5 Good Reasons to Take Your Dog on Photography Walks

A Post By: Jessica Tallman

When I travel into the city (San Francisco) I take along my furry assistant and mini model, Mila, for the trip. She’s been working with me for awhile now. She trades in Pup-Peroni and DentaStix, and her daily rate is affordable, but I think she’d work for free too without complaint. I’d always rather bring my pup along on photography walks than go solo.

Take Your Dog on Photography Walks Header

There are a lot of great reasons to practice photography with your dog! I can already think of five good reasons to take your dog on photography walks.

1. Dogs pose for you

What better way to get test shots of a location than to photograph an assistant? But assistants cost money or at least a glass of wine, so if you’re running a tight ship your dog is a great option. My girl Mila has stood in for me on many location scouting trips. The best part about it is that I now have gazillions of photos of her from all of our adventures.

Take Your Dog on Photography Walks - dogs pose

Would this image have been as interesting without Mila posed in the middle?

2. Dogs break the ice

I find this especially useful for street and travel photography. People are less leery of me walking around taking pictures of their homes, businesses, etc., when I have Mila with me. In fact, they often stop to take pictures of her. Her presence encourages positive interaction and engagement, which is very helpful for me when I am trying to get the pulse of a place. Plus, it relaxes people, which makes for all-around better photography in my book.

Take Your Dog on Photography Walks - dogs break the ice

Mila always turns heads on the street. Who doesn’t love a dog that knows how to work the camera?

3. Dogs are like kids, they teach you patience

They need to be fed when they’re hungry. They need to drink when they’re hot. They fidget and don’t give you much time to get that winning shot. Oh, and they get tired and need to take naps in the middle of the street. If you thought child photography was difficult, try pet photography.

Mila is an exceptionally well-trained and mature dog, but she still reacts to her basic needs much as a toddler would. Practicing photography with her makes me very aware of my timing and helps me develop my patience, speed, accuracy, and client empathy. Dogs are great “personal trainers” for working with younger or more demanding subjects.

dogs are like kids they teach you patience

The hunched shoulders tell me all I need to know: it’s time to take a break. Even so, Mila was patient enough to let me snap this shot of her in front of the famous murals at the Mission District Women’s Center.

4. Dogs protect you

I will not lie, the thought of walking solo through San Francisco with the street value equivalent of a small sedan around my neck is somewhat unnerving. Couple that with a lack of situational awareness when I am focused on taking a shot, and I’ve got all the makings for a pretty nice mugging. I always feel better when Mila is with me because (a) thieves don’t like messing with chicks with dogs, and (b) she’s got really sharp teeth. (I learned the hard way not to hand-feed her bacon.) If you can’t take a human friend on your next photography walk, why not take man’s best friend?

Take Your Dog on Photography Walks - dogs protect you

Check out that sassy tongue! I challenge anyone to mess with me while my furry bodyguard is on the job.

5. Dogs encourage new perspectives

It’s true that all photographers get into ruts. We get used to taking certain kinds of photos because we’ve had past success with them and therefore know they will be well-received. We have to continually challenge ourselves to seek out new perspectives, and a great way to do this is to imagine seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

Why not a dog’s? When I work with Mila, I always get inspired to look at things differently because I have to get down on her level or compose shots to complement her smaller size. Just be prepared for lots of dirty knees, soiled shirts, and the occasional funny look as you combat crawl through grass and gutters towards your furry subject.

Get low. Amazing how the scenery changes when you're 18 inches off the ground.

Get low. Amazing how the scenery changes when you’re 18 inches off the ground.

Conclusion

I love taking my dog with me on photography walks. Does it add some extra complexity? Absolutely. (I realized a little too late that I shouldn’t drink two glasses of water on the way to the city, it’s not easy to find dog-friendly bathrooms!) But I think about the rewards of having a pet companion with you on a photography walk, one that encourages you to interact with your environment and seek out new perspectives. It is well worth the extra effort.

If you don’t have a dog of your own to accompany you, perhaps you can borrow a friend’s.

Scroll below for more images from our San Francisco photography walk. Do you take your dogs on photo walks with you? Please share your photos and thoughts in the comments below:

Take Your Dog on Photography Walks 8

Black Magic Woman. I never knew Mila was a Santana fan. The things you learn about your dog on a photography walk.

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Funky fun style is a must in the Mission! Wear something colorful and bohemian and you are bound to blend in. Mila’s fashion sense led the way to this rack of hot threads.

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Dog Friendly. There are lots of lovely outdoor seating options at cafes, making them great places to grab a bite with your furry friend.

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I imagine this is what Mila sees when she looks up. The Mission District is renowned for its vibrant murals that celebrate the heritage and culture of the local Mexican community.>

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Driveways in San Francisco are often small and on an incline, making backup mirrors like this an important garage accessory. They’re also convenient when you want to take a grungey selfie with your Sheltie.

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Jessica Tallman is a professional photographer who hails from California with her husband and two shelties. When she’s not out “glamping” in the Sierra Nevadas, you’ll find her photographing wilderness weddings, lush landscapes, stunning cities, and pampered pets. Fun fact: She spent 10+ years as a sensory scientist, training people to be expert beer and wine tasters. View her work on her photography website, wander with her on Instagram, and make friends on Facebook.

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How to Use Manual Mode to Make Artistic Choices for Your Photography

A Post By: Yacine Bessekhouad

When learning photography, it can be tricky to understand how your DSLR works. Most of us started shooting in automatic because we did not know what we were doing when we switched our camera to manual mode.

Basically, your DSLR has four main shooting modes, they are; Program (P), Manual (M), Aperture Priority (Av/A) and Shutter Priority (Tv/S).

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The different shooting modes on an advanced DSLR.

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Manual mode lets you control everything on your camera.

In this article, I will try to explain shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in the easiest way possible. Hopefully, it will help you to never use automatic mode on your camera anymore. I do not hate automatic mode, but I think that it reduces your creativeness.

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Aperture Priority mode lets you control everything except the shutter speed – it will be set automatically depending on your other settings. You can control your ISO or leave it on automatic.

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Shutter Priority mode lets you control everything except the aperture – it will be set automatically depending on your other settings. You can control your ISO or leave it on automatic.

Manual Mode makes you think and slow down

When you take a photo in auto mode, you’re just capturing a moment objectively. For example, let’s say you’re taking a picture of a cat. Your only intention is to have the cat pictured , that’s a snapshot. Automatic mode gives you the right exposure straight away whereas in Manual Mode, you have to go through a creative process in your brain to take the image.

Let’s say you’re taking a picture of the same cat in Manual Mode, you’re not just clicking a button. You’re actually thinking about what you want to do. You might want to picture the cat with a blurred background, you might want to photograph the cat in motion or freeze the moment while it’s blinking. My point is that manual mode brings more subjectiveness to your photographs, a bigger piece of consciousness about your intent, and what you need to do to achieve the end result you want.

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The problem many people have with Manual Mode, or at least I did, is how to get the right exposure. My pictures would be either over or underexposed.

