Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Camera Bag Review – The Udee Backpack

29 Apr

As a photographer, amateur or professional, you know the value of good, reliable gear. It is often said that we photographers value good gear more than expensive material things like jewelry, designer watches, and/or expensive clothes. If you don’t agree with me, just ask my husband. He is still perplexed about my choice of buying a 20+-year-old film camera for what it would have cost him to buy an Apple watch for my birthday! But considering that I am the one who works most with my gear, carries it around, and takes care of it, I want to make the best buying decisions when it comes to my photography business. So when I had the opportunity to review the Udee backpack, I was excited to give it a test run.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Udee Backpack

As a somewhat petite female photographer who is generally lugging about 20+ lbs of gear, I am always on the lookout for a good, sturdy yet comfortable, camera bag that will last me a long time. I had the opportunity to test the Udee bag on several hiking trips with my family last month.

This is where I want a bag that is durable and can last the rough wear and tear I generally put my gear through when I am hiking. For my wedding photography business, I already have a bag that is tried and tested and something that I will likely not change as my needs for that part of my business are very different.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

The Udee bag was really comfortable to carry around while hiking and walking in the mountains.

You can see the individual features of the Udee backpack on their Kickstarter project here.  My personal opinions of the Udee are based on a few factors that I feel are important to me when I am buying a camera bag.


I have to say that when I first saw the Udee backpack I was very impressed with the appearance. It’s definitely one of the more stylish looking backpacks I have ever seen. The color combination of the gray flannel-type material with orange accents was attractive, and it appeared to be made of good and sturdy quality fabric. It did not feel like cheap construction and there were no telltale signs of poor workmanship in terms of loose threads, uneven seams, bad zippers, etc., at first glance.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

The material felt strong and sturdy yet light-weight. The padding on the back of the pack also felt thick and soft. I prefer camera bags that don’t look and scream “here is a photographer with several thousand dollars worth of gear on their person” too much. On many occasions, I venture out on my own in a new place and I don’t want to attract too much attention.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack


As per Udee, their bag touts a weight reduction system by improving weight distribution via an S-shaped buckle, and an X-shaped back support structure. I tested the bag when I went for a family hiking trip to Colorado and completely loved the weight reduction system. I hiked for a good two to three hours and did not feel the discomfort that I normally feel with other traditional backpacks.

The back support made carrying the bag super comfortable and the straps did not dig into my shoulders with the weight of the bag. The combination of the X-shaped back padding and stiff back support made it easy to carry the camera bag for an extended period of time. I did not have any odd shaped gear poking into my back making it unfordable to carry. The bag straps were also wide enough to comfortably fit on my shoulder.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

My seven-year-old son also carried the bag for a short period of time (minus the camera, as I was holding it taking pictures) and he did not complain about the weight. At that time it contained a few snacks, a 50mm prime lens, a 70-200mm and a water bottle.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Of his own accord, my son volunteered to carry the bag for me…with slight adjustments to the straps, it fit his small frame quite comfortably.


I used to carry a lot of gear with me during my travels but over time I have narrowed down my options to only carrying lens and gear that I know I will use. I plan out my excursions ahead of time so I know exactly what I will be using and when. The Udee backpack fit the following comfortably:

  • 1 camera body
  • 2 zoom and prime lenses
  • My Canon 70-200mm (with the lens case)
  • Camera battery charger
  • Memory cards
  • 3 camera batteries
  • And a 15in MacBook laptop

I don’t carry additional bodies when I travel most of the time but sometimes I will carry an additional film camera body which is small enough to comfortably fit in the Udee.


Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

The padding inside the bag is thick and soft. I am very particular with my gear and always travel with the lenses in the bags they come in. Sometimes I will put two or more lens in a smaller padded zip bag and then put it in my backpack. It might seem like overkill, but I would rather do this than have damaged gear when I reach my destination.

With the Udee backpack, I felt comfortable enough to just put my lenses in their bags directly into the bag. I did find it a little uncomfortable to fit my 70-200mm with its case in the bottom storage compartment but it fit perfectly in the top compartment. The main compartment of the Udee also had various smaller storage areas that hold traditional things like cards, a wallet, loose change and even had a padded place for sunglasses or eyeglasses.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

On a side note, for those of you who travel on planes with the Udee, the dimensions are within the guidelines of the airlines and it actually fits perfectly in the flight overhead compartment.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Anti-theft device

I found this to be a very unique and interesting feature of the Udee backpack. Call me paranoid, but I never ever leave my gear unattended. If I am traveling alone, it comes with me wherever I go. If I am with family, then I have someone watch my gear if I have to step away. My gear is what keeps my business afloat and even though I have insurance, I still behave like I don’t when it comes to safety and security with my gear.

When I read about the anti-theft device in the Udee, I was intrigued. This is an interesting feature for travelers especially if you put your camera bag in an overhead rack when using public transportation or need to step away from your gear for a few minutes. The small, built-in combination lock and steel cable are long enough to keep your pack safe and the lock can also be used on some of the pack’s zippers.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Security pocket and luggage belt

I love bags that have a luggage belt. This small but important feature is invaluable to me as it helps maintain my sanity when I am rushed and traveling through an airport with my kids. Those of you who travel with young ones can likely relate. Somehow you suddenly become the luggage porter just minutes before walking through security. Especially when they swore that they would carry their own bags the whole trip if you just let them take that extra book or that extra game!

The luggage belt allowed me to hook the camera bag onto my carryon bag handle and gave me an extra hand to maneuver my kids through the crowded airport. I liked the security pocket too because it let me store and access my phone easily. However, I don’t see myself using this for anything other than a phone and maybe some money just in case I lose my wallet somewhere. It was easy to access even with both bag straps on my shoulder, which is a big plus in my mind.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

LED Light

I really loved this feature of the bag. I found it particularly useful when I was hiking with my family. We tend to stay out past sunset (generally because I am photographing something and get carried away) and we always carry flashlights with us. We have headlamps, but the fact that the bag could light up and replace my headlamp was particularly impressive.

I can also see this as being very useful for people who walk along roadsides at night. With just the click of a button on each strap, the LED strips either blink slowly, blink quickly, or stay on continuously. The fact that each LED module can be removed from the strap and can be plugged into a standard micro-USB charger is also really practical as there are no batteries to replace.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Cons of the Udee backpack

But there were a few things about the Udee backpack that I personally did not like. These are just my opinion based on my time with the Udee!

No water bottle pocket

Now I am very conscious of the environment and try to practice sustainability in my everyday life. To that end, I always carry my own water bottle everywhere I go. This is especially important when I am out hiking and camping with my family. This was a huge con in my mind as there is no storage spot for me to keep my water bottle on the Udee bag.

I would have to use an external hook to clip the bottle to the shoulder straps, which I find extremely cumbersome and awkward as the bottle tends to hustle around when I am hiking. The other option would be to put the bottle inside the bag which makes me very nervous – liquid and electronic gear in close proximity is a disaster just waiting to happen!

Accessibility to the bottom storage compartment is difficult

I found accessibility to my camera very difficult when I stored it in the bottom compartment of the Udee backpack. This is the part of the bag that Udee calls the camera storage area. With the bag on both shoulders, it was impossible to reach the zipper of the bottom storage. I had to shift the bag onto one shoulder and even then, it was very challenging to open the zipper and take out the camera.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

My arms could not reach the bottom storage while I was holding the bag. I had to put the bag down, take some stuff out of the top storage and then access the bottom camera storage area!

The bottom storage compartment was stiff and did not open wide enough to take the camera out, especially when there were extra lenses in the top compartment weighing it down. This may not be an issue if you don’t anticipate taking pictures while you are getting to and from your destination. I like to stop and take some pictures along the way when I am hiking and/or walking around town. I don’t necessarily want to have the camera around my neck for easy access.

Safety and security

Especially when I am hiking a difficult terrain, I like to be safe with my expensive gear. I did notice that it is possible to access the lower compartment from the interior of the backpack since the divider has a zipper around it. However, that’s not practical if the upper compartment is also full of stuff.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

But what surprised me was that the bottom storage was accessible easily when the bag was worn on the back. My son wanted to store his jacket (5 minutes into the hike of course) and was easily able to do so. Not so good for the security of camera gear.

Quality of the zipper

Through out my time with the Udee bag, some of the zippers were very difficult to use. Now, this could be just my copy of the bag and not really a problem in general.

