Category Archives: photography

Simple Tips to Start Photography Business

Starting a photography business can be a stressful, time-consuming task.

But do it right, and you can build a business that is successful for years to come and provides you and your family with the income you need to lead a good life.

There’s a lot that goes into making a business successful, and if I’m honest, the cards are stacked against you.

It’s a fact that most businesses fail within the first year. Heck, not that many survive past two years, and fewer still are in business a decade down the road.

As with anything, building a successful business requires a ton of preparation.

The groundwork that you lay now will be a crucial element of how successful your photography business will be.

Though this isn’t a comprehensive guide on jumpstarting your photography career (that’s available here), what’s included below are a few simple and quick steps you can take to be sure that you’re starting things off on the right foot.

Let’s have a look!

Goals, Goals, Goals

I’m not really a goal-oriented person in my personal life, but you can bet that I learned how to set goals in business.

Having something to work towards gives you and your business direction. In the short-term, goals can help you sift through everything that needs to be done just to set up a business (i.e. creating a business plan, securing financing for a studio or office space, setting up a website, having a logo developed, etc.).

Long-term goals help frame everything you do in the short-term in terms of how they will help you achieve success in the future.

Basically, having tangible and attainable goals helps you develop a roadmap for success. Achieve one goal, then move on to achieve the next one, then the next one, and so forth.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by everything you have to do as a business owner. It’s also easy to get stuck on the little details when you should be looking at the big picture.

Developing goals for your business will help you avoid both of those things and focus on what you really want – developing a successful business.

Efficiency is Key

Here’s a newsflash that many beginner photographers don’t want to hear…

When you start a photography business, the vast majority of your time will not be spent taking photos.

Instead, you’ll be managing your books, answering phone calls and emails, scheduling appointments, sending invoices, and so forth.

In other words, you’ll be as much (if not more) of an office manager as you will be a photographer.

Granted, those tasks are a necessary part of business, but they don’t have to consume all your time.

Efficiency is key here, and outfitting yourself with the right virtual assistant can help you build a streamlined operation.

For me, the best option to get your photography business in order is Iris Works.

To start with, Iris Works keeps you organized so you minimize the amount of time trying to keep track of what needs to be done and more time actually getting those tasks completed.

Iris Works features a dashboard (shown above) with your calendar, a to-do list, and even an overview of all your current projects.

And that’s just the beginning…

Iris Works also includes something called “Workflows” that allows you to set timelines for projects, create the aforementioned to-do lists, and even send invoices to clients so you’re sure you don’t miss billing anyone. You can also create messages to clients and schedule the messages to go out at specific times. Timely, consistent communication with your clients really has never been easier!

What’s more, Workflows has pre-loaded templates for many of these tasks, so you can save time not having to build your own (although, Iris Works lets you build custom templates if you want).

Yet another primary task that Iris Works can handle for you is doing all of that documentation…

You know, creating contracts, sending invoices, and collecting payments.

Build your own custom contracts right within Iris Works, and send them electronically for your client’s signature. Do the same with model release forms too! See how to create and send a contract in Iris Works in the video above.

When it comes time to bill your clients, just send your invoices through the Iris Works platform, and you can easily track which clients have paid and which ones haven’t. You can even send an electronic receipt once payment is received.

If it seems like I’m gushing over Iris Works, it’s because I am! And I’m not alone…

This is a game-changer for self-employed photographers – believe me!

Check out Iris Works and see all the other incredible features it offers to help you streamline your workflow and develop a strong, successful, long-lasting business.

Spend Time on Marketing

You can take the best photos in the world, but if you aren’t able to market yourself and your work, it’s going to be tough for you to stay in business very long.

One of the behind-the-scenes tasks you’ll need to tackle is marketing your business.

Now, this can mean a lot of different things, but at its heart, your marketing strategy should serve to not just get your name out there amongst the buying public, but it should also be geared toward differentiating you from everyone else.

Here’s why…

Photographers are a dime a dozen, and as the new kid on the block, you need to prove that what you offer is better than everyone else, including the photographers that have been at it for awhile.

When you market your business, be sure you have a consistent message.

That message should focus on your personality. Why?

In a sea of photographers, you are the only you! It’s the simplest and most effective way to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Who you are impacts everything you do, from the style of the photos you create to the manner in which you interact with clients.

The question is, how do you incorporate your unique personality into your branding?

It’s simple – use mediums that allow you to showcase who you are.

Post photos to Instagram to showcase your artistic style.

Make YouTube videos to introduce yourself to your clients and show them who you are as a person.

Write frequent blog posts talking about your workflow or offer educational tips about taking photos or processing them.

The point is that putting an ad in the paper saying, “Hey, I’m a photographer, and I’m open for business” isn’t going to do much for you.

Instead, focusing on getting your name, your face, and your personality out there will get you started off on much stronger footing.

Check out more tips for boosting your photography brand in the video above from Vanessa Joy and B&H Photo.

7 Beginner Photography Tips

If you ask me, photography is just about the best hobby anyone can pick up.

Not only does it get you up and moving, but it compels you to be creative, master technical aspects like exposure, and interact with others who love photography (or who want their picture taken).

And just about everyone loves a good photo, right? So photography is a great way to bring people together for the common purpose of taking great photos (and appreciating them too!).

Of course, when you’re just starting out in photography, it can be a little confusing as to where to even begin.

That’s where this guide comes in.

If you’re a brand new photographer, consider these tips as the ideal place to start your photography journey.

It Will Take Time

I cannot emphasize this enough – mastering photography will not happen overnight.

Sure, that’d be great, but that’s just not how things work.

It’s hard to look at photos from the masters and not be able to replicate what they do.

