Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

20 Nov

At its heart, good photography is about showing people views of the world they would not otherwise see. That might be; places your viewers have not visited, impossible ways of seeing to the human eye such as long exposures and night photography, but most often this novelty comes in the form of a different perspective. Even familiar scenes and objects can make compelling photographic subjects if we are willing to explore them from new angles.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

Aerial photography is one of my favorite ways to provide that novel perspective. I’m fortunate to spend a lot of time in small planes. My life in Alaska is full of flights in bush planes to remote places in the state. While only occasionally do I fly specifically to make aerial images, I find simply going to and from different locations provides ample opportunity.

The second way I frequently use to access an aerial perspective is by flying drones. While both techniques get me the elevation I want, the photographic experience is very, very different. The two methods, planes and drones, require very different ways of thinking about image-making.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

Here are a few tips to improve your aerial photography images, whether you are shooting from a plane or using a remote drone.


While big passenger jets are great for getting us from one place to another quickly, they are lousy photography platforms. Sure, I’ve made some images from jet windows, but they inevitably follow the same formula. There’s an airplane wing in the foreground with some sunset or mountain beyond. It gets old. Plus the perpetually fogged or scratched windows will destroy your image quality. Except for the occasional phone snap, I rarely bother with it anymore.

Small, single-engine planes, however, are a different story and can be an amazing platform for creative aerial photography.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones


Attaining a sharp image is a major challenge because airplanes are vibration-filled nightmares. Here are four things to help you improve sharpness:

  1. Use a fast shutter speed. I like anything over 1/1000th of a second.
  2. Don’t brace your lens or arms on the plane. Hold your camera and elbows free of the window. If you touch the plane, the vibrations will be transmitted straight into your camera. I tuck my arms against my sides and hold the lens an inch or so away from the window glass.
  3. Focus at infinity. I often shoot manual focus from the air and pre-set my focus point to infinity. Everything you are seeing from the air will be in focus when the lens is set to infinity, so don’t even bother with autofocus.
  4. Shoot wide open. The depth of field is not a problem from a 1000 or meters from your subject. So a take advantage of the extra shutter speed provided by your fastest f-stop.

Lens Choices

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

When flying 100+ mph at low altitude, the landscape passes very quickly. If you don’t act quickly, you’ll miss the shot. That’s why I like zoom lenses for aerial photography. I can quickly compose with different focal lengths, without having to change lenses or cameras. I favor a wide to moderate zoom. A 24-105mm or similar lens is about right.


Usually, in a small plane, you’ll be in direct communication with your pilot, who might be willing to help you out with your photography. When I’m flying over something interesting, but a wing or strut is in the way, I’ll often simply ask the pilot to tip a wing one way or another. Pilots are often happy to accommodate you.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

You can also ask them to make slight turns, or even circle if there is something particularly compelling. If you’ve chartered a flight for photographic purposes, feel free to ask for what you want.

I recommend talking to your pilot ahead of your trip to discuss what kind of images you want, and how he or she might be able to help you. If it is a photography-specific flight, you may even be able to remove windows or doors from the plane.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

Remember your pilot is the final judge of what is acceptable in terms of safety and time. If they say they can’t do something, they can’t. Don’t push them into something with which they aren’t comfortable.


There are almost as many ways to shoot from an airplane as there are from the ground so any discussion of composition runs the risk of leading us deep into the photographic weeds. However, the general rules of landscape photography still apply. Remember depth, foregrounds, and the way lines connect the image.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

Some shots from the air could be details of the landscape below, but more often they will be sweeping landscapes. I like to place elements in the frame that guide the eye through; a river, a mountain valley, or a highlight like a lake or patch of colorful ground.

The altitude at which you are flying will also dictate your options. When making aerial images of mountain environments (my usual subject) I prefer the plane to be below the level of the surrounding peaks. This perspective still provides a sense of grandeur, while maintaining the unique aerial perspective. Ask your pilot if you can fly lower or higher, and they may be able to help you out if conditions are safe.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones


Flying a remote copter or drone is a very different experience from being up high yourself. There are advantages, but also some drawbacks.

First the drawbacks. Most consumer grade drones limit you to one focal length. Without the ability to zoom or change lenses, most drone shots tend to have the same wide-angle look. To change the scene, you’ve got to move the drone. Drones also have limited ranges, elevation capabilities, and at times, limiting regulations.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

Some locations, like national parks in the United States (and many other countries) are off-limits for drones. Range limitations also mean that you have to get yourself close to your desired subject. So if you want to make images of some remote, or difficult to access location, you’ll still have to do it on the ground.

The advantages, however, are many. Cost is a big one. For the price of a couple hours charter of a small plane, you can buy a decent drone, literally. Flexibility is another. If you want to go make some aerial photos, you simply do it, no waiting around for a pilot or plane charter. If the light is right, you just go fly.

The biggest advantage for me, though, is composition flexibility. You can create an image from a few meters off the ground, to a couple hundred. You can also spend the time necessary to get the composition right. The drone sits still when you want it to, or you can adjust to your heart’s desire.


I like to fly my drone fairly low. I find the combination of altitude and wide angle lenses make everything look less dramatic and smaller if I’m flying too high. 20-30 meters off the ground is probably my favorite height, but of course, it varies on where I’m flying and the image I’m creating.

Remember to take advantage of the many camera angles drones allow. Shooting straight down is almost impossible from a plane. But with a drone, it’s as easy as angling your camera.

Playing with lines and patterns is a drone specialty, so take advantage of the way the world looks from above. Play with dividing your images into parts using the natural variations in the landscape. Trees from above, for example, create a starburst pattern, not a typical way humans see a forest!

