Taking great pictures of your own kids is easier said than done. You know them better than anyone else and you’re with them more than anyone else. It doesn’t seem like it would be hard to get a few great shots. But every time you pull out your camera they’re shouting or fighting, or your images keep turning out blurry or dark.
Brushing up on the following photo tips will help you transform your snapshots into beautiful compositions that you’ll treasure for years to come.
Get Down at Their Level
One of the simplest and most effective ways to create more interesting photos is to change your perspective. Instead of shooting kids standing up, sit or kneel to get down at their level. Getting down on their level provides a more interesting viewpoint and allows you to connect with them more closely, adding another layer of depth to your images. Depending on the nature of the shoot, don’t be afraid to experiment with more extreme low levels or to get above them for a bird’s eye perspective, particularly for babies and toddlers.
Minimize Distracting Elements
Choosing a clean background or backdrop and clearing out distracting elements, such as stray toys and clothes, instantly makes an image look more professional. When you’re taking posed shots, be conscious of the backdrop. You don’t want an off-putting feature, such as a tree that looks like it’s coming right out of your son’s head. Even when you’re taking candid shots, think about the background and items around you. Moving a couple of toys or a blanket with a vivid print out of the shot will make a big difference.
Get Out of Auto Mode
Many parents get frustrated while taking pictures of their children because the images end up blurry. Kids are always on the move, which means that you need to select a fast shutter speed. In auto mode, the camera simply makes the best choices it can, given the available light conditions. The choices it makes may not be well suited for the shot you’re trying to achieve. Learning to shoot in manual mode on any camera – smartphone, mirrorless, or DSLR – will allow you to take full control of your settings and select the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture for every single shot. There is a learning curve to manual mode, but it’s well worth the effort. If you want to sharpen your camera focus skills you can find more in this Ultimate Guide to Understanding Camera Focus Modes.
Plan Photo Sessions Around Their Schedules
Kids will do their best for posed photo sessions when they’re well rested and well fed. Avoid planning a session right before lunch or dinnertime, before naptime, or at the end of the day. When you’re out and about as a family and you want to get a few shots, don’t push it when you know your kids are tired, hot, or hungry. It’s a shame when you don’t get the photos you anticipated at the apple orchard or local farm, but it isn’t worth the fight, and you won’t be happy with the results.
Invest in a Prime Lens
When you own a mirrorless or DSLR camera, a prime lens is one of the best investments you can make to up your photography game. Many prime lenses are affordable and extremely versatile. You’ll be able to create stunning portraits with blurred backgrounds in a wide range of light conditions. 40mm and 50mm lenses are the best all around prime focal lengths for portraits and general shooting. On Amazon you can find the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 or the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G, they are extremely good lenses and you will hardly find anything better for that price.
If you anticipate taking a lot of portraits or want a more narrow focal length, an 85mm prime lens is another great option.
When you’re taking pictures of your kids, go with the flow and let them have some control over the process to keep them relaxed and comfortable. Maybe your kids do best when they pick out their own clothing. Or maybe your kids are incredibly silly and can’t resist making faces for the camera. Let them get out their silliness at the beginning of a session or compromise with a few serious shots for Mom or Dad before busting out their best silly faces. When you appease both parties, you get shots that you both love.
Rose Clearfield is a freelance writer and hobbyist photographer. She lives in southeast WI with her husband, son, and three cats. She bought her first DSLR in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. With an education background and a passion for writing, she loves helping people learn how to take better pictures.
Capturing car light trails is a neat camera trick with fantastic results. With the proper settings, a flat surface or tripod, and a little practice, you’ll learn how to produce vivid car light trails with any camera that features manual mode.
As you capture car light trails at night, you’ll produce superior images with a mirrorless or DSLR camera, as these cameras offer optimal low light performance. However, you can attempt car light trails with a smartphone too. The following tips will get you on your way to capturing car light trails successfully.
Why Light Trails Happen
Car light trails at Sydney Harbour Bridge. Multiple exposures blended together in Photoshop.
When you select a fast exposure, you freeze light hence the image. When you select a long exposure, you create lengthy light trails. Extending the trails produces an aesthetic you don’t see with a naked eye. Choosing a location with consistent traffic and dialing in the proper settings on your camera creates beautiful, luminous trails, popping out against a stark background (i.e., on a rural highway) or bright city background. The effect has a wow factor, adding an unexpected punch to an otherwise ordinary traffic scene. Check the image above, I took it from a vantage point that allowed me to have a clear view over the street with countless cars passing by and as a background the Bridge with suggestive City lights. I took several photos with long exposure and then used a technique in Photoshop called exposure blending. Let’s see what camera settings you need.
The best camera settings for capturing car light trails are as follows:
Shooting in RAW
The lowest ISO setting available (usually 50 or 100)
An aperture setting in the sweet spot of the lens, generally in the f/4 to f/11 range
A shutter speed in the 10 to 30 seconds range
Additionally, as you’re shooting on a flat surface or with a tripod and a mirrorless or DSLR camera, turn off your lens’s image stabilization. If you’re on a bridge or other floating structure, keep image stabilization switched on to combat vibration from traffic.
Test these settings in a given location to determine if they produce light trails of a decent length and then adjust them as needed. Pay attention to the highlight clipping. You want to have some color in the trails, steering clear of pure white, which is harsh and distracting. To avoid so, increase your shutter speed and fine tune until you achieve the desired effect.
You can combine this technique with another one called exposure bracketing. You can learn it with this article here on Pixinfocus Larn the exposure bracketing technique. The main point here is that you can create a stunning image by start shooting at sunset or during the blue hour (right after sunset, before the sky is completely dark) to get some interesting colors in the sky. When the sky gets completely dark you’ll adjust the exposure in your camera accordingly to capture the car light trails with maximum contrast over the dark background and the rest of the scene. Then again, you’ll need to use a blending technique in Photoshop. Jump into the comments section below if you’d like to learn this photo editing technique and I’ll write a tutorial about it.