Finding the correct exposure

You will have a correct exposure when you are able to create the perfect balance between the shutter speed, aperture and ISO depending on the amount of light that’s available. When you are shooting outside, your exposure will always change, let’s say you are doing a portrait session in natural light. Your exposure will change every five minutes because the light varies all the time.

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Comparison between a correctly exposed image, overexposed and underexposed one (left to right).

There might be a cloud covering the sun or it may be setting, so the intensity of the light will change. In a studio session, once you get your lights positioned the way you want and have found the correct exposure, you will not need to change your settings again unless you change the position of your light and its intensity. Basically, my point is you have to consider the amount of light available, the intensity, and its direction.

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A studio portrait. As soon as I get my exposure settings right, I will not change them.

Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO explained

Before I get to the main subject of this article and you finally leave the automatic mode for good, I want to explain shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

Shutter speed

The shutter speed is the amount of time the sensor inside your DSLR is exposed to light. A faster shutter speed will let in less light than a longer one. That is why we use very long shutter speeds in low light photography. The time between the shutter opening and closing will vary depending on how much light you want in your picture.

The shutter speed controls ambient light, that is one very important thing. If you need less light, then get a faster shutter speed. Do the opposite if you need more light. A fast shutter speed will also freeze action because the picture will be taken much quicker than a longer shutter speed. This will let you control if you want a moving subject to appear in motion or frozen in your image

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Using a fast shutter speed to freeze a moving sports car

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Using a slow shutter speed shows cars in motion or only the light trails from their headlights.

Aperture

The aperture (opening in the lens) controls the amount of light that is let inside the camera. There is one confusing thing about apertures. A large aperture lets in more light but large apertures are translated with small numbers. In other words, an aperture of f/1.8 is a large aperture (opening) but the number is small, whereas an aperture of f/16 is a small opening but the number is big. Once you get this straight in your mind, it should be fine because the aperture is not that difficult to understand.

Basically, you use aperture for two main things. If you have low light conditions, you will need to use a big aperture (small number) to let in more light. But mostly we use aperture to control the sharpness of an image. A bigger aperture (small number) will give you a shallower depth of field (a blurred background), and a small aperture (bigger number) will give you a larger depth of field (there won’t be any blur in the background, most of the photo will be sharp).

ISO

with an aperture of f/5.6 during a concert, I had no flash and had to boost up my ISO to over 1000 to get a proper exposure. I used a focal length of 50mm

Shot with an aperture of f/5.6 during a concert, I had no flash and had to boost up my ISO to over 1000 to get a proper exposure. I used a focal length of 50mm.

The ISO is the sensitivity of your camera sensor to light. With a higher ISO, the sensitivity to light is increased, therefore you will have more light in your photograph. One tip I can give you is not to be scared of the ISO. It does damage your photo quality wise by adding grain (noise) but with today’s DSLRs you can boost up the ISO to 1000 (or more) and still have good quality. Besides, you can always reduce noise later in post-production. I sometimes take portraits up to 1250 ISO, because I don’t really have a choice and choice is the whole point of this article.

Manual mode

Manual mode in photography is all about making choices. Sometimes use an ISO of 1250 for portraits. Most people would tell me I have no idea what I am doing if they see my settings because they’re scared of a grainy high-ISO picture. But I made the choice to use a high ISO to compensate for the shutter speed (make sure it was fast enough).

a portrait using a large aperture of f/1.8 and an ISO of 1000, I had no flash with me and it was long after the sunset.

This a portrait using a large aperture of f/1.8 and an ISO of 1000, I had no flash with me and it was long after the sunset.

If I use a long focal length with an aperture of f/5.6, I will mostly likely get satisfying bokeh. A shutter speed of at least 1/125th or 1/160th is needed to avoid any blurred shots due to camera shake as my lens is pretty heavy. I really need a sharp photo, so this will make me boost my ISO to 1250 because my choice was to shoot with that lens, at that aperture and that shutter speed.

To use manual mode, you have to make artistic choices and play with the shutter speed and the aperture, leaving the ISO as an additive compensation to get the correct exposure. If you want to photograph a road with cars passing by in the middle of the day, you will most likely want a sharp photo so you will use a small aperture. You then need a fast shutter speed to freeze the cars so the ISO, in this case, will most likely be pretty high.

is an image during daylight of a fast car using a fast shutter speed. The amount of light available enables me to use a fast shutter speed with an ISO of 100 and a small aperture. If it was during sunset I would have needed to increase my ISO to compensate for the light.

An image during daylight of a fast car using a fast shutter speed. The amount of light available enabled me to use a fast shutter speed with an ISO of 100 and a small aperture. If it was during sunset I would have needed to increase my ISO to compensate for the lack of light.

If you’re shooting sunsets and you want to capture some clouds moving in the sky; you will most likely use a small aperture to cut down the light, which will force a long (slow) shutter speed so you will likely need to decrease the ISO to 100. What you are doing is playing around with the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO to get the desired effect.

There are many ways to balance them, but each choice produces a different artistic result. It’s up to you to make that choice.

is a long exposure of 30 seconds with an ISO of 100, the camera was placed on a tripod, I used a small aperture of f/14 for a sharp image.

This is a long exposure of 30 seconds with an ISO of 100, the camera was placed on a tripod, I used a small aperture of f/14 for a sharp image.

Conclusion

Using Manual Mode makes you put more thought and reflexion into the photo you are about to take; I call this the artistic choice. Like I previously said, the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO make the photograph. Between your artistic choices, you can choose to have a shallow depth of field, a large depth of field, a subject in motion, or frozen.

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Think about what you want to do before pressing the shutter button.

You can also choose how much light you want in your photo. If your artistic choice is determined by the aperture, then you have play around with the shutter speed and the ISO to find the right exposure. However, if it is determined by your shutter speed then you need to play around with the aperture and the ISO to find the correct exposure.

Note: your camera will reach its limits. But, you can use ND filters to darken your image or flash to brighten it up.

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Yacine Bessekhouad is a young student who is currently living in France. What attracts him the most to photography is the technical and aesthetic feel. He loves talking and writing about photography and also makes weekly photography and post production tutorials on his YouTube channel. He shares most of his work on his Instagram account.

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Tips for Getting Started Doing Photography with Drones

A Post By: Jim Hamel

Until very recently, my mindset was decidedly anti-drone. To me, drones seemed like a complicated plaything for geeks. After all, isn’t this photography hobby expensive enough without adding flying apparatuses to the equation? Plus there was very little doubt in my mind that if I bought a drone I would send it flying into the ocean on its first flight. No thanks.

Downpatrick-Head photography with drones

Why a drone?

I had a problem though. I had a coastal photography trip planned, and in coastal photography it is often difficult to take pictures of the coast while standing on the coast. I have long wanted some way to be able to look back at the coast from out to sea and photograph it from that perspective. A drone was the only real answer for me, so I bit the bullet and bought one.

After having used the drone for several months now, I can say my attitude has changed markedly. Much of what I thought about drones was wrong, or at least the problems were overemphasized. Flying them is actually very easy. It isn’t that complicated. It isn’t even that expensive (at least not compared to what we spend on cameras and lenses).

