If you have a solid neutral density filter your exposures can be even longer, creating more extreme effects.

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina by Anne McKinnell

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina – 2 second exposure.

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina by Anne McKinnell

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina – 30 second exposure.

Don’t wait until you start feeling uninspired to try these exercises! Keep your photography energized and creative by trying something new on a regular basis. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be your “thing”, it’s fun and you’re bound to learn something.

The post Don’t Know What to Shoot? These 4 Photography Exercises Will Keep You Motivated by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Step By Step How to Do a Head Shot on a White Background

Today you are going to come ride along with me as I shoot head shots for a client in San Diego, California. I was hired by a company to create simple head shots of their instructors in the San Diego area.

There is a very big market for head shots and quite a few people want them shot on a white infinity backdrop. There are many ways to do this but I’m going to take you along on a shoot with me and show you how I do it:

Step by step how to do a head shot on a white background


First off, what is a seamless backdrop?

It’s a giant roll of paper – thats it! I used an 8-foot long roll in ‘alpine white’ color. Again, it’s just a big white roll of paper. When properly lit, this roll of paper gets ‘blown out’ or overexposed, so it appears as a perfectly white void on which your subject sits/stands in the middle. This white void makes the viewer focus on your subject rather than a cluttered background.

Setting up the seamless backdrop

As you can see in the animated GIF below, I start by finding an open area at least 8 feet wide. This is easier to set up with two people, but on this corporate shoot it was just me.

To make this easier to set up by yourself just lay the roll of paper on the ground and position the light stands on either side of the end of the roll of paper at their lowest height. Make sure the paper is set to unroll from underneath the back of the roll ,and not over the top and front of the roll.

When you pull from the back of the roll the natural curl of the paper will let the paper roll straight to the floor then curl toward your camera  into the room. This will provide a smooth curved transition from the vertical roll of paper into the floor and toward you so the background and floor will appear seamless. If the paper is pulled from overhand when it hits the floor it will want to curl backwards toward the back of the room. This won’t create seamless transition as you pull the roll into the room.

Run the cross bar through the center of the paper roll – the cross bar will stick out about 2 inches on either side of the roll. The cross bar has 2 slots at each end and the light stands have two vertical screws. Lift up the roll and place these two slots into the two vertical screws and then screw in the included wing nuts to secure the roll onto the light stands.

Raising the seamless backdrop

Now that we have the paper roll secured on the light stands at their lowest height, it’s time to raise it up. The light stands have two sets of clamps and two sets of vertical poles that raise up. With two people you can simply raise the paper roll at the same time to the desired height and lock the clamps down to secure the paper roll at your desired height. With only one person you have to slowly raise one side, then the other, until you get the roll to the desired height. Check out the GIF below and try not to laugh at the CEO jumping in during setup.


Unrolling the backdrop

Now that we have the bar to the height we want it, we can unroll the backdrop. I always keep little clamps on each end of the roll to keep it from unrolling on its own. Unclamp the little A-clamps on either side of the paper roll and slowly pull the roll down. If you don’t pull slowly the roll can gain momentum, unroll really fast, and go much further than planned! Since we were only doing head shots I just pulled the backdrop down to the floor. Once the roll is at the desired length clip the A-clamps back in place to keep the roll from unrolling further on its own like you see below.

seamless backdrop, studio lights, corporate headshots

Lighting the shoot

The way to make lighting easy is to light in layers, one step at a time. In this case I’m going to light the backdrop first. Once I get that done I’m going put a subject in front of the backdrop and light them separately. Once that is lit correctly we are ready to rock!

Lighting the backdrop

Now that the backdrop is set up properly we want to light it so that it appears solid white. I placed an Alien Bees 1600 studio strobe 3 feet away from the backdrop on the left side and angled it to shoot across the backdrop. The light had a reflector on it to contain the direction of the light. This will make the light rake across the middle of the backdrop to light it up white.

