Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

15 Photography Ideas to Boost Your Creativity

21 Mar

Doing photography exercises brings forth new opportunities to improve your skills, hone in on your craft and who knows, even guide you in the direction of finding a new genre that you love more than anything in the world! Here are 15 creative ideas to take you out of your comfort zone, and guide you in your quest to boost your creativity.

Get out there and put your own spin to each of these prompts. Bonus points if you have never tried any of these before. When you push yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to step outside your comfort zone, to try new things, and to give yourself the permission to fail – you also give yourself the chance to figure out who you want to be when you grow up!

#1 – Add emotion to your images

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

I absolutely adore this image. There’s nothing like laughing with unabashed happiness on your wedding day!

Choose to evoke emotion in your images – either in the eyes of the beholder or in the eyes of the beheld (a.k.a your subjects). When you want emotion from your subjects, ask for it. There is nothing more uncomfortable for your clients than a photographer who is silent behind the camera while continuously clicking the shutter.

Most clients are not professional models and generally, they are quite camera shy and self-conscious. It is our responsibility as the photographer to direct, educate, and interact with our clients to make them comfortable in front of our lens.

If you are shooting landscapes or still lifes, aim to create emotion in your images that move your audience to feel something. Be it a serious case of wanderlust viewing a travel photo from an exotic locale, or insane hunger when looking at your food images!

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

Sometimes staged photos take a turn of their own and present opportunities for different perspectives!

#2 – Try some motion blur

There are many different ways to achieve motion blur. I associate motion blur with the effect of capturing movement in a frame. You can either capture movement in your subject or by moving yourself or the camera (e.g. panning). For me, the easiest way to achieve motion blur is to slow the shutter speed and show some movement of the subject. Motion blur adds an interesting artistic element in your images if done right. One tip, use a tripod for optimal effect.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

When fog was our constant companion on a beach camping trip in the pacific northwest, I chose to use it to my advantage to create an eerie effect with motion blur – in the waves and the people walking along the beach!

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

Panning image courtesy of dPS Editor, Darlene.

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#3 – Go macro

Traditionally macro photography has been associated with floral and fauna. But resist the urge to get out into the garden to find the smallest ant to photograph. Instead, think of macro as a great way to isolate details in an image.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

As a wedding photographer, I love using my macro lens to capture unique ring shots for my couples. And of course, nothing like highlighting the snow (I live in Chicago!).

#4 – Find reflections

As the name suggests, try and find mirror images or reflections, either with mirrors or with water, of your subject and shoot creatively.

Reflections of people in water image - 15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

It really helps if your subjects are great sports and willing to get into the water for a shot like this!!

#5 – Shoot out of focus

Whether it’s an unlucky accident or intentional, I love out of focus images. Remember these creative exercises are simply an attempt to create something you are proud of. There are no right or wrongs, they are all just ways to stimulate your creative juices.

#6 – Wabi-sabi – embracing imperfection

As per Wikipedia, wabi-sabi represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

There is something innately beautiful in imperfections. That feeling of being alive and being human and living life to the fullest, versus living in the proverbial glass house where nothing is out of order. The best way to think of wabi-sabi is to look for imperfections in your everyday.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

I love everything old and vintage. They always tell me stories of a different, more interesting time and place!

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

#7 – Double exposures

Ding a double exposure is a carry-over from the old film days and it is a super creative way to take your images from boring to wow! In its simplest form, it is a way to superimpose two images onto a single frame. The good news is that you don’t need a film camera to create double exposures. Some of

Some newer DSLRs have a multiple exposure setting as a tool for creative photography. It takes a little bit of reading but once you get the hang of it, I promise, you will be hooked. We also have a great article in the DPS archives that talks about the techniques of multiple exposures How to do Multiple Exposures In-Camera.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

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#8 Diptych

A diptych is a concept of placing two images side by side so that they add context to each other and tell a complete story. When choosing images to form a diptych, pay close attention to light, tones, and exposures. Typically I compose my diptychs to include a big picture image and a detail shot of an element of that image.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

My focus with dyptics is to dig deeper into my stories…focus on the details along with the big picture.

#9 – Triptych

Similar to diptych, a triptych is a concept of placing three images side by side so that they collectively tell a story.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

Especially with tryptics, pay special attention to the order and orientation of the images. At times this might limit the placement of the images in a certain order.

#10 – Shooting through objects

I love shooting through objects, it adds an element of interest and depth in the foreground. You can really take this up a notch by using every day elements like leaves, branches, fabric pieces and ever glass to create some cool artistic effects in your images.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

#11 – Different perspective

The next time you find yourself shooting the same subject the same way, take a step back and rethink your strategy. Are you a 100% vertical shooter like me? Then force yourself to take a horizontal frame. Are you always looking at details? Then use a wide-angle lens and force yourself to take in the big picture. Do you always shoot at a narrow aperture so as to get everything in focus? Then dial down your aperture and shoot at the widest possible setting (based on your lens) to focus in on one detail of the whole image.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

Personally, I tend to shoot closeup and focus on the details a lot more than I do the big picture. So I have been forcing myself to do just that…and I love when I get diversity of 50-50 in my vertical and horizontal orientation shots! Bonus point to you if you can spot the subject here!!

#12 – Burst of color

It’s a beautiful, colorful world out there. Get out and photograph it. Don’t be afraid of the bold bright colors, but definitely be aware of which colors work and which ones don’t quite translate well in imagery. Train your mind to look for certain colors and patterns and before you know it, you will have a collection of colorful images that make you happy.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

I just loved the pop of color from my husband’s red jacket as he walked along the lakeshore with the Olympic mountains in the background.

#13 – Monochromatic

This is the exact opposite of #12 where your challenge is to look for and shoot a black and white image. You can either convert the image to B&W in post-processing or change the setting on your camera (depending on the make and model) to shoot monochromatic in-camera.

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The key here is to look for patterns and compositions that work well in black and white. A point to note is that processing is very subjective, as is black and white imagery. There are no right or wrong images, but here are a few articles to help you take great monochrome images.

  • How to Create Good Black and White Portraits
  • 6 Tips to Help You Make Better Black and White Landscape Photos
  • Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes in Black and White Photography
  • A Guide to Black and White Conversion in Photoshop
  • A Guide to Black and White Conversion in Lightroom
  • Improve Your Middle of the Day Photos By Doing Black and White

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

#14 – Pattern play

Take the time to look around and see if you are able to find any natural patterns around you. These can be either man-made or natural. Facades of buildings, windows, parking lots, and landscapes all provide many opportunities to capture repeating patterns. Capture them in an interesting way to highlight those patterns.

15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

#15 – Shadow play

Shadow play is most prevalent in situations when the sun is high in the sky creating harsh shadows on the ground, on buildings and directly unto the subject. But magic with light also happens indoors. Learn to embrace this high contrast between shadow and sun and try to capture some creative angles.