You may be pondering buying a drone, or at least wondering what they are all about. You might also see all the video footage from drones and wonder how drones are used in still photography. So let me introduce you to drones and how they can add a new dimension to your photography.

Kinbane-Head

Flying drones is easy

First, let’s talk about flying drones. This is something you are probably concerned about. You might wonder if flying will require skills you don’t have. Or perhaps you just don’t want to devote time to learning it. This is one area where you have nothing to worry about. Flying a drone is remarkably easy. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be careful or that you won’t be nervous every time you fly it, but flying is really easy.

The main thing to understand is that if you have your drone in the air, and you completely let go of the controls, it will just hover harmlessly in the air. It literally just sits there until you tell it what to do. Another thing that people worry about is having the battery run out while you are in the air. That won’t happen. Most drones have a feature that brings the drone back to its take-off point when the battery gets down to a certain level. In fact, most drones have a return to home feature you can press if you ever find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You always have a way out.

Controlling the drone is easy. You have a controller with two joysticks on it. Pushing on one of them sends the drone up or down; doing the same to the other joystick sends it forward and backward. Each of the joysticks also goes right and left. One will turn the drone to the right and left; the other will make it move to whichever side you push to. I’ll talk more about the specifics of the control later. For now, I just want you to get a feel for how easy it is. If you were worried about being able to fly a drone, don’t be.

Fanad-Head

Watch where you fly

You may have heard a lot about the new laws affecting drones. It is true that most countries are enacting regulations for drones. In the U.S., the FAA has recently finalized its rules regarding drones. But many of the rules and restrictions apply to those using drones commercially. Most of us are just doing this for fun, so let me try to make this simple for you.

If you are flying your drone for recreational purposes, you don’t need a permit. There are no pilot requirements. Just register your drone with the FAA and you are set. The registration process is simple and only costs $5. To do so, just go to this page, create an account, and follow the instructions to register your drone.

That said, you cannot just fly your drone wherever you want. The main limitations you should understand are as follows:

  • You must always fly below 400 feet.
  • You must keep your drone within direct eyesight.
  • Never fly near other aircraft, or within five miles of any airport.
  • Never fly over groups of people, stadiums, or sporting events.

There are other restricted areas as well. For example, you cannot fly anywhere in Washington D.C. or in national parks. There are online maps and apps for your phone – including the FAA’s B4U Fly app – that will tell you when you are in a restricted space.

Anyway, the regulations above apply to the U.S. Other countries will have their own regulations. Here are links to the regulations for Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Old-Head

Getting the right drone

Next, let’s talk about getting a drone, if you don’t already have one.

You may have dreams of buying a drone and sending up your DSLR to take high quality pictures. Forget about that, unless you want to spend upwards of $6,000. Instead, you’ll probably want to get a drone that comes with its own camera, but there are also models that work with the GoPro. The most common models are the Phantom 4 by DJI (check prices on Amazon or B&H Photo) or the Typhoon H by Yuneec (check prices on Amazon or B&H Photo). These will cost you about $1,300 – $1,500 for the drone and camera, although you can still get older models cheaper.

What will you get for that? You’ll get a drone that will fly up to about 40 miles per hour, which can operate up to a few miles away from you. It will remain aloft on a battery charge for about 20-30 minutes. You can expect it to have features like an automatic return to home, collision avoidance, and the ability to follow you. Of course, specific features will depend on the actual model you choose.

As to the camera, you can expect to get one that shoots both stills and video (usually 4K). We’ll talk more about the specifics of the cameras in a minute. First let’s talk more about how to fly.

Giants-Causeway

How to fly

When you fly the drone for still photography, things are pretty simple. Unlike shooting video, you won’t need to do any fancy pans or reveals. You just want to get the drone to the right spot(s) to take the picture. It’s just a matter of getting it up in the air, watching where you are going with it, and moving it where you want.

Your drone will have a controller with two joysticks. The controller plugs into your phone or other device. You control the drone with the two joysticks. At the same time, you can see through the drones camera on your device. To send the drone up into the air, all you do is press up on the left joystick. That stick controls altitude. It is as simple as pushing up on the stick to increase the altitude, and pulling down to bring the drone down. That stick will also turn the drone from side to side. The other (right) joystick will fly the drone forward and backward by pressing up and down. When you press that joystick left or right, it moves the drone in that direction.

Monitoring the flight

To keep an eye on where your drone is going, you can either watch the drone itself or watch where it is going via the screen on your phone. Of course, you can operate the controller while keeping your eyes on the drone to make it go where you want.  But you can also see what the drone sees to control it, which is often much easier. You will have a controller that connects to your phone or other device. Your screen will show the view from the drone’s camera as well as other pertinent data. Remember that your drone has to be kept in direct eyesight though.

That doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? It’s really not. After a few flights, it will be even easier. Of course, there are additional nuances and things will be a little different depending on what model you buy. Be sure to read the instructions and watch a few online videos on your specific model.

Monasterboice

You’ll be using a camera made for video

Next let’s talk about the camera that will come with your drone. First, the good news. When it comes to shooting video, the cameras in drones are top notch. They routinely shoot Ultra HD and most shoot 4K video. It doesn’t get better than that.

The bad news is that still photography is something of an afterthought for drones. The sensors are small. In most cases they are what you’d get in a compact camera. The resolution is moderate (12-16 MP is standard). The dynamic range is extremely limited and the low light performance isn’t great.

In addition, the lens will likely be very limited; a fixed focal length. It will be a wide angle lens, usually around 15-20 mm. The lens will also have a fixed aperture, meaning you cannot change it.

Working with the limitations

Virtually none of us would feel good about going out shooting with such a limited camera and lens. However, in drones it isn’t that bad. As to the camera, remember you will be shooting in daylight (you can only fly drones during the day – within 30 minutes of sunrise and sunset – in the U.S.), so there will usually be plenty of light. As to the lens, the fixed aperture isn’t as limiting as it would first appear. Keep in mind that everything in your picture will be so far away that the focus will be at infinity. You don’t need a lot of deep depth of field for everything to be sharp.

So the cameras are pretty limited, but you can make do. In any event, the cameras are getting better all the time, so you can expect significant improvements in camera quality in the near future.

Malin-Head

Tips for photographing with your drone

We’ve talked about the capabilities of drones and the basics of how to fly them. Let’s talk now about taking pictures with them. For the most part, it is similar to operating a normal camera. You have the normal modes to choose from. You can set the shutter speed and ISO yourself or have the camera set them for you. That said, there are some aspects of using cameras on drones you should be aware of. Here are some tips to get you started:

#1 Consider Shooting in Automatic Mode

I am a dedicated manual mode shooter when it comes to shooting with my DSLR. I would not think of using an automatic exposure mode. But when it comes to shooting with a drone, I put it in automatic exposure mode more often than not.

Why? Because there is enough to worry about when it comes to drones. I don’t want to add exposure control to my list of issues to think about. So when you are starting out using a drone for photography, consider using automatic mode. When you get more comfortable with the other controls, you can then set the exposure controls yourself. In any case, your camera will typically do a pretty good job setting the exposure level. You’ll rarely have tricky exposure scenarios here.

