Posts Tagged ‘Tips’

5 Tips for How to Photograph in Any Kind of Weather

23 Nov

If you live anywhere in the northern hemisphere, you must have realized by now that fall is over and winter is slowly but surely creeping up on us. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing color (or gone) and here in Chicago, the rain is your constant companion until it gets replaced by snow!

Now if you are primarily an outdoor natural light photographer, you quickly understand that one of the most challenging aspects of your work is the fact that you are so dependent on the weather. You have very little control over it in spite of what the weather man says!

Photographing landscapes in any weather - fog

The weather can change almost instantly and ruin some of the best-laid plans for photography excursions and photoshoots. One of the best things you can do is to be prepared to photograph in any kind of weather. With these few simple tips and prep-work, you can continue working in the natural outdoor light as opposed to indoor studio light.

#1 – Full Sun / Bright Light

The sun in all its glory is a beautiful light source and can make any subject pop. Regarded by some as the ideal photographing conditions, bright sun can create a scenario where you have beautiful light and the ability to experiment with shadows.

Sure, some people may think that bright light is bad for portraits, but it all comes down to how you use the light. A great tip for photographing in the bright midday sun is taking pictures in open shade. This is when you position your subject in a shady part of the frame that’s closer to the light. You can also use a reflector if needed to bounce light from the sun onto the subject.

Add a fill light

You can also choose to use a flash to light your subject. In a pinch, use a natural reflector like a bright sidewalk or light color building to do the same if a flash or reflector is not handy. When you are photographing landscapes, it is likely that the whole scene is evenly fit. Here you can try exposing for the whole scene or even underexpose a tad in order to not blow out the sky and retain some detail in the clouds.

Of course, if you are photographing in raw these edits can be done in post-processing also.

Photographing portraits in any weather - full sun

This image was taken at the brightest time of day during a visit to the Coliseum in Rome. There was no open shade and I just couldn’t place the subject in any other spot because it was so crowded. Plus the intent of this image was to showcase my daughter in Rome for her class project that was all about ancient Rome. So this is the best I could do given my limitations. You can see the shadows on her face and on her shoulder!

Photographing landscapes in any weather - bright sun

I wanted to capture the essence of the Tuscan countryside – rolling hills, vineyards and tiny villages. There was no real shade or even too many clouds in the sky so I just took this wide angle shot to showcase the expanse of the countryside and the hills that make up the beauty of Tuscany.

#2 – Cloudy / Overcast skies

Photographers love overcast skies. Here the clouds act as a large natural diffuser and spread the light from the sun evenly all over the surface area. Overcast days are known for their diffused light. For some photographers, these are ideal conditions for shooting portraits as your subject will be evenly lit and there are no undesirable shadows or harsh lighting. If you find this type of light too flat and lacking dimension, you can always add an external flash to add some drama to your images.

Photographing in any weather - cloudy skies

The day was cloudy and overcast with rain predicted in the forecast for this family photo shoot. I had to add some warmth in post-production because everyone was looking a little washed out. The positive to the overcast sky is that there were no harsh shadows to deal with.

If you’re shooting landscapes in this type of weather, you will soon realize that a gray sky doesn’t add much to the scene. This is not to say that these types of images are bad. I try and photograph architecture shots with some creative negative space when dealing with overcast skies. I find that this sort of weather is great for bringing focus to the subject alone without any distraction from a blue sky and puffy clouds.

If you want to add some drama to a landscape shot during overcast conditions, perhaps you can wait for some dark, stormy could to roll on in and capture the weather-related drama in your landscape shot.

Photographing landscapes in any weather - cloudy skies

It had just rained in Vrindhavan, India and the dark clouds were slowly moving out. The day was overcast and since I did not have too much time at the banks of the river, I chose to showcase the temple with a reflection in the water to add some interest and drama.

#3 – Rain

A rainy day presents its own challenge in terms of keeping expensive gear and your subject dry and comfortable. You can always use an umbrella to protect your gear and as a creative prop in your portrait shots by simply using it as part of the shoot. As an alternative, look for areas that are shielded from the rain, such as alleyways, tree canopies, building overhangs, and other such elements.