Best Locations for Light Trails
You’ll have the best luck capturing car light trails on a road with frequent traffic. Waiting for cars to come by is tiresome and won’t produce the trails you get with a constant flow of traffic. You’ll also want a location where you can shoot a safe distance from the traffic and with an unobstructed view of it. When you choose a view with curves in the road or multiple streams of traffic, think about where the curves and intersections hit. It is possible to shoot car trails in roundabouts, but take care not to let your compositions get cluttered. Shooting against an iconic building or destination (i.e., the Harbour Bridge) adds a neat element to the image but certainly isn’t a requirement for a great car trails shot. A location that allows you to shoot straight-on or slightly above the traffic is ideal. If you get too high above traffic, you may not be able to see the car lights at all.
Gear You Need for Light Trails
You must have a tripod or flat surface to create long exposure photography. It really depends on the camera you have, but in general it isn’t possible to shoot below 1/60 second with a handheld camera without introducing motion blur. In a pinch, any flat surface, such as a bench or wide railing, will work for long exposure shots. If you plan to take a lot of long exposure images, it’s worth purchasing a tripod that’s rated for outdoor use. A tripod offers full control over angle for a wider range of shots than you’ll be able to produce with the available flat surface in a given area. The tripod I use is the Manfrotto BeFree Aluminum and I can’t stop bragging about how happy I am happy with it. It’s small, robust and easy to set up and use. Great value for your money, you can get the Manfrotto BeFree here.
To capture light trails successfully, you’ll also need a camera with manual mode capacity. Every mirrorless and DSLR camera and most modern smartphone cameras are equipped with manual mode. In manual mode, you can dial in the settings covered in the camera settings section and then tweak them as needed to produce fantastic images.
The lens you select for your light trails photography will impact the size of the light trails. Wider lenses produce thin trails while narrow lenses produce thicker trails. There is no perfect light trails size. It’s up to you to determine the look you prefer for your long exposure photography.
Any new photography technique requires patience and practice for full mastery. Car light trails are no exception. It may take some trial and error to determine the best places for capturing light trails in your area and some tweaking to confirm the optimal camera settings for said location and the aesthetic you want to achieve. With practice, you’ll learn to produce stunning car trails consistently and I assure you’ll have a lot of fun!
Finding your photography style is a critical aspect of being a great photographer. When you’re simply copying everyone else, doing what’s trendy, or shooting and editing without clear goals, you’ll struggle to create a style that’s truly your own.
Finding your photography style doesn’t happen overnight. With deliberate effort and practice, you’ll be able to hone in on a style you love that fits your work.
Learn From Others But Don’t Copy
Learning from other photographers without copying them is a tricky balance. Strive to be inspired by great photographers instead of copying from them. Copying can be considered fine in the beginning, when you’re learning the basics, but you have to develop your eye and become able to critique an image and take something away from it. For example, maybe you love the use of the rule of thirds in a photo and without running out and copying the image directly you just try to apply the same technique to another subject. Study photographers you love to train your eye. Then apply the techniques you gain to your own work. With your newfound awareness for that particular technique, be conscious of it during your next shoot. Learning the basic rules of composition is a good way to start, I’ve written an article that might help you. If you’re interested you can find it here Photography Composition: The Best Guide
Shoot Every Day
People want to hear that you got better at photography by purchasing a great camera, not taking thousands of pictures over the course of several years. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that practice makes perfect, and photography is no exception. You have to take a lot of pictures to discover what you really like and what works best for you. It will take trial and error, which means you will make mistakes and take bad photos. Don’t get demotivated, messing up and learning from your errors is part of the process.
Don’t let your life circumstances prevent you from finding time to shoot daily. Carving out even a 10-15 minute chunk of time per day adds up to more than an hour per week. Realize that you have a camera with you all the time. Your smartphone. If you’ve forgotten to put your mirrorless or DSLR in your bag it doesn’t matter. Use your phone and challenge yourself to take a picture even if it’s of something completely normal happening in your neighbourhood, like a dog walking on the street. Soon you’ll realize that shooting daily is part of your routine and this new habit will get you closer to finding your style.
Poor Technique is not a Style
Becoming a better photographer is critical for creating a unique, interesting photography style. No one will take you seriously if your images are poorly composed with harsh shadows and weird skin tones. Many photographers try to pass off their sloppy skills as style. Yellow overtones aren’t a style. They’re simply the result of lazy shooting and poor editing choices. Clients won’t be happy with your so-called style choices when they involve chopping off fingers or limbs consistently. You have to learn the rules before you can break them. A while ago I’ve posted an article with 11 quick and amazing tips to dramatically improve your photos. you might find it helpful. Also, I was able to dramatically improve my photos by simply learning how to read my camera histogram. You can do that too!
Shoot What Makes YOU Happy
Resist the temptation to shoot what’s trendy or what you think will make you rich and famous. You’ll quickly burn out taking pictures that you don’t really love. Focus on what you want out of your photography instead of thinking what others want out of your photography. Don’t become a family portrait photographer because all of your friends want you to photograph their kids. If you love taking portraits, go for it. Don’t become a landscape photographer just because you think it’s cool and you’ll get followers on Instagram. If you love outdoors and adventure, go for it. But don’t feel limited to this option due to social pressure. Following your true passions will help you create your own photography style. A style that you really love. Find your why and you’ll see that things will come more natural reflecting in the quality of your pictures.