Connemara

#2 Bracket your photos

One way to make sure you get the right exposure every time is to bracket your photos. Drone cameras are usually capable of doing 3-shot brackets. Use this to overexpose and underexpose your shots by a stop. Think of this as exposure insurance. Sometimes you will just like one of the over or underexposed shots better. In that case, just use it. In addition, you can blend the exposures or use HDR software to combine the exposures later.

#3 Use filters

As mentioned earlier, the lens on your drone will likely have only one aperture. That leaves you limited options for changing shutter speeds. You aren’t completely out of luck though; you can still buy neutral density filters for your lens. These filters are used more for video, but they also help still photographers. They restrict the amount of light that gets into the camera, thereby forcing the camera to use a longer shutter speed.

Dunluce

You can also get polarizing filters for your drone. These filters cut down on reflections and make skies appear a deeper, richer blue. This is helpful for drone photography, where the sky is often a significant part of the picture.

#4 Get multiple batteries

This isn’t strictly a photography tip, but it is important nonetheless. Be sure to get more than one battery for your drone. Drone batteries typically last only 20-30 minutes. That isn’t a lot of time. Further, you may also want to fly in a few different locations on the same day. Most of the time you won’t be able to charge your battery in between locations. So, you’ll need more than one.

How many do you need? That depends. You can get away with only two batteries (I do), but many drone photographers have three or four. You shouldn’t need more than that. Batteries are not cheap so think carefully about what you will need.

DownhillCastle

#5 Watch out for the deone’s blades in your pictures

Obviously, when you are flying the blades on your drone will be spinning. Remember that you will also be using an extremely wide angle lens. If you aren’t careful, your picture will include the spinning blades.

The best way to avoid this problem is to simply angle the camera down. That will keep the spinning blades out of the camera’s field of view. Of course, changing the angle of the camera will change the composition of your picture. Flying higher while angling the camera down might keep the composition similar to the picture you originally had in mind.

In any case, just be sure to look for blades in your pictures. You will need to look closely sometimes because it isn’t always obvious. You don’t want to get home and discover that your pictures are all ruined because there are spinning blades in all your pictures. If they are present, just change things up and take another shot without the blades in the picture.

#6  Keep it low

Your drone will fly up to 400 feet in the air. It is fun to fly it high, and it also ensures that you are far away from trees, power lines, and other obstacles. But for the best photos, you will not want to be anywhere near that high. Your shot will look like something from Google Earth. Instead, keep your drones pretty low to the ground (under 100 feet) to get the best shots. That will help you establish a foreground for your picture.

Connemara-2

Getting started with your new drone

So I admit it, I was wrong about drones. They are fun, easy to fly, and they really add something to your photography. Is one right for you? The answer will be different for everybody, but if you are on the fence I really encourage you to give it a shot.

A “just get out there and do it” attitude might not seem appropriate when it comes to drones. After all, any mistake can lead to a crash. But there is one simple rule that will make flying drones easy. That is to just stay away from everything. In fact, stay far away. Don’t go anywhere near trees, buildings, power lines, etc. If you do that, very little can go wrong.

Do you have any other drone tips to share with dPS readers? Please do so and share your drone images in the comments below.

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Jim Hamel shows aspiring photographers simple, practical steps for improving their photos. Check out his free photography guides and photography tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. The free tips, explanations, and video tutorials he provides are sure to take your photography to the next level. In addition, beginning photographers should be sure to check out his new book Getting Started in Photography, now available in the Kindle store!

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How to Shoot a Sequence of Photos That Capture a Story

A Post By: Simon Bond

As a photographer, you’ll often concentrate on perfecting your art at taking one perfect photo. However, there are many occasions where you’ll need to string together a sequence of photos with differing styles. Whether you’re shooting a magazine article or making a personal project, knowing how to produce photos that show details, people, and the whole scene is a skill worth having.

Shooting a sequence of photos

In the example you’re going to see in this article, a traditional puppet show will be used to produce this sequence of photos, but any number of other scenarios could apply. There is always plenty to photograph and although my example shows detail, portrait, and scene-setting images, there are other photos that could also have been taken from the same event.

In the image below you can see the area’s that are boxed. They contain the photos you’d be aiming to get from a scene such as this. Let’s talk about each of these shots and why they’re all important.

Overall image

The scene-setting photo

This is the big picture that shows your audience what’s going on, you’ll likely be using a wide-angle lens here to get as much story into your scene as you can.

The image from the puppet show below is the scene-setting photo. In this photo, the viewer can see the stage, audience, and the performers. In this case, a 50mm lens was sufficient to get the entire story needed from this scene. The aim here is not to go in too close, but to tell the whole story. The photo should capture the scale involved, and often it is helpful to do this shoot from an angle above or overhead

sequence tells a story - scene setter

This photo is the scene setter, you can see the stage and the audience watching the performance.

You’ll notice the image is almost identical to the image used to set out the example at the beginning. The left portion of the frame was a distracting element that wasn’t needed to show the action happening in front of the camera. It’s important to remember that although you want to capture a large canvas when telling your story, too much could detract from the specific story you intend the scene setter to display.

The portrait photos

Portrait photos are a real mainstay of any sequence that seeks to tell a narrative, it’s the people and their story you’re looking to show. There are many types of portraits, though, from ones that just show the face, to those that explore more of the scene around the person (often called environmental portraits).

When photographing a stage production you want to explore as much as you can, that means photographs of the stage, and if possible backstage as well. If the production is small, getting backstage may be as simple as asking the performers on the night of the event. But for large productions or things like music gigs, getting permission to shoot backstage ahead of time is advised. A lot of this work can and should be carried out with lenses best suited to portrait work, which means using primes lens in the range of 35mm to 135mm.

Sequence of photos

The layers created by a shallow depth of field act to give this photo impact, with the main focus on the puppet.

In the scene, you see photographs C (above) and D (below) are of the stage. In photograph C the image needed some compression to fit both the puppet and the puppeteer into the frame. To achieve that you’ll need to use a longer focal length, in this case, a 135mm lens was used. When using prime lenses like the 135mm f/2 you have a lot of control over the depth of field, making it possible to make your subject sharp while the background is blurred.

sequence of photos

In this photo, the interaction on stage between the puppeteers is captured.

In this case featuring the puppet, but contextualizing the image with the puppeteer in soft focus, gave the image more story, and hence more impact. Photograph D (above) shows more interaction between puppeteers and more of the stage in general. This time, the image was shot with a 50mm lens allowing for a wide part of the scene to be shown. Once again, focus is on the puppets, and the rest of the scene is softer because a large aperture of f/3.5 was used.

The photograph taken from location A shows musicians performing backstage (below). In this case, some tarpaulin was used to frame the image and give context to the photo. The woman was playing the gong as part of the music that goes with the puppet show. So although the live audience can hear this music, in terms of photography this aspect of the show can only be shown by going backstage to photograph musicians playing their instruments.

sequence of photos

This photo shows the backstage area of the puppet show. The tarpaulin background and the area being a little too cluttered for the stage can deduce this.