Dramatic light Images Shadow play - 15 Photography Exercises to Boost Your Creativity


I hope these exercises have proven to you that there isn’t any lack of creativity prompts in and around you. You just have to look for them anytime you feel stuck or find yourself creating the same or similar images again and again. Keep these prompts in the back of your mind, use them, combine them, mix them up – the possibilities are endless!

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The post 15 Photography Ideas to Boost Your Creativity by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

21 Mar

Learning to evaluate your own work and getting good honest feedback is critical to improving as a photographer. Others will see things you don’t see. It will give you tips to help you improve. And it is peculiar to your work (not just general tips for everyone).

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

The problem is that getting honest feedback on your work has always been difficult. Your choices boil down to:

  • Bothering friends and family in the hopes that they would risk hurting your feelings to give you honest feedback.
  • Hoping someone will chime in with actual constructive criticism on a picture you post online.
  • Paying a lot of money to attend a photography conference and have your work reviewed by an expert.

None of these is ideal. The first two don’t work, and the third is a rather large, expensive (not to mention scary) undertaking.

So what do you do? Fortunately, the world is changing in this area. There are additional tools to help you get feedback and also to help you objectively judge your own work as well. In this article, you’ll be introduced to a few of my favorites.

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#1 – 500 px

You may already be familiar with 500px. You upload your pictures to the site and it provides you with a score for your photograph based on the number of likes and comments it receives from others. An obvious way to get feedback is through the score. Higher scores generally mean better pictures and you can judge your picture by the score it receives.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

That said, the scoring of 500px can be somewhat unreliable. Sometimes you will upload pictures that you know are better than the score they get (but be careful about that, as sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking our photos are better than they are). Other times you will see pictures with really high scores that aren’t as good as their scores warrant. There are a lot of factors that might determine the number of people that are liking your photo at any particular time.

The score isn’t the only way that 500px helps you evaluate your own work, though. When you upload your picture to the site, you will see it in pools of pictures that 500px creates. All new pictures go into the Fresh pool of pictures, then if your photo reaches a score of 70 it goes into an Upcoming pool, and pictures that score over 80 are deemed Popular. When you look at your photo within these pools, you will see it surrounded by its peers.  You are essentially forced to compare your photo to the surrounding ones. Sometimes you will like what you see, sometimes you won’t.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

The Popular pool of photos on 500px.

Then, when you are ready for a little dose of humility, you can compare your photo to the most popular photos on the front page. These photos are almost always incredible shots. Be warned, this will bruise your ego. Once you get past that, you can look at what these photographers are doing to get those great shots. That will help show you things you could be doing.

#2 – Photographers via phone or Skype

Having your photos reviewed by an expert has always been an option, but it has historically been expensive. Usually, it involves going to a photography conference, where you are given the opportunity to sit face-to-face with someone reviewing your work. These opportunities are invaluable but are also expensive and time-consuming. The conferences usually aren’t cheap and there may be significant travel expenses involved as well.

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Technology is starting to help change this situation, though. Now, if you poke around online, you can find photographers that will review your work virtually for a fraction of the cost. The occasions I have done this have cost me $ 50 or less.

What you do is upload some pictures to the photographer or service, and they review them. I’ve done it where I had a call with the reviewer, and where the reviewer sent me an audio/video file of them reviewing my work. Obviously, you only have interaction with them the first way, but the reality is that you are mostly doing this for their honest feedback your pictures, and not to ask questions or have them explain things. In any case, you get feedback on your work from an industry expert.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

An example of a photo review service.

Some photographers offer this as a service on their websites. Many others don’t, but I suspect they would welcome the opportunity to make a little extra cash if approached. If you have a favorite photographer, you might see if they are interested in reviewing your work for a fee. It will get you great feedback without the cost of traveling to a conference.

#3 – Pixoto

Another way I have seen to get good feedback on your work is a website called Pixoto.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

When you post a photo to Pixoto, it goes through a series of Image Duels, which are head-to-head competitions between your photo and another image. You will be asked to vote on Image Duels of photos submitted by others, and they will vote on yours. It is nameless and faceless. As a result of the wins and losses (and even the best photos have plenty of losses), Pixoto generates a score for your photo. It also tells you what percentage of photos yours placed above.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

Example of an Image Duel on Pixoto.

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You won’t always agree with the results Pixoto gives you. Sometimes that will be because the Pixoto score is wrong, but more often it will be because you failed to properly evaluate your own work (which is very hard). In any case, this is another tool in your arsenal, and it is free.

Evaluating your own work

None of these tools is perfect, what’s more, they will sometimes conflict. You might have a photo that gets a really high score on 500px but does dismally on Pixoto. Or you might have a photo that gets lots of social media attention and is loved by a reviewer but goes nowhere on 500px or Pixoto. None of this replaces judgment and there is no accounting for taste. But they can give you good markers to help you critically evaluate your own work.

These tools will occasionally change your mind, and it can work in both directions. There will be photos you absolutely love, but you later realize aren’t as good as you thought after you’ve used these tools. At the same time, there will be photos that you didn’t think much of but that you realize might be a little better than you gave them credit for after seeing the reaction of others to them.

In any event, perhaps the greatest tool these can offer you is helping you learn to better evaluate your own work by yourself. After you have seen others do it, you’ll learn things. You’ll stop repeating mistakes. You’ll learn what is important to others. And you’ll learn to view your photos with a more critical eye.

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What are the Best Street Photography Camera Settings and Why

21 Mar

Did you ever wonder how the photographers of the past did it? All they had were manual cameras and yet somehow they had a method that beats even the latest technology in autofocus! Wonder what it was? Let’s find out first what it was and discuss what most call the best street photography camera settings.

The best street photography settings

Now, before getting into this, let’s get something straight. If you are doing something in your street photography and it works for you, then by all means, you’ve found the settings that fit you best and you probably want to stick with them. What I am presenting here are the tried and true ways that not only past photographers used, but most street photographers prefer today. But it’s not magic by any means. With that being said, let’s start with focusing on street photography.

What are the Best Street Photography Camera Settings and Why
What’s faster than autofocus?

I know you are probably wondering how something can be faster than the latest autofocus, especially when every new camera wants you to believe they have the fastest AF in the world. The answer is – pre-focusing. What photographers of the past did was to pre-focus their camera onto a certain zone and simply shot, paying attention so that their subjects were within that area.

If you look at the example below, the photographer could either pre-focus on the blue or red area. Then anything or anyone that came within the blue or red area (depending which they chose) would be in focus.

What are the Best Street Photography Camera Settings and Why

Pre-focus zones.