Be Your Own Critic
It’s great to have trusted fellow photographers as well as family and friends provide feedback on your photos. These people will help you sharpening your technique skills and give you a sense of how the general public is receiving your photos. They won’t help you develop your photography style. Print out 15-20 favorite images. Consider why you like them so much, and look for recurring patterns across the images. Maybe you prefer to shoot on overcast days. Maybe you tend to put your subjects in more candid poses, looking away from the camera. Maybe you use a lot of negative space in your images. Paying attention to these patterns will help you use them more intentionally to define your style.
In an age with near constant exposure to images on blogs and social media, it’s harder than ever to step away from trends and competition and focus on developing your own photography style. Get off the Internet on a regular basis. Concentrate on what you really want, and make it a priority to work on your skills. As you hone in on the key aspects that make your style unique, you’ll watch it grow. Have you found your photographic style yet? What steps are you taking to find your own unique style? Let’s discuss this in the comments below.
Camera sensors, which one to choose? In the 21st century, the camera market is both more exciting and more confusing than ever. With choices ranging from tiny mirrorless cameras to huge full frame DSLRs and with different sensor sizes in the mix to make things even more complicated you have as many options as you could ever want.
If you don’t fully understand the effect that these different options have on the photos or videos you take, don’t worry.
You’re not alone.
I’ve written this article for you as a guide to understanding the differences and the effects of sensor sizes in modern cameras. I hope that his can help you make an informed decision about what camera to buy.
Why Are There Different Sensor Sizes?
Camera technology is driven by two principal competing desires. On one hand, the image the camera produces should be as clean, sharp, and beautiful as possible. On the other hand, the camera itself should, for most consumers, be reasonably small and affordable.
In the past, the prior impulse motivated larger sizes for the sensors inside of cameras, which traditionally gave the best image quality possible. However, as camera technology has developed over the years, it has become increasingly feasible to satisfy the second impulse of size and affordability by decreasing the size of the sensors.
Consequently, the camera market now encompasses a large range of sensor sizes, from full-frame cameras to the tiny sensors found in phone cameras. But smaller sensors may no longer mean the hit to image quality that you might think. In fact, understanding the properties of different sensor sizes reveals the viability of smaller sensor sizes in today’s market.
Understanding Crop Factor
The idea of crop factor is based around the relation of any sensor size to a 35mm wide film, which was once the standard for professional cameras. A modern full frame camera sensor covers the same overall area as 35mm film, meaning that it has no crop factor. A smaller sensor, however, is often referred to as a crop sensor due to its relation to the size of 35mm film.
Since 35mm is 1.6x bigger than an APS-C sensor, it’s said that APS-C sensors have a 1.6x crop factor. A micro four thirds sensor, twice as small as 35mm film, has a 2x crop factor.
Field of View, Focal Length and Sensors’ Main Differences
How does the sensor size affect field of view and focal length?
Ultimately, the principal effect of your sensor’s crop factor will be how it affects your camera’s field of view and the focal length of the lenses you use. When taking pictures, the focal length of a lens is critically important in determining the image that’s going to come out of your camera.
For example, a 100mm lens will make the subject of your image appear twice as big as a 50mm on your camera sensor and your resulting picture. This is the fundamental idea behind zoom lenses, which shift from shorter to longer focal lengths as you turn them, and consequentially make the subject of the image appear bigger. Focal lengths do not only affect the size of your subject, however, but also the fundamental appearance. Shorter focal lengths found in wide angle lenses with a large field of view cause a type of distortion in the final image that is usually pleasing for landscape photos but unflattering for portraits. Longer focal lengths found in lenses with smaller field of views aren’t particularly useful for landscape photos but are usually very flattering for portraits.
If you are not yet familiar with the concept of focal length I’ve written an extensive article that explains the role it plays in photography. You can find it here The Ultimate Beginner Guide to Landscape Photography. And feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.
When choosing lenses and considering focal length, your sensor size is as important as the lens itself. With a full frame sensor, there’s no need to account for the crop factor’s effect on the lens and a lens indicated as 50mm will appear exactly as a 50mm lens traditionally would. Accounting for crop factors, however, is quite easy once you know how. The focal length of the lens simply needs to be multiplied by the crop factor.
A 50mm lens on a micro four thirds camera multiplied by the 2x crop factor would be the equivalent of a 100mm lens on a full frame. To achieve the effect of a 50mm lens on a micro four thirds sensor, then, you would use a 25mm lens. With an abundance of lenses in essentially all focal lengths available for modern cameras, the effect of crop factor on focal length is not a particularly limiting factor in camera usage.
Smaller sensors can even be useful in doubling the magnification and field of view of much more expensive lenses. A micro four thirds zoom lens that goes to 300mm can be used like a 600mm lens would be on a full frame camera without the often-exponential accompanying increases in size and cost.
Advantages and Disadvantages (of Each Sensor Size)
Outside of allowing you to use lenses as their stated focal lengths, full frame sensors are often praised for their performance in low light and minimization of noise. This is probably the biggest factor to keep in mind when considering a full frame sensor and the importance of low light performance. They can also produce beautiful bokeh, where the background of an image blurs out into aesthetically pleasing round spots of light.
On the other hand, full frame cameras still can’t overcome their biggest downsides. Full frame DSLRs are big, bulky and can be quite expensive. If you choose a full frame mirrorless they will yes be lighter than DSLRs, but you need to take into account that they will mount the same lenses. So weight (and prize) still play a role here.
An APS-C sensor is ultimately the middle ground between a full frame and micro four thirds sensor. It offers great dynamic range and good low light advantages of full frame without quite the same bulk and at a much lower price. If I had to buy an APS-C sensor camera today I wouldn’t think twice about it and go straight to the Sony a6500 mirrorless. It’s small, it allows shooting 4k videos and it has a really fast autofocus system. You can find it here (Amazon link)
Micro four thirds sensor cameras instead have the main advantage of being small and portable. Mirrorless micro four thirds cameras can be much smaller and lighter than full frame or even APS-C cameras, an advantage that often extends to the lenses as well.
