Posts Tagged ‘improve’

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

03 Nov

There are many rules, guidelines, suggestions, and ideas around what makes a good photographic composition. Every person has their own particular aesthetic and way of seeing, and it can be difficult to find your way through all the information to a concept that works for you.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

However, there is one simple tip that may be the easiest and quickest way for you to improve your images. It’s free and doesn’t usually require you to buy anything. All you need to do is stop, think, and make a different choice. What is that choice? The choice of changing your point of view.

The vast majority of images are taken from a standing position, looking out at, or down onto the subject. So, instead of doing what everyone else does, why not try something different?

Change Your Point of View

#1 – Go Low

Get down on the ground as low as you can get (depending on your physical capabilities or what might be in the way). This can give you a much more intimate connection with any creature you might be shooting – being at eye level with the subject is always ideal.

Being on the same plane as a ground-based subject is unexpected. Too often we view the world from a standing position so this viewpoint challenges us.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

I crouched as low as I could get without scaring this curious bandicoot.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Lying flat on the damp sand at 6 am on a tropical island isn’t a bad way to start the day.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

I spent a couple of hours crawling around on my hands and knees on the edge of a cemetery, capturing these Fly Agaric in full bloom.

2. Go High

Climb onto a fence, up some stairs, a tree, or a ladder and use that height to better effect. Looking straight down on your subject is a very alien view for most people. This is a big part of why drone photography is so popular, it allows us to see our world in an entirely different way.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

3. See from a different angle

How many times do you point the camera straight or straight down? Most people rarely look immediately up above themselves, so that is quite a different image. If you combine adding height with looking down you can be very creative as it is unexpected by viewers who normally have their feet planted firmly on the ground.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Vertical flat lay overhead still life shot.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Pointing the camera directly down the stairwell from the top floor provides a unique angle.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Stalactites in a limestone cave right above my head.

4. Make a Different Lens Choice

Changing from your standard lens to a different one can also make a big difference.

Try using a macro lens, or an ultra wide-angle. Even better, don’t use them conservatively. Use the ultra-wide to take macro shots, and use the macro lens to take portraits.

Get a cheap vintage lens, one that has all sorts of interesting visual effects inside the glass (they usually need to be focused manually). Play with a Lensbaby or another specialty type lens. Don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, whats the worst that could happen?

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

The only way to fit this really wide piece of farm equipment into the frame was to shoot up close with an ultra-wide-angle lens. It also allowed the creative choice of including all the wonderful clouds in the sky as well.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Macro lenses offer a window into a world we cannot normally see with standard eyesight. Fascinating tiny details become visible.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Shot with an antique Russian lens, it has a lot of circular distortion around the edges, which when used creatively can be effective. The bonus is that these lenses are very cheap and easy to find in antique shops. Usually manual to operate though.

5. Shoot Tight

Stick that lens right up close to your subject, get in tight. Fill the frame with the subject, as much as you can. Go completely abstract if you like, but push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get in as close as you can, and then go closer still.

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View

6. Take Your Time

Long exposures can be a lot of fun and give you a very different image. Soft flowing water effects are nice, but what about a really long exposure where the water looks like smoke and mist? Night shots of fire dancers making patterns in the darkness? Playing with light painting? ICM or Intentional Camera Movement? Slowing down the action and capturing it can offer a lot of creative fun.

Low light or night time photography offers lots of opportunities for using long exposures in creative ways. Astrophotography is very popular at the moment and requires you to use a tripod and take often several long exposure frames. Light trails from traffic on busy city streets or a car climbing its way up a mountain road in the distance.

These kinds of images take time to make, which requires you to think about and plan it in advance. It can be frustrating to have to wait to achieve them but the pay off for creating an image under difficult conditions is very rewarding.

Fire dancers on the beach

Fire dancer using a colored light bar and taken with a longer exposure to capture the spinning movement

A tree draped in strands of lights becomes a very different image when Intentional Camera Movement is applied. Just a slightly longer exposure time and a wiggle of the wrist and you get this.

7.  Be Abstract

Going really close to a subject or selecting just a part of it to include in the frame is a great way to bring abstract concepts into your work. You tease the viewer with just enough of the subject that they wonder what it is. This often makes them engage longer with the image as they think more about what it could be.

There is a fine line between enough and too abstract, depending on your subject. Of course, you may want to go all the way into very abstract which is perfectly valid, although might challenge your audience and lose engagement.

This is the very battered toes of a pair of ballet pointe shoes


Putting some effort and thought into the way you use your camera gear is one of the most effective ways to improve your images in my opinion. Strong and eye-catching compositions can be achieved with any kind of camera provided you put some thought and time into making it.

Yes, for some kinds of shots you might need special gear, like a macro lens for those really good close-ups. In general, though, you can still see a noticeable improvement in your images by just taking the time to stop and think BEFORE you shoot. Ask yourself the following questions before you press the button:

  • What is the obvious angle here?
  • What other options could I use instead?
  • Do I have time to experiment?
  • Is there space and opportunity for me to physically move to a different viewpoint?
  • Is it safe/legal?
  • Will I do any damage to property or environment by changing position?

Learning to see in a different way was a critical step in my photography path. By expanding my options and developing new styles, my work was noticed and commented on much more. This prompted me to experiment even more and really challenge my own preconceived boundaries.

Having the ability to shoot in many different ways adds flexibility and depth to your skillset. Cold rainy day? Break out the macro lens and raid the pantry for something different to shoot. Pick a flower from the garden and bring it inside. Wander the city streets looking for the small interesting details and focus on them. Be abstract, tell a story from your point of view. Get shots of people’s feet crossing a zebra crossing or panning shots of a cyclist dodging traffic.

Your turn

Take your time to look and see what is around you, then think about how you can frame it up. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It might take a few goes to get the hang of it or you might fall in love with seeing the world around you in an entirely different way immediately.

Challenge yourself to grow and improve. And please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

The post Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View by Stacey Hill appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode in Photoshop to Improve Exposure and Contrast

19 Oct

Do you have an overexposed sunny side and an underexposed shadow on the other side of your image? Or maybe a well-exposed photo that needs more vibrancy? There’s a tool so versatile that can help you fix any of these problems and more: the Soft Light Blend Mode.

What are Layers?

Imagine your photo as a printed one. Then you take a sheet of acetate and draw on it. Then you take another sheet and you put it on top of the others and obscure a part of it; and so on, and so forward. Each acetate sheet is a layer and you can make as many alterations as you want on top of your original this way.

