3 Lightroom Tools to Enhance Your Nature and Wildlife Photography

Do you want to bring out texture in your images of flowers, butterflies, plants, or macro subjects?

Are you looking to remove haze from your beautiful landscape images?

Do you want to reveal fine detail in your wildlife images?

Then you’re in the right place.

lightroom tools nature photography mountain

Because today I am going to share with you three Lightroom tools for nature photography. I use these three tools to enhance my own nature and wildlife images. And I am sure these tools will be helpful to you, as well.

And the best part is?

All of these Lightroom tools are easy to apply. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an intermediate-level photographer; you can pick up these tools and start enhancing your nature images right away.

Note that these three Lightroom tools can be applied to an overall image (as a global adjustment) or to a targeted area of the image (as a local adjustment).

Let’s do this!

The 3 Lightroom tools for nature photography

Here are the three Lightroom tools that will instantly enhance your nature photos:

To access these tools, head to the Develop Module, find the Basic Panel, and scroll down to Presence:

develop module lightroom tools nature photography
The Texture, Clarity, and Dehaze sliders in Adobe Lightroom.

Texture

Texture has a subtle sharpening effect. It brings out the finer details.

You can use the Texture tool in Lightroom to subtly add sharpening to flowers, patterns, plants, and more.

By default, the Texture slider is set to “0.” Drag the texture slider to the right to increase the texture effect.

Or drag the Texture slider to the left to reduce its effect.

Here is an example of the Texture slider in action. First, take a look at this chameleon photo without any added texture:

Chameleon before the texture slider is applied in Lightroom
Before applying the Texture slider.

Then, as you increase the texture, the chameleon details appear sharper:

Chameleon after texture slider is applied in Lightroom lightroom tools nature photography
After applying the Texture slider.

Here’s a final before and after:

texture slider before and after lightroom tools nature photography
The effect of the Texture slider (before and after).

Clarity

The effect of the Clarity slider is more prominent than the effect of the Texture slider.

What does Clarity do?

It primarily increases the midtone contrast.

Now, the Clarity slider is set to “0” as a default.

To add Clarity, drag the slider to the right:

the clarity slider in Lightroom
The Clarity slider is a useful Lightroom tool for nature photography.

To reduce the effect, drag the Clarity slider to the left.

Since the effect of the Clarity slider is strong, make sure you use Clarity in moderation.

If you capture a well-exposed image with a relatively centered histogram, then the Clarity slider will improve the midtone contrast and can bring out additional details in your picture.

Here’s an image without the Clarity slider applied:

bird before the Lightroom Clarity slider is used
Before applying the Clarity slider.

As well as its corresponding histogram:

the histogram in Lightroom
The histogram before applying the Clarity slider.

And here’s the image with the Clarity slider applied:

The bird with the Clarity tool applied
After applying the Clarity slider.

And its corresponding histogram:

the histogram in Lightroom after the Clarity slider has been used
The histogram after applying the Clarity slider.

As Clarity increases, the midtone contrast increases, too; notice how the center of the histogram has expanded.

Additionally, after increasing the Clarity, details on the bird have begun to pop.

Dehaze

The Dehaze slider is quite helpful for landscape images.

When out photographing, you may end up with haze in the atmosphere. Additionally, fog or rain will make an image look hazy.

You can use the Dehaze slider to reduce the haze.

To apply the Dehaze effect (and reduce the haze), drag the Dehaze slider to the right:

the Dehaze slider in Lightroom
The Dehaze slider in Lightroom.

To reduce the Dehaze effect (and increase the haze), drag the Dehaze slider to the left.

As you increase the Dehaze effect, haze in the picture will be reduced, and the overall saturation of the image will increase. If the saturation increases too much, then bring down the Saturation slider slightly.

Note that the Dehaze slider will shift the histogram to the left (toward the side of the histogram representing the darker tones in the image).