The orange zipper which opens to the compartment with the key hook (I kept the car keys and my wallet there) was particularly hard to operate. The key hook kept getting stuck in the zipper and it was hard to open. I had to press down on the front of the bag and then open it. So I could not open the bag and take my keys out super fast. I would have to try a couple of times before being able to get anything out. I did not have a problem with the other zippers so, as I said, it could be just an issue with my copy of the bag.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

Overall thoughts on the Udee backpack

Overall I think the Udee backpack is a very good looking bag that is generally well-built. Its list of features includes some really innovative things like the LED lights, anti-theft device, and portable charging.

However, I feel that it also has some serious misses like the poorly designed lower-compartment in terms of accessibility and lack of beverage storage. I may be tempted to use this bag for light photography use and small day trips where I may not even take my camera or take just a point and shoot. I would not consider taking this on an extensive travel trip where I am constantly on the move, taking a lot of pictures along the way and need to take my camera out multiple times.

Camera Bag Review - The Udee Backpack

P.S. I really want to thank my kids for being such sports and testing out the Udee with me on our trip. The bribe of being photographed for an article really worked in my favor this time around!

The post Camera Bag Review – The Udee Backpack by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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20 Tips for Getting People to Smile in Photos

29 Apr

One of the biggest challenges every photographer faces it getting people to smile naturally for a photo. Sure, you can ask someone to say “cheese!” and he or she will likely comply. But you’ll also probably end up with a cheesy smile that doesn’t look natural or attractive. After all, there’s a HUGE difference between a genuine smile and a fake one.

As a professional event photographer, spontaneously getting complete strangers to smile is a big part of my job, and I’ve picked up some proven techniques that I’ll share with you in this article. Note that I’ve broken up the sections into tips for photographing people by themselves, as couples, in groups, and children, but you can certainly mix and match. Also, be careful to always consider your audience and adjust your technique accordingly.

For Singles

1. Approach with a smile

A smile and friendly demeanor are contagious. Before you ask someone else to smile, make sure that you’re smiling yourself and approach with a friendly tone. If you want to get a real smile out of someone, you need to set the tone by approaching them with a giant, genuine smile on your face.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

2. Offer a compliment

One of the quickest and easiest ways to get someone to smile is to boost their confidence. This is something you can easily do by offering a compliment based on a feature or quality you observe about them. Are they wearing an attractive outfit or an unusual piece of jewelry? Do they have a friendly smile or laugh? Offer a compliment!

3.  Smile with your eyes

How do you know if a smile is genuine or fake? It’s all in the eyes. A fake smile tends to only have the lower half of the face engaged, with the lips curled into a smile. But if the eyes aren’t squinting as well, you can tell the smile is forced and not very genuine. If your photo subject’s smile is looking a bit off and you can’t tell why, ask them to smile with their eyes, or “smize” as Tyra Banks would say.

4. Fake laugh!

To illicit a genuine smile, your photo subject needs to feel comfortable and relaxed. The best way to break the ice is to get them to laugh. Ask for a fake laugh, saying something like this, “Let’s see who’s got the biggest, loudest fake laugh! On the count of three, 1, 2, 3, LAUGH!” The whole point here is not to capture the fake laugh, but to get the resulting real laughs and smiles that you’ll get after the fact. It’s also important to note that your own enthusiasm for the activity and tone of voice is what makes this technique work.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

5. Show me your happy face! Silly face! Sad face!

Most photo subjects respond the best if you give them specific instructions. Help them loosen up and feel less self-conscious by having them go through a series of facial poses. You might think this one only works with kids, but certain types of adults will totally get into this exercise.

6. Instead of “Say cheese,” say…

Most people expect to hear “say cheese” before getting a photo. Surprise them by saying something else, such as, “money” or “whiskey” for adults, or “pickles” or “chocolate” for children. Use your discretion and pick a word that suits your audience.

7. Tell them a joke (or ask them to tell you a joke)

One of the most obvious ways to get people to laugh or smile is to tell a joke. The trick is finding a joke that is appropriate for the audience. Personally, I use the joke below all the time for my corporate event photo shoots, and it almost always gets a laugh out of people. But I wouldn’t use this joke with children; I’d maybe use a knock knock joke instead.  You can also flip the tables and ask your photo subject to tell you a joke.

Q: “What’s the quickest way to make money as a photographer?”

A: “Sell your camera!”

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

For Groups

When photographing groups, you can use any of the above techniques for singles, but you can also add quite a few extra tricks to get creative, engaging shots.

8. Whisper a secret to the person standing next to you.

The idea is to get the people in your group engaging with each other. This technique can also elicit grins and giggles as people tend to whisper nonsensical noises to each other.

9. Everyone look at each other.

This works best for groups of at least three or more people. The reason why it works is that the instructions are vague. No one is really sure who to look at, and the resulting expressions tend to be smiles and laughs. This is great for capturing candid shots. Use it to loosen people up, and then move onto to the next few tips to work them into a more serious, smiling pose.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

10. Everyone look at ____.

It’s essential to know everyone’s names or titles for this one to work. By calling out someone specifically in a group, you’re making them the center of attention and it’s often funny to the rest of the group to see how that person reacts.

11. Everyone look at me!

Follow this up after #8 or #9. After getting the group to engage with each other and laugh, they’ve loosened up. At this point, you can turn their full attention back to the camera and get everyone looking at you with a real smile on their faces. You can also take it a step further by saying something playful and silly like, “You guys don’t look happy enough! Make those smiles bigger!”

12. Action for a silly photo

Almost every single group photo will result in the group wanting to take a silly picture after the serious one. The problem is, most groups don’t know what to do for a silly photo. Help them out by throwing out some suggestions. My favorites for adults are:

  • Everyone clink your glasses together and say, “cheers!” if they’re holding drinks.
  • Hands in the air and raise the roof!
  • Point at the camera!
  • Thumbs up!
  • Give me your best impression of ____ (a celebrity, animal, etc)

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

For Couples

You can use many of the above group techniques for couples, but you’ll also want to have a few other tricks up your sleeve.

13. Tell me about how you met / first knew you were in love.

Talking about intimate, happy moments with couples is a great way to get them in-tune with each other and eliciting romantic smiles.

14. Give her a kiss on the cheek/forehead/nose.

Most happy couples will definitely smile when asked to be intimate with each other for the camera.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

Photo by Jonathan Gipaya

15. Ask them to dance.

Get the couple moving and focus their attention away from the camera, especially if they are having a hard time relaxing. Almost any couple dancing together will be in good spirits. This also gives you a chance to grab some candid, action shots.

For Children

16. Stare at each other without laughing.

The minute you tell kids to be serious without laughing, you’re more likely to get the opposite effect. This is a simple, yet highly effective way to get kids to smile.

17. Play a game.

If you have the time and the space to get kids to play a game, take advantage of it! Have them play Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose, tag, or any other age-appropriate games that will get them engaged and having fun.

18. On the count of three, jump as high as you can!

Jump shots are always fun for kids and even certain types of adults. Make it more fun and engaging by turning it into a jumping contest to see who can jump the highest.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

19. Stick your tongue out.

Admittedly, photos of kids sticking their tongues out often aren’t what you’re trying to achieve. But if you stick your tongue out at them or turn it into a game of who has the longest tongue, this can lead to laughs and smiles, which you definitely want to capture in photos.

20. Bunny ears.

You may not even have to ask kids to do this for you. Bunny ears seem to be a universal photo prank that even adults play on each other and seem to find funny.

In Conclusion

There you have it, 20 ideas to help people smile for a photo. Get out there and try some of these techniques and see how they go! But always be sure to gauge how your photo subjects are reacting to your suggestions. You might have to adjust your tone of voice and photo directions for different types of people.

Have any ideas to add to the list? Mention them in the comments below!

The post 20 Tips for Getting People to Smile in Photos by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How Understanding Your Learning Style Can Improve Your Photography

28 Apr

Lady in the blue hat walked into my shot and I chose to include her to emphasize the size of the trees and the distance of the park


It’s an exciting time, going to the camera shop, discussing options, making the final choice, parting with a reasonable sum of money. Finally the anticipation of getting home and unpacking your shiny new camera gear. Suddenly all the dials and buttons seem so much more confusing, the manual may not explain things enough. The menus are complicated so it’s easiest to switch over to Auto mode and leave it there while you try to figure it out.