To create layers in Photoshop you need to go to Menu > Layers > New. A pop-up window will appear where you can name your layer, choose the color, the blending mode and the opacity. When you click OK the new layer will appear on the Layers panel window on top of the background, which is the original image.

Layers - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

What is the Blend Mode?

The default setting of a new layer is normal blending mode. This covers the background or the layer underneath. However, Photoshop gives you the option of choosing a different Blend Mode, which changes the way your edit affects the pixels. You can change it in the pop-up window of the new layer.

Blending Modes - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

In the case of the Soft Light blending mode it is similar to using the dodge or burn tool. In other words, every color that is lighter than 50% grey will get even lighter, like it would if you shine a soft spotlight to it. In the same way, every color darker than 50% grey will get even darker. However it will never reach pure black.

So, why not use dodge and burn instead?

First of all, when you work in layers you don’t lose any information. You can always discard the layer and start over because there is no damage to the original image.

With layers, you can change the opacity or transparency of each one, which allows you to control how evident your edit is in the final image. You will find the opacity tool on the Layers panel with a slider that goes from 0 to 100 %.

Note that there is another slider next to it called Fill. There are 8 blending modes in which these two sliders make a difference, however, Soft Light is not part of these “special 8” so the Fill opacity and Standard opacity have the same result when using this Blend Mode.

Opacity - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

Another advantage is that you can change the blending mode of each of the layers. In this article, we are exploring the use of Soft Blend, however, each mode offers different possibilities. One blending mode can have different uses, here are three of them.

3 ways to use Soft Light Blending Mode

1. Add punch to your image

Increase the contrast and saturation to have more vivid colors and give a punch to your image. You can do this by duplicating the background layer: Menu > Layer > Duplicate Layer and changing the blending mode from normal to Soft Light. Finally adjust the opacity until you are happy with the result.

Duplicate Layer - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

BeforeSoftLight - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

AfterSoftLight - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

2. Gradient tool to balance the lighting

If you have an image that is underexposed on one side and overexposed in the other you can easily even it out with a Soft Light blend layer. First go to Menu > Layer > New Layer. Pick the Gradient tool and draw a line from the brightest side to the darkest one. The gradient will look like this:

Gradient How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

Then change the layer blending mode to Soft Light and lower the opacity to find the best results.

Before Gradient - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

Before gradient

After Gradient - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

After gradient

3. Dodging and burning with a Soft Light layer

The past workflows altered the entire image, however, if you need to do a more precise job you can also do that using Soft Light. First, add a new layer with Soft Light blending mode like you did in the previous procedure. Only this time instead of the gradient tool, you are going to use the brush tool. When you select it you can choose the size of the brush on the top menu and the color on the bottom.

Brush How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

If you paint with black you will darken the image:

Darken - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

Painting with white will lighten certain areas, and with different shades of grey, you can also control tones of your image.

Painting - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

Keep going until you are happy with the contrast and exposure of your image.

Before Painting - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast

After Painting - How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode to Improve Exposure and Contrast


Now you know that blending modes have a lot of potential, so keep exploring. How do you use Soft Light Blend Mode? Please share your ideas and tips in the comments below.

The post How to Use Soft Light Blend Mode in Photoshop to Improve Exposure and Contrast by Ana Mireles appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

01 Oct

Many people want to improve their street photography or get involved with this genre for the first time. But the major aspect that holds them back is the issue of taking close candid pictures of people without their permission. While I promise that it gets much easier over time, it can very difficult to get over the hump early on.

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

However, there are some steps you can take that will help ease you into the world of street photography if you do it right. Here are a few important tips that I believe will make shooting candid street photography much easier for you.

1. What to do if you get caught

Before we talk about how to get closer to your subjects, the first step is knowing what to do if something happens. The toughest aspect of getting into street photography is the fact that you will feel very uncomfortable with the idea of someone catching you and asking what you are doing, at first. However, while those situations are usually rare, if you handle them the right way, they don’t have to be all that bad.

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

To help ease your fears, it is important to know what to say if anyone should stop you and ask you if you took their photo. Smile, own up to it and say that you are a photographer or photography student doing a photo project on the area and the people in it. Tell them you thought they looked great and wanted to add them to it. Just be honest and open about it. If they then seem uncomfortable, offer to delete the photograph. It can even help to carry a business card with your photography information and to offer to email them the photograph after. The more direct and pleasant you are, the more disarming it will be.

To further keep yourself out of trouble, pick and choose the people you photograph carefully. It can help to stay away from photographing anyone who looks like they are in a bad mood, anyone with some sort of mental disability, or anyone who is homeless.

2. Light camera and prime lens

Street photography can certainly be done well with an SLR and a zoom lens. I shot for a long time with that setup. However, using a smaller camera such as a mirrorless, micro 4/3rds, or a Leica will make you much less noticeable. In addition, it will be lighter, which will make you faster and can only help with street photography. The difference is night and day.

By using a prime lens you will get used to the fixed focal length which will make you much more spontaneous. You will be able to intuitively know what your camera can capture before you even bring it up to your eye. That, and your camera will be smaller since zoom lenses are usually very large. With a light camera and lens, you will eventually notice yourself capturing images so quickly that your subject barely even notices you. This is the type of thing that is much tougher to do with an SLR and big zoom lens.

3. Picking a spot / getting in the middle

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

The next tip, which is often the most important, is to go where the action is and get right in the middle. It will be important for you to eventually photograph in all types of situations, from less busy to very crowded, but particularly when you are learning, go where a lot of action is happening. Go to fairs, get out at busy times, shoot from busy corners. The more that is happening, the more invisible you will be, and the less you will be noticed by other people. This will help a lot with your comfort level.

By picking a spot and letting your subjects come to you, you change up the dynamic of the situation. Instead of you entering their personal space, they will be entering yours. You will seem less creepy and intrusive because you will already be there with a camera. It will look like you belong.

In addition, when a moment occurs, you will already be the right position. You will be able to spend more of your energy watching your surroundings for a good moment to occur. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t photograph while you are walking and exploring, just that you should carve out some time to linger in a specific spot.

4. Acting

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

There are some photographers who will run up to people and get right in their face. If that’s your thing, more power to you, but many photographers prefer to be less conspicuous about it. We want to capture an interesting moment, we love to people watch, but we want to try to make the situation as comfortable as possible for both parties, and we want to be inconspicuous enough to not ruin the moment.

This is where a little acting can come into play. The most important thing is to act like you don’t notice the person you want to photograph that much. Look at things behind them, and to the side. They just happen to be in your way. Play the role of tourist, looking around. The more you do this, the more you will be able to get away with taking the photo unnoticed.

