Photography And Color

In the midst of this Travel Shut Down, I have been devoting my time to learning as much as possible about photography. My love of photography crosses a multiplicity of genre.

Whatever the genre, as a photographer we must address the big three; Light, Color, and Composition. For whatever reason my study of color has been limited.

While I am stuck at home I intend to increase my knowledge of this most important subject. The blog below from 500px Blog is my starting point. Check it out!

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Color theory for photographers: An introduction to the color wheel

In 1907, Auguste and Louis Lumière presented autochrome—a revolutionary method for reproducing color in photographs. The world was stunned and enraptured. “Soon the world will be color-mad,” photographer Alfred Stieglitz wrote that July from Munich. “And Lumière will be responsible.”

We’ve come a long way in the last century, and we no longer need potato starch—the crucial ingredient in the autochrome process—to render color. But the power of color hasn’t faded over time; all these decades later, the world is still color-mad.

While you can find color theory in any painting classroom, it remains a somewhat overlooked field in the world of photography, so we’re devoting a three-part series of articles to examine colors and the relationships between them. This is just part one–an introduction to the color wheel–so keep an eye out for the rest in the coming months.

The Color Wheel

A color wheel is just a convenient way of visualizing the relationships between colors. The most common wheel used by painters is based on RYB color system–where red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors. Mix those colors, and you end up with secondary colors orange, green, and violet. Combining those results in one of six tertiary colors: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, or red-violet.

Sometimes, however, photographers might use the RGB system–in which case, red, green, and blue are the primaries. Mixing these colors will create secondary colors yellow, cyan, and magenta. The RGB system also has six tertiary colors: orange, chartreuse green, spring green, azure, violet, or rose.

In this brief introduction, we’ll look at six easy ways photographers can use the color wheel and simple “color schemes” to strengthen their compositions. While photographers can certainly use the RGB system, we’ll rely on RYB for right now.

Monochromatic colors

A monochromatic color scheme uses one of the twelve colors on the color wheel with different tints, shades, and tones. You create a tint by adding white to your base color, a shade by adding black, and a tone by adding gray. Photographers can use these schemes to create harmony throughout a composition.

Puchong Pannoi’s photograph of the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar has many layers, from temples to trees to a hot air balloon floating in the distance. While these elements could be distracting in the eyes of another photographer, Pannoi has brought them all together beautifully–with a little help from a monochromatic palette.

Monochromatic color schemes can often be bold. According to photography legend, Ansel Adams was once so displeased upon seeing one of William Eggleston’s most famous monochromatic photos that he remarked, “If you can’t make it good, make it red.” Fortunately, these days dramatic color is not only accepted but embraced–with stunning results. Take a cue from 500px Contributor Estislav Ploshtakov, and use it to make a strong impact.

Complementary colors

For a complementary color palette, use two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel. Complementary color schemes are well-suited for photography because they add contrast–resulting in pictures that “pop” off the page and screen. Here, Da Miane uses complementary colors green and red.

In this street photo from Singapore, Peter Stewart uses complementary colors blue and orange. No need for an overly complex composition–these colors catch our eye all on their own.

Split-Complementary Colors

In this variation on a complementary color scheme, you’ll select your base color, and then instead of using the color directly opposite, you’ll use the two colors on either side of it.

In this colorful photo, Claudio de Sat photographs the blue sky against the architecture of East Berlin’s Plattenbauten buildings. He then incorporates hues closer to red-orange and yellow-orange on the color wheel. The result is a striking and harmonious photo with a little bit less of the dramatic tension we’re used to seeing in photos with complementary colors.

Tetradic colors

A tetradic color scheme, sometimes called double-complementary, features a total of four colors, including two sets of complementary colors. Of the basic color schemes we’ll cover here, this one might be the trickiest to pull off–if only for the fact that it incorporates four colors.

This photo by Alena Haurylik does it brilliantly. By using two complementary pairs (orange-blue, green-red) in moderation, it succeeds in being both eye-catching and sophisticated.

Analogous colors

Analogous color schemes incorporate three colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. Wildlife photographer Jonne Seijdel encountered this dazzling Rwenzori three-horned chameleon while traveling through the Rwenzori mountains in Uganda. In this photo, he was able to include side-by-side colors for a pleasing and dynamic result. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this example, analogous colors are often found in nature.

When using analogous colors, photographers usually choose one dominant color and then use the others in a supporting role. Designers use what they call the “60-30-10 rule”–meaning that the main color (usually primary or secondary) takes up 60% of the space, while a supporting color (secondary or tertiary) takes up 30%, and the final color takes up just 10%.

This photograph by Jovana Rikalo, appropriately titled Orange Dream, features mainly the color orange, with red and yellow accents.

Triadic colors

A triadic color scheme comprises any three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Like complementary colors, these schemes are vibrant and full of contrast. In the majority of situations, these will be the three primary or secondary colors. 500px Contributor Sabrina Hb’s portrait of a woman and fruit in Colombia might be called Yellow, but those touches of blue and red on the woman’s dress complete the photo–giving it that extra “oomph” and vitality.

Designers generally recommend sticking to the three primary or three secondary colors for that “clean” look. Use too many tertiary colors, and you run the risk of a photo that looks muddy. This landscape by Gunar Streu is another perfect example of color done right because it uses the three secondary colors of the RYB color system: orange, violet, and green.

While color theory might be easiest to implement in the studio, these talented photographers remind us that photographers of any genre, from street to wildlife to architecture, can use it to their advantage. Color is a photographer’s playground. Experiment with different schemes, and see what works best for you. We’ll see you again in part two of this three-part series on color theory.

While color theory might be easiest to implement in the studio, these talented photographers remind us that photographers of any genre, from street to wildlife to architecture, can use it to their advantage. Color is a photographer’s playground. Experiment with different schemes, and see what works best for you.

Stay tuned for part two of this three-part series on color theory.

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How to improve your photography with the rule of thirds

Published by Feature Shoot  • 1 week ago

In 1797, the engraver and painter John Thomas Smith, who worked as the keeper of prints at the British Museum, came up with a revolutionary theory. 

