On Photography :

 Photography Tips

1. Know your camera

2. Use a plain background
3. Know your flash’s range 

4. Move in close but not too close

5. Learn when to take vertical pictures

6. Lock the focus

7. Move the subject slightly off centre

8. Use flash outdoors if necessary and if your object is within your flash range

9. Watch the light

10. Be a picture director  

11. Be quick

12. Compose with care

13. Be selective

14. Watch the weather

15. Keep it simple

16. Focus on your subject

17. Experiment in time

18. Be bold

19. Go outdoor if possible

20. Get down to subject’s level

21. Experiment          
22. Be aware of your surroundings

23. Take lots of pictures

10 Top Photography Composition Rules

1. Rules of Thirds

The rule of thirds involves mentally dividing up your image using 2 horizontal lines and   2 vertical lines. You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet.

2. Balancing Elements

Placing your main subject off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the scene which can make it feel empty. You should balance the "weight" of your subject by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.

3. Leading Lines

When we look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place lines in your composition, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey "through" the scene. There are many different types of line - straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial etc - and each can be used to enhance our photo"s composition

4. Symmetry & Patterns

We are surrounded by symmetry and patterns, both natural and man-made., They can make for very eye-catching compositions, particularly in situations where they are not expected. Another great way to use them is to break the symmetry or pattern in some way, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene.

5. View point
Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, and so on.

6. Background

How many times have you taken what you thought would be a great shot, only to find that the final image lacks impact because the subject blends into a busy background? The human eye is excellent at distinguishing between different elements in a scene, whereas a camera has a tendency to flatten the foreground and background, and this can often ruin an otherwise great photo. Thankfully this problem is usually easy to overcome at the time of shooting - look around for a plain and unobtrusive background and compose your shot so that it doesn"t distract or detract from the subject.

7. Depth     
Because photography is a two-dimensional medium, we have to choose our composition carefully to convey the sense of depth that was present in the actual scene. You can create depth in a photo by including objects in the foreground, middle ground and background. Another useful composition technique is overlapping, where you deliberately partially obscure one object with another. The human eye naturally recognises these layers and mentally separates them out, creating an image with more depth.

8. Framing

The world is full of objects which make perfect natural frames, such as trees, archways and holes. By placing these around the edge of the composition you help to isolate the main subject from the outside world. The result is a more focused image which draws your eye naturally to the main point of interest

9. Cropping

Often a photo will lack impact because the main subject is so small it becomes lost among the clutter of its surroundings. By cropping tight around the subject you eliminate the background "noise", ensuring the subject gets the viewer"s undivided attention.      

10. Experimentation

With the dawn of the digital age in photography we no longer have to worry about film processing costs or running out of shots. As a result, experimenting with our photos" composition has become a real possibility; we can fire off tons of shots and delete the unwanted ones later at absolutely no extra cost. Take advantage of this fact and experiment with your composition - you never know whether an idea will work until you try it.



Camera Therapy: How Photography Gave Me Hope Again


The following is by a dPS reader – Shaun. It started as an email to me from him – however it was so powerful that I convinced him to allow us to publish it as a post. I hope that he might also one day let me convince him to share some of his photos too! Please Share this! – Darren

Shaun’s Story

In June of 2009 I was involved in a serious traffic accident that left me in a coma for several weeks and unable to walk or use my left arm. The list of injuries I have are longer than I can include here and so the last 2 years of my life have largely been spent for me in hospital or rehabilitation centres.

Much of my past life is a distant memory – things I used to take for granted and do without thinking take hours of effort to achieve, friendships have changed as I’ve become reliant upon others to survive and for a long time I lived without much hope. Depression became a state I lived in 24/7.

Camera Therapy

Around 6 months ago, and as part of my rehabilitation, my therapist suggested that I try to introduce something creative into my life. I think he was just trying to get me to think of something outside of my situation. He suggested painting but also mentioned in passing another patient who had taken up photography.

Being a techy guy (in my past life) I liked the idea of getting a camera and after a lot of research purchased a small four thirds format camera (a Panasonic GF1). I wanted a DSLR but due to their size and my limited movement (I do everything with one hand) I went for a lighter and smaller camera.

I also spent a heap of time on your website since buying the camera. I’ve not taken photos before but dPS has taught me a lot!

Over the last 6 months my life has changed a lot. Physically I’m improving a little – although still live life in a wheelchair and am very restricted in my movement – but emotionally I’m a different guy and much of it is a result of photography.

My Photographic Challenges


Pictured: Photographer using the "Mount Mover"

There are a lot of challenges to take a simple photo for me. For example:

  • Getting to a location to photograph can be tough – I like street photography and landscapes and much of my life is confined to my small apartment or rehab centres.
  • Keeping my camera still – I ended up getting a small Tripod attachment welded by a friend to my wheelchair which has helped me a lot. Now my camera is in front of me any time I’m in my chair. I’ve since found purpose made mounts for wheelchairs and have just ordered one (the Mount Mover) – this will also enable me to consider a DSLR.
  • Just taking a shot – when I’m out with other photographers I notice that they are able to take a lot of shots from different angles and compositions that I’m not able to get.


How Photography Gives Me Hope

However despite the challenges photography has made me feel alive again. It has become a very therapeutic thing.

  • It gives me something to think about that is not related to my pain or injuries.
  • It gives me motivation to get well again.
  • It takes me out of sitting alone in my apartment.
  • It has given me dreams for the future.
  • It has given me a social interaction with other photographers (online and in real life).

My photos are not as technically brilliant as many of your authors – but that’s not what photography is about for me. For me it is a part of getting well and celebrating life, something I never thought I’d do again.

A Tip for Able Bodied Photographers

One ‘tip’ that I’d like to give other photographers is to ‘SLOW DOWN’. One of the bonuses of living my life is that nothing happens fast. As a result I see a lot more than I think many other photographers do. I also am forced to consider every element of my shot – composition, light, settings etc.

I see a lot of photographers racing around to get their shots. Not considering what they’re seeing and just snapping off a heap of shots very quickly and racing on to their next location. I suspect a lot of photographers could learn a great deal by slowing down.