But with time and practice, you’ll develop the understanding of photography and the requisite skills needed to create better photos.

So, the first thing you need to do is grab your camera, head out, and start taking pictures.

By putting yourself out there and into a position to take photos, you’ll learn about everything from camera settingsto composition to lighting and everything in between.

Back up your practice in the field with research and learning beforehand, and you’ll be surprised at just how much your photography improves.

Utilize Free Tools

One of the great things about photography is that it’s so accessible.

That’s been the case for decades, but today that’s especially true given that you can start learning photography with nothing more than your smartphone and a few photography tutorials like this one.

Though there are plenty of photography courses out there that you can pay to take, don’t think that spending money on learning opportunities is the only way to go.

Start with free lessons like this one. Peruse YouTube and see what sorts of tutorials you can find. Join a photography website like PhotographyTalk so you can get inspired by other people’s photos, get feedback on your own photos, and talk shop with other photography enthusiasts.

By focusing on the free tools at your disposal, that frees up money to spend on other photography-related things, like getting a better lens or investing in a set of good filters.

Read the Owner’s Manual

One free resource that’s vastly underutilized is the owner’s manual for your camera. This is particularly true if you have a DSLR or mirrorless system.

I realize that owner’s manuals are not enjoyable reads, but that notwithstanding, they have a ton of critical information about the features and functions of your camera that allow you to take better photos.

Think about it like this – if you’ve never taken a photo in your life, how can you expect to learn how if you don’t know how your camera works?

Taking up photography without learning how to use your camera is like taking your driver’s test without ever having learned how to drive – it’s just that much more complicated!

Make it easier on yourself and spend a little time reading the owner’s manual. Trust me, it will pay off!

Never Be Without a Camera

Sometimes, beginner photographers mistakenly think that they have to have the perfect subject to get a good photo.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Often, good photos come about because the photographer was simply prepared to take the shot.

Part of being prepared is to simply have a camera with you at all times.

That doesn’t mean you have to lug around all your photography gear wherever you go, either…

Simply having your smartphone with you gives you a camera that’s ready and capable of taking a good shot. All you need to do is get into the habit of photographing subjects on your way to work, at lunch, on the weekends, as you walk the dog, and so forth.

After all, you never know when an ideal photo opp will present itself!

Enjoy the Process

When I was learning photography, I was constantly frustrated because I couldn’t seem to make my camera and lens do what I wanted them to do.

There were plenty of lose it moments when I just gave up, and you’ll probably have plenty of those moments too…

But what I can offer in terms of advice now that I’ve gone through those experiences is that getting mad and frustrated doesn’t do you any favors.

Instead, enjoy the process of learning.

Focus less on what you can’t do, and more on what you’re able to do.

You’ll be surprised at how much you learn and how quickly you learn it. And if you can focus on those positives, you will find that you enjoy photography much more.

Get Inspired

Photography, like any art form, certainly relies on your knowledge and skills.

But getting inspiration is a huge component of your success as well.

This doesn’t mean spending hours each day poring over the photos other people post on Instagram.

Instead, getting inspired means really focusing on what it is about certain photos that you like.

Is it the way the portrait subject has been posed?

Is it the lighting in a landscape photo?

Is it the colors or the textures in an abstract photo that catch your eye?

By looking at what other people do, you can start to form your own ideas about your personal style and photography aesthetic. And once you do that, you’ll start to see your own take on photography begin to emerge in the way your photos look and feel.

Set Some Goals

Though photography is art, and there’s something to be said for a relaxed approach to creativity, when you’re just starting out, having a few goals will give you the direction you need to become a better photographer.

These don’t have to be enormous, life-changing goals, either.

For example, you might endeavor to shoot at least 10 photos a day. Maybe your goal is to try one new type of photography each month for a year. Perhaps you can challenge yourself to become more familiar with your camera’s settings.

Even simple goals like these can give you the structure you need to maintain focus on what needs to happen for you to get better! Get more insights on setting photography goals in the video about by the Art of Photography.

Why Your Images Aren’t Sharp And How to Fix Them

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that we all want to take photos that are sharp.

The bad thing about sharpness is that a lot can go wrong that diminishes the sharpness of your photos. This includes culprits like a subject that’s moving, camera shake, noise due to a high ISO, and plain old bad focusing.

Some of these errors are self-explanatory – if your subject is moving and they appear blurry in your photo, it could be because your shutter speed is too slow. If there’s a lot of digital noise in your images, it’s because the ISO is too high.

On the other hand, some of these problems can be harder to figure out. Camera shake, for example, could be the result of a number of factors – a slow shutter speed, not using a tripod, windy conditions (even when using a tripod), or simply having hands that are a little on the shaky side.

The same goes for bad focusing. There are a variety of issues that could cause poor focus, including being too close to the subject, having your focus point in the wrong area of the image, being too quick on the trigger and taking a photo before the lens focuses, or having a depth of field that’s too shallow for the subject to be nice and sharp.

But the great thing about sharpness is that there are a lot of ways to combat these problems so that you can create an image that is tack-sharp.

Let’s have a look at a few of the best solutions to the problems outlined above. And don’t worry – they are all solutions that beginners can handle!

Get a Tripod and Use it

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t always enjoy carrying a tripod around…

But using a tripod is far and away one of the best ways to reduce blurriness in your images.

By giving your camera a stable base, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get a sharp image.

That’s because instead of depending on your hands, arms, and body for support – all of which move no matter how hard you try – you can put your camera on a tripod that isn’t moving around.

