Archive for March, 2017

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Wildlife Photography

31 Mar

I first started photography almost 10 years ago, and I sometimes wonder where I would be if I knew what I know now, back at the start. I feel like I’ve learned the most important things about wildlife photography in the last 4-5 years, with the time prior to that being spent juggling schoolwork alongside my hobby.

The hardest part about getting really good at something is at the start. It can feel impossible to take a decent image when you’re comparing yourself to the stunning work you see online all the time. Maybe you’re even taking lessons, but feel like there’s some kind of barrier that you can’t bust through to photographic greatness above.

While we’re all still learning, whatever stage we’re at, I hope that some of these tips will help you fast track your photography. Hopefully, you can avoid some of the mistakes I made early on when I first started doing wildlife photography.

#1 Single-point focus is a must

There are few situations, other than perhaps birds in flight, where you would want to use anything but the single-point focus mode on your camera. If you allow the camera to select the best focus point itself, you’ll easily have an image of an animal with its body sharp but eyes out of focus. This kills the shot – instantly.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Wildlife Photography

When you’ve switched to single-point focus, you can dictate exactly where the camera will look to focus. Point that little black square at the eyes of your subject and the rest will start to fall into place. Just be extra sure that you aren’t focusing on the nose, or beak, of an animal rather than the eyes. It’s an easy mistake to make in a small viewfinder. After that, no longer will you need to trash that super cute shot of a squirrel just because the eyes are not sharp.

#2 Semi-automatic modes are your friends

I want to address a common misconception I hear again and again. This is that anything other than full manual mode is cheating and not proper photography. While I insist that everyone should learn how to use their camera in full manual, there is no reason to add extra obstacles in your way to a great photo.

With wildlife photography, everything is moving so quickly and the light is constantly changing. Most of the time when shooting in full manual, you’re just introducing a load of unnecessary wheels to spin and adjust to account for the tiniest change in light.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Wildlife Photography

Photo: Mario Calvo /

But, that’s also not to say that photographers using semi-automatic modes aren’t capable of shooting in full manual. Having to continuously adjust settings in a fraction of a second will most definitely make you miss opportunities. Plus, when you really understand how full manual works, it takes only a little thought to adjust and perfect the exposure. It just adds time to the process.

Semi-automatic modes take away this chore, meaning you can focus more on composition and other, arguably more important, ingredients that make up a great photo. You can still have control over your exposure, fine-tuning it using exposure compensation. I have lost count of the number of shots I missed when I insisted on solely using full manual mode at the start of my photographic journey.

The shooting modes I’m referring to are Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and full Manual with Auto-ISO. Take a look at this article I’ve written about which of these is best for certain situations: Why Semi-automatic Mode is the Best Choice for Wildlife Photography

#3 Organization is key

By alborzshawn

My biggest regret is never properly organizing my photos. I only started to do this vigorously back in 2015, which I am quite ashamed to say! I use Adobe Lightroom, and it just makes life so much easier. Creating a catalog of my images, I can keyword and easily find them all. Collections allow me to sort through specific shoots quickly, and the delete button is never too far away either with a tap of the X key on my keyboard.

Deleting images is something that we all need to do, but it’s never easy. But be brave, and if a shot isn’t up to scratch then make sure to haul it out of your catalog and into the trash. If you don’t, you’ll end up with hard drives full of thousands of pictures and you’ll never be able to find the good ones hidden within them.

It’s good practice to make sure you dig through all the photos from a shoot fairly quickly. Remove the blurred and rubbish frames so that you don’t procrastinate and find down the line that you still have to prune the images from a shoot a few years ago. Whoops!

#4 You don’t need to fill the frame

I always thought that a good wildlife photo filled the frame with the subject. If it was too far away, then there was no shot to be had. How wrong I was! The style of minimalist wildlife photography, having the subject small in the frame, is becoming increasingly popular nowadays. Perhaps styles and tastes have changed in the field since I first started out, but either way, it is something I wish I had experimented with more when I was younger.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Wildlife Photography

This is great news for those of you who don’t have access to large telephoto lenses, too. It means you don’t need to go and shell out thousands for a 500mm prime lens when you can get shots that are just as good with a shorter telephoto (or even a wide lens).

Keep the subject small and introduce the environment around it into the scene. You might need to adjust your aperture to increase the depth of field, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Since the surroundings will become a larger part of the shot, perhaps you want them to be more in focus than usual.

#5 You don’t need to stick to a normal aspect ratio

One thing that I’ve only started to do within the last year or so, is to play with the aspect ratio of my photos. You don’t need to stick to the standard that pops out of your camera. Try cropping into a square, or even creating a panoramic shot, to make long photos that capture a wider view than normal.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Wildlife Photography

A colony of guillemots on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. One individual is attempting to land and squeeze into the group.

