Kat Eye Studio Digital Photography Basics eBook

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Preface ........................................................................................................................................................................2
Introduction ................................................................................................................................................................4
Capturing Light ...........................................................................................................................................................6
Exposure .................................................................................................................................................................. 14
Composition and Focus ........................................................................................................................................... 27
Aperture .................................................................................................................................................................. 41
Shutter Speed .......................................................................................................................................................... 49
Editing Beyond the Basics........................................................................................................................................ 58
Next Steps................................................................................................................................................................ 66
One day, in the summer of 2010, I made an amazing discovery. I found I was expressing myself through my
photographs to a surprising degree. While I had been growing my photography skills slowly and organically for
the previous ten years, how had I suddenly reached this place? What had fundamentally changed? Being a
curious and introspective person by nature, I wanted to understand
how I got to this point. I looked back at the progression and realized
there were some specific steps I took along the way. As I started to
retrace my journey step by step, I discovered that I could share it
with others and maybe help them make a similar journey of their
own. The idea of my initial e-course, Find Your Eye: A Photo Course
with Heart and Soul, was born.
When I first created the course, I couldn’t separate the creative
journey of artistic expression from the technical journey of learning
the craft of photography. To capture great images that speak to
your heart, you need both technical skill and creative vision. I
included both aspects in my original course materials; this eBook is
the technical piece originally written for the e-course.
Two years later and I’m in a different place on my journey. I’ve
discovered an even deeper love of photography as a form of
expression. As I continue to stretch and grow my own skills and
understanding, I’ve found new ways to share that love with others
through creative e-courses and workshops. Along the way, I found
that the technical material in this eBook is no longer what I want to
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teach. Yet… this information is so necessary and fundamental to
learn when starting out in photography, I’d gotten good
feedback from the students who used it, and I didn’t want to let
it sit on my computer. What should I do with it?
Enter a photography workshop with David duChemin in October
2012. “Art is a gift,” he said, and he encouraged us to find ways
to give our art away. My own artistic practice extends beyond
photography into writing and teaching. Breaking down concepts
and explaining them to others is part of my art. Inspired by the
concept of art as a gift, I decided to give this material away and
put this eBook out into the world as a gift.
This book is intended for those who are just beginning their
journey with photography. It takes the interested learner from
“full auto” through the basic creative controls of the digital
camera and post-processing. It’s not intended to be a
comprehensive tome on digital photography, but an
introduction that doesn’t overwhelm. From here, the individual
photographer can choose their own “next steps” to learn more
about this wonderful art form.
Photography has been an amazing gift to me. It allows me to
express my personal experience of the world around me.
Creating photographs has resulted in a deeper understanding of myself and my journey through life. If even one
person uses this material to start on the path of discovering photography as a similar gift, then the effort that
went into its creation was worth it.
If you are starting your journey with photography, I hope you can learn from this eBook. If you are already past
this material, I hope you will share it with someone who wants to learn. We all benefit by having art in our lives,
and photography is one
of the most accessible art
forms available today.
Kat Sloma
Kat Eye Studio, LLC
November 17, 2012
© Kat Eye Studio, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photography is art. And like any other art, your photographs are an expression of your heart and soul. To
capture great images that speak to your heart, you need both technical skill and creative vision. In digital
photography, the camera and computer are the technical tools for creation. Learning to use these tools
effectively will make a difference in how
well you can express yourself through your
As with any new endeavor, what you will
get out of this material will depend on
what you put into it. The chapters and
exercises are designed to help you learn to
use the tools of digital photography, and
will only work if you actually practice.
There is no magic bullet to short-cut the
process of personal investment and
introspection that learning entails. It will
be a journey that takes the investment of
your time and energy, but hopefully it will
be a fun and profitable investment.
The material in this book was originally created as a six-week e-course, so the content is divided into six distinct
chapters. Each chapter covers a specific technical topic and includes exercises at the end to help you learn and
integrate the material. If you want to approach this material as an introductory course, complete one chapter
per week as originally intended. Alternately, you can use this book as a reference, reading straight through or
skipping to topics of interest. Do what works best for you.
When expressing your vision, the actual
camera you use is of less importance than
you might think. What matters most is
your understanding of how to use what
you have to the greatest effect. Cameras
and software are just tools. The tools don’t
create the art, the photographer does –
that’s you! It’s no different than the art of
painting, where the brushes and paints are
tools. It is the artist who wields the brush
and blends the paints to get the end result.
This book does not contain in-depth
technical tutorials for any specific camera
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model or photo editing software. Instead, the material is designed to cover the basics: how the tools of the
camera and the software work together to create the final image.
Let’s look at the digital tools themselves, before exploring how to use them.
This book is written for use with either a point-and-shoot (P&S) or digital single lens reflex (dSLR) camera. You
will need to find your owner’s manual, because you will need it to become familiar with the features.
With a P&S camera, you may find that your camera capabilities will limit your application of some of the
material in this book. Don’t worry, you
don’t need to run out and buy a new
camera! Just focus on the concepts of the
chapter, learn how to apply them to the
extent of your camera’s capabilities, and
look for examples of the concepts in other
photographer’s work. As you work
through this book, you might find your
current camera is more capable than you
If you have a dSLR, you are in great shape!
The next step is ensuring you understand
the basics, in order to make the camera
work for you.
For photo editing software, there are many possibilities to choose from, and this book does not cover any
specific software package. It instead focuses on the basic photo editing steps which help you get good end
results and express yourself more effectively. On your own, you can find additional tutorials on the techniques
for your specific software. For more information on your chosen software, look in the help menu, invest in an
instructional book or search the internet. You can search a phrase such as, “color correction SoftwareName,”
and see what information is available. Once you know what to search for, you will find there is a wealth of
information on photographic topics available online.
If you don’t have photo editing software of your choice yet, and you’re not sure where you want to invest your
money, there are several free options. Take a look at PicMonkey.com, Pixlr.com or Aviary.com for online editing
options. Some photo sharing sites, such as Google+ (Picasa) and Photobucket, also have editing software
integrated with their services. Another option is a 30-day free trial download from Adobe for Lightroom or
Photoshop Elements.
Once you have your digital camera in hand and software picked out, you are ready to start learning the digital
photography basics.
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Photography is the art of capturing light reflected by or emitted from a subject, but light is not always
immediately obvious to the beginning photographer. You may start by seeing photography as mainly about
subject and composition. While those are important elements of creating a good photograph, another key
element is the illumination of the subject and how it is captured by the camera. The quality of light is a detail
that takes a photo with an interesting subject and composition from good to great.
It can take time, along with a lot of images and experimentation, to get used to noticing light and to predict how
it will look in your images.
There is significant variation in the light
you see every day. Each different type of
light has unique qualities, and the camera
records each differently. The difference
between what you see in a scene and
what the camera captures can be hard to
recognize without practice, since the way
the camera records light is not the same
way our eyes see light. The human eye
and brain work together in amazing ways
to enable you to see. You can perceive
subtleties in color and gradations from
light to dark that are not possible to
capture faithfully with a camera.
Every type of light has a “color
temperature,” which means that each light source will produce a slightly different color of light, depending on
the source and—in the case of the sun—time of day. This is important to begin to notice and keep in mind for
creating photographs. You can adjust your images
for the effects of color temperature by using the
white balance setting in the camera or during
post-processing in your software. You may prefer
to keep your camera on Auto White Balance
(AWB) and make adjustments later, so you don’t
have to worry about changing the mode back and
forth while in the moment of creating photos.
There can be many settings to pay attention to as
you photograph, and staying on AWB means one
less thing to remember.
Let’s start exploring the types of light available,
both natural and artificial.
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Direct Sunlight – This is bright sunlight, which casts dark, defined shadows. Direct sunlight can be harsh in the
midday when the sun is high in the sky, but the light creates natural, vivid colors. There is high contrast, light to
dark. The time of year can also have an impact on the qualities of direct sunlight, as the angle of the sun changes
in the sky.
Examples of midday sun
At the start and end of a day, sunlight becomes more gold or red. The “golden hour,” the hour just after dawn or
just before sunset, provides beautiful red-gold light. Shadows are elongated and softened by the angle of the
sun. Many photographers consider this the best light for photographs.
Examples of Evening sun
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Indirect Sunlight – There are many ways to get indirect natural light. Shade, clouds, reflections, and windows all
provide sources of indirect light. Indirect sunlight is softer; shadow edges are fuzzier and less defined. With
indirect light, both intensity and color will vary dramatically with location and with the ambient direct light
available. For example, the quality of light in the shade is very different if the sky is sunny or cloudy. The light
coming in through a window will be different depending on if it is a north or south facing window. Reflection of
light from water or rainy pavement can provide beautiful sources of indirect light.
Below and right, indirect light in shade on a sunny day
Left and above, indirect light on an overcast/cloudy day
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Evening Light – The “blue hour” is the hour just before dawn and just after sunset, where there is natural,
indirect light available from the sun behind the earth. This time of day can create deep blue skies in your images,
which are interesting alone, or in conjunction with warm, yellow city lights.