Better still, you can enhance a tripod’s ability to get a sharp image by improving its stability:

  • If the tripod has metal spikes on its feet, use them to give it more stable footing.
  • If the tripod has a center column hook, hang your camera bag, your backpack, or even a sack of dirt or rocks from it to anchor the tripod.
  • Remove your camera strap so it doesn’t flap in the wind.
  • Use a camera remote so you don’t have to physically touch the camera to fire the shutter.

Sure, using a tripod can be less convenient, but if your images gain sharpness, that inconvenience is worth it, is it not?

Get the scoop on other benefits of shooting with a tripod in the video above from Adorama TV and Mark Wallace.

Get a Grip on Your Camera

If you find that you’re in a situation in which you can’t use a tripod, your best bet is to learn how to hold your camera in such a way that you maximize its stability and therefore maximize your ability to get the sharpest photos.

That means you need to use both of your hands to support your camera – one firmly grasping the camera grip and the other underneath the camera and lens to lend it additional support.

What’s more, if you bring your elbows into your chest, you can form a sort of a tripod with your hands, arms, elbows, and your chest working together to keep your camera still, just as you can see above.

There are plenty of other ways to keep your camera still. Check them out in this comprehensive tutorial.

Use Image Stabilization

A lot of cameras and lenses today come with an image stabilization feature that won’t eliminate blurry images, but it can certainly help.

This is especially true when you have to hold your camera because image stabilization can get you an additional two or three stops of working room.

That means that you can use a shutter speed that’s two or three stops slower than you could normally use, and do so without worry of added blurriness due to camera shake.

When used in combination with a solid grip on your camera, image stabilization can make a great deal of difference in the level of sharpness of your photos.

Check Your Exposure Settings

As I noted in the introduction, a lack of sharpness can be due to the aperture, shutter speed, or ISO settings.

In the case of aperture, if your depth of field (the area of the image that’s in sharp focus) is too shallow, you might find that your subject isn’t sharp, as seen in the image above.

To rectify matters, use a smaller aperture.

For example, if at f/2.8 your subject is blurry, change the aperture to f/5.6.

The problem with using a smaller aperture is that it restricts the amount of light entering your lens, which requires a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO.

But when you slow the shutter speed, you run the risk of getting images that are blurry because of the movement of the subject.

Naturally, to avoid a blurry subject that’s moving (as seen above), you have to use a faster shutter speed. But, the faster the shutter speed, the larger your aperture or the higher the ISO will have to be.

And again, the higher the ISO, the greater the amount of digital noise, which can also cause your photos to look less than sharp. Reducing your ISO from, say, 400 to 100 will help minimize noise, but the lower the ISO, the slower the shutter speed and the larger the aperture you’ll need to use.

You can see the Catch-22 that comes with making adjustments to one of these settings: address one to get a sharper image and you might have to change one or both of the other settings to compensate, thus creating other problems for sharpness. Get more details about the relationship between these settings in our tutorial on theExposure Triangle.

When it comes down to it, the logical way to approach this is to prioritize one of the settings. For example, if you’re taking a portrait and you want a certain depth of field, work the aperture first and make changes to shutter speed and ISO accordingly to get a well-exposed image, as was done above.

On the other hand, if blurriness due to motion is a concern, prioritize shutter speed first, and make necessary adjustments to aperture and ISO.

Of course, you can always shoot in an advanced mode like aperture priority, shutter priority, or program mode, which allows you and the camera to work together to get sharp, well-exposed images.

Work on Focusing

Cameras today have excellent autofocus systems that, more often than not, work pretty well.

However, they can sometimes be tricked, which means you need to understand how to adjust focus yourself.

The easiest way is to simply check the focus when you take a shot.

Using live view, zoom in on your subject and see if it’s sharp. If it is, you’re good to go. If it’s not, you have some work to do.

To obtain the right focus, place the active autofocus point on your subject and depress the shutter button halfway. That locks the focus in place.

Then, recompose the shot, press the shutter button all the way down, and the resulting image will have the focus on the spot you previously chose. In the image above, you might place the center focus point on the most distant mountain peak, press the shutter halfway, then recompose the shot as seen above.

Essential Mistakes to Avoid as a Beginner Photographer

It’s human nature to make mistakes, especially when you are still new at something.

We should use mistakes to learn and evolve, and this is true for pretty much anything we do in life.

But even though all mistakes have educational potential, most of you will agree that avoiding some of them just makes life easier.

It’s always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes before you make them yourself. It is the way of the wise, but that’s not to say you won’t have your share of slips on your journey to becoming a better photographer.

As always, our mission is to educate and inspire photographers, be they first time shooters or seasoned professionals looking to constantly learn something new. With that in mind, here are a few mistakes you could easily live without making.

Not Looking at Enough Photos

With so much visual content all around us, it’s virtually impossible to live a modern life without being bombarded with all sorts of images.

Just think about how much time you spend on social networks like Instagram looking at other people’s photos…

But spending hours each day looking at popular Instagram accounts isn’t enough for developing your sense of aesthetics. Writers read a lot of books, filmmakers watch countless movies, and good photographers study the work of others.

Spend some time studying full bodies of work. Curiosity is of the essence!

Once you stumble across an inspiring image, do a bit of research, find out who took the shot, and dive into their portfolio. The chances are that you’ll find more fascinating work.

Do this again and again. Finding your personal style has a lot to do with how you interpret your influences, and this is something often neglected by aspiring photographers.

Not Shooting Enough

This should be a no-brainer, yet it is a path very easy to slip on.

A day without shooting turns into a week, which later becomes a month, and so on. Real progress should not be expected without serious work.

Talent has a lot to do with being a successful photographer, but in the overall scheme of things, it has a lot less to do with getting where you want to be than good old hard work.

