Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Weekly Photography Challenge – Black Background

20 Jan

This week I have something a little different for you for the challenge – shooting on a black or dark background.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Weekly Photography Challenge – Black Background

The idea here is to create something dramatic. Make sure you choose lighting that will help separate the subject from the dark background. That could be backlight, rim light, or side lighting – choose the direction of light carefully.

If you need some help try these dPS articles:

  • How to Create Dark Moody Low-Key Portraits with Minimal Gear
  • Low-Key Photography – Highlighting Darkness
  • How to do Accent Lighting for Portraits
  • How to Make a Low Key Portrait Step by Step
KAren Woman Smoking Her Pipe against a black background

Image by dPS writer Kevin Landwer-Johan

Simply upload your shot into the comment field (look for the little camera icon in the Disqus comments section) and they’ll get embedded for us all to see or if you’d prefer, upload them to your favorite photo-sharing site and leave the link to them. Show me your best images in this week’s challenge. Sometimes it takes a while for an image to appear so be patient and try not to post the same image twice.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

You can also share your images in the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Black Background by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Tips for Selecting and Doing a Successful Photography Project

19 Jan

If you find yourself stuck in a rut, can’t find anything to shoot, or just need to get shooting – here are some videos to help you select an idea and get started doing a personal photography project.

The importance of doing a photography project

Photographer Matt Day talks about the importance of doing a personal photography project and gives you some ideas and direction to get started in this video.

5 Reasons why you should do a photography project

Adam from First Man Photography has five good reasons why you should start a photography project:

    1. Find direction – break out of a rut.
    2. Improve your photography.
    3. Build a social media following.
    4. Challenge yourself – get out of your comfort zone.
    5. It’s fun!

The most important ASPECT of doing a photography project

In this short video, COOPH founder Ulrich Grill shows you five things you need for a successful photo shoot or project. They follow the acronym A.S.P.E.C.T. – can you guess what they are? If not, go ahead and watch the video now.

  • A – atmosphere
  • S – shadows
  • P – positioning
  • E – energy
  • C – contrast
  • T – timing

Still need some help starting a photography project? Try these dPS articles for more tips.

  • 12 Creative Photography Project Ideas to Get You Motivated
  • How to do a Photography Alphabet Project
  • Tips for Doing a Successful Picture-a-Day Photography Project
  • How to Start and Finish a Photography Project
  • 6 Tips for How to Build a Story and Shoot a Photo Project
  • Tips for Creating a Personal Photography Project

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How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

19 Jan

Blue hour, especially the one in the evening (yes it happens before sunrise too!), is probably the most popular time of day to take cityscape photography with dazzling city lights illuminated. But exactly when is the prime time of blue hour that could result in you getting the best possible shots?

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Singapore skyline at blue hour.

Hong Kong - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Hong Kong skyline at blue hour.

Blue Hour Photography Requires a Tripod

One note before we get started. Although you could shoot handheld at blue hour by bumping the ISO up, it’s always advisable to use a tripod in order to shoot clean (noise-free) photos with low ISO (e.g. 100). It also comes with an added bonus of letting you do long exposure photography with smoothed-out water, etc.

For your information, sample photos shown in this post are all shot using my trusty Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 carbon-fibre tripod.

Tripod - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Setting a tripod up and getting ready for blue hour.

Finding out Your Local Sunset and Dusk Time

Let’s get down to business. In terms of timeline, SUNSET comes first, followed by DUSK 20+ minutes later. The time between sunset and dusk is called TWILIGHT, and NIGHT falls once dusk is over.

To find out your local sunset and dusk time, simply go to and search for your city (e.g. sunset and dusk time in Singapore on January 26th, 2018 will be 19:18 and 19:40 respectively). Or alternatively, search Google using “dusk date city” format (e.g. dusk January 24th, 2018 Singapore). Then, Google returns a dusk time even before the first result. Checking a dusk time has become a second nature to me whenever I’m shooting at blue hour, locally as well as traveling abroad on holidays.

Note: Apps like PhotoPills are also really helpful for planning shooting times and figuring out the sunrise, sunset and dusk times daily in any location worldwide.

Timeline - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Sunset to dusk in timeline. Towards the end of dusk is the best time to shoot blue hour photos with beautiful bluish hue in the sky.

Aim for Shooting the Last 10 Minutes of Dusk

In this 20 or so minutes between sunset and dusk, the first 10 minutes are still not quite “ripe”, as city buildings are not yet fully lit up, and the sky hasn’t yet taken on the beautiful bluish hue that appears towards the end of dusk. Use this time to decide on your composition, do some test shots, etc.

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Singapore skyline was shot 15 minutes before the end of dusk (six minutes after sunset) at f/13, 1.6 seconds, ISO 100. The stage isn’t quite set yet, as the sky is still bright and not many of the city lights are illuminated.

When there are about 10 minutes left before dusk, more city buildings will be lit, and bluish hue starts to appear in the sky, getting deeper and deeper with every single passing minute. It’s these last 10 minutes of dusk that are undoubtedly the prime time to shoot blue hour photography.