Experimenting with the aspect ratio of your photo makes them stand out too. Immediately people notice that the photo doesn’t fall into normal ratios, and pay attention to the shot. I really like these long, snaky frames. I feel they tend to work well with scenes that have a large number of focal points within them. For example, this image of the guillemots has so many different birds that you can look at in detail. The long frame creates a sense of a large colony of birds, and works well to get rid of the unnecessary sky above that would be there with a standard ratio.

In Conclusion

We can’t all be experts from the word go, I still have loads to learn about wildlife photography. But hopefully, some of these tips will help you to buck the trend and let you benefit from some of the things I wish I knew when I first started clicking wildlife photography.

The post 5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Wildlife Photography by Will Nicholls appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ come with ‘infinity display’ and multi-frame processing

31 Mar

Samsung has today announced its new flagship smartphones Galaxy S8 and S8+ at simultaneous events in London and New York. The new devices’ outstanding feature is the new infinity display which combines curved display edges with minimal bezels, allowing for a screen that covers almost the entire front of the devices. This means the home button is now implemented underneath the display but works in the same way as before.

Display size is pretty much the only difference between the new models. The S8 comes with a 5.8″ screen, and at 6.2″ the S8+ is a touch larger. The 2960 x 1440 resolution is the same on both new phones, though.

While the new displays looks impressive, the camera department has unfortunately less innovation to show off. From a hardware point of view the S8 generation is, at least on paper, identical to its predecessor. A 1/2.5″ 12MP sensor with dual-pixel AF is combined with a fast F1.7 aperture and optical image stabilization.

There is some news on the software side of things, though. A new multi-frame technology captures three photos and then selects the clearest image and uses the other two to reduce motion blur. Samsung says the merging of frames also results in better detail and exposures in low light. A new camera user interface allows for easier one-handed operation. The camera resolution at the front has been upped from 5 to 8MP and there is now also a face-detection AF. At F1.7 the aperture is the same as in the main camera. 

In terms of processing power the S8 and S8+ offer the very best. Android 7.0 is, depending on region powered by Qualcomm’s latest flagship chipset Snapdragon 835 or Samsung’s own Exynos 8895. 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage are on board as well. The new models are also IP68 certified for environmental protection and come with both a fingerprint reader on the back and an iris scanner for increased security. Samsung’s new Bixby voice assistant is on board as well and the optional DeX dock converts the devices into a Windows Continuum-style desktop. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be available from April 21st. No pricing information has been made available yet. 

Key specifications:

  • 12MP 1/2.5″ CMOS sensor with 1.4-micron pixels
  • F1.7 aperture
  • OIS
  • On-sensor phase detection
  • 4K video
  • 1080p@120fps slow-motion
  • 8MP, F1.7 front camera with AF
  • 5.8″ (S8) / 6.2″ (S8+) display with 2960×1440 resolution
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 or Samsung Exynos 8895 chipset (depending on region)
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage
  • microSD-slot up to 256GB
  • 3000mAh (S8) / 3000mAh (S8+) battery
  • Fingerprint sensor and iris scanner
  • IP68 certification

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8 Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

31 Mar

It’s good to keep moving forward and trying new things all the time. There are times when going back to an old photography location can be a great idea, though. Even if you have a stellar photo from that location it doesn’t mean you can’t get an equally good image that has different characteristics.

The easiest places to make return visits to are of course those local to you, but heading back to that far-off exotic destination is also rewarding. Let’s take a look at those eight reasons to revisit a photography location, and why this will improve your work.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

This is a great vantage point in Busan. I returned to this location to take this photo.

1 – Conditions are never the same!

The earth is a constantly changing and dynamic entity, that means you’ll almost certainly get a different image if you go to the exact same spot and photograph it again. There are even projects that show the same location photographed every day, with the intent of showing subtle changes. You don’t need to go every day, of course, but you might take a shot of the location in the snow, and one in the sun.

The following is a list of variables that should ensure you can return to a photography location, and get something different from it each time.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

A different angle of the bridge in Busan. This time photographed from the coast.

  • Season –  Provided you live in a temperate area that sees a change of the seasons, you can make the most of this with your photography. Taking shots of the same location in spring, summer, fall and winter is a classic photography idea.
  • The tide  If you’re in a coastal location the change in the tides can alter the scene you photograph dramatically. You can check the state of the tide at this website, and remember to stay safe in coastal areas.
  • The sun position – This is similar to the seasonal change, though the position of the sun could make or break the photo more than if there is snow or not. The position of the sun can be planned before you go back using the suncalc website.
  • Astro-photography – You may have photographed a place by day, but how about photographing it at night? You could try photographing star trails, or even the Milky Way. As with the sun, the position of the Milky Way shifts in the sky throughout the year, so prior planning is needed when shooting the night sky.
8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

Everything looks great with snow! Snow is one of the best weather conditions in which to shoot.