A Raw file is…

• not an image file per se (it will require special software to view, though this software is easy to get).
• typically a proprietary format (with the exception of Adobe’s DNG format that isn’t widely used yet).
• at least 8 bits per color – red, green, and blue (12-bits per X,Y location), though most DSLRs record 12-bit color (36-bits per location).
• uncompressed (an 8 megapixel camera will produce a 8 MB Raw file).
• the complete (lossless) data from the camera’s sensor.
• higher in dynamic range (ability to display highlights and shadows).
• lower in contrast (flatter, washed out looking).
• not as sharp.
• not suitable for printing directly from the camera or without post processing.
• read only (all changes are saved in an XMP “sidecar” file or to a JPEG or other image format).
• sometimes admissable in a court as evidence (as opposed to a changeable image format).
• waiting to be processed by your computer.

In comparison a JPEG is…

• a standard format readable by any image program on the market or available open source.
• exactly 8-bits per color (12-bits per location).
• compressed (by looking for redundancy in the data like a ZIP file or stripping out what human can’t perceive like a MP3).
• fairly small in file size (an 8 megapixel camera will produce JPEG between 1 and 3 MB’s in size).
• lower in dynamic range.
• higher in contrast.
• sharper.
• immediately suitable for printing, sharing, or posting on the Web.
• not in need of correction most of the time (75% in my experience).
• able to be manipulated, though not without losing data each time an edit is made – even if it’s just to rotate the image (the opposite of lossless).
• processed by your camera.

These differences lead implicitly to situations that require choosing one over the other. For instance, if you do not have much capacity to store images in camera (because you spent all your money on the camera body) then shooting in JPEG will allow to capture 2 or 3 times the number you could shooting in Raw. This is also a good idea if you are at a party or some other event afterwhich you want to share your photos quickly and easily.

On the other hand, if capacity is not an issue at all (1 GB and 2 GB flash cards are getting cheaper every week) you might consider shooting in Raw + JPEG, just to cover all the possibilities. If you cannot or do not want to do any post processing, then you simply have to shoot in JPEG. Taking a picture in Raw is only the first step in producing a quality image ready for printing. If, on the other hand, quality is of the utmost importance (like when you are shooting professionally), and you want to get every bit of performance your DSLR can offer then you should be shooting in Raw.

That being said, I know many professional photographers who do not shoot in Raw for one of two reasons: 1.) they don’t know how, or 2.) they don’t want to take the time to process the images afterwards.

Shooting in JPEG

When you shoot in JPEG the camera’s internal software (often called “firmware” since it’s part of the hardware inside your camera) will take the information off the sensor and quickly process it before saving it. Some color is lost as is some of the resolution (and on some cameras there is slightly more noise in a JPEG than its Raw version).

The major actor in this case is the Discrete Cosine Transforamtion (or DCT) which divides the image into blocks (usually 8×8 pixels) and determines what can be “safely” thrown away because it is less perceivable (the higher the compression ration/lower quality JPEG, the more is thrown away during this step). And when the image is put back together a row of 24 pixels that had 24 different tones might now only have 4 or 5. That information is forever lost without the raw data from the sensor recorded in a Raw file.

The quality of a JPEG taken with a DSLR will still be far better than the same shot taken with a top-of-the-line point-n-shoot camera that is as old as your DSLR. If your camera can burst (shoot continuously for a few seconds) you’ll actually be able to shoot more shots using JPEG than Raw because the slowest part of the whole process is actually saving the file to your memory card – so the larger Raws take longer to save.

Shooting in Raw

If you do shoot in Raw, your computer rather than the camera will process the data and generate an image file form it. Guess which has more processing power: your digital camera or your computer? Shooting in Raw will give you much more control over how your image looks and even be able to correct several sins you may have committed when you took the photograph, such as the exposure.

To take advantage of this you will certainly need to use some software on your computer to process the files and produce JPEGs (or TIFFs). I have found the Camera Raw that comes with Adobe Photoshop CS2 to be very good at processing Raw files (even batch processing them), though everybody has their favorite (RawShooter has a lot of fans). When you load a Raw file using Adobe Photoshop CS2 the Camera Raw dialog will automatically pop up. Most of the time the automatic settings are fairly decent, but you have the chance to change the white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, and even calibration of the red, green, and blue guns or correct for lens abberation – all lossless.

If the white balance is off I have found that it is much easier to fix using the Camera Raw screen than loading the JPEG and manipulating that – the end result is much better as well. The richness, detail (sharpness), color range and ability to adjust these settings end up being so much greater with a Raw file, even though what a Raw file looks like before processing is anything but rich and sharp. As a side note, all of my work that uses creative coloring was colored using the white balance settings in the Camera Raw dialog.

Part of the conversion to JPEG are sharpening algorithms and as a result, the unprocessed Raw file is less sharp. Two things can affect this, one is the brand of camera (Nikon cameras are generally considered sharper, but this is not true across all models) and the other factor is the user settings for sharpening in the camera. Loading a Raw file in a program such as Adobe Photoshop CS2 will automatically apply white balance, sharpening, constrast, brightness, etc… and can even batch process Raw files. I often use this feature as a first pass and then go back and adjust the settings if needed. This is espeacially helpful because even if I did everything correct in camera when I took the photo and my conversion software was able to use the full processing power of my desktop computer, the conversion to JPEG could still trick the camera or my computer and only my eye can produce the correct while balance, constast, brightness, etc…

What software is good to use with Raw?

• Microsoft RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for Windows XP (essential for Windows based photographers)
• Picasa (Free!)
• Adobe Photoshop CS or CS2
• RawShooter Premium (recently bought by Adobe)
• ACD See (for Digital Asset Management)
• Portfolio Extensis 8 (for Digital Asset Management)
• iView Media Pro (DAM, recently bought by Microsoft)
• BreezeBrowser Pro (DAM, I also love their Downloader Pro for use with my card readers)
• Adobe Lightroom (beta)
• Capture One
• IrfanView
• DXO Optics Pro
• Picture Window Pro
• the software that came with your camera
• more software comes out all the time…


There are a few other issues to worry about when shooting in Raw, such as color space (Adobe 1998 vs. sRGB). I’ve used both color spaces, but sRGB is closer to most ink jet, pigment, and lab printers (the place where I get my photos printed requires sRGB). If you want all 12-bits of color (as opposed to the 8-bits of a JPEG) you will need to store your image as a TIFF.