Early Evening, left
Late Evening, below
Moonlight – There is also natural light at night available from the moon, depending on the time of the month. It
provides a monotone, silvery light that is very different from the sun.
Incandescent – These were once the most
common light bulbs, before transitioning to more
energy efficient alternatives. Incandescent lights
provide the typical yellowish light equated with
indoor photographs without flash. These are a
soft, warm light source. Example, right.
Fluorescent – This is the typical office light, and it can
result in a blue-green cast to images. There are a range of
fluorescent lights available, each providing slightly
different color tones. Example, left.
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Camera Flash – For neutral impact on
colors, flash units are typically set to
provide light that is similar in color
temperature to midday sunlight. If used
directly, light from a flash can be very flat,
meaning everything is illuminated equally
and there can be strong, defined shadows
on surfaces behind the subject. This effect
can be reduced by using a diffuser or
bouncing the flash off of another surface.
On-camera flash, left
External flash, bounced off ceiling, right
Candle and Fire – A flame provides warm, yellow to red light.
Example, left.
The remainder of this book assumes that you will be using
available light sources, without flash.
Now that you’re thinking about light and how the human eye
perceives light, let’s discuss how the camera sees light. The
digital camera uses a sensor to record light. The sensor is
made up of millions of individual sensor elements, or pixels,
which take light energy and record it digitally. What the
sensor records is based on both the light’s color and intensity
and how long the sensor is exposed to the light. Exposure will
be discussed in more detail in the next chapter.
Without knowing all of the technical details of how the sensor
works, the most important thing to remember is that both
color and gradation of light looks different to the camera than
what you see with your eye. This can be a source of
frustration to the beginning photographer. It is important to
internalize this point: the light and shadow, as captured in your camera, will not look the same as what you see
with your naked eye. Once you understand this fundamental point, the next step is to learn how to use the
digital tools to best express what you saw. This takes both learning the camera controls as well as how to use
photo editing software, since there is much that can be done with image processing software after image
capture to make adjustments.
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As discussed earlier, light looks different to the eye and the camera in different situations. Digital cameras, with
their sensors and digital image processors, use white balance to adjust for the changes in color of light. Even as
cameras advance and the Auto White Balance performance continues to improve, sometimes the camera will
get it wrong. There are multiple technical reasons for this, but don’t worry, you can usually recover in software
by correcting the color or white balance.
Color correction is often needed when shooting indoors, due to the color cast of artificial lights. The photo
below was taken indoors with the Auto White Balance setting. The camera captured the light with a very yellow
tone. After correcting the color in software, the image is closer to what was observed with the eye.
As captured in camera
After color correction in software
Night images may often require color correction. As with any edit, you have to be careful in software color
correction to avoid overcompensating with the correction. The example below shows an image as captured by
the camera on left, with a natural looking edit in the center, and an over-corrected edit on the right.
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To better help the camera capture the color accurately, you can change the white balance settings in camera for
the type of light you are using, which can save you time in post-processing. The downside with changing from
the Auto White Balance setting is you have to remember to change back, when your lighting situation changes.
Now it’s time for you to practice! Grab your camera, go find some light and observe the effect on your images.
1. Review your camera manual for the following functions, and learn how to set them if they are available.
If you can’t find your manual, most manufacturers have the manuals available on their websites as PDF
files you can download to your computer.
a. Automatic and Manual Modes
b. Flash Setting – turning on/off
c. White Balance Setting
d. ISO Setting
e. Setting File Type - Unless you have some prior familiarity with RAW processing, set your camera
file type to high resolution JPG with a Neutral picture mode. RAW processing is beyond the
scope of this material.
2. Adjust your camera to following settings:
Camera Mode
Automatic mode without flash. For a dSLR this will typically be
Program mode (“P” on the dial). For a point-and-shoot you may
have a Program mode or you can use auto mode with flash off.
White Balance
Set to Auto White Balance (AWB). This would be the default
setting if you’ve never changed it.
If you can, set the ISO setting to Auto. This will allow the camera
more freedom in finding a good exposure. If you need to set the
ISO setting, try 400 as a general-purpose setting. (If you find you
are getting blurry images in the exercise in lower-light situations,
increase the ISO setting to 800 or higher.)
3. Take photos of the same subject in six to eight different lighting situations. Use an inanimate object that
can be easily moved around. For best results, make it an object you like and are interested in
a. Use the same location but different times of day for three images using a natural light source.
b. Use different types of light for the remaining images – direct, indirect (multiple sources),
indoors, out of doors, artificial, flash.
c. Make note of the time of day and location for each set of photos.
d. Note: This exercise doesn’t have to take all day. Spend five minutes with each location/light
source and take a few photos with different points of view relative to the light source (shadow
vs. illuminated side, etc.), then move on.
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4. Download and review on the computer.
a. Notice the differences in the light in each situation, the effect on the appearance of the subject
(color, shadows, details), how your camera is focusing, how it is exposing the images, which
compositions are more interesting to you.
b. Learn how to view the camera’s settings for each photo. In Windows: Right-click on the image
file, select Properties and then click the Summary or Details tab. In this tab, you will see the
camera settings listed. This is helpful when you want to compare the settings between images.
5. Pick two or three of your best images, the ones that you really like.
a. Open these photos in your photo editing software, and play around with color correction. How
did your camera do with the color correction? Were you able to “fix” it if it was off? Which
image do you like better – before or after the correction?
b. Write down what you like about each of these images, what caught your eye. If you would
change anything next time, note that too.
NOTE: Always save edited files to a new filename. Make sure you don’t overwrite your starting
file with the edited file. If you make a mistake or learn a new technique, you may want to go
back later and re-edit your image, starting with the original file.
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In this chapter you will learn more about how your camera captures light and how to control exposure. After
these first two chapters, you will likely begin to notice light and exposure in your images and those you see
around you, in advertising, magazines, online, and in movies. This is great! Take notice of what you like and
don’t like in the images. Notice the feeling the artist conveys in the image by manipulating lighting and
As covered in the last chapter, the image that the digital camera sensor captures is based on the light reflected
or emitted from a subject and how much the sensor is exposed to
that light.
Camera exposure – the “how much” – is primarily based on three
The size of the opening in the lens (aperture)
The length of time that the sensor is exposed (shutter speed)
The sensitivity of the sensor (ISO setting)
These three settings work together to create the exposure triangle,
and you can adjust the settings in different ways for creative results.
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A triangle always has three sides.
Even though relative length of each
side may change, it is still a triangle.
The exposure triangle works
similarly: you can create a closed
triangle (good exposure) with many
different combinations. When you
move one side by changing one
camera setting, the exposure
triangle can be closed or
“corrected” by changing the other
two camera settings to
At left is an example illustrating this
concept. Look closely at the
settings given for each image. Even
though the camera settings are
different, the resulting images are
almost identical. While the
exposure triangle is changed by the
different settings, the exposure of
the image is the same for each
combination of camera settings.
Future chapters delve into aperture
and shutter speed in more detail.
This chapter focuses on
understanding the general concept
of exposure.
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It is important to understand how your camera’s handling of exposure effects the end Image, since you want to
capture the desired exposure in-camera as much as possible. You will want to understand which adjustments for
exposure are possible in post-processing.
There is a broad range of exposures for any one image: from dark, with only an element or two visible within a
black field, to so bright that only an element or two is visible in the surrounding white. This is a range from
underexposed (dark) to overexposed (light). The perfect exposure will depend on the available light, your
equipment, and what mood you want to convey in the photo. Both of the examples below have valid exposures,
even though they have different looks.
Left: Dark image, much of the image is underexposed.
Below: Light image, much of this image is overexposed.
Overexposure - When an area of an image is completely
overexposed, there is no detailed information recorded.
The camera fills in overexposed areas with white pixels.
This area is often referred to as being “hot” or “blown
out.” All detailed information is lost, you cannot recover
anything in post-processing in a blown out area. To the
right is an example that shows the areas in a photo where
there is no detailed information.
Underexposure - When an area of an image is completely
underexposed, the sensor responds in a similar, but
opposite manner. The pixels in the underexposed region
are filled in with black.
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Getting an under- or overexposed part of an image often happens in situations with high contrast, such as
looking down a shady street under a strip of bright sky, white clouds above a landscape, dappled sunlight under
trees, or looking through a window into bright light.
Here are two examples of one scene, where the exposure and focus is changed between the dark and bright
areas. The resulting images have a different focal point, due to the difference in focus and exposure, even
though it is the same scene.
Exposure and focus on wall
Exposure and focus through window
You can think of each image exposure as a unique triangle
shape that is overlaid on the ideal exposure triangle. If an
image is perfectly exposed, the triangles would perfectly
line up. In the real world, however, there is no perfect
Most of the image exposure fits within the triangle, but
there may be gaps on the inside or a few bits hanging
outside. You want to do your best to expose within the
exposure triangle. When your exposure is optimal, you
won’t be losing detailed information and minimal edits are
needed in post-processing.
In most digital cameras, you can review the image on the LCD after it is captured. While this is good for assessing
composition and gives a general idea of how the image will look on the computer, it can be an inadequate
method to quickly assess if the image has over- or underexposed regions.