2 – Revisit a photography location with brand new gear!

New photography equipment can really open up other creative angles that you’d never thought of before. One of the best pieces of equipment any new photographer can purchase is a tripod, which will then open up the door to lots of long exposure photography.

The addition of a new lens to your camera equipment will open up yet further possibilities, especially if you’re trying a wide-angle or fisheye lens for the first time. Those who like light painting should look at the pixelstick, a great tool for this type of photography.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

New gear is a great reason to revisit a photo location. In this photo I used a glass ball, it’s one of the first photos I took with it.

3 – New photography techniques

New gear often means learning a new technique. There are plenty of techniques you can learn with your existing gear.

As a landscape photographer, you may have photographed a location before using a technique like digital blending. Of course, once you know this new technique you’ll want to revisit a photography location and see if you can improve on your old shots. Equally, if you’re a portrait photographer learning to use

Equally, if you’re a portrait photographer learning to use off-camera flash will really enhance your work. This would give you a good reason to go back and shoot a place again.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

A new technique such as steel wool spinning can lead you to revisit a photography location.

4 – A special event is happening

There really is no better reason to revisit a photography location than some kind of event happening there. A big cultural event can give a location much more context and story, enriching your photo. The potential for unique photos that other photographers won’t be able to replicate also exists at these kinds of events.

Photographing an event also presents a good test of your skill, there are no second chances with these type of photos. Lastly, it’s great to experience a place at its vibrant best, which will be the case during a festival or event. It’s always worth running a google search on a particular location to see what yearly festivals they have, this way you can plan to be there during that time.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

A fireworks festival will often show a location in a different way.

5 – Improvement as a photographer

The longer the gap between revisiting a photo location, the more your photography will have changed. This can be a great way to gauge your improvement as well.

Lay out your best five photographs from the first trip you made, and then your best five when you return this time. Are there differences? How have you improved as a photographer? Is there something you wanted to improve that you still need to work on? It is typical for a photographer to first improve by making their photos more minimal. After a period of learning the next step is to add story and context to a more minimal scene, this is a step-by-step process.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

As you develop as a photographer the angles you use will change. You should be able to look back and see your improvement.

6 – Revisit a photo location until you get the best weather

If you know a good landscape photographer they’ll likely tell you they revisit the same spot until they get the photograph they want. The truth is you never know whether you will get the perfect sky. This can be especially frustrating if you need to travel several hours to reach the location. Weather can change fast, and these days pollution can also be a factor.

The need to make repeat journeys then is important if you wish your photo to be striking. Even once you have that perfect shot going back can be fun. Can you take this scene with different weather conditions and make another striking image?

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

This is what happened the first time I visited this spot. The day was nice, then dust and smog rolled in.

7 – Previous experience of a location

As a photographer, it’s always a good idea to have some stock locations you know about. These are places you’ve been before, and you will know very well. The big advantage here is you will automatically know the best location and shooting angles.

That means no losing the shot because you’re scrambling around looking for the best perspective. Landscape locations very often work well for portraits as well, and prior knowledge of a place will help you choose a good spot for this. It’s always good to have a killer location in your back pocket.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

I’d shot this bridge several times before. I used my prior knowledge of this location to choose a new angle.

8 – Visit with friends

When friends come and visit, and especially if they’re photographers, it’s great to show them a nice place. They’ll appreciate the local knowledge passed on to them. The chances are one day you’ll benefit when someone takes you to a great location that they know about, so sharing is always a good idea.

The other benefit of going with another photographer is they’ll have fresh eyes. They may spot something you missed, and give you further ideas about how you can photograph that location.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

Infrared is another photography technique that opens new creative possibilities.

Get out there and play it again!

Do you really need any of the above reasons to revisit a photography location? Those areas of natural beauty or the cool festival you went to the year before are always great to see again.

Let’s see your favorite photography location in the comments below. What draws you back to this place, and do you have more than one favorite photo from there? Is there anywhere you’ve been to that you’d like to visit again? We’re all looking forward to hearing your stories in the comments below!

This was one of the first photos I took at this location. Return visits have meant better photos.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

This bridge in Busan is photogenic. It’s fair to say one of my first photos of it isn’t that dynamic.

8 Good Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again

This bridge at Seonamsa in South Korea was a favorite photo when I took it. I have since photographed this place several more times.

The post 8 Reasons to Revisit the Same Photography Location Again and Again by Simon Bond appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

31 Mar

As I begin this review I find myself searching for appropriate adjectives. A few that come to mind are sharp, crisp, beautiful, sleek, and sexy. Easily, any one of these could be used with confidence when describing a sports car or an extra tasty hot dog. But here, I feel the need to apply such words to what very well may be the most impressively performing lens I’ve encountered in some time, perhaps ever. Before I get too ahead of myself, the one in question is the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art Lens.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

The folks at Sigma have long been in the game of photography and lately their newly engineered “Art” line of lenses have been aimed to impress the discerning shooter. Let’s take a look at the 24mm F1.4 Art Lens to see why it’s worthy of all those impressive adjectives.