Six months later what’s happening with your camera? Are you still using it? Is it still on Auto or have you tried other modes? Did you decide it was too hard and the camera is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere (this is more common than you may realize)?

Toi Toi silhouetted by sunset – an experiment in backlighting.

Learning to learn is a skill that also needs to be developed

Learning a new skill is difficult. It takes commitment to put time and effort into the learning process. It requires you to admit you are at the beginner stage, where you will struggle to produce the quality of work that you want. Learning is a process which requires you to put some thought and structure into working out a process that is right for you. Different people learn in different ways, so it’s helpful for you to understand how you prefer to learn. Why?

  •  Value: If you are spending money on a course or a workshop, you want to make sure you are going to get the best value out of it.
  • Time: Learning takes time, so when choosing an option, knowing your preferences helps maximize your benefits.
  • Fun: It’s more fun if you are learning in a way that you enjoy.
  • Return: You are more likely to invest the time and effort into something that makes sense to you and shows a return on your investment.
  • Pain avoidance: No one enjoys doing something painful or difficult for the sake of it.
  • Find the best sources: Information is everywhere but varies in quality – you need to sift the good from the not so good.

Narrow depth of field, focused on the sparrow using a 70-200mm lens at a distance.

Learning styles

While there are many theories on learning styles, there are three basic types that apply to most people:

  1. Auditory learners – learn by hearing and listening – you may prefer to read things out loud as you store information by the way it sounds to you.
  2. Visual learners – like to see what you are learning as either pictures or words – you understand and remember things that you see.  May use flash cards or similar for studying.
  3. Tactile learners – you learn best by being hands on – touching things, taking them apart, twiddling with the settings (probably not listening to a speaker while you are doing it).

Of course, most people are a combination of all of these styles but you will likely have a preference for one or two. Understanding them can help you make choices around developing your own personal approach to learning photography. There are many options. Some don’t need lots of money but others might cost quite a lot, and it’s difficult to know in advance if it will be worth it.

Swan Yoga – if you take time to sit and be with your subject, all sorts of interesting things might happen

Opportunities for learning photography

  1. Books, magazines and other printed material – can be purchased, downloaded in digital format or borrowed from libraries.
  2. Online tutorials – short tutorials on a specific subject.
  3. Video courses – can be watched for free online or many options can be purchased.
  4. Short workshops (a day or less) – attend in person – usually listening to a speaker plus opportunities for questions and hands-on experimenting.
  5. Long workshops (several days) – attend in person – some travel may be involved, often with a specific focus, planned talks plus time for independent shooting, discussion sessions, editing sessions.
  6. One-on-one tutoring – customized service offered by some professionals where you can have a training session targeted to a particular subject.
  7. Small groups – similar to one-on-one tutoring but with 3-5 students.
  8. Camera clubs – often organize workshops or field trips for members with the aim of learning for everyone, often a safe place to ask questions.
  9. Photography forums – online forums where photographers gather to post images and share information, might be general or around a specific subject (landscapes or birds).
  10. Online courses – structured learning courses hosted online aimed at a range of capabilities from beginner to advanced (rather than random videos) on specific topics.
  11. Formal education – University Degree courses in photography and other tertiary institutes are available.
  12. Apprentice or intern – offering to work for free assisting a professional and learning on the job.
  13. Mentor – someone experienced who is happy to answer questions, go for a bit of a photo walk, give you tips and advice (be nice and buy them lunch).
  14. Organize your own DIY photography retreat focused on specific techniques.
  15. PRACTICE!! – take your camera out and use it as often as you can.

Learning the hard way about photographing a subject in bright sunlight – washed out colors and harsh shadows as the result.

How to choose?

There are many choices listed above and even within just one of those options, there are many more choices – thousands of books available, tons of YouTube videos, loads of courses and workshop options. That workshop in Iceland might sound super exciting but are you okay with learning outside in some possibly dodgy weather, where you have to drive and hike for hours? Maybe you have to camp and will be tired and grumpy from getting up early in the morning to get the sunrise.

Would you prefer a structured classroom environment, where you can interact with students and the teacher for questions and discussion? Does it suit you better to watch videos at home after work, when the kids are in bed and you can pause them to write notes, or play the same step over and over until you understand it?

Practicing isolating a subject from the background and blurring with bokeh effect.

We are all busy people, with limited spare time to dedicate to our hobbies and passions. So it makes sense to maximize the value of your time spent learning. Understand what your personal preferences are and then take the next steps.

Learning factors

  •  If you like to read do you need to buy expensive printed books or magazines – does your library have them? Can you get them cheaper in digital format? Can you borrow them?
  • The voice of the person presenting a video course is important – do they speak in a language or an accent you can understand? Do they present in a style that you like? Are they to the point or do they waffle all over the place and take twice as long to get the point across? Is the video a “talking head” or are they demonstrating the subject matter in some way? Is it something you can listen to for hours without getting annoyed or a headache?
  • When attending a workshop is there time allocated for questions and discussion? What reviews do the workshop speakers get from other attendees?
  • Are there sample videos available for you to hear/see speakers present so you can get a feel for their delivery style and approach to the subject matter?
  • Do you get frustrated in a group of mixed ability? If you are new and need a lot of help do you feel uncomfortable asking questions, or if you are more advanced do you feel held back when beginners are present?
  • Is the subject matter relevant to what you want to achieve? Do you have a chance to clarify goals and outcomes with a workshop presenter or speaker in advance?
  • Do you have the time or money for more formal education? Is it really necessary or a nice to have in the overall scheme of things?
  • Does being in a group of strangers bother you or inspire you?
  • How much time or money do you have available?

All these factors can have an affect on how well you will learn. It would be a real shame to spend several thousand dollars on a workshop in an exotic location to find that you get very little out of it. Or you might discover the most helpful channel on YouTube that really resonates with you.

Using flash on a dull overcast day seemed like a good idea until you see the bright highlights in the final image

How do we learn?

Research tells us that the best way to learn is via a technique called “distributed practice” which is where you study in an intense burst and then take a break, and keep repeating this cycle. Photography lends itself well to this style as it is often taken up as a hobby to be done in spare time. So allocating a weekend or an evening when you have time to focus on a particular style or technique, and then having a break is actually okay.

Applying some variety to your learning process improves outcomes as well. You could apply this easily with photography by changing the subject matter you are shooting. Or take your camera into different situations. Moving between similar topics can help you see connections or understand concepts in a different way. Bear in mind that getting out of your comfort zone is an important learning opportunity too, so be prepared to push your boundaries as well.

NZ Native Tui – shot in an enclosure at a nature park

Teaching someone else also helps you retain knowledge more effectively too. Writing things down after a learning session is also a recommended way to improve knowledge retention. Perhaps start a photography blog and share your learning journey with others? Keeping track of your achievements is important to give you a sense of scale (i.e. how far you have come from being a complete beginner) and it also motivates you to move forward, knowing that you have mastered some learning steps.

Learning to see from a different viewpoint is important as a photographer, as is taking chances and experimenting – this is a chair


Ultimately everyone learns on their own but the learning doesn’t truly happen until there is a link between action and reflection (i.e. what was I trying to achieve and did I manage it?) You must be prepared to experiment, and with experimentation there comes failure.

No one likes to fail as there is a lot of ego tied up in success. So to truly learn you must suspend your ego, embrace failure and admit to yourself that you can improve. These days with digital it’s more or less free to shoot as many frames as you want. So other than the cost of time, it’s never been more cost effective to get into photography (after the initial hardware purchase, of course).

Both the foreground and background were important in this image, composition was a challenge

Spend some time on this

Learning also requires you to move out of your comfort zone and do different things, try new styles. It requires you to actively think about what you are doing, what outcomes you are trying to achieve, and analyzing how and why you did (or didn’t) achieve them. Yes, you can just go out and randomly shoot and put no more work into it than that. However, any improvement is likely to be slow. It’s difficult to produce work of a consistent quality if you don’t understand how you got there in the first place.

Take a bit of time to understand your best learning style, look at the available options, try a few out. Maybe ask for recommendations from other beginners. Accept that it’s okay to say, “I’m new at this and I need some help.” In general, many people are happy to offer advice, after all, they were once new at it too.

Playing with an old vintage lens with manual focus and odd imperfections that did strange things around the edges was a fun afternoon field trip.


Investing in your own personal learning process is important. Learning a new skill can happen via osmosis but improvement will be slow and the process is frustrating for many. So much so that they may give up completely as it was too hard. Having a considered structured approach gives you an achievable goal to aim for – it’s even better if you break it down into smaller milestones so you get some sense of accomplishment at each step.