Autofocus also comes with certain issues, because even if you have the fastest autofocus in the world, it can only guess WHERE you want it to focus. When you have people coming at you, it will most likely focus on the person that is closest to you. You could change your focus points, put if you wanted to shoot outside of that point, you would have to focus and recompose. That is not a luxury you often have in the street. Zones eliminate that problem. They are like a forcefield that you have in front of your camera, whoever enters that force field will be in focus. Those fields usually require smaller apertures, hence street photographers usually rely on f/5.6 or f/8.

Setting up your forcefield

In order to set up your own forcefield, you will need to know what kind of shots you want. Do you want to make images of your subjects up close, or further away? That will determine where you need to focus. Let’s say you want to take a few shots with your subject at less than one meter. All you need to do is to put your lens like so:


My aperture is at f/16, so I would put the marking on the left to 0.7, and look at the other marking on the right. That would tell me that everything between 0.7 to 1.2 meters will be in focus. The way aperture works, the further away you are, the larger the depth of field, so putting it at one meter would have had a lot of space in focus.

But, “my lens doesn’t have those marks”, you say! That’s where a tool like DOFmaster comes in:

Say you have a Canon 7D, for example. Select it from the camera dropdown menu and put in the lens focal length (say 35mm). If you focus at one meter, everything from 0.89m to 1.14m will be in focus. But the tool also tells you how to get the greatest zone of all, it tells you what your hyperfocal distance is. So if you focus at 8.09m, everything from 4m to infinity would be in focus at f/8.

Most street photographers I know set it to the hyperfocal distance. But when the light starts dropping, if they want some part of the image not in focus, or if they want their subjects really close, they use smaller zones (and larger apertures) and switch between them.

But what if your camera doesn’t even tell you where you are focused? Then you just need an app for that. You can download EasyMeasure (iOS) or Smartmeasure (Android). Then stand in front of a wall to get your distance to it, go back and forth until you get your desired distance, then focus on the wall and voila your zone is set!

What are the Best Street Photography Camera Settings and Why
The other settings

Once you have your focus and aperture set, what about your other settings? You’ve got a few choices. First of all, you can leave them all on manual (shooting in Manual mode) and adjust them on the fly. Or you can put the shutter speed on automatic (camera in Aperture priority mode) and deal with ISO manually.

A good choice is to keep the shutter speed above 1/125th because stuff usually happens fast on the streets and below that there is risk of camera shake. Of course the same applies for when you are shooting manually too, better to not go below 1/125th, but that might be different for you if you shoot slowly.

The other setting that is left is ISO. You could also put it on auto-ISO, but put a cap on it. I think most modern cameras that are adjustable should be okay with a cap of 1600. But you’ll have to watch out, some cameras don’t have great auto ISO and will go to ISO 1600 in broad daylight.

What are the Best Street Photography Camera Settings and Why
The Semi-automatic Settings

The settings below will help you to focus on the image and only worry about if someone is in your focus zone or not:

  • Set your aperture to f/8
  • Focus at the hyperfocal distance
  • Auto shutter speed, do not go lower than 1/125th
  • Auto-ISO set to not go higher than 1600

One of the strengths of this system is that it accounts for transition time. Imagine you are walking out of a building, from which the inside was darker than outside, which is super sunny.

If you are in manual shooting mode for your ISO and shutter speed, you may have to adjust the exposure by three stops if an image suddenly appears in front of you. While you’re changing the shutter speed you might not have time to change the ISO and may mess up the exposure. However, if at least one of them was auto, this would have been done for you automatically.

What are the Best Street Photography Camera Settings and Why


There you have it, the street photography settings that the photographers of the past used (sans automatic modes of course) and that many street photographers still use today. But what’s most important is to find out what works best for you and your style of shooting. Try these out. They are tried and true, but nobody said you HAVE to use them. Do what works for you! Be yourself, stay focused, and keep on shooting.

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Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

20 Mar
Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Portrait sample using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens.

Last summer I had the opportunity to test out the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens and review it for dPS. I absolutely loved the lens, so when the opportunity arose to try Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 Art lens, I jumped at the chance.

I continue to be excited by Sigma’s lineup of Art lenses, as they offer incredible image quality for a great price. Several of my photographer friends were singing this lens’s praises since it began shipping, so I was eager to see if it lived up to its reputation.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

The Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM A

First Impressions of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

As a Nikon shooter, I tested the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens in a Nikon mount. The first thing I noticed about this lens is that it is an absolute beast. The lens is 3.7 inches wide by 5 inches long (94.7mm x 126.2mm), and weighs in at a whopping two and a half pounds (1113 g / 39.3 oz.)!  Compare this to Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L II lens, which weighs in at four ounces lighter and is more than an inch and a half shorter. The filter thread is 86mm, compared to 72mm for the Canon one. For another comparison, Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4G is also more than an inch and a half shorter and 2/10 of an inch slimmer, weighs more than a pound less than the Sigma at 595 g / 21oz.), and accepts a 77mm filter.


The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens consists of 14 elements in 12 groups, featuring two low dispersion SLD elements and an aspherical element to help reduce chromatic aberration. The construction of the lens feels as solid as other Sigma Art lenses I’ve used. The metal barrel has a nice finished look, the switches and focusing ring have a high quality feel to them and they are easily located when looking through the viewfinder. The ribbed rubber focusing ring takes up a large portion of the lens barrel and provides a long, smooth throw, perfect for manually focusing if you desire.

There is rubber sealing around the lens mount to protect against dust and moisture, as well as oil repellent coatings on the front and rear elements. Sigma also states that the lens’s hypersonic motor (HSM) has 1.3x more torque than its predecessor, allowing the lens to focus faster. Minimum focus distance is 33.3 inches, similar to competitors’ lenses.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

The Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM A

Fast glass

The fast maximum aperture of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art makes this lens a workhorse for many applications. At f/1.4, you’re getting a lot of light through the lens and onto the imaging sensor, making it ideal for low light situations. In addition, that fast aperture allows for use of lower ISOs, helping to minimize noise. Finally, working at wider apertures such as f/1.4 mean you can force your viewer to look exactly where you want by creating images with extremely shallow depth of field.


The lens ships with a high quality padded soft case, ideal for transporting the lens. Sigma also provides a sizable plastic hood, ideal for helping to eliminate lens flare off the sizable front element. The hood locks into place securely and offers good protection from impact as well.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is compatible with Sigma’s USB dock, which helps facilitate the updating of firmware, lens calibration, or other customizations such as focus parameters. Unfortunately, I was not provided with the USB dock for this review. My first time shooting with the lens I found it to front focus quite a bit. This was corrected by using my Nikon D810’s AF Fine Tune feature, but in my 25 years in photography, that’s a feature I’ve never had to use before, so I was a little put off by the need to do so.