Try taking a wide-angle shot that takes in the area, subject, and the atmosphere to tell your story and make it a little bit more interesting. The biggest challenge you face is the need to protect your gear as well as be creative in your shots. There are many options out there to protect your gear but sometimes just a simple grocery bag over the camera will do the trick!

Photographing landscapes in any weather - rain

Driving through Theodore National Park just after the rain rendered the landscape such a vibrant array of green and yellow.

Photographing portraits in any weather - rain

Photographing in the rain or snow for that matter presents another challenge in that the rain/snow may cause your autofocus to change mid-shoot. A good tip would be to focus on the subject and then lock it. Also, try using a lens hood so no rain/snow falls on the actual lens surface. My feathered friend was either having a bath in the rain or waiting patiently for me to leave so he could get back to his hunting! I lost focus a couple of time but then used the focus lock (or you can use back button focus) and the lens hood to eliminate that problem.

Photographing portraits in any weather - rain

I absolutely love photographing these birds and luckily for me, they come often to the pond behind my house. My lens was well protected but I got drenched during this shoot.

#4 – Fog

I don’t know about you, but the fog is probably my favorite kind of weather in which to photograph. I love the way fog adds an element of mystique and interest without doing much. In technical terms, on a foggy day, the water particles in the air redirect the light rays, spreading them out more evenly. This almost acts like a giant softbox along the area in the fog giving you beautiful diffused light.

Experiment in the fog to find the camera settings that best suit your needs but I have found that foggy conditions require longer exposures than normal since you are essentially dealing with overall less light. You can use a tripod to help reduce any camera shake. Keep in mind that like snow, fog is reflective, and it can fool your camera’s meter into thinking that there’s more light in the scene there actually is. Use exposure compensation just as you would when shooting a snowy landscape and even overexpose by a few stops if needed.

Other considerations

Again, if you photograph in RAW you can always edit to taste in post-processing. But I have found that when your image is underexposed, increasing the exposure in post-production adds noise in the shadows.

Another thing to note is that on foggy days finding focus might be an issue because everything around you is hazy and not quite clear. Here you can use manual focusing if your camera is having trouble focusing on the subject among all the fog.

Photographing landscapes in any weather - fog

Fog adds just the right kind of magic to any landscape in my opinion. I have been known to stop the car, stand in the middle of the road to document landscapes such as these….don’t judge!

bad weather - fog

The best kind of fog is when you have a deserted beach, sea stacks and tiny humans having fun exploring the tidal pools!

#5 – Snow

If you’re taking pictures as it’s snowing, be sure to cover your camera as it is essentially the same as shooting in rain. If you are out and about after it has snowed, keep in mind that the road conditions and walkways can be treacherous.

I have slipped and fallen a couple of times in the snow with my gear and it always makes me very nervous. The worse was when I fell in Yellowstone National Park right before attending a Winter Landscapes workshop. My wide angle lens suffered some damage and I was unable to use it during the class because let’s face it, Yellowstone is in the middle of nowhere so no chance of an urgent repair!

Another thing to ensure is adequate protection for yourself from the elements. Being outside in the snow can get quite uncomfortable especially if you are outdoors for an extended period of time. Make sure you cover your extremities from overexposure to the elements. Hand warmers and foot warmers are great for keeping fingers and toes warm and cozy when out photographing in the cold.

Also, keep in mind that camera batteries tend to drain faster in colder weather, so ensure that you have fully charged spare batteries handy. From a technical standpoint, snow is a very reflective surface, so ensure that your camera is metering effectively and not blowing out the snow if it is part of your frame.

Photographing portraits in any weather - snow

My biggest tip for photographing in the snow – wear layers and thermals. Then the sky is the limit in terms of the amount of fun you can have! I tend to underexpose just a tiny bit so that I don’t lose all detail in the snow.


I hope you have realized by now that mastering photography in any weather conditions really boils down to being prepared and knowing exactly what to expect. Go out and practice in each of these situations so that you know all the things that you need to be aware of. Then the next time the weather gods decide to have a little fun at your expense, you will be well prepared.