When I was photographing the scene below, there was mist and drizzle over the forest valley. Here’s the image prior to applying the Dehaze effect:

mountain landscape before the Dehaze tool is applied
Before applying Dehaze.

And here’s the same image, but with the Dehaze effect applied:

the mountain landscape after the Dehaze tool is used
After applying Dehaze.

As I increased the value of the Dehaze slider, the haze was reduced. The difference between the original and edited images is quite significant.

You can also use the Dehaze slider for early-morning images, wildlife during the winter season, photos captured in the rain, and wildlife captured from a distance.

The elephants pictured below were moving along the riverbank. I was photographing them from a boat at a far distance, it was evening, and there was a slight fog in the atmosphere, hence the image appears a bit hazy:

two elephants before the Dehaze tool is used
Before applying Dehaze.

But, thanks to the Dehaze slider, the haze in the picture is reduced:

two elephants after the Dehaze slider is used
After applying Dehaze.

The Lightroom tools for local adjustments

There you go!

Those are the three Lightroom tools for nature photography that will instantly enhance your photos.

But here’s one more thing you should know:

Texture, Clarity, and Dehaze aren’t only available as global adjustments. They’re available as local adjustments, too.

You can apply local adjustments using a Graduated Filter, a Radial Filter, or an Adjustment Brush.

As you apply your local adjustments, you can shift the Texture, Clarity, and Dehaze sliders.

Let me give you an example. Here’s an unedited image:

An unedited road

After making global adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, I used a local (targeted) adjustment on the sky:

the road with a targeted adjustment applied

On the stormy clouds:

the road with another targeted adjustment applied

And on the road passing through the grassland:

the road with a third targeted adjustment applied

Note that these local adjustments include the Texture, Clarity, and Dehaze sliders.

Here is the final image:

final edited road with storm clouds using lightroom tools nature photography
The final, post-processed image.

So you can use these three tools when adding local adjustments, too!

Lightroom tools for nature photography: Conclusion

I hope these three Lightroom tools will help you enhance your nature and wildlife images.

Now I would like to hear from you:

Which of these Lightroom tools for nature photography are you going to try first?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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The Five Most Essential Camera Settings and How to Use Them

Modern cameras, from smartphones to high-end DSLRs, are designed to make decisions for us.

And, for the most part, they do a pretty good job. Slap your DSLR into Auto mode, and more often than not you’ll get images that are sharp with a decent exposure.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings seaside landscape

Now, if you’re just looking to document your world, then go for it. Snap away. But the drawback is that images taken with Auto mode tend to look similar to one another, with a uniform depth of field and exposure.

If you want to move beyond the automatic camera settings, you need to understand your camera, how to use it and, most importantly, what impact changing those settings will have on your final image.

Here are five of the most essential camera settings, what they mean, and how they’ll impact your photos.

ISO

Here’s the first essential camera setting you should know:

ISO.

Now, the acronym “ISO” is terrible, because it’s basically meaningless in terms of photography. It stands for International Organization for Standardization, a European non-governmental organization that makes sure industries apply the same standards.

In the case of photography, the International Organization for Standardization wanted to make sure that an 800 ISO on a Canon camera is the same as on a Nikon, Sony, or a Fuji. If that standard didn’t exist, then settings wouldn’t be applicable across camera brands. So if I set my Canon to make an image at 1/100s at f/2.8 and ISO 400, and you set your Nikon to the same settings, we wouldn’t get the same exposure.

Thankfully, all the major manufacturers do subscribe to the ISO standard.

So what is ISO?

ISO is the measure of the sensitivity of your camera’s digital sensor to light. The lower the number, the lower the sensitivity; the higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor becomes.

Say that you’re shooting in a low light situation, such as in a poorly-lit room or on a dusky evening. An ISO setting of 100 will require that more light reaches the sensor than if you were to use a setting of ISO 400, 800, or 1600.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings fire night image
This night image required a fast shutter speed to retain detail in the flame, so I had to use a high ISO (3200). In the next shot (below), you can see the noise in the original RAW file. (By the way, this image shows what happens when you free methane from a bubble in the ice of a frozen pond in the boreal forest and then set it alight.)