In Practical Use

Once the AF issues were corrected, the lens was awesome to use. The autofocus was fast and quiet and the lens was tack sharp. The beauty of a portrait lens at f/1.4 is the ability to blur the background way out of focus and have the sharp areas of the image really jump out at you. This made the initial front-focusing issues all the more of a problem because when you photograph using such shallow depth of field if you miss your focus, you really miss it! It’s imperative that you’re precise and that the lens can be counted on to focus where you tell it to.  See this article I wrote: Fast Glass: Tips for Working With Wide Aperture Lenses for more that.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art is an excellent portrait lens. The bokeh is buttery smooth and the contrast and sharpness make for a beautiful look to the image straight out of the camera. Repeatability of focus was a bit of an issue at times, and I occasionally had to refocus the lens when taking multiple shots at the same distance.  While for me it wasn’t a major problem, it’s worth noting when you may need to work under greater pressure than what I was facing in my test shoots.

Portrait sample with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 art lens.

Portrait sample with the Sigma 85mm F1.4 Art lens.

Other applications

The lens does exhibit some focus breathing when changing focus from one distance to another. Focus breathing is where objects in the image become more or less magnified as the focus is changed. This won’t be a major problem for still shooters unless you are focus stacking, but for video shooters, this may be a slight cause for concern, especially when doing drastic focus pulls.

While I did not have a chance to use the lens under these circumstances, I was struck by how quickly the lens focused and thought it would have made an excellent lens for photographing sports such as basketball, back in my sports photography days. In addition, the excellent image quality and wide aperture mean the lens can be used in many other situations. Those include; landscape photography, when either a moderate telephoto focal length is needed, or when photographing a flower, tree, or another object when you want a shallow depth of field to blur the background or foreground.

Wildlife Example Using Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art

Wildlife example shot with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens. Photo courtesy Dennis Clark /


When properly calibrated, the lens is tack sharp and provides stellar image quality. Build quality is outstanding, and the lens felt good in my hands. The autofocus was fast and smooth, as well as quiet. Image quality was outstanding.

Price-wise, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is a bargain, comparatively speaking. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G retails for $ 1599, while Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L lists for $ 1899 (at the time of writing this review). At $ 1199, the Sigma provides outstanding image quality at quite a bit less than its competitors. The lens is available in Nikon, Canon, or Sigma mounts.

Portrait sample using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens

Portrait sample using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens.


This lens is heavy. Combined with a pro body, you could be lifting almost 6 pounds every time you take a shot. For wedding and portrait photographers who might want to use this lens a good portion of their workday, that means a lot of heavy lifting and arm fatigue after a while.

Also, there is no image stabilization on the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art. While neither Nikon nor Canon offers image stabilization on their fast 85mm offerings, it should be noted that Tamron’s SP 85mm f/1.8 lens, while a stop slower, does have that feature. That allows the lens to be handheld at shutter speeds slower than could be achieved with the Sigma at 85mm f/1.4.



The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is an outstanding value that provides incredible image quality at a good price. While I would prefer it to be a bit small and lighter, there’s no denying that the bottom line for image makers is image quality and the Sigma delivers that. Four stars.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Portrait example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art


Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Another portrait example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Portrait example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Nature example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art. Photo courtesy Dennis Clark /

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Why Wireless Tethering Will Improve Your Photography

20 Mar

As a photographer, shooting tethered is one of the best ways to improve your photography skills. Tethering helps you zoom into the details of your shots on a big screen so you can make adjustments as you go. It also encourages collaboration by keeping your photo subject or client engaged if they’re on location with you. In this article, I’ll explain what tethered shooting is and why wireless tethering with an app like CamRanger is the best choice.

What is tethering?

By definition, tethering is when a mobile device shares its internet connection with another device. This can be done through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a physical connection cable (e.g. USB). Many mobile phones can tether to share their Wi-Fi with laptops or tablets. Similarly, cameras can tether as well. But in the case of tethered shooting with a camera, the purpose is to transmit images from the camera directly to another device such as a laptop computer or tablet.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 11

The cheapest and most efficient way to shoot tethered is to use a wired connection. All you need is a standard USB cable that connects to your camera and tethering software such as Capture One, Adobe Lightroom, or DSLR Controller. Wired tethering is very cheap, and it’s extremely quick. There’s practically no delay between pressing the shutter on your camera and seeing the resulting image pop up on your screen. Get more info and a detailed step-by-step guide to wired tethering here.

What is wireless tethering?

However, the main disadvantage with wired tethering is the cable. It can easily get unplugged from your camera or laptop and mess up the tethered connection. The cable can also be a hazard on set, causing you or your photo subject to trip over it. This is where wireless tethering can come in handy. If you shoot on location and can’t be bothered with a cable limiting your movement, wireless tethering is an option you may want to explore.

When you tether wirelessly, you plug a device such as CamRanger into your camera and use it to create a wireless network. Any device such as a laptop or tablet can join that wireless network and your images are transmitted wirelessly every time you press the shutter button. You can even remotely control the camera from your tethered computer or tablet.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 10

Why CamRanger is the Best Wireless Tethering Device

There are several wireless tethering devices available, and I tried many of them out in search of the one that would work best. My devices requiring connectivity included a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 6D cameras, Android smartphone, and Apple laptop computer. Although it’s the most expensive, CamRanger is my wireless tethering device of choice. Here’s why:

1. Minimal stuff in the box

The contents in the CamRanger box are very minimal, consisting of just a few cables, a case, simple instructions, and the unit itself. I really loved the zippered case with a carabiner that easily fit all of the items. One thing that would be nice to have is the CamRanger hot shoe mounting device, which has to be purchased separately.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering

2. Intuitive setup

After unboxing CamRanger, setup is pretty simple. Begin by downloading the CamRanger app to your tethering device of choice. Currently, you can download the CamRanger app for iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android devices, Kindle Fire, and both Mac and Windows computers.

Next, switch on the CamRanger device so that it broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal. This might take a minute or two. Then connect your tethering device, with the app installed, to the CamRanger Wi-Fi network using the CamRanger’s serial number as the Wi-Fi password. Boom! You’re ready to shoot!

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 01

CamRanger desktop app allows for wireless tethering and remote camera control.

3. Compatible with Canon and Nikon

CamRanger will work with both Canon and Nikon DSLRs. For a full list of compatible cameras, check out their website.

How CamRanger actually works

Whenever you shoot tethered with CamRanger, the device stores image previews in a cache on your device. The actual files are still written to your camera’s CF or SD memory card like usual. While the wireless transfer of images can definitely be slow, this process can be sped up if you change your camera preferences to shoot in JPG only, or RAW + JPG. Transferring JPG images goes much faster than RAW images.

