Posts Tagged ‘Light’

Tips for Making the Most of Morning Light for Portraits

12 Jan

There’s something about taking photos in the magical morning light that makes my heart so happy. Maybe it’s because of the extra effort it takes to be outside in the crisp morning air when your family is still in bed. It could also be because morning sessions are more uncommon, so they feel a little more special. Most likely it’s because that soft, beautiful light just glows, and looks just a little different from the light later in the day, or evening.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

If you’re a night owl, and can’t imagine getting out of a nice warm bed just to take some pictures, let me try and convince you to give it a try. You might become a morning person, just for that incredibly gorgeous morning light.

Time it Right

The best time to start a morning session is right around sunrise. I have an app on my phone that will tell me what time the sun rises in my area on any date. I like to start about 15 minutes after sunrise. The light level is usually fairly low right at sunrise, so I give a little bit of time for things to lighten up before starting.

The nice thing about using that morning golden hour versus the evening golden hour is that you can take as much time as you need. In the evening you have to decide when it’s the exact right time to start. You want to use the best light right near sunset, but you don’t want to start too late and not have enough time before it’s too dark. If you start too early, you could be done before the beautiful golden sunset light shows up.

Morning light at sunrise takes care of that problem. You start with that gorgeous glowy light and shoot until you’re done. No light is ever wasted.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light - portrait

Morning Weather is Usually Good

Depending on where you live, you might have better luck with the weather in the morning. In my area, it’s usually less windy than it can get in the afternoon. Most mornings are calm and still. Oftentimes there’s a light hazy cloud cover that makes any shooting direction work, so you can use your backgrounds to their fullest extent.

More often the rain and storms come a little bit later in the day. It’s not always the case that you get beautiful weather in the morning, but more often than not, it’s perfect conditions for shooting.

The only negative would be during the colder times of the year when mornings are brisk, or even downright freezing. I just instruct my subject to dress warm, and I wear fingerless gloves and a coat with pockets, so I can try to keep my hands as warm as possible.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light - golden portraits of two girls

Morning Light has a Special Quality

There’s a softness to morning light that you just don’t see most afternoons and evenings. It feels like it wraps around the subject a little more, and has a bit less intensity compared to light later in the day. It can be easier to work with because you won’t have as much glare in your lens when backlighting (facing your subject away from the sun).

You can face your subject toward the sun easier too, because the light isn’t quite as harsh, so they don’t squint as much. The shadows on faces aren’t as pronounced, and everything feels a bit softer. The light isn’t usually as warm as it is in the evening, so sometimes I warm the photos up a bit more in post-processing, but there are times when the cooler light is simply stunning.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

Be Different, Learn Something New

Many times when I’ve shared photos from a morning session, people have told me that they love the photos, but they don’t quite know what makes them so special. Most photographers are out there during the evening golden hour, and that little bit of difference you’ll see in a morning photo will set you apart from everyone else.

Your photos will have a quality to them that other photographers might not be able to put their finger on. I don’t do every photo session in the morning, in fact, most of my sessions are later in the day, but doing something different, outside of the norm, sets you apart from other photographers, and it also opens you up to more inspiration and creativity.

Every time we do something a little different, we learn new things, and sometimes discover something new that takes our photography to the next level. Shooting in the morning is just one of those things you can do differently, but it’s a big one. It might even be a game changer for you.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

Wake Up

How do you convince your next photography subject to get up early in the morning and get ready for a photo session when they could be sleeping longer? How do you convince yourself to get out in the brisk morning air with your camera when you could be snuggled under the covers?

The best way to convince anyone is to look at the results. I’ve had clients get up at 4:00 am to be ready for a session because beautiful photos were more important than a little bit more sleep. They can always take a nap later. If you can convince one person to give it a try, you might convince a lot more to do it too, once they see those photos.

You will love the feeling of accomplishing something wonderful first thing in the morning, and then having the rest of the day to edit and play. So, set that alarm and give that morning light a try!

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

Are you a lover of a beautiful sunrise and glowing morning light? Share your morning photos, people or nature, in the comments. I’d love to see what you’ve captured while your neighbors were still in their pajamas!

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

The post Tips for Making the Most of Morning Light for Portraits by Melinda Smith appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S vs Sony a7S II low light shootout

11 Jan

We shot the Panasonic GH5S against the Sony a7S II to see whether the video-centric Lumix can wrest the low-light crown away from its full frame rival. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but our initial assessment is that the Panasonic comes closer than we expected, and outperforms the Sony when you need to maintain a certain depth-of-field or when you shoot in Log.

Click here to download a ProRes version of the video (8.0GB)


We shot both cameras side-by-side, which explains the slight perspective difference. The GH5S’s oversized ‘multi aspect’ ratio sensor means it also offers a wider field of view even when using equivalent focal lengths.

We shot at a range of ISOs in both the camera’s REC709 modes and their respective Log gamma modes, then matched the footage up alongside one another. We’ve kept all post-processing to a minimum, with only very minor color and brightness adjustments applied to provide consistency between the two cameras.

We felt Panasonic’s noise reduction is significantly more effective than Sony’s

Most sequences were shot so that both cameras had the same exposure settings. These are marked as ‘Exposure Matched’ in the video. However, there are times when you need to achieve a certain depth-of-field. These clips, which required us to stop the Sony down by two stops, are indicated as ‘Depth-of-Field Matched.’