Build Quality

Aesthetically, this lens is beautiful. It arrived pristinely packaged and once I removed it from the box the high quality of the build is readily apparent. All markings and indicators are well executed and easily readable. The focus ring turns smoothly with very pleasing travel with the autofocus/manual switch being acceptably well placed and crisp.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

With Sigma’s Art line came a newly introduced method of manufacture and construction material. This lens is made from Thermally Stable Composite or TSC. The lens barrel is constructed using this material rather than opting for a metal housing such as aluminum. According to Sigma, the benefits of using TSC is its resistance to shrinking and swelling when placed in temperature extremes (not as aluminum would) while maintaining its relatively low size to weight ratio.

It feels remarkably like metal and in the hand, it’s quite difficult to discern the difference. To date, all Sigma lenses I have evaluated which have been made with TSC have performed quite well. The 24mm F1.4 also comes fully weather sealed.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Specs – Size and Weight

The size and weight of the lens feel very manageable especially once it is mounted on the camera. Balance is something that can be difficult to maintain when sporting this wide of an aperture but the weight is very well managed on the Sigma 24mm F1.4. Even with a substantial number of elements (15), it is by no means outlandishly bulky at 23.5oz (665g). It’s close cousin, the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM weighs in at approximately 22.8oz (646g)

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

The Sigma 24mm F1.4 Art is both beautiful and manageable.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Here’s a full specification list from Sigma:

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Image Quality

The overall image quality is, as I mentioned earlier, completely impressive. Short focal length lenses tend to suffer from distortion at the corners as well as loss of sharpness towards the edges of the frame. This softening becomes more apparent as the shooter uses wider apertures. Even at f/1.4, there is no considerable reduction in sharpness nor is there any apparent barrel distortion.

Another bane of large aperture lenses is the increased incidence of chromatic aberration as the aperture widens. Not the case with this 24mm. The only occurrence of chromatic aberration that I encountered was during imaging with highly backlit objects. There was a minute amount of purple fringing in those cases, which was only visible at 3:1 magnification. Vignetting was also minimal but nonetheless evident at apertures wider than f/2.8.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Chromatic Aberration in corner at f/1.6 is barely noticeable. Note the 3:1 magnification in the preview window.


Sharpness has been second to none, quite literally. Ultimately, maximum sharpness is one of the great goals of photo makers. The Sigma 24mm F1.4 Art lens delivers the best sharpness I have ever encountered with a lens of this focal length. I place it high in the running for the sharpest lens I have used in my career. I don’t make that claim lightly!

From corner to corner the sharpness is superb. At wide apertures there was virtually no diminishment of clarity toward the edges of the frame. Sigma claims this is due to the inclusion of FLD and SLD glass elements. The FLD is marketed as being arguably comparable to fluorite glass found in many telescope lenses. Whether these claims from Sigma are practically applicable or not, the proof is most certainly in the pudding.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Bokeh at f/2.8 and wider is absolutely dreamy. Pure cream, and as the aperture widens the results were even more impressive. Again, for a lens of this focal length, the bokeh is quite brilliant. The unnervingly close minimum focus distance of 9.8 inches (25cm) does a lot to help the lens in this area, as do the nine rounded aperture blades.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Even the lens flare was pleasing to the eye.


The autofocus capabilities of the 24mm F1.4 Art follow form with the other impressive attributes of this lens. The HSM motor is astonishingly quiet and swiftly focuses on the subject. The autofocus is, of course, overridable so the photographer can manually adjust focus without switching the lens to full manual focus. There is no image stabilization on this lens which, is not uncommon for lenses of such short focal length.

Some Final Thoughts

The Sigma 24mm F1.4 Art has excelled in every aspect of testing. It is dumbfoundingly sharp across all apertures, presents low chromatic aberrations, and is virtually distortion free. I don’t mind adding that the lens itself has a beauty that rivals even similar lenses in Sigma’s Art line. Its aesthetic appeal is possibly due to some yet to be discovered cosmic ratio that we haven’t been able to name. In any case…this lens looks downright sexy. There…I said it.

If there’s a cumulative notion I can lend to describe my attitude towards this fine piece of glass it’s this: this lens will likely be finding a home in my bag in the very near future. Here are a couple more sample shots taken with the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens.

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Review of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

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Transforming ordinary landmark photos one paper cutout at a time

31 Mar

Rich McCor’s clever paper cutout photography

Getting a fresh shot of a thoroughly-photographed landmark is tough. So Rich McCor takes a different approach: his clever paper cutouts add an unexpected element of humor to what would otherwise be just your average photo. Take a look at some of his work here and find out more about his process in our Q&A.