The detail photos

On their own detail photos can look nice, but don’t show your audience what’s happening. When added to a set of photos they can be a vital component that complements the scene setting and portrait shots. These photos are best taken with lenses that can get close to the subject, in other words, macro. You might only include details, or you could show detail but allow some background into the frame for context as well

sequence of photos

Here a line of puppets awaits use. Lines work well in detail photos, as do patterns.

sequence of photos - details

The puppets are full of intricate details, as this photo shows. The use of a macro lens at closer quarters would have enhanced this photo.

In the puppet show detail photos were taken on stage as shown in picture E (below), and backstage with two pictures taken from location B (above). At location B detail photos of the puppet were taken using a 135mm lens. Usually shooting with a macro would be better. However, walking around backstage wasn’t possible, so getting close to the subject was also not possible. The first shot shows a photo where the face of the puppet is prominent, taken in a similar manner to a portrait. The second image shows the puppets where they rest backstage between performances.

sequence of photos

Here is a detail photo that shows context.

Picture E (above) is a detail shot of one of the puppets, but with a bit more context as you can see how the puppet is being used. The shot has a minimalist feel to it, which makes it ideal for adding text above the puppet’s face. The strong light on the subject allowed me to expose for the puppet, and make the background much darker, which gave this shot its minimal tone.

How this set could be expanded on

Okay, so above there are a set of seven photos combining a number of different photos of differing styles into the one grouping that shows a puppet show. This is a snapshot of a show during a performance, could this be expanded on though? Yes, of course, it could. You could also get images of the puppeteers preparing before the show begins, you could ask if they’d let you photograph the puppets in a much more staged manner where you use lighting and select a background that would compliment the puppets. Then there could also be some staged portraits of the puppeteers with their puppets to add to the mixture of images taken during the show itself.

Other scenarios

The list of other scenarios that you could shoot to create a sequence of images is endless; it could be a rock concert, a wedding ,or a sports event. In the next example scenario, you’ll see another set of photos how a green tea field can be captured.

1
The scene-setting photo of the green tea fields, taken from a wide vantage point. On the left you can see some white bags, this is the area you’ll find portraits of the plantation workers. The field also has lots of lines and patterns that are ideal for detail photos

sequence of photos details

The fields are ideal for taking detail photos. In this case, a macro lens wasn’t needed to capture the lines and details, as the tea field required a wider lens.

sequence of photos

An environmental portrait shows a plantation worker at work, now you can see how those white bags are used.

sequence of photos portrait

Another portrait photo shows a plantation worker with his basket.

Your turn

If you have any scenario’s you’d like tips on capturing in the way described in this article please add those and any other comments in the comment section below.

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Simon Bond is a travel photographer based in Asia whose work has appeared in numerous magazines including National Geographic. He also works as an educator where he shows photographers how to get creative photographs in camera. You can see more of his work on Instagram.

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Pushing your Composition to the Edge

A Post By: Erin Fitzgibbon

The world is filled with photographs. I did a bit of research and found the following statistic. Researchers estimate that the average individual is now exposed to approximately 250 different images per day. It’s no secret that we are now inundated with visual stimulus. Everyone owns a camera and everyone is shooting images. In 1857 Francis Frith took photographs of the pyramids and the Sphinx. The general public was mesmerized by images of a faraway and exotic location. Today, if I search “Images of the Pyramids” I get 7 million results; everyone knows what the pyramids look like. This whole phenomenon translates into a challenge for photographers. How do you shoot something different and unique when the world uploads 1.8 billion photographs a day?

Image 7

There is no easy answer. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say, “That’s a beautiful image of the shoreline. You are a really great photographer but take a look at this. I shot the same thing last year on vacation.” Some photographers may become frustrated with this occurrence, but perhaps we should look upon this as a challenge. What can you do to make your photographs more unique?

Live on the edge – of composition

We all want people to view our images and say, “That’s amazing! I’ve never seen that before!” It’s going to be tough but it’s worth a try. It’s time to push your composition skills to their limits. Consider using techniques or viewpoints that are a little unconventional. Try pushing the main subject of your composition towards the edge of your frame. Let’s consider this photograph of a kayaker.

Image 1

In this version, the image is composed using the rule of thirds. The scene has a pretty unique atmosphere as the sun struggles to break through the morning mist. Shouldn’t that be enough to make the viewer stop and take notice? It’s a beautiful image and it was a fantastic morning. I know people will love this image. But what if it was recomposed to push the kayaker to the edge of the frame? Does this make the image even more appealing? Consider the difference.

Image 2

This second image is cropped way down to illustrate a point. What did you look at first? Hopefully, your answer is the red light on the left of the frame and then your eye moved over the image to discover the kayaker. This technique is called “the delay” which means that the viewer is delayed by other details before focusing on the main subject. This means that the viewer notices the details in a much slower and more deliberate manner. You might even create the emotion of surprise when your viewer discovers the full extent of your composition. That’s a good thing. Creating emotions within the viewer ensures they will remember your image.

When the rule of thirds is not the best choice

Let’s take a look at another image. In this case the main subject, the flower bud, has been pushed right to the edge of the frame.

Image 3 Image 4

By placing the main subject closer to the edge of the frame you can create more tension within your image (above left). The image is certainly more dynamic and interesting than this conventional version which focuses on placing the flower bud along the rule of thirds (above right).

In this shot of the boxer and his trainer I was disappointed and considered it a failure because it didn’t follow any of the rules of composition. The autofocus locked onto the training gloves, not the boxer. But after consultation with the magazine editor, he decided to use it because the angle was so unique. The composition told the story in a different way. Notice the trainer’s nose is just in view in the top corner. The editor loved that element and it sealed his choice.

Image 5

Sometimes you will be surprised by what works.

Finding the right balance

Of course, there are times when this technique doesn’t work and the resulting image just feels unbalanced and awkward. This image of a decaying pier in Lake Huron is a good example of when placing the subject close to the edge unbalances the shot.

Image 6

There’s just too much visual weight placed on the right side of the frame and the image is not successful. But that’s okay because at least something was learned about the importance of creating visual balance when pushing the subject matter to the very edge of the frame. Try to balance the weight of the object along the edge with the visual weight of the rest of the space.

Conclusions

Image 9

However, you choose to compose your images the challenge will always be to create something unique that stands out from the crowd. The reality is the crowd of images is only going to get bigger.

Are you up to the challenge? Are you willing to continue experimenting with the methods you use for composing your images? I say push things a little further each time you take a photograph and experiment with how you can use the edge of the image to create interest in your work.

Please share your compose on the edge images and thoughts in the comments below.

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Erin Fitzgibbon is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specializes in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her husband and children. Visit her Etsy store to see more of her work

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Top 5 Nik Collection Filters to Improve Your Landscape Photos

A Post By: Suzi Pratt

One of the best image editing programs available right now happens to be free. The Nik Collection by Google is a desktop photo editing software that was recently declared free of charge earlier this year. Today, the Nik Collection makes available over 55 filters that do everything from old camera and film simulation, to image sharpening, noise reduction, and basic retouching and correcting of photos. Of these many filters, there are 5 within the Color Efex Pro 4 toolset  that are particularly useful for landscape photos. This article will highlight these essential filters and why they are so valuable.