In addition, the limited available light at blue hour allows for your shutter speed to naturally get longer, especially with the use of a small aperture. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode and use a bigger f-stop number such as f/13, which helps create smoothed-out water and rushing clouds effects (provided that you’re shooting with a tripod).

ND filter - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

A neutral density (ND) filter is an item that will enrich your blue hour photography experience and images.

Add an ND Filter

To enhance such effects, try shooting with a neutral density (ND) filter attached. ND filters help reduce the light that is coming through the lens, allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds.

For example, with a 3-stop ND filter attached, a base shutter speed of 2-seconds is extended to 15 seconds. For a greater effect, use 6-stop ND filter to extend a base shutter speed of 2-seconds to 128 seconds (just over two minutes), which gives your photo a surreal and dreamy feel that is typically seen in long exposure photography, like Marina Bay (Singapore) photo below.

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Marina Bay photo was shot three minutes before the end of dusk (f/13, 135 seconds, ISO 100). The blue hour sky looks just right – not too light, not too dark, not overly vibrant. Also, an exposure of 135 seconds (with a 6-stop ND filter attached) helped create a silky smooth water effect.

Blue Hour Suddenly Ends after Dusk

Blue hour photography is sometimes mixed up with night photography, which starts once dusk is over. You might be surprised to find out that night falls almost suddenly after dusk. It doesn’t even take 10 minutes for the blue hour sky at dusk to turn into pitch-black night.

Personally, I never shoot after dusk. Photos shot after dusk tend to come out very dark and colors look muddy as there is little bluish hue left in the sky. Your photos will look considerably different if you miss this prime time of blue hour even by a mere few minutes.

Hong Kong - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Hong Kong skyline was shot 8 minutes after the end of dusk. The bluish hue in the sky quickly disappeared, and the scene turned into the dark night rather abruptly.


In fact, what we call blue “hour” seems to last only approximately 10 minutes towards the end of dusk (depending on where you are located relative to the equator).

Blue hour photography is quite a time-sensitive genre, as this prime time of blue hour sky ends in the blink of an eye. So, stay focused, otherwise, you could suddenly miss it passing you by under the fast-changing dusk sky. I really wish blue hour could literally last for an hour!

Editor’s note: it does in some parts of the world, at certain times of the year. If you want more blue hour time – travel farther away from the equator! Where I live in Canada blue hour is almost a full hour in the summer, versus 20 minutes where the author lives in Singapore.

The post How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour by Joey J appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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4 Incredible Photoshop Shortcuts in Six Minutes

18 Jan

I’m a bit of a post-processing shortcut addict. I’m always looking for more efficient ways of getting through my workflow in programs like Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, ON1 Photo RAW, etc. When I find a new shortcut, even if requires a bit of practice, I feel like I just leveled up. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true.

Four Photoshop Shortcuts in Six Minutes

I’ve been using Photoshop on a near daily basis for the better part of a decade now. Over the years, I’ve picked up a ton of shortcuts but I wanted to share some of my all-time favorites with you. These are the ones that rocked my world when I learned them, and if they’re new to you, I’m confident they’ll have the same effect!


  1. Make a stamp layer
  2. Brush opacity
  3. Brush resize trick
  4. Zoom trick

Correction from the video: For the brush resizing trick, the PC instructions I gave didn’t seem to be working for most users. The correct translation (this is for PC users only) is to hold down the ALT key, then click and drag using the right mouse key. If you’re on a pen tablet, use whatever button you have set for right click.


Well? Is your mind blown!? The brush resize and zoom shortcuts seriously changed my life when I learned them! I can’t tell you how many years I spent right clicking to change brush hardness and fumbling with bracket keys to resize the brush. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you have any incredible shortcuts to share, I’m all ears!

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9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

17 Jan

What are the next great apps you need for your Android and your iPhone?

There are many apps out there that are fun to use. In part two we bring you 10 more great apps for your smartphone (read part one here). Some of the ones listed below are for shooting, some are for creativity, and others are great tools for the landscape photographer. Most are available for both Android and iOS, some just available for iOS.

Shooting apps

#1 – ProCamera 10 – iOS – $ 4.99 9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

ProCamera gives you a lot of control over your settings while shooting with your iPhone. It is easy to use and offers advanced features such as RAW capture, a live histogram, and an anti-shake feature. In the new iPhones with multiple camera lenses, it has the ability to access either lens.

The images come out sharp with accurate exposures. The reason is that
you can separate the focus and exposure points to really create a sharp balanced composition.

You can also shoot in either Manual, Semi-Automatic or Automatic mode with on-screen display modes of standard, medium or light to hide non-critical display elements. It also has a low light mode called Low Light Plus which captures up to 64 photos and combines them into one photo with reduced noise.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - ProCamera

ProCamera 10 screenshots.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - VSCO#2 – VSCO Cam – for iOS and Android – Free with in-app purchases

VSCO Cam is one of my favorite apps. This free app has a powerful built-in camera with very clear image resolution and the ability to separate exposure and focus points which is vital in creating optimal imagery with a smartphone. This app also has built-in presets as well as ones you can purchase. It has a very active community that shares photo “recipes” to gain inspiration and create similar photographic styles in post-processing.