Some people will also convert their proprietary Raw files (with extensions like .CRW, .CR2, .NEF, etc..) into the Adobe digital negative format (.DNG) to make sure those files will be readable in the far flung future. I have yet to spend the time doing this because I haven’t seen the need. For archival, however, consider getting gold DVDs because the gold lining lasts 50 – 100 years (much longer than the maximum of about 25 years for silver lined DVDs or CDs). Keep more than one backup if your images are important (and keep the second backup at a different location, such as the house of a friend or relative).

When it comes to your photography, however, you are the ultimate decision maker on what is best. I recommend that, if you haven’t, you play with the Raw format. You certainly won’t harm yourself or your camera. In fact, a great test is to go out just to shoot somehting (even just in the backyard or around the block). Shoot several photographs under various lighting conditions using the Raw + JPEG setting on your DSLR (if it has that capability). Take them back to your computer and compare after processing the Raw files. Take into consideration your time in doing so and see if the gain is worth your extra time.


How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps

I normally talk about the importance of using a flash when taking shots into the sun to give sufficient light to add features to your subject but there are also times when making your subject featureless apart from their outline against a bright background can be most effective – or when in other words silhouette is a worth exploring.

Silhouettes are a wonderful way to convey drama, mystery, emotion and mood to the viewers of your photos and often stand out in an album because of the combination of their simplicity but also the story that they convey. I love them because they don’t give the viewer of a clear picture of everything but leave part of the image up to their imagination to wonder about.

The basic strategy you’ll need to employ in taking silhouette shots is to place your subject (the shape you want to be blacked out) in front of some source of light and to force your camera to set its exposure based upon the brightest part of your picture (the background) and not the subject of your image.

In doing this your subject will be under exposed (and very dark, if not black).

There are a lot of very technical descriptions going around on how to take great silhouette shots that you might want to look up but let me attempt to run through some basic steps that should get you the results you’re after. In essence what we’re trying to do is make your camera think that it’s the bright parts of the picture you are most interested in.

Here’s how to do it:

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1. Choose a Strong Subject

Almost any object can be made into a silhouette, however some are better than others. Choose something with a strong and recognizable shape that will be interesting enough in its two dimensional form to hold the interest of those viewing your image. Silhouettes can’t draw on the colors, textures and tones of subjects to make them appealing – so the shape needs to be distinct.

2. Turn off your Flash

If you have your camera in automatic mode your camera will probably want to use its flash which will ruin the silhouette. Basically you want as little light on the front of your subject as possible – so the flash has to go (basic – but I’ve seen a few attempted silhouette shots with the flash firing).

3. Get Your Light Right

When it comes to lighting your subject you’ll need to throw out a lot of what you’ve learnt about normal photography and think a little backwards. Instead of lighting the front of your subject, in silhouettes you need to ensure that there is more light shining from the background than the foreground of your shot – or to put it another way – you want to light the back of your subject rather than the front. The perfect light for this is placing your subject in front of a sunset or sunrise – but really any bright light will be able to do the trick.

4. Frame your image

Frame your shot so you are shooting with your subject in front of a nice plain, but bright background. Usually the best backgrounds will be a bright cloudless sky with the sun setting. You want to position the brightest light source behind your subject (either so that they hide it or so that its in the background somewhere).

5. Make silhouetted shapes distinct and uncluttered

If there is more than one shape or object in the image that you’re attempting to silhouette, try to keep them separated. ie if you are silhouetting a tree and a person don’t have the person stand in front of the tree or even leaning on it as it will merge them into one shape and as a result your viewers could be confused about what the shape is.

Also when framing you’ll probably want to photograph silhouetted people as profiles rather than looking straight on. This means that more of their features (nose, mouth, eyes) are outlined and they are more likely to be recognized.

6. In Auto Mode

Most modern digital cameras have automatic metering which are pretty good at sensing how to expose a photograph so that everything is well lit. The problem with this is that most cameras are so smart that they will light up your subject instead of underexposing it to get a silhouette so you need to trick it. Most cameras work out the exposure levels in auto mode when you push your shutter half way down (at the same time that they focus). So point your camera at the brightest part of your picture and then press the shutter halfway down (don’t let go). Then move your camera back to frame your shot with the subject where you want it and then finish taking the shot. With most digital cameras this will result in a silhouetted subject. In effect what you’re doing is tricking your camera into thinking that the bright part of the image is the mid tone of it so that anything darker than it will be exposed as a nice dark shadow.

Some digital cameras also have ‘spot’ or ‘centered’ metering modes that you can switch on which helps with the above technique as they will set the metering on the central spot of your frame rather than multiple spots. This means you can accurately tell your camera exactly which bit of the bright background you want it to set the exposure on.

7. Manual Mode

If this technique doesn’t work and your camera has controls to allow manual exposure or exposure compensation you might like to try some of your own settings. The beauty of digital is that you can experiment to your hearts content until you get the result you’re after.

A simple way to start using manual mode is to look at the shutter speed and aperture that it suggests in automatic mode and to start from there. If in auto mode your subject is too light (ie you need to make it darker) stop down the shutter speed a stop or two and see what impact that has. Use the ‘bracketing’ technique that I described in my previous tip on sunrises and sunsets to get a variety of shots at slightly different exposures.

8. Focusing

In most cases you’ll want the subject which is silhouetted to be the thing that is in focus most crisply. This can mean that the process described in point 4 can be a little tricky as pushing your shutter half way down to get the metering right also means that you’ll focus on that spot in the background. To get around this you can use two strategies. Firstly if your camera has manual focusing you might want to try that. Pre focus your shot before you meter your shot.

The other strategy is to use Aperture to maximize your depth of field (the amount of your image that is in focus). Set a small aperture (ie a larger number) to increase the depth of field – this means you’re more likely to have a sharper foreground and background in your shots.