5. The camera snap and the way you move your camera

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

Similar to the last point, the way you move your camera can play a big part in keeping the situation candid. There is one thing that most photographers do, called the camera snap, where they take the camera away from their eye instinctively right after they take an image. Of course, there will be shots that you take so quickly that people won’t notice. But for other moments when the people notice you, this will often give away the fact that you were taking their photograph. Instead, take the picture and keep the camera up to your eye. Then move the camera away like you were taking a picture next to them and slowly remove the camera from your eye.

Similarly, you do not always have to point your camera directly at people right away to capture the image. Instead, point the camera above or to the side of your subject as if you were taking an image of something behind them. Then at the last second, move the camera over them, take the image, and move on.

6. Hold the camera up high

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

Whenever possible, try to keep your camera in your hands and at attention when you are photographing. If you allow it to hang off your neck, then when an amazing moment occurs you will have to locate and grab the camera before putting it to your eye. This is the least conspicuous way to capture an image.

Instead, try to keep the camera up high as much as you can. Then, when you take an image you will stand out less. It will feel much less conspicuous.

7. Zone focusing

7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography

Zone focusing is the technique of turning your camera to manual focus mode, pre-focusing it to a distance of about 8-10 feet, and then capturing your subject once they are in the range of sharpness for your camera. This is easier to do with a wide-angle lens with a medium to small aperture such as f/8 to f/16 so that there is more area of your image in focus. Keep in mind that this is a skill that can be improved – there are many photographers who can zone focus well even at f/2.

You can read more about zone focusing here, and while it is a little difficult to learn at first, you will quickly get much better at it. The main benefit of this type of focusing is so that you no longer have to lock the autofocus in on your subject. This allows you to be a little more spontaneous with your shooting, and it will give you an added split second to take the photograph. That, in turn, will allow you to better capture those very fast moving moments.

Most importantly, it will allow you to be a little more candid than you can be using autofocus. Since you won’t have to point the camera directly at your subject to lock in the focus nor will you have to look through the viewfinder to make sure you are focusing correctly, you can be much more inconspicuous. This will allow you to shoot from the hip and still know that your shots will be sharp.


I hope these tips help you do better candid street photography, and with more confidence.

So get out there, get close, and capture some amazing and spontaneous photographs!

The post 7 Steps to Improve Your Closeup Candid Street Photography by James Maher appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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11 Quick Tips to Improve Your Drone Photography

30 Sep

In this short video from the people over at COOPH, they bring you 11 tips to help improve your drone photography,

If you enjoy drone photography check out these dPS articles as well:

  • Tips for Getting Started Doing Photography with Drones
  • How to Use Drones to do Stunning Aerial Photography
  • Side by Side Drone Comparison – DJI Mavic Pro Versus the Phantom Pro 4
  • Review of the Epson Moverio BT-300FPV Smart Glasses for Drones
  • Overview of the ThinkTank Airport Helipak V2.0: More Than Just a Drone Case

Drone photography?

So we’re curious here at dPS, how many of you are using drones now or getting one soon? Tell us in this quick poll.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

The post 11 Quick Tips to Improve Your Drone Photography by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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5 Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

19 Sep

I have lost track of the number of times I have heard complete strangers compliment me on having a great fancy camera that takes “great pictures”. Initially, I used to be quick to the defense and try and get a word in on how I am a professional photographer and hence have some level of skill in my craft. But now I just nod, smile and quickly move away. Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of photographers (and others) think that by having the latest and greatest fancy camera, they have the ability to take better photos.

The truth of the matter is that you don’t need the latest equipment or fancy qualifications to be a good photographer. Photography is a creative art form and like any art form, it takes a lot of hard work, practice, and perseverance to get really good at taking great pictures. Sure, you need to really understand your gear and what it can and cannot do. But there are loads of simple, non-technical stuff you can do to improve your photography as well.

Here are some non-gear related tips that will help you take better photographs.

#1 Take your camera everywhere

You never know what might be around the corner, be it close to home or on your far away travels. Life is unpredictable and things change in a split second. There’s always something interesting to photograph. You just need to open your eyes, look around and be ready to snap that shot. And additionally, make sure your phone or camera of choice is within easy reach ready for that shot.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

Cows hitching a ride inside trucks is quite a sight especially on narrow streets in India!

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

These migrating pelicans found the most electric resting places…hopefully, they got re-charged for their next flight.

#2 Take pictures every day

Overnight success is a myth. The sooner you realize that the more at peace you will have on your photographic journey. We all know that to get really good at anything, we need to practice and practice a lot. After all, practice makes perfect. The more pictures you take, the better you will become.

Don’t get hung up on what you’re using to take the pictures, either. Many times I only have my iPhone with me and take a shot if it catches my eye. Be confident that if done correctly, you can make good pictures with any camera.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

Cupcakes and coffee = great food editorials shots.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

Other times it is just a bowl of fresh fruit that can spark an inspiring photo. Don’t get hung up on the perfect scenery – let your imagination be your guide for your everyday shots.

#3 Analyze other photographs

Seek inspiration in other photos. Look at pictures you like and ask yourself what you like about those pictures. What makes it interesting to you and why? Also question how you could make it better or do it differently.

Don’t be afraid to try something similar and put your own creative spin on it. Take an old idea and make it your own. That makes it different, new and in turn, you just might make it better than the original.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

A recent obsession in the study of effectively capturing movement in photographs led to a multi-exposure frame – one of my personal favorites to showcase my creative journey.

#4 Study your images

Become your own best critic. Question everything. Look at your pictures and ask yourself what you like and what you don’t like. Be completely honest with yourself as this will really help you improve your craft. Sometimes it is also beneficial to repeat the shot and change it up to make it better than your own original.

And when something works, celebrate your success. It is very important in your creative journey to celebrate your own milestones – it makes the journey that much more fun.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

This is the view from my home in Bombay and I love photographing the sea bridge – one of the technological marvels of the modern world – at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. It is amazing to analyze how light and color changes the whole perspective of an image.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

Of course, night shots have their own charm. Next time I shall remember to take my tripod along for some car trails!

#5 Stop, look and then click

Most of today’s fancy cameras have a continuous shooting mode where you can fire away at six to eight frames per second. But I find that this tends to make us lazy as photographers. We take on the mentality of the “spray and pray” theory that if we take 20 shots of something, chances are at least a couple will be worthwhile.

Yes, taking loads of pictures is great. But if you pause and take a few seconds to really observe your surroundings, you will be able to visualize your shot. Think about how you want your picture to look and do what you need to do to achieve that look. It might mean moving position, waiting for the light to change or the crowds to dissipate, but it could be the difference between a good photo and a great one.