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones

The flexibility provided by drones is extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to experiment with aerial images of places a plane could never fly.

Drone Warning

Follow the rules! Flying a drone in a dangerous area like around airports, or at the scene of an emergency is not only irresponsible it can be life-threatening. Be aware of the laws surrounding drones, and fly only in areas where it is allowed, and at permitted elevations.

Lastly, be respectful of others. Don’t fly over private property if you don’t have permission, and be aware of how your flight is impacting the experience of others. Simply put, don’t be a jerk.

Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones


Aerial photography is a gateway to new ways of seeing. Whether you are shooting from the passenger seat of a Cessna or from your phone screen using a drone, there are abundant opportunities to make new and exciting images. Explore it and share with me what you make!

The post Tips for Aerial Photography from Small Planes and Drones by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography – Which is Best?

20 Nov

Choosing between a full frame or cropped sensor camera for wildlife photography can be a tough decision. Both options offer their own benefits, so choosing between the two can cause quite the headache. Lots of photographers have their opinions, but choosing what’s right for your own use will largely come down to your personal style of shooting. So let’s break it down.

FX full frame and APS-C - Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography - Which is Best?

The Basics

Most modern camera companies use either full frame or APS-C (crop) type sensors in their DSLR (and mirrorless) cameras. The former is often classed as the professional standard, with the sensor size being a close replica to that of a 35mm film negative.

APS-C on the other hand, is roughly two thirds the size of a full frame sensor, resulting in the field of view being multiplied by a factor of 1.5-1.6x that of a standard full frame model. These sensors feature mostly in the lower tiered offerings by camera companies, with the chips being less expensive to produce.

Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography - Which is Best?

Working with APS-C means you can travel lighter.

Crop Factor

For APS-C models one of the largest benefits for wildlife photographers is that of the additional crop factor. The 1.5-1.6x magnification of your optics can be hugely beneficial when working out in the field, trying to photograph small birds or distant wildlife.

The crop factor also allows you to get a similar angle of view with a far smaller lens, helping to reduce the gear you need to carry while still giving you great telephoto reach. This is something a lot of photographers find as a huge benefit, as they can minimize the size and weight of the gear they need to carry out into the field.

For example, a 70-200mm lens on a 1.5x crop-factor body gives you the equivalent of a 105-300mm lens. A perfect compact wildlife setup.

APS-c cameras crop factor can be a great benefit for wildlife photography - Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography - Which is Best?

APS-C cameras crop factor can be a great benefit for wildlife photography.

ISO Sensitivity

One of the large benefits of a full frame camera is that of better image quality when shooting at high ISO. The larger sensor means in the individual pixels (and light sensitive photo sites) are larger than those on an APS-C type camera. This means as a general rule they are more sensitive to light, allowing cleaner noise-free images at high ISO settings, something that is fabulous when trying to work and photograph wildlife in low light conditions.

Now with modern sensor advances, APS-C models of the past few years have come up leaps and bounds in terms of ISO performance – easily being useable to ISO 6,400. But, if low light usability is key for the subjects you’re working with, a full frame camera is still king.

Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography - Which is Best?

APS-C cameras can still make great results at a high ISO.

Depth of Field

When comparing that of full frame sensors with APS-C models, one extra thing to consider is the depth of field characteristics and how areas are rendered out of focus.

With the smaller sensor in APS-C models, they give the effect of having a larger depth of field at equivalent apertures when compared to a full frame camera. This means that if you are going after images that render clean bokeh and have a very restricted depth of field to isolate and direct your viewer’s attention to your subject, a full frame model will be better suited.

Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography - Which is Best?

Full frame cameras are great for shallow depth of field effects.

Of course, if you do a large amount of macro work and want to maximize the depth then an APS-C camera might be right up your alley.


In the past few years, technology has advanced in resolution steadily, with cameras being introduced that have high 36-42 megapixel sensors. For the most part, ultra high-res sensors have been used in the realms of advertising and commercial photography for years. But of course, now having been brought into DSLRs they offer photographers more flexibility.

The high resolutions models are mainly full frame sensors, as packing huge numbers of pixels onto small sensors can heavily impact their quality. The FX models that have high resolution offer a unique advantage, as they make the most of the benefits of full frame models, yet offer the ability to crop heavily to replicate the crop factor of those advanced APS-C DSLRs.

Often a disadvantage is that these high-resolution cameras are slower in terms of frames per second, due to internal data writing limitations. But this is advancing all the time, especially with new forms of storage media offering faster write times.


Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography - Which is Best?

High megapixel full frame cameras offer great all-around performance.

The full frame camera with a high-resolution sensor can be somewhat of a perfect compromise for those wanting the ISO performance and bokeh rendering benefits of full frame, combined with the ability to crop. Providing, of course, that they aren’t to hung up on needing blazing fast frame per second shooting rates.


One factor that always plays a part when looking to buy new gear is that of cost. Full frame bodies by their nature are more expensive, with the chips inside being harder to engineer and more expensive to produce. APS-C cameras are often found at lower price points, but this depends on the body design and extra features such as speed, construction, and technologies implemented.

Some full spec APS-C cameras are significantly more expensive than full frame models due to the advanced autofocus features, frame rates, and build quality.

So what to choose?

For wildlife photography, it largely depends on your target subjects.

If you love photographing birds and small creatures, a high-end APS-C body that combines the crop factor with speed will serve you well. The crop factor is also a huge benefit if you want to get a longer telephoto reach without having to shell out for ultra-expensive super telephoto lenses. Meaning you can have a small set up that offers a good compromise for most situations.