Another huge benefit of CamRanger is the option to switch the app into Client Mode. This allows you to hand your tethered device over to your client to preview images created in real time, without allowing them to remotely control your camera so you can keep shooting. It’s a clever feature that really adds value.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 11

In practice, there are a few limitations of CamRanger to be aware of. First, note that wireless tethering still has a limited range of about 100-150 feet. If your camera and connected device drift outside of this range, you risk losing connectivity. Second, CamRanger does have a decent battery life of 5-6 hours by itself, but using it in conjunction with Live View on your camera can drain your camera batteries quickly.

CamRanger Positive Features

  • Very easy to setup and start using immediately
  • Built-in features include focus stacking, bracketing, and intervalometer
  • Minimal pieces, so it is easy to travel with
  • Lets clients easily see my images and give feedback
  • Reduces time in post-processing by making real-time adjustments when shooting
  • Eliminates the long, hazardous USB cable needed for wired tethering

What about built-in Wi-Fi?

If you have a camera with built-in Wi-Fi, you can probably remote control your camera and perform some tethering functions. As an example, I have the Canon 6D DSLR which has Wi-Fi connectivity. This is great for wirelessly transmitting images to my mobile phone and for doing some remote camera control via the Canon Camera Connect mobile phone app. However, no such app exists for my laptop, so I cannot wirelessly connect to my computer without using another device and USB cable. This is why I still use CamRanger to shoot tethered from my laptop, even with my Wi-Fi enabled camera.

CamRanger Alternatives

There are a couple of other popular CamRanger alternatives that also permit you to do wirelessly tethering. I tried both of these options out and found they weren’t nearly as comprehensive or reliable as CamRanger.

  • CamFi
  • Tether Tools Case Air

In Conclusion

Do you shoot tethered? What do you think about the pros and cons of wireless tethered shooting? Let me know in the comments below!

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How to Create an Antique Photo Look Using a Lemon and Layer Masks in Photoshop

17 Mar

Layers were presented for the first time in Adobe Photoshop in version 3.0, which launched in 1994. We take them for granted nowadays, but they were a total game changer at the time as they allowed image composites to be taken to a whole different level with image stacking and transparencies.

Layer Masks may seem like a scary monster for a Photoshop newbie, but they are in fact quite easy to understand as they work the same way as layer transparency. But layer masks use a non-destructive way to reveal or hide portions of a layer by defining pixel opacities without affecting the original data.

It all happens with greyscale data: think of black as transparent, white as opaque and gray as different levels of opacity depending on if they are lighter or darker. Following this theory, this also means that you can convert any greyscale image into a Layer Mask and use it to create many types of effects on your image.

This tutorial is a step-by-step example on how to use this technique.

How to create your own Layer Mask

Create an old school effect

For this particular image, I wanted to create an old-school or antique effect, like an alternative darkroom process of developing a black and white image with a brush. This mask could be done in many different ways, but, because I wanted to make it really textured and as authentic as possible, I used an oxidation process.

Prepare the paper first

To give this process a try, you will need a paper sheet and some lemon juice.

02 How to create your own Layer Masks

Brush the paper with the lemon juice and create you mask area

03 How to create your own Layer Masks

The lemon juice will oxidate upon contact with air, but it will take a long time. To accelerate the process, you can put the paper near a heat source like a tungsten lamp or if you want it even faster, you can use an oven at a low temperature setting like I did here.

04 How to create your own Layer Masks

The lemon juice will start to turn a brown color. Remove the paper from the oven when you get the color and texture you intend, and your paper sheet is ready to be scanned or photographed to create an image file like this:

05 How to create your own Layer Masks

Photoshop technique

Now open Photoshop and the image on which you want to create the mask.

06 How to create your own Layer Masks

Convert the layer to a mask

Now click on the layer mask icon on the bottom of the layers’ palette and your background layer will be converted into Layer 0 with a white mask next to it.

Press the alt/option key on your keyboard and click on the white mask to make it visible and active. This is a very important step! If you miss this step the image itself will be active and visible instead of the mask, that is what you will be working on.

Once you have done this, the image itself will not disappear, it will just be hidden.

07 How to create your own Layer Masks

Convert to greyscale

Now it’s time to open your mask image and convert it to greyscale. One easy way to do it is to use the desaturate function located in: Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (or keyboard shortcut Control/Cmd+Shift+U)

08 How to create your own Layer Masks

The final image you want to create is white around the edges, so your mask should be the opposite. You can use the invert function for this: Image > Adjustments > Invert (Control/Cmd+I)

09 How to create your own Layer Masks

Put the image into the mask

Next, it is time to paste the image into the mask with these simple steps:

  • Select > All (Control/Cmd+A)
  • Edit > Copy (Control/Cmd+C)
  • Now click on the original image where you created the layer mask and go to: Edit > Paste (Control/Cmd+P)
  • Click on the eye icon on the left side of the layers’ palette to see the image and the mask working together.

10 How to create your own Layer Masks

Add a white layer

As you can see the mask creates different levels of transparency on the image. To be able to see the transparency as white we can create a new white layer to use as a background.

  • Go to: Layer > New > Layer (Control/Cmd+Shift+N)
  • Edit > Fill > Contents: White; Mode: Normal; Opacity: 100%

11 How to create your own Layer Masks

Now just drag the new white layer to the bottom position of the layers panel, and you will have a full view of the final image appearance.

12 How to create your own Layer Masks

Fine-tune the effect

Now it is just a matter of a few adjustments to fine-tune the effect you want. In this particular image, I will adjust the size of the mask. Click on the mask icon in the layers’ palette and then click on the chain between the image and the mask icon to unlink them.

13 How to create your own Layer Masks

Next go to: Edit > Transform > Scale (Control/Cmd+T). Drag the image edge lines to transform the shape of the mask and adjust it to the image size.

14 How to create your own Layer Masks

The size of the mask is right, but the image looks to washed out. We can increase the contrast of the mask to make the blending with the image look better.

Go to: Image > Adjustments > Levels (Control/Cmd+L). Adjust the sliders on the levels dialogue box to create the effect you want.

15 How to create your own Layer Masks

Lastly, for the old image look, you can use the black and white function. Click on the image icon in the layers’ palette so that you are editing the image and not the mask, then go to; Image > Adjustments > Black & White (Control/Cmd+Alt+Shift+B). Adjust the sliders on the Black & White dialogue box to create the effect you want.

Note: You can also add the black and white as an adjustment layer to keep your editing non-destructive. Additionally, you can paint on the mask with a black brush, over any areas you want to keep clear (such as her eyes or face). 

16 How to create your own Layer Masks

There it is, a quick and easy way to create your own layer masks. Give it a try and share your images with us in the comments below.

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10 Step Guide to Improving Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

17 Mar

Will buying that new camera or lens or travel to iconic places automatically result in beautiful images?