Many lenses intended for modern full frame or APS-C cameras can be used on mirrorless cameras with micro four thirds sensors with affordable and effective lens mount adapters.
Conclusion: Is a Bigger Sensor Better?
Once upon a time, the answer to the question of size in a camera sensor might have been to go as big as you could potentially afford. But in the modern market, the advantages offered by smaller sensors such as APS-C and Micro Four Thirds means that in a lot of cases they are the best way to go. I am not at all against full frame cameras, but price and weight are major factors you should take into consideration.
Moreover advancements in digital processing of modern cameras mean that a camera with a small sensor from a leading company will usually have processing technology that completely alleviates loss of image quality in low light, so even the low light advantage of full frame sensors has diminished.
If you can spend less on the camera body and put that money towards the wide variety of lenses available to the APS-C or Micro Four Thirds user, you can achieve image quality that rivals any full frame camera without limiting your lens options or breaking the bank. Moreover, you’re much more likely to be able to take your camera wherever you go without bulking up a bag, placing a whole world to photograph more easily at your fingertips.
Of course, every sensor size has its place, and none of them will be going away anytime soon! I hope that this article has helped you clearing up a bit of confusion on camera sensor sizes and as always don’t hesitate to ask me questions in the comments section below. I’ll be happy to reply.
Telling a story through your photos is an art form. It’s easy to snap a few good pictures. With a little luck and a little post-processing, they may even be great pictures. But it’s unlikely that they’ll tell much of a story.
Storytelling adds an emotional component to your photography, presenting viewers with a brief narrative or character study or with a detailed look into a special event (i.e., wedding, milestone birthday). The following techniques will help you transform your snapshots into rich stories.
Creating a photo narrative requires advance planning. While you may occasionally get lucky and capture an image that tells a great back story, these shots will be few and far between. When you have an upcoming event or are putting together a photo project, think about the emotions or message you want to convey and the narrative you want to create. It may be helpful to assemble a checklist to get the shots you want. Depending on the nature of the shoot, you may have to take your shots in a different order than you’ll put them in for the final product. Anticipating the order of the shots will ensure that you get everything you need when you need it.
Shoot a Series of Photos
A single image can tell a story. For the right image, it can tell a very powerful story. However, typically, the story you tell with a single image will be pretty limited. It’s much easier to tell a story through a series of photos. As a beginner photographer, you’re likely to have much better luck with the storytelling process through a photo series. You’ll take the pressure off yourself to convey a detailed, rich message through one image and will give yourself the opportunity to present a lengthier story. Think about how many shots you want in a series to tell the full story. You don’t want to stretch a limited number of shots, but you also don’t want to overdo it.
Emotions tap into the human element of stories, making them more powerful and memorable for the audience. Learning to convey emotion through portraiture is a great place to start. From a candid shot of a young birthday girl opening presents to a posed shot of a couple right after their wedding ceremony, you know right away if you’ve captured the emotions effectively. In time, you’ll learn how to convey emotions through other subjects. For example, the time of day you shoot a specific location greatly impacts the emotion of the shot.
Watch for the Right Opportunities
Regardless of the type of story you’ll creating through still images and the amount of planning you do, you never know when ideal opportunities will present themselves. When you’re in the woods, a bird may land on a tree near you at just the right moment for a great shot. When you’re at a wedding reception, you’re likely to convey more emotion through candid shots on the dance floor than of the happy couple cutting their cake. Waiting for and embracing these opportunities will add more to your narrative than anything you can plan for in advance.
Dare to be Unique
You can learn a lot from copying someone else’s work. As a creative exercise, it’s a solid strategy. However, as a way to develop your own style and tell a unique story, it’s not a good strategy. To stand out from the crowd, you want your images to look different. Don’t just do what’s easiest or limit yourself to subject matter or editing techniques that are trendy right now. Strive to create your own style with shooting and editing aesthetics to match your stories.
Learning to tell a story through your photos isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes practice and patience to plan properly and then execute your strategy effectively. Review your photos with a critical eye, and think about how you can adjust your technique to add more narrative for future shoots. Don’t be afraid of failure. The more you take pictures with a story telling element in mind, the more you’ll improve your work.
When you’re new to photography, you’re bound to make mistakes. Everyone is a beginner once, and making errors is part of the process. To move past the beginner stage, you must be aware of common photography mistakes and learn how to fix them.
I’ve put together a list of the 5 most common mistakes made by beginner photographers and to correct them. Apply these tips to dramatically improve your photos!
1. Bent Horizon
One of the simplest ways to turn a mediocre image into a solid image is to straighten the horizon. Unless you’re trying to achieve a specific effect and want a decidedly crooked horizon, it’s always best to straighten it.
When you’re caught up in the moment of a shoot, you may not be thinking about the horizon the whole time, which is okay. Even when you are conscious of the horizon, you may need to tweak it a bit during editing to get it perfectly straight. Straightening the horizon is a very simple post-process fix. As you get more comfortable with taking and editing photos, fixing a bent horizon will become second nature.
If you want to minimize your time spent editing photos and get the right shot straight (pun intended) out of your camera, you can either use a tripod and level up your camera or if you don’t have one with you, your camera might have a virtual horizon built in so you can use it activating live view. Otherwise activate the grid and use it as a guide to get your horizon straight.
2. Not Applying Basic Rules of Composition
Basic rules of composition are not the most exciting aspect of photography. However, regardless of the type of photography you’re pursuing, a general understanding of basic composition rules will help you perfect your craft. The two rules to start with are the rule of thirds and leading lines. When you break a photo into thirds both horizontally and vertically, you have four key intersections. Striving to place your subject at one of these intersections will help you create balanced images.