Shoot as much as you can and turn uninteresting subjects into creative challenges because, ultimately, you have to nurture your imagination.

Choosing Poor Subjects

With billions of images being taken every day, it can be extremely challenging to find interesting and inspiring subjects.

Finding the motivation to pursue something that has been photographed countless times is also part of the equation, but the trick is to not let it get to you.

Always push yourself to photograph any subject in a personal manner, and try to stay away from subjects that have been exploited over and over by previous generations of photographers in your area.

Not Acquiring Editing Skills

Editing is an essential part of the creative process, and ignoring it and relying on your camera to do all the work will take away a lot of the potential from your images.

You don’t have to become a Photoshop guru, but mastering the basics of editing will greatly benefit your portfolio.

YouTube is full of awesome tutorials that will get you started, so spend some time experimenting and learning new things on your computer.

In the meantime, check out the in-depth video above on developing a post-processing workflow in Lightroom by Elias Sarantopoulos.

Over-Investing in Gear

This is by far one of the most common beginner mistakes.

It’s natural to feel insecure about something you don’t master, but trying to compensate by purchasing too much gear or getting the most expensive items on the market will not make you a better photographer.

Making smart decisions when it comes to buying gear is the best way to invest in the long run. You don’t want to end up with items you don’t actually need or to make costly investments that will bring you no return.

It’s very easy to get carried away, and this is totally understandable. But here are some of the basic items you actually need to start working on an impressive portfolio.


A good mid-range camera is a safe long term investment.

Entry-level models often limit photographers after a couple of years, but something a little more advanced will work just fine after you develop a decent skill set.

The good part about buying a mid-level camera is that you have a lot of options, especially if you are not yet committed to one system or another.

You can even go for a secondhand camera, and this will allow you to dip your toes into professional camera land.

Some great professional cameras are now available for a lot less than they used to cost when they were new, and the image quality is still very good in most of these cameras. Just think how long it took the Nikon D700 to truly become obsolete!

A Good Shutter Release

All photographers should carry a remote shutter release, but up until recently, the more capable models were very pricey.

A company called Alpine Labs has changed this with what is perhaps the most revolutionary product in its class that we have seen in years.

Pulse is a wireless shutter release (seen above) that can be fully controlled by your iOS or Android device.

The great thing about is that it gives you complete control over up to three cameras.

That means you can change exposure settings, ISO, and aperture, but you can also review your photos on your device in real time.

A Guide to Taking Travel Photography

Expert Advice on the Essentials

Travel photography guides can be hundreds of pages long, offering detailed advice on everything from camera settings to composition. In this short-but-sweet guide, we’ll show you the basics of preparing, taking and storing your photos – what you point the lens at is up to you!

The best way to get the top photography possible from your trip is to travel round with your camera to hand and your eyes and mind wide open. Absolutely everything you see can be made the subject of an interesting photo – just because the street is strewn with rubble doesn’t mean the dust won’t glow like fire as the sun sets. If you’re desperate for a specific shot, come back at several times of day so the scene might be emptier, busier or better-lit, depending on what the final outcome looks like in your head.

Let’s get one thing straight – you don’t need a degree in photography to get back from your trip with some awe-inspiring shots. It’s perfectly easy to wow your friends (and even get a picture or two published) with a basic camera and very little technical knowledge…

What do I need?

The type of camera you use does not matter. Whether you’ve got a brand new 12 megapixel SLR or a cheap-as-chips compact digital from Woolworths, it’s what you do with it that counts. Great shots can be taken with any equipment.

That said; some things to check if you’d like to get the most of your camera include:

Whether or not the camera has manual functions – These include variable shutter speeds and aperture sizes, and allow you a lot more creative freedom, especially when shooting in poor lighting or difficult conditions.

Whether you prefer shooting digitally or on film – Both film and digital have advantages over their counterparts. Film photography is still the favourite of the purists (partly because the size of your prints can be much larger than a digital sensor allows), but digital photography has taken the world by storm. If you enjoy experimenting, digital might suit you better, as you can instantly see if your latest shot came out as you expected (and you won’t waste countless reels of film in the attempt!).

The option of taking a spare battery or two – Some digital cameras have internal rechargeable batteries – they’re great, but if you run out it always pays to have an extra set on you somewhere. Chargers and rechargeable batteries can save you a fortune in the long run.

Your storage of choice – If you’re planning on shooting with film, always carry spare rolls with you – there’s nothing worse than running out of shots just as the perfect picture comes into view. With digital, find out how many pictures you can store at maximum quality on your memory card – when travelling it’s always advisable to keep the quality high, as it might be a long time before you get the opportunity to visit again!

Before you leave

There are several things you can do to prepare for a trip if you’re keen on showing off your photographic abilities.

Setting up an account with a website that hosts your photographs for free is a great idea, as it means you can give all your friends and family visual updates of your dream trip. That way, you can just email everybody a link to your page, and they can visit it regularly to be kept up to date!

As a member of you can upload your travel photos to the site for free. Not a member yet? Tsk. The site is free and easy to join – why not sign up today?

The site is simple to use, but we recommend practising by uploading a few pictures before you leave the country, just so you don’t end up trying to figure it out while you’re spending money in a Thai internet café!

Take a look at photographs in guidebooks and travel magazines – they can be a great way to train yourself to avoid the usual snapshots and are an inspiration to really experiment with the pictures you take.

Once you’re out there

A camera shouldn’t just capture what you see – it should encapsulate the feel of a place, so that when you return home, your photos can take you right back to the moment you took them: the smell of the air, the sounds all around you, and so on.