If you want to truly get the best performance and quality, full frame models are where to look. The high-resolution sensors and excellent low light performance make for great image quality. However, of course, you’ll also need to invest in the best optics to make the most of them.

These are both costly and a large burden to carry around. However, if you want the best quality imaginable that’s what it takes. For those starting out investing, an APS-C model would be my recommendation. Save your funds to buy decent quality lenses, as these will largely make more of a difference to your images than a single stop of ISO or a slightly higher resolution sensor.

The post Full Frame or APS-C for Wildlife Photography – Which is Best? by Tom Mason appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Photography gifts for every budget

19 Nov

Shopping for a photographer? Whether you are one yourself or not, chances are you could use some ideas. From stocking stuffers on up, we’ve got some photography gift suggestions for every budget.

2017 Holiday Gift Guide: Under $ 50

2017 Holiday Gift Guide: $ 50-200

2017 Holiday Gift Guide: Over $ 200

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Is the future of beginner photography a bright orange camera with no buttons?

18 Nov

Traditional camera manufacturers fail beginner photographers over and over.

They’ll gladly sell you a camera with a kit lens, but they’ve struggled to help beginners with any of the challenges that come after taking it out of the box.

It’s not for lack of trying; every manufacturer has some form of beginner-friendly mode that will tell you how to open the aperture wider for sharp subjects with blurry backgrounds. But when you put a slow kit lens on a typical entry-level camera, you quickly find that there’s more to it than just opening or closing the aperture.

Only the viewfinder, shutter button and diopter are exposed – no LCD, no dials, everything else is off limits. It’s truly a point-and-shoot.

And as your memory cards fill up with photos, you realize there’s so much more to photography than just pointing a nice camera at a subject – from composition to editing to how the heck do I get these off my camera and on to my phone so I can share them? It ends up being a frustrating experience, and that nice new camera ends up on a shelf at home.

I recently paid a visit to a little boutique on University Avenue in Palo Alto that’s taking a radical approach to bringing photography to beginners.

Relonch doesn’t sell anything you can walk out of the store with, and it’s not a hardware company. Their ‘Photo Club’ lends out its Relonch 291 camera free of charge. Specifically, it’s a Samsung NX camera stitched up inside a brightly colored leather case. Only the viewfinder, shutter button and diopter are exposed – no LCD, no dials, everything else is off limits.

I know, I know, to a seasoned photographer, this is a vision of hell. But for a beginner who doesn’t really want those things, it’s kind of genius.

Here’s how it works: you reserve the camera in advance and borrow it for, say, the length of a vacation. The camera uses a 4G data connection to automatically send a preview of each photo taken to a companion app. The previews are just that – they’re screenshot-proof because they’re sepia-toned and watermarked. You select the photos you want to keep at a $ 1 each. At that point they’re sent to the cloud for processing, and back to your app where they’re yours to keep.

Interestingly, instead of a kit zoom Relonch 291 comes with a fast prime attached. And you aren’t just handed a camera when you walk in the door – you also get a crash course in photographic composition.

Nobody at Best Buy ever made a cup of Cuban espresso for someone buying their first DSLR.

During this lesson there’s no mention of shutter speeds or f-stops because there’s no need – the camera handles all of that. Instead, it focuses on getting the user to try different composition techniques that take advantage of the shallow depth of field afforded by the lens and larger sensor.

Yuri Motin, a Relonch co-founder, takes me through the introductory session that a typical customer gets when first picking up a camera. And let me tell you, it is a rare customer experience. Nobody at Best Buy ever made a cup of Cuban espresso for someone buying their first DSLR.

Relonch automatically processes Raw images, making adjustments to exposure, white balance, sharpening and so on. This is a photo Yuri took of me with one of the cameras. Bless the facial-recognition-skin-smoothing algorithm that produced this image.

A little cafe setup at the camera club allows you to try focus-and-recompose to put either your subject or the coffee in front of them in focus. Another scenario I’m guided through is using the handle of a suitcase to frame Yuri in the background, pretending to charge his phone while sitting on the floor. It’s a common scene to anyone in an airport, but an opportunity for a candid portrait that many beginning photographers would overlook.

I didn’t frame this exactly how Yuri told me to but he gave me a passing grade anyway.

Relonch has cleverly addressed many of the pains beginning photographers feel. Sending the images to your smartphone happens automatically. Curation is built in – instead of coming home with hundreds of photos, you have only your favorites. The fast prime lens offers much shallower depth-of-field than your typical slow kit zoom, and the composition lesson helps first time photographers use it to their advantage.

And then there’s the look of the thing – the brightly colored leather case gives the camera a dual purpose as a fashionable accessory. It’s not a look everyone will want to sport, but if you ask me it’s miles ahead of any attempt by Canon or Nikon to dress up an entry-level DSLR.

Relonch announced its 291 camera just under a year ago, and at that point planned to loan cameras at a rate of $ 100 per month, with the same image editing process baked in. There was a catch, though – only your best photos were delivered to your mobile device, and they didn’t arrive until the next day.

In the end, Relonch launched with a pricing plan that’s easier to stomach, and the service is now aimed clearly at travelers. And that’s a pretty smart move, because I hear this line a lot:

“I’m going to [insert exotic location here] and want to take better photos than my phone takes, what camera should I buy?”

That answer is getting more and more expensive, because the difference between what your phone and a $ 500 camera can do is rapidly shrinking. Paying by the photo rather than sinking a grand into a camera system you may or may not continue to use after the trip sounds like a fair value proposition.