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You can quickly ascertain exposure by using the histogram. A
histogram shows you how the image is exposed from dark (left
side, black or “0”) to light (right side, white or “255”). Here is an
example of an RGB, or composite histogram, which is a
combination of all color channels – red, green and blue. Each
color channel has its own histogram, but this discussion will be
focused exclusively on the composite RGB histogram.
The black shape describes the total light range exposed to the
camera sensor. The highest peaks of the histogram are where
most of the image falls in the range of light to dark. You can see
from the histogram that the image has more light areas than
dark, because the highest peaks are in the right half of the
histogram, toward white. You can also see that the exposure is
reasonably balanced; the histogram covers most of the range
from 0 to 255, although not all.
The image that this histogram comes from is
shown at left. You can see how the histogram fits
the image. Most of the image is light (the white
background) with some medium color and no
areas that are very dark.
There is no “right” or “wrong” histogram, just as
there is no “right” or “wrong” exposure. The
histogram will vary depending on the image you
are capturing. The best use of the histogram is to
understand what is happening with your
exposure in the lightest and darkest areas of the
image. You usually want to avoid exposures that
result in histogram peaks that are cut off at the right or left edge, because these indicate where the image is
over- or underexposed, and where detailed information is lost.
If the exposure data is more heavily weighted
toward the right side of the histogram, with
nothing on left side, your image may be
overexposed. The overexposure can be adjusted
later in software if there are no peaks cut off at the
right edge. In the image at right, because the peak
in the histogram is cut off at the right edge, there
will be no detailed information saved in the
brightest parts of the image. Because this is an
image with a white table as the background, losing
the detail information of the table may be fine. For
an image with a cloudy sky, losing the detail of the
clouds is probably not desired.
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If the histogram has peaks toward the left (black
side), with little data on the right side, your
image could be underexposed. Underexposure
can be adjusted later in software if there are no
peaks cut off at the left edge. Even though the
image at left is significantly underexposed, no
detail information is lost because the peak is not
cut off on the left side.
While you can make adjustments and recover an image in post-processing, unwanted noise and a reduction of
detail information is likely if the exposure is significantly off. More detailed information is captured in the lighter
parts of the spectrum, on the right side of the histogram. Unless you are choosing to underexpose an image for
an artistic reason, you won’t want to significantly underexpose most of your images.
All dSLR cameras, and many point-and-shoot
cameras, have a setting which shows the
histogram along with the image during review.
To use the histogram, set your camera to a
review mode where you can see the histogram
along with the thumbnail of the photo. The
thumbnail will be smaller in this mode, so if
you want to check focus you will need to
enlarge the thumbnail. (It is best to enlarge the
thumbnail to check focus anyway, since the
LCD screen on the camera is small relative to
the actual image size, and it is easy to misjudge
focus.) Armed with the information the
histogram provides, you can make adjustments
to the exposure as you are photographing,
rather than discovering during post-processing
that you have lost detail in an image.
Every digital photo has a histogram. If your camera does not have the ability to show you the histogram incamera, you can observe the histogram in your post-processing software and compare how the photo looks on
the LCD screen of your camera. You may develop the ability over time to judge if the photo is over- or
underexposed directly from the LCD image review.
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When you discover your image is over- or underexposed, a correction can be made to shift exposure for the next
image by changing the camera settings. If you were to manually control your camera’s settings, exposure can be
adjusted by individually changing your shutter speed, aperture and/or ISO setting. Without going into manual
mode, an alternative way to adjust exposure is with exposure
compensation. This feature allows you to shift the overall
exposure without adjusting individual settings.
Exposure compensation adjusts the exposure by increments,
called “stops.” Most cameras allow you to adjust in 1/3 or ½ stop
increments (denoted in the camera display at left as the dots
between numbers). Increasing the exposure (brightening the
image) is in the “+” direction, while decreasing the exposure
(darkening the image) is in the "-" direction. The image at left
shows a Canon dSLR camera display at two different exposure
compensation settings: “0” or no exposure compensation and
“-1 stop” exposure compensation. Exposure compensation is a
useful camera feature because it will not reset after each shot.
Once you set the compensation, it will stay at the same setting
until you change it.
The over- and underexposed teapot photo examples, shared
earlier, were taken using exposure compensation; +2 stops for
the overexposed image and -2 stops for the underexposed image.
Exposure compensation allows you to make dramatic changes to
your exposure and histogram without the need for manual mode.
By checking the histogram immediately after taking an image, you can see if the image is over- or underexposed,
and if necessary make further adjustments to exposure compensation and take the image again.
It is important to note that cameras and lenses
can have a “typical” exposure performance, overor underexposing images routinely. As you pay
attention to the histogram, you may notice that
you can get consistently better results if you keep
exposure compensation set to a certain range on
your camera.
Check your camera manual to see how to set
exposure compensation. Even point-and-shoot
cameras may have this feature. The image below
is an example from a point-and-shoot with
exposure compensation at -1 stop. If the camera
had been the normal exposure (“0” setting), the
detail in the background would have been lost.
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Another method to adjust exposure in the camera is exposure bracketing. This is a setting on your camera where
you take three images of each photo with different exposure settings:
One “center” exposure at the normal camera setting (which can be at zero or adjusted using exposure
One “over” exposure by a specified number of stops
One “under” exposure by the same number of stops
You are able to specify the amount of the over/underexposure that is used in the settings when you turn on
exposure bracketing. You have to actually press the shutter button three times for each image when you use
exposure bracketing.
This feature may be helpful as you begin to learn
exposure and are not sure what settings to use. Review
of bracketed images can help you understand how
changing the exposure setting affects a single image.
The example at left shows an image bracketed +/- 1
Practice with the different methods of exposure
adjustment to see what works best for you and your
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You will find there will be times that
you cannot adjust your settings to get
the exposure of the image to fit nicely
within the histogram, such as when
shooting an image that includes
extreme contrasts. Extreme contrast is
found in any scene that contains a
bright light source and strong shadows.
In these cases, choose the subject in
which you want the detail and set
exposure for that subject. Don’t worry
about over- or underexposure in other
areas where the detail doesn’t matter.
When you get your exposure right in
high contrast situations, you can create
wonderfully dramatic images.
For example, in a sunset, you don’t need the information
in the sun itself, but you would want the detail in the
clouds. If you underexpose enough such that the sun isn’t
overexposed, you would no longer have detail in any of
the dark areas of the image. The sunset image above was
exposed to capture the cloud detail. The sun is
overexposed and the boat is underexposed to create a
In the image at left, the exposure is set to show some
detail in the figure and the window pane. If exposure were
chosen to show the detail of the view outside the window,
the figure and window frame would be a silhouette. There
is still a lot of dark area in the photo because of the
extreme contrast of light to dark of looking out into the
In high contrast situations, experiment by taking several
frames of the same scene with different exposures to find
the one you like best. With practice, you can learn to see
and adjust your exposures quickly for different lighting
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Future chapters address Aperture
and Shutter Speed, two sides of the
exposure triangle that are also used
for creative control. The third part
of the exposure triangle, ISO
setting, deserves some comment as
The term “ISO” comes from film
(analog) camera days, and referred
to the speed or sensitivity of the
film. In digital photography “ISO
Setting” refers to the sensitivity of
the sensor. The effect of the ISO
setting is similar between the two.
The higher the ISO setting, the
higher the light sensitivity, but also
more grain (analog) or noise (digital) is captured in the images. One advantage of digital over film is that you can
adjust the ISO setting for each image, rather than for each roll of film.
As you increase the ISO setting, you increase the sensitivity of the sensor to light. That is a good thing, because it
means that you can capture images with less light. The bad part of increasing the ISO setting is the increased
noise. Noise is not always noticeable in small or low resolution images but as you enlarge the photo it can
become noticeable and distracting.
In general, you want to keep your ISO setting as low as possible in order to reduce the captured noise. During
the exercises, if you find you have trouble with blurry images in lower light situations, manually increase your
ISO setting. The noise performance at each ISO setting is very specific to the digital camera itself. Noise
performance has improved significantly with each generation of digital cameras, so consider this list of
situational settings as a starting point:
ISO 100 for bright sunlight
ISO 200 for most outdoor light situations during the day, sun, or shade on a sunny day
ISO 400 for overcast or shady areas outdoors or normal light indoors
ISO 800 for extremely overcast or deep shade, indoor light or outdoor early evening images
ISO 1600+ for outdoor night scenes and low indoor light.
You will have to experiment with your equipment to develop your own “rules of thumb” for ISO setting. Read
your manual for the range of ISO settings available in your camera, and whether they can be automatically or
manually set. If you are new to your camera or the exposure topics, see if you can keep ISO setting on an
automatic mode, so it will be one less thing you have to think about in the exercises.
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There are a few ways you can adjust exposure in postprocessing.
Assuming that an image is not completely under- or
overexposed, you can adjust your image histogram in
photo editing software to balance out the overall image
for light and dark areas. To adjust the overall exposure,
look for a “Levels” tool or “Brightness/Contrast” tool.
In the before and after example at right, the histogram
was adjusted by moving the maximum and minimum
sliders toward the center to adjust the exposure. This
increases both the overall brightness and contrast within
the image.