Drawbacks of a high ISO

So why not shoot with a high ISO all the time?

Two reasons:

  1. High ISOs often create digital noise in the image (though camera sensors are getting better and better at avoiding this).
  2. Sometimes you may want to force a slow shutter speed, in which case you need less sensitivity to light. This may be the case if you are trying to capture blurred motion such as water or wind, or if you’re creating pleasing blurs in sports photography.
Five Most Essential Camera Settings ISO
Note the noise in the detail of the person’s clothing and in other shadowed areas.

In short, ISO is one of the three tools you have at your disposal to manipulate your exposure.

Shutter speed

The length of time your camera’s sensor is exposed to light is the shutter speed.

Many cameras have a mechanical shutter that snaps open and closed, allowing light to reach the sensor. Others use a digital shutter that simply turns on the sensor for a set period of time before switching it off again.

Your shutter speed has a huge impact on the final image.

Why?

Because a long shutter speed will create blur in moving subjects. As a landscape photographer, I use long shutter speeds to blur water, capture starlight, or show wind motion.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings beach
For this image, I used a 1/2s shutter speed to blur the waves while retaining some detail.
Five Most Essential Camera Settings shutter speed
A 30s shutter speed blurred the Yukon River into a mirror-like surface.

Short (i.e., fast) shutter speeds have the effect of stopping motion. Use a shutter speed of 1/2000s and the motion of a runner or a cyclist will be stopped dead.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings shutter speed
This image of a passing bike required a shutter speed of 1/500s. The shutter speed was just fast enough to make the image sharp overall while retaining some sense of motion in the spinning tire.

Your use of shutter speed must be thoughtful to create a good image. Think about the final image you want to create. Does it have blurred components or is it all sharp? Do you want to stop your subject or convey a sense of motion?

Consider, experiment, then decide on your shutter speed.

Aperture

The aperture, or f-stop, might be the most confusing aspect of photography for many photographers. This is because it affects images in unexpected ways.

Essentially, the aperture is how big the hole in the lens is. The smaller the hole, the less light that is allowed in; the larger the hole, the more light that gets through.

What often confuses people is the numbering system:

The smaller the number, the larger the hole.

So a setting of f/2.8 corresponds to a larger opening than f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and so on. Lenses with a wide maximum aperture (i.e., a small number like f/2) are considered fast, meaning that they are capable of allowing in more light.

But it’s not just about light and how wide a lens can open. The aperture also affects image sharpness.

You see, most, if not all, lenses are sharper a few f-stops down (called the sweet spot). A lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 will create a sharper image at f/8 than at f/2.8. The better the lens, the less this matters, but it is noticeable on most lenses.

Depth of field and its applications

The aperture also controls the depth of field.

The depth of field is the amount of the image from close to far that is in focus. A lens set to its widest aperture (say f/2.8) will give less depth of field than the same lens set to f/11.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings aperture grouse
A very shallow depth of field in this image brings the grouse hiding in the brush into focus while the surrounding chaos of branches blurs into a haze.

As with shutter speed, your use of aperture should be purposeful. Have a landscape image that you want in focus from front to back? You better select a high f-stop (such as f/11). How about a portrait where you want a clean, soft background but a tack-sharp eye? Then use a small f-stop (such as f/2.8 or f/4) and carefully choose your focus point.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings aperture
An f-stop of f/11 at 17mm was sufficient to make the entire scene, from inches in front of the lens to the cliffs in the distance, sharp.

The aperture directly impacts the shutter speed. A narrow aperture will require you to use a longer shutter speed to attain a proper exposure, just as a wider aperture will allow you to use a faster shutter speed. Aperture and shutter speed are completely interrelated; there is no escaping it.