We felt Panasonic’s noise reduction is significantly more effective than Sony’s and, especially when combined with its ability to shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 footage, helps it perform well when compared with the Sony, especially below ISO 12,800 and when shooting in Log. However, it’s also worth noting the yellow blocking that can infest high ISO footage from the GH5S.

For a more detailed assessment, head to our first impressions review.

Read our Panasonic Lumix DC GH5S
First Impressions Review

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How to Create Dynamic Photos of Car Light Trails

09 Jan

Nothing says futuristic, dynamic, and dramatic like a well-done traffic light trail photo. This is a genre of photography that almost all landscape photographers will have dipped into, it’s like a right of passage. The kind of images you can create make others want to go out and buy their first tripod.

Indeed getting a good photo of light trails will justify carrying around that heavy tripod perhaps all day long. There are lots of things to consider when taking this type of photo, and in this article, you’ll learn straight away what it takes.

How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

This photo was taken from a residential building overlooking this amazing traffic intersection in Shanghai.

Choosing the right location

The most important thing to creating light trail photos is to go to a place where there will be lots of moving lights! This should be obvious, but some places are better than others. In all cases, the light trails will be part of the frame and either the main subject or the leading lines that direct the viewer to your main subject. In most cases your location is going to be urban, so let’s look at the options.

How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

This light trail photo of the Colosseum in Rome uses light from a passing bus.

1 – Down on the street

A busy main road can be a good place to take light trail photos. The chances are you’ll be photographing a famous landmark from your locale, and using light trails will give the photo a more dynamic feel.

  • Position yourself so the light trails either lead up to your landmark or disappear off into the distance beside it.
  • When a safe traffic island is available, experiment with photographing from the middle of the street. This will give you both white headlights, and red rear lights.
  • It’s easier to control the intensity of the light from rear lights. So it’s often best to position yourself to photograph light trails as the traffic is moving away from the camera.
  • Photograph during blue hour as much as possible, this should be the case for all cityscape photos.
  • The best light trails are produced when buses drive past. They have lights that will fill your frame, as these vehicles are taller and lit up more.
  • The height at which you have your tripod set can dramatically affect your results when photographing at street level. The lower the tripod, the “higher” the lights will appear in your frame.
  • If you don’t want the lights to paint across the entire photo, experiment with an external shutter release, and the bulb function on your camera. Bulb allows you to open and close the shutter when you choose, so you can close it and end the exposure before the moving vehicle completely moves through your photo.
How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

In this case, the Bulb function was used so that the light didn’t paint over the building on the right.

2 – Get up high, and photograph from above

Taking photos from a high vantage point is often a sure fire way of getting good results. This is especially true when it comes to taking light trail photos. There are two choices when it comes to this, you can go to the public area, or try for the trickier private access.

  • Public area – The easiest and safest option, though this likely means 1000’s of other people will also visit the same spot. This will commonly be a pedestrian footbridge over a road, a viewpoint from a mountain, or perhaps a viewing gallery in a tall building.
  • Private property – The best policy here is to ask permission. The other approach is riskier, more clandestine, and more in keeping with a genre of photography called urbex. At this time access to private rooftops is becoming increasingly difficult, in no small part because some people enjoy filming daredevil stunts from such locations. So do your research on a location you would like to photograph, and be respectful if you are lucky enough to get access. In some cities, rooftop bars can offer great views, but if you wish to bring a tripod in then emailing the business ahead of time is advised.
How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

This high vantage point was achieved by contacting a rooftop bar in advance and getting permission to photograph from their location.

3 – Embrace the great outdoors

Of course, anywhere there’s a road can be a good location for light trail photography. Roads that wind their way up a mountainside will look great in a photo, you just need a good vantage point. Even photos from a lower position can look nice with a single stream of light, which can create a nice minimalist feel to your photo.

Photos taken in these locations may require very long exposures to allow the vehicle to drive through the frame. The best solution here is to take a series of 30-second exposures, and then stack the results later in Photoshop (or use an ND filter to cut the light and get longer exposure times).

How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

This location is in Taiwan. To reach the viewpoint there were several bits of rope I had to climb up, as the side of the mountain was steep.

How to take long exposures of car light trails

Once you have settled on your location it’s time for the fun to begin! Taking these photos well does require some technical knowledge, let’s break this down here.

  • Compose your photo, and ensure the light trails complement the frame you wish to produce.
  • Arrive around 30-minutes prior to sunset. This will give you time to plan your photo and to take additional photos for digital blending if needed.
  • Ensure the camera is steady, this is challenging in strong winds. To achieve this use a heavy tripod, and where possible hook your camera bag under the center column. The heavier the tripod, the less likely it will be moved by the wind. Avoid putting up the middle extension tube on the tripod, as this introduces more instability and movement.

  • You can focus the camera using Live View. In Live View, zoom (using the magnify view button + not zooming your lens) into an area of the frame such as a sign. Now set your lens to manual focus. Choose an object to focus on that is towards the back of the mid-ground in your photo. Keep the camera in manual focus, so that the camera doesn’t change focus when you press the shutter button.
  • An additional option is to use digital blending to balance the light throughout the scene. Digital blending is a post-processing technique that requires a set of bracketed photos at -1, 0 and +1 exposure (or -2, 0, and +2).
  • Using an aperture of f/11 or smaller will create a starburst effect on any street lights that are in your frame. But the larger the aperture the brighter the light trails will be, so a balance is needed.
  • Now everything is set for you to take your photo. The light trail photo needs to show continuous light moving along the road. Make sure your exposure is long enough for this to happen, usually this is at least 15 seconds. To avoid camera shake use an external shutter release, or the camera’s self timer. If the camera isn’t in Live View, use the mirror lockup, this prevents shake on dSLR cameras when they expose.
How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

This frame required several stacked images to enhance the amount of traffic in the photo.