The Levels/Histogram adjustments will adjust the entire image, which is not always desired. Many different
photo editing software programs will allow selection of shadows, highlights or midtones and adjust only those
areas. The more advanced the editing
software, the finer the range of
adjustments available. Lightening shadows
or darkening highlights works well in
images with strong contrast, where you
don’t necessarily want to adjust the entire
The image at left was exposed for the
clouds and sky. The resulting exposure for
the road was darker than desired, so the
“lighten shadows” tool was used to make a
minor adjustment. You can see the
histogram was changed by the edit,
moving more of the exposure toward the
center of the range.
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Another set of tools for selectively adjusting exposure is to “burn” (darken) or “dodge” (lighten) a specific part of
the image. This terminology goes back to film processing techniques, but the effect is the same in either film or
digital. These tools are helpful if you want to adjust the exposure of a very specific area of an image. Burning can
de-emphasize a distracting element in the background by making it darker to blend in with shadows, or the
combination of dodge and burn can increase the contrast on the focal point.
As with any edits, it is possible to overdo exposure adjustments. When you go to extremes in editing, the
adjustment can look unnatural.
Pay attention to common edits you make during post-processing, to understand where you can adjust your
settings in the camera. If you consistently have to brighten your images, you may be underexposing in camera. If
you consistently have to darken, then the opposite may be true. Getting the exposure where you want it in the
camera will save you time in the post-processing and produce the best results.
1. Review your camera manual for the following functions, and learn how to set them if they are available:
a. Review with histogram
b. Exposure compensation
c. Exposure bracketing
d. ISO Setting
2. Adjust your camera to following settings:
Camera Mode
Automatic mode without flash. For a dSLR this will typically be
Program mode (“P” on the dial). For a point-and-shoot you may
have a Program mode or use Auto with the flash off.
White Balance
Set to Auto White Balance (AWB), this would be the default setting
if you’ve never changed it.
If you can, set the ISO setting to Auto. This will allow the camera
more freedom in finding a good exposure. If you need to set the
ISO setting, choose 400 as a general-purpose setting. (If you find
you are getting blurry images in the exercise in lower-light
situations, increase the ISO setting to 800 or higher.)
Exposure Compensation
“Off” to start exercise.
“On” for review.
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3. Take photos of the same subject in at least two different lighting situations. Look for the following
opportunities: direct light and indirect light, for high and low contrast. In each situation, do the
a. Set the camera to the standard exposure (no compensation) and photograph your subject.
b. Review the histogram of the image on the LCD screen (or, if the histogram function is not
available, review the image for exposure).
c. Adjust the exposure compensation, up or down.
d. Repeat the image and review the histogram. Note the difference in how the image looks and
also how much the histogram changes depending on the exposure compensation.
e. Repeat for different exposure compensations, up or down.
f. Optional: Turn on exposure bracketing and experiment with this method of exposure
adjustment. Remember that you will have to press the shutter three times for each image.
4. Download images and review in the computer.
a. Compare images sequentially to see the effects of the change in exposure settings, and notice
how the difference in exposure effects the feeling of the images.
b. Note which exposures you find most appealing, without any adjustments. Were they exposure
compensated? Do you remember the histogram for that image? Do things look different as you
review on the computer as compared to the camera LCD screen? With no compensation, does
your camera typically over- or underexpose?
c. If you can’t remember your camera settings, look at the file summary information included in
the file. “Exposure Compensation” is one of the settings recorded in the image file.
5. Pick two or three of your best images from this
exercise, or, if you don’t have any favorites, pick
the ones that have the most potential. Open
these photos in your photo editing software,
and make adjustments for exposure: Histogram,
Shadows/Highlights or Burn/Dodge. How do
these adjustments enhance the photo? Which
image do you like better – before or after the
change? Make a few notes on what you like
about each. If you would change anything next
time, note that too. Answering these questions
will help you keep the information in mind the
next time you go out to photograph.
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This chapter explores composition and focus, with the goal of obtaining good results in-camera and discovering
when and how post-processing can be used to improve them further.
Focus can be used a number of ways in photography. You may
hear terminology that refers to the subject as being in focus or
as the focal point. In a future chapter depth of field will also be
covered, which refers to how much of the depth of an image is
in focus.
Focus is an important part of photography. As the
photographer, you get to make the choice of subject as well as
how much of the subject is in focus in the image. The only
limiter may be your equipment.
The main equipment limitation on focus is your distance to the
subject. The minimum focal distance you can achieve is going
to depend on the camera (for point-and-shoot) or the lens (for
dSLR). Refer to your camera or lens manual for specifications
for minimum focal distance. You can also determine minimum
focal distance by trial and error.
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Try this:
Get close to an object, closer than you think the camera can focus, and press the shutter button halfway
to engage the autofocus. If you get an “out of focus” error, back up a bit and try again. (If you are not
familiar with the “out of focus” error message for your camera, consult your manual.) Repeat the
process until your subject is in focus. This is your minimum focal distance.
Minimum focal distance often varies through the zoom range of a lens, so try the experiment above at the
minimum and maximum zoom to understand how your equipment performs.
Some camera modes will allow you to take an out
of focus picture, other camera modes will not
allow the shutter to release to protect the
photographer from getting a bad image. If you
get an out of focus image without intending it,
check your manual. Learn the “out of focus” error
signal for your camera and in what modes it
functions. It is good to be able to override the
camera at times, but you also want to
understand what the error signals are telling you.
Focus can’t be corrected later in photo editing
software, so it is important to get focus right in
the initial photograph.
One useful way to better control focus is to fix the focus point in the camera to the center. The autofocus on
most digital cameras selects any available focus point in the standard focus mode, and some autofocus modes
even track faces. This can seem like a
great help until the camera selects the
wrong focus point, leaving your intended
subject out of focus. Having the wrong
element in focus is something you may
not notice until you’re at home
reviewing the photos on the computer.
By that time, it is too late to go back and
recreate the image – the moment is
gone, the light is different, or the person
or place may be halfway across the
When you set your camera to a fixed
focus point, you always know what point
in your frame will be in focus. To create
an interesting composition, however,
you don’t normally want the subject or
focus in the center. To use the camera with a fixed-center-focus point, and yet still attain interesting
compositions, you can set focus and then recompose.
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Try this:
Set your focus point to the center. Put the subject that you want in focus in the center of the frame, and
press the shutter button half way to fix the focus and exposure. Then, shift the camera while continuing
to hold the shutter button half way, recomposing the image. When the image is composed as desired,
press the shutter button down fully to release the shutter and capture the image.
This works for most digital cameras, both dSLR and point-and-shoot, so check your manual to learn how to turn
on this feature.
At first the whole focus-and-recompose process may seem uncomfortable. It can be frustrating because you will
forget a few times, and it may seem like it takes more time to capture an image. In most situations, however,
this method is effective and quicker than trying to get the camera to select the desired focus point in the
automatic mode or using manual focus. There are some situations where you will want to change this setting,
such as when you are using a tripod, when the subject is moving, or when you are working with a very shallow
depth of field. Future chapters will cover the situations when you may want to change this setting.
For now, set your camera to a fixed focus point in the center of the frame and start practicing with recomposing
the image after fixing your focus. After a while, the focus-and-recompose process will become second nature.
Composition is a vast topic that inspires books and courses on its own. Basic artistic composition and design
principles apply to photography the same as to any visual art. Once you learn these principles, you can begin to
see what elements might make one image more pleasing than another. This chapter presents a few basic
principles to get you started. If you are already familiar with the basic principles of composition, take some time
to review your existing images to see which compositional principles you are using consistently and where you
may be able to explore more creatively.
This text does not use the word “rules” to describe the compositional principles on purpose. Photography is a
creative art form and you should always be willing to experiment with composition in your images. Don’t let
yourself get boxed in by the “rules” of composition. Consider these principles as starting points.
When you are preparing to take a photograph, think about what you are trying to convey. Ask yourself, “What
do I want to say?” The viewer will not have the context that you have at the time you take the photograph, so
the subject must be clear. You want the subject to be the focal point of the image; the thing that catches the
viewer’s eye. When you are setting up a photograph, keep it as simple as possible to bring your viewer’s eye to
your subject. Eliminate distracting elements and visual information that is not useful to what you are trying to
convey, either by zooming, moving angles, or physically removing the distracting elements. (See Exploring with a
Camera: Process of Elimination for more on this topic.)
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These images were taken in the same time and place, but with
different chosen subjects – the forest versus the individual
flower. They each convey a different message and feeling.
Horizontal framing (also called “landscape” orientation) is the
easiest to use, since the camera is made to naturally work in
your hand in this orientation. It takes slightly more effort and
intent to turn the camera vertically (or to “portrait”
orientation), but vertical orientation may result in a better
composition for your subject. Vertical images can emphasize
long lines and height, while horizontal images can emphasize
breadth and distance.
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Framing your subject in the image is one of
the most important compositional
principles. In general, you want to fill the
frame with your subject, eliminating
extraneous information. To fill the frame,
zoom in with your camera or physically
move in closer. You may need to change
angles to fill the frame with the subject.