5 Simple Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos

We were walking along the narrow street of Vridhavan in India and this cow was ahead of us. We just stopped to see what he was doing and also to give him a wide berth as he was a very big bull. He calmly walked into this abandoned house and just made himself at home. It’s not every day that you find cows lounging inside your house.


I hope these simple yet powerful tips help you take better photos and improve at your skill and craft. Remember it is not the camera that takes a great picture but the skill of the person behind the camera that gets the money shot.

The post 5 Non-Gear Related Ways to Improve Your Work and Take Better Photos by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

20 Aug

Reflected light can add depth and a fresh dynamic to your natural light portraits. Sometimes naturally occurring reflected light can be used, but by far the easiest way is to use a reflector. The most important thing is to learn to see the light falling on your subject and then control the strength and quality of the reflected light you are adding. Here are some tips to help you learn to use a reflector.

Hmong woman drying skeins of hemp thread outdoors - How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

Hmong woman drying skeins of hemp thread which are reflecting light back onto her face.

Naturally reflected light

When making candid portraits, I’m always looking to see if some reflected light is affecting my subject. At the right angle, any surface can bounce light back onto your subject. You can train your eye to see it.

It may be light bouncing off a nearby wall or pavement, an open newspaper or skeins of yarn (as in the photo above). With the strong sunlight behind the lady as she hangs out her skeins of washed thread, the light is reflecting softly back into her face.

Thai woman holding a bamboo tray of steamed fish - How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

A fish vendor at the fresh market with light reflecting onto her from an adjacent white wall.

Naturally reflecting light is easier to make use of if you are posing your subjects and have some control over where they are positioned. Finding a location where the sun is hitting a large light-toned neutral surface can provide you suitable reflected light for portraits.

In this photo of the fish vendor at the local fresh market, the light is reflecting off a white painted building behind me. Behind her is an open entrance to a room with no windows, providing a dark background to nicely isolate my subject.

Types of reflectors

Close up of a Kayan long neck girl with traditional face painting, make-up

Close up of a Kayan long neck girl with traditional face painting makeup.

When there’s no naturally occurring reflected light, a folding reflector is a fabulous accessory to have on hand. These reflectors are relatively inexpensive and come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. The most efficient are the ones which have multiple reflective surfaces.

Note: you can even DIY and build your own reflector.

These reflectors typically have a sleeve which covers a translucent fabric attached to the foldable frame. The sleeve is removable and reversible with four different surfaces (5-in-1 reflectors). Normally they are white, silver, gold, and black. Some even have more complex reflective surfaces. Learning to use this type of reflector well can take some practice, but it’s worth while for the fresh dynamic lighting it will bring to your portraits.

How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

One of my models assisting me during a portrait session.

How to use a reflector

Having someone to hold the reflector is the best way to use it as the direction of light and angle of the reflector in relation to your subject is important. If the reflector is not at the best angle you will have too much or too little light bouncing onto your subject. You may need to coach whoever is assisting you and demonstrate the effect the reflector has, so they can hold it precisely right for the best lighting.

Careful choice of reflective surface for whatever light you are working in is important too. If you are making portraits outside in full sunshine the use of the white reflector surface may be best. It’s likely the silver or gold surfaces will reflect too much light back onto your subject. Don’t be afraid to experiment though, as that is a great way to learn.

KAren Woman Smoking Her Pipe against a black background

Karen Woman Smoking Her Pipe against a black background.

Using a reflector in bright sunlight

In the bright sunshine, the person holding the reflector needs to be careful not to bounce strong light into your subject’s eyes as they are searching for the best angle to hold the reflector. That can be most uncomfortable for your subject. It’s a good idea to instruct your subject not to look directly at the reflector. If they have not seen a folding reflector before many people will look at it as it is unfolded.

Two long neck Kayan ladies laughing together in a village in Thailand - How to Use a Reflector

With this photo of the two laughing ladies, my wife was using a medium sized gold surfaced reflector. She is an expert assistant and photographer so she knows how to get the optimal reflected light in most situations. My subjects were standing in the shade of a tree and the reflector was also in the shade, so it was not bouncing back full sunshine.

I find the gold surface works well with Asian skin tones. With the strong back light, the bounce light fills in the shadows nicely reducing the over all tonal range in the photo. Because the reflected light is stronger on the ladies faces, (where I was taking my light reading from,) it is more balanced with the light in the background. The bright sun reflecting off the light colored ground also adds nicely to this photo. If my wife had been standing so the gold reflector was in the full sunshine the light would have been too bright and harsh, blinding our models and creating hard shadows on them.

How to Use a Reflector

Reflecting light to balance with the ambient light can reduce shadows without eliminating them.

Using a reflector in soft light

On overcast days a silver reflector will bounce a clean, soft light onto your subject. If you can position your reflector so it balances with the ambient light, gently filling in shadows on the face but not completely eliminating them, you can obtain some very pleasing results.

Varying the angle of the reflector in relation to the light source and your subject will vary the amount of light affecting your subject. You do not need to always have the reflector blasting out the maximum amount of light as this can look very unnatural. Using the white surface rather than the silver side will also reduce the amount of reflected light.

Senior Pwo Karen woman smoking a pipe against a black background - How to Use a Reflector

With the sun behind the model, an overhead diffuser and reflector to my left and the ground also reflecting light.

Other uses for reflectors

Black or white surfaces of very large reflectors can make great backgrounds and the translucent inner part can be used as a screen to hold above your subject to block direct sunlight. In the past, I have used this method but now prefer to use my *portable daylight studio to provide a black or white background and filtered back lighting, (in principle it’s the same thing.) I then use my large folding reflector to help control the light on the front of my subjects.

Sunlight also reflects off the ground. Typically in a northern Thai village, the earth is a light color and creates a pleasing reflection. But if I have to work on grass we lay down some large sheets of white plastic to avoid having a green color cast in the images.

*Reading Irving Penn’s book “Worlds In A Small Room” was the inspiration for my portable studio which I have used in many locations in the mountains of northern Thailand and occasionally when teaching our workshops.

Portrait on a black background of a senior Pwo Karen man - how to use a reflector

A careful balance of reflected and diffused light.


As you practice using a reflector you will learn to manipulate just the right amount of light onto your subject. At times you might prefer hard light and other times soft light will be more pleasing. Learning to see how light affects your subject and learning to control it will greatly improve your portraiture.

The post How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits by Kevin Landwer-Johan appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Cheap purchases that will help improve your photography

18 Aug

Cheap items that will help improve your photography

Photography gear isn’t cheap. If you’re looking to take your photography to the next level, there’s no shortage of expensive lenses and accessories that will beckon to you.