Enhancing your light trail photo in post-processing

As with all photography, you can enhance your image in post-processing to get an even better result. There are two principal techniques that can be used to achieve this.

  • Digital blending – In order to use this technique you will need a set of bracketed images to work with. This technique will allow you to balance the level of light throughout the scene.
  • Photo stacking – The next option, usually done in conjunction with digital blending, is photo stacking. You can use this to intensify the light trails within your photo. The concept is to take photos of multiple traffic light streams and overlay the images on top of each other.
How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

There aren’t many better places to photograph light streams on boats than Venice!

Other types of light trail photos

There are lots of other ways to use light trails in your photography. Here are a few other ideas you can try, that will complement your other light trail photos.

  • Boat lights – Boats on the water produce beautiful light trails, with the added bonus of reflections. The speed of boats is much slower though. This means an exposure of around two minutes or stacking several photos together to complete the light trail.
  • Create your own – You don’t need cars to create light trails, in fact, you can just use a light source and make your own. To have the most fun with this purchasing a Pixelstick is a great idea.
  • Kinetic light painting – Static lights can be turned into light trails, you just have to move your camera! Try out zoom bursts, or camera rotation to see some amazing results.
How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

The u-bein bridge in Myanmar is a classic photograph. You won’t see light trails here unless you make your own!

Time to hit the road, and get some light trails

Now it’s time to get out there and try this amazing style of photography. I’m sure many of you have taken car light trail photos, so share your best work with the community in the comments below.

What style of photo do you like best? Are there any further tips that you use for your photos that you’d like to share? As always share your thoughts, ideas, and work below and let’s talk about car light trail photography.

How to Create Dynamic Car Light Trail Photos

Time to get on your bike, and out there taking light trail photos!

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How to Use Natural Light for Macro Photography

19 Dec

I have to admit that the sun is one of those things in life that intrigues and fascinates me. When I was a kid I remember laying on the floor looking at the sky, watching the sun changing its position during the day and casting different types of shadows and reflections.

Natural light is the term we use in photography to refer the light of the sun. This, as opposed to artificial light that is usually created by the transformation of electricity into light through the use of light bulbs.

Even though natural light has the sun as a starting point, it can look very different depending on many factors. Time of the day, the season of the year, weather conditions and various other circumstances may influence the way sunlight reaches the earth and can be captured in a photograph.

As photographers, it is our job to understand the way it works and make the best out of it. In this article, we will explore the way natural light works and how to apply it in macro photography work. Let’s start with the basics.

Quality of Light

Quality of light is a term usually used by photographers to refer to the “hardness” or “softness” of a light source.

This quality is determined by the way a given light source produces the transitions between the highlights and shadows.
Soft light produces smooth transitions, while hard light produces abrupt transitions between the tonal areas, therefore giving the image less or more contrast.

The basic principle is: The larger the light source, the softer the light.

This means that sunlight gets softer closer to sunrise and sunset and harder closer to midday, due to the changes of distance between the sun and the earth during the day (and the angle at which it enters the atmosphere).

Lighting macro photography 01

Left: Image photographed at sunrise. Right: Image photographed at midday.

Direction of Light

The direction of light refers to the position of the light relative to the subject. This positioning determines the width of the shadows it casts creating the sense of texture and shape.

The basic principle is: Shadows fall to the opposite side of where the light is located.

Frontal lighting has a flattening effect on most subjects as it casts the shadows on their back, removing the three-dimensional effect.

Side lighting accentuates the texture of the subject as it casts side shadows creating the sense of dimension and volume.

Backlighting creates an outlining effect on the subject separating it from the background, making it more dominant.

Lighting macro photography 02

Color and Contrast

The color of light, or white balance, and contrast in natural light is mainly affected by two factors:

#1 – Time of day affects the position of the sun. The closer the sun is to the horizon, the less contrast and warmer is the light. This phenomenon happens mainly because sunlight has to cross more atmosphere which gives less contrast and filters the blue light resulting in a yellowish tonal effect. Closer to high noon the higher the contrast and less color variation it has because the sun is further away from the horizon.

#2 – Weather which affects contrast and color of light mainly by the presence of clouds which act like a huge diffuser resulting in less contrast and a blue color cast.

Lighting macro photography 03

Diffused and Reflected Light

Even though you cannot control sunlight, it doesn’t mean you cannot modify it to suit your needs.

Diffused light is achieved by sending a beam of light thru a semi-transparent surface resulting in lower contrast and feathered edge shadows.

Reflected light is achieved by bouncing the incident light off a reflecting surface onto the subject resulting in a change of direction and intensity of the light.

Lighting macro photography 04


Basic tools like reflectors and diffusers are fundamental resources for natural light photography. Even though there are a lot of macro photography dedicated gear options available, if you don’t want to spend your hard earned money on them, you can just build your own with things you probably already have around the house.

Tracing or baking paper and aluminum foil are great materials for building custom diffusers and reflectors. Just cut them to the size and shape that best suits your needs.