Don’t always try to concentrate on the big picture – quite often your best pictures will come from focusing on the little things, such as Lucy Cartwright’s shot of incense sticks on the first page of this guide or the photo of the fire extinguisher above. People might say that the devil is in the details, but you’ll frequently find the best pictures are too.

A lot of people can feel embarrassed to pull a camera out, especially if they’re trying to avoid looking like too much of tourist. We say – forget about being embarrassed! It could be your only chance to get a photo of your subject, so dive in there and take the best shot you can while the opportunity is still there!

Photographing people

To learn how to shoot great portraits takes a long time, and we’re not going to bore you with all the details here! A quick summary of the best way to get a good, solid portrait is:

  • Have your aperture open wide, if you’re able to change your camera settings manually – it’ll give you a shorter depth of field and place your subject’s background out of focus, placing them in much sharper relief (it’ll also mean you need a faster shutter speed, so camera shake is less likely). If you’re using an automatic camera, switch it to Portrait mode for the same effect
  • Focus on the eyes. They’re the most important part of the face and the one bit you need to keep in focus. Filling the frame with the head or face of your subject can create a very intimate image.
  • Ask them! In some cultures, pointing a camera at people can look quite suspicious, and you’ll often find them happy to pose for you if you ask nicely. Kids are often great fun to work with – let them look down the viewfinder of your camera or at the pictures you’ve taken if you’re using digital. Occasionally, we agree that’s it’s possible to get a sneaky shot without your subject knowing, but be prepared to accept the consequences if they spot you and don’t appreciate the attention!

Photographing landscapes and architecture

A very different process from photographing people, since buildings and landscapes tend to move around less. This doesn’t make it easier, mind you.

  • When taking a shot of wide open spaces or tall buildings, keep your aperture stopped down as far as possible if you’re trying to get everything in focus – the smaller the aperture (a larger f-stop number) the greater the depth of field. The Landscape mode on automatics and compacts should offer the same result.
  • If taking pictures at night, use a tripod, especially if you’re serious about your photography. Because there’s less light, the camera will need to have its shutter open for longer. Around 1 second will be suitable for urban scenes, but 10 seconds and above still might not be enough for a shot where there are no light sources, like the Australian outback. The tripod won’t shake as much as your hand, and you’ll be able to take much sharper pictures.
  • Take the time to frame your composition – split your frame mentally into a three-by-three grid, and use this to place your subject somewhere other than smack in the middle. Look for simple lines of symmetry and perspective that can make a standard snapshot into something much more interesting. It takes some getting used to, but the rewards are well worth it!

Photo Editing for Beginners

Photo Editing for Beginners

Photo editing and processing is almost as old as photography itself. Since the birth of the photo, photographers have always strived to improve their photos by developing them at home, tinting, toning, and cropping their pictures to make a good photo great. In the days when all photography was shot on film, the option to edit and process photos was pretty much limited to professionals and enthusiasts with a lot of time and patience. These days however, the development of the digital camera has meant that you no longer need your own darkroom to improve your photos. Using a fairly standard PC and a some digital image editing software you’re pretty much ready to roll. There is undoubtedly a lot to learn if you want to get into creating the kind of creative artworks produced by the likes of Justin M Maller or Calvin Ho, but if you’re just looking to improve and correct your photos, digital editing is surprisingly quick to learn. It can be a little daunting if you’ve never done it before, but with a bit of practice it’ll soon become second nature.

A wealth of options

If you’ve already begun looking at your options, the first thing you’ll have noticed is that it seems that every man, woman, child and hamster with a programming degree seems to have has had a go at designing an image editing package. Well maybe not, but there are literally hundreds of packages on the market. Simply choosing a software package to start out with can be a task in itself. Looking at the options available, you’ll also notice a huge variation in prices, ranging from completely free (we like those) to packages costing more than a budget round the world flight.

Free image editing software

First up are the free software packages. Free stuff means more money to spent elsewhere, so for a lot of people this might be the preferred option. Below are the most commonly used free image editing packages:


Picasa is a downloadable image organiser from Google which also features some basic photo editing options. There are a variety of quick fix options such as contrast and colour adjustments, as well as the ability to remove red eye and crop your images. Significantly, it also offers the ability to adjust the shadows and highlights of an image, a feature that a number of the cheaper paid packages lack. The best thing is it’s completely free, so have a look on Google for Picasa if you’re interested in a simple editor and organiser.

If you don’t find Picasa to your liking, there are plenty of other free options.


PhotoPlus for example, offers many of the creative tools you would usually expect to find on a piece of professional editing software such as layer effects, and clone, smudge and erase tools.


Budding designers and photographers after a professional image editor might want to try out GIMP. Don’t worry, it isn’t like it sounds, you won’t have to wear a mask when you use it; GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and was started in 1995 as a free alternative to Adobe Photoshop. As a result it features many of Photoshop’s advanced functions, including basic vector graphic support, layer transparency, layer masks and smart selection tools. It can even open Photoshop documents and features support for most Photoshop plug-ins. If having a plethora of options and tools at your disposal doesn’t frighten you then GIMP is probably the best choice for you. It might not be as quick to pick up as some of the other free packages, but I’d strongly recommend persisting with it as it is easily the most comprehensive and the best value for money of any of the image packages available.

Tip: If you’ve been using a computer for a few years and have already bought a digital camera, scanner or webcam at some stage, you might already own a basic digital imaging package. Double-check the box if you still have it, there might be some software on a disc in there that already does what you want.