Dialling in the camera settings

I set my camera to f/8 aperture as it’s a good middle ground depth of field to start. The studio lights will give me all the light I need so I set the ISO low at 200. I then set the shutter speed to 1/160 which is the maximum shutter speed sync my camera allows. In this room a 1/160 shutter speed is fast enough that none of the lights on the ceiling would register – essentially I’m killing any ambient light in the room so the only light that shows up in the photo is from the studio strobes.

I take a guess and set the studio strobe light at 1/4 power. I do a quick test at f/8, ISO 200, 1/160 shutter speed and get this:

corporate headshots, white seamless backdrop, studio strobes, lighting setups

Looks pretty good to me! You can see the area closest to the light is perfectly blown out white, but as you move to the right the light is becoming weaker and the white backdrop appears more grey. Because the light is weaker on the right side it’s also showing the wrinkles in the paper. Because I’ll be placing people several feet in front of the light stand and zooming into the middle of the backdrop I’m not concerned with the right side of the backdrop. If I were shooting a wider shot I would add another light on the right side of the backdrop to light up that side, but that isn’t necessary for this shoot.

Lighting the subject

Now that we have the backdrop dialled in it’s time to light the next layer – the subject. I place an Alien Bees 800 studio strobe to the right of the backdrop, about six feet in front of the first light. I put an umbrella on the light which spreads the light out (diffuses it) as it passes through the umbrella and gives it a nice, soft appearance. I set the light at 1/4 power, at a 45 degree angled downward, and raised to about 8 feet high to test it out.

I step in front of the backdrop like the goofball that I am and get this:

studio lighting, seamless backdrop, corporate headshots

The backdrop still looks good, but I (the subject) am overexposed. This means the umbrella light is too strong. I reduce the power from 1/4 power to 1/8th power, have the CEO grab two nearby Nerf guns, step back in for a test, and get this:

seamless backdrop, studio lights, corporate head shots

Looking much better!

The light hitting the white background is bouncing onto the back of the subject and wrapping around his body too much. To correct this I need to move the subject a few feet toward the camera so the light bouncing off the background falls off before it reaches him. When I do this I also need to move the umbrella light the same distance toward the camera to keep the same exposure.

I also want more room to the right to compose my subjects so I move the umbrella light two feet camera-right, and one foot toward the camera. I then have the subject move two feet camera-right and one foot toward the camera so the background light won’t reach the subject as much.  I take another test and get this:

seamless backdrop, corporate headshots, digital photography school, seamless backdrop

This looks great to me. The background layer is blown out white, the subject layer is properly exposed, and as a bonus just enough light is bouncing off the backdrop to give some backlighting to the subject. Here is a closer crop to see what we are working with:

studio lights, seamless backdrop, corporate headshots

The only thing I should do to improve this is have the subject turn his body to face the umbrella so there isn’t so much shadow on the camera-left side.

Positioning the subject

headshot, seamless backdrop

The client wanted simple head shots of their instructors for use on their website profiles. I had the subject stand in the same place, square up their shoulders to face the umbrella light, and smile. You’ll notice that the umbrella placed up above the subject and pointed down at 45 degrees leaves a nice catch light (the white reflection of the light) in the top right corner of the subject’s eyes. When you can place a catch light at the ten or two o’clock position (like on an analog clock) in the subject’s eyes it brings them to life. Here is what we end up with:

 Quick positioning tip

To keep everything consistent, place some tape on the floor where you want people to stand. I didn’t have any tape with me but I did have an extra umbrella. I simply placed the umbrella at a diagonal angle and told the subjects to place their toes against the umbrella. This squared them up with the light so each portrait was consistent.

Wrapping it up

Overall it was a very quick setup, shoot, and breakdown. We shot 45 different instructors in about 45 minutes! Once everything was dialled in we just photographed one instructor after the next. The shoot was fun, the client was happy, and the instructors loved their head shots!


Would you like to see more real shoots?