In his view, landscape paintings worked best not when sky and land were given equal weight, but when one or the other took up an entire two-thirds of the canvas. Contrary to popular wisdom, which favored the “formal half” or a one-to-one ratio, he wondered if the most appealing compositions, in fact, featured a different ratio altogether: one-to-two. 

Smith’s theory predates the invention of the camera by about twenty years, but these days, we know it as one of the guiding principles of photography. Now, when we discuss composition, we still use the same term Smith coined all those years ago: the rule of thirds.

Once you understand this common photographic technique, you can learn to position your subject in any image so that the photo is both visually balanced and interesting to your viewers. In this article, we’ll explore the rule of thirds and how you can use it to your advantage.

What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is one of the easiest ways to experiment with your composition; it is simply a matter of placing the elements in your image so that each of them carries the proper amount of visual weight. 

Imagine you are looking at a tic-tac-toe board. Notice how the lines on that board create three distinct horizontal sections and three distinct vertical sections. There are also four points where the lines intersect. According to the rule of thirds, placing your subject along a line or point on this grid will create a more dynamic composition. 

You have the option to view a rule of thirds grid as an overlay in your DSLR viewfinder, and you can even look for a grid option in the camera settings on your phone. This can be helpful when you’re practicing the rule of thirds, but be wary of using it too much as it may interfere with your ability to visualize other compositions while you shoot. The best way to master the rule of thirds is to practice visualizing it in your mind.

How to use the rule of thirds

New photographers tend to put their subjects in the very center of the frame. While this can result in a strong composition under the right circumstances, it can also create static images that lack interest. 

This is partly due to the way our eyes view a scene: they naturally try to follow the lines and points on the grid, even when the grid is not visible. It’s also due to another compositional element: balanced asymmetry. Usually, your subject will already carry the greatest impact out of all the elements in your image, so it wields a lot of visual weight. By positioning the subject so that it takes up approximately one-third of the image, you’re leaving enough negative space to balance that weight.

In landscapes
Try aligning your horizon line with one of the two horizontal lines on the grid. This keeps your viewer’s eye from getting stuck going side to side. If the sky is distractingly bright, this is an easy way to balance that punch of brightness with the more muted detail in the land portion of your image.

In portraiture
The eyes are usually the focus of a portrait, so try to line up your model’s eyes along the grid to give them high visual exposure. For group portraits, use stools, steps, or natural height strategically to utilize different areas of the grid.

Some things to consider

The rule of thirds is a great “cheat sheet” for getting dynamic compositions out of almost any scene. However, it’s not always the best choice for every photo. If you’re shooting in one of the following circumstances, the rule of thirds might not be right for your image. 

You want something to have a larger-than-life effect
Platon is famous for his in-your-face portraits of celebrities and world leaders. You really get a sense of who they are, and for that kind of impact, the subject is the only thing that matters. Although some of his other work does use the rule of thirds, these pieces would only be hindered by it.

If you already use the rule of thirds too frequently
This rule is meant to stimulate creativity, not inhibit it. If you’ve come to rely heavily on the rule of thirds and notice that a lot of your work is looking eerily similar, it may be time to try something new.

You’re battling lens distortion
If you’re using a wide-angle lens, placing your subject in one of the outer thirds could cause them to appear too distorted. If that’s not the effect you are going for, switch lenses or switch photography rules.

The rule of thirds in post-processing

Sometimes we want a rule of thirds composition, but due to shooting circumstances, it’s not easy or possible on-location. If you’re shooting macro photography of insects, for example, you’re already using a lot of mental energy just to get the right point of focus before your subject moves on. In a situation like that, it can help to shoot just a little wider than you think you need. That leaves you room to crop for the rule of thirds in post-processing.

If you plan to do this, check your camera settings before you shoot. Be sure you are shooting in RAW and give yourself a nice, high-resolution file to work with so that you aren’t cropping away all of your image quality. Keep a copy of the original image in your backups in case you need to go back to the drawing board. 

If you simply want to enhance the rule of thirds effect, you can use an adjustment layer mask (or in Lightroom, an adjustment brush) to draw attention to elements that line up with the grid. You can add a little pop of saturation, enhance the brightness, or do some selective sharpening to draw attention to those areas.

Practice is all it takes to master this rule completely. Try setting up a dedicated shoot for this technique and see how many different compositions you can think of. When you walk around without your camera, try visualizing compositions from the things you see around you that follow the rule of thirds. You can also gain a lot of inspiration from finding examples of images that use the rule of thirds to analyze.

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Want to Grow Your Email List? See How This Photographer Grew His List by 300 percent

Learn the 5 essential steps he took to grow his email list and pivot his business to an online format.

BY KRISTIN MACLAUGHLIN  JUNE 10, 2020

James Maher is a New York Photographer, a huge Knicks fan, and a lifelong New Yorker who got his driver’s license at 30 years old — as any true Manhattanite should. Maher never took the conventional route. His love of photography started with using Photoshop to make fake driver license IDs at the University of Madison with his college roommates. 

Over time, he grew his business to offer an eclectic mix of products and services — including photography print sales, a portrait business, conducting workshops, creating online content, and authoring three books. Despite having a diverse business, COVID-19 still shut down his business along with the rest of New York.

He knew he had to transition some of his business online, so he took some time to look at short-term revenue options that could set him up for long-term growth. He began brainstorming how he could re-create traditional in-person experiences into new online opportunities.

In order to do so, he followed 5 essential steps to grow his email list and pivot his business to an online format.

The 5 essential steps to growing your list

Step 1: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is a process of optimizing your website to get organic (or unpaid) traffic. Maher drives traffic by regularly providing unique, engaging, and free content on his site for people interested in learning about photography. 

For example, he gives away a free New York travel photography guide on his website. This free guide is an essential part of Maher’s SEO and content marketing strategy.

Although each audience member will receive multiple emails in the sequence, Maher reminds them at the top of each email of the content they may have missed or that will be coming in a future email.

Each email includes thought-provoking images and step-by-step instructions for other photographers.

“My email list was always vital and incredibly important to my business, but it’s even more important now because I have started to transition to more online content,” says Maher.