Leading lines refers to using lines to lead your viewer into the photo or to draw attention to the subject. Choosing a subject with obvious leading lines is a great place to start working on this technique. Railroad tracks, bridges, long fences, and rows of street lights are perfect for practicing your leading lines technique.
When you’re comfortable with the rule of thirds and leading lines, start paying attention to the balance in your photos, working to deliberately to center or off-set your subjects. Consider the foreground versus background balance as well as how you’re framing your subjects.
Golden hour refers to the periods shortly after sunrise and before sunset. Photographers often refer to golden hour as “magic hour” because the light takes on a certain magical quality these times of day.
Shooting in the middle of the day is much more difficult as the sun is directly overhead, creating harsh light with deep shadows.
The sun’s angle is very flattering right after sunrise or before sunset, bathing subjects in beautiful diffused light. When you’re planning a portrait session or photo outing, do your best to shoot for golden hour or close to it. Learning how to take advantage of the golden hour will immediately bring the level of your photographs up.
Overediting images is very trendy right now, particularly oversaturated or “HDR” images. HDR is a photography technique, but most photographers don’t use it correctly.
It’s important to edit your photos to turn your good images into great images. It’s also important to know when to stop editing, which is a tricky balance. It doesn’t help that overediting is so popular.
Many people assume it’s a must or don’t feel like their images are finished until they reach a certain saturation or contrast level. Unless you’re going for a very specific aesthetic, you don’t want to edit your images so heavily that they don’t look real anymore.
5. Taking the Obvious Shots
Becoming a good photographer involves training your eye to see an unusual composition or angle for a shot. When you arrive at a new location, take a few minutes to be present in it before you start snapping.
You’ll get a better sense of your surroundings and will get more interesting images than you would if you spent the entire time with the camera to your face. Don’t be afraid to move to get the shot you want.
You’ll often create a better perspective on a subject when you get above or beneath it or right down at its angle. For example, instead of snapping a picture of pretty flowers and moving on, squat down so you can photograph them straight on.
Every photographer starts as a beginner. You will make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s important to learn from your mistakes and strive to keep taking and editing better images.
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The playback screen on this Sony camera gives the RGB histogram, as well as histograms for each color channel
Light meters in modern cameras do a wonderful job with exposure, but they will sometimes lead you astray. You can check the playback image on your camera’s LCD screen, but that’s not entirely accurate, either. If you’ve ever thought you’d nailed a shot, only to find out later that you’d blown out, or “clipped”, the highlights or the blacks, you will appreciate a histogram.
A histogram is a graphical representation of the tones that are present in an image and is another tool to help you set your exposure. Most of today’s cameras have a histogram feature when you review your photos and many include a histogram in Live View. Checking your histogram is one of the best and easiest ways to ensure you get the exposure you want in the field and help you avoid unpleasant surprises when you get home and start processing your photos.
Intro to Histograms
A typical histogram for an average photo.
Histograms show how much of each tone, or luminance value, is in an image, from pure black to pure white and everything in between. Most cameras and virtually all post processing applications have them but, for this article, I’ll use Lightroom to illustrate histograms, simply because they’re easier than looking at the back of a camera. Often, the histogram will look like a mountain or mountain range. A whole lot of math goes into creating histograms, but we don’t need to worry about the calculations, only what the resulting histogram can tell us.
Many cameras can show four different histograms, one for the overall luminance values and three more showing the luminance values for the red, green and blue channels (see opening photo). Whether your camera has only one or all four, histograms are terrific tools for showing you if you’ve blown out any whites or blacks while you’re in the field, so you can adjust your settings and reshoot the composition.
If you’re shooting RAW, note that the histogram on the back of your camera is based on the JPG preview you see when reviewing your shots on the LCD screen. Your RAW file will have a bit more latitude that this histogram will show. A very small amount of clipping on the camera histogram is probably OK.
Why Will Understanding a Histogram Improve My Photos?
If you photograph a bright scene, like snow or a wet, sandy beach in full sun, your camera’s light meter will want to give you an exposure full of mid tones, like the histogram on the left, and your snow will turn out gray. Knowing that, you change your exposure settings to give you a histogram with the bulk of the pixels bright, but not blown out, as in the center. Adjusting too far blows out the whites, as shown in the right histogram.
The biggest benefit to using histograms is avoiding over- or underexposing an image. You want our darkest darks and brightest whites to have a bit of detail or texture. If you blow out your whites or blacks when you take the photo, there is nothing you can do to bring them back. The histogram shows you your exposure in a graphical way and tells you how much of the scene your camera is recording and how much is being lost.
If your camera has histograms for the red, green and blue channels, they can be useful, too. There are times when a particular color will be so bright that it gets blown out! The main (RGB) histogram may look OK, because it’s a combination of the three channels, but one of those channels may still be clipped. Take a look at the histogram on the back of the camera at the top of this article. The RGB histogram shows I wasn’t clipping any brights. However, when I check the blue channel, that shows I was clipping the brightest blues. Now, imagine photographing a fiery red sunset or a deep red rose where the RGB histogram shows no clipping. Yet you look at your red channel histogram and see the brightest reds are clipped. Because you checked the histogram, you can adjust your exposure settings to bring back detail in your sunset or flower and take the photo again.
Histograms also aid your artistic process by helping you get your tones where you want them so that the tonality conveys the mood and feeling you’re going for. You might want to shoot high key, or go for more of a dark and moody look. Getting it right in the camera saves a lot of time and effort in post processing and gives you a better quality file to work with.
How to Read the Histogram
In this image, the tones gradually transition from pure black to pure white and the histogram is relatively flat, indicating approximately equal amounts of each tone, with slightly more blacks and whites than shadows, mid tones or highlights.
What information is the histogram giving you?