Do you have any other tips to help master photography in any weather, feel free to let the community know in the comments section below.

The post 5 Tips for How to Photograph in Any Kind of Weather by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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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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Video Tutorials and Tips for Shooting Blue Hour

18 Nov

Blue hour is a fantastic time to get out and do some night photography. Yes, you read that right – night photography is best done before it’s actually night time.

To help you out with blue hour photography here are three videos with examples and tips.

How to shoot at blue hour with filters

Ray Salisbury takes you on location at blue hour and demonstrates how he scouts a location for the best spot, finds a good composition and uses filters.

Get the timing right for blue hour

In this next video photography education guru Brian Peterson gives you tips for getting the timing just right when shooting blue hour. He’s on location in Las Vegas.

Blue hour photography examples

Finally, Brendan Van Son is shooting blue hour in Leiden, Netherlands. In this video, you can see how the length of blue hour varies greatly depending on your geographic location.

The farther away from the equator you are, the long blue hour will last. Where I live it’s usually about an hour, so it’s frustrating for me that it’s so quick in more tropical locations I like to visit. So you really have to plan ahead and be prepared when that is the case.

I hope that gives you some good blue hour shooting tips. Now get out there and give it a try.

The post Video Tutorials and Tips for Shooting Blue Hour by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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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 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.

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6 Tips for Mastering Your Lenses

13 Nov

Most photographers have a favorite lens (you can read about mine here), maybe even two or three. But do you know how to get the best out of that lens? I’ve used lots of lenses over the years. As a result, I know that it takes time to get to know a lens, and longer still to master it. These tips will help you work your way through that process.

Mastering camera lenses

1. Use the lens exclusively for a month

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell put forward the now-famous idea that true mastery of a skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. The idea of putting in your 10,000 hours applies to photography as a whole rather than using a single lens. But there’s no doubt that by using the same lens, and no other, for an extended period of time it will help you get to know that lens really well.

You can put this idea into practice in a small way by taking just one camera and one lens out on a shoot. For example, if you have a portrait shoot then take along a short telephoto prime lens. If you’re shooting landscapes, take a wide-angle lens.

Mastering camera lenses

I often take just a single lens on a portrait shoot. The only lens I had on me for this one was an 85mm short telephoto.

You can take it further and extend the exercise for a week, a month, or even longer. It’s up to you.

This exercise is easiest with a prime lens. If you do it with a zoom I suggest that you pick one focal length and stick to that. The idea is to get familiar with how a specific focal length behaves. You can’t do that if you are zooming from one to the other.

2. Test your lenses at all apertures

Part of mastering your lenses is getting to know how they each perform at various apertures. There are two things to consider here – technical performance and aesthetic quality.

No lens gives consistent image quality across its aperture range. All lenses are softer at their widest and narrowest aperture settings than the middle ones.

If you tend to use small apertures when you take photos (perhaps you are a landscape photographer) then you need to be aware of an effect called diffraction that creates a softening effect as you stop down. Yes, you get more depth of field at f/22, but photos taken at f/11 or f/16 may be sharper overall.

Test your lenses to see where the visible effects of diffraction kick in. That way you know the smallest aperture you are happy using, in relation to sharpness for each lens in your kit.

At the other end of the scale, a lens is always softer at its widest aperture. If your favorite lens is a prime then you probably open the aperture to create bokeh. As you stop down the depth of field increases, there is less bokeh, and the image gets sharper.

The key is to find the balance between bokeh and image quality. For example, I find that when I make portraits with a short telephoto lens I get the best results at f/2.8. More of the model’s face is in focus and the bokeh still has a beautiful quality. You can see the difference in the two portraits below.

Mastering camera lenses

3. Zoom lenses – test at different focal lengths

The situation becomes a little more complicated with zoom lenses. This is because you have an extra variable – focal length. Not only does sharpness vary according to the aperture, but focal length has an effect too. Very few zoom lenses give equal optical quality across their entire focal length range.