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Step 4: Let analytics be your content compass

AWeber’s analytics help guide Maher determine the type of content he sends and when. “It gives me a lot of information about how my information is perceived, and if the content is engaging,” says Maher.

Maher reviews regularly both the open and the click-through rate on the content that he sends. Sending engaging content has allowed him to attract new audiences to his email list.

Step 5: Expand your reach

Maher uses his downtime to set himself up for long-term success by creating content and online products to grow his email list. 

His latest online product, “Editing and Putting Together a Portfolio in Street Photography,” drove revenue and allowed him to promote some of his other services like individual portfolio reviews.

While social distancing is still in place in New York City, Maher takes time to introduce himself to as many new groups of people as possible. For example, he gives photography zoom presentations to groups and camera clubs around the country. Most people who attend the presentation visit his website and join his email list.

Promote to your own email list

Maher also promotes the new online course to his email audience.

Email on James Maher's online class: Editing and Putting Together a Portfolio in Street Photography

During this time, when many members of his audience have reduced income, Maher has adjusted his payment model to “pay what you can.” 

The suggested price for the online class is $25. The average payment turned out to be about $25 because some people were getting it for free or $5, but some people paid $50 or $100. 

“I’m going to do that going forward for more of my products now. It provides me some income and builds my emails list, so it is a win-win for everyone.” says Maher.

Take advantage of lower advertising rates to promote on social media

The rates for advertising are much lower than usual due to COVID-19, so it is a great time to promote posts on social media to stand out from the crowd.

Maher uses Facebook ads to target local photographers in the Northeast. They see the ad, download the photography travel guide, and are added to his AWeber list. 

AWeber then sends an automated email sequence that lets them get to know Maher, learn photography tips, and get a sense of the type of content they will receive from going forward.

“I’m testing and tweaking the Facebook ad a bit now given that people aren’t really traveling to New York with COVID-19 going on. But I’m finding that it’s still doing very well at converting photographers, particularly with the cheaper ad pricing. If you provide them with good, interesting content, you can grow your list,” says Maher. 

Short term cash needs can translate into long term growth

Maher has shifted his business’s focus toward creating online experiences that provide short-term revenue that keeps his business going. He created online classes about photo editing and online photography portfolio reviews. He even started working with photographers to help them create portfolio websites. 

Every post, promotion, or email drives people to his sign up forms with the end goal of growing his email list. 

The creation of each online product is just the first phase of its product life. “Each online product will eventually integrate into a bigger package in the long term. I’ve been building this business for about 17 years, and I had the formula down — but COVID-19 broke the formula,” says Maher. 

“The silver lining is COVID-19 gave me the time to execute on ideas I always had in the back of my head. I believe my business is going to come out of COVID-19 stronger and more prepared for the future.”

Connect with your audience and start growing your email list today!

With AWeber, you’ll get everything you need to grow your own business online — including sign up forms, newsletters, landing pages, and access to our award-winning customer solutions team. 

Start your 30-day free trial today.

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Kristin MacLaughlin

Director of Product MarketingRead more posts by Kristin MacLaughlin

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Blue Hour Photography: A Beginner’s Guide

Curated Article from Coles Class Room.

Photographers like to talk about golden hour photography and the beautiful, glowy light they find right before sunset or after sunrise.  Golden hour is amazing.  But for my money, you can’t beat blue hour photography for some peaceful, serene images.  Don’t be so hasty packing up your gear after the sun has set.  Stay a little while to enjoy the blue hour!  

Exactly what is blue hour photography and how do you shoot it?  Follow along below for our beginner’s guide on when, what and how to shoot to take advantage of this really cool period of day!

What is Blue Hour?

Blue hour is the period of morning or night when the sun is below the horizon but still casting light into the sky.  The result is a beautiful, cool sky that makes a stunning backdrop for your photography.  Blue hour skies are crisp, cool and full of gauzy shades from indigo to navy with hints of red and pink.

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When is Blue Hour?

The general rule of thumb for blue hour is up to one hour after sunset or one hour before sunrise.  Your blue hour might not last a full hour, though.  Sometimes we only get 20-40 minutes of photography of beautiful blue before the skies turn completely black at night or the sun clears the horizon in the morning.

How long the blue hour lasts and what it looks like depends on your location, season, and the weather.  The best blue hours, in my opinion, occur on nights with few clouds.

Why Should You Shoot Blue Hour?  

Shooting during blue hour has several advantages.  First, blue hour can add more visual interest to your images.  The blue hue of the sky is a more appealing backdrop than a completely black sky, and is a great contrast to electric lights.

Also, blue hour photography helps add creativity to your photo by allowing you to convey motion.  Because there is less ambient light, you can use a lower shutter speed like 1/60, 1/10, 5, or even 30 seconds.  A slow shutter speed lets you convey motion by smoothing out water, creating light trails, or blurring clouds.  Also, you aren’t fighting mid-day or late evening sun.  So blue hour gives you more flexibility when it comes to adjusting shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in dim light.

What to Photograph During Blue Hour Photography

Blue hour is a popular time to photograph lots of different types of images, from portraits to carnivals.  Try shooting any of these images as blue hour photography subjects:

  • Cityscapes
  • Travel images like busy, winding roads or freeways
  • Landscapes like beaches, bridges, wharves, or marinas
  • Fairs, circuses, or carnivals
  • Portraits with suitable ambient light or off-camera flash
  • Moon photography

Want to take scenic landscape and cityscape photography shots like a pro? Check out our landscape photography course!

What Equipment Do You Need for Blue Hour Photos?

To capture your own blue hour photo, make sure you’re ready with the following gear:

  • DSLR or mirrorless camera that shoots in manual mode and RAW.  Your camera should also be capable of shooting in bulb mode to create long exposures.
  • Lenses that matches your intended composition.  A wide-angle lens, such as an 18mm or 24mm, is a great choice for cityscapes and landscapes.
  • Tripod (to stabilize your camera)
  • Flashlight (to adjust settings in the dark)
  • Stopwatch or intervalometer (for a time-lapse photo)
  • Remote shutter release (cable or wireless)
  • Extra batteries and warm clothes if you’re shooting in cold temperatures

How to Capture the Blue Hour

Blue hour photography isn’t a hard concept to master, but it does take some planning and forethought to get it right.  Here are my best tips!