Landscape photographers often dream about the latest gear or traveling to far away places to capture great images. For example, places like Iceland, Patagonia, Lofoten Norway, or Tuscany. The problem is that we spend too much time in front of our computers seeing all those great images on social media platforms and dreaming about photographing those vistas ourselves.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear - leading lines

We believe that going to iconic places or buying the latest gear will automatically make us better photographers, or that this is the only way of capturing great imagery. As with any craft, you need to practice, practice, and then do some more practice. This way you’ll have the greatest possibility of taking that fantastic photo, either close to home, or once you finally go away on that travel adventure of your dreams.

Here are my 10 tips for how to improve your photography without buying new gear:

1) Learn the basics about your camera and photography

Start by reading your camera’s user manual. Yes, it’s very basic and should be obvious to everyone, but you would be surprised how often people buy a new camera and start using it right away, thinking that the camera is going to do all the work. Many camera stores also offer beginner courses. Ask your local camera store about this option before deciding to buy from them.

Learn about topics like leading lines, the rule of thirds, exposure compensation, and the relation between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I will not go into this in more detail as it would merit a whole book, but these topics are available in printed books, e-books and here on dPS.

Read more here:

  • How to Use Leading Lines Effectively in Landscape Photography
  • 5 Simple Techniques for Leading the Viewer’s Eye in Your Images
  • How to Use Exposure Compensation to Take Control of Your Exposure
  • Mastering the Exposure Triangle for Newbies
  • Understand Exposure in Under 10 Minutes
10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear - leading lines

Using leading lines.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear - rule of thirds

Using the rule of thirds.

2) Do your photography under the right conditions

A word photography literally means drawing with light (from the Greek photós meaning “light”, and graphê meaning “drawing, writing”). I would say that at least 80 % of your most successful images will be taken during the sunrise or sunset when the quality of light is the best. The other 20 % will be taken during cloudy days when the light is much softer than days with direct sunlight.

Many photographers don’t consider this second aspect enough. When starting out, I would often photograph during sunny days with clear blue skies with hard light that produced too much contrast. Today I try to do as much photography when there’s a shift in the weather pattern from high to low pressure or vice versa. The reason is that during this period there’s often a build up of dramatic clouds and the weather shifts between rain and sun creating more drama in your photos.

I suggest that you regularly check the weather forecasts and try to plan your photography for these days.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

3) Scout for new locations and return multiple times to the same place

The majority of my best photos are from places very close to home. Most of the time they were not taken on my first attempt, but rather I had to come back many times to the same location before the conditions were right.

Google Earth is a great tool for your initial location scouting as are social media platforms like 500px, Instagram, or Google+. Remember that you should use these sites for inspiration, and not try to copy the same images that have already been taken numerous times before.

4) Change your vantage point

Have you ever considered the vantage point of your photos? The majority of photographers always take photos from the exact same position as they are standing – at eye level. This creates boring photos that all look the same. It’s also the same vantage point from which your viewers see the world.

By crouching down low or shooting from a higher position, like a hill or even from the top of a rock, it will drastically improve your photos. The visual appearance of your photo can dramatically change by just placing your camera a couple of meters in another direction. You should “work the scene” by looking for different viewpoints and not be satisfied with your first choice.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear - low viewpoint

Taken from a low vantage or view point.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

Shot from a low view point.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

Taken from a high vantage point.

5) Use your lenses creatively

Use your wide-angle lens for creating depth in your image and your telephoto lens to compress the landscape. Both techniques are very effective and create totally different effects. By trying to pre-visualize how your want your photo to look, your choice of lens will be much easier. This takes time and comes more naturally as you gain greater experience.

For landscape photography, you often want to maximize your depth of field by taking photos between f8 and f/16. You could go higher than that but then you risk having softer images as most lenses have a “soft spot” between these parameters.

You could also try to zoom or move your lens during the exposure. This technique is more a trial and error basis and often you need to take many photos before you’re satisfied. Luckily all your frames in digital photography are free.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

Use of a wide-angle lens.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

Use of a longer or telephoto lens.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

Created by intentionally moving the camera or lens during the exposure.

6) Use the elements in your surroundings to your benefit

Is there is a rock, a tree, strong colors, some leading lines, etc., that you can use to create interest in your image and lead the viewer’s eyes throughout your image?

Because we are fed daily with thousands of images, it becomes important to immediately catch the viewer’s attention and make sure that their mind is stimulated. Therefore, the image should have a clear object, this could be a person or a landmark, which the viewer can quickly identify.

If the photo is too busy with too many conflicting elements, the viewer will become confused and move on to the next image. Less is often better than more. Consider excluding elements that do not add to the image. It could be annoying things like tree branches entering the photo from the corner, paper bags and other waste in the photo, etc.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

7) Invest in good quality accessories instead of buying the latest camera or lenses

There are some camera accessories that are more important than the latest camera or lens.

The single most important one is a good quality tripod. You should not waste your money buying a cheap aluminum tripod that will shake every time you put your camera on it, resulting in useless blurry images. In the end, you’ll be forced to buy a more expensive tripod anyway, adding unnecessary extra costs. Instead, spend the extra money on a quality tripod from Manfrotto, Gitzo, 3 Legged Thing, or any of the other top brands. Trust me, in the end, you will end up saving money.

Another very important accessory for us landscape photographers are filters. You definitely need a good polarizing filter to reduce the reflections on water and other shiny surfaces. Polarizing filters work the same way as your sunglasses.

Cameras are also limited in their ability to handle dynamic range. In short, this means the ability to register the darkest and lightest tones and everything in between. An example of this cis when you’re photographing a landscape and the foreground looks good, but the sky is too bright. This is where the graduated filters come into play. They have a dark and light part with a soft or hard transition in between. Generally, you should use a hard transition filter when photographing seascapes, as there is a clear definition between the sky and the water. A soft transition filter is preferred when photographing landscapes where there are trees, hills or mountains.

I’ve tested many different brands and would highly recommend LEE filters, They are expensive, but in my opinion are worth every penny. Lee also produces two neutral density filters called Little Stopper and Big Stopper. These filters enable you to slow down your shutter speed. When you see those photos with silky smooth water or clouds, most likely the photographer used such a filter.

While these accessories will cost you some money, they will be more of a one-time expense. Taking good care of them means you can use your accessories for many years to come.

8) Photograph in RAW format and learn to use a photo editing program

When photographing in JPG mode you let the camera do all the processing of the image. This means you have less control over the final outcome. It’s better to photograph in RAW format and then use a software like Adobe lightroom to post-process them yourself.

For me, the main reason for shooting in RAW is to have a greater dynamic range so that I’m able to save many images that are otherwise too light or too dark. Of course, it’s important to get the exposure correct from the start, but RAW files definitely give you some room for errors. There is a lot of information about RAW format and post-processing, read;  RAW Versus JPG – Why You Might Want to Shoot in RAW Format and How to Use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop to Make Your Landscape Images Pop.