Nik Collection Color Efex Pro free photo editing software

Note that all tools and filters within the Nik Collection contain certain points that can be individually controlled to apply the filter effect as little, or as much, as you desire. You can also add the effects of several different filters, so be sure to play around with as many as possible to achieve the look you’re after.

#1 – Pro Contrast Filter

Have a photo that needs higher levels of contrast without sacrificing detail? The Nik Pro Contrast filter tackles this problem with three filter settings that you can tinker with.

  1. Correct Color Cast reduces any inherent color cast in an image, such as the orange hue the sunrise casts onto the water below.
  2. Correct Contrast offers general contrast adjustment.
  3. Dynamic Contrast delivers the most pop by boosting contrast in flat areas of the photo. The latter feature is also demonstrated in the Polarization After photo below.
Nik - Pro Contrast 1

Before

Nik - Pro Contrast 2

After – with the Pro Contrast filter applied

Nik - Pro Contrast

#2 – Polarization Filter

For landscape photographers, the circular polarizer is a must-have glass filter that enhances blue skies and reduces water glare. It is often said that the effects of a polarizer can’t be replicated in post-production. But Color Efex Pro 4 offers a pretty impressive Polarization effect that can be applied to any photo, even if it was taken without a glass circular polarizer.

There are two Polarization filter settings that can be tweaked: Rotate, which simulates the effect of physically rotating the glass filter in front of your lens, and Strength, which controls how much of the filter effect is applied.

Nik - Polarizer 1

Before

Nik - Polarizer 2

After – with Polarization and Pro Contrast filters applied.

Nik - Polarizer

#3 – Skylight Filter

This handy filter simulates a glass warming filter by removing any blue color cast and applying a warming effect to your photo. Control the strength of the filter to determine how much warmth is added.

Nik - Skylight 1

Before

Nik - Skylight 2

After – with Skylight filter applied

Nik - Skylight

#4 – Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Similar to the glass circular polarizer, the graduated neutral density filter is a staple among landscape photographers as it helps lighten or darken just a portion of an image. Think about a landscape with perfectly balanced land and blown out sky. That is a job for the graduated neutral density filter.

There are five different settings to play with for this filter. Upper and Lower Tonality let you adjust the brightness of the top and bottom portions of the image, Vertical Shift controls the placement of the filter’s horizon, while Rotation adjusts the angle of the horizon filter. Finally, Blend helps integrate the filter effect in a more natural way.

Nik - ND Grad 1

Before

Nik - ND Grad 2

After – with Graduated Neutral Density filter applied.

Nik - ND Grad

#5 – Reflector Efex

Nik - Reflector FX 1

Before

The reflector is a favorite photographer’s tool that has also been simulated by a Color Efex Pro 4 filter. Use this filter to control light in your image and open up shadows.

The Method setting allows you to choose from Gold (warm), Soft Gold (milder warm), and Silver (neutral) lighting colors. Light Intensity controls the amount of reflector light added, Light Falloff controls the abruptness of the lighting effect falloff, while Position controls where the falloff starts. Finally, Source Direction lets you choose where the reflector effect begins.

Nik - Reflector FX 2

After – with Reflector Efex Soft Gold filter applied.

Nik - Reflector FX

Over to you

There you have it! Five handy filters within the Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro. It’s again worth noting that there are many more filters within the software, and each can add as subtle or dramatic an effect as you desire. At the very least, this photo editing software is available for free, so it’s worth trying out if you haven’t already.

What are your most used filters within the Nik Collection for your landscape photos? Let me know in the comments below.

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Suzi Pratt is an internationally published freelance event, concert, and architectural photographer based in Seattle. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. When she isn’t shooting photos, Suzi can be found designing websites and marketing strategies for creative clients and working on her blog.

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How Using a Manual Focus Lens Can Make You a Better Photographer

A Post By: Ouria Tadmor

Back in the days of all manual, focusing your lens was a  skill that every photographer had master. Focusing used to be that thing that made your camera an extension of your hand, therefore a direct extension of your photographer’s eye. That whole agenda came to an end in the early 1990s with the arrival of autofocus systems that were able to actually focus faster than us humans.

That is another key frame along the medium’s timeline. Where new technology started a chain reaction that changed the face of photography forever. Until the appearance of mirrorless cameras that is.

Manual Focus Ouria Tadmor

A photographer looking to purchase a new lens for their mirrorless camera in 2016 might find that there are many manual focus lenses made nowadays alongside the autofocus ones. That means one thing: the market has said the word, manual focus is not dead.

Feed your spirit with the following thoughts to learn how manual focusing can make you a better photographer.

Doing versus supervising

And old carpenter once said, “If you want something done right the first time, do it yourself.” That was always reiterated when a new machine came to the industry to perform a task better, faster, and more efficient than a trained man could ever do.

Instead of being a skilled craftsman, now all you need to know is how to make sure that the machine is doing its job, that’s the truth about an autofocus camera. It is one thing for your brain to rotate the focusing ring with your left hand and stop rotating at the correct focus, and a whole different thing to wait for the green light or beep confirming focus has been achieved. 

Manual Focus Ouria Tadmor

Sometimes you might choose to use only one central focusing point, lock it on your subject and then recompose your frame. That way you are still doing some of the work yourself, but you do it by pressing a button rather turning a ring with your left hand.

Pressing a button (or half-pressing the shutter, in most cases) is a very different connection between your hand and the machine than turning a ring with your left hand. Allowing your hand to learn the feel of the lens. Letting your hand know when and where to turn the dial and where to stop. It takes a greater effort of your brain, but only until your muscles learn it and bypass the need to think about the action. Then it frees your brain to think about the picture. In autofocus mode, your brain always has to check on the machine, make sure that focus is where you want it. That takes brain power every time. Brain power that could have been used to be more creative.

The need for speed

Manual Focus Ouria Tadmor

It’s true, the autofocus machine is indeed faster at turning the lens to the right distance than any human hand will ever be. But then it needs to wait for the brain to approve it before the shutter is pressed all the way and the photo is taken. So it is actually you that slows down the machine.

There are ways to overcome the speed limit of manual focus. For example, one way is to pre-focus on the distance your subject will be positioned at the moment of exposure. This is a technique that was very popular among sports photographers in the days before predictive dynamic autofocus. It required a fair amount of planning and knowing the nature of your subject. A property that let to visualization of the final image even in sports photography.

Another way, more popular among street photographers is called Zone Focus. You approximate the distance of your subject and make sure that they are within the depth of field by setting the focus and aperture correctly. It is a fast and simple technique that will force you to plan your frames. Thus forcing you to be more sensitive to your surroundings than a photographer who responds to a moment by half-pressing the shutter and then pressing it all the way. A street photographer trained in zone focusing does not have to pay attention to focus at all because they adjust their focus and aperture with every change in the scene without even thinking about it.