The histogram’s horizontal axis represents the luminance (brightness) values of the image. Towards the left, you have the blacks, with the left edge representing pure black, with no detail. This would be Zone 0 in Ansel Adams’ Zone System. In the middle are the mid tones, similar to middle gray or Zone 5.
On the right are the whites, with the right edge being pure white, with no detail, representing Zone 10. Highlights are found toward the right, between the mid tones and the whites. Shadows are found towards the left, between the mid tones and blacks. (In Lightroom, if you slowly move your cursor over the histogram, you’ll see the different areas light up and, just below the histogram, you’ll see which sliders affect that area of tonality. (See image above.)
The vertical axis of the histogram represents how much of each luminance value there is in your photo. The higher the peak of any part of the histogram, the more pixels of that tone are present in the image. A shot that’s mostly mid tones will peak in the center of the histogram. A shot of a polar bear on the ice will peak towards the right and a shot of a black bear in the dark woods will peak to the left. A histogram can have several peaks, if several different tones are prominent in a composition.
Each histogram will be different, based on the tones in your specific image. Most of the time, you want to capture the entire range of tones in an image, from pure white to pure black. And, most of the time, you want to avoid having your whites slam up against the right edge of the histogram, as that would mean there is a lot of featureless white in the image. Similarly, most of the time you’d want to avoid having your blacks crash up against the left side of the histogram as that would mean a lot of featureless black.
There are times when your artistic vision might require a lot of featureless white, like a shot of animals in the arctic snow or certain high-key shots, but that should be a conscious choice. Similarly, a portrait photographer might want a shot with deep shadows and a black backdrop, where the histogram will push up against the left side, but that’s a stylistic choice. And, of course, astrophotography under dark skies will push your histogram far to the left.
A foggy morning on the coast just doesn’t have any pure blacks or whites.
Sometimes, you’ll be shooting an image where there are no blacks or, conversely, no whites. In this situation, it’s OK if the histogram doesn’t stretch from one side all the way across to the other. A foggy day is unlikely to have pure blacks. A predawn exposure won’t have pure whites.
This histogram shows that I haven’t blown out the whites and have recorded a good exposure for the full moon. To get that, I chose to let the sky go to pure black.
And, sometimes, no matter what adjustments you make to your camera settings, your histogram will peak on both ends, indicating you’re clipping brights and darks. That’s telling you that the scene has too wide a dynamic range for your camera to capture in one shot. You will need to bracket your shots and use exposure blending or HDR when you process your photos. Alternately, you can decide to let some of your darks clip to pure black (like for a silhouette) and preserve all of the detail in the bright sunset.
The histogram for this image is not your typical mountain, but it’s the right one for this image. There’s a lot of light blue and the darker mid tones of the pelicans.
The bad news is that there is no single perfect histogram. Every scene will have a different one.
The good news is that the perfect histogram is whatever you want it to be. The perfect histogram for your image is the one that reflects your artistic vision for the shot.
The more experience you get with your camera, the less you’ll need to rely on the histogram. You’ll start to know that you’ve got the right exposure. Many professional photographers can walk up to a scene and instinctively know what settings to use to capture the perfect exposure. They may never check the histogram.
As for myself, I don’t want my reds to blow out during that glorious sunset. Nor do I want the dark foreground to become featureless black. I still check my histogram whenever I’m in a situation with tricky lighting.
Need help understanding the histogram? Ask in the comments below!
Frank Gallagher is a photographer and writer from Washington, DC. He built up his photography business after a career in nonprofits during which he developed extensive experience in visual storytelling. He enjoys sharing his love of photography with others.
Purchasing gear as a new photographer is often overwhelming. There are so many choices, it’s hard to know where to start. You want to get high-quality gear without breaking the bank.
The following essential travel photography gear recommendations will help you begin building a solid collection of gear for your adventures.
A Small Camera and Lenses
For most travel photographers, a micro four thirds camera is ideal because it’s lightweight and produces fantastic images. Micro four thirds lenses also tend to be much lighter than full frame lenses.
My personal recommendation for a budget micro four thirds camera is the Olympus PEN E-PL9. I’ve recently bought one and took it with me during my last trip to Japan and let me tell you that for an under $1,000 price point, you’ll be hard pressed to get better image quality than the E-PL9. It’s a pleasure to shoot with. Here’s an image I captured with it.
Captured with Olympus PEN E-PL 9
On the Panasonic side the Lumix DMC-GX85 is a really good alternative for around the same price as the EP-L 9.
If you’re in the market for a micro four thirds camera and have a bigger budget, the Oympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II is probably the best choice.
I have to remind you that there are lightweight alternatives also on bigger sensor mirrorless cameras such as the Fujfilm X-T3 (APS-C sensor)and the legendary Sony a7 III (full frame). They won’t disappoint you.
If you prefer to shoot with a DSLR, choose a smaller mid-range DSLR body, such as the Canon 80D (APS-C sensor) or the Nikon D7100 (my first DSLR APS-C sensor). To keep the weight down while traveling with DSLRs, prime lenses are ideal. You get superior image quality without adding bulk to your camera.
My personal favorite lightweight Canon prime lens is the 40mm f/2.8 (for APS-C sensor cameras). The focal length is extremely versatile, making it a great choice for travel. On the Nikon side, the NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8 (for APS-C sensors) is a great choice.
Lens Cleaning Kit
When you’re out and about taking travel photos, your lenses will get dirty. Keep a small supply of microfiber cloths and a lens cleaning pen or brush on hand.
You’ll be able to keep your lenses free of smudges and debris without adding any weight to your camera bag. MagicFiber and Sensei microfiber cloth brands are popular among photographers.
You may also want to pack a lens cleaning spray to give your lenses a more thorough cleaning when you have downtime at your hotel.