When framing the photo, think also about
what you are trying to convey. If you are
taking a photo of a single tree, for
example, are you trying to show the detail
of the trunk and the shape of the
branches? Or are you trying to show the
loneliness of the tree in the field? You
would “fill the frame” with different
elements in each case.
Some ideas to keep in mind on framing:
When there is motion, such as someone running, a
ball being thrown, or a vehicle moving, you may
want to give space in the frame for the motion to
move into. The cyclist in the image at left has room
to move forward in the image.
Keep your eyes on all four sides and corners of the frame and
make sure you aren’t picking up distracting elements. You
may need to slightly change your location, or zoom (with
your lens or with your feet) to eliminate them. In the image
at right, an air conditioner above the internal door was
eliminated in the scene by moving closer.
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Consider using a “frame within a frame” to highlight a subject.
Looking through trees, windows, doors, or into mirrors can all be
effective "frame within a frame" techniques. (Visit Exploring with
a Camera: Frame within a Frame for more on this topic.)
Divide your frame into thirds, horizontally and
vertically. Place your subject along one of the lines or
at the intersection of the lines for more visual
impact. It can be pleasing to the eye to have the
subject off center by following the rule of thirds.
These two examples loosely follow the rule of thirds
to create interesting compositions.
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While the rule of thirds is one of the most effective and easiest compositional principles to learn, it is also one
that was meant to be ignored at times. Take into consideration the overall balance of the elements in the
photograph; don’t blindly follow this “rule.” Take a look at the images of photographers you admire and see how
they use, or don’t use, this principle to good effect. Experiment for yourself. (Visit Exploring with a Camera:
Breaking the Rule of Thirds for more on this topic.)
Understanding and finding balance within the frame is fundamental to good composition. It might take some
practice to be able to see how balance is achieved or not achieved in a photograph, but it is worth the effort. In
order to understand and see balance, you need to first understand visual weight. Visual weight is a concept used
to describe how objects in a photograph will attract the viewer’s eye differently. Something that attracts the
viewer first has more visual weight. Here are some examples:
Bright colors will
attract more
attention than
subdued colors.
Brightly illuminated
objects attract
attention more than
shadowed objects.
In focus objects attract more attention
than out of focus objects.
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Objects on the edge of the composition attract more
attention than objects in the center.
Isolated objects attract more attention than those
in a dense or cluttered area.
Human faces and features attract more attention than inanimate
Symmetry There are two types of balance: symmetric, where the
image is evenly balanced vertically or horizontally by the objects in
the photograph, and asymmetric, where the image is balanced
through the visual weight of the objects without regard to vertical
or horizontal symmetry. Symmetric images can be calm and visually
pleasing, while asymmetric images can be more dynamic and
visually interesting.
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Asymmetric Examples
The compositional principle of balance is often why an image is effective, even when it breaks the conventional
“rules.” Start looking at the relative visual weights of the objects in your images, and play with balance. (For
more on these topics, visit Exploring with a Camera: Balancing Shapes and Exploring with a Camera: Visual
Sometimes you just need to change your point of view to achieve a
creative composition. A change in perspective, whether up, down, or
from a new angle, can completely change the effectiveness of an
image. It is easy to get stuck in the eye-level perspective with your
camera, because that’s how you typically experience the world. It
can be refreshing to get a different angle on your images. Wear old
or sturdy clothes, so you won’t be afraid to get down on the ground
or climb up on something. Get off the beaten path a bit, and get a
different perspective on your images. Some points of view to keep in
mind as you photograph: above, below (Visit Exploring with a
Camera: From a Flower’s Point of View), left, right, front, back,
inside, outside.
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There are many, many more compositional principles to consider in
photography. Most photography books have a section on composition, as
do visual art and graphic design references. More is available on the web
if you search “photography composition.”
There are a number of simple edits you can do with post-processing in software that can improve your
If you often have crooked photos coming straight out of the camera, you are not alone. It’s easy to focus on
everything else as you create an image, so you may not notice until you review your images that the horizon is
not quite level, or the vertical lines are slightly askew. The “straighten” tool can be used in post-processing to
resolve this issue. It can also be used to intentionally make the lines even more askew, if desired.
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The example at left shows an image
before and after editing. In the final
version, the horizon was straightened,
and the photo cropped and adjusted
for exposure.
Cropping is a tool that changes how a photograph is framed. Choosing what elements are in the final frame can
be done in the camera at the time the photograph is taken, or in post-processing. A fun way to learn more about
composition is to explore different crops of the same photo in post-processing. What you learn in this photo
editing “play” will help you build stronger compositions in the camera as you take photos in the future. When
you find a composition you like while shooting, you might also consider taking a step back and framing the same
composition with more space around it. This allows for more cropping adjustments later in software.
Cropping in post-processing can also be a helpful tool when you are using a fixed focal length lens, or cannot get
close enough to your subject at
the maximum zoom of a zoom
lens. In the example below, the
original image was taken at
maximum zoom. Cropping the
image in post-processing enabled
a tighter composition.
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Sharpness is related to focus and refers to how clean the edges of the in-focus part of a photograph are. Initial
image sharpness will highly depend on your camera, lens and chosen file type. (JPG images are sharpened by the
camera, while RAW images are not.) If your images are not as sharp as you would like them, you can do some
adjustments in post-processing to increase the sharpness. Sharpening may also help you recover a photo if the
focus is slightly off or “soft,” but it can’t recover an image if it is completely out of focus.
In the example below, sharpening, along with adjusting exposure and color intensity, highlights the texture.
It is important to avoid over-sharpening in digital photography – you can get some weird effects. If you see
“halos” around objects or next to lines, then you have sharpened too much. When sharpening, enlarge your
photo on the screen in order to see the effect on the image at a detailed level. Look at the image both
sharpened and unsharpened, to decide which looks better.
Sometimes you get elements that distract the viewer’s eye from your intended focal point. This could be trash
on the ground or a street sign in the field of view. The goal is to remove the distracting elements at the time of
capturing the image by changing perspective, but there are times it is not possible to remove the element this
way. Luckily, you can often remove a distracting element in software. This is typically done by using the “clone”
tool in your software. Using a clone tool requires that you have similar elements in your photo that you can copy
over the distracting element. Investigate whether your photo editing software has this capability.
The image was
cropped and the
head in the
cloned out to
keep the focus
on the beer
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The repeating
pattern of the
windows and
shadows was
used to clone
out the street
light. The
image was also
cropped and
converted to
black and
white to
highlight the
nature of the
balconies and
Visit Exploring with a Camera: Process of Elimination for more on achieving effective images using framing,
cropping and cloning.
1. Review your camera manual for the focus functions, and learn how to set a fixed focus point in the
2. Adjust your camera to following settings:
Camera Mode
Automatic mode without flash. For a dSLR this will typically be
Program mode (“P” on the dial). For a point-and-shoot you
may have a Program mode or will need to turn the flash off.
Focus Point
Set to center.
White Balance
Set to Auto White Balance (AWB).
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Set as appropriate for your lighting situation.
Set as needed for your camera.
“On” for review.
3. Pick an object and place it in a location that has good light and where you can move around it. Take
photos of this object with different compositions as described in this chapter. Remember your focus
point is set to center – so focus first and then recompose. Push yourself past your initial points of view,
taking as many as 100 photos of the same subject in the same location. Move around to get all points of
4. Download and review on the computer. Notice the differences in the feel of the photos as you vary
composition and focal point. Note which compositions are most interesting to you.
5. Pick two or three of your best images. Open these photos in your photo editing software, and make
compositional adjustments. How do these adjustments enhance the photo? Which image do you like
better – before or after the change? Make a few notes on what you like about each. If you would change
anything next time, note that too.
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This chapter explores aperture as a tool for creative expression in photography. Manipulating depth of field
through the aperture setting is a favorite creative control for many photographers.
A photograph is a two-dimensional
representation of our three-dimensional
world. A way to give an indication of
three dimensions in photographs is by
adjusting the depth of field (DOF). The
“field” is the area of the photograph in
focus. When you vary the depth of focus
in an image you are changing the depth
of field. A few example photographs will
help illustrate depth of field.
When DOF is “deep” the entire image is
in focus; there is no blurry background.
“Deep” DOF is relative. It can apply
across long distances (miles/kilometers,
see image below at left), or it can apply
across shorter distances (feet/meters, see image below at right).
When DOF is “shallow” only a small amount of the image
depth is in focus, and the rest is blurred. You can use a
shallow DOF in an image to accentuate the subject,
bringing attention to your focal point and distinguishing it
from the background.
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Shallow depth of field can be achieved when there is a long distance between subject and background (below,
left) or where the subject and background are in close proximity (below, right).
Depth of Field is controlled through the aperture setting on your camera. In addition to specifying the depth of
field, aperture also sets one of the three sides of the exposure triangle discussed in the Exposure chapter.
Camera lenses are quite complicated, with multiple pieces of specially-ground glass, moving parts, and
electronics. The aperture is one of the moving parts of the lens, closing and opening to control how much light
comes into the camera.