And it’s also true that these days people, especially ‘The Youths’, seem perfectly happy to pay a little bit at a time for something they don’t own, rather than invest a lot of money up front to own it. Not all that long ago it seemed unfathomable to pay a fee every month to access your music collection, or drive a car you don’t own and pay by the hour. But the Spotify-ing, Zipcar-ing generation is happily embracing a life owning less.

Paying by the photo rather than sinking a grand into a camera system you may or may not continue to use after the trip sounds like a fair value proposition

Still, there’s another hurdle in the way. Relonch’s business model may have partially been made possible by the smartphone, but it’s a double-edged sword: smartphone cameras might just become good enough to render it unnecessary.

Yuri isn’t worried about that. When I ask him what Relonch thinks of the rise of bokeh imitating Portrait Modes, he says they welcome more beautiful photos in the world. He doesn’t see the smartphone as a competitor, because he believes that once they try it, Relonch’s members prefer the participatory experience of taking photographs with a traditional camera, with a viewfinder. And with curation built into the experience, Relonch’s customers end up with photos they want to revisit again and again.

But does that audience really exist? I’m less convinced. While that may be true for a small portion of the photo-taking population, camera makers know all too well that there are plenty of people whose desire to carry less stuff around overrides the appeal of using a dedicated camera, no matter how much better it is. If Relonch is counting on growing its business they’ll have to tap into a market that seems to be happily retreating to their increasingly capable smartphones.

Relonch might not in the end survive the rise of smartphone photography, but it seems to me that they’re onto something. You certainly can’t beat the smartphone by insisting that every camera user learn the intricacies of exposure and post-processing to get the results they want. Smartphones – and to an extent Relonch – meet these consumers partway and do the rest of the leg work.

It’s time to pay attention, traditional camera manufacturers of the world.

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Weekly Photography Challenge – Blue Hour

18 Nov

Blue hour is the time of day after sunset (and just before sunrise) when the sky still has some color it and it’s not pure black. This is the number one tip for shooting night photography – don’t shoot at night! If you want a dark, deep blue sky – shoot at blue hour.

This is a bonus – you don’t have to stay up all night getting shots for this week’s challenge. Just catch the blue hour and you’re good to go.

Blue hour in New York City.

If you need some help:

  • Video Tutorials and Tips for Shooting Blue Hour
  • 5 Quick Tips for Better Blue Hour Photography
  • New Photographer’s Guide to Blue Hour
  • Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk
  • Do you pack up and leave after sunset and miss the fun of night photography?
  • How to do Long Exposure Photography and Light Trails at Night

Weekly Photography Challenge – Blue Hour

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

Blue hour in Rome, Italy.

San Francisco – the complementary colors of blue hour make for stunning compositions. Use it to your advantage.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

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

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3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents – How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

15 Nov

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive as a writer here at Digital Photography School is, “How do I take better pictures of my kids?”. There’s just something about becoming a parent that helps you understand exactly how fleeting childhood is, as well as how important it is to capture it. Whether you’re using a pro-level DSLR camera, a point-and-shoot, or your phone’s camera, here are a few quick and easy tips that will help you take your momtography or dadtography to the next level and take better pictures of your kids.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

1. Emotion Trumps Perfection

It’s never a bad idea to learn about the technical aspects of photography. But when it comes to photographing your own kids, the truth is that the photos you’ll treasure the most are the ones that capture genuine emotion. When you pull your camera out, don’t just look for the perfect smiles. Look for genuine expression and emotion, which tends to happen most often when your kids don’t realize you’re watching them.

Similarly, when you’re culling images, don’t automatically trash every image with soft focus or strange cropping. Sometimes, those technically imperfect photos may capture genuine emotion so perfectly that it would be a shame to delete them just because they’re not perfect. You may not want to blow those imperfect images up onto a giant canvas, but definitely keep them for your own records!

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Let go of perfection

Technically speaking, there are a few things about the above image that I don’t like. I wish I hadn’t cropped off some of one daughter’s fingers, and I wish the other daughter was in focus. I was super tempted to delete this photo right away because it’s not quite up to my standards. However, every time I look at this image it makes me smile to see the absolute joy on their faces. I remember their excitement at seeing the cherry blossoms covering the ground like snow, scooping them up by the handful, and throwing them up into the air while laughing and squealing with delight.

As family and friends flip through photo albums, they don’t comment on the other image I took that day of the girls standing perfectly still while looking at the camera and smiling, they comment on this photo. They mention how happy the girls look, and how much they love this photo. This image is beloved not because it’s technically sound, but because emotion always trumps perfection when it comes to photography.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

2. Find Beauty in the Ordinary

When it comes to photographing your kids, don’t wait for the moments when everyone is perfectly dressed in coordinating outfits at golden hour. Those moments are beautiful, but they’re few and far between. Instead, look for ways to capture the beauty in the ordinary everyday moments.

Snap a photo of your kids reading a bedtime story every once in awhile. Take a quick snapshot of their messy faces after spaghetti night. Capture the mismatched crazy outfits that they put together when they dress themselves. Quietly sneak out your camera as they’re practicing writing their name at the kitchen table.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Life isn’t always perfectly styled, it’s messy and full of mundane, repetitive moments. It’s really tempting to wait to pick up your camera until your house is cleaner, or the kids are dressed in something that isn’t stained, or until the flowers in the backyard have bloomed. Don’t wait.

Take the opportunity to photograph your kids just as they are right at this moment, and see if you can’t find some beauty in the ordinary.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

3. Capture What Your Kids Love

At any given point in time, your kids are likely to have at least one thing that they’re absolutely obsessed with. It may be a stuffed dinosaur, their favorite book, a hat that they want to wear every single day or a best friend.