When taking photos in VSCO, you can have manual control of focus, exposure, white balance, and even ISO and shutter speed. Depending on the model of your phone, you can even shoot in RAW mode.

A big part of this app is the VSCO community and the navigation can be a bit confusing, but the results are consistently great.

Light Effects Apps

10 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - Lens Distortions#3 – Lens Distortions – iOS only – Free

Lens Distortions is a unique app that will change the way you see iPhone photo filters. The app’s editing platform allows you to combine subtle blur effects, light leaks, textures, sun flares, and sunbursts to help you enhance your images with light.

Lens Distortions is a great app for any iPhone photographer who is looking for unique filter effects that are easy to control and can be used to highlight a specific subject rather than apply it to the entire image. When used properly, the effect can look like it was taken on a much more advanced camera. Since smartphones don’t have an aperture which allows you to create a sunburst or sun flare effect like you can on a DSLR, this app will let you apply a sunburst, and give a realistic effect of the sun’s rays.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

 10 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - Rays#4 – Rays App – iOS only – $ 0.99

The Rays app is great for creating realistic light ray effects quickly and easily. The rays are only added to the bright highlight areas and have the effect of passing through objects while adding a three-dimensional quality to your image. You can add shafts of light streaming through trees, rays filtering through clouds, beams of light coming through the fog, or even rays coming out of some text. You can customize the color of the rays using a color picker and specify where the rays will be visible.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - Rays

Blend Mode Apps

Creating Your Own Textures

Before introducing some blending mode apps, I want to introduce you to creating your own textures. You can create your own palettes by taking pictures of interesting tree bark, floors, walls, or anything that catches your eye and combine it in a blending program.

Here are a few textures that I’ve used to create an interesting appearance in the background of an image.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

There are several apps available that give you stock textures to add to your compositions, but why not create your own? It’s just another way to see creatively and use your smartphone to make something unusual.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - superimpose#6 – Superimpose – iOS / Android

($ 1.99 for IOS, $ 0.99 for Android)

If you want a powerful app to combine images and textures, look at Superimpose. You can create professional level layered images on your Smartphone and easily blend one photo on top of another with this app.

You can also use this tool to blend textures, overlay borders, or create double exposures while adjusting transparency with 18 different blend modes.

To use this app, first load a background image. Then load a foreground image, masking out any unwanted elements in the foreground image. You can then move, scale, resize or flip the foreground and adjust colors and exposure. Then you can save the blended image to the photo library at full resolution.

Use the textures you created in the exercise above to give your images a unique and creative twist.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - superimpose

The rich brown hues of the copper background layer and the blend modes give a warmth to this image that it didn’t have before. You can move your background layer around to work with the foreground. Notice you don’t see the copper texture in the sky in this sample image. That was because it was rotated to work in that space with minimum texture.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - mextures app#7 – Mextures – iOS / $ 1.99

Mextures app lets you create grunge patterns, textures, and light leaks quickly and easily. With Mextures, you bring in an image from your camera roll and decide what texture from their menu you would like to use as a background layer. Once you apply that texture to the first layer, you can add another layer of texture, pattern, or light.

Layers are used in more advanced photography programs like Photoshop and are useful for making color and texture adjustments that won’t affect the whole picture. In this app, you can add texture in layer one, and then add gradient color in layer two. If you decide that you don’t like the gradient color, you can just delete that layer and redo it without affecting the texture layer.

Layers in both Photoshop and apps like this work the same way. Imagine having a stack of tissue paper, and each tissue has an element that you can add to your image. One tissue layer could have color, one could have texture, and one could have light leaks. It’s easy to take them in and out or change them without affecting the layers above or below.

This app gives you formulas that are saved presets which may be a combination of textures, colors, and gradients. You can even scroll through “Guest” formulas, and use them for your own images.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - mextures app

Plumeria Flower created with Mextures App

For Landscape Photographers

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - Aurora app#7 – My Aurora Forecast and Alerts – For Android / iOS – Free

Many photographers have shooting the Northern lights on their bucket list. This app will help you track the sometimes elusive Aurora Borealis and give you a forecast based on the Aurora activity. You can track the Aurora from your present location or at another location in the world. It will also give you alerts as to when the Aurora is active and in what location.

An interesting way to use this app is to follow Aurora cams around the world and then set your alerts as to when these areas are active. Then you can tune in and watch the show!

Get the app for Android here – and iOS here.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone#8 – Geotag Photos Pro – For Android / iOS – Free

Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to your photographs or videos. This data usually consists of filename, folder location, city, GPS coordinates, date, and time captured.

The Geotag Photos Pro app is meant to be used while you are shooting with your DSLR. It will record your position while you are taking photos and create a GPX file that you can export to your desktop app or to other apps and services like Lightroom, Flickr, and Apple Photos.