9) Learn to focus manually

This is crucial for landscape photography. As mentioned above, you’ll hopefully be taking most of your photos in low light during the morning or evening. You will also be using a tripod to avoid camera shake.

10 Step Mini-Guide - How to Improve Your Photography Without Buying New Gear

During long exposure photography, it becomes very important to focus manually in order to avoid having the focus move during your exposure as is the risk when using autofocus. You should use a small aperture like f/11 and focus about a third of the way into the scene if you desire to have sharpness throughout the frame. Make sure you use your camera’s Live View mode or focus peaking if you own a mirrorless camera, for manual focus assistance.

10) Think before you shoot and study your photos afterward

Often I see photographers arrive at their location, take out their gear, and do the “machine gun “photography approach, taking dozens of photos from the same location over and over again. It’s important to work the scene, moving around looking for the best viewpoints.

The same applies when you’re done editing your photos at home. Try to study your photos and look for improvements. Compare your work with other established photographers to see how you can do things differently next time. This takes time, but after a while, you’ll certainly notice better quality in your work.


These 10 points are just the very basics to get you started. Make sure you search dPS for more information, study photography books, and feel free to leave a comment below or ask any question you might have. Good luck!

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6 Practical Tips to Instantly Make Travel Photography Easier

17 Mar

Documenting exotic places, capturing priceless memories, and recording once-in-a-lifetime experiences are just a few of the pleasures travel photography affords us. But it can also throw up challenges. Time constraints, logistics, and lack of portable storage can make getting the perfect shot far more difficult. Here are a few tried-and-tested tips to help you make those challenges a little more surmountable.

Travel photography tips 01

1. Eliminate the unnecessary

Lack of storage, dubious safety, and the sheer weight of equipment may put the kibosh on your plans of bringing two DSLRs and five lenses to adequately capture your trip. By thinking about how you tend to shoot, you may be able to hone down your kit to just one camera and lens.

Some photographers opt for a fixed focal-length camera like the Fuji X100T. It’s compact, versatile, and good for all-round shooting. But for a photographer who shoots at long focal lengths, it would be a constant source of frustration.

Bridge cameras may provide an alternative, with their versatile zoom ranges in one neat package. Consider your individual needs based on your preferences and narrow down what kit you really need to have with you from what you merely want.

Travel photography tips 02

If you just can’t decide, try this; take one entry-level DSLR with a lens that has a varying zoom length from wide-standard to telephoto and a constant aperture of f/2.8 which is ideal for most situations.

Travel photography tips 03

2. Pick a lens with IS or VR

Each lens manufacturer offers some form of in-built stabilization. Canon has Image Stabilization (IS); Nikon has Vibration Reduction (VR). Choosing a lens that has in-built IS or VR helps when you can only shoot handheld.

When traveling, there are so many times when the perfect shot can only be captured on-the-fly. Unpacking a tripod and fiddling with camera settings may even be entirely out of the question. For moments when the light is low and shooting handheld is all you can do, IS or VR can help reduce shake and potentially save a photo.

Travel photography tips 04

3. Carry a mini-tripod

Slinging a folded down Manfrotto over your back may not be possible, but it also might not be something you’d want to do if you are taking photos in between relaxing moments on your family vacation. Having a portable, mini-tripod in your pocket or bag is a cheap and easy way to get around that issue. A flexible option like the Joby GorillaPod can even help get stable shots from unusual angles without adding too much undue weight to your bag.

Travel photography tips 05

4. Invest in memory and charge those batteries

Don’t come back from your holiday with 700 amazing shots from the first three days and absolutely nothing to show for the remaining week and a half because you ran out of memory. It’s now easier than ever to get lots of data and a fast write speed on one reasonably-priced SD card, so hoard a few of them before you go!

Do the same with batteries. Planning to re-charge every night is a great habit to get into, but don’t rely on that alone. When you end up in a hotel that has no power sources or you realize that you left your adapter in the last place you stayed, you’ll wish you’d invested in a few extra batteries and charged them before you left home.

Travel photography tips 06

5. Shoot for post-processing

We all want great results straight out of the camera. But if you don’t have all the equipment that you need or the time to nail your exposure by toying with intricate histograms, shooting a certain way to enable post-processing can be what helps you get the shot.

Bracketing your exposures and post-processing the final image into HDR when shooting the dimly lit walls of medieval ruins might be the only way to save the deep blue of the hot Mediterranean sky outside the cracked windowpanes. Without that, the blown-out highlights may not be salvageable.

If you don’t have a tilt-shift lens on hand and you can’t sprout wings and fly, shooting wider than usual and then correcting perspective in post-processing may be the only way to save that great shot of the iconic tower you visited.

Travel photography tips 08

6. When in doubt, take the shot

There are many times when you feel that it’s not worth taking the shot. A thousand other photographers may have captured the same view before; you may not have the equipment you need to get the results you want; the weather may have turned sour on the one and only day you got to visit. But regardless of how you feel, take the shot.

If it turns out to be a dud, you just delete it when you get home and you’re in the exact same position as if you hadn’t taken it. But if it turns out to be better than you’d thought, you could have a hidden gem that you hadn’t been expecting. Don’t miss a shot because you feel trapped by circumstance. Just shoot, and the magic will happen.

Travel photography tips 07


I hope these 6 tips have given you some ideas for your travel photography to make your next trip a bit easier.

Do you have any others to add to this list? Please share in the comments below.

The post 6 Practical Tips to Instantly Make Travel Photography Easier by Laura Hexton appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Switching from LEE to NiSi Filters: Was it a Mistake?

17 Mar

Filters are rapidly becoming an essential piece of equipment in most photographer’s camera bag. However, as the demand grows so does the number of suppliers; Lee, NiSi, Formatt-Hitech, Wine Country Camera, and more.

Switching from LEE to NiSi Filters: Was it a Mistake?

Choosing the right filters isn’t as easy as it sounds. High-quality filters are rarely cheap and many of us can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a product that doesn’t meet our expectations. The price of ND Filters varies from $ 10-200+ which means that you don’t need to buy the most expensive (even though the price in many cases does also reflect the quality).

About one year ago I was contacted by a Chinese brand named NiSi and invited to test their products. Initially, I was a bit skeptical as I knew little about them and I haven’t had a great experience with Chinese equipment previously (unfortunately). This is my experience with their filter system and filters one year later.

First Impression

The NiSi Filter System provides a positive impression straight out of the box. The filter holder is contained in a beautiful leather box, just like the filter pouch.