Manual Focus Ouria Tadmor

Move slow, think fast

When photographing a portrait with a fast telephoto lens you want to have the subject’s nearest eye in focus. There are many ways to achieve that with autofocus cameras. Some of the modern mirrorless cameras will lock on the near eye and stay focused on it for you as long as it’s there.

What a manual focus lens does for you is exactly the opposite. It is almost impossible to keep the near eye in focus with a portrait lens at a wide open aperture. The shallow depth of field means you will have to pay attention to your subject’s smallest moves such as breathing. By doing so it will focus your attention on the subject and you will start noticing facial features that would have been left behind at the photographing speed of autofocus lenses.

Manual_Focus_OT

Zen and manual focus

Use manual focus to put control of your photography back in your hands. It will slow you down and make you think more. For many of the greatest photographers throughout history, the process was as important as the final picture. When you let yourself indulge the process your photographs will benefit.

It is a totally different experience to manual focus using a lens that was created for autofocus than one that was made to be focused by a human. Invest in yourself and buy a vintage affordable lens that fits on your camera then go out shoot with only that lens. This way you will be able to feel what it is like to really do manual focus photography.

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Ouria Tadmor ‘s art and message to the world is street photography. He uses his art to deliver the message of tolerance and acceptance, by teaching it to other photographers. Ouria lives in, and is inspired by the city of Jerusalem, where he also works as a photojournalist and teaches in several art schools. Read more about Ouria’s work on his website or Facebook group.

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Behind the Scenes of Marvellous Macro Insect Imagery

A Post By: Darren Rowse

This project by British photographer Levon Bliss and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is a breathtaking. Levon spends weeks taking thousands of images of a single insect and then edits them together into incredibly high resolution images of these tiny creatures.

See more of Levon’s work on the Microsculpture site.

While not on the scale of Levon’s project above we’ve compiled some Macro tutorials for those of you inspired to begin to explore this space.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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Wise Words: Famous Photography Quotes and Their Relevance Today

A Post By: Megan Kennedy

In the early years of my study, I remember leaning over the photography department work bench, trying not to look disheartened, as my lecturer scribbled notes on the glossy finish of yet another proof sheet in red marker. +1, -5, underexposed, out of focus, crop, the irrefutable question mark with an arrow pointing to a light leak of frustratingly mysterious origin, or worse – the dreaded RESHOOT.

At the time, I was frustrated with my inconsistency both behind the camera and in the darkroom. My tutor’s favorite saying, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” formed in my mind an image of piles and piles of failed photographs stacked up like an impassable mountain before me.

Filmexample2megankennedy

Light leak from a film camera.

It was only later in my career that I realized that what my teacher was saying was not a criticism, but her way of encouraging me to take advantage of the opportunity that the worst 10,000 provided. A foundation for the photography I hoped to produce in the future. Without those 10,000 duds my photographic feet would be steeped in the muddy waters of ambition with no way to see my visions through to a complete body of work.

Those initial 10,000 photos – many of which I have kept stacked in visual diaries and negative sheets to look back on fondly – provided a solid launching pad for my photographic practice and the impetus to advance. Nowadays I find myself delving into the words of photography masters for inspiration, tried and true technical advice, and occasionally a kick in the butt when motivation is lacking.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”

Beingaware megankennedy

Be aware and ready for anything.

The inventive work of Henri Cartier-Bresson in the early 1930s opened up the creative possibilities of photography forever. Though he is known for his mastery of street photography, Cartier-Bresson was also known for his patience. The mythology of Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” suggested that most of the photographs he took from the very start of his photographic career were taken with a single shot, at the precise instant of opportunity. In reality however, Cartier-Bresson honed his skill by making the most of a potential moment, sometimes shooting 20+ images of one scene. His single greatest images were preceded by the first 10,000 images that fell by the wayside.

Elliott Erwitt

“I always make it a point to carry a camera with me at all times…I just shoot at what interests me at that moment”

In photography, the whole world is a canvas. The special agony reserved for an unarmed photographer witnessing the perfect shot pass before their eyes, is something we have all experienced. Making a habit of always carrying a camera with you (beyond a camera phone, everyone has those!) is rewarding, and makes sure you will never suffer the regret of wishing you had.

Keepyourcameraonyou megankennedy

I personally keep a disposable (play) camera with me if my larger camera is too bulky. Not only do the plastic disposables ease the anxiety of being camera-less, they afford a less formal quick-draw camera for street photography. They also provide a refreshing aesthetic, and the occasional surprise. I always enjoy the odd incidental light-leak mark, a quirk of cheaper cameras that adds a real incidental feel to the image. Another upside is disposable cameras are inexpensive and (speaking from experience) they are also a bit bouncier if you drop them.

Robert Mapplethorpe

“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.”

Rainy shoots in the wilderness, urban exploration, and late night post-processing, means that often photography can be a lonely experience. But taking the time to check out other photographer’s work – from the past and present – can be a great way to get motivated and to immerse yourself in the photography headspace. Studying other artists’ work and dissecting their techniques can help you improve your own work or allow you to ease up a little and be open to experimentation.

If you usually take photographs of bustling subjects with loud, vibrant colors, try focusing on black and white minimalism for a change. Asking for advice, or perhaps even sharing your own insights, is a great way to build relationships with fellow photographers too.

Newthings megankennedy

Mary Ellen Mark

“Learning how to use different formats has made me a better photographer. When I started working in medium format, it made me a better 35mm photographer. When I started working in 4×5, it made me a better medium-format photographer.”

Taking the time to shake up your photographic practice is not only a liberating experience but an educational one. As memory cards get bigger, faster, and larger, the temptation to shoot rapid-fire and hope for the best is strong. When shooting with a film camera, however, you are restricted by the limited number of frames on the roll as well as developing costs. As a result, you will immediately start thinking much more about composition, subject matter, movement, and the technicalities of composing the shot correctly in terms of exposure, aperture, ISO, etc.

Filmexample megankennedy

Shoot with film for a different experience.

Taking the time to step back and focus on your craft will no doubt improve your technique and help you to slow down and reconnect with the process of capturing a great photo.

Imogen Cunningham

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

While it can be exhausting at times, maintaining the hunger for new and better photographs is what drives us photographers to keep going. We’re never satisfied, we never stop learning, and we never stop shooting. As with any artistic endeavor, creativity comes in waves. But to ride the good waves you’ve got to keep surfing.

Keep striving for that great shot, and when you get it, strive for the next one. You never know what’s coming, so be prepared!

Beprepared megankennedy

Ansel Adams

“You don’t take a photograph; you make it.”

The word take is often used to describe the process of capturing an image. But the difference between assuming an image is simply there to be taken and taking control of the image are two completely different things.

We all unconsciously make decisions about how to take a photo in terms of location, weather, time of day, etc., based on what catches our eye. So we are already exerting a lot of control over our photography. By being more aware of detail, the formal technique and execution of a photograph will invariably result in better considered and aesthetically pleasing images, which at the very least saves time on editing later.