Lighting macro photography 05

Light diffusion materials range from nylon to translucent paper, plastic or acrylic. Here is a good example of a macro shot of a quarter dollar coin with direct side natural light and with tracing paper sheet diffuser.

Lighting macro photography 06

Left: Direct sunlight from the side. Right: Diffused sunlight from the side.

In this particular situation, the diffuser acted as a light softener and a reflector creating the highlights that give volume to the coin engraving.

Adding more light

Even though sunlight is only one light spot it is easy to simulate additional spots with reflectors. Take a look at this example of an old pocket watch photographed with side natural sunlight.

Lighting macro photography 07

Even though the light on the watch’s face is good, the rest just fades to black, making it flat. Another light spot would really help to get the right image volume. So we will add a mirror reflection on the opposite side of the main light for better definition of the object.

Lighting macro photography 08

And here is the final image

Lighting macro photography 09

That small spot reflection from the mirror on the left side of the image was enough to create the right volume, and give the image depth and ambiance.

These kinds of reflections can be created with different types of materials. A mirror like the one used in this image gives a narrow and intense reflection. While materials like aluminum foil create a broader reflection that can be scattered if you crumple the foil making it reflect light in different directions.

White surfaces like cardboard are also good reflection materials, giving a softer and less contrasted reflection than aluminum foil.

Background Separation

In photography, there are many factors that can influence background separation; focal length, aperture, distance between the subject and its background and lighting.

But because macro photography is such a specific subject that happens in a very small area, all these factors become critical as every small change translates to a big difference in the captured image. Because of the highly enlarged capture area, it becomes very difficult to use a camera handheld. A tripod and a shutter release cable are a must have for macro photographers.

The “Boogie Man” in the macro photography world is without a doubt the depth of field. In most macro circumstances the focus area is so shallow that a minimal change in the distance to the subject or aperture results in failure. This shallow depth of field can also be used as an advantage point to create background separation.

Both of these images were photographed in the same position with a 100mm macro lens. The difference here is the depth of field created by different apertures.

Lighting macro photography 10

Left: f/32. Right: f/11.

The image on the left gets confused and overcrowded with information. While the image on the right gets separation between the main focus subject and the background making it simpler and more appealing to the eye.

Another way to get background separation is to use the position of the light to create separation.

Lighting macro photography 11

This image was done using a simple and monochromatic background and backlighting which creates overexposure in the background, making the main subject stand out.

Mixing Natural Light with Flash

Sometimes natural light just isn’t enough for the image you want to create. Mixing natural light with flash is not an easy job, as flash usually overpowers natural light, giving the image an artificial look.

However, mixing the right amount of these too light sources can give some interesting results.

Lighting macro photography 12

This image was created with the use of a ring flash that created the specular highlights in the water drops, and a longer shutter speed that allowed the background to capture some natural light.

This result could only be achieved by the mix of these two light sources. Using only natural light would result in dull water drops without the flash sparkle, and artificial light background if only the ring flash had been used.

Mixing Natural Light with LEDs

In the past few years, LED light has become a valuable resource for photographers that want to use continuous light but don’t want to deal with incandescent or fluorescent bulbs and all their associated problems.

LEDs are very energy efficient as they convert about 80% of the energy they use into light, while incandescent only converts about 20%. They also don’t generate much heat and are available in many colors.

Lighting macro photography 13

This image was created with the mix of natural morning light shining through a window, and a simple and inexpensive cool white LED pocket flashlight.

The overall look was created by the use of a light painting technique with a 2-second exposure. Moving the flashlight on the top of the table created the texture and blue cast, while the diffused backlight from the window illuminated the food.

Final Thoughts

I guess light in photography is not what you start with, but what you make out of it. Once you know the rules, you can adapt yourself to what you’ve got and transform a bad lighting situation into great images.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, as trial and error is the best way to success. Use and abuse natural light, after all, it is free and is for sure different every day!

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How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

07 Dec

I love working with natural light, I always have. Even more so now that our digital cameras have sensors so incredibly capable of making images in extremely low light. Making portraits using natural light only is a good skill to learn so you can make photographs anywhere. Here are some tips to help you mast nature light portraiture.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Be aware of the quality of light

When you want to make a series of portraits using only natural light, you first need to be aware of what the light is like at your chosen location and the style of portrait you want to make. Is the quality of light hard or soft?

If it’s a bright sunny day and the light is harsh (hard), you will get portraits with a much different look and feel, than if the sky is cloudy and overcast. Morning and evening light will give your portraits a different quality (soft light) as will photographing your subject indoors and using light from a window.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Soft side light from a window.

Hard sunlight can be quite challenging to work with, but can produce some good results if you style you portrait well. If you’re working in open sun it can be helpful to have a reflector on hand and a friend to assist you so dark shadows can be reduced.

What kind of photo do you want?

Having a concept in mind for the type of photo you want will give you a better chance of success. If you’re heading out to make some portraits on a sunny day and have an idea of making some soft dreamy romantic photos, this will be difficult. But if you want to make some photos to illustrate the idea of a journey in a hot country the light will be your friend and support your idea.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Bight, harsh sun in the middle of the day.

Cloudy days provide a soft light that’s generally easier to get a more even exposure. The flat light tends to render a softer feeling to portraits.

So if you’re making portraits with natural light on a cloudy day, you will have more success if your concept is for a gentler look. Photos taken under a cloudy sky and later converted to black and white work well as the tone range will be more limited than on a sunny day.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Portraits on a cloudy day.