Follow him on Instagram to keep up with his latest work. What are you tricks for getting unique photos of often-photographed subjects? Let us know in the comments.

What inspired you to start making your paper cutout images?

It began when I realised that after four years of living in London I wasn’t really appreciating the landmarks, the sights and all the things that people fly thousands of miles to see. So I used photography as an excuse to go and explore my city a little more, and through doing so I joined Instagram. However I realised that all the photos I was taking were the same as everyone elses’, so that’s when I decided to add a twist to my images with paper cutouts.

What’s the process like creating one of these images?

It used to be that I’d wander around and wait for ideas and then cut them out on the spot. I’m a bit more strategic now in that I research destinations before I visit them, and I hunt down the best vantage points through various photo websites and image libraries. That said, I still take my paper cutting equipment and black card with me in case I see something that sparks an idea.

How long have you been making these images?

My first paper transformation was in June 2015, but I’ve been into paper cutting since my early twenties when I used to make stop motion music videos for my friend’s band.

Is there anywhere you haven’t been yet that you’re itching to go to and photograph?

Tokyo. It’s full of quirky architecture, bold skyscrapers and colourful scenery. It’s the perfect playground for what I do.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for your average photographer trying to take a picture of a famous landmark?

I’d suggest walking around it 360, just to see if there’s an interesting vantage point that might not be obvious. I remember walking behind the Statue of Liberty when the sun was in front of her and it creating a perfect silhouette which was an image of the statue I hadn’t seen that often. I think, as any photographer will tell you, patience is the key. Patience for the light to do something interesting, patience for tourists to get out of the way, patience for experimenting with your style. Most of all of course, have fun and experiment with your own style of photography.

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Lensrentals proposes ‘Roger’s Law of Wide Zoom Relativity’

31 Mar
Trippy stuff – this is MTF data from nine copies of the Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L II, at 16mm. Nice and sharp in the center, less so at the edges. That said, all nine of these lenses test as ‘good’ samples. 

Arch lens nerd Roger Cicala has probably handled more lenses this week than an average photographer might use in a lifetime. And recently, he’s been busy testing multiple copies of several popular wideangle zooms to try and prove what he calls ‘Roger’s Law of Wide Zoom Relativity’.

Simply stated, Roger’s ‘law’ states that wideangle zoom lenses are virtually always sharpest at the wide end of their zoom range, softening as the lens is zoomed. Although many of us have often wondered whether this is the case, Roger’s exhaustive testing proves that it holds true over multiple copies of several modern lens designs, all the way from Nikon’s 14-24mm F2.8 to Canon’s stunning new 16-35mm F2.8L III.

Averaged MFT charts for nine copies of Nikon’s 24-70mm F2.8VR on the left, and data from the older 27-70mm F2.8 on the right. Advances in lens design are obvious from increased sharpness and better consistency across the zoom range. 

What does this mean for the average enthusiast photographer? Just that if you’re the kind of shopper that obsessively tests and returns lenses which aren’t up to your requirements (cough, cough – Rishi…) you can save a lot of time by only testing the wide end. 

Also of interest is just how good some modern lens designs are. Compared to its predecessor, the new Canon 16-35mm F2.8L III’s MTF charts are extraordinary. Likewise Nikon’s 24-70mm F2.8 VR, compared to the lens it replaced.

Thanks as always, Roger, for testing nine copies of everything so that we don’t have to.

Read Roger Cicala’s full blog post at

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Six Ways to Capture Character in Portraits

31 Mar

Broadly speaking there are two types of portraits. The first is where you try to make the model look as beautiful as possible. You may need a make-up artist or stylist to do it properly. Most commercial photographers are paid to make their models look beautiful, and there are many links with the world of fashion photography.

Six Ways to Create Character Portraits

The other is where you try and capture somebody’s essence, create character portraits. One interesting thing about this style of portraiture is that it opens up your range of models beyond people that are considered conventionally beautiful. It’s less complex because you don’t necessarily need make-up artists, stylists, or complex lighting.

Capturing character is a more simplistic, honest approach to making portraits. The techniques and principles behind it are simple but may take a lifetime to master.

1. Focus on the eyes

This applies to all types of portraiture but even more so when trying to capture their character. This idea goes beyond focusing your lens on your model’s eyes and making sure they are well lit and have a catchlight.

Six Ways to Capture Character Portraits

I made this character portrait of an elderly lady in Bolivia. Her eyes and the wrinkles around them convey so much about her life.

Eyes should be a focus conceptually as well as literally. They tell you a lot about a person. Eyes convey emotion, vitality, and life. The saying, “The eyes are the windows of the soul” has a lot of truth to it. Older people have wrinkles around their eyes that speak of experiences lived and wisdom gained.