Cost effective image editing software

If you don’t mind putting your hand in your pocket then you’ll open yourself to a lot more options because this is the category that most digital image editing software packages fall into. There are literally hundreds of alternatives ranging from the sublime to the practically useless. As with most things, as a rule of thumb you are best sticking to the well known ones. If you’re in doubt about what to buy, you could try a web search to see what others think of the software. It might also be worth comparing the features to those of the more comprehensive free programs such as GIMP, as very often the semi-professional packages do a lot less than some of the better free software.

Perhaps the most popular entry level editing package is Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is a consumer version of Adobe Photoshop, costing a fraction of the price. It features many cut down versions of Photoshop’s tools, but also offers quick fixes that its big brother doesn’t, such as quick red-eye removal and the ability to alter skin tones. It is aimed specifically at photographers so doesn’t feature many of the graphic design tools that Photoshop does, but if you are only interested in editing photos and are after something that’s easy to navigate with comprehensive online support and tutorials, then Photoshop Elements is a good option.

Another great package from the clever bods at Adobe is Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is about twice the price of Photoshop Elements and is a nice bridge between it and the full version of Photoshop. Like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom does not feature any of the graphic design features of Photoshop, but it is an excellent tool for processing and managing your photos, from the point where they leave your camera to the time you output them to web or print. For budding amateur photographers who want to shoot and edit RAW photos Lightroom offers a lot more options than Elements and is an obvious choice. The workflows are so well honed to photo editing that many professional photographers with access to both Photoshop and Lightroom, favour the latter.

Tip: If you are interested in trying out the Adobe packages but aren’t sure which would better suit you, why not try downloading the 30 day trial of both. The trial is completely free and will give you a month to find out which works best for you.

If you are after a good alternative to the Adobe packages, you could look at Corel Paint Shop Pro. Formerly published by Jasc, Paint Shop Pro’s features measure up almost neck and neck with Photoshop Elements. It therefore contains all of the major functions of Photoshop, but without the sharp learning curve. Again, you can try out Paint Shop Pro for free for 30 days by downloading it from Corel’s website.

Other popular entry level packages include Microsoft Digital Image Suite and Ulead PhotoImpact. Both are good for basic editing but fall short of Elements, Lightroom and Paint Shop Pro for ease of use and sheer number of options.

Photo editing on a “money is no object” philosophy

The battle for expensive professional market was traditionally fought out betweenAbobe Photoshop and Macromedia Fireworks. Both programs are pretty similar in terms of features and functions, but work in a slightly different way.

Photoshop features file support for other Adobe programs such as Illustrator, Premiere and After Effects, making it ideal for graphic designers and video artists, as well photographers. It also comes packaged with Adobe ImageReady which is a great piece of kit for creating gif animations and producing web graphics.

Fireworks on the other hand gives you the option to do all the animation and photo functions within a single program, but lacks some of Photoshop’s ability to export files to the Adobe video software. It is however laid out similarly to Macromedia Flash and supports some use of vector graphics; so anyone with any experience of using Flash should feel right at home with it.

Adobe bought out Macromedia a few years ago, so Adobe Fireworks (as it is now called) now comes with the Adobe Creative Suite, meaning if you want to try Photoshop or Fireworks and have the money for Creative Suite, you no longer need to make the choice!

If you haven’t been editing very long, you probably wont be considering expensive packages with a sharp learning curve that will probably do far more than you could possibly need. For the more serious photographers amongst you who are considering forking out for full Photoshop though, I would again recommend doing a 30 day free trial first. I would also suggest a trial of Adobe Lightroom so you can compare the two packages as you may find it covers all of your photo editing needs, in a more user friendly way, for a fraction of the cost.

Software bought… where do I start?

Ok, so you’ve got yourself a piece of software and you’re ready to start editing. This can be very daunting at first, but don’t worry, there isn’t that much to learn to start making good photos great. Think of your editing software as a way of correcting or perfecting whatever you shot on the camera.

Most editing packages will allow you to apply a whole heap of “funky” filters that do all sorts of crazy things, from making your photo look like charcoal etchings to giving everything the kind of neon glow travellers might associate with a dodgy night out in Bangkok. When you start out, play with these. Get it out of your system. I’ve seen it before. You’ll inevitably waste away hours turning your dad green or making pictures of your mates look like they are submerged underwater. It’s kind of therapeutic in a vaguely masochistic way, but the novelty will soon wear off, and this can ultimately only be a good thing. This sort of experimentation will actually teach you a lot about the way the software works, but if you want to be respected as a photographer your photos should look like photos. For the most part you should aim to make your travel photos look as if they haven’t even been edited at all – this is something of an artform which you will perfect and develop over time. There really are a a lot of things you can do to your pictures without breaking this rule, adding a dodgy plastic wrap effect to the pyramids of Teotihuacan isn’t one of them.

Tips to Winter Photography

Winter Photography – Well, it is just a few days until Christmas and the Winter has really just hit Weymouth with a bitter chill…I feel so far away from my old home in the sun!

I was used to popping on a pair of shorts, practically any day of the year, and setting off for a day’s comfortable shooting with fantastic light.One thing that played heavily on my mind when we decided to leave Spain was what would I shoot now the sun has all but gone? What of winter photography? I had been used to 300 days a year sun, beach scenes, happy people walking along promenades or browsing the shops with a distinct “holiday” feel about them.

The cold is one thing that puts me off winter photography…my equipment (camera equipment please!) and hands get so cold it is hard to concentrate let alone be creative but I decided to brave the cold winds of the Jurassic Coast for a bit to see what I could find.

Something that struck me about the UK in winter is that there is a constant golden light when the sun is out. It is so low for much of the day that if you position yourself right, you can make the most of this wonderfully natural light.

But what if the rain is coming down and it really isn’t good outside for any sort of winter photography? Simple, shoot indoors!