  1. Plan your blue hour photography shoot ahead of time.  Scout out possible locations in the day and know when blue hour will occur for your location.  An app such as PhotoTime or Photopills can help!  Look for locations that have artificial light for interest but aren’t overwhelmed with light pollution.  Too much light in the background dilutes your skies.  You’ll get a sky that’s orange or pink instead of that tranquil deep, dark blue.
  2. Pack your gear ahead of time.  Make sure you have everything you need for a blue hour shoot before you leave the house. You don’t want to find the perfect location and have beautiful weather only to realize you’ve left your tripod at home.
  3. Arrive early to set up your equipment.  Allow plenty of time to set up your tripod, frame your shot, and dial in focus and settings.  I always plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to sunset or 90 minutes before sunrise.  The best blue hues can fade quickly, so you want to be ready to make the most of your opportunity.
  4. Choose your settings based on your goals for the photo.  Slower shutter speeds help create light trails or smooth out water or clouds.  Wider apertures such as f/2.8 or f/1.8 can create beautiful bokeh orbs.  Narrower apertures turn points of light into sun stars.  Prioritize your settings based on what’s most important in your image.
  5. Be patient!  Don’t get in a hurry to start snapping pictures too early!  You want to wait for the moment when the sun has sunk below the horizon at night.  For morning blue hour, you’ll want to wait for the moment when the light turns from black to dark blue.  
  6. If light trails or buttery water/clouds are your goals, shoot in shutter priority mode.  That way the camera will choose ISO and aperture for you, allowing you to focus solely on shutter speed, composition, and timing.
  7. Turn off auto white balance.  The camera gets fooled by the blues and tries to neutralize them, which kind of defeats the point of shooting gorgeous blue skies!  I prefer to use Kelvin instead.  Start in the 6500K range and adjust as needed.
  8. Use a shutter release cable or remote to fire the shutter.  This will make sure you aren’t jiggling the camera and creating blur in your images when you manually press the trigger. If you don’t have a remote or cable, you can also use the timer function of your camera. This lets the camera settle first before firing.
  9. If you’re still getting blur even if using a tripod and remote, try shooting in live view or locking up your mirror.  Occasionally the minor act of your mirror flipping up to expose your sensor is enough to introduce blur into your image.  But if you shoot in live view or adjust your setting to lock the mirror in the up position, the mirror stays in place and helps eliminate shake.  
  10. Remember your other composition rules!  Use the rule-of-thirds where appropriate.  Look for leading lines to accentuate your subject.  Shoot from different angles and perspectives.
  11. Don’t be afraid to experiment!  Try different combinations of settings to give your images a slightly different look and find what YOU like best.  For example, I usually keep my ISO between 200 and 400.  But you might find you really prefer the added grain of ISO 1000 better.  Take multiple exposures with different settings and pick your favorites.  Soon you’ll find your perfect blue hour setting combo!

Post-Processing and Editing Blue Hour Images

How you process your images will vary according to your personal style.  I always shoot in RAW so I have the most flexibility in post-production.  My style is bold and colorful, so I usually add some vibrance, saturation, and contrast to my images from the hour blue.  Split toning helps enhance the color of the sky while keeping natural skin tones. Split toning also ensures you don’t wind up with all blue photos…remember it’s the contrast between blue and the other colors in the scene that add visual interest.  Finally, adjusting the luminosity may give your photo the pop it needs!  Try editing in your typical style first, then tweaking your blue hour images to find a style you best!

Conclusion

Don’t be such a slave to the golden hour that you miss photographing in the blue hour.  It really can be every bit as magical as golden hour and lends a certain tranquil and calm spirit to your photo.  You’ll love the tones and ethereal quality for landscapes, cityscapes and more!

Article written and copied from Coles Classroom.

12 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Release Your Shutter

In my personal quest to improve my digital photography skills, I am constantly seeking guidance.

Recently I ran across what I consider to be a very important guide.

Twelve very important questions I think all photographers should ask themselves before each shot.  Considering these questions can and will improve your photography skills.

Utilizing these questions has greatly improved my efforts to produce impressive imagery.  You should consider:

  1. The Purpose 
  2. The Story You Wish To Tell
  3. The Position You Should Take
  4. Orientation
  5. Background
  6. Is the composition Straight? 
  7. Framing
  8. Light
  9. Focal Point
  10. Eye Flow
  11. Movement Within The Frame
  12. Color/Contrast

Commit To Memory

Excited about the expected outcome from my next photo adventure, I immediately committed them to memory in the order given.  

Eager to see the outcome from my newly acquired knowledge, I began using them, in the exact order given.

After trying this for a while, I realized that I was struggling to get through the process.  At first, I could not understand why the process was so difficult for me.  Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck and I realized that the order in which the questions were given did not fit my slowly developing style.  Causing, my shooting process to become slow and difficult.

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Make Adjustments

Even though each question needs to be addressed, the order just didn’t match my style.  So I decided to experiment with the sequence.  

My new sequence looks like this:

  1. Purpose
  2. Story
  3. Light
  4. Position
  5. Orientation (Landscape or Portrait)
  6. Framing
  7. Focal Point 
  8. Eye Flow
  9. Background
  10. Color/Contrast
  11. Streight
  12. Movement

This is my personal sequence, and so far it has served me well.  I can see a dramatic improvement in my photography.

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For a final note, I must interject two thoughts.  First, I sometimes let light lead me to my story, after all, photography is all about light.  And finally, I have learned to always shoot both orientations.  You will be surprised at what you may come up with.

Nature Moment

So play around and find your sequence and see if it improves your skills. 

How to Shoot Tack Sharp Stars

By David Johnston

The dawn of the age of technology has given way to a ton of new types of photographs that weren’t necessarily able to be shot before. The leading companies in camera sensors have developed the tools necessary to shoot unbelievable images in some of the most difficult situations. My guess is that if Ansel Adams had the capability to photograph with the current cameras we possess today, he’d take some of the most incredible photographs ever seen. In his place, however, are a sleuth of experienced photographers that do their best to fill his void… respectfully of course! 