Did this post help you and did you enjoy seeing some behind-the-scenes info on real client shoots? If so sound leave me a comment below. If it would help I’d love to start sharing more live client shoots to show everyone how they come together!

For more portrait tips using a white background see these articles on dPS:

The post Step By Step How to Do a Head Shot on a White Background by Mike Newton 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.

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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Beginner’s Guide to Waterfall Photography

There are few things more majestic than a flowing waterfall, whether it’s on the Niagara river or the little stream behind your house. There are many ways to photograph these natural wonders, and I’ve compiled a few tips, tricks, and techniques to help you get waterfall images that do justice to their elegant beauty.


Equipment Choices

The equipment you need will depend on what type of photo you want to make. But you probably won’t make that decision until you are on location, so here is what I usually keep in my camera bag if I’m planning on shooting a waterfall.

  • Tripod – As with most forms of landscape photography, a tripod is your best friend. It will allow you to compose your scene very precisely and give you the flexibility you need if you decide to shoot long exposures.
  • Circular polarizing filter – This is an essential piece of equipment when photographing water to allow you to remove reflections and glare from the water’s surface. You might not need this if the frame is filled with the waterfall, but you will want it handy if you decide to include a pool of water in the foreground. It will remove the reflection and allow you to see through the water to any interesting rocks underneath.
  • Neutral density (ND) filter – If you decide to shoot a long exposure and it happens to be the middle of the day when there is a lot of light, you will need this gray-tinted piece of glass placed in front of your lens. It blocks some of the light from hitting your sensor, allowing you to use a slower shutter speed. These are sold in varying strengths, and can be stacked for different levels of light absorption.
  • Lens cloth – Useful for cleaning water spray off of your lens or filter. I like to use little pieces of ShamWow for absorbing water drops. They are helpful for cleaning water off the rest of your camera too, and even your tripod legs when you are done.


Camera Settings

The camera settings you use will depend on what kind of photo you’re after:

Silky waterfalls

To create that silky smooth blur popular with waterfall photography, you’ll want to use a slow shutter speed for a long exposure. With your camera mounted firmly on a tripod, set it to shutter priority mode (usually “S” or “Tv” on your camera’s mode dial) and set your ISO as low as it will go (usually 100). Then, select a shutter speed between one half second to four seconds to achieve a nice amount of blur.


Experiment with different shutter speeds to get the amount of blur you want. The best shutter speed will depend on how fast the water is moving, so getting the shutter speed just right takes a bit of experimentation. If you cannot get a slow enough shutter speed for the effect you want, use a smaller aperture so that less light enters the camera. That will allow you to select a longer shutter speed. If you still need a slower shutter speed, that’s when you can use a neutral density filter to block some of the light.

Keep in mind that when using a long shutter speed, if there are any plants or trees in your frame they may have an opportunity to move if there is any wind, and then everything in the image will be blurry. For this type of a scene, it is usually better to photograph earlier in the day when there is little wind.

Freezing the motion

Especially interesting when photographing violent falls, this requires just the opposite technique – you want a fast shutter speed to capture a brief moment and suspend the water’s movement in the air. Use shutter priority mode and select a faster speed such as 1/500th of a second or faster.


For this technique you wont need a neutral density filter and you might even be able to get away without using a tripod. If you are in a low light situation, to get a fast shutter speed you may need to use a larger aperture such as f/5.6 to let more light in, and you can increase the ISO to 200, 400 or as high as you need to go to allow a fast shutter speed.

Detail shots

Instead of getting a broad landscape style shot, you might want to close in on an interesting rock, plant, or other detail of your scene. For this, compose your shot (use a tripod if possible) and turn your camera to aperture priority mode – “A” or “Av” on your mode dial. This will allow you to have control over the depth of field, or how much of the picture is in focus from front to back.

The aperture value is shown as an f-stop. F-stop numbers are a little confusing because the smaller numbers represent a larger opening and vice versa. I find it helpful to think of it as a fraction. F/8 is smaller than f/4 because 1/8 is smaller than 1/4.