One last tip on Silhouettes – while a total silhouette with a nice crisp and black subject can be a powerful shot, also consider the partial silhouette where some detail of your subject is left. Sometimes a touch of light on them makes them slightly more three dimensional and ‘real’. This is the beauty of bracketing your shots as it will leave you with total and partial silhouettes to choose form.


10 Tips to Take Great Family Portaits

family portrait

Family Portrait by chemisti

We are told family comes first, so grab your camera and let’s get snapping… some great family portraits…

10 Tips for Family Portraits

1. If you want that ‘traditional’ family photograph you are going to need to work the role of director to ensure all eyes and faces are on you. Working with a large group of people can be a bit trying so prepare to be patient and assertive will help in getting a handle of things. When you’ve got everyone ready don’t be afraid to reel of a dozen or so shots or use the burst mode to ensure you have at least one frame with everyone is paying attention. Eye contact isn’t always essential though and some shots which intentionally lack it can be more intriguing and relaxed. So rather than force the subjects to look continuously at the camera get them to look in a variety of directions to spice things ups.

2. The ‘traditional’ shot isn’t for everyone so flex that creative muscle and engineer some fun, personality fused frames. Putting your subjects at ease is the first step so fire a few pictures in a comfortable or familiar environment. This will help to lend character and narrative to the piece.

3. As with all photography lighting is key. If you are shooting inside and can’t afford expensive lighting use the most flattering and cheapest form of light there is – sun light! Position your group facing or parallel to a large clean window, if it is a particularly bright day cover it with a thin veil of material, such as a net curtain or peg a white cotton sheet across to act as a diffuser for softer, more flattering light. If you decide to use flash indoors, perhaps employ a diffuser to soften the effect and avoid bleaching skin or flattening textures.


family portrait

Family Portrait by Dustin Diaz



1. You can really let your imagination run wild when it comes to photographing family portraits outside. Remember your light – as the sun can cause unflattering shadows to fall across the face. With the sun behind the subjects you’ll get a creative silhouette or you could add a spot of fill in flash to bring back the details and generates a halo of light around the subjects, separating them from the background.

2. Avoid having the sun behind you as the models will be pictured with odd squinting expressions, instead take a look around the vicinity – is there somewhere that offers some shade? A porch, a beach umbrella or even a white sheet tied above their heads. For this last suggestion you may need to peg the corners of the sheet to four chairs and ask the group to sit underneath but this could convey a summery relaxed portrait.

3. It may sound cheesy, but as well as bearing a similar resemblence; you may want to include other elements to tie the members of the portrait together – to say ‘yes we are a family!’. Suggestions include: matching splashes of colour, props or even aspects of the environment around them. If you want to style the shot in a more traditional or relaxed fashion then ask the family to wear natural or pastel shades. Opt for bright, bold or clashing hues for a more energetic, frivolous shoot.


family portrait

Family Portrait by Kevin N. Murphy



1. As well as shooting the family sitting and then standing, experiment by having half the group stand and half sit. By splitting the group onto different levels: the viewer is offered a more dynamic image forcing the eye to jump around the scene. Incorporate props, especially if you have children in the frame. Not only will this again diversify the arrangement but it can help to reveal children’s personalities. For example a chair is not just for sitting, one could stand on it, crawl underneath it , lean on it, you could pose several children on it at one time etc.

2.Ideally for traditional group shots a wide angle lens is great for framing the entire family. If it’s more relaxed candids you want then use a zoom to switch between wide angle shots with back drop and close up spilt-second emotive portraits. Dial is a wide aperture of f5.6 or less and throw out the back drop. This offers the chance to play with whom and what is in focus.

3. Forget boring head on shots, be original and look for more inspirational angles. Climb a ladder or chair and shoot shooting downwards. This is great if you have a large group or want to get more creative with positioning. Alternatively hit the deck and lie with you back on the ground and shoot straight up into the middle of huddle. Even slanting the camera at a jaunty angle can produce exciting options. Profile portraits can be quite creative too.


family portrait

Family Portrait by Roberta Taylor

1. Have some fun! Unleash the enthusiasm and ask your family to run, jump, spin, give each other piggybacks, dance, play fight and in general – laugh! Get them doing things that will dispense with any rigidity or formality. Incorporating motion into group shots develops interest and instantly relaxes your subjects and therefore viewers. To freeze action shoot between 1/125 to 1/500, you may need to crank up ISO in low light or use flash if necessary. Alternatively to incorporate a creative blur and reflect the connotation of movement use a speed of around 1/8 to 1/15. Employ Continuous AF if your camera has it and pan with the movement to keep the subjects sharp.

Read more:

Composition Tip #1. The most important tip for composition in digital or film photography is: understand composition. Composition is how you arrange the elements of your photograph in such a way that you convey the message or the mood that you intend to convey. In a portrait, do you want to convey happiness, loneliness, wistfulness, anger, boredom, honesty, intelligence? In a landscape, do you want to show tranquility, drama, vast spaces? The way you convey these ideas is through composition. The rest of these tips will help you compose better photos.

 Composition Tip #2. Covered in another article, the Rule of Thirds is based on placing an imaginary grid of two vertical and two horizontal lines evenly dividing the frame up into 9 rectangles. Place the key center of attention close to one of the points of intersection. Place key vertical or horizontal lines along or close to one of the dividing lines. This helps get away from a static composition to add tension, excitement, motion and action to your photos.

Composition Tip #3. Get in closer. Snapshots taken by many untrained photographers have a tiny subject with vast unnecessary space around it. The photo is of mom but you need a magnifying glass to find her among the other people and the litter on the beach. Get in close, make the subject BIG in the frame, and when you think it’s big enough and you’re close enough, take another step closer before you press the button.

Composition Tip #4. Look for and remove distracting elements from the photo or move the subject to avoid them. The family is taking a picnic but there is a large garbage can in the photo. Move it if you can or, If you can’t, move your subject to leave the garbage can out of the photo.

Composition Tip #5. Try not to cut off people’s limbs or heads, or important parts of your subject, unless you have good reason to. Half an arm, leg or head can look a bit strange. This doesn’t mean you can never cut a subject off. Just pay attention to how you do it.