There is a flip-side to technology, though. 

The more detail that these amazing camera sensors produce, the more apparent photography errors can be. 

So, due to the difficult photography conditions such as night photography, it’s important to know how to shoot sharply so your mistakes don’t stand out. You want to be able to shoot your stars tack sharp!

The Importance of Tack Sharp Stars

I want you to think through a scenario with me to understand just how important tack sharp stars in your night photography are. Believe me, they are of the utmost importance! 

Let’s say that you’ve come a long way in your ability to photograph the beauty of the night sky and you’re renowned enough to be offered several employment opportunities to do so. You are hired by a very well-to-do gentleman who would like to grace his huge living room wall with a large print of the night sky. 

You are beyond excited to have the opportunity to accept this project and you immediately plan for a clear night to provide your client with the work he desires. 

The sky is clear and you drive to a remote location to work. You set everything up and take multiple exposures during different points in the night to ensure that you have captured the most compelling image possible. 

Next, you spend hours editing and manipulating the select image to create a jaw dropping piece of artwork that will be sure to please your client. You finish, print the enormous copy of the image, and deliver it to your client. 

All is well until he hangs it up only to notice that the stars in the image are out of focus. You’ve now lost the job, the time, the money, and your career as a photographer is over. Surely you’ll never work again! 

Alright, it’s very dramatic. But, I needed to drive home the importance of getting your stars tack sharp and perfectly in focus.

Razor Thin Decisions

When you are setting up and thinking about how to photograph stars for perfect focus, you need to remember that when you’re shooting stars you’re shooting moving objects. Now, it can be difficult to think of stars as moving objects when you first get into night sky photography, but the distant balls of burning gas actually move a lot faster than you think. 

Photographers need to select an exposure that will compliment both sharp stars, and movement best. 

You’d be surprised at how razor thin that decision can be. 

I’ve read countless articles about settings to use to shoot the night sky that tell aspiring astrophotographers to use an exposure of 30 seconds. 

Let me tell you from my experience that if you’re shooting an exposure of 30 seconds, you might as well shoot multiple images and make it a star trail photograph because a 30 second exposure will absolutely show the star paths on large prints. Star paths are different than images with tack sharp star points. 

It’s imperative in my experience to keep your exposure at a maximum of 20 seconds. The 10 second difference may not seem like much, but if makes a world of difference if you want pin point stars in your night sky photograph.

How to Execute it in the Field

There is no other option than to get your sharp stars correct in the field. Many times there can be alternatives or tricks you can use in post-processing to overcome mistakes that occur in the camera, but when it comes to focus issues you MUST get it right in the camera. There is not fix-all for focus in post-processing. 

So, the natural question is, “How do I shoot tack sharp stars in the field?” 

I’m glad you asked! 

The assumption that throwing your lens on focus to infinity to create tack sharp star points is inaccurate. In fact, all lenses have different exact infinity points. It’s not always directly on the infinity icon on your lens barrel. 

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To be sure that you’re moving your focal ring to the correct infinity point in manual focus (you should always shoot the night sky in manual focus) go out to any location during the day and focus on a very small object that is far away. When it comes to setting up your focus, remember the saying, “Aim small, miss small.” The smaller the object you’re setting your infinity point to, the more accurate it will be on star points. Once you lock onto your target, zoom in on it in live view and fine tune your focus for 100% accuracy. 

After you’ve dialed in on your small target, remove your hands from your focal ring and look at your infinity point. It may or may not be directly on the infinity icon on the lens.

The next natural question is, “So, how do I find this point again in the dark?” 

There are a couple of different ways to do that. One solution is to tape your focal ring in place. This will keep everything right where you left it so you know that your focus is on your focus to infinity point at night. 

The other solution is to mark your focal ring with a grease pencil at your infinity point. If your focal ring gets knocked around, your pencil mark will be the indicator of where your focus to infinity point is so you don’t have to do this whole process again. 

Once you’re sure that you know where your focus to infinity point is located on your lens, you can be sure that your stars, which are very far away, will be within perfect, pin-point focus. 

Now, I also want to put this section in because I don’t want anyone to assume that the very first time you try this you’ll shoot the best night images ever. Just like with other photography techniques there will be room for error and the more you practice, the less margin of error there will be. 

A great way to practice is to perform the focusing process over and over until you know exactly where your lens is going to focus to infinity. 

If you want to practice focusing for tack sharp stars in the field at night, you can do the exact same process. It doesn’t even need to be a clear night. Simply perform the same steps, except focus on a distant light instead of a distant object like you would during the day. Using a distant and small light on earth will simulate a small star in the sky when you’re ready to photograph the real thing.

Hopefully I’ve poured out the importance of photographing tack sharp stars into your mind so much that you never shoot a photo of the night sky out of focus again. Just remember that as technology gets better and the quality of images increases, photographers must take the seriousness of image quality to another level.

About the author: When David Johnston isn’t leading photography workshops and tutorials or hosting his popular photography podcast, Photography Roundtable, he can be found traveling the world taking photos to awe and inspire his viewers. David has a passion for sharing his knowledge of photography and has many educational offerings designed to help photographers improve their work. Visit his website at www.photographyroundtable.com.

12 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Release Your Shutter

In my personal quest to improve my digital photography skills, I am constantly seeking guidance.

Recently I ran across what I consider to be a very important guide.

Twelve very important questions I think all photographers should ask themselves before each shot.  Considering these questions can and will improve your photography skills.

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Utilizing these questions has greatly improved my effort to produce impressive imagery.  You should consider:

  1. The Purpose 
  2. The Story You Wish To Tell
  3. The Position You Should Take
  4. Orientation
  5. Background
  6. Is the composition Straight? 
  7. Framing
  8. Light
  9. Focal Point
  10. Eye Flow
  11. Movement Within The Frame
  12. Color/Contrast

Commit To Memory

Excited about the expected outcome from my next photo adventure, I immediately committed them to memory in the order given.  

Eager to see the outcome from my newly acquired knowledge, I began using them, in the exact order given.