Small apertures let less light in, but they increase the sharpness in the foreground and background. Large (or “wide”) apertures, on the other hand, mean that only part of the picture is in focus, while the rest becomes soft and out of focus.

Look at your scene and decide what you want in focus and what should be blurry. If you want to isolate your main subject, choose a large aperture (small f/number) such as f/4 or f/2.8 to make the background out of focus. If the background is important to the picture, choose a small aperture (large f/number) like f/16 or f/22 to make the entire scene sharp and clear.


There are many compositional techniques to employ when creating waterfall images. First and foremost, remember the rule of thirds and how your eye is drawn through the image. Use the leading lines inherent in flowing water to create visual pathways for the viewer to follow, remembering that corners are very strong entry and exit points in the frame. Pay attention to both the foreground and background, and don’t forget to pay attention to what’s around the water, as well as the falls themselves.


Field techniques and summary

  • When you arrive at any scene, the first thing to ask yourself is, “What makes this place unique?”. Pay special attention to that quality.
  • Bracket your shots to make sure you get the best possible exposure – this means taking several pictures using different apertures and shutter speeds, and also making several different images using the camera’s exposure compensation (+/-) to brighten or darken each shot to a different degree. See your camera’s manual for specific instructions on how to use these features.
  • Shoot in the uncompressed RAW format to allow for more flexible fine tuning in post processing. RAW images must be processed with a compatible photo editing program, or software that was included with your camera.
  • Experiment – most of all, don’t get stuck making the same type of photograph all the time. Try to make a long exposure, a fast exposure, some detail shots, and try different perspectives so you come home with a variety of images from your photo shoot.

Gear mentioned in this article

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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

The post 10 Tips to Motivate You out of a Photography Rut by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Moon Photography: 6 Tips for Better Moon Photos

The moon is something so familiar to us, and yet so strange that it’s mesmerizing. It’s at once commonplace and extraordinary. As photographers, we are drawn to it in an attempt to convey the intrigue we feel when we look at it.

But moon photography can be tricky.

Moon Photography: Just the Moon, by Anne McKinnell

A bright full moon creates one of the most high contrast situations there is, posing a difficult challenge for photographers. Often photos of the moon appear like a spotlight in the sky that looks more like the sun than the moon.

Moon Photography Tips

To get the best possible pictures of our one-and-only moon, it’s important to know a few things about it first.

1. Learn the Phases of the Moon

The moon itself emits no light, it’s simply a huge rock being lit up by the sun. As it orbits the earth, and as the earth orbits the sun, how much we see of that reflection changes from a bright, full moon to no apparent moon at all.

Moon Photography: By Tomruen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tomruen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because of our counter-clockwise trajectory around the sun, the shadow it casts on the moon is always moving to the left; after a new moon (no moon), the illuminated side starts to creep in from the right edge, expanding towards the left side each night. As the moon’s apparent size gets bigger, we call it “waxing”.

Once the moon is full, the shadow starts to reappear – again on the right side – and grow leftwards, shrinking the visible moon until it is dark again. This is called “waning”. Therefore, any time you want to know what the moon will look like tomorrow, look at it tonight; if it is lit on its right side, it is waxing towards fullness. But if it’s lit on the left, it is waning, and will soon be gone.

The twilight sky also holds clues to the lunar phases. If the moon is visible before sundown, it is waxing, but if you can see it before sunup, it’s waning. Alternatively, you can always look up a calendar online, or download a moon phase app that will do the calculations for you.

2. Use the Right Equipment

To maximize the success of your moon photography, there are a few bits of a gear that will come in handy.