Composition Tip #6. Beware of the position of your subject, particularly a human subject, to make sure that they are not placed in front of something which then appears to be growing out of their head. This is pretty corny, but the number of photos that have a telegraph pole or tree or potted plant growing out of their heads is considerable.

Composition Tip #7. A great way to show more about a person and their character is to place them in surroundings which have something to do with their life or activities. If Grandma is known for her terrific crochet work, you might consider sitting her with her crochet needle and pattern in hand. Kids playing with their toys, a musician with his or her instrument and so on, these things all add to the message.

Composition Tip #8. Avoid splitting the viewer’s attention between two or more centers of attention. Try not to have a competing subject in the photo that will draw attention away from what you want the viewer’s attention on.

Composition Tip #9. There are many ways to focus the viewer’s attention on where you want it in the photo. One of these is to use depth of field. By adjusting your aperture, you can make sure that much of the photo in front of and behind your subject is out of focus, while your subject itself is in sharp focus. Another method is to arrange lines of perspective so that they come to a point at or near your center of attention.

Composition Tip #10. Important tip. Only use tips 2 - 9 above if they help you make a better photo. Don’t for a moment feel bound by any of these rules. Take them as tools Use Fill Flash

If your camera has a flash, there are many instances when it can be used and you may not have thought of them. For instance, you’re on a tour with a set schedule and have no other option than to take photos of your family in front of the pyramids of Egypt at noon. Harsh, harsh sun is beating down. Everyone, rightfully, has a hat on their head to block the sun. The only problem is their faces are now in deep shadow while the pyramids are harshly lit.  Did I mention the harshness in this setup?   In this scenario adjusting exposure, as in the item above, will not help because the pyramids will become washed out while the faces become visible. What do you do?

Use your flash! That’s right, in the middle of the day, use your flash. Most cameras have a “Fill-Flash” setting and even if they don’t, a full flash will be better than none. A fill flash is just that; a flash to fill in the areas of the scene in dark shadow. Suddenly your family’s faces can be seen beaming with joy from under their hats before rushing back to the air conditioned tour bus.  The photo at right has a subtle fill flash used to overcome the very dark shadows on my daughter’s face.  While more edits can be made in Photoshop, starting with a more even exposure helps in post processing.

Another handy use for fill flash is when a subject is backlit. Maybe the sun or a bright light is behind them. Fill flash to the rescue! The bright light will still be there, but now faces and features can be seen as well.

Use A Long Lens


300mm x 1.6 = 480mm. Don"t get too close.

This last bit of advice might not seem obvious at first. While wide angle lenses are great for panoramic shots and big features, a zoom lens, something that is 100mm or greater, will do wonders for your photos. Zoom in on details and features of those grand, wide images. Use the zoom to help isolate your subject so the scene becomes less cluttered. And use a zoom to help capture those stalking lions far out on the savannah.

If you don’t have a zoom lens readily packed for travel, consider renting one. There are many places online and possibly in your town, that will rent a lens for a fraction of the price of purchasing it new. It’s often worth the cost if your once-in-a-lifetime trip will require it.

Lastly, Break All The Rules

Once you have learned the rules and how to use some of these tips, break them when the situation calls for it. Travel photography is about artistic expression so go with what feels good to you. But first, learn the Rule Of Thirds before you move your subject just a bit further to the side. Learn to use a fill flash before you decide having a dark, silhouetted face works better and don’t be afraid to take some details shots during the middle of the day even in the harsh sunligyou can use if you want to, but only so that you can get a better photo

Get Up Early And Stay Out Late


Waking up at 6am is worth it.

The Golden Hour, that slice of time just after sunrise and just before sunset, is a tried and true method for taking great photos. Photography, after all, is the art of capturing light, so get it when it’s at its peak, low on the horizon and full of color. There are also deeper shadows and contrast during these times giving photos a punch. The mistake most of us make is taking photos of great landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower, during midday when the sun is high and harsh. Do all you can to avoid photos during midday. Colors become washed out and lifeless. Shadows disappear or cover faces in an unattractive manner. If you have the luxury of extra time at a location, take advantage of the light when the sun is lower on the horizon and you’ll come back with dramatic scenes.

Use The Rule Of Thirds

Imagine a grid on your screen or eyepiece. It is made up of two lines, equally spaced, extending from top to bottom and another two from left to right. A small grid with four intersections. These intersections are the start of a simple method for making your photos more interesting. What you will need to do is place the main focus (pun intended) of your photograph in one of those intersections. If the main subject is someone’s face, place one of their eyes at an intersection. If it’s a mountain, place the peak near an intersection. Interesting bug on the ground? Don’t just center it in the photo and click away. Boring! Place it on an intersection and give it room (meaning, if it is facing left, place it on the right side of your photo so it visually has room to move into the photo).

More on the Rule Of Thirds can be found here.

Get The Horizon Out Of The Middle Of Your Picture

Along with the Rule of Thirds, never, ever, never place the horizon in the very center of your screen. While it may seem logical at the time, when you view a photo taken this way, it will appear bland and unnaturally balanced. Get that horizon off the center one way or the other! I prefer to give more foreground space and less sky, but there are times when more sky is needed. It works well to use one of those grid lines explained earlier in the Rule Of Thirds as a location for your horizon, but there’s no pat answer. Play around a little, but please, no more centered horizons!


Learn How To Change Your Exposure Settings

This one may be a bit trickier but is worth it. Background: Your camera is not perfect. Neither is mine. No matter how much money you spend, cameras have their limits. In most automatic modes a camera will take a look at the scene in front of them and try to find an average setting that lets all the highlight areas be seen and the shadows as well. The problem with this approach is cameras are not human eyes and don’t have the wonderful range our eyes (and brain) do. A scene may be 40% dark and 60% bright and the camera comes to middle ground on its choice.


A Post by Mitchell Kanashkevich – author of our brand new eBook, Natural Light: Mastering a Photographer’s Most Powerful Tool.

Natural light is the most important and powerful tool available to photographers, and it is free to everybody in the world. Understanding how natural light works and how to work with it effectively is one of the key ways in which all of us can improve our photography without spending more money on fancy photographic equipment. In this blog post I’ve outlined five tips which I believe to be most vital to improving the way we work with natural light and in turn improving our photography.