Learning a new skill takes time, so why not ensure that your time is well spent in the learning you are doing. Often there is a cost involved, so investing time in understanding a good learning choice for yourself is also important. Keep in mind that your learning journey will never be finished, don’t get lazy or complacent once you reach a certain level of mastery, there will always be something new to try.

Most of all, it should be fun!

Long exposure as the tide was going out after sunset.

(Note:  All the images provided are ones taken by the author on her learning journey which started 10 years ago and is only now getting to the really fun stuff!)

The post How Understanding Your Learning Style Can Improve Your Photography by Stacey Hill appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

28 Apr

This tutorial will help make it much easier for you to take the photographs needed for focus stacking. This is the best and the easiest way to achieve the results you want. There are a few details along the way, but the bonus is that there are also other photographic situations where you will be able to apply the same technique.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

What is focus stacking and why is it needed?

When your camera is really close to the subject, depth of field will be very shallow. For example, if you are using a 100mm lens, at a distance of 50cm (nearly 10 inches from your subject) with an aperture as small as f/16, the area which is acceptably sharp is just 1.9 cm (about 3/4 of an inch). Reduce the distance to subject to only 25cm (less than 5 inches) and the depth of field reduces to only 0.36 cm (1/6th of an inch).

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking
The only way to conquer this issue in order to get a greater depth of acceptable sharpness in a final photograph is with computational photography. That means using software to blend together a number of photographs which have been taken with different points of focus. This computational process is called focus stacking.


The recommendation made in this article is an application of the old computer acronym of GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. If you input rubbish, the output will be rubbish. To achieve the best results with focus stacking, you need to produce the photographs which are technically the most suitable for the focus stacking process.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking


A while back, I decided that I wanted to make some images that would look good in a home or workplace, which would reflect the Filipino environment. With various adjustments, the five photographs shown in color above were combined to produce the image below (and a lot more like it!).

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

If you like the idea of producing something like this, with sharp focus through the whole frame, it needs a little attention to start. This soon becomes quite easy, and you may find that it is actually a lot of fun. Find your own subject, then follow along with this method for producing your focus stacking images.

The actual processing of the images is a sequence of steps, and I would be happy to go through my approach for you at another time. Although there are other specialist programs for producing a focus stacked image, you will most likely use Photoshop. Of course, there are tutorials on how to do this here on dPS; A Beginner’s Guide to Focus Stacking.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

The Method – Part One – It is a Surprise

At this point in most focus stacking tutorials, you will see somebody holding a set of focusing rails. Forget it! No further expense is required here. They might then talk to you about focusing manually. Forget that too! No need for any delicate touch with this method. You do not even need a cable release. This is absolutely all you need.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking
In the past, I had not even bothered to install Canon’s software offerings. Yes, the surprise news might just be that it is Canon EOS Utility which will serve you best for shooting focus stacking images.

As far as I have been able to determine, Nikon users will find that Nikon Capture includes a Camera Control component. I do not have the facility to put that to the test, but I imagine it works just as well. If you shoot Nikon and give this a try, do tell us how it worked for you in the comments section below.

The magic trick – the secret sauce – the silver bullet, for making images for focus stacking is the Canon EOS Utility program. It allows total remote control of the settings of your camera when shooting tethered to your computer.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Plug and play!

Once you have your shot set up, you can control everything from your computer. If that happens to be an adjacent laptop, that will work the best. However, the photographs which follow below were produced with everything controlled from a computer in another room, fully 10 meters, more than 30 feet away from the set.

The Method – Part Two – The Mechanics

This type of photography, which I think of as “constructed photography”, does take a little while to set up. Follow these steps:

  • Put your camera on a tripod.
  • Compose your shot.
How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

You need to make two measurements.

  • Measure from the focal plane of the camera (the mark indicated above) to the front of the object which you are photographing (A), as shown above.
How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

The circle with a line through it indicates the focus plane – this is where your lens focuses the image onto the sensor.

  • Measure the depth of the object, from the point which is nearest to the camera, to the point farthest away. I have found that a steel rule or tape measure works well enough for these tasks.

Standard issue.

  • Now take a test shot.
  • Use a small aperture, like f/10, then check the exposure. I tend to look at the LCD screen which gives the RGB histograms. This allows you to judge the exposure, exposing to the right if you like, but also to check that none of the individual colour channels is overloaded. That is prone to happen in photographs which have one subject filling the major part of the screen. At this stage, exposure is not critical, you are only trying to achieve a guide shot.
  • Make a note of the settings which have given a reasonable exposure.
  • Cover the viewfinder to prevent possible light leakage.
  • Switch off image stabilization, it is always the best practice to do so when your camera is on a tripod.
  • It is not essential, but you might choose to put your camera into manual focus.
How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Manual focus, stabilizer off.

  • Again, not essential, but you might choose to put your camera in Manual shooting mode.
How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Switch to Manual Mode

Now the magic begins, the bit which makes me smile at how brilliant and easy it is.

The Method – Part Three – Computing

Connect your camera to your personal computer using Wi-Fi, a USB or Ethernet cable, whatever works best for your setup. I like cables, so I use a USB cord.

Run the EOS Utility software. Your camera should be discovered quite easily.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

The EOS Utility dashboard.

Choose “Remote shooting” and the screen below will appear.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

You are in control

From the comfort of your computer, you can release the shutter, the ultimate cable release, and do pretty much whatever else you like. As advised, you can switch off autofocus, and switch to Manual Mode without even touching the camera. In fact, adjustments can be made to all the usual camera settings for shooting. Most importantly for this exercise, you can switch to Live View shooting. Do so, and you will see a screen like this.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

The Remote Live View window. This is where the fine focusing happens.

The first thing to do is to fine tune the exposure. Controlling your camera from EOS Utility soon becomes quite easy, and intuitive. You can actually learn a lot about exposure by experimenting with the exposure triangle of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture all from your computer, with the benefit of Live View in grand scale.

One extra benefit of shooting in Live View is that you will have locked the mirror up, and removed any chance of vibrations from that source.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

You can click on the screen arrows, even use the scroll wheel on your mouse to make adjustments.

Take a shot and it will soon appear on your screen. This is not an article on ETTR (Exposing To The Right), but there is a good one here; Exposing to the Right. You can now adjust the exposure to try and get as much data onto your sensor as possible (the premise of ETTR). Take your time and take as many shots as you like. Check the histogram, check what you can see on the screen, and get the exposure exactly to your liking.

I do tend to prefer a shorter exposure. In the interests of sharpness, if I can get a compromise between ISO, and aperture which gives me an exposure of less than 1-second, I believe that is a good step in the direction of sharper photographs.

For this particular exercise, there are all sorts of detailed decisions, but the most important part of this screen is the Focus Adjustment and the Zoom View.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Double clicking on the area highlighted, shown towards the bottom of the screen capture of the Remote Zoom View window (shown above), will bring you to this window below.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Zoom View – allow you to easily get the nearest point of the image sharp as possible.

You now have turbocharged, hyper control of your focus. Not until you take the plunge and try this method, and find out that you can focus to the width of a hair, will you realize how brilliant it is. There is even the facility to zoom in further still.

I believe you will find the focus adjustment intuitive. There are three different levels for adjusting focus in either direction, “<<< / << / <” and “> / >> / >>>”. This is very useful in a way that no focus rails or manual adjustment could ever be. The bonus is that you will have no physical contact with the camera whatsoever.

The Method – Part Four – Finally

Martin Bailey is a photographer who goes into admirable detail. He is of the opinion that if you start photographing to the rear of the object, and work forward, Photoshop handles the process better. I do not see the evidence so clearly but, experience tells me, he is very likely right.

Another piece of advice would be to shoot a little wider, do not frame as tightly as you might usually. It gives you a little more room for maneuvering if you need to make adjustments.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

You now need a Depth of Field (DoF) calculator. There’s a wide choice, there are many that are readily available for your computer, phone, and for use online. I happen to use, Simple DoF (iOS only, see Android options here), as shown in the screenshots. Let’s apply it to a situation.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

The depth of field required for this scene is about 20cm (8 inches) To determine what you need, measure from the part of the object nearest the camera to the point furthest away. Divide that by the Depth of Field of 3.39cm (let’s call it 3.4cm), which tells us we will need 5.88 images. That means that we will need to take six evenly spaced images from the back to the front, in order to get every part of the image in focus. Here they are!