Traveling with a laptop and portable hard drive is essential for keeping your images backed up. As storage has become so affordable, there’s no reason you should skimp on portable hard drive space.
Once a day, take a few minutes to transfer the last day’s worth of images onto your portable hard drive. With the original files still on your memory cards, you’ll have two copies of your images, greatly minimizing the risk that something will happen to them. I use the small and fast Seagate Portable 2TB and here you can read more about how to organize your digital images like a pro
Multiple Memory Cards
Even when you purchase high-quality memory cards and take good care of them, you never know when a memory card will fail. You can’t count on purchasing memory cards while traveling or you’ll pay through the nose at an airport, so stock up ahead of time before an upcoming trip.
It’s also a good idea to switch memory cards a couple of times during the trip. If something does happen to a memory card or your backup system, you won’t lose all of your trip images when they’re spread across multiple cards.
As a beginner photographer, it’s best to invest in a high-rated, budget travel tripod. High-end tripods are pricey. It’s important to get experience shooting with a tripod to figure out what your needs and preferences are for that investment purchase. Manfrotto, Benro, MeFOTO, and Oben offer highly rated travel tripods under $200.
When you’re shopping for a camera travel bag, it’s important to consider your travel needs as well as photographer needs and to ensure that the bag provides easy access to your gear.
My personal favorite camera bags for travel is the Manfrotto Street Medium Backpack. The Manfrotto medium backpack is light and offers two internal compartments that can be combined into one. It also have a rear sleeve for your laptop. It’s also very handy to bring your small tripod always with you.
Before purchasing travel photography gear, do your research. Pay attention to online ratings and reviews and watch videos to get an up close look at the gear. If you’re ever in doubt about which items will best fit your needs, write in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
Organize your digital photos can be complicated. If you’re anything like most people, you love taking photos. Every day whether you are out and about trying your new gear or just hanging out with friends, you are probably taking tons of photos. We all relentlessly shoot picture after picture only to assure ourselves that we have the best one possible.
The next step after getting a lot of pictures is to transfer to your computer and save your files correctly. Organizing your photos can be stressful and annoying to do if you don’t have a systematic method in place. Taking the time to learn what to do will save you hours of sorting through hundreds of photos later on to find the exact picture that you’re looking for.
Organize Your Photos
I’ll show you exactly everything you can do to start organizing your photos like a pro.
The first thing to do is to decide whether or not you want to categorize your collection by date or by moments (camping trips, holidays, vacations, friends, family, etc). I prefer to do a combination of both.
Either have your main folder as the year and month (2019 folder with each month inside) and keep your subcategory folder within each month. For example, your main folder with all your pictures inside could be called pictures and within that folder, you would have each year, and within each year you would have all the months, and within each month you would categorize the moments with subfolders (your moments).
Backup Your Digital Photos
If you have a collection of photos that you keep on your computer or hard drive, then it’s imperative to always make sure you back them up. If you don’t do this, it’s not about if you lose your photos, but when.
Too many people make the mistake of not backing up their photos and lose all their memories due to unforeseen circumstances.
Backing up photos doesn’t take long and it’s something you should do to make sure you have your photos for the rest of your life. I use two hard drives, one as a main workhorse storage drive and the second as a backup.
This way I’m sure that I have two copies of each file and avoid losing my photos.
I find that the best and cheapest is the Seagate Backup Slim 2T like the one in the image. It’s a small, portable and fast hard drive (USB 3.0) I bought two of them and you should too. I also take them with me when I travel.
If you have a slightly bigger budget I also recommend buying the awesome Seagate Expansion, a 8TB Desktop External Hard Drive with USB 3.0 as a main storage unit for home.
Delete With No Mercy, Keep Only the Best Shots
If you want to get the best photos possible for each and every photo then you’re going to want to take as many photos as possible per picture that you take. No one wants one picture to be taken and find out their eyes were closed or you don’t want to take a shot of a beautiful landscape and find out you had the wrong settings.
Especially in the beginning, I recommend taking a minimum of 5 – 10 pictures per photo you want to add to your collection (or even more). Then you can delete the other 4 – 9 photos and choose only the best.
This way you won’t lose yourself in a labyrinth of image files you don’t like and are just taking space in your hard drive. A great tool to go through your photos and add a tag to the best ones is Lightroom. Read more about Lightroom in this guide.
Use the Right Tools. Photo Mechanic
As I mentioned above, a great tool when it comes to categorize and tag photos is Adobe Lightroom. Yes Lightroom is not only an editing software, it’s also a powerful for its organizing tool. But Lightroom is not the most efficient one.
If you want to take it a step further, many professional photographers use Photo Mechanic for its speed and efficiency it brings to their workflow.
Photo Mechanic is not an alternative to Lightroom, but a photo managing tool with which load photo previews fast, add ratings and color labels to your collection and add metadata to your files (such as copyright, date, etc), perform batch actions and much more.
The great thing about Photo Mechanic is that you can use it with your preferred editor too. You can link them together and harness the power of both at the same time. Let me know in the comments below if you’d like an in depth guide on how to use it in your workflow. And if you want you can download a free trial from their website.
Doing Things Right the First Time
I want you to always do the right thing when it comes to organizing and saving your photos. It’s important to stick with a routine when it comes to taking pictures and managing digital files.
If you don’t have a set time when you edit and organize your photos you’ll end up coming back to a mess of photos and taking up more of your time than needed.
Some people like to wait until they backup their photos to their second hard drive. I believe the best possible thing to do is to delete any unwanted photos immediately after copying them from your camera and before doing the editing.
To easily and neatly organize everything it’s important to stay consistent and experiment at the same time. Consistency and routine will help you get in the habit of doing things right away and saving you a lot of time.