Sometimes it’s worth it to save up for the right piece of equipment, but you don’t necessarily have to make a serious investment if you’re looking to make gains in your creative pursuit. Here are a few relatively cheap buys that will pay off dividends if you’re looking to try something new, build on your current photography skills, or just add another visual trick to your arsenal.

Go back to school

To really master the arts of things like lighting or post-processing, online courses are invaluable. They can also be pretty expensive. But if you’re looking to pick up some additional knowledge on the cheap, Creative Live hosts classes on an array of topics – and best of all, they’re free when you watch live. The Creative Live app also offers a free lesson of the day.

Along those lines, maybe read some books for inspiration. Remember the library? The library! Learn about past masters of photography or see what current photographers are doing. Bryan Petersen has a whole slew of instructional books, or you could look for some creativity boosters like David du Chemin’s follow-along lessons.

Join the club

Local photography groups can help you get out the door and put you in good company. Being around other photographers and making connections within your area’s photography community are great ways to keep furthering your skills, and organizations often have very affordable yearly membership fees or suggested donations – one Seattle group suggests $ 20 per year. Many clubs organize through, which is a good place to start looking.

For an even lower barrier to entry, join a local photography group on Facebook for sharing and critiquing photos. And if you’re looking for extra incentive, think about starting a 365 or 52 project, where you take a photo a day or a photo a week for a year. There are tons of online groups to join for support and critiques, and there are also options for 30-day projects if you feel overwhelmed by an entire year.

White and black poster board

A couple of pieces of white and black poster board make for quick and cheap ways to play with lighting. White poster board can act as a reflector, and a piece of black poster board can help tame unwanted light and reflections. It’s not fancy, but it’s a very cheap way to add some visual tricks to product and still life photos. And depending on the situation, poster board can act as a makeshift backdrop for portraits.

Photo by northfromseattle, licensed under CC 2.0

Colored plexiglass

A bit of bold color can make your product photography pop. A brightly colored sheet of plexiglass costs somewhere around $ 10 and can lend product shots a new level of professional polish. Out here, west coast retailer TAP Plastics offers plenty of affordable options, but online options abound. Make sure to add on a bottle of glass cleaner to your order, if you haven’t got some already – the fingerprints will accumulate faster than you think.

Pop up flash diffuser

If you’re not ready to spring for a flashgun, you can dip your toe into the vast waters of lighting by modifying the light from your camera’s pop-up flash. Sure, a Gary Fong Puffer or a Light Scoop looks a little silly, but at $ 20 and $ 30 respectively, they’re a reasonably priced way to make more of what your camera already offers.

Speedlight modifier

If you’ve gone ahead and purchased a flashgun, congratulations – you’re already reaping the benefits of a more powerful and pliable source of illumination. But there’s a lot more you can do. For less than $ 10 you can start with a bounce diffuser, and for around $ 30-50 you can add something a little more exotic, like a Rogue FlashBender.

Or go no further than your local craft store: if you’re just looking to experiment, some construction paper can be fashioned into a snoot and taped to a flashgun. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

Wireless flash trigger

Moving your flash off camera will also open up new possibilities, and third-party radio flash triggers are more affordable than ever – a Yongnuo wireless trigger kit can be had for about $ 30. It’s a whole new ballgame when you free your flashgun from the confines of your camera hotshoe.

LED flashlight

You can drop a whole lot of cash on a fancy LED light for photography, but if your aim is to experiment with another kind of off-camera illumination, pick up an LED flashlight. They’re a great way to play with light painting, and if you’re feeling industrious, an LED flashlight can be modified into a makeshift Ice Light for a fraction of the cost of the real thing.


If you find yourself spending a lot of your photo editing time nudging the color temperature slider back and forth, ExpoDisc is worth looking at. At $ 50 it’s on the expensive end of ‘cheap’ but we know a number of wedding and portrait photographers who swear by it.

It’s a magical world – go exploring

To quote an extremely wise and temperamental philosopher, “It’s a magical world out there, Hobbes ‘ol buddy… let’s go exploring!” Photography is in itself a wonderful excuse to get out and explore. A new neighborhood, a historical site, a park – going somewhere new can spark creativity, awaken a new interest, and generally be a good exercise for the mind and the body. Pick a location, set yourself a goal, grab your camera and get out the door.

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

27 Jul

They say the lines on a person’s face can tell a thousand stories. Getting the photo that tells those many stories is the holy grail of photography. So what can you do to create standout people photography, especially if you don’t already know the person?

The approach that every people photographer takes is different, but below are five questions that all most will have asked themselves. Each photographer may answer the questions differently and yet still produce amazing results, as photography styles are all different, of course. To improve your people photography, take the time to look at these questions, and ask how they apply to you.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This is a photo of a Shaman from Malaysian Borneo. A connection had already been formed with this man after my friend told him I’d photographed for National Geographic. So we were able to use off-camera flash as he posed for us.

1 – Long lens or short lens?

The chances are when you start photographing people you’ll use a longer focal length. This can be true of people who you know, it’s especially true of people you don’t know. Photographers who enjoy street photography will tell you that using a 50mm lens is best. But the truth is that it really depends on the situation.

The long lens

This really means any lens over 85mm on a full frame camera. The nice thing about these lenses is that you can photograph from a distance that’s non-invasive. This is great because you don’t need to interact with the person you’re photographing, and this is terrible because you don’t need to interact with the person you’re photographing.

There are good reasons for and against direct interaction with your subject, something we’ll come to later. The reason you may come to use a long lens is that it compresses the scene, and allows you to focus in on the person, without outside distracting elements.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

A longer lens was used in this photo, resulting in a simpler photo.

The short lens

This means lenses 50mm or below, with the 50mm lens being the street photographers go-to lens. Using a lens like this will force you to interact with the person you’re photographing on some level. It’s far better to build a rapport with the person than going with hit and run. Besides the advantages you will gain from building rapport, wider lenses also allow more context to be seen in the frame.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

Using a wider lens can improve your portraits. This was photographed at 50mm, and more of the story behind the scene can be seen.

Now, of course, you can get prime or zoom lenses that are both long or short in focal length. When it comes to people photography, the larger aperture that prime lenses offer is a great advantage. Photographing people with prime lenses is, therefore, best and will to improve your portraits.

2 – What technique works best?

There are many different approaches to people photography to improve your portraits. As discussed above, choosing your lens will help. Applying techniques like bokeh can also get you better results. A few ideas that might help you are described here.