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Focused at the rear, on the plastic case of the ruler.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Moving forward, picking a point about 3cms (just over an inch) closer each time.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Focused between 6 and 7 inches.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Shot 4.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Coming forward.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Focus closer 3cm, about an 1 inch, each time.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Finally, focused sharply on the front edge of the ruler.

You can go to whatever lengths of precision you like. Experience allows me to trust my judgment of distance, and I am happy to err on the side of taking too many shots. If I reached the front edge of the saucer and found that I had taken eight shots I would be perfectly happy with that. As it happens, it seems that I took seven.

Here is the image produced from all the above by following the focus stacking processing routine in Photoshop.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

The final focus stacked image.

You should always be looking for ways to improve. As I have said, better results from less effort is a good thing.


I think that to be certain of producing the highest quality product, the next time I do a project like this, I would refine my technique a little further.

I would actually put a rule next to the object but, unlike this time, do so temporarily. In this specific example, I would decide to take 3cm as my Depth of Field. I would then focus a shot on the 0cm mark of the ruler. I would then use the focus controls in EOS Utility to nudge the focus to 3cm and see how many clicks of the “>”, “>>” or “>>>” buttons it took to move the point of focus 3cm. It might, for example, be three clicks of the “>>>” button. Again, sticking with this example, I would then know that I needed to take seven shots. I would then take a shot focused on the back edge, click “>>>” three times, take another shot, click “>>>” three times again … and so on. As I said at the start, what could be easier?


This leaf was 10cm, that is 4 inches from front to rear. I do not think there is a way to produce this final image without using the technique of focus stacking. What you have read above is the best, and the easiest way to produce the shots.

How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking

Waving goodbye?

I am all for spontaneous, shooting on the run, shots. However, if you want to shoot in a more controlled way, I think you might find the control offered by Canon EOS Utility to be a lot of fun. I do!

Once you have been introduced to it and learn some of the power of the software, you may well find yourself using it for other projects. This last week, I have used Canon’s EOS Utility to produce some product shots. The proof is in using it, and I hope you can see that it is something you can try if you want to do focus stacking.

The post How to Photograph the Images Needed For Focus Stacking by Richard Messsenger appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

28 Apr

Photoshop CC is a complex piece of software. Most of us barely scratch its surface in terms of the features we use. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter if we’re not familiar with every aspect of this vast program if only we achieve the results we want. One of the hurdles in Photoshop has always been understanding how it handles color and what effect different color settings have. This can be mind-boggling for new photographers and even catches a few seasoned ones out.

There are 6 color settings to consider in Photoshop

#1 – RGB Working Spaces

Some basics

Under “Color Settings” in Photoshop, the first item needing attention is choice of RGB working space. What is this? It’s your editing color set, if you like, where all the various tones of red, green and blue are split into values between 0 and 255 and blended to make 16.7 million possible colors. We can’t separate all these colors with our eyes, but mathematically they’re there.

1b Simple RGB Color Wheel - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

This simple RGB color wheel shows the relationship between primary (red, green, blue) and secondary (cyan, magenta, yellow) colors. For example, a fully saturated magenta tone contains no green (RGB 255,0,255), so sits opposite green on the wheel. Tertiary colors are created by blending adjacent primary and secondary colors.

All RGB working spaces have the same number of colors; the gamut they cover is the main difference between them. Choice of RGB working space is, therefore, mainly about picking a gamut that suits your needs best.

Standard RGB working spaces (e.g. sRGB, Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB) are used for editing because they are “well behaved”. In other words, we know what to expect from them when we edit our photos. To illustrate this, if all three red, green and blue (RGB) values are equal in any pixel, the tone will always be neutral, be it gray, black or white. Any adjustments made to shadows, mid-tones or highlights cause the same degree of change, too, so editing is always predictable.

Choosing an RGB Working Space

Here are the three main choices of RGB working space:


sRGB might be a good choice of working space if all you ever do is publish photos on the Internet and get your prints done at the shopping mall (i.e. a commercial photo lab). It’s one way of keeping things simple, but does potentially forfeit a lot of color data between camera and Photoshop, especially if you shoot RAW.

Some subjects are better suited to this color space than others, like portraits. Skin tones are likely to be encompassed by the sRGB color space, so you don’t lose data by editing in it. The types of subjects you shoot may play a part in choosing a working space.

The popular assertion that this color space is the “Internet standard” is partly true, though slightly outmoded. Most people can’t see much color outside of sRGB because of the standard gamut of their monitors, so a bigger space would be largely wasted on your web audience.

Adobe RGB

Adobe RGB is recommended to anyone who does their printing at home or who supplies third parties with images for publishing. Even humble models of inkjet printer produce colors outside of the sRGB gamut, while only high-end printers exceed Adobe RGB in output.

The Adobe RGB color space was designed to encompass the output of CMYK printers. It is often seen as a good all-rounder for the average photographer, and you can easily convert files to sRGB for the web at the end of editing if desired.

Landscapes benefit particularly from Adobe RGB, largely because of the cyan and green colors lost when converting down to sRGB. To a lesser extent, yellows and oranges are also truncated.

1a Working RGB space - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to KnowSince most browsers are now color-managed by default, you can get away with saving photos in the larger Adobe RGB color space for the web. You must embed the profile into the image file if you do this, otherwise, your photos will look desaturated to most people. Only a minority of your audience will benefit from the bigger color space, alas, but it could be worth trying among a group of keen photographers with wide-gamut monitors.

ProPhoto RGB

ProPhoto RGB is the largest of the three commonly used RGB working spaces, and it’s the one that best preserves all color data between a RAW file and Photoshop. A purist would ask; why would you want to throw color away needlessly? You don’t always discard color with a smaller color space, of course, depending on the content of your photo.

ProPhoto RGB is a good choice if you use a high-end inkjet printer capable of colors outside the Adobe RGB gamut, but there are caveats attached to its use:

  • Because ProPhoto is spread over such a wide gamut, you’re forced to work with larger 16-bit files to avoid posterization, or banding. (The opposite is true of a small working space like sRGB, which is ideally suited to 8-bit editing.)
  • Since ProPhoto RGB produces colors beyond the capabilities of any monitor or that of human vision, you’ll be working partially “blind” when you edit in this color space. This is a trade-off that many accept in return for extracting as much color as possible from their printer.

Note: some photographic subjects, particularly those with a deep yellow color, lose detail straight away merely by opening them in Photoshop in a smaller color space (i.e. sRGB or Adobe RGB). It’s possible to see blotchy, posterized areas in photos of yellow flowers, for instance, in anything less than ProPhoto RGB, and the effect is worse the smaller a working space you select. This makes it desirable to print such subjects directly from ProPhoto RGB.

Again, there’s nothing to stop you from editing your files in ProPhoto RGB and then converting down to smaller RGB color spaces when required. Remember; you can’t convert up to a bigger color space and get data back.

ProPhoto RGB is not typically an in-camera option. You need a RAW > 16-bit workflow to make it a useful choice in Photoshop.

1c RGB Color Space Gamuts - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

A comparison of RGB color spaces. Note how the profile of an Epson 2200 printer with matt paper exceeds the Adobe RGB gamut.

#2 – Monitor RGB (check your monitor profile)

Also under the RGB working space menu you’ll see the “Monitor RGB” heading. This is not a profile you’ll want to use as a working space, because it effectively turns off color management in Photoshop. One thing the Monitor RGB selection is useful for is checking that Photoshop is accessing the correct monitor profile. The profile in current use is listed beside “Monitor RGB”.

If you’ve created a custom monitor profile and notice that color is wayward in Photoshop, one thing you can do is temporarily switch the monitor profile back to sRGB in your OS settings (Adobe RGB for wide-gamut monitors). If this improves the color, your own custom profile is probably corrupt and you’ll need to delete it and create another. Again, the “Monitor RGB” working space option will verify the profile in use.

#3 – Color Management Policies

Under “Color Management Policies” in Color Settings, select “Preserve Embedded Profiles” in all three drop-down menus.

3a Preserve Embedded Profiles - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

There is a case for unchecking the 2 boxes next to “Profile Mismatches”, since you’re unlikely to act on the alerts they produce. The first box “Ask When Opening” might be useful if you want to be kept in the loop and know immediately if a file has a different profile embedded to the one you edit with. You can disregard the second box “Ask When Pasting”.