Before getting to the tips I want to draw attention to one very important fact. We take photos to communicate visually. With our photographs we aim to tell stories or to convey a mood, an atmosphere—what it was like to be at a place or with a certain person. This fact is very important to keep in mind because it helps us put everything in perspective. It helps us realize that ultimately our use of natural light is nothing more and nothing less than one of the means to communicate visually.

1. Be Aware that Characteristics of Natural Light Change


The characteristics of natural light change due to the time of day, because of the weather and due to various other circumstances. You can essentially say that there are different kinds of light. The different kinds of light will make the same scene will look quite different, as you can see in the photographs above, which were taken during different times of day (left – twilight, middle – sunrise, right – middle of the day).

To the photographer this means that if a scene doesn’t look the way you’d like it to look at the time of day or in the weather you initially see it, you may have a chance to capture it looking entirely different at another time, in another kind of light.

2. Don’t Look at Natural Light in terms of “Good” or “Bad”

Many of us are virtually indoctrinated with the idea that light during the golden-hour is “good” or even the best kind of light to photograph in. The harsh light around midday is generally considered to be the worst kind of light. In reality, this way of looking at light can be very limiting creatively.

The golden-hour light makes everything look beautiful and magical because of its soft and golden tinting qualities. The image above is a great example of the golden-hour light beautifying a scene. But, what if we want to create an image which isn’t about the beauty of a place or a person? Golden-hour light might not be appropriate in such a situation.

The above image is a good example of when the harsh light around midday might be the preferred kind of light. With this photograph I primarily wanted to communicate what it’s like to be working in a harsh, sun-bleached environment. I wanted to say something about the hardship of manual labor. If the image were shot during the golden-hour, the scene may have been beautified and romanticized and the message may have very possibly been lost. In the harsh midday light, the hard shadows and the bleached colors helped me communicate exactly what I wanted to.

In conclusion my advice is to look at the different types of natural light as tools in a tool-set. None of the “tools” are good or bad, just right or wrong for what you’re trying to communicate.

3. Obsess with Observing Light

Observe light in your everyday life—how it interacts with everything around you, with particles of dust, water, observe how is changes when you move from place to place, how it casts shadows. Observe how the photographers you respect use light in their work. The aim is to educate yourself, to train your eyes to recognize different lighting scenarios and eventually to be able to predict when some of the more elusive lighting scenarios might occur.

The photograph above came to materialize because I had observed similar lighting scenarios before. I knew that narrow light sources and smoke can create dramatic looking light-beams, when the light illuminates the smoke at a certain angle. In this situation the sun was setting, hence it was illuminating the smoke at just the right angle for the “light-beam-effect.” I had a narrow light source, the doorway, which I was able to make even more narrow by asking my friend to block most of it, hence accentuating the effect.

4. Experiment and Photograph just for the Sake of seeing how Everything will Translate Through the Viewfinder

No matter how much you observe natural light or how many tips you read about it, to truly make the most of it photographically, you need to take photos.

Experimenting doesn’t necessarily lead to masterpieces, but it does help you understand how light works in a very practical sense. With digital cameras there is absolutely no reason to hold back frames. If you see an interesting lighting scenario and you’re wondering how it would look in an image—photograph it! That’s exactly what I did with the above frame. I saw that the scene was backlit, but at the same time light was coming from behind me. The first thought that entered my mind was “I wonder how this might turn out?” I experimented, made a few exposures and ended up with what I consider a strong image.

5. Expose with Post-Processing in Mind

No matter how good our cameras are, we will not be able to capture the entire tonal range created by some of the more challenging lighting situations, without the aid of post-processing software such as Adobe Lightroom.

To make the most of such situations it’s important to expose in a way where you give yourself a chance to capture maximum detail. This might mean under- or over-exposing certain elements in a scene. Let me explain using an example.

You can see in the first image above that the faces of the men are looking dark, they are under-exposed. This is the image that came straight from the camera and my decision to under-expose was very deliberate. Exposing properly for the faces would result in extremely over-exposed clouds. In this case I would likely be unable to bring out the detail in those over-exposed clouds and they would become large, white blotches. On the other hand I knew that I could brighten the faces of the men and bring out the necessary details in Lightroom with a simple tweak of the Fill Light/Shadows slider.

Exposing with post-processing in mind is a bit of a mental battle. You constantly have to ask yourself: Which element is more important to the image? What are the details which I can afford to lose and which are those which I can’t? Ultimately there might be situations where details cannot be preserved by under- or over-exposing and until the photographic technology gets better, that is just something we have to live with.

Some Final Words

As I already mentioned, no matter how much we read about photography, to become a better photographer—nothing beats actually making photos. The best way of improving and bettering your understanding of natural light is to keep the above mentioned tips in mind and to photograph as much as you can, in as many different lighting scenarios as possible.


How to Teach and Introduce Children the Wonders of Photography 

Children see the world through a special lens. There is a purity to their imagination that at some point most adults lose. If you have ever put a camera in the hands of a child you will soon discover that what they see in life is very different than the adults perspective.


How can you harness the creativity of a child through photography? I recently embarked on an experiment to this very goal. As I taught this group of children, I found myself learning lessons also, and am very happy to share some tools that will help you do the same.

1. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Adults like complicated things. We like to complicate everything too. To teach photography to children you must get out of this mindset. The most important element in your teaching children is that they understand a single concept first – and understand that well. From this foundation you can build upon other elements slowly.

2. Start with the Basics

The most important concepts in photography are universally known to be “Fill the Frame” and “Rule of Thirds“. In theory, you could combine these two ideas into a single session, but once again keeping with the “Simplify” concept, it works very well to do each as a single session. Begin with “Fill the Frame”, and emphasize that above all your subject must fill the frame to remove distractions. It’s ok to show examples of subjects quite literally “filling the frame” with very few other elements. Once they practice and master the idea of removing distractions, you can go on to explain that other elements can be in the picture to support your main subject.

3. Allow 30% Theory and 70% Practice

Kids will only sit still for so long before their focus diverts. For this reason spend the majority of your time allowing the kids to practice. You don’t have to send them out on a photoshoot; you could bring a bag of random objects and allow them to play right inside your classroom. Assign them a number of photos, and encourage them to come back to you for feedback. Invaluable practice comes from re-shooting the same subject to get the concept down.