The first image here is of the Fleet Air Museum in Somerset. Whenever I can, I try to incorporate my photography with a day out for the kids plus something interesting that we can all enjoy as a family.

I was really impressed how the Canon EOS 1D Mark III faired in such low, artificial light. These two images were taken hand held at 60th/sec using an aperture of F4. The ISO was set to 1600 and the noise is barely noticeable! They have also had very little in the way of post processing and I was particularly impressed with the depth of field from the Canon EF 24-70 at 24mm.

The next shot is near Lulworth Cove in Dorset…part of the historical Jurassic Coast of England. It was bl**dy freezing but this chunk of England is mighty impressive and I can see myself spending a lot of time here. A couple of Kubotas Image Tools Photoshop Actions used here.

Then we have a shot of a sensible man waiting for the pub to open (well, that’s how I saw it anyway). The whole of Dorset has some amazing architecture and cobbled streets dating back centuries and is exactly what I was looking forward to about returning to Blighty after so long away. We have had some great country pub lunches already…

This next shot is a crop from a shot I took as I crossed a bridge near a busy port. The boat was an incredibly bright yellow and the sun had popped out for a bit. The contrast really stood out so I fired a few off…I love digital photography!

This shot of Portland lighthouse took all of 5 seconds to take. We were on our way home when we noticed that the kids had fallen asleep in the car. To give them a break we drove to Portland, near Weymouth just to kill some time and as we got to the lighthouse the sun started to beam in all directions.

This part of the coast sticks right out and gets some serious wind creating impressive waves but it is also freezing! As soon as I got out of the car I had to catch my breath so I ran over, took a few pics as I darted about and then jumped back in the car. Took ages to warm up again…

Lastly, and to give some warm winter wishes to all who read All Things Photography, a boat with a happy greeting. I was shooting long exposures of 2-3 seconds or more and it took a few blurry shots for me to realise that the boat was slightly moving which stopped me from “freezing” the festive writing.

Must be the cold! I upped the ISO, opened the aperture and was able to get a sharp shot in the end.

I think winter photography has a lot to offer and if I get some nice thick socks and jumpers for Christmas (my entire wardrobe is practically summer based) I may brave the elements once again.

Some ideas for shooting over Christmas and through the winter:

  • If you can handle it, get up early to catch those early morning mists and frost on bright, sunny days
  • Try and capture the essence of winter and what it means to your part of the world…makes for better stock photography!
  • Capture the true expressions of family during the holiday period. Happy faces opening presents or pulling Christmas crackers…or singing carols, playing in the snow…whatever, but have your camera at the ready.
  • If shooting snow scenes, remember to either bracket your images or overexpose them anywhere between +1 and +3 stops. Your cameras meter will try to “damp down” the brightness of the snow so you need to compensate.
  • Keep your camera safe and warm, batteries don’t like the cold so take some spares. Remember that if you are off trekking in the snow or mountains for that elusive shot, tell someone where you are going and take a mobile phone just in case.
  • Me? I am staying in watching all the old films where it is nice and warm!

For good, reliable outdoor winter photography you need:

  • To wrap up warm – You soon lose interest if you are uncomfortable…wear 3 or 4 layers.
  • A good, sturdy tripod to combat the wind – I you don’t have a heavy, sturdy tripod, try hanging a carrier bag with rocks in it to the centre frame to keep it still in those chilly winds.
  • Get used to shooting high ISO’s and if you are shooting stock, get yourself a good noise reduction software program like Neat Image to deal with the noise in post production.
  • To just get out there amongst it all and enjoy what delights the winter has to offer. Beats watching TV ; )

Tips to Cleaning Camera Sensors

Learn To Look After Your Camera’s Sensor and Clean it Only When Necessary

The truth about cleaning camera sensors…maybe!

Disclaimer – The nature of this article does in no way mean that I condone the repetition of its contents. Nor do I suggest for one minute that anyone copies my actions, this is just to alleviate some of the unnecessary panic and stress when faced with a dirty sensor…its not that bad!

I am by no means an expert and the reason I am writing this short article for All Things Photography is not to make any recommendations or suggestions but simply to point out a few facts and mistakes to avoid.

So to start – The Dirty Sensor – How does it happen?

Many believe that leaving the camera switched on when changing lenses causes the electronic “charge” to act like a magnet and attract dust that way. I am not so sure about this as the mirror and shutter should be closed anyway therefore preventing any dust being attracted to the sensor during this time.

The most obvious reason is probably due to lack of care and attention. Taking the lens off in a clean, wind-free environment is your best bet to keeping things dust-free inside the camera.

Any dust that gets in (and it will) during lens changes will eventually find its way onto your sensor over time and the more you use your camera, maybe more so with longer exposures…who knows!

Above all else, if you have a dirty sensor and want it cleaned, take it to a pro. I was quoted about £60 Sterling by a Canon dealer for the task which is a lot cheaper than replacing the sensor!

So, what happened to me?

I recently shot a small but beautiful wedding at the Ritz Carlton here in Spain. Lovely clear blue skies, a lovely couple (both in white!) and tons of great shooting possibilities.

Cleaning Camera Sensors

Processing was a breeze with bright bold colours and no more spots of dust than normal. (I am of the thinking that I can cope with “healing out” or “cloning” a few noticeable spots away rather that being without the camera for weeks on end whilst it is being cleaned).

However, I had another wedding a few days later and I was shooting a preliminary “pre-wedding” meal near the beach and…HORROR! I hadn’t used the camera or changed lenses since the previous wedding and cannot for the life of me understand where all this dust had come from.