Whatever way you decide to organize your photos make sure to stick with it. Developing a system can take time but if you keep to the same system it really makes a huge difference. Shoot as many pictures as possible, delete them regularly (as soon as you’ve chosen the best picture), organize them with the right tools and edit them as soon as you get home!
I hope that you’ve been able to learn a thing or two from this article and you’ll be able to put your photo organizing skills to use. Take your photo editing skills to the next level, become more organized and get the most out of every shot!
Getting serious about bettering your photography skills is exciting but can be overwhelming. You don’t understand the settings on your camera, and frequently used photography terms such as “histogram” and “RAW” are completely foreign to you. Getting a few of the most commonly asked questions for beginners answered will help you on your journey to becoming a great photographer.
What is The Depth of Field?
Depth of field is the zone of sharpness within a photo that appears in focus. The depth of field can vary significantly. When there is a very narrow zone of sharpness with a large blurred background, the photo has a narrow depth of field. When the majority of the photo is in focus, the photo has a wide depth of field. Selecting a wide aperture (i.e., f/2.0) will produce a narrow depth of field. Selecting a narrow aperture (i.e., f/16) will produce a wide depth of field.
Once you understand depth of field, you’ll have a much easier time creating a blurred background in your images. Blurred backgrounds with beautiful bokeh is one of the reasons people invest in mirrorless and DSLR cameras. You can create a blurred background with a smartphone. But you’ll create richer bokeh with a mirrorless or DSLR camera and prime lens. For beginner photographers, a 50mm lens, such as the Canon 50mm f/1.8, is a great prime lens choice. You’ll be able to create gorgeous blurred backgrounds without breaking the bank.
A RAW file is the image that the camera’s sensor sees. When you shoot a JPEG, the camera does all of the image processing. You don’t have to make a lot of editing decisions. However, you also don’t have a lot of control over the final image. Once a camera has processed a JPEG, you’re unable to recover lost detail. For example, if the sky is blown out, you lose those details forever with a JPEG. When you shoot RAW, you can recover some of the details in the sky. The same principle holds true for underexposed photos. For example, if the subject is largely hidden in shadow, you’ll be able to bring out a lot of this lost detail. Finally, shooting RAW provides complete control over white balance. When you shoot JPEG, you have to select white balance in camera. When you shoot RAW, you can shoot with any white balance setting and then adjust the final setting during post-processing.
All mirrorless and DSLR cameras have RAW shooting capacity. Most modern smartphones have the capacity to shoot RAW as well. If you don’t own a mirrorless or DSLR camera and want to experiment with RAW, find out if your camera has RAW capacity. You can edit RAW photos for free with GIMP or with any basic photo editing software, including Photoshop Elements.
What is a Histogram?
A histogram is a graphical representation of an image’s tonal values. This means that it displays the amount of tones of brightness for a given image, ranging from black (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness). “Clipping” refers to a loss of detail, which appears in the histogram when a portion of it “touches” either edge. Highlight clipping (white areas, absent of detail) occurs on the right side of the histogram. Shadow clipping (black areas, absent of detail) occurs on the left side of the histogram. A “good” histogram has the majority of its tones in the middle. Understanding a histogram is important for exposing images correctly with minimal clipping.
Do I Need to Buy Expensive Gear to Achieve Great Photos?
You don’t need to buy expensive gear to produce great photos. While high-quality gear can improve your photography, it doesn’t make you a great photographer.
Starting with the camera gear you already own or investing in an entry-level mirrorless or DSLR system will help you get your feet wet. With patience and practice and a little technical knowledge, you can produce fantastic images with virtually any camera. In time, you’ll be able to decide which mid-level or high-end gear will be most beneficial for your photography.
What Camera and Lens Should I Buy if I’m New to Photography?
My top recommendation for new photographers looking for an affordable, lightweight camera with RAW capacity and full manual control is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85. For the price point, you’ll be hard pressed to find a camera in this budget range that produces better images. It comes with two zoom lens, the 12-32mm and 45-150mm, allowing to experiment with a wide range of focal lengths. If you want to invest in a prime lens, the Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 is a great choice.
I am also a huge advocate for the Canon Rebel series, as it’s how I got my start in DSLR photography. Currently, the t7 is the newest Canon Rebel model. Canon Rebels are well built with intuitive menus and highly responsive touchscreens. Canon offers a fantastic lens selection, one of the best on the market. There are also a number of reputable third party lens manufacturers, such as Sigma and Tokina, that offers Canon-compatible lens, further expanding your offerings.
Can I still make money online selling photos?
It is still possible to make money selling photos online. While the market is highly competitive, there is more demand for photos than ever, particularly digital photos. Many photographers opt to sell photos through their own websites, as it provides the most control. Depending on your goals and preferences, you may or may not decide that this is your best route. If you are primarily interested in stock photography and don’t have a strong web presence, submitting to major stock photography sites, such as Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, is the way to go. Be highly selective about the images you submit, and don’t be afraid of rejection.
Do I need a tripod? Why?
A tripod is essential for any type of photography that requires a long exposure, such as long exposure water photography and astro photography. It simply isn’t possible to hand hold a camera for long exposures without significant blurring. There are also shooting situations, such as night photography, where shooting with a shutter speed lower than handheld capacity will allow you to decrease your ISO, producing brighter, cleaner images. Pick up a budget tripod to experiment with tripod photography. From there, you’ll be able to determine if it’s worth investing in a more expensive tripod.
Mastering photography is an ongoing process. From beginner hobbyist photographers to seasoned professional photographers, it’s important to keep learning new techniques and working to improve your craft. When you have a question, get it answered. The more you can learn about photography, the more you’ll be able to keep honing your skills.
Rose Clearfield is a freelance writer and hobbyist photographer. She lives in southeast WI with her husband, son, and three cats. She bought her first DSLR in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. With an education background and a passion for writing, she loves helping people learn how to take better pictures.