Shoot from the hip photography

This means leaving your camera at your hip and photographing without lifting your camera to your eye. How can this be good photography you may ask? Those experienced at this technique know how to use their camera, and can pre-visualise the result without needing to confirm it with their eyes.

  1. To take photos like this focus the lens to a set distance in front of you.
  2. Use an aperture of f/11 or smaller to have more depth of field.
  3. Choose an ISO that allows for a fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur.
  4. Make sure your camera isn’t too crooked, although some angles can work for this style of photography.
  5. Walk past the location you wish to photograph, and hit the shutter as you’re walking or with a brief pause.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This scene from the New York subway was photographed from the hip.

Use the light

The correct use of light will always improve your people photography. There are occasions when natural or artificial light can drastically improve your photo. At night you will need to look for a strong artificial light that people can stand near, during the day a shard of sunlight through a gap in the roof could also be used.

Here are some tips for using light to your advantage:

  1. Take up position away from the light source. You will want people walking towards you and into the lit up area.
  2. Wait until the magic moment comes, and the person’s face is well lit by the source of light.
  3. Have your camera focused on the area where the person will become lit up, and switch the camera to manual focus.
  4. Expose for the person’s face. This will mean the background appears very dark, or even black. The background may be at a -2 or -3 exposure value.
  5. Wait for people to walk into the lit up area, and then photograph them. You will need to wait patiently for people to walk by, into the correct area.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This man was lit up by artificial light, giving the photo a low-key, high-contrast look. Learning how to use light will improve your people photos.


Waiting for people to walk into the light isn’t the only time patience will be needed. You might have a natural frame like a doorway, so you will need to wait for someone to walk through it. This approach is not unlike fishing, and the time spent waiting for the right moment can be calming. The most important thing is to make sure your composition and camera settings are already set. Now it’s just a waiting game for somebody to walk past. Alternatively, you could speed things up by asking a friend to walk into the frame.

Forming relationships

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

The value of building relationships in photography is important, it will improve your portraits. This was the first time I saw the monk, Cheongsan. I didn’t interact with him at all, and this is the result.

The very best way to take photos of people, time permitting, is to form a bond with them. Taking the time to interact, and find out about the person you want to photograph will almost always give you a much better photo. The chances of them giving you permission to photograph will be much higher, and you can control the scene more.

Once you have permission you then have the choice between a staged or candid photo, since you can ask the person to ignore you when you are shooting. The chance to get a great photo that you can share with them can form a lasting connection with you as a photographer. The level of interaction also depends on time, whether it’s 30 minutes or several hours. The types of photos you may get if you’re able to revisit the person on several occasions will also improve dramatically.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

The next time I saw Cheongsan, I made the effort to approach him. As a result, he let me take this photo and gave me a business card.

3 – Do you ask for permission?

When the person you’re photographing is your friend or a model, then in most cases asking permission would not be needed, and indeed might be strange to ask. Photographing a stranger is a different proposition though, so to ask or not to ask, that is the question.

There is no one correct answer to this conundrum, but certain situations may dictate your actions. If you want a truly natural moment, with no hint of a staged photos then you’ll want to try and avoid asking permission. The caveat to that statement is that if you have time to build a friendship with those people you wish to photograph in a natural way this is also possible, after getting permission to take the photograph.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

The next time I visited Cheongsan, I had contacted him ahead of time and asked if I could take some photos of him. You will improve your people photography even more by setting up a shoot with someone.

Asking permission is the polite thing to do, and will often improve your photos. You need to have thick skin when asking people though, as asking on the spot will lead to many rejections. You need to ask yourself how you can form a relationship with someone even quickly to smooth this process, so you’re more likely to have the person say yes. Is the person you want to photograph a vendor, for instance. Perhaps you need to show some goodwill and buy one of the things they’re selling. If you’re in a country where English is not spoken asking permission may involve the use of body language. So perhaps learning a few polite words like please and thank you for going along with those non-verbal cues would be prudent.

The general rule on whether you should ask permission is up to you. When the photo you’re taking is in that person’s personal space, it’s much better to ask permission.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

I loved this man’s glasses and general style, so I asked if I could take his picture. I got a posed photo, but loved the way he posed.

4 – Candid versus staged?

This is related to the question above, but you can get candid photos even after asking permission. If the quest here is for authenticity, can you capture a great moment with your camera that’s natural? This is the aim of many photographers. However, if your aim is to tell a story through a series of photos you should really try and get a mixture of both. On an individual basis, let’s weigh up both the pros and cons of candid and staged photos.

Candid captures

This requires a keen eye, sharp reflexes, but also absolute patience. When walking around taking photos you have to be hyper aware of your surroundings in order to get photographic moments that last the blink of an eye. Photographing split second moments means you need to be utterly absorbed in your surroundings, you need to become the surroundings.

You almost have to achieve an internal meditative state. Staying on the move means you are going to the moment of capture. This means you need to be very quick to catch it. Alternatively, you can find a location, compose your photo, and then wait for the right moment to come to you. This approach can take hours, so you will need a lot of patience!

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This photo taken was taken in the harbor in Yangon. There is nothing staged about it, I just had to wait for the right moment.

Staged shots

Once the photo is going to be staged, you have a lot of control over how the photo is taken. At this stage the person you’re photographing has consented and will be actively involved in how the photo is produced. When done well, this often leads to a more striking photo than one produced candidly, you are in the realms of a visual storyteller.

The photograph could be a simple head shot, or a more complex photo when your model interacts with their surroundings. As the photo is staged, you can ask your model to stand in the best position for available light, and the background. Your model should be well lit, with the eyes illuminated by the light in the frame. If you have off-camera flash with you, you might even consider using this to really improve your portraits.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

In this photo, I asked the lady if she would pose for me. After getting permission, I was able to set up the photo and use off-camera flash to light her face.

5 – Where should you take people photos?

The answer to that is anywhere there are people, which is more or less everywhere. You can also choose a location to visit such as a market. Below are a few ideas you can try, though you may have some better ideas specific to where you live.

  • The market – This is the stock location for many people wanting to take people photos. There will always be people at the market. You can take photos of the vendors, customers, or the vendors and customers interacting. The downside is the people working in the market may not like yet another photographer take photos of them. This is where building relationships with the people in the market can help.
  • Public transport – A great reason to avoid the taxi, and leave your car at home. Getting on public transport is a great way to explore a location, and the people there. Be aware that in some locations you will need to get permission from the transport operator, as well as the people you are photographing.
  • A harbor – Anywhere there is a river will likely have a harbor. The life of people working in these places can produce great photographs. You will need to be prepared to wake up early in the morning to see the fishermen at work. This is another great example of how building relationships help, you might be invited onto one of their boats if you get to know a fisherman.
  • Festivals – This could mean a cultural festival such as Chinese new year, or a rock concert. Festivals will have people dressed in attention grabbing clothes that look great when photographed. You may find people more open to having their photo taken at an event as well, because they’re having a good time, and are often dressed well.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

Visiting places people work can be good locales for people photography. A sulfur mine is an extreme example, however, going to extremes will improve your photos though.