Wisewords2 megankennedy

Do you have any favorite quotes from photographers past or present? What can we take from them and apply to our own photography? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Megan Kennedy is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. A lifelong fascination with flight has inspired her photographic practice in documenting the intricate form of aircraft. Megan is also interested in travel photography and documenting human interaction with the modern landscape, through both intentional and incidental intervention. She is well versed in both digital and film practice. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications.

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4 Value Speedlight Modifiers that Won’t Break the Bank

A Post By: Sean McCormack

Cheap generally means nasty. But in this article, we’re going to look at four different light modifiers that give you a range of looks that definitely fit in the value category.

4 Value Speedlight Modifiers

#1 – The Godox 120cm Octagon Softbox

This modifier is a 48″ Octagon Softbox that uses an umbrella shaft to mount to a speedlight. The flash aims into the silver backing, meaning that it’s an indirect source. This gives one layer of softening, and because the flash faces away from the subject, there’s less of a hotspot that with a direct flash Octabox.

The single diffusion panel provides a second level of softness, making for a big beautiful light. There are plenty of similar looking Octaboxes on eBay or Amazon, but the Godox branded ones have one huge advantage: fibre glass rods. Usually the rods are u-shaped metal spines. These provide you with good strength while bending, but very little lateral strength. A blast of wind which knocks the softbox off or over will bend or break a metal rod. Fibre glass, on the other hand, has strength in all directions, making it more resilient.

Godox 120CM Octabox speedlight modifier

Bonus: You can bend the closed Octabox to make it fit into a suitcase. This is easily my most used location light modifier because I can vary the softness and coverage using distance. As the softness of the light depends on the relative size on the modifier to the subject, close means softer, and farther away, the light gets harder. Being four feet in size, it’s super soft in close.

Here’s a typical setup I use with this modifier and the resulting photo. Shot as an example in the studio.

Value speedlight modifiers godox bts

Value speedlight modifiers godox image

Here’s a few more example shot on location:

Value speedlight modifiers godox 2

Value speedlight modifiers godox 3

Depending on the Octabox model you order, you can get it with a grid. This helps make the light more directional. By blocking the light going out the sides, it pushes the light forward. You may have situations where you need to stop spill (on the ground or background), and a grid really helps with that.

#2 – The Meking Ring Flash

There are a number of ring flash adapters for speedlights. None are perfect, but I really like this $30 modifier, the Meking Ring Flash. Firstly, it folds down really compact, so you can always have a modifier with you. Secondly, you get a really soft quality from this, providing a more flattering light. Thirdly, you’re not obliged to use it on camera, you can easily use it as an off camera light, either as a key light or as a fill.

Value speedlight modifiers meking 1

To use it, expand the ring, then push the magnetic separators together, pushing the two sides apart. Finally, mount the ring softbox to your flash using the retained velcro strap.

Here are some examples of  the ring flash use. Notice the shadow that surrounds our model, as well as the classic donut cathchlights in the eyes.

Value speedlight modifiers meking 2

Below I’ve used the softbox off camera, in a hotel foyer. This is two separate photos combined into one image.

Value speedlight modifiers meking 3

#3 – Westcott Double Fold Umbrella

Umbrellas are the staple diet of most speedlight beginners. The Westcott Double fold umbrella offers a little more than a basic one. For a start, it can be used as both a bounce  and shoot-through umbrella.

Using it as a bounce umbrella allows the light to focus a little and is good when the scene is larger and you need the light to fill in but still be out of camera view. You’d use it as a shoot-thru to get really close to your subject for big, soft light. The black backing can stay half on (see image below) to prevent spill onto clothes, making this a really versatile, compact, light modifier.

41G7gGhZ3YL

Here’s the standard bounce look. It’s similar in setup to the Godox (which is effectively a silver bounce umbrella with a layer of diffusion).

Value speedlight modifiers westcott 1

Turning the umbrella around, and removing half the black covering creates this look (below):

Value speedlight modifiers westcott 2

It’s much softer, but notice that the bottom part of the photo is darker. This is because the black covering is blocking light going to her body and clothes. It’s a great tip which comes from the inspirational Joe McNally, for when then clothes are distracting in a portrait. If it’s not clear, here’s what the umbrella setup looks like.

Value speedlight modifiers westcott 4

The final look from the umbrella is using it as a shoot-through. This means removing the black covering altogether.

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As you can see, it’s really soft, and floods everywhere (especially compared to the bounce umbrella). Here’s the setup for this.

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Notice light spills everywhere with this setup which may work for light or high key portraits. If you want more light control use it as a bounce umbrella with the black cover on.

#4 – MagMod Basic Kit

MagMod is a Kickstarter based company whose products use strong rubber and even stronger magnets to make attaching speedlight modifiers a thing of ease. Rather than use annoying velcro, you stretch the MagGrip around your flash to hold the modifiers. You can see a MagGel on a MagGrip in my article How to use Lighting Gels to Change Your Background Color and in the image below.

Changing-your-background-with-gels-magmod

There’s a whole range of MagMod accessories, but the basic kit comes with a grid and a gel holder, along with rigid gels for the holder. These rigid gels are a blessing. A regular gel is essentially a coloured sheet of acetate, so it folds and crumples easily. The rigid nature of the MagGels makes them easy to swap in and out of the holders. There are a variety of colors available. You get a basic set of color correction and ND gels with the kit, but there’s also the Creative and Artistic sets for a larger range of options.

The MagGrids are great for restricting light, letting you aim it with a huge degree of control.

Value speedlight modifiers magmod 0Here’s a shot done with a bare speedlight:

Value speedlight modifiers magmod 1

Here’s the same speedlight with a MagGrid attached. Notice how tight the light is around the model, more like a spotlight.

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Here’s the Aqua MagGel from the Artistic series gels. I’ve set the white balance to daylight to keep the colour correct.

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Combining the modifiers

The beauty of these light modifiers is you can mix and match them to make really creative light.

To achieve the image below, place your on flash on camera, with the Aqua MagGel attached. Next, put the Meking Ring Flash over it to create a soft aqua-colored fill light. Then, place a MagGrid on a second flash and aim it tight on the model’s head. The grid light washes out the gel from her face, but in the shadow areas, the gels fills in for a cool look.

It’s almost like the image has been post-processed for color, but it’s actually done in-camera.

Value speedlight modifiers magmod 4

Another look you can get is a high key portrait. First, set up the Westcott as a shoot-through umbrella on a boom, between you and the model. You’re shooting below the umbrella. For the background, set up the Godox Octabox facing the camera, behind your model. Use a reflector to bounce the light back up to the model for a perfect high key portrait.

Value speedlight modifiers mixed

All in all, this gear is under $200 (total if you buy them all) and will give you a good range of creative lighting setups. Even just one of them would make a great addition to your speedlight arsenal.

Do you have any other good value light modifiers you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.

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Sean McCormack is a Fuji X Photographer and author based in the Galway in the west of Ireland. Even with 15 years of shooting under his belt, he still manages to have fun with photography. See more of his work on his website or on his Instagram profile.

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