Regardless of what their current favorite thing is, taking photos of your childen with the things that they absolutely love is a really sweet way to remember them at the different stages of their lives.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Chances are that in a year or two, your child will move on to a new favorite thing. You’ll forget all about that stuffed dinosaur or favorite blanket much more quickly than you’d probably think. It’s fun for both you and them to be able to look back and say “Remember when you used to….”

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Bonus Tip: Get the Photos Off Your Computer!

How many of us are guilty of taking hundreds of photos of our kids, maybe uploading a few to social media, and then letting them hang out on our hard drives in perpetuity? In all honesty, one of the most important parts of photographing your kids is to actually print the photos you take of your kids.

There are so many great resources out there now, whether you want to send prints off to a professional lab or print a photo book right from your Instagram feed, there truly is something for everyone. You don’t have to do it all, but just pick something, and get those images off your computer and into your lives!

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Do you have any non-technical tips that you’d share with moms and dads just trying to take great photos of their kids? If so, please chime in below in the comments.

The post 3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents – How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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5 Street Photography Project Ideas During the Fall

15 Nov

Street Photography is seen as a snapshot competition where only a single picture matters the most. This can be fun and teaches you a lot about photography and yourself. You need to put everything in that single shot that tells a story and looks good at the same time. Yet all your pictures might be disconnected over time and it Continue Reading

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Why You are not in the Photography Business – You are in the People Business

14 Nov

I did photos for a high school senior recently who remarked that many of her friends were having their class pictures taken by one of the teachers at school. We chatted about this as I snapped away with my full-frame Nikon D750 and accompanying 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, a setup that delivers good results but often gets quite heavy and cumbersome after a long photo session.

As we walked around and continued to take pictures, she told me how much her friends liked the teacher’s photos. She said how happy they were with the results while assuring me that she was enjoying our photo session in the park.

I casually asked if she knew what kind of camera the teacher was using, and her response surprised me. Although in hindsight, I suppose I should have seen it coming a mile away. “Oh, he’s got one of those new iPhones with portrait mode,” she replied as my shoulder cramped up just a bit under the weight of my camera gear.

This story illustrates a painful truth about those of us in the photography business; we can’t think of ourselves as just photographers anymore.

Longtime photography veterans have known this for years. But for people like me who are relatively new to photography or those just starting to get serious, there are a few things we need to keep in mind if we want to pursue our hobby and eventually use it to put food on our tables or gear on our shelves.

You are not in the Photography Business - You are in the People Business

You’re in the People Business

As Liam Neeson might say, you have a very particular set of skills as a photographer. You understand lighting and composition. You know how to choose good locations, you get how colors work, and you might be proficient with off-camera flashes and external light meters. Photoshop is your domain and you know Lightroom like the back of your hand.

You probably have a decent amount of gear in your collection, built up over the years thanks to hard work, saving, and honing your craft. The thing is, your clients don’t care about any of that. They aren’t going to be impressed with your Creative Cloud membership or the fact that you have the newest full-frame camera on pre-order from B&H.

What they want are good photos. You and your skill set and gear (and your high price tag) are competing with mobile phones that in the eyes of your client can make awesome photos. So what option do you think your potential clients are going to go with when it’s time to sign on the dotted line? As technology gets more advanced and the line between professional photographer and rank amateur becomes ever blurrier with the increasing capability of mobile phones, you have to do something to differentiate yourself.

Differentiate yourself

There’s a line in the movie Office Space where the manager of a kitschy all-American restaurant is trying to explain why one of his servers needs to wear what he calls “pieces of flair” on her outfit. In a moment of biting condescension, the manager explains that “People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, okay? They come to Chotchkie’s for the atmosphere and the attitude.”

It might seem silly, but as time marches on we photographers have to adopt the same type of work ethic if we want to survive, pick up new clients, and keep existing ones coming back time after time. Photography, whether we like it or not, has been commoditized to the point that anyone can do it and get pretty decent results. So we have to ask ourselves, what do we bring to the table that would make clients want to use our services if what they want, like the cheeseburger example, is available pretty much anywhere?

Focus on the experience

The answer to this lies in the same movie quote. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as photographers first and make our craft one of fun, excitement, engagement, and ultimately create an experience that our clients will remember.

Advertisers have known this for decades. When you see commercials for cars, clothes, or vacation getaways the focus is rarely on the items being sold but the experiences and emotions those brands attempt to create. You can’t rely on years of training or expensive gear to sell yourself as a photographer.

Instead, you have to work hard to create experiences your clients will remember for years to come and also share with others. Whether you photograph weddings, kids, families, high school seniors, or work with clients to take pictures of real estate, products, or promotional materials, you have to make the whole experience something they will appreciate, enjoy, and remember.

Get personal

This might sound complicated but it’s not all that hard to do, and it often involves many simple things. For example, take time to get to know your clients and call them by their first names. If you’re saying things like, “Hey you over there with the red jacket, I need you to scoot over to your left just a bit” that person isn’t going to care how sharp your photos are or that you shot with a really expensive lens! Instead, he will be wondering why he didn’t just pay the neighbor kid $ 50 to shoot pictures with the Canon Rebel camera that he got on sale at Target last week.

Talk with your clients, have fun with them, play with the kids, and ask for their input. Even if you don’t use the shots, they will at least feel like their contributions were valued. And whatever happens, don’t bark out orders like you’re at a military academy.

Make it fun – keep it light

You might be stressed after hours of shooting a wedding, but don’t let your clients see that. Smile, ask people politely to do what you need, but also don’t be afraid to take charge and direct the shoot the way you want it. People appreciate leadership and professionalism, but you can have that without being rude and obnoxious.