The lens aperture works much like the iris and pupil in your eye. Here is a quick experiment to understand how
aperture works:
Find a mirror near a light source you can turn on and off. (A bathroom mirror will work well as long as
it’s not completely dark with the light off.)
With the light off, look into the mirror at your eyes.
Switch the light on, and watch your eyes. You will see the pupil adjust, making the opening smaller to
reduce the amount of light passing through your eye.
Turn the light off, and watch the opposite happen. Your pupil will dilate to let in more light.
The same concept applies to a camera. There is a minimum amount of light that needs to reach the sensor to
create an image. When light is low, the aperture is opened, or widened, to allow more light to reach the sensor.
When light is bright, less of the available light is needed to capture the image, and the aperture is closed or
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Lens with Wide Open Aperture (left) and Closed
or Stopped Down Aperture (right).
(Image Source: 16 minolta 50mm.jpg from
Wikipedia Commons)
The aperture setting is also referred to as the fstop or f-number. When you see “f/3.2” or
“f/12” along with an image, the numbers refer
to the aperture setting. The table below ties the
terminology together.
If a photographer says they are shooting “wide open,” they are using the widest aperture, or lowest f-stop, the
lens has available. If you hear a photographer say they “closed down” or “stopped down,” it means they
reduced the opening in the lens by narrowing the aperture or increasing the f-stop.
If you have a dSLR, the aperture range available is solely set by the lens and not the camera body. The camera
body’s only contribution to aperture is control and communication of the aperture setting to the lens. If you
want to gain a wider aperture range than you currently have available with your equipment, you will need to
invest in a different lens.
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You can set the aperture independently to achieve the depth of field you desire. If you plan to set aperture as a
priority, keep in mind the exposure triangle. The other two settings, shutter speed and ISO setting, are adjusted
to close the exposure triangle. If you use your camera on Program or Automatic mode without flash, the camera
will choose the aperture solely to get the best exposure available to complete the triangle. The automatic modes
will not always result in your desired aperture for depth of field; you must set aperture independently.
On dSLR cameras, you can set aperture by using an “Aperture Priority” mode. When you shoot in Aperture
Priority mode, you can choose any available f-stop of the lens. Below are examples of the same scene
photographed with different apertures set using Aperture Priority mode.
With point-and-shoot cameras, you may not have the option to set aperture manually. You will, however, have
“picture modes” which allow some control over aperture. These picture modes affecting aperture are often
1. Portrait Mode. Portrait mode sets the aperture as wide open as it can for the maximum background
blur. The setting will be limited by the lowest f-stop available for the camera. The camera icon for this
mode is typically a person.
2. Macro Mode. Macro mode may also set the aperture as wide open as possible, you will need to
experiment with your camera. The mode is used for focusing on close subjects, and the icon is typically a
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3. Landscape Mode. Landscape mode sets the aperture as small as possible to maximize the depth of
focus. The aperture setting will be limited by the highest f-stop available for the camera AND the
available light. If the light is low, the camera may need to open up the aperture to let enough light
through the lens for a reasonable exposure. The icon is typically a mountain.
Consult your camera manual for more information on how the picture modes work for your specific model.
To effectively use aperture as a creative control, there are several interactions to understand.
The depth of field you can achieve at a specific aperture setting will also depend on the focal length of your lens.
Focal length is a complex concept to define, so for simplification purposes it can be equated with angle of view.
A wide angle lens has a shorter focal length (i.e. 24mm), while a telephoto lens has a longer focal length (i.e.
100mm). A zoom lens moves through a range of focal lengths seamlessly.
For the same aperture setting, a zoom lens at its longest focal length (i.e. 100mm) offers a shallower DOF than at
its shortest focal length (i.e. 24mm). In the example below, both images were taken with the same zoom lens
and aperture. You can observe more background blur for an f-stop of f/4 at a focal length of 70mm than at
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To maximize the blur for a specific aperture setting, use a longer focal length. Take a step back if you want to
maintain the composition.
Important Safety Note: Before moving forward, backward or any direction while photographing, stop and LOOK
around you to make sure you aren’t going to put yourself in danger.
Along with increasing your focal length, you can increase background blur at a given aperture by physically
creating a greater distance between the subject and the background.
We can’t talk about DOF or aperture without talking about bokeh. You know those little round circles of light you
see blurred in the background of some photos? That’s bokeh.
Bokeh requires three elements: A shallow depth
of field, distant point light sources, and a close
subject. To achieve bokeh in your photographs,
move close to your subject, increase the distance
between your subject and the point light source
in the background, and open up your aperture.
If you want the bokeh itself without an in-focus
subject, then put your lens on manual focus and
make an out of focus image. Vary how much the
image is out of focus to create larger or smaller
The shape of the bokeh – whether circles or
something more like hexagons or octagons –
will depend on the aperture setting along with
the aperture construction inside the lens.
Typically, the wider the aperture, the rounder
the bokeh. High end lenses will often create
rounder bokeh, because of the shape and size
of the blades used in the aperture
As mentioned in the chapter on Composition
and Focus, there are some specific cases where you might not want to use the center-focus-point method.
When working with shallow depth of field, as you recompose from the center focus point you may lose the focus
on the subject because a small shift in the camera will shift the focal plane. Closer subjects and longer focal
lengths make the problem worse. If you struggle with focus when working with a shallow DOF, move your focus
point closer to the subject or switch to manual focus.
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For a dSLR, you can find the aperture range on your lens. The aperture information follows the focal distance. It
might read 1:4 (indicating the lowest f-stop is f/4 throughout the focal distance of the lens) or 1:3.5-5.6
(indicating the lowest f-stop is f/3.5 at the shortest focal distance and f/5.6 at the longest focal distance). A few
key points:
1. Kit lenses (the ones supplied with your camera body) will typically have higher minimum apertures than
higher quality lenses sold separately. As you begin to look at new lenses, take note of the available
aperture to ensure it will have the range you desire for depth of field.
2. Zoom lenses will have higher minimum apertures than fixed focal length lenses. A good way to explore
aperture is to experiment with an inexpensive fixed focal length lens, such as a 50mm f/1.8. A lens with
a wide aperture will greatly expand your creative controls for depth of field, as well as improve your
ability to take photographs in low-light situations.
For determining the aperture range of a point-and-shoot camera, you will need to consult your manual.
1. Review your camera/lens manual to learn about:
a. Aperture priority mode
b. Minimum/maximum aperture available in camera/lens
2. Adjust your camera to following settings:
Camera Mode
Aperture Priority
Focus Point
Set as appropriate for subject and composition.
White Balance
Set to Auto White Balance (AWB).
ISO setting to auto, if available. This will allow the camera more
freedom in finding a good exposure. If you need to set the ISO,
choose 400 as a general-purpose setting. (If you find you are
getting blurry images in the exercise in lower-light situations,
increase the ISO setting.)
Exposure Compensation
Set as needed for your camera/lens.
“On” for review.
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3. Set up a scene in bright, indirect light which includes a subject you can move relative to the background.
Your subject could be something like an object placed in a window sill (not in direct sunlight), or a
person in front of a building.
a. Exercise 1 – Investigate the effects of aperture on depth of field.
i. Set your camera to the longest focal length available (maximum zoom). Ensure your
composition includes both subject and background in the frame (you may have to step
ii. Start by setting your camera to the widest aperture (lowest f-stop) and take a photo.
iii. Increase the aperture by one or two f-stop settings and take the same photo again.
iv. Repeat the process, working through the range of apertures available. NOTE: If you
cannot set your aperture with your camera, change between the Normal, Portrait and
Landscape modes.
b. Exercise 2 – Investigate the effects of focal length on depth of field at a set aperture.
i. Set your camera to the widest aperture (lowest f-stop), or on Portrait mode if aperture
cannot be set.
ii. Start by setting your camera on the shortest focal length (lowest zoom) and take a
iii. Zoom in to the longest focal length and take the same photo.
c. Exercise 3 – Investigate the effects of subject-to-background distance on depth of field.
i. Set your camera to the widest aperture (lowest f-stop), or on Portrait mode if aperture
cannot be set.
ii. Start with a long subject-to-background distance and take a photo.
iii. Reduce the subject-to-background distance and take another photo, trying to keep the
same composition for the subject.
iv. Repeat the process until the
subject is right in front of the
4. Download and review the images on the
computer. Notice the differences in the photos as
you varied the depth of field. Observe the depth
of field in the photos you find most interesting.
Look in the properties of the file to find the
aperture settings for each image.
5. Pick two or three of your best shots. Open these
photos in your photo editing software, and make
adjustments as learned in previous chapters –
color, exposure, composition. How do these
adjustments enhance the photo? Which image do
you like better – before or after the change?
Make a few notes on what you like about each,
what caught your eye. If you would change
anything next time, note that too.
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A photograph is a single point-in-time representation of our ever-changing world. When capturing a moment,
how do you capture the feel of movement through time? Playing with shutter speed is all about capturing
motion in time – either freezing the motion or allowing the motion to show through blur.
Shutter speed is probably one of the easiest elements to
understand in the exposure triangle. You can think of
your shutter as your camera’s “window curtains”. When
the shutter is open, the curtains are open, and light is
reaching the sensor. When the shutter is closed, the
curtains are closed, and the sensor is kept in the dark.