So, after trying this for a while, I realized that I was struggling to get through the process.  At first, I could not understand why the process was so difficult for me.  Suddenly, I realized that the order in which the questions were given did not fit my slowly developing style.  Causing, my shooting process to become slow and difficult.

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Make Adjustments

Even though each question needs to be addressed, the order just didn’t match my style.  So I decided to experiment with the sequence.  

My new sequence looks like this:

  1. Purpose
  2. Story
  3. Light
  4. Position
  5. Orientation (Landscape or Portrait)
  6. Framing
  7. Focal Point 
  8. Eye Flow
  9. Background
  10. Color/Contrast
  11. Streight
  12. Movement

This is my personal sequence, and so far it has served me well.  Now, I am beginning to see a dramatic improvement in my photography.

For a final note, I must interject two thoughts.  First, I sometimes let light lead me to my story, after all, photography is all about light.  And finally, I have learned to always shoot both orientations.  You will be surprised at what you may come up with.

So, go out shoot some pics and play around with these questions, find your sequence and see if it improves your skills. 

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Photoshoot checklist: One more tool to help rock your photography sessions

Written by Teresa Milner

Improve your consistency and confidence with a photoshoot checklist

Are you looking for ways to improve the flow of your photo sessions, your post-production workflow or your consistency? Consider developing and following your own photoshoot checklist! 

Have you ever finished a photography session that felt awesome at the time only to feel disappointed later with the actual images? Maybe your focus was off. Maybe there were crazy shadows you missed on your client. Or maybe you ended up with a really ugly set of trash cans in the background that are taking hours to clone out in Photoshop. For whatever reason, you HATE them. 

Friend, I’ve been there. It’s frustrating and can be such a time killer if you end up spending hours in post-production trying to fix it. Those oversights are honest mistakes. But they sure can wreak havoc on our confidence and our time.

The best photographers have one thing in common…a consistent workflow during their sessions. They might not even realize it, but they perform largely the same tasks in the same order for each and every session. This photoshoot checklist, whether physical or mental, helps ensure accuracy and consistency.

In this tutorial, we’ll talk through some elements of a photoshoot checklist, helping you build a consistent workflow for your photography sessions. Feel free to add elements or change components of this around to suit your style and personality and adapt it as you continue to grow your skills. But until then, you can also use this checklist to help you mentally and physically work through your sessions.

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Photoshoot Checklist Overview

New photographers often spend the most time thinking about camera settings when it comes to their photoshoot. 

Here are the elements you need to think about having on your photoshoot checklist

  • Prepare your camera and equipment
  • Prepare yourself
  • Evaluate the light
  • Evaluate the background
  • Greet and prepare your subjects (clients, family, objects, etc.) 
  • Position your clients
  • Check the background and light relative to the subjects
  • Dial-in your settings
  • Confirm your settings
  • Pose or prompt your clients
  • Start shooting!
  • Pause to confirm a few images
  • Repeat for different settings or major pose changes

That sounds really simple. And it can be. But I’ll break down each element in detail so you can get an idea of just what a session looks like for me. This is the formula I follow for each photoshoot I have, whether it’s an outdoor or indoor session and whether it’s a family or personal branding session. Having a consistent workflow gives me confidence and improves the client experience because we have a known roadmap to follow throughout our time together!

Step #1 – Prep my camera and equipment. What equipment do I need for a photoshoot?

Before I load my gear into the car for a photography session, I do a mental walkthrough of the session and jot down some notes on what I need. What lenses will I want? What props will I take? Should I take external lighting or a reflector? Once I have those items listed, I gather them up and prep my camera.

To prep my camera, I check my battery, put in and format memory cards and double-check that my lenses are clean and in my bag. Then I reset my aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to the same settings every time. I use f/5.6, 1/200 of a second and ISO 100.

Why do I do this?

First, I want to make sure I don’t have some goofy settings still on my camera that I forget about at the session. For example, one time I had my ISO on 10000 for some a nighttime session with flash. I didn’t catch it and thought my ISO was at 100 and had about a dozen really grainy family images before I caught it.

Second, I like to have my camera ready to start shooting the minute I pull it out of my bag, just in case. If I need to grab my camera quick, I know immediately if I’ll need to adjust my settings one way or the other. I don’t have to stop to wonder what my settings were and think about how I need to fix them. It’s a trick I learned a long time ago from a professional wildlife photographer that has served me well for some quick captures of a session or candid images of my own family.

I also make sure I have the bracket for my tripod or harness in my bag, along with my gray card and my notes on the client session.

Once my gear is ready, I head to the photo session!

Step 2. Prep yourself!

How should a photographer prepare for a photoshoot?

I use a lot of mental rehearsal to get ready for photoshoots. I read through my questionnaires and notes on the client. My shot list gets a few more read-throughs. Then I do a mental run-through of the first five or ten minutes of our session. I literally talk out loud as if I’m speaking to the client. I practice their names, practice my first setup or two and rehearse how I want the session to go.

This imaginary convo usually happens in the car on my way to a session. It might sound a little crazy but it’s helped me tremendously. I get to a session feeling like I’ve been there before because, in a way, I have! Try it for a session or two and see if it helps you!

Remember to prepare your body for the session, too! Use the restroom. Make sure you are hydrated and fed. Wear professional but functional clothing. Apply sunscreen or bug repellent, if needed. Tuck gloves and a hat in your bag if the weather is cold.

If you aren’t worrying about your physical needs it’s much easier to focus on the session!

Step 3. Evaluate the light

The next item on my photoshoot checklist is to evaluate the light. Light is always my first priority because it’s the key component of a quality image. You can make a crummy location look amazing if you have the right light. But a poorly lit image is a poorly lit image no matter how pretty the backdrop.

So look around. Where is the light coming from? What’s the quality and color of light?

If it’s an overcast day, for example, I might use the area differently than I would on a bright afternoon with no clouds. Where’s the best light in your location at that moment? Is there a location that will give me even lighting from head to toe?

Take note of things like open shade, dappled light or natural reflectors you can use to bounce light back into your scene.

Step 4. Evaluate the background.