Just like in the movie example, people can get photos from anyone nowadays. But they come to you for the fun, excitement, enjoyable attitude, and all the other intangible elements that come together to create a photo session to remember.

Recommendations go a long way

When my wife and I moved from one part of the country to another, several years ago, we had to figure out all sorts of ways to integrate into our new city; where to buy a house, where to shop for groceries, what church to attend, and even mundane decisions like where to get our car repaired when it broke down. I looked through the Yellow Pages phone book (remember those?) and saw page after page of advertisements for mechanics who were Fast, Efficient, Cheap, Highly Trained, Professionally Certified, and The Best in Town. We were so overwhelmed with choices that we just asked around. Several of our friends recommended a particular place that we still go for all our auto repairs, eight years later.

When we talked to our friends about which shop to use, can you guess what they said about the one we ended up choosing? I’ll give you a hint, it had almost nothing to do with the quality of their work. Any auto shop can replace an alternator or change brake pads, but the reason so many people recommended that one particular shop had everything to do with the friendliness, attentiveness, and respectfulness of the staff.

Perception shapes quality

The hard truth of the matter for those of us involved in any type of service industry such as photography is that there is no objective plumb line by which our clients can consistently gauge quality. Just like choosing an auto repair shop, your clients or potential clients would probably be happy getting their pictures taken by any number of professional or amateur photographers in your area.

How they perceive the quality of the final result won’t necessarily be judged by the sharpness of the images, the intricacies of the editing, or the price of the gear used to take said photos. Instead, they will think about the whole experience of getting their pictures taken and use that as a measuring stick by which to judge the quality of the images. It seems strange and perhaps frustrating to those of us who have spent years or decades honing our craft.

But there’s no getting around the fact that the way in which people judge quality is highly influenced by their perception of the experience.

Research proves it

The concept of consumer perception and its role in shaping quality has been studied by researchers for decades. In 1992 J. Joseph Cronin, Jr. and Steven A. Taylor published a paper in the Journal of Marketing in which they concluded that among other things;

  • “Service quality is an antecedent of consumer satisfaction”
  • “Consumer satisfaction has a significant effect on purchase intentions”
  • “Service quality has less effect on purchase intentions than does consumer satisfaction”

The implications of this and other similar research for photographers is profound! Basically, if your clients had a good time at your photography session and were pleased with your service, they will view your photos as higher quality.

Good experience = they will like you = happy clients

So what can you, the humble photographer, do about all this? How can you deliver high-quality results to clients who might be perfectly happy with any other photographer or mobile-phone-wielding teenager in the area?

Differentiate yourself not by the quality of your photos but by the experience you offer. In doing so, your clients will perceive their pictures as sharper, more expressive, and just plain better than others. This is true even if your photos aren’t actually as good on a technical level – which is a real kick in the head for photographers who have amassed years of knowledge, experience, and gear.

Think of the many times you have seen photos that friends and family have posted on social media or sent out in Christmas cards to which your reaction was one of shock and horror. The lighting is all wrong! The background is so distracting! Aunt Ginny is out of focus! Nevertheless, the pictures are seen by the clients as high-quality because they enjoyed the experience as a whole and received an outstanding degree of service. Photographers who can do that are the ones getting likes, shares, recommendations, and bookings.

Improving Customer Experience

In an interview with NPR, Tony Hseih, the founder of the online shoe retailer Zappos, described his approach to selling shoes which, ironically, had nothing at all to do with shoes. He said that as his company grew, “A big turning point was really deciding we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and customer experience.”

He really meant it, and if you visit Zappos you won’t see shoes and handbags that are cheaper than other retailers. They don’t even try to compete on price at all but by offering the best service of any clothing retailer in the market today.

Walker Information, a company that studies business marketing and consumer habits, recently released a study that predicted customer experience as being the single most important way for brands to differentiate themselves by the year 2020. And that, I would argue, is the silver lining to the clouds that can easily darken a photographer’s horizon these days.

I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of this image and I think some of the others I delivered to my client were superior. But the mother was thrilled with it because I had her sprinkle leaves on her daughter while I shot photos. She had fun doing it, and as a result, viewed the final image as high-quality even though there are others that I think are probably better. My client was happy with the picture and that’s what ultimately matters.

Customer service is king

Photography has been available to everyone ever since Kodak invented the Brownie camera in 1900, but never have cameras been so powerful, ubiquitous, or easy to use as they are now. With such a crowded marketplace in which almost anyone can take high-quality photos, (even if you might not think they can hold a candle to your high-res, ultra-sharp, professional-style shots) you have to do something to stand out from the crowd and give people a reason to hire you.

That differentiating factor is the complete customer service experience. From the moment you make the first contact with potential clients, to the photography session, to the communication afterward, and even the way in which you deliver photos all matter. (You’re not handing clients a CD-ROM with watermarked JPG files, are you?)

The trump card you have up your sleeve is that you can do the best of both worlds. You have all the skills that make you a highly capable photographer and you likely have a growing collection of cameras, lenses, and software to help you achieve outstanding results. In addition to that, you can also provide a fantastic all-encompassing photography experience that your clients will remember for years while also recommending you to their friends and family.

I actually see the onset of mobile phones and computational photography as an opportunity, not a threat, and a way for me to show others how my work really does stand out.


I started this article by mentioning a photo session for a high school senior. After I delivered her final edited pictures, what really stuck in my mind was how she and her parents talked about the experience as a whole. Her parents told me how much fun she had and expressed appreciation that I was able to bring their normally camera-shy daughter out of her shell a bit to get some gorgeous images of their daughter that they don’t normally see.