3b Profile Checkboxes

It’s desirable to check the box next to “Missing Profiles”. When opening an image file without a profile embedded, you can sometimes guess the correct color space based on where it came from and then assign that profile to the image. You may also choose to open the file without a profile and then assign different profiles in Photoshop to see which looks best.

#4 – Assign Profile

The vital thing to learn about “Assign Profile” in Photoshop is that you should leave it alone in most situations. Many people don’t distinguish between this and “Convert to Profile”, which is a mistake.

4a Assign Profile - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

4b The Effect Of Misusing Assign Profile - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

A color shift occurs when wrongly using “Assign Profile” to convert files from one known RGB color space to another. “Convert to Profile” uses a relative colorimetric rendering intent to match destination colors to source colors as closely as possible.

Assign Profile applies the RGB values embedded in a photo to a different color space without any attempt to match color. This often causes a huge color shift. You’d only use this feature on a file that had no profile embedded or that had one assigned upon opening that you’d like to change.

#5 – Convert to Profile

If you need to convert a file from one RGB color space to another in Photoshop, “Convert to Profile” is the right tool for the job. A relative colorimetric rendering intent is used to match color between different color spaces. If you’re converting from Adobe RGB to sRGB, for instance, colors outside the sRGB gamut are matched to their nearest in-gamut equivalent.

5 Convert to Profile - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

Convert to Profile is typically used to convert between RGB color spaces, since most of us have no need to convert to printer or CMYK profiles within Photoshop. When converting between RGB files, “relative colorimetric” is always the rendering intent used, even though it’s possible to select other intents from the menu.

#6 – Proof Colors

You wouldn’t ordinarily check “Proof Colors” under the “View” menu unless previewing the color output of a printer or other device. The colors it displays are based on the selection made in the “Proof Setup” menu. Some people assume they should use Monitor RGB proof colors for editing, but, as we’ve already noted, this turns off color management in Photoshop.

6 Proof Colors For Color Blindness - 6 Color Settings in Photoshop That You Need to Know

Proof colors being used to simulate “Color Blindness – Protanopia-type”. More typically, you’d use this function to preview and edit print colors so they matched the original RGB screen image satisfactorily (a technique known as “soft-proofing”).

The normal method for using “Proof Colors” is to open a duplicate image next to the original, apply the printer profile to the duplicate using proof colors and then edit so it closely matches the original. This is basic soft-proofing method, though a full description merits another article.


  • RGB Working Space: Choose Adobe RGB if in doubt. It’ll encompass the output of most monitors and inkjet printers.
  • RGB Working Space: Take note of the Monitor RGB selection to ensure Photoshop is using the right monitor profile.
  • Color Management Policies: Select “Preserve Embedded Profiles” in the three drop-down menus and check the “Ask When Opening” box next to “Missing Profiles”.
  • Don’t use “Assign Profile” to convert from one RGB space to another. It causes unwanted color shifts. Use it only when the original profile is unknown, which shouldn’t be often.
  • Use “Convert to Profile” to convert from one known RGB space to another. This matches color as closely as possible between the source and destination color space.
  • Proof Colors are used for previewing the color output of other programs or devices, or to see how an image will look to a color-blind viewer. For normal editing, this should be turned off.


I hope that clears up any confusion you have had around color settings in Photoshop. Please post any comments and questions below and I’ll try to answer them.

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How to Use a Neutral Density Filter to Control Depth of Field

28 Apr

If your photography isn’t focused around landscapes, there’s a fair chance you don’t have a set of neutral density filters. These accessories are mainly for landscape photographers as their use in long exposure photography is invaluable. Because they are most associated with slow shutter speeds, their application in other genres, like portrait photography, isn’t immediately apparent. A neutral density filter can, however, be vital to gain control over your depth of field in some situations.

This tutorial will show a quick and dirty tip for two scenarios in which to use ND filters to control the depth of field in your photography; one outdoors in natural light and the other in a studio environment.

What is a Neutral Density filter?

At its most basic, a neutral density filter is a piece of material (usually plastic, resin, or glass depending on the quality) you place between your lens and subject to reduce the amount of light entering your camera. This will result in a slower shutter speed being required, a larger aperture, or a higher ISO in order to achieve the correct exposure. The filters come in different strengths, usually ranging from a loss of one stop to three stops of light. For example; if you are metering an exposure of f/8 at 1/250th and you place a 1-stop ND filter on your lens, to compensate you will need to change either your shutter speed to 1/125th or your aperture to f/5.6.

How to Use a Neutral Density Filter to Control Depth of Field

Neutral density filters are a valuable tool in landscape photography, but they are also useful in other genres.

In terms of photographing landscapes in low light, you can probably see how they are useful. A 2-stop ND filter turns a 2-second exposure into an 8-second exposure. Alternatively, it turns an 8-second exposure into a 32-second exposure. If you’re trying to smooth out water or clouds on a windy day, an ND filter makes it a breeze.

For portraits, however, you will almost never want to reduce the shutter speed. If anything, you will often want to increase it. Why, then, would you want to put something on your lens that reduces the amount of light coming in? The answer is simple – when you have too much light in the first place.


If you’re taking photographs outdoors on a bright sunny day, you may find yourself limited to smaller apertures like f/11 and f/16. This is great for capturing a high amount of detail, not so much if you would like a shallow depth of field.

This is where a neutral density filter comes in. A 2-stop ND filter will turn an aperture of f/8 into f/4. A 3-stop ND filter will make it f/2.8, making it far easier to obscure a cluttered background with a shallow depth of field.

How to Use a Neutral Density Filter to Control Depth of Field

Both of these images were taken moments apart. Left: Shot at f/8 without an ND filter. Right: Shot at f/4 with a 2-stop ND filter.

In the studio

The idea behind using the ND filter in a studio environment is the same as it is outdoors. The main difference is that with natural light, you can always wait until later in the day. With high powered studio lights, that’s not always the case. If you’re aiming for soft light , you need to get your light source in close to your subject. If you have high-powered studio strobes, you may not be able to turn the power down low enough to use large apertures.

Again, a quick solution is to pop a neutral density filter on your lens. By doing so, you don’t have to sacrifice the softness of your light and you gain the benefit of complete control over depth of field.

How to Use a Neutral Density Filter to Control Depth of Field

Taken in a studio environment at f/8

How to Use a Neutral Density Filter to Control Depth of Field

Adding a neutral density filter reduced the aperture to f/4 without changing anything else in the scene.

Bonus round

Chances are that throughout this tutorial, the problem-solving side of your brain has figured out that all of these scenarios have a multitude of other methods to solve them. Outdoors, you could use a diffuser that cuts down exposure, or you could move to an area of open shade where the intensity of the light is reduced. In a studio, it’s often easy enough to move a light backward or to move your subject. Using an ND filter just adds another potential tool, and like most techniques, it is neither a be all or end all, nor is it required. It’s just another option.

That said, what do you do in a situation where you can’t control the intensity of your light and if you were to move it even an inch further away from the subject, everything in the frame would completely change? Same with diffusing it? I ran across this exact situation recently, as illustrated below, and it was a 2-stop ND filter that solved the problem.

How to Use a Neutral Density Filter to Control Depth of Field

Moving the light source in this instance, would have ruined the effect of the lighting. A neutral density filter allowed for a larger aperture while still allowing the camera to be handheld.

That’s it

In the end, if you want to have full control over your camera and the depth of field in your images, then neutral density filters deserve a place in your kit bag even if you never set eyes on a landscape.

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7 Tips to Get Professional Results on Your Next Outdoor Fashion Photography Shoot

28 Apr

Many photographers like to take portraits or fashion outdoors, as it does not require any huge investment such as owning a studio space and lights. Though it might look like an easy task, there are few things that you need to be aware of before and while doing fashion photography outdoors.

Outdoor fashion photography 01

You might have a good-looking model and expensive camera and lens, but you still may not be able to capture professional results. You need not worry, as the tips mentioned below would help you drastically improve your results during your next outdoor fashion photo shoot.

1. Know the location well

The location is one of the first things you should finalize while planning an outdoor photo shoot. Scout the location at least once before the day of the shoot to ensure that you do not waste time on the final day. It is even better if you take some photos of the places that you feel could be perfect for your images, and simply browse through them on the day of your shoot.

If you follow these practices for your next outdoor photo shoot, you would surely save a lot of time as you would have already pre-planned and pre-visualized your frames.