Update: Since writing this I now realise where the dust had come from. I had cleaned the sensor with a blower brush that had been loose in my bag. It had been in hot “sweaty” Spanish weather and constantly inflating/deflating due to being loose and therefore attracting dust inside. That dust had then become sticky due to the moisture which I then sprayed all over the sensor. Beware and look after your blowers!!!

Cleaning Camera Sensors

I looked at the blue sky on the preview screen and it looked like hundreds, no thousands of flies were attacking the coast of Spain! I used my backup camera but also shot a few with the dirty 5D at wide aperture to try and kill the dust.

After painfully processing these images, I decided to have a closer look at the sensor…what a mess! I had another big wedding coming up and needed this camera as my main and had no time to send it away or order a pro cleaning kit (impossible to get in Spain).

Now, my mistake was thinking it was just dust and I knew nothing about cleaning camera sensors. I bought a brand new blower brush which was blown and double checked for oil-free cleanliness before use and then I decided to give just one, gentle sweep across the sensor to try and pull some of it away…doh!

After running around the house swearing and beating up anything that moved (mainly toys and teddies), I came to the conclusion that the camera sensor was dead and I would need to replace it. I thought “what the hell”!All I managed to do was smear the greasy specks right across the sensor making it look like I had just baked a cake on it!

I then decided to use a swab but in my haste, used the wrong solution and just made things worse…by this point I was a gibbering wreck and I couldn’t help but laugh…not!

By now I just didn’t care, so I stuck my finger in, wrapped in a lens cleaning tissue with a few drops of solution on it, and just (still gently) wiped away. I changed the tissue every few seconds until I had got through a whole packet of 25.

Lastly I used a brand new lint free lens cloth and gave it a polish and about 2 hours later…bingo! I studied the sensor under a bright light and it looked almost new (note that…almost new) and I took some test shots.

I aimed at our white wall and used bounced flash with a setting of F9 and 50th/sec and took some shots.

Upon studying the results in Photoshop I concluded that it was no worse than when I first got the camera…just a few specks that I can live with until the wedding season is over and I can send it away for a professional clean!

Now I ran around taking back all the bad language and healing all the toys I had previously beaten up whilst giving a huge sigh of relief.

The moral and purpose of this article on cleaning camera sensors is this…

  • If you have a dirty sensor that isn’t too bad and doesn’t really show up in your photos, live with it and don’t panic.
  • If it is very dirty and you have the time, send it away to be professionally cleaned.
  • If you want to clean it yourself, get the right equipment and follow strict guidelines which you can find all over the internet (I may add my own one day).
  • Lastly, don’t worry about touching the sensor itself, it is covered by a sealed, thin, low pass, glass filter which can also be replaced before you need to worry about the actual sensor.

You will read all sorts of horror stories on the net about cleaning camera sensors…do not be afraid, they are not that bad, just be careful!

Tips to Use a Speedlight

One of the best ways to improve your compositional skills and expand your portfolio is to experiment with new equipment whenever you get the chance. If you’ve never worked with a speedlight before, using this tool is a great way to improve the strength of your flash as well as how far said flash can reach. Compared to the units that are built into your device, speedlight flash typically offers a better range.

Not only that, since they aren’t technically a part of your camera itself, using a speedlight doesn’t kill any additional battery power- they run on a battery life of their own, so they’re great to use when you’re on the go. If you want to try adding this element of flash to your next series of shots, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Flexibility- something worth taking advantage of whenever you’re using an external flash unit is the added flexibility. Unlike build-in flash units that are restricted in the direction in which they can shine their light on your subject (directly to the front), speedlights are portable and can be placed wherever the angle of the flash looks best. Try experimenting with a few different placement adjustments to find the perfect spot to add a gentle glow to your subject.
  • Bounce Capability- One of the biggest issues photographers face when using flash is that the light looks way too harsh. Thanks to the flexibility we mentioned before, it’s much easier to avoid this issue when working with a speedlight. If you’ve never done it before, check out this tutorial to learn How to Bounce Your Flash. This technique is an excellent way to soften an otherwise harsh-looking light.
  • Daytime Use Many photographers shy away from using flash when the sun is up for fear of creating an overwhelmingly harsh look, but this might be a mistake. Speedlights are great to use outdoors during the day to add some fill light, especially when taking shots like silhouettes where you need to fill in certain darker spots.

5 Sunset Photography Tips

Want to work on your sunset photography as the weather warms up? Check out these 6 tricks to make sure you always capture the best shot:

  1. Consider Timing-This is probably the most common mistake made by amateur sunset photographers. Don’t leave too early! Too many people pack up their gear and head home immediately after the sun dips below the horizon. Unfortunately, those people are missing out on the period of time (usually about 20 minutes later) when the sky lights up again with a stunning, colorful glow (some say it’s almost like a second sunset)!
  2. Don’t Overexpose-If you slightly underexpose a sunset shot, you’re more likely to bring out those rich, striking colors with better definition. By selecting a fast shutter speed and working in manual mode, you can better achieve this look.
  3. Make a Silhouette-Too many photographers make the mistake of composing sunset shots with the horizon line smack dab in the middle of the shot, every single time. Stop doing this! For a more compelling and colorful shot, put the horizon in the bottom or top third of your image instead.
  4. Avoid Filters-Too many amateurs make the mistake of using polarizing filters for their sunset photography. The truth is, they don’t help deepen the hues at all.
  5. Use an App-In order to make sure you’re not rushing to catch the sunset in time (and therefore rushing your setting selections and compositional process), try using an app that can tell you the best time to head out. This NYIP graduate actually developed and launched an app that can tell you the best time to take sunset shots based on your GPS coordinates.