I say this to illustrate a point about the core lesson of this whole article. You are in the photography business, but in today’s world, you can no longer afford to be just a photographer. You have to be so much more.

You have to create memorable experiences for your clients, allow them to elevate the quality of your work because of those experiences, and be attentive to their needs throughout the photography process. Even though this might take a bit of work, the results will pay off in the long run and people will see with their own eyes, and hear from their friends, about why your work is a cut above the rest.

The post Why You are not in the Photography Business – You are in the People Business by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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5 Tips for Mastering Shadows in Your Photography

14 Nov

Walking into a dimly lit room can be a photographer’s worse nightmare. Dark walls, low lighting, and weird shadows are enough to give even the calmest photographer a case of anxiety. Does this sound familiar? It did to me when I was first starting out and claimed to be a natural light photographer.

Because let’s face it, I did not know how to use my flash and more importantly did not know how to read light. Yes, I said that right. As a photographer, you not only see light but also need to learn the art of reading light – the type of light, the quality of light and also how the light will affect your final image.

The more I started to photograph people and places, the more I realized that but finding light among the shadows wasn’t really that scary or daunting.

How to Embrace Shadows in Your Photography

Master the shadows

Imagine for a moment the confidence you would feel if you can walk into any indoor lighting situation and think to yourself, “Yes, I got this”. And I don’t mean using your off-camera flash or strobes to light up the whole scene like the fourth of July fireworks display. I mean using only available light to create some magical photos.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love images taken in natural light as they feel really light, airy, and inviting to me. But shooting in a low-key style, embracing shadows to create some dramatic portraits is just as fun and exciting.

For the past few years, I have felt a little limited in my photography in terms of only photographing in bright, open, natural light conditions. Living in Chicago, our summers are quite short and fall is usually a mix of rain, thunderstorms and more rain. I learned very quickly that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and figure out how to photograph indoors and do it confidently and creatively.

A less I quickly learned is that shadows play such an important role in shaping light, setting the mood, rendering depth, and creating drama. In the absence of floor-to-ceiling multi-windowed, light-filled rooms to photograph in, embracing shadows may be the perfect solution for unleashing your creativity.

#1 Gear choices

Dark and Moody Lifestyle Portraits - How to Embrace Shadows in Your Photography

If you have a choice between prime and zoom lenses, choose the former. Primes are generally considered fast lenses with an aperture of f/1.8 or larger and allow what light there is to reach the camera’s sensor. My Canon 50mm f/1.2 is on my camera 80% of the time I am photographing indoors.

Make sure to also meter appropriately. I use spot metering most of the time and have my center spot set to the brightest area on my subject’s face/skin. This, in itself, will help to get a dramatically lit image. It will expose the highlights properly and allow the rest of the scene to have shadows for a range of tones.

Ensure you expose properly as well. If the capture is underexposed, attempting to correct it in post-processing only adds noise. In general, I tend to overexposure my photos by at least 1/3 stop no matter where I am photographing. I have found that this allows me to minimize noise and retain as much detail as possible in the shadows.

My White Balance is set to Auto. You can choose to set White Balance via the custom Kelvin function so that it can cut down processing time later. I find that being in Auto works really well in most cases and I am okay with minor adjustments in post-processing if required. Learn to embrace a bit of noise by increasing the ISO especially if the room is really dark.

Dark and Moody Lifestye Portraits in Shadows - How to Embrace Shadows in Your Photography

#2 Single light source

A single light source such as a small window or open door can work wonders for your image. When you are working with dark spaces and limited light, you’ll be surprised how little light you actually need.

If you have north-facing windows, they tend to bring in a softer and more directional light as opposed to east or west facing. Those tend to bring strong light depending on where the sun is in the sky at the time you are photographing.

Dark and Moody Wedding Portraits in Shadows - 5 Tips for Mastering Shadows in Your Photography

Backlight magic.

Dark and Moody Wedding Portraits in Shadows - 5 Tips for Mastering Shadows in Your Photography

The bride is facing the window and her profile is evenly lit. But the dark drapes behind her render the background almost black – I quite love the drama of light and dark happening in this photo – achieved by just placing the subject in a specific spot.

#3 Direction and quality of light

Both the direction and the quality of light play significant roles in the mood of an image. So understanding the variety, nature, and use of each will help you make informed decisions about how to achieve your end goal.

Hard, focused light tends to amp up the overall drama of the image, emphasizing texture and detail, and producing contrasty shadows with sharp, defined edges. Soft, diffused light gives shadows soft, feathered edges that recede gently (dither away), making it flattering and versatile for human subjects for the way it minimizes texture and detail (i.e., flaws).

The angle and direction of the light you choose depend on your shooting style and your intent for the image or session. Typically, I do not position the subject facing the light source because it gives a flat, one-dimensional look to the subject’s features. I prefer lighting my subjects from the side for the depth and dimension the shadows give the subject’s features and the rest of the frame.

Backlighting the subject has its uses, particularly if your intent is to somewhat abstract the subject to get an airy, dreamlike feel.

Dark and Moody Wedding Portraits in Shadows - 5 Tips for Mastering Shadows in Your Photography

On the left, the bride is facing the window straight on, so the light on her face is even and soft. On the right, the bride is facing the window but at a 45-degree angle. So her portrait is a mix of more dramatic light as well as darker shadows.

#4 Mathematics in photography

The mathematical law of the Inverse Square describes how the illumination from a light source diminishes over distances.

Imagine the beam of a spotlight as it widens and grows dimmer in the distance. Now center a subject in the beam close to spotlight itself and the light will be harsh. But if you move the subject in a straight line to stand about 6 feet from the light, how much less light is hitting the subject them? With the distance doubled, the light hitting the subject is diminished by three quarters.