Use light to your advantage

If the sky is heavily overcast you will find it challenging as the light will be very dull. On days when there’s not such thick cloud you will notice the light is still soft, but brighter and more vibrant (less flat,) so nicer for making portraits. Be careful of your exposure settings if the clouds are moving and the light value is frequently changing.

Finding a shaded space and making use of naturally reflected light will help you achieve a different look on a bright sunny day. This is not the same as the light you have on a cloudy day. Light reflecting off a wall close by or light-toned pavement, (cement rather than asphalt or dark paving,) will fill in shadows on your subject’s face and produce a more even, lively result.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Light reflecting off a nearby white wall provided fill light for this portrait.

Placing your subject so they are slightly inside a shaded area, but close to the bright sun, can allow the reflection of the sunshine to have a very helpful effect in lighting your subject. So long as your subject is not too far away from the bright light you can make use of the reflection to add a more interesting dynamic to your portraits.

The Golden Hours

Of course, making portraits with the rich morning or evening sunshine (often called Golden Hours), or even subdued light can produce very pleasing portraits. Be careful though not to have your subject look directly ahead into the sun as they will typically make an unpleasant face. Backlighting or side lighting your subject at these times can be more effective and more comfortable for your subject. Diffused morning and evening light is lovely to work with as it is soft yet can still be quite rich and warm toned.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Diffused early evening light.

Try new things

I’ve loved making natural light portraits for many years, but I also enjoy developing my technique by trying new ways of working. If you enjoy a particular aspect of photography, stick with it, develop what you do. But don’t just do the same thing every time.

If you like making portraits in natural light on a cloudy day because you find it easier, sometimes try shooting on a sunny day. Stretch yourself to learn some new technique. You may discover something new, a new way ot working that you really enjoy.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Portable natural light studio

I have a portable natural light studio I love to take into the mountain villages here in northern Thailand. We’ve even started including it in some of the workshops we run and our customers love the professional looking results they can achieve. My outdoor studio only requires that we have space to set it up, (just a few square meters is enough,) and a sunny day for the best light, but I do use it on cloudy days too.

The best thing about it is having control over how the sun lights my subjects. I set it up so the sun is behind the backdrop. Above the backdrop is a fine gray nylon screen to filter the sunlight. The light reflects off the ground which is a light colored earth and works well with Asian skin tones, or a large plastic sheet. I have more recently introduced a large reflector too and am achieving some very pleasing results.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

The light coming from behind the backdrop is providing great light on these subjects’ hair as a rim light, and on their faces via reflected light.

The portable studio behind the scenes.

Your turn to try it

Next time you head out to make some portraits try something different with the light. If you prefer sunshine, make some in the shade as well. If you prefer a cloudy day challenge yourself to go out in the middle of the day when the sun is shining and find a location where you have some good light. Remember, the only time you cannot make a photo is when there is no light at all.

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Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

28 Nov

The team at Aputure via Kayell Australia (thanks) sent me the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D LED studio light to try out and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing! I had planned a day’s worth of food shooting, but that wasn’t to be after the client delayed the session. So I went about doing what I like to do and photographed myself holding a coffee in preparation for a portrait series I’m working on called “In My Shed” which is literally just that, but more on that later… Back to the light, and what a light it is!

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

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What’s in the box of the Aputure Light Storm

The Aputure Light Storm is an LED light with only one light source, as opposed to a panel with lots of little LEDs on it. The COB stands for “chip on board” which is basically multiple little versions of those LED’s you’re used to seeing, but all mounted on a board with a blob of phosphor flowed on top of them.

The phosphor is the bit that gives the LED light its color temperature (The D or the T) The version I have is called the 120D, the D is for Daylight. This means it’s closely daylight balanced, as opposed to the other model, the 120T which is more closely tungsten balanced. If you’re super interested in how they’re made, search on YouTube, it’s pretty interesting. Anyways…

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

I must admit, when I first started talking about the C120D with some industry peers, the initial feedback I got was, “It isn’t built very well.” and, “It won’t be bright enough for what you need to do!” but I pressed ahead despite those second-hand reservations and I’m very glad I did.

The unboxing part is always exciting for me, new gear and all that, and this little fellow was no different. The Aputure Light Storm COB 120D kit comes with its own semi-rigid case complete with a small reflector, power supply, cables and a remote control with a working distance of 100 meters. Everything you need to be up and running with some stunning light in less than five minutes is included.

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

Stunning light

So, I say stunning light, and I guess, like almost everything in photography, that’s a subjective statement. But I really love the light this unit produces, in the situations I’ve used it. I held off working on this article as I wanted to get some good use in with the light as I’d originally planned for this review.  That was to use it as my key light for food photography.

I prefer to use a big soft window for food photography, but sometimes you don’t have that option, so you need to create your light. I typically use a Jinbei HD600 which is a portable studio flash. It’s a great unit, but I wanted to try out a constant light source and see how that worked for what I was shooting.

Let’s kick it off with your dinner and dessert. Thanks to Trackside Noodle Bar for letting me use these images! There are images that they’re going to use in their marketing and menus. Entree and dessert for you, mains we’ll have a little bit later

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

No surprises with continuous lighting

I think the best bit, given I’m not a full-time photographer and I don’t shoot as often as some of you, is that using LED lights means that I see exactly what I’m going to get.