After you understand the light you have to work with, then it’s time to evaluate the background. The key is to examine the background as it relates to the places with good light.

Look for elements of the background you want to use, like objects for natural framing, layering, leading lines or bokeh. Next, scope out those areas and make a note of parts of the background you want to avoid. Things like power lines, trash bins, tree branches, etc. can all ruin an otherwise great shot.

In the image above, my clients had requested a picture by the property’s gate. Immediately upon arrival, I notice the gate is huge and the powerlines in the background. (We did a few shots here but we moved their first look to a different location…see my tips below on accommodating clients AND giving them great images).

Whenever possible, I complete steps 4 and 5 BEFORE my clients arrive. I get to a location early and have a look around before a client gets there so I can work out my plan by myself. If I’m working in clients’ homes, I greet them, ask for a few minutes to scout out the space and then reconnect with the client to start the session.

Step 5. Prep your clients

I like to welcome my clients and then give them a brief rundown of what they can expect during the session. I remind them of how long we will shoot, explain my posing/prompting technique briefly and make sure they don’t have any last-minute requests. We complete a quick wardrobe check (look for cell phones or keys in pockets or hair ties around wrists!) and then start getting ready to take pictures.

If you’re photographing something other than people, this is where you’d gather your subjects. Make sure you have the products or items you want to photograph ready to go as well before you start shooting. If you’re shooting a location or space, like real-estate photography, do a quick walkthrough to prep the home or building.

Step 6. Position your subject

By now you should have a pretty good game plan in your head about how to use your location. So grab your subjects and position them in your scene for your first series of shots. Don’t worry about posing or prompting just yet. Just get your subject about where you want them and take up your shooting position.

Step 7. Bring it all together.

This is the last double-check of lighting, background and subjects on our photoshoot checklist. How does the light look on your subject? Where is the horizon in relation to your subjects? Anything look wonky in the background? Don’t be afraid to reposition your subjects if necessary. Sometimes all it takes is a step or two in either direction and you make a ho-hum image really pop!

Let me illustrate the importance of why this final check is important with a little story.

I’d been shooting some formal wedding portraits just outside the reception hall. I’d scouted the area, found great light and started shooting. When I started editing, I could have kicked myself. There was a stump with an ax handle sticking out of it in the background. It hadn’t been distracting at the time, but the way I’d positioned the bride and groom, it looked like the ax handle was coming out of the groom’s rear end.

So. Not. Cool.

I’d rushed my workflow and hadn’t taken the time to evaluate my subjects in the background. It was fixable in Photoshop with the patch tool. But had I taken my time and looked at the entire scene one more time, I could have saved myself a lot of time in post-production.

If you look closely at the photo below, you’ll see the fly-swatter in the upper right-hand corner. That was a detail I could have easily taken care of if I had done a better job of looking at my clients in the scene. I delivered the image to the clients after some cropping. But it would have been better had I taken three seconds to scan my scene and remove distractions.

Step 8. Dial-in your settings

Now it’s time we talk settings!

See, we’re all the way to step 8 and I haven’t mentioned settings once. That’s because while settings are important, they aren’t the only thing that makes great images. Yes, the wrong settings can wreck your image. But even the perfect settings can’t overcome skunky light, squinty eyes or a tree limb through someone’s head.

But I digress.

Now it’s time to read your light meter and dial in your settings. I usually start with my shutter speed. What is the minimum shutter speed I need to keep any motion blur or camera shake from my images? Then I select the aperture I want based on my subject and focal plane. Then I set ISO as needed.

Don’t forget about setting the focus and white balance. I will generally set a custom white balance or use daylight. Use your preferred setting or set your own custom balance.

When good auto white balance goes bad…Read our white balance tutorial.

Step 9. Review

Go ahead and take a quick look at your camera screen. A quick visual confirmation that everything looks a-okay never hurts. If something if off, better to adjust it now!

I check for blown highlights, shadows with no texture and the balance between the light on my subject and the light on my background. What looks okay to our eyes, even with good settings, doesn’t translate well to the camera.

“Chimping,” or looking at the back of your camera, got a bad rap there for a while with photographers. You don’t need to do it after every shot, but it’s a valuable tool that you can and should be using during your sessions.

Step 10. Pose or prompt your clients

Now that you are ready to go, it’s time to focus on your subjects!

I wait until after I’ve dialed in settings to pose or prompt because it’s less pressure on everyone. The client doesn’t feel pressured to pose or hold a smile while I adjust settings. And I don’t feel like the client is staring at me, silently screaming, “JUST HURRY UP ALREADY!”

This is also helpful if you’re shooting pets or children. They aren’t going to hold a traditional pose for very long. Keep their cooperation for when you are ready!

Give your subject your posing suggestions or prompts if you’re more unstructured. Then start shooting.

Step 11. Complete your session.

Finally, we’ve arrived at the last item on our photoshoot checklist. It’s time to simply move through the workflow of the session you planned in your head earlier. I’ll take whatever photos I want at this location using this lighting. Then I move on to another area I might want to use. At that point, I start over at step seven and again evaluate the subjects in the new background and light and double-check my settings.

Any time I switch the number of subjects I’m shooting, I double-check my aperture. If I was taking pictures of the little sister at f/2.8, then I switch to the whole family in two rows, I adjust my aperture to give me the depth of field I need.

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Best Tips for Improved Photography Sessions

Tip #1. Slow down!

My number one tip for improving your photography sessions is simply to slow down. Slow down! Take time to think through what you are doing. Getting things as close to perfect in-camera should always be the goal!

I know how intimidating it feels fiddling with settings while my client waits. But do not rush. It really is better to take an extra 15 seconds now to get things correct than spend hours in post-production trying to fix bad decisions, or worse yet, have completely useless images.

Remember, what feels like an eternity to you is just a few seconds to the client. And they trust you, so the extra time isn’t a big deal to them.

If you feel your clients getting anxious, simply say something like “I’ll take just a few seconds here to make sure I have everything dialed in. I want you to really love these images!”

Seriously, just slow down the whole process and think through your decisions. I’d estimate that 95 percent of my “bad” images are because I was rushing, NOT because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Tip #2. Walk away from bad lighting, backgrounds or poses.