In a real-world context, let’s say you’ve got a background to work with and maybe a surface to bounce light into the scene. Plus all kinds of diffusers and filters to modify the light source, and a choice of where to place the subject in relation to the background and the light source as well as placing yourself and the camera.

Generally, you can add drama to the image by positioning your subject close to the light source and away from the background. The light will illuminate the subject and everything behind her will dwindle into shadow. That’s a quick and easy way to create a dark background in-camera. Conversely, placing the subject further from the light source and closer to the background will create a more evenly lit scene with a more gradual shift between light and shadow (the background will be lighter as well).

Dark and Moody Wedding Portraits in Shadows - 5 Tips for Mastering Shadows in Your Photography

On the left, the bride is farther away from the light source and hence she is more in the shadows as compared to the image on the right where she is facing the window light and is closer to the light source. So more of her face is being illuminated with the light coming from the window.

#5 Modify or mold your light source

If you find yourself with an over-abundance of natural/available light, using modifiers is an easy way to control the amount and intensity of the lighting on your subject.

Sheer curtains and blinds can be used to reduce or diffuse light, making it softer and subtler. You can decrease the size of the light source to increase shadows and increase drama with the use of blackout curtains or by partially shutting doors. Remember, the more light you let in, the less intense the shadows.

I hope these examples motivate you to look differently at shadows. There are no photography monsters hiding in them! They are, in fact, quite useful in adding some drama and interest in your photographs.

The post 5 Tips for Mastering Shadows in Your Photography by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

13 Nov

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography


Do you often see faces in inanimate objects? Maybe an old man in a fluffy cloud or a toothy grin smiling back at you from the rear of a car? Most people have never heard of pareidolia but almost everyone has experienced it. Pareidolia is a physiological phenomenon where the mind perceives an image or sound where none actually exist. Although it can cause people to see Jesus on a flour tortilla or form dynamic pictures in the inkblots of Rorschach test, one of the most common symptoms of pareidolia is seeing faces in inanimate objects.

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

As per Meriam-Webster.

A photo of a very smiley cheese grater. Sometimes episodes of pareidolia crop up at the most unexpected of times, in unexpected places.

What is Pareidolia?

One famous example of Pareidolia the many faces of the Moon. In the Northern Hemisphere, a common Western perception of the moon is its apparent facial features. Dubbed the “Man on the Moon”, the figure’s eyes are formed by Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis. The Man on the Moon’s nose is Sinus Aestuum and its wide open mouth is Mare Nubium and Mare Cognitum.

Another European tradition sees the figure of a man etched into the moon’s surface, carrying a sack on his back. While many stories from Asian folklore and Aztec mythology recognize the presence of a Moon rabbit.

Another space-related pareidolia event came about when a satellite photo of a mesa formation on Mars was dubbed the “Face on Mars”. The face was cited as evidence of extraterrestrial habitation on the planet. It turned out to be a natural rock formation.

But not every incidence of pareidolia happens out in space. Rock or tree formations may come to mimic facial features through weather and erosion. On a smaller scale, cars are often said to have “faces”, constructed from the two headlights which take on the appearance of eyes. Often anything that includes a few circles and a line as a mouth can register as a face to the human eye.

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

A cute little face formed by holes in a traffic bollard

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

The windows of an old house form an eerily familiar face.

What causes pareidolia?

Researchers have a few theories as to why pareidolia occurs. Part of it could be due to our evolutionary heritage, a sensitivity to detecting faces for safety. While it has also been suggested that pareidolia is a consequence of the brain’s information processing system.

Constantly sifting through random lines, shapes, surfaces, and colors, the brain tries to pair input with memories stored in our long-term retention of knowledge. This results in ambiguous visual information being interpreted as something we can understand more easily.

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

Pareidolia and photography

Ever catch your mind wondering, making out faces and shapes in inanimate objects? While you are off daydreaming, your mind continues to work hard at understanding its host’s surroundings. This is a great way to relax and allow inspiration to come to you naturally.

Watching figures in clouds drift overhead isn’t just peaceful, its a reflection on the inner workings of your own creativity. Many artists have harnessed pareidolia as a form of inspiration and insight. Leonardo da Vinci described pareidolia as a device for painters, writing that;

“If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and various groups of hills. You’ll also be able to see diverse combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces and outlandish costumes and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms”.

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

As photographers, we often pursue beauty in subjects that go unseen to the casual eye. So it’s not unusual for us to encounter pareidolia on a day-to-day basis. But although shadows in the night and weird rock formations can look a little creepy, pareidolia gives us a great opportunity to harness the phenomena to create psychologically engaging and even humorous bodies of work.

Faces in objects can be extremely evocative for a viewer. It’s almost like holding up a mirror to our own interpretations of a space. Addressing a phenomenon that bridges the gap between the known and the ambiguous adds personality to an image. The shared experience of pareidolia is also a great discussion topic.

Having people gather around an image to discuss and compare what they see creates an energy and a connection with the image and those viewing it. Discussing and comparing what different viewers see in an object creates energetic conversation and a greater bond with a photographic image as well as other viewers.

Do you see faces?

These kinds of personal ties to an image create lasting experiences. So what about you? Do you experience pareidolia? How has it impacted your photographic practice? I’d love to see your findings in the comments section below!

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

A cute little pair of eyes and an elongated mouth on my iPhone casing.

What is Pareidolia and how to use it in Your Photography

While cooking I looked at this cross-section of an onion and saw the face of a frog staring back at me!

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