So you light your scene and adjust it, and you can see the adjustments immediately as the light source is always on. You can do the same when you use strobes or flash, but you need to make an exposure to check (I’m shooting a Sony a7rmk2 and so I see what I get on the screen at the back).

I find it super easy to set up my plate of food, use the light’s remote to back off the power if I need to do so, and click – job done.

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

When I came to the main course, I wanted a bit of light coming back in from the left of the plate. So a really simple bounce card (aka white square of card that can stand on its own) sitting out of shot on the left and I was good to go. You can see my hand-drawn “artist’s” impression of my setup, below.

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

Or, as a real photo, without my awesome drawing skills!

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

Self-portrait time

A funny thing happened on this journey. As I mentioned at the start, I did a little self-portraiture in my shed for a project I’m working on. I shared the image with Aputure and it’s now in their catalog! So, that was kind of cool…

For this portrait, I had the light set up outside the shed window, the camera on a tripod being controlled via my iPhone which if you look really closely, you might spot on the window ledge (Sony’s Playmemories app). I could adjust the light power from inside the shed using the controller. The light was running on a vLock battery, I used the Core SWX Slim which meant I could take the light anywhere, I also used a Bowens S Mounted 90cm deep para reflector.

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED

Review of the Aputure Light Storm COB 120D Studio LED


The summary, after working with this light for a couple of months is that it’s a great unit! Well built, plenty bright, easy to transport. I only have one minor negative point, and it’s that the controls have to be so big, but then the light itself is quite compact, so I guess all the controls and battery mount have to go somewhere! Like I said, minor.

The Aputure Light Storm COB 120D LED studio light is a fantastic addition to my regular portrait and food photography kit. This is a five-star review of a well deserving product! Let there be light.

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Disclaimer: this product was provided to the author for review, but all reviews on dPS are 100% unbiased opinions of the author. 

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OnePlus 5T unveiled: edge-to-edge display and a dual-camera optimized for low light

17 Nov

OnePlus has just launched its latest smartphone, the OnePlus 5T. The 5T carries over most of the internal components, including the Snapdragon 835 chipset, from its predecessor the OnePlus 5, but comes with a very obvious change on the exterior: The AMOLED screen now features an 18:9 aspect ratio and covers almost the entire front of the device, as it is en vogue this year.

Another important change can be found in the camera department: The 5T comes with the same 16MP main camera as the OnePlus 5, but instead of a telephoto module the secondary camera slot now houses a 20MP sensor that has been optimized for low-light performance.

Like on the main camera, the sensor is coupled with a fast F1.7 aperture, but is using what OnePlus calls ‘Intelligent Pixel Technology’ to merge four pixels into one, reducing image noise and improving sharpness. The system kicks in at light levels lower than 10 Lux… which is pretty dim.

Of course, a background-blurring portrait mode is on board as well, and a new multi-frame algorithm helps improve image quality when using the function in low light. OnePlus also says the new camera setup offers a similar zoom performance to the OnePlus 5’s camera.

Most other components, including the unibody metal shell, remain unchanged from the OnePlus 5. The 5T will be available from November 21st at $ 500 for the 64GB model with 6GB or RAM, and $ 560 for the 128GB version with 8GB of RAM. This makes the smartphone, like its predecessors, a real bargain when compared to most competitors.

We have our hands on a test device, and are eager to check the performance of the new dual-camera over the coming days.

Key specifications:

  • Dual-camera
  • Main camera: Sony IMX 398 1/2.8″ 16MP sensor, F1.7,
  • Secondary camera: Sony IMX 376K 1/2.78″ 20MP sensor, F1.7
  • 27.22mm equivalent focal length
  • Dual-LED flash
  • 4K video at 30 fps
  • 720p slow-motion at 120 fps
  • Manual mode and Raw capture
  • 16MP / F2.0 front camera
  • 6″ 1080p AMOLED display, 18:9 aspect ratio
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset
  • 64/128GB storage, 6/8GB RAM
  • 3,300 mAh battery

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Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

06 Nov

When I’m on a photo shoot, I always carry two flash guns with me. However, when it’s a family outing or holiday, the flash guns are left behind in favor of kiddie stuff I need to lug around and I shoot using purely natural light, without even a reflector to help. It does help that I carry a prime lens that opens up to f/1.4 should I need or want to shoot indoors.

Here are my tips for making portraits using purely natural light.

On a sunny day, there is so much light that it makes it quite hard to take portraits, contrary to what many would think. I generally don’t like taking portraits with the sun directly hitting the face of my subject, so that makes the job even harder on such a bright day.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

The first thing to be mindful of is the direction of light – is it coming from overhead, at an angle of 45 degrees or higher or lower? As you cannot physically move the sun, you are going to have to move your subject instead. Think of positioning your subject as leveraging natural light to make a pleasing portrait.


Here are some outdoor scenarios where you can position your subject and avoid direct bright sunlight.

In the shade

My go-to (and easiest) spot is a shaded or sheltered area. Ideally, find a large enough shaded area so that your entire subject is covered in shade. You don’t want dappled light or parts of the body overexposed by being in the sun while the rest of the person is in the shade.

Areas of shade could be under a tree or in the shadow of a tall structure such as the wall of a building as in the photo on the left below. This gives you even lighting over a large area and even exposure too with no hard shadows.