Taken b a Columbian Orphan

4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Don’t be afraid of saying the same phrases multiple times to be confident the concepts have stuck. Have the kids repeat the phrases back to you. Explain the same phrase in different ways, and do so multiple times.

5. Encourage

Kids will be kids, and they won’t always get things the way you hope they would. The most important thing you can do as you teach is to encourage their creativity. Don’t point out all the things that are wrong. Point out one thing that they can improve upon, and encourage all the things you see them doing well with their photos.

6. Have Contests to Spur on Creative Excitement

Everyone likes to compete. Set a contest for “most colorful” or “most interesting”. Give an appropriate amount of time for their goal. When the kids come back from shooting, walk them through the creative elements of their photos. Foster team spirit by having the kids vote on which photo most fulfills the contest.

Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. But everyone can invest in the lives of children and inspire the next generation of creative artists. You never know who will grow up to become a well known and appreciated photographer because you gave them the first opportunity.

 A wise landscape photographer friend once said to me... 

 "Photograph the light--not the land. When you learn to see and photograph light your photography will be transformed."

 My friend"s words changed my approach to photography -- not only for landscapes but also for my day-to-day photography, particularly my portrait work.

  Learning to see and shoot in all kinds of light is arguably the single most important skill a photographer can develop.

  That"s why I"m so passionate about our latest eBook - Natural Light: Mastering a Photographer"s Most Powerful Tool.


Seascape Photography Tips

by Guest ContributorX

One of my favourite places to shoot is the coast due to its variety and ease of access. I’m fortunate to live in a country such as New Zealand which has an abundance of beaches, even in a big city like Auckland. Here are some tips on how to capture beautiful photos at the beach.


Like all landscapes, including some foreground interest is important in order to produce an interesting photo. One way to do this at a beach is to look for interesting rocks or rock formations and use those as your foreground interest. However don’t just find a rock and stick it randomly in your photo – try and find some sort of pattern or structure to lead the viewer into the shot. Experiment with different points of view – e.g. try placing the camera at different heights and angles – to see what works best.

Below is a shot with the camera about chest height and pointing down to accentuate the shape of the rock pool. Having the camera lower would have ‘flattened out’ the rock pool, and having the camera higher would restrict the amount of sky I could have included.

Here I found some old tree roots that I found really interesting. I got the camera low down and very close to the foreground to take this shot, using a wide angle lens to exaggerate the tree roots.



Some beaches offer great views from the cliffs above and these can make for some great shots. Including large rock formations or cliff faces in the foreground really work well for these types of shots. The below shot was taken above a gannet colony, and I found the inclusion of the gannets nesting on the rocks also gives a sense of scale.

Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. Wet sand can offer gorgeous reflections and this is best with an outgoing tide as there are fewer footprints to worry about.

Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list of the types of shots you can get near the sea. One of the main reasons I love seascapes is just the variety you can get from different beaches. Or even the same beach at different tides.

And don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. Sometimes the best compositions are those taken from in the water!

Shutter Speed

Another important factor to consider with seascapes, or any photos containing water, is shutter speed, as this often has a significant impact on the overall look of your photo.

A faster shutter speed will freeze the action and will therefore show the water without any motion blur. Depending on how fast the water is moving, this is typically anything from 1/20 sec and faster. This is the most realistic way to capture water and would be what non-photographers would expect to see. But we know photography isn’t always about realism!

The below photo was taken at 1/50 sec and as you can see this was fast enough to freeze the movement of the water.

Slower shutter speeds will blur the water to varying degrees. Again it depends on how fast the water is moving, but I find that shutter speeds of around 1/2 sec will show some motion blur while still retaining a reasonable amount of detail of the water. This shot was taken at 1/3 sec and captured the splash of the water against the rocks while still getting some motion blur.

Once the shutter speed goes above 1 second the water starts to give the foggy/milky effect that is quite popular. Although some people dislike this effect, I love using it in my photos. The below shot was taken using a shutter speed of 4 seconds.

The shutter speed you choose is usually down to personal preference. Sometimes it’s dictated by the light (e.g. before sunrise or after sunset the light is too low to use a fast shutter speed) but often it depends on how you want the photo to look. I find it’s also a case of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to mix it up a little and experiment.



The two types of I filters I commonly use for seascapes are graduated neutral density (GND) and neutral density (ND) filters.

GND filters are used when the dynamic range of a scene to too much for the camera’s sensor. This is often the case at sunrise and sunset when the sky is much brighter than the foreground. A GND filter is dark at one end and clear at the other end, with a gradual transition in between. The dark end is placed over the brighter part of the scene (e.g. the sky) so that the exposure is balanced with the brighter part (e.g. the foreground). An alternative to using a GND filter is to take multiple exposures and blend them together with post-post- processing but I prefer to get it in one shot where possible.

ND filters are used to reduce the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor. They are useful when you want to use a longer shutter speed than the light would normally allow. ND filters come in different strengths, commonly around 3-stops (reducing light by 8 times) but can go all the way to 10-stops (reducing the light by 1024 times).

The below shot was taken using a 10-stop ND filter. The sun was just rising above the horizon so conditions were quite bright, but the filter allowed me to use a shutter speed of 60 seconds.


How Does A Digital Camera Work? [Technology Explained]


The digital camera is another great example of a technology we take for granted. Because we had film-based cameras for so long, the idea of capturing an image isn’t that miraculous to us any more. So, with  the natural progression of technology making picture taking more and  more instant, we all seemed to just kind of think, “Of course we can take digital photos.” without questioning how it works.

Except me. I have to know how things work. No good reason for that. Sometimes I have to read a bunch of technical jargon, ask a lot of questions and then relate the information to something else I understand, before I can truly understand what’s going on. That makes me a slow, but tenacious, learner. And really annoying when Jeopardy! is on.

The underlying technology of the digital camera is a light sensor and  a program. The light sensor is most often a Charge Coupled Device  (CCD) and the program is firmware that is embedded right into the circuit board of the camera. Kind of like the programs that help make your microwave oven or iPod work.