Sometimes I try new things and I don’t love them. Admit that to yourself (and maybe even your client) and then try something else.

If I have a background or lighting scenario I hate, I will tell my client something like “You are rocking it! The light right here just isn’t doing you justice. Let’s walk around the corner and use that area instead.”

If it’s a pose I tried and it isn’t flattering for my client, I keep my mouth shut, snap the picture, then fix the pose. If, after demonstrating and tweaking the pose it still isn’t working, I again snap the picture and move on to another pose. I give my clients lots of praise and find something that works better. You don’t need to tell the client “Oh that doesn’t look good.” Just move on to something more flattering.

Tip #3. You do you.

Shooting at a location where there are lots of other photographers is intimidating as a new professional. You might look around and think “Why are they over there? Should I move? What do they know that I don’t? Her stuff is going to turn out so much better.”

Nope. Don’t even play that game. Focus on executing YOUR plan and flattering YOUR clients, not worrying about the other photographers.

First, everyone has a different style and goals for their images. Her goals and style may not be your goals and style. Your client’s personality might not match her client’s personality!

Second, that other photographer might not even know what in the world he is doing! There are a lot of photographers out there who haven’t put in the time, effort and energy you have to really study photography and light. Copying those photographers isn’t going to help you one bit!

Tip #4. Don’t’ be afraid to take a break to fix something!

If something is wrong with your settings, camera or other equipment, stop and figure it out.

Too many times I think we as new photographers lack the confidence to say “Something’s wonky. Give me a second to figure it out.”

It’s as if saying that out loud confirms our worst fears…that we aren’t good enough to be “real” photographers.

Friend, real photographers have equipment failures. Real photographers have things go wrong. But real photographers also know when to take a break, figure out the problem and fix it.

A stylist isn’t going to keep cutting your hair with dull scissors. Nor will a waitress give you the wrong food and expect you to eat it. Instead, both practice a pause, fix the situation and resume their work. That’s the mark of a professional!

Tip #5. You are the expert. Be accommodating but don’t let the client tell you how to do your job.

My client requested a specific background or pose but it just won’t work. What do I do?

Clients often pick a location that is a gorgeous setting without understanding how important light is to a session. They see a pretty lake or mountain and think it will be a great backdrop for their location. But often, the light in that area just won’t work. Or she REALLY wants to recreate a pose but it’s that is not flattering for her body type. What do you do?

Educate your clients on using great light and posing! This starts during your initial consult, obviously, by talking about why you will shoot when and where you do. But sometimes we get to a session and a client has an idea for a background, pose or setup that is less than ideal. Then what?

I accommodate the client but still work the session my way.

I say things like “Oh I love that idea. Let’s capture a few here where this light is so soft and beautiful, then we will try that one.”

Then, I’ll work in a few shots with the backdrop or pose they’ve requested. I do the best I can with what I’ve got and give them SOMETHING with the specific scene they hand in mind. I give them what they think they want, then go right back to working my way through my photoshoot checklist my way.

Here’s an example…

I was taking senior pictures for a local family this summer. We were working on her grandparents’ cattle ranch in the mountains in Wyoming. One of the locations she really wanted was these big beautiful rocks. The problem was, the rocks were on a west-facing hill in full sun and there were exactly clouds in the sky. To shoot them really well, I should have been there at 5 in the morning, not 6:30 at night. And we couldn’t wait to shoot there until the sun was low in the sky because we needed golden hour for pictures with her horses.

But I knew they were important to the client. These rocks were the same pile of rocks that her great, great-grandparents used to build their first homestead back in the early 1900s. They had tremendous personal significance to my client. So we used the rocks.

But instead of shooting tight portraits, I took a more editorial approach. I used a wider lens and incorporated more of the background into the shots. My client got instructions to look down and away from the sun or close her eyes and be a bit more dramatic. For the photo below, I told her to give me her inner pioneer bad-ass. I did do a few close-ups, knowing I was blowing my highlights but demonstrating I heard my clients request. Then I got back on track with my internal photoshoot checklist.

In this situation, the client loved the final (if non-traditional!) images. But just as often, the clients never purchase those images because they like the ones I created using my knowledge of light and photography better.

So be accommodating. Make the most of a bad situation, then move on and rock your plan. You might surprise yourself with your creativity, the client feels heard and you’ll still deliver amazing images in the end.

Here are some more great family photography tips!

Ticking boxes

Having a photoshoot checklist helps improve your consistency which will ultimately give you better images in the end. It also helps your confidence because you have a roadmap to follow during your sessions.

If you are brand new to taking clients, don’t be afraid to have a physical photoshoot checklist for your first few unpaid practice sessions. Keep it in your pocket or taped to the wall in your studio so you can refer to it as needed. Soon, you’ll find you can keep track of where you are and where you need to go without that map. I still ask my family to volunteer when I want to try something new. And I write down a photoshoot checklist to follow the first few times I implement new methods.

And don’t underestimate the power of mental practice and preparation. Visualization exercises aren’t just for athletes. It can work for photographers, too. Does it sound absolutely crazy to treat your daughter’s stuffed animals like a pee-wee basketball team? Probably. Does it work? Yes! Practice handling sessions from start to finish, including what you’ll say to clients, how you’ll say it and how you’ll move through your workflow.

Sessions feel overwhelming and scary right now. But creating your own photoshoot checklist helps alleviate your fear, improves your confidence and ultimately helps you become a better photographer. Give ours a try or create your own. Rock your list, rock your session and rock your business!

Teresa Milner is a portrait and events photographer in Southeastern Wyoming and the creative drive behind Dirt Road Wife Photography. Teresa traded life in the fast lane as a public information officer to raise her family in her native rural Wyoming. Today, she lives on a commercial bird farm with her husband, daughter, a neurotic border collie, a lovable yellow mutt and more than 20,000 pheasants! A self-proclaimed country girl, she loves farm life, wildlife, fishing, hunting, wildflowers and singing loudly with the radio to any George Strait song she hears. Meet Teresa at www.dirtroadwifephotography.com. Or follow her on Facebook or Instagram!