Outdoor fashion photography 4

2. Choose the right time of the day

Once you have finalized the location for the fashion photo shoot, you need to make sure that you choose the right time of the day to captured desired results. There is no fixed time of day that you should be shooting, it all depends on the weather conditions and how you want to use the ambient light.

Try and avoid the time when the sun is at its peak as it would create hard shadows on your model’s face. The safest time to shoot outdoors is either just after the sunrise or a couple of hours before the sunset. During a cloudy day, the light would be soft and there would be less contrast in the background (depending on the backdrop) but it all depends on your choice. I you wish to capture photos with diffused light, you can go ahead and shoot during a cloudy day.

Outdoor fashion photography 5b

3. Choose the right background

It is important to spend some time thinking about the background in your photo. You might see a beautiful location and simply pick up your camera and get started taking photos, without even visualizing whether the background will make or break your photo.

You need to think, visualize, and then frame accordingly, making sure that the colors in the background and the colors of the model’s clothes are not getting merged. The colors in the background should not overpower the model, which is the main highlight of your photo.

Outdoor fashion photography 05

4. Try mixing ambient and flash light

Go out of your comfort zone and do something different by using both ambient light as well as flash. This gives an extra dimension to your photos. You can use the sun as the key light falling on the subject and place the flash at the back of the model to give a rim light effect on their face or hair. Or you can use the sun light as the rim light or the kicker and the flash as the key light source, this allows you to control the shadows on the face.

Outdoor fashion photography 02

5. Make the model comfortable: Talk and Compliment

Expressions and body language of the model are key ingredients in fashion photography. You need to make sure that your model is comfortable shooting outdoors, as sometimes there may be other people surrounding you as you work. If it’s possibility that you are shooting with a model who is not professional or has just started his/her career, you as a photographer have to make your model feel comfortable.

You can do so by constantly interacting with your model, compliment them while he/she is posing and make them feel confident. You need to tell your model whether they are posing right, you must direct and get the best out of the model in the friendliest way possible.

Outdoor fashion photography 08 Outdoor fashion photography 09

6. Get the best possible exposure in camera

Never shoot with the thought that the exposure can easily be adjusted during post-processing. You can adjust the exposure later during the post-processing stage but you might end up losing details in your photo, depending on the camera that you are using. If you have taken a photo which is 2-3 stops over/under exposed, adjusting the exposure during processing will not give details as good as a correct exposure would.

If you adjust the exposure of an underexposed photo, remember that you may also be introducing noise. Similarly, if you adjust the exposure of an overexposed photo then you will not be able to retain as much details in the highlights as you would have in a correctly exposed photo.

To ensure that you are capturing correctly exposed photos during the shoot, you should refer to the histogram in your camera.

7. Shoot in RAW format

Never be afraid of shooting in RAW. It may take up space on your memory card but it is really for your benefit. Shooting fashion in RAW format allows you to capture much more details as compared to the JPEG format, which helps in retouching the image during post-processing.

Outdoor fashion photography 6

Another benefit of RAW format is that it contains the maximum dynamic range possible from your camera and can be used to recover an overexposed or an underexposed image during the processing, as discussed in the previous point. You can also edit the same RAW file multiple times, without losing any details. Whereas, a JPEG file loses its quality every time you edit the image.


Being a photographer, you need to plan and stage the photo shoot so that you get the best possible results out of your model. From choosing the apt location to scheduling the shoot at the right time of the day, it is your job to get the things planned in advance to save time and energy. Try and get out of your comfort zone by adding more light sources such as the flash lights or strobes, this will help give you more professional results.

You might be using the best possible camera and lens, but if you are not able to get good expressions and body language, your photos will not stand out. So, the next time you plan an outdoor fashion photo shoot, do keep these tips in mind to achieve the best possible results.

Share your fashion photography tips and images below.

The post 7 Tips to Get Professional Results on Your Next Outdoor Fashion Photography Shoot by Kunal Malhotra appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Find the Best Locations for Landscape Photography

28 Apr

Have you ever looked at the work of a good landscape photographer and wondered how they found such beautiful places to shoot? Or would you like to travel to a new place to do landscape photography but are unsure how to find the best locations?

You are not alone. It takes work to find the best locations and most landscape photographers go through this process. The tips in this article will help you.

Landscape photography locations

1. Look at the work of other photographers

The first step to finding great places to take landscape photos is to look at the work of other photographers. There are so many great photographers on 500px, Instagram, and Flickr that it should be relatively easy to find some who have worked in the areas that you have in mind.

Looking at the work of other photographers helps you in two ways:

  1. It helps you find the most iconic, popular, and spectacular places to take photos.
  2. It gives you an idea of the potential of a place for the type of landscape photography you have in mind (for example, perhaps you are looking for somewhere to do long exposure photography, or perhaps you like to work in black and white).

It’s a good idea to look for the work of a local photographer. Locals have a huge advantage over visitors. They know the area better and are familiar with photogenic but relatively unknown locations. They may have lived there for years and built up a substantial body of work. Their portfolios contain photos taken at different times of the year. All these things help build a picture in your mind of the location and its potential for landscape photography.

I went through this process when I traveled to northern Spain last year. Looking at the work of local photographers helped me find locations like this.

Landscape photography locations

2. Go out and explore

Once you’re on location, curiosity is the key to finding interesting things and places to photograph. If you’ve done your research you already know the most iconic and popular locations – they are probably what attracted you in the first place.

But what about other locations? The not so well known ones? You can only find those by exploring. It’s only the desire to see what lies around the next corner, or where a lonely road takes you that allows you to find these places.

I made this landscape photo while walking along footpaths near my parent’s house. This is not a well-known area and you’ll struggle to find other photos taken here. Yet it has a lot of potential and I was able to make photos like this.

Landscape photography locations

3. Make a bucket list of great locations

As you look at other photographer’s work and read about landscape photography on websites like Digital Photography School you are bound to come across interesting places and locations.

My suggestion is that you set up a spreadsheet or word processing file that contains a list of all the places you might like to visit one day. The world’s a big place and there are a lot of photos to look at online. If you don’t make a note when you find something interesting you may forget it and never find it again.

As time goes by you can go back to your list and research the places that seem most interesting to you. For example, let’s say you have the city of Venice on your bucket list. Whenever you find an interesting photo or a good article about photography in Venice, add it to your file. Then, when the time comes that you finally get to go, you’ve already done most of the research required and have a good idea of what you’d like to achieve.

Make your list

Another approach is to write down a list of the places you’d like to visit. Don’t censor the list – they are ideas, not certainties. Then you can research them and make notes as you find out more information. This gives you time to think about how much time you need on location, and how to fit that into your schedule. You can think about time and money and gradually build your plans.

Places on my bucket list include the mountains of Torre del Paines National Park in Patagonia, the Italian Dolomites, and the desert landscapes in the southwestern United States. How about you?

The Picos de Europa in northern Spain, where this photo was taken, were also on my list.

Landscape photography locations

4. Find your personal vision

One of the dangers of looking at the work of other photographers is that it creates a desire to take photos of the same places as other photographers. There’s nothing wrong with capturing photos of iconic locations, and sometimes it’s just an itch that has to be scratched before going on and finding the lesser known places. But the danger is that you forget to look elsewhere for good places to take photos.

Photographer Cole Thompson has an interesting idea he calls photographic abstinence. He never looks at the work of other photographers as he wants to find his own locations and his own way of seeing the landscape. There’s a lot of merit to this idea and it’s something you might like to try for yourself. It’s the opposite approach to the advice given at the beginning of this article, and it may work well for you.

Personalize it

Last year I visited my family in Norfolk, England. Look up the work of local photographers and you’ll find lots of photos of sand dunes, wide beaches, and beach huts – the typical landscape of the local area.

I stayed away from those places and walked around with my camera through the landscapes around the village where my family left. It wasn’t intentional to start, but as I did so I found that I was building a body of work photographing the elements of the landscape that were personal to me. I was ignoring the iconic locations, the ones you see photos of for sale in local galleries, and photographing the landscape in a much more personal and interpretive way.

I ended up taking photos like the one above, and this one.

Landscape photography locations

Wherever you go to take landscape photos, and no matter how well known and iconic some of the locations there are, I encourage you to look for and find your own personal vision.


These ideas are just some of the ways that you can find interesting landscapes to photograph. Do you have any more? I’d love to hear them – please let me know in the comments.