2. Ask the model to wear their own clothes

Choice of clothing can say a lot about an individual, particularly if they have a quirky fashion sense. This is the opposite approach to fashion, where the model often wears clothes that don’t belong to them. When capturing character ask the model to bring along clothes that are meaningful to them.

Character portraits

The model in these portraits is a circus performer, she wore the costume she uses while performing. The close-up portrait draws more attention to her dreadlocks and tattoo, the other to her costume.

3. Shoot the model in their environment

A common component of the type of portrait photography where you try to make somebody look beautiful is to place the model in an unusual or striking environment.

When capturing character you should try and do the opposite. Look for links between your model and the environment. If your model is the outdoorsy type, look for a place to take the portrait that reflects that. Or maybe their home or garden are decorated in a way that reflects their character. Or perhaps they have an interesting hobby or profession.

Think about how you can use these elements to create a portrait that tells a story about the model’s character.

Character portraits

The man in these portraits makes wooden flutes, so I photographed him in his workshop. Hands often reveal character so I took a close-up photo of his hands at work.

4. Use prime lenses

Prime lenses are the secret weapon of the portrait photographer. Part of that is because of the practical advantages. We all know you can select a wide aperture to blur the background and create compositions with bokeh. But you can also set the aperture to f/2.8 or f/4 knowing the results will be sharp (compared to the softer performance expected from zoom lenses at those apertures).

Being restricted to a single focal length means you have to get creative with your compositions. You can create variety by changing the distance between you and your model, and by utilizing different points of view.

But most of all, the minimal approach to gear enforced by prime lenses lends itself to a more honest approach to portraiture. I often take just one camera, one short telephoto lens, and no lights to a portrait shoot. I prefer to rely on natural light (and reflectors). Eliminating distractions helps me concentrate on the next step – making a genuine and meaningful connection with the model.

Character portraits

I used an 85mm prime lens set to f/2.5 to create this portrait. The wide aperture blurred the background, making the model the center of attention.

5. Build rapport

The success of the shoot depends on the relationship you create with your model. You might only have a short time to do this. I’ve turned up for shoots with people who I’ve never met before, having communicated only by email or text message. It helps that I’m a naturally curious person and enjoy learning about other people and their lives.

Part of building rapport is getting the model genuinely interested in the photo shoot. If it is part of an ongoing project (and it should be, because projects are the best way to help you develop creatively as a photographer) let the model know about it so they can take pride in being part of your project.

Use conversation during the shoot to provoke animated expressions. Read the story about Yousuf Karsh photographing Winston Churchill for an extreme example of this!

Character portraits

I made this portrait as part of a project photographing musicians. The violinist enjoyed being part of the project.

6. Post-process appropriately

Think about your style of post-processing. For example, a portrait that expresses character probably needs far less retouching than a portrait that is trying to make the model look as physically beautiful as possible. A light touch is often best, when working in color.

You should also consider converting your best portraits to black and white. There is something timeless and special about a good black and white portrait. It’s ideal for expressing character and emotion.

Character portraits

The strong eye contact and black and white conversion turn this portrait into one that expresses the character of the model.


Capturing character, rather than (but not necessarily instead of) beauty poses a challenge to the creative photographer, but the results are often more satisfying.

I find that an interest in capturing character rather than beauty marks an evolution in a photographer’s thinking, a shift from photographing the superficial to looking for deeper themes and human connections. But what do you think? What techniques do you use to capture character? Let us know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about portrait photography then please check out my ebook The Candid Portrait.

The post Six Ways to Capture Character in Portraits by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Customize Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

31 Mar

I’ve written before about how your images are being processed. This is true regardless of whether you shoot RAW and process in software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, or JPEG and allow the camera to make color and contrast decisions for you. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the canned in-camera picture styles the camera manufacturers prepackage in their cameras. Some are too contrasty, while others don’t offer enough color saturation for my taste.

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

A landscape image using a picture style I created in Canon Picture Style Editor.


While all of today’s digital cameras have some ability to adjust the processing decisions being made by selecting and adjusting Picture Styles (in Canon-speak) or Picture Controls (in Nikonian terms), many people aren’t aware that you can be even more creative and create your own styles using desktop software provided by Canon and Nikon.

There are two reasons why you would do this. First, if you do not like processing RAW files, or just prefer “getting it right in camera”, but would still like to be able to create your own look to your images, creating a custom picture style is an easy way to do so. Second, if you’re undertaking a project which would require processing large numbers of files, having the camera use a custom look for these images takes away a lot of processing grunt work.

Canon’s Picture Style Editor is available on the Canon EOS Solutions disc which is packaged with the camera and is also available for download via the various Canon websites, under Drivers and Downloads for your specific camera. Nikon’s Picture Control Utility 2 is available via Nikon’s Download Center.