When it comes to zoom lenses I prefer to think of them as several prime lenses in one. For example, when I owned a 17-40mm zoom I tended to set it to 24 or 35mm for most of my shoots (these focal lengths were conveniently marked on the barrel). At other times I would use 17mm if I wanted a real ultra wide-angle effect or 40mm. So, to me, it was four lenses in one – a 17mm, 24mm, 35mm and 40mm lens.

These photos show the difference between the 17mm and 40mm focal lengths on this lens.

Mastering camera lenses

Mastering camera lenses

This approach simplifies the task of getting to know your zoom lens because you are getting to know it at three or four focal lengths rather than across the entire range.

4. Zoom with your feet

Regardless of whether your favorite lens is a prime or a zoom it is helpful to zoom with your feet rather than use the zoom ring (of course, if you have a prime lens you have no choice in the matter!) Zooming with your feet is an expression used to describe the process of moving physically closer to or farther away from your subject to change its size in the frame, rather than using the zoom ring on a zoom lens.

For zoom lens owners, this comes back to the earlier idea of a zoom lens being three or four prime lenses in one. For example, if you have an 18-55mm kit lens then your lens behaves very differently at different focal lengths. At 18mm it’s a wide-angle lens ideal for subjects like landscapes. At 55mm it’s a short telephoto lens that you can use for portraits.

In terms of perspective, both focal lengths are very different. You will only learn about perspective and the way it changes as you move closer to or further from your subject if you stick to using your zoom lens at a single focal length. If you use the zoom ring to change subject size, you won’t learn about perspective.

For example, with an 18-55mm lens set to 18mm, you need to get fairly close to the subject to obtain the dramatic perspective associated with wide-angle lenses.

Mastering camera lenses

If you are further away from the subject the perspective is much less dramatic.

Mastering camera lenses

5. Try different subjects

We tend to think of lenses as associated with specific subjects. For example, wide-angle lenses are ideal for landscapes, and short telephoto lenses are brilliant for portraiture.

But what if you mix it up a little? What happens if you use a short telephoto for landscape photography or a wide-angle for portraiture? The idea is to take yourself out of your comfort zone and find creative ways to use your favorite lenses. Ways that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you before.

If you use a wide-angle lens for portraiture you will soon find that if you get too close to your model then it’s going to create some very unflattering effects. But what if you step back and include more of your environment? Suddenly you’re taking a very different approach than you would with a short telephoto lens. Experiments like these can add new skills and new ways of working to your repertoire.

I made this portrait with my 17-40mm zoom set to 17mm.

Mastering camera lenses

6. Push your composition to the limit

The final tip is to push your composition to the limit. It’s all about taking various techniques to the extreme and seeing what you can do with them.

If you have a wide-angle lens, what happens if you get as close to your subject (whatever it is) as you can? What happens if you use the widest aperture setting instead of a smaller one?

If you have a telephoto lens how can you maximize the compressed perspective that those lenses give you? What subjects can you shoot to make the most of the layered effect you can get with a longer lens?

This is a process of experimentation. Not all of your experiments will work. But when they do, just as with the previous tip, you’ll be adding new skills to your repertoire.

Here is a landscape photo that was taken with a telephoto lens.

Mastering camera lenses

Next steps

Hopefully, these tips have given you some ideas for working with and getting to know your favorite lenses. Instead of fantasizing about the next lens you are going to buy (dreams are nice, but new lenses are expensive!) how about learning to make the most out of the ones you already own?

You may find that true creativity lays as much in pushing the lenses you already own to their limits as it does with buying new gear.

You can learn more about lenses, and how to get the most out of them, in my ebook Mastering Lenses. It also contains a buying guide to help you make wise choices when you buy your next lens!

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Video Tutorials – Tips for Better Street Photography

10 Nov

Street photography is a great way to get out taking pictures, even in your own city. There is always something interesting you can find doing this kind of photography. Here are some videos to help you out with your street photography and taking better photos.

Street Photography for Beginners

In this video, Josh Katz gives some very practical tips on doing street photography including camera settings, and how to find good subjects. Even if you’re not new to street photography there are some good nuggets in here – give it a watch.