I’ll focus on the CCD first. Yes, there is another kind of light sensor that can be used and that’s the Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) type. The mechanics of how they do what they do differ, but the principles are the same.

Think of the CCD as being a grid of millions of little squares, each one kind of like a solar cell. You know that a solar cell takes light energy and converts it to electrical energy right? And you probably figured that the more light there is the more energy it makes and vice versa right? So you can see where we’re going with this whole CCD thing.



Each of those little squares on the CCD takes light energy and converts it to electrical energy. Each condition of the light ““ like brightness and intensity ““ generates a very specific electrical charge. Those charges for each little square are then transported through an array of electronics to where it can be interpreted by the firmware. The firmware knows what each specific charge means and translates it to information that includes the colour and other qualities of the light that the CCD picked up.

This process is done for each of the squares in the grid of the CCD ““ so now you can see the miracle that it reall


Get up close with your monitor ““ to the point where you can see the pixels individually. Don’t worry, that whole thing about going blind from sitting too close to the TV is an old wives’ tale. Except when it comes to my kids.  You might need a magnifying glass. Neat, huh? Did you see how there were more green pixels than red or blue? That’s because somebody figured out that the eye is not as sensitive to green as it is to red or blue.y is! Now picture (pun intended) a million little squares, each one different as though they were puzzle pieces. The firmware puts those puzzle pieces together to form an image that is recognizable to the human eye.

The process of putting it together is very much akin to what happens with your television or monitor. It does this using pixels. Each pixel is comprised of three basic colours ““ red, green and blue. By varying the intensity of each colour within a pixel, the variety of colours that can be produced is amazing indeed. This is known as a Bayer filter.


I digressed. The next step is for the firmware to record the information it saw into digital code. That code can be used to accurately reproduce the picture time and time again. Call it a recipe for that specific moment in time that you captured. Now, that code can be passed to the view screen on the camera, or to a monitor or printer to be reproduced.

3 Tips for Creating Outstanding Portraits, Inspired by the work of Dutch Artist Van Gogh

by Oded Wagenstein

Few months ago I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Upon arriving there, I immediately ran to see the work of the artist who influenced me the most: Vincent Van Gogh; the artist who changed the way we look at color as a tool for telling stories; an artist who had nothing in his pockets but had a never-ending passion for creativity and innovation.

In this post I decided to share some work methods and tips that I have learned from the portraits of this great artist. Methods I TRY, just try, to apply in my work as well.

3 Things I learned about Portrait Photography from Vincent Van Gogh’s Work

Tip 1: Use Light as a Tool for Telling Stories in Your Portraits:

You can treat “light” in one of the two ways below:

Something that just illuminate your subjects. An existing fact, which you cannot control

A creative tool. Something to be aware of, as being aware of the lens or the camera you are using

Source of Inspiration

Notice how the light affects the story in this drawing of a Peasant from Nuenen.


The choice to create the peasant’s portrait at night (or a dark room) under the pale light of a single bulb, which forms many shadows on his face, strengthens the dark feeling coming from this image- a feeling of a hard working man. You can imagine that creating the portrait of the same guy, in daylight, in an open space, would create a completely different story.

My Interpretation:


In this image of Apollo-mo, a 61 years old farmer and village shaman from the Akha community in Laos, I tried to create the same “hard working” feel as in the “Peasant from Nuenen”. I chose to capture Apollo indoor (keeping him also very compressed inside the frame) with this dark background and dramatic, single source light coming from his right side, creating very deep shadows on his face. Of course I could photograph Apollo at any other time: Laughing with his family and grandchildren, working under the soft light of the sunset and so on. Yet,I chose to show him as I perceived him – as a hard working man with a difficult life story.That’s exactly what I wanted the viewer to feel.

Tip 2: Harnessing the Power of Complementary Colors

Van Gogh’s use of color was groundbreaking and many books and theses already examined the issue in depth. What I would like to present here is a small fraction of his approach on color: Understanding the power of complementary colors.

You can think of the complementary colors (and this is going to be a very shallow way of putting it) as two colors, sitting side by side, and by doing so, creating a great impact on the viewers.


Van Gogh often used complementary colors in his works. Green and red, orange and blue, purple and yellow – he’s done it all.

In my work, I try to keep this principle of complementary colors in mind.

Source of inspiration:


My interpretation:

Red and green or orange and blue are working together to create a stronger portrait.


Tip 3: The Power of the “Off Camera” Gaze

In Most portraits, either photographs or paintings, the person looks straight at the viewer. Van Gogh’s work taught me that sometimes, when a person is looking “off camera”, it can give my image some sort of natural feeling, sometimes melancholic, yet always powerful.

Source of inspiration:


The artist made this painting during the last months of his life. And although the situation appears seemingly nice (woman standing in a field) the sadness and hardship is certainly present, mainly due to the off camera gaze.

My interpretation:

So when I want to convey a feeling of hardship or sadness I will try to capture my subject in an unguarded moment, looking off camera.


This off course can be done only if you get a good relationship with your subject, enabling you to work in a close distance and still be “transparent”.

I will not tell the subject what to do (“now, look off-camera and act sexy”). I will just wait for the right time to click the shutter.


Using light as a creative tool: Try to match the story you want to tell to the light being used. One possibility is to control the light: flash, reflectors, etc. the more simple option is to just choose the right time to shoot. Dramatic story? Choose a time when there is a harsh or dramatic lighting situation. A story about the happy moments in life? Let your light to convey this feeling by working in a soft, full of color light, like in the golden time (before sunset or right after sunrise)

Watch for complementary colors: in order to create powerful portraits.

Think about the subject’s looking direction as a creative tool: Sometimes an off camera gaze can give your story outstanding emotional impact.

The story of Vincent van Gogh Is sour – sweet. On one hand, an artist whose paintings are known by everyone and sold today for millions of dollars. On the other hand, an artist who had a great financial and emotional struggle over his life-time.

Oded Wagenstein is a Travel photographer and writer. He is a regular contributor to the National Geographic Traveler magazine (Israeli Edition) and he is known for his intimate culture portraits. You can join his Portrait & Travel Photography blog and continue to discuss on travel and people photography and get more amazing tips!