This is a particularly good tool for landscape photographers or anyone who wants to know exactly their route or the specific location they shot a group of images. The images below show how you can set your interval time for the track log as well as watch the track log as it is being created.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

Don’t worry, we weren’t walking in the ocean! The app did not recognize the pier in the route.

It is a quick, easy, and cheap way to keep track of your locations and log a shoot. There is no need for any expensive bulky additions to the hot shoe of your camera. It’s all tracked by synchronizing the clock on the app with the clock on your camera. It will create a track log with custom interval settings that you set up.

The best part is you can bring it into the Lightroom mapping module or connect with the Geotag Photo Pros online site and it will create a map of your shoot with thumbnail images along the route.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

Mapped route after it was imported into Lightroom.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone - sun seeker#9 – Sun Seeker – iOS / Android

$ 9.99 for IOS – $ 7.49 for Android

Sun Seeker is a great app for landscape photographers as it shows the angle of the sun and where it will be setting and rising in several different views. It provides a flat compass view as well as a real time image with an overlay of the sun’s projected solar path. You can choose any date and location in the world to plan for optimal light conditions. It helps you to find the right time and location to set up for your landscape photography.

9 More Great Apps You Need for Your Smartphone

Views showing the projected trajectory of the sun in the Sun Seeker App.


Whether or not you are using your smartphone as your primary camera, or you’re using it as a tool to help you get the shot with your DSLR, these apps can add fun and functionality to any shoot. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

If there are others that we’ve missed (check part one also) please give us the info in the comments below. What apps are your favorite?

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Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

17 Jan

If you’re like me, you may be wondering, “What exactly is commercial photography?” Well simply put, it is taking photos for commercial use. Common uses include ad space, websites, product placement, and items for sale. As you can imagine, having a working understanding of the essential elements of product photography can be extremely beneficial. Commercial shots influence consumers immensely. You can spruce up a client’s Etsy store, eBay listing, or even personal website with well done commercial shots.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

Commercial photography is a great way to sell your prints to businesses as well. Many businesses love to have nice, professional shots of their product hanging in their office space, hallways, or lobbies. Have fun shooting products you enjoy, and you never know if the business will be interested in buying and displaying the print.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

In this article, I’m going to talk about some essential tips for nailing commercial work. We’ll talk about how to set up a lightbox, selecting gear that’s right for the shoot, placing the product in flattering light, and how to touch up the image once it’s shot.

Equipment for commercial photography

First, it is highly beneficial to have a lightbox or light tent to use. The particular model I use folds and snaps together using magnets. You will first assemble your lightbox into its standing shape and then select the backdrop. Commonly used backdrop colors are black and white, and you will see that these are the ones I prefer to shoot against.

Feel free to have fun with the colors though! After all, you are the one behind the camera, so you call the shots. The use of a small stand may also be very beneficial for you. One tip though – be sure to position your camera in a way that the product will obscure the stand in the shot.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

Lens choice

My all-time favorite lens for commercial work is the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro. In fact, all of the images included in this article were shot with this lens. Macro lenses are great, in particular for small objects, to reveal extreme detail in the item.

Remember, that is a core component of shooting product photography – you want to advertise how great the item is to the audience of consumers! All the details matter, and all the resolving power of the lens counts. One thing to be wary of is that exact resolving power.

The magnification of macro lenses can become a heavy problem because they will make things like dust, scratches, and fingerprints appear clearly prevalent. Thankfully, I will share my tips to help edit these things out in Lightroom and Photoshop later.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography


Most light boxes, like mine, come equipped with a set of LEDs that are programmable or can be dimmed to various ratios of light. You will want to position the item you’re photographing so that the LEDs can light it in a flattering and dynamic way. Depending on what you’re shooting, you may want softer lighting or something that will really pop.

Be careful to avoid things like glare when positioning the item, as this problem will only become a headache in the touching up part of the job. In terms of positioning, I love to mess around with the shadows that are cast against the backdrop of my lightbox.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

Get ready to shoot

Now, it’s almost time to shoot! I would recommend canned air to blast some dust and dirt off the subject if it needs it. A tripod is also a MUST for this sort of work.

I generally shoot at small apertures to keep the images as sharp as possible, with as much in focus as possible. However, sometimes it can be nice to shoot wide to create a nice depth of field perspectives with the shots. There is a delicate balance between showing artistic intent and making the shot distracting when advertising a product, so be sure to keep the client’s intent in mind when shooting.

Here you can see a real-world example of what the setup could look like when using a lightbox to shoot a product.

Practical Tips for Doing Commercial Product Photography

A remote trigger is also very helpful, as commercial work necessitates eliminating camera shake. If you don’t have a remote trigger, my advice is to use the delayed-timer on your camera. Simply set the camera (mounted to the tripod) on self-timer for 10 seconds or so, focus the shot, depress the shutter release, and wait. Naturally, this method can add time to the process, so it isn’t a bad idea for you to invest in a remote trigger.


Now that you have the shots you want, it’s time to touch them up. This part can be long and tedious, but it makes a huge difference in the end product. I generally lean toward Lightroom when touching up shots, but for commercial macro work, in particular, I gravitate to Photoshop. I will explain the process for each.