Moon Photography: Moonrise over the Oak Bay Marina, in Victoria, British Columbia, by Anne McKinnell

  • A zoom lens.
    If you’ve ever taken a shot of the moon and been disappointed by the tiny white blob that results, you’re probably using too short of a focal length. A standard wide-angle lens makes everything appear smaller, particularly things that are far in the distance. To get a close-up shot, use a focal length of at least 200mm or more. Longer lenses will result in greater magnification and detail.
  • A tripod.
    To support the weight of this large lens, and to allow the slow shutter speeds that may be necessary to get a good exposure, mount your camera securely on a sturdy tripod.
  • A shutter release.
    These come in both wireless and wired options and will allow you to fire the shutter without having to depress the shutter button and risk camera shake. If you don’t have one, use your camera’s self-timer to achieve the same benefit.

3. Get a Good Exposure

The moon is very intricate and detailed, with craters, channels, and mountains dotting its surface. If the moon in your photo turns out bright white, it is overexposed. This happens frequently because the blackness of the surrounding sky throws the light meter off.

To fix this, turn down your exposure compensation (+/-), or use your camera’s spot metering mode to expose for the moon alone. Check your camera’s manual for information about how to do this on your specific model.

Moon Photography: Long Nights Moon by Anne McKinnell

For best moon photography results, bracket your shots. Some cameras will have an automatic bracketing feature, but if yours doesn’t, you can simply do it manually. First, take one shot at the automatically-determined settings. Then, using exposure compensation, take the same shot at -0.5EV, and one at +0.5EV. Do the same at -1EV and +1EV, and continue to +/-1.5EV and beyond if necessary. Later, you can choose the best exposure when you view them on your computer.

4. Find the Best Times and Places to Shoot

Unless the city is a part of your scene, you probably don’t want a lot of urban light pollution spilling into the sky when you’re trying to photograph a pristine moonlit night. You’ll get the cleanest shots outside of dense civilization. Explore backcountry roads, or take a hike into the nearby mountains to find truly dark night skies.

That said, a common problem photographers run into with moon photography is the harsh difference between a brilliantly lit moon and a pitch-dark sky. To avoid this, consider shooting during the “blue hours”, when the sky glows faintly after the sun goes down, or before it comes up. There is less contrast at this time, though the moon is still bright.

A moon phase app can help you determine when there will be a full moon during twilight.

5. Create an Interesting Composition

Supermoon at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, by Anne McKinnellAs compelling as a beautifully sharp, detailed image of a lonesome moon is, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Getting that perfect close-up is excellent practice, but try to get creative by placing the moon within a more complex composition.

For instance, you could try framing it behind trees and buildings, or reflecting it off the surface of a still lake. Placing other objects in the foreground gives the moon context and scale that it lacks on its own. Think of the moon as a single element which should be incorporated along with other compositional elements and techniques to make a great final photograph.

6. Combine Multiple Exposures

Incorporating other objects can complicate things though, and you may find that the perfect exposure for the moon doesn’t match that of the rest of the scene. Sometimes natural light doesn’t cooperate, and the camera doesn’t see things the way our eyes do. This is where digital photography comes in really handy, allowing you to play with your images to create the scene the way you saw it, even if the camera saw it a little differently.

To do this, take several shots at different exposures by bracketing, as mentioned above. When you open the files on your computer, choose two: the one with the best exposure on the moon (‘Image 1′), and the one with the best exposure on the rest of the scene (‘Image 2′). Using an image editing program, select the moon from Image 1 and copy it, then paste it into Image 2, covering the moon in that picture. Use the eraser tool with a heavily feathered edge to remove any imperfections and blend the edges together. This method may take some trial and error to get it just right, so try it several times with several different shots to get the hang of it.

Moonrise over the ocen in Sidney, British Columbia, by Anne McKinnell

When performing this technique, try not to stretch or enlarge the size of the moon. The goal of image editing is to faithfully recreate a scene that the camera simply can’t capture all at once, so beware of any visual exaggerations that make the composition look unnatural or inauthentic.

Share Your Moon Photography Tips and Moon Photos

Got any more moon photography tips to add? We’d love to see them in comments below. Also feel free to share any photos you’ve taken of the moon.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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

Moon Photography: 6 Tips for Better Moon Photos

The post Moon Photography: 6 Tips for Better Moon Photos by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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