Getting model releases, and paying your model

Whether or not to pay for a photo is another question many people ask about. It is up to you to judge each situation for yourself. Photos being taken for a specifical commercial usage are the types of images where you should pay the model a percentage of your fee. When the photos you are taking are for personal use, paying the model is at your discretion. Chances are you will find someone who will let you take their photo for free, so it’s a nice gesture to send them an image once you have processed them.

Once you decide to pay the person to take their photo, it’s unprofessional not to get a model release. If the person you’re paying won’t sign a model release then don’t pay them, and move onto somebody else. The reason you are paying for a photo is you intend to use it for promoting your work, or for direct commercial usage. This means you need to get a model release, and there are apps available for smartphones that make this very easy.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This is one of the miners at Kawah Ijen in Indonesia. He signed a model release and was paid for this photo.

It takes practice to improve your people photography

Now it’s your turn. It’s time to go out and practice your people photography in your local area. Are there any ways that you like to take portraits that are different from this article? I’d love to hear your ideas as well, so please share them in the comments below.

What’s your favorite people photo you’ve taken? Again share your great photo with us, and describe how you went about taking it. Finally, get out there and get some new people photos. Hopefully, some of the ideas in this article will help improve your images.

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5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

18 Jul


Minimalism is one of those movements that some people see as a recent fad or newfangled things, like fidget spinners or man buns. In reality, minimalism is a true case of making what was once old new again, and unlike the aforementioned man bun, that’s a good thing.

In photography, minimalism is an obvious visual statement; the story of the photograph is simplified, elements are reduced, and clean space is added. Not only has minimalist photography become its own genre (you can see some excellent examples of minimal imagery here), but photographers specializing in the discipline have come into their own, creating a revitalized, attractive space of art for us all to enjoy.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Minimalism (even in photography) isn’t new. Before the term became ubiquitous and synonymous with “new” and “clean”,  the style existed in various forms under other names. It has had a profound and positive influence on photography as it exists in the modern world.

But do you have to fully embrace specializing as a minimalist photographer to benefit from the advantages of the style? Absolutely not! Each of the tips below can work for almost any kind of photography. Let’s explore some of the guidelines and see how you can apply them to your own work, regardless of genre or type.

#1 – Make the story concise

As with any photo, the story is the most important thing to convey to your viewer. In minimalism, you want to tell that story as efficiently as possible. That means clean backgrounds, negative space where appropriate, and a well-defined subject.

We will discuss background and separation of the subject in more detail below, but generally, you don’t want any distracting elements in ANY photograph. Keeping your background clean, whether through blurring, or using a solid color or simple texture can remove any unwanted distractions.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Negative space is defined as the margin around your subject and other important objects in your composition. Properly used, this space accentuates what you actually want the viewer to deem as most important in the photo.

When looking through the viewfinder at a potential shot, take a moment to get a feeling of the complexity of what you’re seeing. If the composition feels muddy or hard to discern, recompose your image to include some extra negative or white space around your subject.

#2 – Isolate the subject

Wide-open apertures along with proper positioning of the subject to background tend to make smooth, creamy backgrounds, separating it from the subject of the photo. This is right up the minimalist’s alley. Having a solid or smoothly blurred background really isolates what you want to highlight in the photo, and keeps the viewer’s eye from being overrun by more complex patterns to distinguish.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

In some photos, you may not want that blurred effect on your background. Many landscape photos, for example, are shot using stopped-down apertures such as f/11 or f/16, because you want most of the scene in focus. This is because, in those situations, the entire scene can be the subject. In those situations, using color or patterns are other ways of separating the subject from your background.

But many other types of photos, especially nature and portraiture, benefit greatly from a wider aperture and using that to create separate layers in the image. Experimenting with the effects that aperture and distance have on that separation can provide many different looks for the same composition.

#3 – Use color to your advantage

One of the most powerful methods of constructing a minimalist image is by using color to create a contrast. While you don’t necessarily have to go to the extremes that you would in a completely minimalist photo, picking two or even three colors that juxtapose well with each other and featuring them prominently in the textures of the image can improve the attractiveness of the shot.

While minimalist photographs tend to use large areas of solid contrasting colors to establish simplicity, other photography can benefit by keeping the color palette small and using colors that work well together or invoke a particular feeling in the viewer. For example, I find one of the most intriguing and pleasing color combinations to the eye to be blue and red, as in this example of the old red rowboat on the shore (bel0w).

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Using a color wheel (as shown below), you can identify color harmony, which are complementary color combinations that are pleasing to the eye. Then try to use those color combinations in your images.

Color wheel

Diagram by Wikipedia contributor Jacobolus

#4 – Embrace leading lines

Because minimalist photography tends to feature very simple compositions, lines and textures are often used to improve upon storytelling and point the viewer in the right direction. Finding natural leading lines in your compositions can help guide the eyes of the viewer where you want them to go, which allows you to minimize the number of elements in your photo needed to tell the story.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Lines can be found everywhere; train tracks, roads, sidewalks, and buildings are just a few examples. While they are easy to find, it is just as easy to misuse them and confuse the viewer. If the line is easy to pick out, then it should lead the eyes somewhere relevant. Lines should not lead the viewer randomly away from the subject, or out of the frame with no real destination.

#5 – Find texture and use it

Texture can be a powerful element in a photograph, especially when an entire image is built around it. Obviously most often used when shooting subjects in the natural world around us, textures are a tool that can communicate many things to the viewer, including emotions, mood, light, and darkness.

Because of the limited language of minimalism, texture itself is often used as the subject, usually in the form of repeated patterns. All photography, however, can benefit from its strategic use. What is the effect when the subject features a consistent, repeating texture, as opposed to one that consists of an uneven texture made up of objects of varying size and smoothness?

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Texture is a great way to put a large, consistent element in your image without introducing too much distraction.

Can millions of grains of smooth beach sand, saturated with ocean water, serve as a different backdrop than a large area of broken shells and sand mixed together? What type of effect will this have on the viewer’s perception of the image?


As photographers, regardless of skill level, we are destined to be students of an innumerable amount of subjects. We must constantly keep learning, and apply the things we learn to our work, to keep innovating our style, invigorating our images, and keep our viewers interested.