Compare the left photo to the right one where the subject is wearing a hat. I metered on her face and because she was furthered shadowed by the hat, the exposure increased a tad and the rest of the image then got brighter. This can be evened out quite easily in post-production by adding a soft vignette.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

With a very bright backlight

Sometimes you find yourself at a location that doesn’t offer enough shade or there is a lack of large structures to provide shelter. You would end up shooting in a bright wide-open space and your only option is to shoot backlit or at least provide shade to your subject’s face.

The difficulty with shooting backlit is that you would need to have ample fill light to compensate for the very strong backlight. You can either use your camera’s built-in flash or use some kind of reflector. That could be a light-colored piece of cardboard or a natural reflector in the vicinity, such as a bright path or wall that reflects strong sunlight back onto your subject’s face.

Shooting in an open or semi-open space, like the black and white photo above, where the backlight is a lot stronger than the light illuminating the subject it gets complicated. Unless you are using a flash to counteract the backlight, the background will be blown out. Even if you shoot with a small aperture, the difference in the amount of light between the subject and the background will be too great to get an even exposure without using a fill flash.

Natural reflectors

In the photo below, this was not taken in a fully open space but the shade there was weaker. The hat provided more shade to her face and you can see the left side is a little darker than the right. That makes for a nice gradation of light and shadow as opposed to a flatly-lit portrait.

I leveraged a natural reflector here which was just to camera right – a light colored parasol which reflected the sun onto the girl’s face. You can also see that the background was a lot brighter and more washed out compared to the first photo above left. But it is showing some foliage compared to the photo above right, hence there is more detail rather than just a white blown out sky.

When I find myself in situations like these, I make sure my main focus is the subject’s face and I don’t mind the background being blown or washed out. After all, I am after a portrait of the subject.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Light from above

Compare the two photos below. The left photo is shot with fairly flat lighting on the face. I made sure the subject was in full shade and the light coming from both the right and left sides was even.

The photo on the right is different in that I asked her to look up a little, thus using the light coming from above and creating a slight gradation of shadow on the right side of her face. Simple positioning of the face in relation to the light source makes a big difference in how your photos look.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Indoor lighting

In comparison to outdoors, there is usually only a fraction of the amount of light indoors, even with a window present. However, this works to your advantage. The light source is usually one-directional unless you have many windows, and therefore you can use this it to sculpt your subject’s face as it were, choosing where the shadows will fall and creating a moody portrait.

The light in the photo below left was coming from a big window, high up at about 30 – 45 degrees to the subject. You can see the shadow falling on the opposite side of her nose and cheeks creating a darker, moodier feel to the image compared to the photo on the right shot outdoors. Even with just a single light source indoors, you have enough light to play with and create the ambiance you want to portray.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Over to you

Whether indoors or outdoors, it is always important to be mindful of where the light is coming from, how much light there is, and if there is any contrast of light and shade in the space. Knowing how to leverage the natural light allows you to create the type of mood you are after in your portrait.

Understanding this and practicing how to use available light will make you a better photographer.

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6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

31 Oct

Most photographers will tell you that a tripod is invaluable and is usually the favorite accessory that they carry with them. While a tripod remains an essential piece of equipment, especially for low light photography, it is also usually the one piece of camera equipment that draws the most amount of attention.

In some scenarios and places, you won’t be allowed to use a tripod so you have to find other ways of utilizing your camera to take the photo you want. Here are six tips to help you capture photos in low light without a tripod.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#1 – Raise the ISO

The first option that most people will turn to is to raise the ISO setting in the camera. Principally, the ISO is the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. The higher the ISO the more “sensitive” the sensor becomes to light which in turn means you can capture more detail in low light conditions. In simple terms, the darker your scene is, the higher you need your ISO. But before you start whacking your ISO up to 25,600, beware that raising the ISO also has a detrimental effect on the image.

The higher your ISO setting, the more noise you’ll see in your photo. Too much noise and your photo will begin to start looking soft. The key to being able to use ISO effectively is to balance it with other elements such as shutter speed and depth of field to be able to capture the shot you want.

Always aim to have your ISO as low as possible. Also, make sure you test your camera at different ISO settings before you use it for an actual photograph you intend to take.

Taken at ISO 4000. It was the only way that I was able to capture a photo in this dark tunnel.

#2 – Use Mirror Lock-Up and Live View Mode

Have you ever taken a photo with a tripod, with good depth of field, at a slow shutter speed only to see the final photo on your computer is slightly blurred? This is one question that has often baffled novice photographers but there is a simple solution.

When you press the button to take a photo, the mirror inside the camera flips up out of the way. This mechanical process can mean that there is a slight movement in the camera, which in turn causes a small shake, hence the blurred photo. To get around this problem, you can set your camera to Live View mode (when you get a live picture on the display of your camera) which essentially flips the mirror up permanently (until you switch off Live View mode) and means that when you take the photo you don’t get the movement the camera. Some cameras also allow you to “lock the mirror” without using the live view mode (so using your viewfinder).

This issue would be the same when photographing without a tripod in low light conditions. So in this scenario, set your camera to Live View mode/mirror lock-up to avoid that small, unwanted camera shake.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#3 – Use High-Speed Burst Mode

One of the great innovations of modern DSLR cameras is how much faster you can now take photos in burst mode. Using a high-speed burst mode is a really good trick to capturing decent photos in low light. But this only works when your shutter speed is just below the threshold of you shooting handheld.