In Lightroom: I normally boost highlights and whites to blow out the backdrop and create a nice glow to the product. You can do this by sliding the adjustment sliders for both highlights and whites to the right. The amount really varies shot to shot, but don’t be afraid to experiment! Exposure can also be adjusted by moving the exposure slider to the right, however, make sure to not clip the highlights! I also may adjust clarity and make slight contrast adjustments. The real work comes in with spot removal on the dust specks, which I generally do in Photoshop.

Here you can see the lightbox shown with unattractive shadows and blacks, which can be boosted as explained above, to white out the background as shown in the image below.

Edits are done in Lighroom showing the effect on the image.

In Photoshop: You should always clean your product before shooting, but some dust will not be avoided. Luckily, with Photoshop, you can select Filter > Noise > Dust and Scratches. From here, you can select the radius in pixels to target the dust specks. You will have a tendency to lose some sharpness since the filter isn’t perfect. It can have a tendency to smooth out sharp edges or features you intended to remain in the shot.

For this reason, I always create new layers of areas I want to filter and then re-stack the layers to show the changes while leaving sharp edges unaffected. Select certain areas to target with the lasso tool, then copy those layers, run the filter, and restack the layers.

Original image showing the dust specks.

The masked image with the dust specks removed.

Restacked layers with the dust removed.

Outside of this dust removal, I generally reopen the image in Lightroom and do any other necessary edits there. Generally the discussed touch ups I talked about for Lightroom in conjunction with the dust/scratch removal in Photoshop is enough for my taste as long as I shot the frame with correct exposure and settings.


While commercial photography can be intimidating at first, I find that it can be extremely rewarding and versatile alongside other ventures. I’ve found it to be on the lucrative end of the photographic spectrum in terms of genres, and I definitely recommend it as a skill set to add to your photographic tool belt.

Be sure to pay attention to details when shooting product work, and also pay attention to how you market these images to organizations and businesses to ensure the highest possible level of success within the genre. Above all else, go out, purchase a small light box and shoot! You may find that you love commercial work as much as I do!

I hope these tips help you with your commercial product photography. Please share your images and thoughts in the comments below.

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8 Tips for Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

17 Jan

“I really don’t need any more photography equipment in my gear bag”, said no photographer ever!

We all know that is this far from the truth. Even if you have not voiced this thought out in the open, you have certainly thought it. Especially when you see a photographer that you admire rave about a certain piece of gear that they absolutely cannot live without.

We, photographers, get very upset when strangers compliment our gear over our skill. Yet we seem to fall into that same trap when we don’t quite get the shot we really want.-If only I had that fast lens, if only my camera could handle a low light situation, if only I had image stabilization on my lens, or if only I had a camera that takes more frames per second, etc., etc., etc.

Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

Before you get ready to give up on the gear you have, I encourage you to look at your pictures with a critical eye and analyze if it is truly a gear limitation versus user error or inexperience. Now, I am not saying that the user is at fault in every situation. I will admit that in some situations gear is very important. For example, photographing a leopard chasing down its next meal or that sports car as it races around the track.

But in most cases, depending on your skill level AND the intended use of your pictures, you can get the shot with the equipment you already own. Here are some tips to help you.

#1 Perfect your composition skills

There are several different composition techniques that you can use to take your photographs from boring to interesting. Often just a small change can create a big impact. Are you finding yourself using the same center focused composition time and again? Try using the rule of thirds instead. Are you always photographing at eye level? Change your perspective and perhaps photograph from top-down or at a 45-degree angle.

Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

A cloudy gloomy day in Vridhavan, India gave me the perfect opportunity to capture reflections on this relatively still river. I intentionally chose an off-center composition to add additional interest to this image.

#2 Take your camera everywhere

If you are really serious about improving your photography, one of the first things to do is to understand your gear. The best way to do that is to take lots of photos. Take your camera with you everywhere you go.

If you really want to improve your photography, you have to take lots and lots of photos. By taking lots of pictures, you will start to understand how to use your camera in different lighting conditions and what works and what doesn’t. You can only do this if you give yourself many different opportunities to photograph different subjects in different lighting situations.

Take this a step further by actually taking and using the gear you want to perfect. If you own a DSLR but find it too heavy or cumbersome, then perhaps it is time to buy a simple point and shoot or smaller mirrorless camera.

Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear - horse photos

I am always carrying my camera to the barn where my kids learn horse riding. There are so many interesting stories that unfold and the lighting is quite challenging especially during winter so it gives me a chance to practice difficult lighting techniques as well!

#3 Learn to read and analyze light effectively

One of the most important elements of photography is light and yet it is amazing how many photographers don’t understand this important concept. Also, not all light is equal.

Light changes during the day and different types of light can affect images differently. Morning light is different from afternoon light which is different from evening light (a.k.a golden hour) which is yet again different from blue hour. In order to really improve your photography, you must learn to distinguish these different types of lighting situations and how to effectively work in each situation.