10 Simple Street Photography Tips

Here is a video from a photographer from Mumbai, India. You’ll see that his images may be more exotic than your locale, but the 10 tips are applicable wherever you live.

Now it’s your turn to get out there and do some shooting. Both videos mentioned the same tip – that photography is about experimenting, trying things and just doing it.

Happy shooting.

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Tips for Shooting Cityscapes Through a Window at Blue Hour

10 Nov

Shooting cityscape photos from inside a building (such as an observation deck of a tower, hotel room, etc.) pose a different set of challenges that you won’t experience shooting outdoors. Here are a few easy-to-follow tips for shooting the city at blue hour, with a focus on how to eliminate unwanted reflections from the glass.

Japan - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Shanghai - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Vietnam - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

The reflection-free shots above of Fukuoka skyline (Japan, top), Shanghai skyline (China, center) and Ho Chi Minh City skyline (Vietnam, bottom) were shot through glass windows of Fukuoka Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory and Bitexco Financial Tower respectively – following the methods described in this tutorial.

Bring a mini-tripod

In order to shoot at blue hour, a tripod is essential whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors. But some observation decks don’t allow tripods because they are seen as a hindrance for other visitors. In that case, you may try to bring in a mini-tripod like a Gorillapod, as it’s unlikely to disturb other non-photography visitors.

Even if tripods are allowed, you may as well bring a mini tripod just in case, as it comes in handy when there is no suitable space to set up a regular tripod.

Gorillapod - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Wipe the glass with a cloth

Glass windows of an observation deck aren’t always clean. Make sure to keep a cloth in your camera bag so that you can wipe an area to shoot through if it’s dirty. Obviously, you can’t wipe the other side of the window, though, so choose an area that has no stains, etc.

How to eliminate reflections off the window

This is the biggest challenge when taking photos through a glass window. The window works much like a mirror and it’s hard to completely prevent reflections (e.g. such as yourself, room lights) from showing up.

Typical tips to follow are shooting in close and as straight as possible to the glass (i.e. leaving a little gap between the glass and the lens so as not to let indoor lights creep in) and using a polarizing filter which helps cut reflections to some extent. Aside from these tips, I’d recommend the following “tools”.

Reflections - Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Ho Chi Minh City skyline (Vietnam) shot through the window of Bitexco Financial Tower. I tried my best by getting the lens really close to the window (almost touching it) and using a polarizing filter, but the room interior and stray lights still got reflected in the glass.

Using a DIY blackout curtain

This might be an old-school method, but I recently came across a photographer doing this on the observation deck of Shanghai World Financial Center (see below). Not advisable to use such a large curtain, though, as it blocks the view for other visitors and you’ll run the risk of being asked to leave by floor staff.

Blackout curtain Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Using a black jacket

I used to rely on this method and it worked relatively well. Set up a tripod very close to the window, and cover the whole rig (camera and tripod) with a black jacket to create a closed-in area around the camera so that no indoor lights get inside the jacket. Make sure to use a “black” jacket to reduce reflections, as a lighter-colored jacket does more harm than good and causes even more reflections.

Using black neck gaiter

This used to be my favourite method, as it doesn’t really catch the unwanted attention of other visitors (compared to using the jacket, etc.). The concept here is the same as using a jacket. To block any stray lights from getting in, wrap the black neck gaiter (neck warmer or scarf) around the lens and push the whole setup (camera and tripod) onto the window to completely shade the front element of the lens.

Jacket neck gaiter - Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Using a black jacket (left) and a black neck gaiter (right) to shade the front element of the lens and cut reflections from the window.

Using a lenskirt

A lenskirt is a tool specifically created to cut out reflections. This is what I’ve been using for the past few years with great success. By attaching a lenskirt to the front of your lens and the pushing suction cups onto the window, it shades the front element of the lens. This helps cut reflections from the window, leaving no chance for any stray light to get in.

With a black neck gaiter, I always had to make sure not to have vignetting (dark corners) by checking through the viewfinder (due to the edges of the neck gaiter getting too close to the lens). But the window-facing end of a lenskirt opens up like a softbox, so there is no worry of any edge vignetting being introduced.