To get enough light to the sensor to capture an image,
you adjust the length of time the shutter is open. The
longer the shutter is open, the more light reaches the
Shutter speeds in entry-level dSLRs typically range from
1/4000 of a second (fastest) to 30 seconds (slowest). The
specific range of shutter speeds available will depend on
your camera. In the camera’s viewfinder display for
shutter speed you may see a number like “40” while the
LCD will show 1/40. Both mean the same thing: the
shutter is open for one-fortieth of a second. Higher
numbers in the denominator, such as the “200” in 1/200,
mean faster shutter speeds. If math and fractions are not
your strong suit, remember this rule: Higher numbers in
denominator = faster shutter speeds.
Throughout this chapter the text will refer to shutter
speeds in the format “1/30,” which means one-thirtieth
of a second. The shutter speed may be displayed as
either 30 or 1/30 in your camera display, so refer to your
Shutter speed is shown as
1/40 on this display
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If you are taking a photo of a stationary scene, shutter
speed will have little impact on your final image other
than letting in more or less light (with the exception of
camera shake, to be discussed later, and color intensity,
which will not be covered here). Shutter speed is a useful
tool to close the exposure triangle properly for a
stationary scene. Even night shots with low light can be
achieved with long shutter speeds, as shown in the
example at right which was taken with a shutter speed of
four seconds.
Shutter speeds become an obvious creative control when
you are photographing a subject in motion. If you want to
freeze motion, use a fast shutter speed. To show motion,
use a slow shutter speed. How fast or slow you need to
set the shutter will depend on the speed of the motion
you are trying to capture.
In these example photos the shutter speed is the same at
1/1250. The cyclist is frozen while the F1 car is blurred.
There is a difference both in the speed as well as the
direction relative to the camera of the F1 car as
compared to the cyclist, both of which play into the final
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If you want to express the movement of a subject through blur, you set a slow enough shutter speed so the
object moves relative to the camera during the time of exposure. The longer the shutter is open, the more the
object will move during the exposure, and the sensor will record the movement as blur. Again, how long the
shutter needs to be open will depend on the speed of the object in motion.
Shutter speed at 1.3 seconds, motion of
water is blurred.
Shutter speed is interesting because you
can capture movement in ways which are
different than you see. You can freeze the
motion of water droplets and see their
strange shapes, or even capture the
seemingly impossible moves of an athlete
in mid-flight. Alternately, you can show
how an object has moved by capturing the
traces of where it has come and gone.
Shutter Speed 1/4000
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Shutter Speed 1/15
Going back to the exposure triangle, you can set the shutter speed for the desired motion effect, and then
adjust the aperture and ISO setting accordingly for a good exposure. If you use your camera on Automatic mode
without flash, or in Aperture Priority mode as we’ve been doing for the last few weeks, the camera will choose
the shutter speed solely to get the best exposure available to complete the triangle.
For this chapter, you will set shutter speed independently by using the “Shutter Priority” mode. When in shutter
priority mode, you can set the shutter speed manually to any shutter speed available in the camera and the
camera will adjust the other two settings to achieve a good exposure.
On point-and-shoot cameras, you may not have the option to set shutter speed manually. You will, however,
have “picture modes” which allow you to influence the shutter speed setting. Here are two picture modes you
can use to set shutter speed on a point-and-shoot:
1. Sports – The Sports mode will set the shutter speed as fast as possible to achieve a good exposure, so
that the motion will be frozen. The icon for Sports mode is typically a running person.
2. Night – The Night mode will set the shutter speed slower than automatic mode, to allow for capturing
more of the low light. The camera assumes you will be taking a photo of a nearby subject with an
illuminated object in the distance (behind the subject). The shutter will remain open longer than normal
to capture the object in the background in addition to the subject in the foreground. The icon for Night
mode is typically a person with a crescent moon over one shoulder and an object in the background.
Night mode may not allow for flash to be turned off, which could cause problems in using it for shutter
speed practice. Consult your manual.
Your camera may have other modes which affect shutter speed. Look for modes described as “freezing action”
for fast shutter speeds or “low light” for slow shutter speeds.
As you decrease your shutter, your images can be affected by nothing more than the movement of the camera
in your hands. You can never hold a camera completely still, so camera shake can cause undesired blur in
images, especially at slow shutter speeds.
Camera shake is a sneaky little problem, because
you often can’t see the subtle blur on the camera
LCD. It’s only visible when you zoom in the
thumbnail on the camera or review it larger on
the computer. This can be disappointing, because
finding a blurry image at the computer is too late.
You can only recover camera shake by taking
precautions as you capture the images.
Taken at 1/25, slight blur is
due to camera shake.
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Most cameras will solve the problem of camera shake in full automatic mode by turning the flash on. In fact,
most automatic modes turn the flash sooner than is absolutely necessary. If you are using natural light and have
turned the flash off, the full automatic mode of the camera will not help here.
A rule of thumb to avoid camera shake when hand-holding the camera is to use shutter speeds no slower than
1/[focal distance in mm]. So if your focal distance is 50mm, your shutter speed shouldn't go below 1/50. At
35mm, a shutter speed of 1/30 should work. If your focal distance is 200mm, 1/200 would be the slowest
shutter speed to avoid camera shake. As you increase the focal distance, the magnification of the lens also
magnifies the tiny movements of our hands holding the camera, so you need to increase shutter speeds to avoid
camera shake.
Many modern digital cameras and lenses, even point-and-shoots, are equipped with image stabilization features
which help reduce the effects of camera shake. Check your camera and lens manuals to see if you have image
You can also reduce the effects of camera shake by the following:
1. Make your body more stable. Increase your stability by taking a wide stance with your feet, tucking
your elbows tight into your sides, and hold your breath while you take the shot. With practice, you can
sometimes get good photographs down to 1/20 or 1/15 with this method, but it is hit or miss. You can
also lean your body against a stationary object, such as a pole or wall, for increased stability.
2. Make your camera more stable. You can
also increase your stability with an
"assisted handhold." You can use
anything stable, like a railing, bench, or
fence, to help hold your camera. You can
find beanbags sold for the specific
purpose of supporting the camera on
uneven surfaces. With an assisted
handhold, plan for more straightening
and cropping in post processing since
you don't have as much control on the
angle of the camera. This night image
from Venice was captured with the
assistance of a bridge railing for stability.
3. Use a tripod. Make sure your tripod is
sturdy enough to hold your camera in a stable manner. If the tripod is made for a point-and-shoot and
you use it with a heavier dSLR, it may not be stable. Instability leads to blurry images, even with a tripod.
It is possible to shake the camera on a stable tripod just by pressing the shutter button. You can use a
remote shutter release, or the self-timer on your camera, to avoid camera shake due to pressing the
shutter button. Another less-bulky option to increase stability is to use a monopod instead of a tripod.
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There are several fun things you can try when playing with camera movement, shutter speed and motion.
Have you seen images where the object in
movement is frozen in the image, but the
background is blurred? These images are captured
using a technique called panning. The idea is to
move your camera at the same speed as the subject
is moving as it travels past. The subject in the
resulting image remains clear while its surroundings
are blurred. Start moving your camera with the
object before you press the shutter release and
continue movement through the entire time the
shutter is open. Panning takes quite a bit of
practice, but the results are interesting.
You can also pan from a moving vehicle, by
pointing the camera on a fixed point and keeping
it still relative to the point as you pass. Since your
eye and head will naturally move to stay focused
on one spot, your camera will too. The image to
the left shows the effect.
You can get interesting effects by setting your
camera to slow shutter speeds and then moving
intentionally throughout the exposure. Try
moving in one direction, circling around, or
drawing shapes. The effects range from
impressionistic to abstract. It can be especially
fun at night.
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If you are using a zoom lens, another way to drag light during
an exposure is to change your focal distance while the
shutter is open. For the images at right and below, the
camera was set to a shutter speed of one second and the
zoom started at a long focal distance (zoomed in). As the
shutter button is pressed, the camera is zoomed out. The
images were captured while hand-holding the camera.
When using a tripod, the light trails would be straight instead
of wiggly.
At left: same Christmas lights, without the zoom
during exposure.
When you are working with moving subjects, you can’t easily focus and recompose. The object may be moving
faster than your camera can focus. Change your focus mode from a single shot focus (usually the default setting)
to a mode where your camera continually focuses on a moving subject. Check your camera manual for different
focus modes available to you and how to set them.
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1. Review your camera/lens manual for the following functions, and learn how to set them if they are
a. Shutter priority mode (or modes available which affect shutter speed)
b. Range of shutter speeds available
c. Focus modes
2. Adjust your camera to following settings:
Camera Mode
Shutter Priority
Focus Point
Set to continual mode (called “AI Servo” in my camera).
White Balance
Set to Auto White Balance (AWB).
Auto ISO setting. If you need to manually set the ISO setting, set it
as appropriate for your camera and lighting conditions.
Exposure Compensation
Set as needed for your camera/lens.
“On” for review.