Dark and Moody Lifestyle Equestrian Photos - Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

I saw this image long before I even took the photo. Just something about the light filtering from the right, the catch light and even the color of the horse just made this one of my favorite equestrian photos of all times!

#4 Use a tripod

A tripod is a very useful tool for you as a photographer. It opens up new opportunities for creative photography like low light or night photography. You can experiment with the light at night to capture really beautiful images.

A tripod can let you capture sharp images of non-moving subjects and blur out moving subjects, creating very interesting photographs. You can take this a step further by using a remote trigger that will also enable you to take long exposure shots without fear of camera shake.

#5 Learn to photograph in manual mode

Your camera is a pretty sophisticated piece of machinery with a pre-programmed brain (shooting modes). These modes can be found on the top dial of your camera and are generally labeled as P (Program), M (Manual), Av/A (Aperture Priority), and Tv/S (Shutter priority), plus other automatic modes.

Manual mode (or M on most cameras) is much like using an old film SLR, when they didn’t have buttons that do it all for you. Being the only option, photographers were forced to learn to use their cameras in Manual. In doing so, they fully learned how their cameras worked. Once you know how to properly use your camera, it becomes much easier to spot where you’re going wrong and to fix it.

Semi-automatic modes are good for some situations but, once you know how to properly shoot in Manual, you’ll find there’s no need for them and you’ll get better results on your own. Manual mode also gives you the freedom to make mistakes, freedom to bend the “rules” of photography, and in turn, gives you the freedom to excel in your art.

Car in a foggy day along a ridge road - Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

Manual mode on your camera gives you so much flexibility in terms of getting creative, photographing in different conditions and also allowing you to experiment with different techniques.

#6 Find great locations to photograph

Don’t just sit at home and expect great pictures to happen. Find local and state parks or perhaps even national parks that might be close to you (by close I mean within an acceptable driving distance) and look for potentially good spots for photography.

When shootig landscapes, you will have to envision your image to see what could look good and what may not. For example, a still lake is a great way to produce a mirrored image where the clouds, trees, and other objects are reflected on the lake. For portrait photography, drive around and see if you can find locations that will look good in the background.

The great thing about portrait photography is that a good background is often easy to find like a white wall, an old building, or an interesting fence. Use your imagination and you will soon be finding great spots all around you.

Custer State Park Outdoor Photos - Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

#optoutside and I guarantee you will find amazing things to photography. Just being outside in nature changes our perspective and lifts the mood!

#7 Understand basic post-processing

Exposure or brightness, contrast, color balance, and tone/tint are some of the basic things you can fix in an image. There are many free post-processing software out there in the market that you can use to make basic adjustments to your image.

If you want to learn advanced editing techniques there are many options for you like Photoshop, Lightroom, Luminar, etc. Adobe has great creative editing programs that are subscription based (a fee every month). Maybe invest in these programs on a trial basis and see if they will suit your editing needs.

 Custer State Park sunset photo - Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

I have a certain style of how I like my photos and I always look for elements that will work well with that style. I have a relatively easy hand in terms of editing my photos – minor adjustments in exposure, contrast, tonality and shadows/highlights and I am done. My preference is to keep the natural look and feel of my images intact – just my personal style of photography!

#8 Photograph in RAW

If you are still using JPEG for your pictures, it is about time to move to RAW. Most of the newer cameras today are capable of recording images in RAW format, so give it a try. A RAW image is called “raw” for a reason – it is an unprocessed image with a lot more colors to work with than a JPEG image.

It might not look great at the back of the camera when you take the photo but when you import it into your editing software, you have a lot more options to adjust to give it the look and feel you want. One caveat is that RAW  images do take up more space than JPEG, so you might have to invest in memory cards with more storage and a larger hard drive.

Custer State Park Paddle boarding in Lake Custer - Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear

When we visited this state park, there were a lot of wildfires that were burning in the neighboring areas, so the sky had this general pink glow all throughout! By photographing in raw and editing in post, I was able to retain the look as I remember seeing the park when we visited!


I hope these tips help you understand your existing gear a little bit better. Sure, you may have reached a point in your career where an upgrade is absolutely required and essential.

If not, rather than investing more money in gear that you may not be ready for, try to improve your craft with what you have and a little extra effort.

The post 8 Tips for Rocking the Photography Equipment You Currently own Versus Buying New Gear by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

16 Jan

Grunge. It’s a great look for gritty, edgy, photos, and you couldn’t have it simpler than doing it in Luminar 2018. In this article, you’ll see how to examine Presets and use elements from those Presets to create your own custom Grunge look. Presets are fantastic, but the best way to improve your processing is through your own creative process. So let’s get started.

Grunge look.

Find the right image for a grunge look

Open the photo you want to process. I have a winter woods scene here. It’s already moody, and you’ll find that using a photo that will benefit from a grunge look is a good place to start. No point starting with happy sunny day shots as it really doesn’t fit the style.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018


As Luminar has a huge number of Presets, you should begin there. If you don’t see the Presets at the bottom, click the Presets panel icon, it’s the third one in from the right on the top toolbar. From the Categories, choose Dramatic. Two of these look appealing for a grunge look; Dramatic Grungy and Dramatic Look.