Lenskirt - Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour


I hope these tips help you take reflection-free cityscape photos through glass windows of an observation deck on your next visit.

Lastly, you may wonder why I didn’t mention a rubber lens hood (which is said to work well for shooting through glass). I’ve tried it before but found it prone to vignetting, especially at a wide angle like 18mm or wider. And, when shooting cityscape photos from high above like an observation deck, you’re very likely to shoot wide, therefore I’ve excluded it from the list.

If you have any other tips or experiences using these suggested tools in this post, please share them in the comments below.

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3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

08 Nov

So what exactly is shutter speed? In its simplest form, shutter speed refers to the length of time that your camera sensor is exposed to light (the shutter stays open) while taking a photo. A faster shutter speed thus lets in less light and a slower shutter speed lets in more light.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

You may already be aware that shutter speed is one of the three elements of the Exposure Triangle that work in tandem. Thus changing your shutter speed leads to changing one of the two other elements (aperture and ISO) to compensate for your exposure.

Of the three, shutter speed is the one that allows you the most creative versatility. If you want to use shutter speed to make more artistic choices, let’s start with some basics.

1) Freezing Motion

Freezing action or motion happens at faster shutter speeds and literally captures a moment in time. If the shutter is open for a long time and your subject is moving, it looks blurred. On the converse side, when you have a faster shutter speed, any movement (blur) is less noticeable as it’s more frozen.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

Sports photographers especially, take advantage of freezing motion techniques. Capturing that moment a player strikes a ball, crossing a finish line or just as that knockout punch is delivered is important in that genre of photography.

2) Panning

Panning is a technique where your moving object appears in focus, but the background appears to be moving at a higher speed. When using this technique, pick a subject that moves across your field of vision from side to side and not coming toward or moving away from you.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

Pre-focusing at the distance where the subject will be when you shoot is a good habit. This is because autofocus can easily switch your camera focus to the background, instead of keeping it on the subject.

Lastly, your follow-through is a very important aspect of panning.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

For example, if you are shooting a car, pre-focus on the road or area where the car will be. Then aim your camera in the direction that the car is coming from, and when it is almost in front of you, hold down the shutter button (make sure to set it to high-speed burst mode) and move your camera with the car’s movements.

Note: Pre-focusing helps you minimize shutter lag.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

This technique takes some practice but is a lot of fun. If you find that your background is still sharp, use a slower shutter speed and retry. For best results, try and match the speed at which you pan with the speed of the object.

3) Slowing it down

Slow shutter times are when you leave the camera shutter open for much longer than normal. This is a highly creative effect and helps you show motion like movement in a crowd, light trails or fast flowing water. With slower shutter speeds, a tripod is an essential asset to avoid camera shake. You can also invest in a remote trigger or cable release to minimize shake even more.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

When your shutter is open for long periods of time, you risk having too much light enter your camera. To help with this, you can use a smaller aperture (higher f-number), shoot at a low ISO, or cut the amount of light using filters.

Neutral Density (ND) filters are a landscape photographer’s best friend when it comes to shooting long exposures during the day. Slower shutter shooting is more widely known as long exposure photography.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

An extremely long exposure here has made the water smooth and dreamy.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

A faster shutter speed here has partially frozen the crashing wave.

Bonus: light painting with the shutter opened

This technique, also called light painting, is where you make images in a dark place (usually) by moving a hand-held light source (or by moving the camera), while your shutter is open. If you are moving the light source, you need the camera to be steady.

3 Tips for Experimenting with Shutter Speed Creatively

As in the previous tip, a tripod is recommended, but nothing is wrong with embracing blur as part of your creative technique. Once you are ready, dial in a slow shutter speed and set up a timer. Now use any handheld light source (e.g. torch, flashlight, light-stick or cellphone) to “paint” in your scene. It’s a cool approach you can use when storytelling.


Do you have a favorite way to use shutter speed creatively? Are you a fan of freezing motion or do you prefer long exposures? Have you ever tried panning or light painting? Share some of your work with us in the comments below.

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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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