Canon’s Picture Style Editor

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

Canon Picture Style Editor

Canon Picture Style Editor offers a tremendous amount of control over the final look of an image. Once inside the application, you’ll be prompted to open a Canon CR2 file you’ve taken. A popup will appear advising of the best way to adjust the picture style. First, make the basic adjustments. Next, you should make adjustments to the six color axis. Finally, make adjustments to specific colors.

Make the adjustments you want

In the Basic Adjustments, you select the Base Picture Style to start with, and then you can adjust Sharpness, Contrast, Color Saturation, and Color Tone using the labeled sliders. You can also create a custom tone curve here.

The three adjustment panels found in Canon Picture Style Editor - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The three adjustment panels found in Canon Picture Style Editor

Once the Basic adjustments are done, you can move to the six color axis. Here you can adjust Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow values including Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity. For further color adjustments, you then click on the Specific Colors tab and again make adjustments there including Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity, as well as Tone Curve.

The number of adjustments available within the Canon software allows for a wide variety of styles for your images. Canon has several downloadable picture styles available so you can see what’s possible, but the ability to create your own really make this utility a great addition to your workflow, especially if you dislike post-processing. Effects such as selective color, muted color, highly saturated color, and more, can be created in-camera.

Selective Color Picture Style

On the left is an image using Canon’s Portrait picture style. On the right, is a selective color picture style I created in Canon’s Picture Style Editor. You have to know which color you want to show through before the shot is taken, but conceivably, you could create several selective color styles and upload them to the camera.

Adding the styles to your camera

Custom Picture Styles - Canon

To upload your new custom picture style to your Canon EOS camera, you need to connect the camera to your computer with a USB cable. You also need Canon’s EOS Utility Software, which is provided on your EOS Solutions CD, or is available on Canon’s website.

Once inside EOS Utility, select Control Camera, then Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. You’ll see a window open up that displays the camera settings. Beneath that will be a shooting menu, where you’ll see the heading for Picture Styles. Click on Register User Defined style. A window will open up where you can select from three slots to register a user-defined style. Select one and then click on the Open Folder button to select the picture style file you created and upload it to your camera. Once it’s in the camera, you can select it the same way you would with the pre-loaded picture styles.

Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon Picture Control Utility - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon Picture Control Utility Adjustments - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The adjustment panel for Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon’s Picture Control Utility is a bit more limited in its adjustments than is the Canon application, but you still have a fair amount of control to create new image styles. When you open the application, you’ll see a listing of the Nikon Picture Controls on the left. These are the same as you see in-camera when you select the Picture Control menu on your Nikon. On the right hand side, you’ll see the adjustments you can make, which include Sharpening, Clarity, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue. You also have the ability to create a custom tone curve if you prefer, rather than using the Brightness and Contrast sliders.

While I prefer the greater control over color that Canon provides, Nikon’s Picture Control Editor allows you good options to create your own look for your images.

Uploading to the camera

Uploading them into your camera is even easier than Canon’s method. Simply connect a Nikon formatted memory card to your computer, and at the bottom of the application window, click Use In Camera. You’ll want to use a descriptive name for your picture control so that you’ll know what you’re choosing when selecting it in camera. This will automatically save the picture style to your memory card.  Insert the memory card into your Nikon camera and in the Camera menu, select Manage Picture Control. Select Load/Save and you’ll see any Picture Control files you’ve saved to the card and be prompted to add them to the camera.

That’s all there is to it. In addition to saving the picture control to a memory card, you can save it to a file on your computer, and also use it in Nikon’s Capture NX or View NX software.

Gritty Portrait Picture Control - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The image on the left is shown using Nikon’s Portrait Picture Control. On the right, is a custom Portrait Picture Control created in Nikon Picture Control Editor.


In the digital age, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate your images from the millions of others out there. One way to do so is in post-processing. But that’s not something every photographer, be they professional or enthusiast, wants to deal with.

Creating custom picture styles takes a few minutes on the computer, but allows you to create a look that is distinctly yours. By uploading it to your camera you can then apply it to images you make from that point on. Have you created any custom picture styles for your work? Share samples in the comments below!

Custom Landscape Picture Control - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the top is the image using Nikon’s Landscape picture control. On the bottom is the same image with a custom picture control I created. I adjusted to tone curve to reduce contrast and increased color saturation to provide better color in my landscape images.

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the left is Nikon’s Standard picture control, while on the right is a custom picture control I created.

Canon Muted Color Picture Style - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The left image was shot using Canon’s Portrait Picture Style. On the right is the same image where I created a more muted look.

Canon Picture Style - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the left is Canon’s Landscape picture style, on the right is a custom picture style I created for landscape images.