Andrew is the author of the ebook The Black & White Landscape.

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How to Photograph People Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

28 Apr
How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Kota Wade

You just got booked for a marvelous portrait photo shoot out in a gorgeous natural landscape. You run out the door, with camera gear in tow. Then you arrive at the location, the fresh air filling your nose, the beautiful natural world flourishing all around. You meet with your lovely portrait subject. The sun is beating down on you from above. Then it hits you… you forgot your reflector at home.

Or maybe you don’t have a reflector, maybe you just never felt the need to spend money on one. All of this is totally okay because there are some tips and tricks to take stunning photographs without the use of a reflective disc! Keep reading to learn more.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Bina Monique

What is a reflector?

A reflector is a simple tool that redirects existing light. A reflector does not illuminate, it merely allows you to manipulate the light that you already have.

Photographers use reflectors to fill shadows, which is why you often see them used in outdoor settings where you cannot control the light. Being at the mercy of the sun, you add a level of control to your situation with the use of a reflector. However, there are ways to take advantage of your situation without one.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Skylar Roberge

Find even lighting

Essentially, part of the trouble with shooting outdoors comes from the lighting. Clients often see a clear blue sky with the beaming sun and think that is an absolute joy for photographers. But we shooters silently scream in agony at the prospect of overblown highlights, underexposed shadows, and the dreaded contrast.

What’s the best solution for this? Find some even lighting!

Positioning your subject under a tree, in the shadow of a building, or simply positioning yourself so that the sun hides behind a mountain can all make for some nice even lighting. Although the background might be overexposed if you are simply using a small patch of shadow, try to change your perspective to make the most of the situation.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 400 – Shutter Speed: 1/100 – Aperture: f/2.8
Even Lighting: Rooftop overhang

Make even lighting

Are you out in a field or a desert and don’t have access to any form of even lighting? Is the sun too bright to have on your subject’s face? Then it’s time to get creative!

You can make your own even lighting utilizing things you may already have in your car. Use an umbrella and position that over your subject, or to block out the sun in your frame. You can use a vehicle windshield cover or shade to do the same.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 1250 – Shutter Speed: 1/500 – Aperture: f/2.8
Even Lighting: Umbrella

Use the contrast to your advantage

Are neither of the aforementioned tips applicable to your scenario? Well then, this is where we get inventive.

Photography is an art form, and artists are creative, imaginative, and inspired. Instead of fighting against the contrast, why not use it to your advantage? Work your shoot around the contrasting shadows and highlights, and create dramatic photographs. Several well-known clothing designers, such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, use contrast in their fashion editorials to stage a theatrical scene and illicit an intense response in the viewer.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 200 – Shutter Speed: 1/1000 – Aperture: f/2.8

Shoot at the right time of day

When a choice presents itself, shooting at the correct hour of the day can ease your lighting woes. The golden hour is infamous for being an excellent time to photograph. Aiming to photograph when the sun is low and producing a more even light removes the need for a reflector.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 1600 – Shutter Speed: 1/640 – Aperture: f/2.8

Fill shadows by finding a natural reflector

Various surfaces can double as reflectors, such as water or windows from a building. Positioning your model just right can garner the same effect as if you had a reflector yourself.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 2000 – Shutter Speed: 1/320 – Aperture: f/2.8
Reflector: Car windshield, parked to his right side

Fill the shadows in post-processing

The computer is your friend, and it is okay to use programs to help you bring your vision to light (no pun intended). Shooting in RAW format (an image file that contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of a camera – Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed) gives you better control over your image when you edit it. RAW files have more shades of colors compared to JPEG files, higher image quality, significantly better control over editing lightness, white balance, hue, saturation, etc., and all of the changes made on a raw image file are non-destructive. You can use any post-production software to lighten the shadows in your image and darken the highlights.

Original image before processing.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

After processing.

There you have it, sounds like you have a solution to your no-reflector problem.

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3 Lighting Setups for Photographing Headshots

28 Apr

I do a lot of corporate and actors headshots around Washington, DC and I wanted to share some of the simple but effective lighting setups that I use over and over, which you can easily copy and use yourself.

lighting for headshots

The One Light Wonder

My standard setup consists of a large soft light source to the left or right of the subject, a reflector under the face, and another reflector opposite the main light source. I shoot hundreds of headshots per year using this simple setup. I use a Paul C. Buff Einstein unit with a large octabox in my studio, but you could easily put together something similar with a cheap speedlight, an umbrella, and a couple of $ 20 reflectors.

You can see this setup in the photo below, with my poor wife Karen standing in as a subject. She was just coming downstairs to make some tea, and got ambushed!

headshots lighting

Reflectors and adjustments

Once my subject is in place, I do some tweaking. First I will adjust the light source so it is slightly above their eye level. For most people, I think it looks best to have the light coming from above to cast subtle shadows under the chin, accentuating the jaw and helping to hide any double chin.

Then I will adjust the reflector underneath their face and bring it up to about their mid-chest level. This reflector helps fill in shadows on the face and provides a really nice extra catch light in the eyes. Some folks will use another (powered) light source down here, but I find the reflector to be much simpler to set up, and it also has the virtue of being idiot proof.

For example, if you have another light instead of a reflector below the subject, and you accidentally overpower it (so it is more powerful than the main light), you have created some horrible Frankenstein lighting! It is physically impossible to do this with a reflector, which can save from you from costly mistakes.

headshots lightingYou can see the side reflector in my studio in this photo (it’s just to Karen’s left).

Finally we have the reflector opposite the light source. For this one, I will often use a black-sided panel to create a darker shadow on that side of the face. This effect can be very dramatic, and has added benefit of slimming the face. The downside is that if your subject is very wrinkly, you’re not filling those wrinkles with light from that side. So it doesn’t work for everyone.

Here’s an example where of a headshot where I used this effect to create a nice dramatic edge:

headshots lighting

Some additional tweaks

With this simple setup, it’s very easy to make tweaks and see what works best with a particular person’s face. Often I will leave the basic setup in place with the black reflector, but a few examples where I might make changes are:

  1. The subject has a double chin, so I really want to define the jaw. In this case, I may raise the light up extra high to cast more shadow under the chin (make sure you don’t go too high and lose your catchlights), and/or lower or remove the under reflector.

headshots lighting

  1. The subject has long dark hair. In this case, the dark reflector is not necessary because we already have a dark edge there from the hair. So in this case I would go with a white reflector on the side or bring in a hair light from behind (more on that in the next section)

In the photo below, you can see a lot of detail in her hair on the shadow side. That’s because I brought my big white reflector in close.

headshots lighting

  1. Subject has deep set eyes. We want to fire more light into those sockets or our poor subject will end up looking like a serial killer or a cave man! In this case, I might lower the main/soft light so it is right at eye level.

Two Lights

You could run a whole business just using the one light system, but if you’re anything like me you get bored and like to try new things. So let’s bring in a second light.

The second light for me is usually a “kicker” (also called a rim or accent light) coming from behind and opposite the main light. I use this to accentuate the jaw, especially in men, or hair in women. It’s especially nice to create a little highlight on darker hair.

In the photo below, I needed a way to separate this young man from the dark background. My kicker light did the trick!

Headshots lighting

In my studio, I use a strip softbox for this purpose, but you could also use a bare head with a grid or even an old speedlight with a paper towel roll taped to it to make a simple snoot. The important thing is that you want to control the light so it doesn’t spray into your lens and create flare or lack of contrast.

You can see my kicker light in this setup shot with Karen.


Three and Four Lights

I use lights three and four to create a clean white background. You can either use one light fired at the background from just behind the subject, or two lights off to either side.

The white background is my favorite look these days for a lot of reasons. I think it looks super bright, modern and happy, and really pops on LinkedIn and other online profiles. It is also a great way to go for companies because it is easy to replicate and get a consistent look from shoot to shoot (for example, when photographing a new employee months after the initial shoot, or replicating the same look with shoots done across the country by different photographers).

headshots lighting setups

headshots lighting setups

headshots lighting setups

headshots lighting setups

Whether you use one or two lights for the background depends on your budget and the space where you are working. Two lights can give you a larger more even spread of light, whereas with one light you might have some fall off around the edges that you need to clean up in post-production. So I usually stick to two lights unless I’m on location somewhere and space is tight.


So I hope you all found this article helpful and you can use the lighting setups for your headshot. I look forward to your comments and questions!

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