For example, if you can hold your camera steady enough to take a sharp photo at 1/60th, you may be able to get away with using high-speed burst mode and using 1/45th or even 1/30th of a second. This is because with high-speed burst mode you have less time in between photos for the camera to move and often you’ll find one or two photos sharp enough for use in the middle of the burst.

Just remember to use high-speed burst as some cameras also offer low-speed burst option and aim for a good number of photos. You’ll also be well advised to try out this trick a few times to find out what your threshold is before you use it in a real-life situation.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#4 – Find a Ledge or Wall

Often your best bet for capturing photos in low light is to find a ledge or wall that you can rest your camera on. Not only does this mean you can have your settings at pretty much exactly what you would with a tripod, but you can also often find interesting camera angles which are different to traditional photos you’d see taken with a tripod.

One thing to be aware of is that you may need to raise your lens up slightly. Otherwise, you may see the ledge/wall in the foreground of your photo. You can use anything you can find or have with you to slightly tilt the lens upward.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

I found a small ledge in this old church that I was able to rest the camera on to take this photo.

#5 – Use Your Bag

Over time you’ll begin to pick up tricks and techniques that you will use in your photography. One of the most useful that I have found has been to simply use my backpack. Put it on the floor and put your camera on top and you have a quick tripod without all the attention that a tripod brings.

This trick has been really useful in buildings and places where tripods are not allowed like museums or galleries. You can put your bag on benches and even rest it on a branch of a tree (as I did once).

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#6 – Train Yourself

Like anything else photography is something that you can improve your skills. This is also true of actually being able to hold the camera steady. So start by practicing your stance and make sure that you are holding the camera as securely and comfortably as you can.

Work on your composure and try to teach yourself to relax when you are going to take the photo. By practicing over and over again you may find that you actually can hold the camera at slightly slower speeds than you were able to before.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod


There’s no question that if you want to capture the best possible photos at the best quality in low light conditions, then a tripod will give you the best results. But in situations when that might not be possible, using the tips and tricks above might help you capture the shots you need.

Anything else? What tricks do you use to capture photos in low light conditions without a tripod?

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4 Tips for Low Light Photography During the Winter

26 Oct

With fall here and winter fast approaching as well, the sun sets earlier in the day and most of us will be confined to shooting indoors. Whether you are shooting during the day or in the evening after the sunset, adapting and embracing shooting in low light will be beneficial to help you continue working on your photography skills and other personal photo projects.

If you are like me and work all day and come home in the evening to pick up your camera, you may be further limited to shooting right around sunset or utilizing artificial light sources only.

Low light indoors winter 10

There was a time not long ago when I used to hate photographing my kids in low light. I was nervous about increasing the ISO and adding noise in my images or worried about reducing the shutter speed and causing camera shake. But slowly over time, I started to get used to working with various light sources around me creatively and utilizing them in my images.

If you are new to shooting in low light, here are some simple tips that could be helpful without the fear of shooting indoors in low light or using artificial light.

1. Shoot wide open and/or use a slow shutter speed

Although this may not be the best solution all the time with multiple people in the image indoors; but shooting wide open (as much as your camera allows) helps you get more light in the image. Making sure your focal points are aligned on the subject where they need to be, this could help you with that low light shooting you are struggling with.

Low light indoors winter 1

Low light indoors winter 2

Another option would be to consider using a slow shutter speed. A shutter speed of 1/200th or slower to 1/100th doesn’t always produce camera shake when handheld and lets more light in as well. There’s always the option of using a tripod, however, keep in mind that this may not be feasible when photographing kids in action.

Low light indoors winter 3

2. Crank up that ISO and embrace noise

Having a camera with low light capabilities sounds great. However, if you are on a budget and need to work with what you have, consider cranking up your ISO as high as you can after adjusting your shutter speed and aperture.

Consider embracing the noise or grain produced and using it in your images creatively. Converting an image to black and white during post-processing also helps hide any yellow light indoors you may have from artificial sources after hours.

Low light indoors winter 4

Low light indoors winter 5

Low light indoors winter 6

Low light indoors winter 7

Consider using alternate artificial light sources such as an iPad light, refrigerator light, desk lamp, etc., for extra creativity.

Low light indoors winter 8

Low light indoors winter 9

3. Find pockets of light

Open up windows, blinds, and curtains. Pockets of light and shadows add to the drama and create depth.

Once you get home from work in the evening, look around to find any little pockets of light that you can use. This may be right around the golden hour (one hour prior to sunset) and you will find some amazing light peeking through the windows if you time it just right. Utilizing this light will produce some amazing shadows and you can create some moody images as well.

Low light indoors winter 11

Low light indoors winter 12

Low light indoors winter 13

4. Dust off your flash and practice using it

When all else fails and I need to turn my lights on after hours, I rely on my Yongnuo flash unit and simply bounce it off the nearby walls. A lot of times I hear from other photographers (who limit themselves from shooting indoors during evening hours) that using flash is really complicated. I set my flash unit on ETTL and power it accordingly to get more or less light in the image based on how many artificial light sources I have turned on in the room.

Low light indoors winter 14

Low light indoors winter 15


In conclusion, all of the tips above are not always an either/or situation. Most of them can be used together such as combining a slow shutter speed along with increasing the ISO while shooting in a pocket of light with the blinds open when you really have those corner rooms with less light!

While doing the above and balancing your exposure creatively, you can create moody images with some drama. In summary, shooting in low light or the use of artificial light doesn’t have to be that intimidating. Give it a trying show us what you come up with in the comments below.

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