While minimalist photography is very popular today and is an intriguing discipline, it’s not the chosen style for us all. But the ability to take the most important points from that genre and apply it to your own work is what elevates you as a photographer, and keeps you on top of your game.

What are your thoughts on the current state of minimalism, and its influence on art and photography? Is minimalism your favorite photography style? Have some minimalist images of your own to share? Let’s discuss this and more in the comments below.

The post 5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work by Tim Gilbreath appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

22 Jun

Are you running out of space on your hard drive? If you’re both a prolific photographer and a Lightroom user the answer may be yes. A hard drive that’s close to being full is bad news because it slows down Lightroom and just about every other application that you use on your computer. So how can you boost your Lightroom performance and make your computer run faster?

Luckily, there are ways to both minimize the amount of hard drive space Lightroom uses and to free up some space that is being used unproductively. As a result, Lightroom will run faster, as well as your entire computer usually.

So, how much spare hard drive space is required for Lightroom?

Ideally, you need at least 20% of your hard drive space to be free. If you have a 1TB drive, that means you should aim to keep at least 200GB free. If you have a smaller drive, such as the 256GB solid state drive I have on my iMac, then you need less. In my case, I need to keep at least 50GB free to keep Lightroom happy.

So, here are some tips to help improve Lightroom performance:

1. Store all your photos on an external hard drive

This has nothing to do with Lightroom per se, but it’s important because your photos are likely to take up a lot of hard drive space (especially if you shoot in Raw). The best approach is to use a separate hard drive for your photos, either an external drive or another internal drive added to your computer (if this is possible on your machine).

For example, my Raw photos take up 1.96TB of hard drive space. I keep them on a 3TB external hard drive like the one shown below.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

It’s important that the hard drive on which your photos are saved also has at least 20% of its space free. Otherwise, it might slow Lightroom down as well.

It’s good practice to use the external drive for photos and Lightroom catalog backups and nothing else. That means it won’t get cluttered up with other files. It’s easier to backup to other hard drives.

2. Save fewer LR catalog backups

It’s important to backup your Lightroom catalog regularly in case it becomes corrupted or the hard drive it is saved on fails.

Many photographers recommend that you set up Lightroom to backup the catalog every time you exit the program. The only problem is that the hard drive space occupied by those catalog backups can soon add up to a considerable amount.

It’s less of an issue in Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC, which compress the backup catalogs than it is with older versions of Lightroom. But even compressed backups take up a lot of hard drive space. For example, my backup folder currently has six backups in it and is 2.94GB in size.

There are two steps to take to minimize this problem:

1. Save catalog backups on an external hard drive. The same one you use to store your photos is ideal.

Each time you quit Lightroom the Back Up Catalog window appears. Click the Choose button to select the folder where you want it to save the Catalog backups. NOTE: this is the only time this option appears!

Also worth noting is that you want to save your backups on an external drive anyway because if your main hard drive crashes, both your main catalog and all the backups are gone. That is not good and defeats the purpose of having backups.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

2. Delete old backups. You don’t need to keep anything older than the two most recent catalog backups.

I deleted my four oldest backups and freed up nearly 2GB of hard drive space. It may not sound like much if you have a 1TB or larger hard drive, but it does make a difference on a 250 GB solid state drive.

It may be tempting to move your catalog to an external drive, but this will slow Lightroom down. It’s best to keep the working catalog on your internal hard drive.

3. Keep an eye on the Preview Cache

If you go to Lightroom > Catalog Settings (Mac) Edit > Catalog Settings (PC) and click on File Handling you will see something like this.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Lightroom gives you a lot of useful information about how it uses hard drive space here. First, it tells you the size of your Preview Cache. This is where Lightroom stores all the previews it builds which enable you to view your photos in the Library module.

As you can see, my Preview Cache is currently 36GB, which is a large chunk of a 250GB hard drive. It’s less of an issue if you have a bigger hard drive.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

If your Preview Cache is too large, there are some tips for reducing its size in the next two sections.

4. Regularly delete 1:1 Previews

Of all the Library module previews Lightroom uses the 1:1 Previews take up the most space. But they are essential for zooming into your photos at 100%, which is why many photographers build them.

You can manage 1:1 Previews by setting Automatically Discard 1:1 previews to After 30 Days. You can also set it to After One Week or After One Day. Just pick the one that works best for you. Avoid the Never option, otherwise, your Preview Cache will grow out of control.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Set your File Handling Preferences in the Catalog Settings to automatically delete 1:1 Previews after 30 days.

There’s another way to delete 1:1 previews:

1. Go to the Catalog panel in the Library module and click on All Photographs.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

2. Go to Edit > Select All (or click CMD/CTRL+A for the keyboard shortcut).

3. Go to Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews (click the Discard option in the next window).

There are a couple of things you should be aware of, though:

  • Lightroom doesn’t delete the 1:1 previews from the Preview Cache right away. There is a delay, so in case you change your mind you can use the Undo function. You may have to wait a day or so to see the benefit.
  • Lightroom only deletes 1:1 previews that are at least double the size of your Standard previews.

5. Build Standard Previews that aren’t too large

You can set the Standard preview size in your Catalog Settings as well. If you select Auto Lightroom sets the smallest size required for your monitor resolution. You can also set Preview Quality to Medium or Low to reduce the space the previews take up.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

6. Build fewer or dump Smart Previews

The Catalog Settings also show you the amount of space occupied by Smart Previews. If that is too large, you can delete them.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

  1. Go to the Catalog panel in the Library module and click on All Photographs.
  2. Go to Edit > Select All.
  3. Go to Library > Previews > Discard Smart Previews (click the Discard option in the next window).

7. Regularly dump the Camera Raw Cache

Lightroom creates more previews to use in the Develop module when you process your photos. These previews are saved in the Camera Raw Cache.

You can set the maximum size of that cache by going to File Handling in Preferences. The larger the number you set the more hard drive Lightroom’s Develop module previews will potentially take up. But, Lightroom may run slower if you set it too low – so you need to find a balance between too big and too slow. Try around 20GB to start with and see how you go.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

You can delete the Develop module previews by clicking the Purge Cache button. It’s probably a good idea to do this every now and then to free up hard drive space. The last time I did it I gained over 20GB of space (see below).

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

If you edit or view video files in Lightroom you can also gain space by purging the Video Cache (below).

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed


Lightroom is essential for most photographers but it can use up a lot of hard drive space. The tips in this article let you take back control of your hard drive. Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom, then please check out my popular Mastering Lightroom e-books.

The post How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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