Dramatic Grungy opens a custom Workspace with three filters: Dramatic, Clarity and Structure.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

You’ll notice that Dramatic Look also uses three Filters. Dramatic is there, but the others are Raw Develop and Vignette.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

The Dramatic Filter is common to both presets, and there are other filters that are in one and not the other, so perhaps a good start is to combine the five filters from both presets into your own custom workspace.

Custom Workspace

You can reset the image by going to Filters panel, clicking on “Custom Workspace” and choosing “Clear Workspace”. This gives you a fresh start to create your own grunge workspace.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Click Add Filters. You can find some of the filters immediately. Raw Develop, Structure and Vignette are in the Essentials section, Clarity is in Issue Fixers and Dramatic is in Creative. If you don’t see a filter immediately, just type a few letters in the Search box at the top of Filters Catalog to restrict the view to match.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s a Clarity slider in Raw Develop, so you could choose to leave out the Clarity filter. But you might want even more Clarity and this allows you to double up the effect, and mask it to only apply to certain parts of the image.

Finally, add one more filter to this set; Cross Processing. This will allow you to color tone the final look.

Raw Develop

The Raw Develop filter is where you use Luminar’s processing to bring out the most from your Raw file. This Raw file (as per most) is a bit flat to start, so needs some tweaking. Reducing Highlights and increasing Shadows will open up the photo a bit more, while decreasing Blacks and increasing Whites will add to the contrast of your photo. At some point, you may want to decrease the saturation of the photo, but for now, use Raw Develop to get the most out of your photo.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

The Photo is still a little cool toned so a bump in Temperature to 6000k will fix that and sit better with the tones in the photo.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

You can leave Clarity at zero here and come back later if you want to add more.


What makes a photo grungy? Think of the things and feelings grunge evokes; dark, moody, edgy, and gritty. The Structure filter can definitely do the Edgy bit. Your Amount slider can go from really soft at -100, to really nasty at +100. 60 seems to look good for this photo.

Softness changes your internal contrast in the photo. A setting of 30 keeps the skin from getting too blown out. Of course, if you want more of the effect in the background you could erase the effect a little on the subject using the masking tools.

The final slider is Boost, which does indeed boost the effect. 60 looks great here. We’re already well on the way to making a grungy photo.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018


Vignette darkens or lightens the corners of the photo via the Amount slider. To draw attention to the center of your photo, you should darken the edges. Your first step should do is click Place Center, then click on your subject. That will target the area for the middle of the vignette to keep lighter.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

To see your Vignette edge easier, set the Feather to 0, with Amount turned way down.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Using Size and Place Center, get the best position and radius for your vignette. Use Roundness to get the best shape; to the left, it’s more rectangular, to the right it’s rounder.

Don’t worry if it looks too obvious, this is just for getting the placement and size right as it’s easier to see this way.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Finally, set the Feather to soften the edge of the vignette, and set Amount to the final darkness you want.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Edge vignette applied.


Contrast darkens shadows and lightens highlights. Clarity tends to work away from these areas and work more in the mid tones. It’s a grit filter, so add your grit here. 100 is way too much, and 40 looks better here.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018


You’ve already gotten quite a bit of drama to the image, so only a hint of this contrast-based filter is needed. The Dramatic Filter is one to play with for this.

If you want to retain color, set Saturation up to full. Adding Contrast and Local Contrast will increase both the darker and lighter aspects of the photo, so Brightness is there to compensate for whichever is stronger. In this photo, you’ll find reducing it is necessary.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Cross Processing

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

While this was originally a way of changing colors by processing film in the wrong chemicals, Cross Processing is now more associated with color toning a photo. Luminar uses city names to define their various toning options.

You should try each one with the Amount slider up high to find one you like. After looking at all the cities, I came back to Tokyo, which I’d found pleasing immediately. Then you can dial the effect back using the Amount slider until you find the look you want.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018


The image is now suitably dark and gritty, but probably a little too dark. A quick trip back to Raw Develop to bump the Exposure slider will fix this.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Saving Presets or Workspaces

Now is the time to save what you’ve set up. If you like your work, you should consider creating either a Preset to repeat the exact look you have here or set up a Workspace to have all the filters open for you to begin working from scratch (or both).

To save your Preset, click Save Filters Preset at the very bottom right corner of the screen. A dialog appears allowing you to name and create your new preset. This will allow you to apply all the same filters and settings to any image with one click. Of course, you can always adjust any of them to suit the image or dial it back using the amount slider on the preset.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

To save your new Workspace, go to the top of Filters, then click on Custom Workspace. From the drop-down menu and choose “Save as New Workspace”.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

Name the Workspace and create it.

How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018

The new Workspace will now appear in the Workspaces list and will be selected (check mark next to it). Now it is available for you to use with any image. Clicking it will open those same five filters but not apply any of the settings.

Other options

Here is the before and after to show the full grunge effect.


Grunge look.