The post How to Customize Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM C available for pre-order for $800

31 Mar

The Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens introduced last month during CP+ has launched for pre-order at $ 800. The telephoto lens is described by Sigma as both lightweight and compact, offering a dustproof and splashproof design alongside a front lens water- and oil-repellent coating to help keep the glass clean.

Four SLD glass elements complement the Contemporary lens’ Super Multi-Layer coating to decrease both color fringing and chromatic aberrations, and they are joined by a nine-blade rounded diaphragm. Optical image stabilization works alongside the Hyper Sonic Motor autofocusing system to provide sharp images. Sigma bills this lens as offering ‘exceptional performance at lower shutter speeds.’


  • Lens Construction: 21 Elements in 15 Groups
  • Angle of View:  24.4º — 6.2 º
  • Min to Max Aperture: f/22 — f/5 – 6.3
  • Max Reproduction Ratio: 1:3.8
  • Min. Focusing Distance: 5.25′ (1.6 m)
  • Filter Thread: 67mm
  • Dimensions: 86.4 x 182.3mm/ 3.4 x 7.2in
  • Weight: 1160 gram / 40.9 ounce

The new Sigma Contemporary lens is currently listed as available for pre-order on B&H Photo with a shipping date of ‘end of May 2017.’ The lens is also listed on Sigma’s website, but it still reads ‘Available Soon’ with no pre-order option.

Via: NikonRumors

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Leica launches 9-lens Thalia series for cinematographers

31 Mar

Leica has announced a new range of cinema lenses that is aimed at photographers looking for a classic vintage look and exceptional bokeh. There will be nine focal lengths in the Thalia series that almost mirror the focal lengths the company offers its S medium format customers, but this new range is designed to cover a wider picture area to suit users of the Alexa 65, the VistaVison and Super 35mm formats.

The all-prime set-up comprises:

  • 24mm T3.6
  • 30mm T2.9
  • 35mm T2.6
  • 45mm T2.9
  • 55mm T2.8
  • 70mm T2.6
  • 100mm T2.2
  • 120mm T2.6
  • 180mm T3.6

Leica says it hasn’t gone for a super-sharp image but rather provides a look that many cinematographers search for by using older lenses with digital sensors. It claims the images are ‘clear without being overly sharp and focus is smooth and forgiving without looking soft. Skin tones are natural and smooth with accurate color rendition.’

The iris of each lens features 15 blades arranged in a mechanism that produces a circular aperture throughout the complete range of stops, according to Leica. The company says that this creates ‘a cinematic bokeh that comes alive with character. Out-of-focus elements maintain their structure, which further adds to the sense of dimensionality in the image.’
For the size of the covering circle the lenses are said to be relatively compact and lightweight, and each has a diameter of 95mm. The lenses will be available in PL mount and come with /i Technology contacts for metadata transfer.

No price has been announced yet, but these are going to cost more than one week’s pocket money. For more information see the CW Sonderoptic website.

Press release

Leica Thalia: New Lenses for Big Picture Cinematography

Responding to the increasing need for character-driven, large-format optics, CW Sonderoptic introduces the Leica Thalia series of prime lenses. The set of 9 spherical lenses provides an image circle of 60mm diagonal, which covers ARRI Alexa 65, VistaVision, and Super 35 film and digital formats while maintaining a consistent look and feel through all focal lengths.

The focal lengths of the lenses include 24, 30, 35, 45, 55, 70, 100, 120, and 180mm. The lenses are available in PL mount and offer /i Technology metadata contacts in the mount. The lenses maintain a 95mm front diameter and matched focus and iris ring locations for consistent accessory use. For large format lenses they are also incredibly compact and lightweight, with lengths between 4.9”-6.9” (124.5-175cm) and weighing between 2.4-3.75lbs (1.06-1.6kg).

One of the most unique features of the Leica Thalia lenses is their iris design, which maintains a circular shape through the entire aperture range. In addition to always being round, the bokeh is smooth, distinct and full of character, which helps the out of focus elements maintain structure and shape without falling apart.

Although the lenses are based on the Leica S medium format lenses, they feature significant optical and mechanical changes, including: increased image circle, new coatings, new iris design, 270° rotation cam focus mechanism, and entirely new mechanics and housings. Additionally, the 55mm lens is a completely new lens.

“The look of these lenses answers what we have heard from many cinematographers, and not just in regards to image circle,” said managing director Gerhard Baier.

“While they are new lenses, they do offer many of the characteristics that have encouraged cinematographers to pair older lenses with digital sensors. They are clear without being overly sharp. Focus is smooth and forgiving without appearing soft. Skin tones are natural and smooth with an accurate color rendition.”

The Leica Thalia lenses will be on display at the CW Sonderoptic booth at NAB (C4345) and will start delivering in Summer 2017.

For more information visit the product page at or contact us at

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