I won’t spend too much time talking about the packaging, as I believe the filter quality is more important. Still, it is worth mentioning that the presentation is beautiful and it looks exclusive right away. The only drawback to these beautiful leather boxes is that they are a bit large and they take up a lot of space in your backpack compared to smaller pouches such as LEE’s. However, if it takes too much space you can just remove the holder and leave the box at home.

NiSi Filters

The NiSi Filter Holder and Circular Polarizer Box

The Filter Holder

During the first couple of weeks using the NiSi Filters, I wasn’t quite sure whether I preferred their filter holder or the one made by LEE (which I had been using for more than two years). The NiSi holder is made of metal compared to LEE’s which is made of plastic, but it also seemed slightly less stable. Since the clips are so small I was afraid that the filter holder would fall off the adapter.

After having used the system for nearly one year, however, I’m no longer in any doubt that the NiSi holder is better. I’ve had no problems with neither the V5 Holder (standard for most lenses) or the larger holder for my Nikon 14-24mm.

NiSi Filters

NiSi Filters on my Nikon 16-35mm f/4

Also, the NiSi Filter Holder has one of my all-time favorite features. It has the possibility of having a Circular Polarizer behind the Graduated Neutral Density (GND) or ND Filters, and it is easily adjustable using a small wheel.

I’ve always found it hard to combine a Polarizer and Graduated or regular ND Filters. Either you need to screw the Polarizer on the lens and attach the holder outside, which usually results in vignetting. Or you need to purchase an adapter and a huge Polarizer to place in front of the lens (which also often leads to vignetting). NiSi has completely removed this problem and it’s never been easier to combine these filters. I’ll come back to the NiSi CPL in a bit.

It’s also worth mentioning that you are able to use other brands’ filters in the NiSi holder. I’ve tested with both Singh-Ray and LEE filters and it works perfectly fine, though it can be a little tight to insert them.

The Filters (ND, GND, CPL)

So, the filter holder proved to be of high quality but what about the actual filters?

NiSi filters

NiSi 6-Stop Neutral Density Filter on the Nikon 14-24mm Holder

When I evaluate filters there are two main things I look for; colorcast and quality of the glass. This was my biggest worry in the beginning since, as I mentioned, I was already pleased with my current system.

NiSi Neutral Density Filters

One of my biggest frustrations with the majority of filters I’ve tested so far is the color cast. Worst of them all, despite being a great filter otherwise, is LEE Filters. I had used LEE Filters for years and had gotten used to the heavy blue color cast. Even though it’s fairly quick to fix in Adobe Lightroom or Camera RAW, it feels unnecessary to repeat this step each time you bring out a six or 10-stop ND filter.

NiSi filter 10-stop ND

To the left: No filter – to the right: NiSi 10-stop ND filter.

Even though I initially had no intent of switching from LEE. But I would consider it if I found the color cast to be significantly less and the quality of the glass to be no less. My biggest surprise when taking the first image with my new NiSi 10-Stop ND Filter was that there was absolutely no color cast. Nothing. Nada. I honestly had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I saw it correctly. No heavy blue color cast, no bright yellow. Nothing.

This is a big reason why today, more or less, I only have NiSi Filters in my camera bag.

Another benefit of the NiSi filters is that the filters are of glass, not resin. This makes them more durable, harder to scratch and (most importantly…) easier to clean! All the ND Filters (regardless of strength) have a soft foam/sponge on the back to avoid any light leaks. This is similar to LEE’s Big Stopper and Little Stopper but NiSi also has it on their lighter ND Filters.

NiSi Graduated Neutral Density Filters

The NiSi Graduated Neutral Density Filters have a slightly warmer color cast compared to LEE. However, the color cast is so little that it’s hardly worth mentioning. The same goes for LEE; the GND color cast is hardly noticeable at all.

Again, the NiSi filters are glass, not resin, which makes them harder to scratch and damage. This is great for outdoor photographers who often find themselves in less than ideal situations. After a year of using these filters regularly, I still haven’t got any scratches besides the few on the edges as a result of being placed in and out of the filter holder. These scratches aren’t visible on images, though, and are completely normal for any brand.

While I do like the NiSi GND Filters, my only issue is that the color cast of the 175mm (for my Nikon 14-24mm) is more visible than on the V5 holder. I only recently received this filter so I haven’t been able to do extensive tests on it yet. But at the first glance, it was a yellowish cast in the upper part of the filter.

NiSi Circular Polarizer

As I mentioned in the introduction, the NiSi Filter Holder has one of my all-time favorite features of a filter system; the possibility of placing a Circular Polarizer inside the holder.

Compared to most other brands, NiSi’s Circular Polarizer is extremely slim. I was actually surprised by how thin it was when I first saw it and, honestly, that gave me a negative first impression.

NiSi filters

NiSi Polariser inside the V5 Holder

Being able to insert the CPL within the holder and adjust it by turning a tiny wheel is a brilliant solution, though. Despite the fact that I felt like the filter was a bit too thin and perhaps not as high-quality as the other filters, it’s a more convenient solution than stacking a huge CPL outside of the other filters (and a more affordable option as well).

After testing the CPL for a while I concluded that the quality is in fact as good as my current B+W CPL and the color cast is, again, not a problem.

The biggest drawback is that you’re not able to use only the CPL without the Filter Holder. Since the CPL is placed in a special thread inside the holder you can’t place it on the lens without the holder. I often prefer to keep my CPL on the lens when walking around a city or going on a hike. This isn’t a good option with the NiSi CPL, unfortunately, so I still bring my B+W filter with me.

Besides the fact that it’s not as portable as other options the quality meets my demands. Therefore, I hope that they make an extra option where it’s easy to leave it on the lens at any given time.

Was it a mistake switching from LEE? 

It’s been almost a year since I got my first NiSi Filters now and every week I’m asked what I think about their filters and if it’s worth switching systems.

I think it’s important to state that I never considered switching from LEE and I was very satisfied with their filters and I still believe that they are among the best available on the market. However, I do not regret switching and I love using filters that have little-to-none color cast, while still being of a high quality.

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Lighting 103: When Not to Gel Your Flash

16 Mar

Abstract: Don't bother gelling a scene that is completely lit by a single flash. But if a second light is involved—even ambient light—it's always better to control color at the source.

PIctured above is Midwest Camera President Moishe Appelbaum. He wandered into a lighting class I was teaching at Midwest last fall, so we pulled him aside and shot him. He's lit by a single LP180 speedlight, fired through a white bed sheet.

(Pro tip: A speedlight fired through a bed sheet will rival the light of the most expensive octabanks in the world—in quality if not in quantity. It all comes down to square inches in the light source. And a bed sheet has a crap ton of square inches.)

After our previous lesson, you might think that this photo is an ideal candidate for a warming gel: caucasian skin, warm background, warm-colored clothing. Why not unify this with a little added warmth?Read more »

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