3. Pick a scene which includes consistent movement. Some ideas: a fountain, a road with traffic, or a bike
path. Aesthetics are not the primary goal in this exercise, so don’t worry about having a beautiful scene.
Try to have strong, even light in the scene to allow a wide range of exposure settings. Generally
outdoors in the daytime will work, even on a cloudy day.
a. Pick a vantage point for your camera and keep it fixed. If possible, use a tripod or set the camera
on a stable surface. If neither is possible, set yourself up in a stable manner to reduce camera
b. Set your camera to the fastest shutter speed possible for a good exposure, and take a photo.
Note: Your camera may not allow you to take a photo at the fastest shutter speed setting if it
will result in an underexposed image. Watch your error messages and consult your manual.
c. Slow your shutter speed setting, and take another image of the same scene.
d. Repeat step c, working your way down to the slowest shutter speed possible without obvious
camera shake.
e. Optional Exercises:
i. Repeat the exercise in a different situation where the objects have a different speed.
ii. While handholding the camera, take a series of still images, each with a slower shutter
speed. See where you start to get camera shake and if you can avoid it by improving
your stability.
iii. Play with panning, intentional camera movement, or zoom during exposure.
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4. Download and review images on the computer. Notice the differences in how the movement looks with
the change in shutter speed. Note which shutter speeds you find most interesting. Is it the images with
frozen action or blur? Does it vary depending on your subject or location?
5. Pick two or three of your best shots. Open these photos in your photo editing software, and make
adjustments as covered in previous chapters – color, exposure, composition. How do these adjustments
enhance the photo? Which image do you like better – before or after the change? When you are done,
save the file with the final edits. Make a few notes on what you like about each and what caught your
eye. If you would change anything next time, note that too.
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The last two chapters have focused solely on the camera as a tool without covering any new post-processing
techniques, so this chapter will remedy the imbalance by touching on some creative options with postprocessing in photo editing software.
One exciting aspect of digital photography is having
these creative options at your fingertips. You don’t
have to decide in the moment what type of processing
you are going to do with each image, you can decide
later. You can convert some of them to black and
white, modify textures and colors, or do simple
exposure adjustments and crops. You can take the
same photo and create many different looks. This
flexibility might be overwhelming at times, but it adds
marvelous creative possibilities.
Part of learning photography includes trying out
different styles, not only with how you take the photos,
but how you post-process. You can play around with a
new technique, evaluating whether or not you like it on
a few different images and learning where you might
find it effective in the future. Just like when you were a
child, through play you can discover new things and
expand your ability to express yourself creatively.
This chapter presents a few possible post-processing
techniques. These may not be available in all photo
editing software packages, and they certainly are a
limited range of what is possible. For your software,
view the demos and help features, search online, or
pick up a dedicated book to see what is possible. You
don’t have to be a computer expert or spend a lot of
money on software to edit your photos in fun ways.
In most photo editing software packages, there are one-click automated processing options. An example would
be an option to directly convert a photo from color to black and white. In Photoshop these are called “Actions,”
and in Lightroom they are called “Presets.” There are probably as many names for one-click automation of
processing as there are software packages, so they are referred to as actions throughout the remainder of this
text for simplicity. Regardless of the software package you use, actions allow you quick and easy processing.
Actions can be a great time-saver when you want to do repetitive processing, and they can also allow you to do
complex processing without learning the software in depth.
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Find out what automated processing is available for your software package – either in the software itself or
available separately – and use the actions as a starting point for post-processing play. If you use a common
photo editing software, you will have a wide variety of actions available, many even free.
One of the most basic of digital post-processing techniques is the monochromatic conversion. Black and white,
sepia, brown tones, etc. are all examples of monochromatic conversions.
For a monochromatic conversion, you will want to pay attention to the contrast and range of tones in the photo.
These can vary greatly depending on how the conversion is done, and have a big impact on the final photo. The
sequence of images below shows several conversions of the same photo to explore how different black and
white conversions affect the original image.
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Explore a range of different monochromatic conversions to see which you like best to convey the mood. You
can also experiment with tints in monochromatic images. Sometimes black and white will not create the desired
look for your photograph. The example below shares a conversion where a sepia tint created the better option
than black and white for preserving detail, while creating a strong contrast between the town and the landscape
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Blending layers with your photo can be a wonderful way to add texture and change the look and feel of the final
In this technique you duplicate the photo as a separate layer and then blend the original photo with the
duplicate. The example below uses the soft light blending mode (right) to enhance shadows and colors of the
original (left).
You can layer two different images using different blending modes to get interesting effects. Using “textures” on
a photo is essentially blending two images – your image plus a texture image. Below are some examples where
textures have been blended with photographs.
Final image created using Kim
Klassen’s Wet Tile texture blended
using Soft Light at 100% opacity. A
very simple edit, but it
dramatically changes the final
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Here is another example, using two texture layers on an image. Original at left, and final image at right created
using two textures from Kim Klassen: Mustard Seed Texture using Multiply blending mode @ 76% opacity,
followed by Scripted Texture using Overlay blending mode @49%. The result is a vintage feel which goes well
with this photo from a medieval castle.
Here are a few websites offering textures and/or actions, many of which also have tutorials:
Shadowhouse Creations
Kim Klassen Cafe
Textures by pareerica
Isabelle Lafrance Photography
Paint the Moon
Nelly Nero
More Texture Websites
Pioneer Woman
Selective editing, or masking, is a common post-processing
technique. You can create or remove an effect from a
specific part of the photo. The way you achieve this will
vary depending on your photo editing software.
A common selective processing technique is to convert a
photo to black and white, while selectively allowing a
certain portion to remain in color. Selective color is often
used for a single color object, like the scooter at right.
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Selective color processing can also be used for a multiple color
Another way to use selective color is to convert a distracting
part of an image to black and white. In the example below,
there was a small amount of distracting greenery, which was
converted to black and white while the remainder was kept in
You can use selective processing with almost any processing style. In the example below, the non-blue building
colors were desaturated while the blue was left normal.
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There are so many options in post-processing, how do you decide what you want to do to your images? When
you are reviewing and post-processing your photos, think about what you want the image to convey; how you
want the image to feel. The chosen post-processing can strongly influence the feeling of a photograph.
When you take time to play with the post-processing options available in your software, you learn the effects on
a photograph. When you learn a new technique, spend time trying it on several images, observing the results.
Through experimentation, you learn not only how to use a specific technique, but also on what type of images it
might be effective in the future.
Following are a few examples of post-processing to achieve a certain intent.
At left:
Intent: Highlight the personality of the flower in the scooter
windscreen in the row of sameness.
Achieved by: Black and white conversion with selective color to
highlight the flower.
Intent: Create a vintage feeling and emphasize the Fiat.
Achieved by: Processing with a vintage action which desaturates
and shifts the tones, and selectively increase the saturation of the
red on the car.
At left:
Intent: Emphasize the radiating lines of the
subway station.
Achieved by: Converting to black and white.
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Post-processing options can extend your creative range and your ability to express yourself artistically through
photography, but they aren’t a substitute for good photographic technique. The basic concepts covered in the
previous chapters are needed to make any photograph stand out. Trends in post-processing change over time
and can be easily copied, so relying on a specific editing technique to define your style will not serve you in the
long run. Underneath the processing a solid photo is needed to stand the test of time.
Focus on improving your technical skills and understanding, playing along the way, and over time you will
discover your own perspective and style expressed through your photographs.
1. Review the software manuals, books or online for tutorials for the following topics for your postprocessing software:
a. Automated processing (aka Actions or Presets)
b. Black and White Conversions
c. Layers and Blending modes
d. Selective processing and masking
As you search, make a list of post-processing techniques you would like to learn in the future. Don’t
worry about trying to learn all of the techniques at this time. Locate the information and bookmark it so
you can find it again when you are ready.
2. Review images from a previous photo shoot to find an image with potential which did not “wow” you
upon first review. Look for an image with good initial exposure and composition.
3. Load the image in your photo editing software and begin to play. Process it as you normally would, and
then process it with at least three different techniques. Save each different end result. Make a few notes
on what you like about each, and which technique works best on different photos.
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Now that you have learned the basics, you are ready to take the
next step on your photographic journey. What is the next step?
That is completely up to you. Your personal interests will define
what you learn next. Photography is too broad of an art form to
define a single path that fits for everyone.
If you don’t know yet what you want to learn, the best thing to do
is continue to practice and play. As you do, you will integrate your
new skills and begin to see where you want to go next. Usually, it’s
your frustrations that point you toward things you need to learn,
but be sure to listen to the call of the things about photography
that bring you joy. If you pursue photography for the love of it and
continue to focus on what makes you happy, you may find your
direction and your skills naturally evolve. As with any art, there is
no end point in your development with photography. No matter
how long it’s been since you first picked up a camera, as long as
you continue on your journey, there is room for growth and
When you have the basic technical skills under
your belt and are ready for some creative
inspiration, I hope you will come back and join me
at Kat Eye Studio. Between an inspirational blog,
free series on artistic photography topics and
online classes, there is much fuel for your creative
soul. Sign up for the Kat Eye News, the twicemonthly email newsletter, to keep abreast of all
that is available.
I hope to meet you online!
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