With the look solidified, you could potentially add a texture to add even more grit to your photo. So, check out how to do this in our article How to Apply Creativity to Your Images with Texture Overlays Using Luminar.

As you’ve seen, Luminar 2018 has great tools that you can use to achieve your processing goals quickly and repeatedly. Now, go out and grunge!

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Create a Grunge Look with Luminar 2018 by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How To Get Bitcoins Without Mining

16 Jan

Why am I talking about Bitcoin here? Because everyone is? Not exactly. For one, you can now exchange bitcoin into dollars and that can buy some nice photo gear. If only there was a way to get bitcoin without spending thousands of dollars building a rig that sounds like an airport runway in your basement and destroys your electric bill. Continue Reading

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How to Photograph the Sheer Beauty of Soap Bubbles

16 Jan

Most of us are fascinated by soap bubbles and love playing with them since childhood. Watching bubbles float in the air and burst is a pleasure every child and even adults enjoy. Soap bubbles have an exciting range of color and textures. When light shines onto a bubble it displays vivid color that changes swiftly. Even though we see them on regular basis, we never actually observe them so closely to enjoy the thrilling beauty they hold within.

They are stunning, amusing and mesmerizing but extremely short-lived. Soap bubbles usually last only for a few seconds and then burst either on their own or upon contact with another object. So how can you capture these beautiful soap bubbles and keep it forever? Let’s find out.

Soap Bubbles 01

What gear do you need?

First, we’ll talk about the camera gear you need for photographing soap bubbles. These photos can be taken with any DSLR or even compact camera if it is capable of firing an external flash. And for the lens, it’s better to use a macro lens but if you don’t have one, any lens will work fine.

Get or make a large light source

The most important aspect of soap bubble photography is the light source rather than a camera. It requires a large light source. If you have a studio light with a large softbox or beauty dish that will work great. But if you don’t have one, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take this type of photo. It can be done by using off-camera flash with a DIY softbox too.

For a DIY softbox, make a frame of two by two feet by using wood or iron wire and wrap it in white cotton cloth or butter paper. This frame, combined with an off-camera flash, will give the same impact as studio flash with a softbox.

And if you don’t have an external flash, you may place this frame near the window (or hang a white bed sheet over a window) and use sunlight as your light source. The possibilities are endless, you just need to use your imagination.

Steady the camera

You will also need a tripod so you can fix your camera on it and free your hands to blow bubbles. If you have a shutter release cable (remote trigger) it would be great to use that as well.

Other supplies

Other than this, get a piece of black cloth or black paper to use as a backdrop. You’ll also need soap solution to blow bubbles. You can buy it from local stores or make it at home by adding two tablespoons of liquid soap and one tablespoon of glycerine in half cup of water and leave it overnight.


Okay, now we have everything, let’s start shooting. First, switch-on your music system and start playing your favorite album. It’s not necessary but it’s always good to listen to music while you shoot.

Now pour soap solution into a small bowl and place it on a table. Put a black cloth or black paper behind the bowl and set up your light source. Your light should be very near to the bubble (just 2-3 inches). If you want your bubbles to look like a floating planet, place the light source right above the bubble otherwise place it at 45 degrees downward.

Soap Bubbles 19

Soap Bubbles 12

Set your camera on the tripod and attach the shutter release cable. Set a narrow aperture between f/11-f/16, so you can get deep depth of field and get the entire bubble in focus. Focus manually and change other settings like shutter speed and ISO according to the light. Now use a straw to blow bubbles and start clicking.

Problems and Solutions

Once you blow the bubble, you’ll notice that it doesn’t have the swirls of colors which you were expecting. Wait a few seconds, and the colors will begin emerging, which is your cue to start clicking pictures.

Soap Bubbles 14

Soap Bubbles 15

Also, keep a close watch on the surface of the bubble. If it starts looking transparent, it means that the bubble is about to burst. To increase its lifespan, use a straw and blow on the bubble slightly. This will also add some unique texture to it.

If you are using homemade soap solution which you made using the formula I talked about earlier, soap bubbles will have a longer life but if you are using other soap solution, bubbles will burst in very short time. If that’s happening, adding a few drop of glycerine will increase its lifespan.

I also discovered that the temperature and the humidity of room play an important role in increasing the life of a soap bubble. If the temperature of the room is hot or atmosphere too dry, the bubbles would burst very quickly. This happens because soap bubbles have a layer of water between two thin layers of soap and when the water evaporates, it bursts. This is why it has a shorter lifespan in hot and dry environments.

So, by adding glycerine and lowering the temperature of the room, you can increase the lifespan of the bubble up to five minutes. Soap bubbles show a whole range of colors and textures from their formation until they burst. Every second you’ll find different colors and patterns and you can get lots of different shots with just one bubble.

Soap Bubbles 09


If everything has been set up properly, there is no need for heavy post-processing. Just level adjustments, some cleaning, cropping and sharpening would be enough and your image end up looking like scenes from the movie Interstellar.

At last, keep trying until you get the desired results and share your photos in the comments below.

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