So you need a strong understanding of both.

White balance

White balance, like ISO, relates to the sensor.

But, in this case, it has to do with the color of the light, rather than its brightness.

Different light sources have different color tones. Our eyes often don’t detect these differences, but you can bet your camera will. Have you ever seen a photo of a home interior lit by soft white bulbs, but including a window? Usually, the interior of the room looks natural while the outdoor light looks artificially blue.

That’s white balance. The camera (or photographer) decided to use the interior light (the warm-toned bulbs) as the neutral color, but then the natural light outdoors shifted toward blue.

Now, when the white balance is set wrong, the colors are off. They look too yellow, blue, or orange.

But when the white balance is correct, everything looks natural, as our eyes detect it.

Five Most Essential Camera Settings white balance aurora
Here is an image with the camera’s white balance set to Auto. The colors of the aurora borealis appear too purple and yellow.
Five Most Essential Camera Settings white balance aurora
In this version, I adjusted the white balance further into the blue range, making the colors of the lights appear more natural and pleasing.

What about Auto White Balance?

I’ve got a confession to make here:

I almost always use the Auto White Balance setting on my camera. Cameras are pretty darn good at assessing color tones and deciding on the appropriate white balance. When my camera does get it wrong, I can check the image on the LCD and make the correction for the next shot.

Also, I shoot exclusively in RAW format, which means that I can make adjustments to the white balance during post-processing. I trust the image on my computer screen more than I trust the tiny LCD on the back of my camera.

That said, there are times you should adjust the camera’s white balance setting. The first is if you are shooting JPEGs. The JPEG file format will not allow you to effectively adjust the white balance later, so you must get it right in-camera.

The second time you’ll want to adjust your white balance setting is when stacking images, either for high-contrast scenes or for panoramas. When stacking, slight changes in color tones will make combining several images into a single HDR photo or a panorama much more difficult or even impossible.

You can also adjust your white balance if you purposely want to make an image look cool or warm, or if you are using artificial lights.

So be mindful of your white balance; know what it does and how it will impact your images. Then decide how to use it.

Exposure compensation

What is exposure compensation?

Exposure compensation allows you to very quickly add or subtract light from an image.

Too dark? Use the exposure compensation feature to add a stop of light. Too bright? Exposure compensation can quickly darken the image.

Homer sunset

For the image above, I used exposure compensation to make sure the scene showed details in the foreground, while keeping the bright sunset in the background from being blown out.

And the image below was made in bright sunlight, but a deliberate underexposure of three stops (via exposure compensation) reduced the mountains to black but retained detail in the sky, resulting in a surreal image.

landscape with reflection

Know your camera well

Exposure compensation is a tool you should know how to adjust without lowering the camera from your eye. How it is set depends on your camera settings.

I use Aperture Priority mode most often on my camera. So I select the aperture, and the camera decides the shutter speed. If I adjust the exposure compensation, my camera will retain my chosen aperture and simply adjust the shutter speed up or down to get the desired exposure.

And if I were to use Shutter Priority mode, as I sometimes do, the camera would adjust the aperture, instead.

(In Auto mode, the camera makes this decision for you.)

I use exposure compensation constantly. It is my go-to method for fine-tuning my exposures in the field. On my Canon DSLR, I can adjust it with a simple twitch of my thumb on the rear wheel of the camera. Other cameras have their exposure compensation control as a wheel near the shutter button, or as part of a system of buttons on the back.

Know how your camera works and learn to adjust the exposure compensation quickly and efficiently. Understanding this important tool will mean you don’t miss your chance to get the shot right when you are working in the field or the studio.

Essential camera settings: Conclusion

These five camera settings are the most important things to understand about your camera.

Experiment with them so you know how they affect your final image. Learn to change each setting quickly and without fuss.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll have taken charge of your photography.

And you’ll be on your way to creating purposeful images.

If you have any comments or questions, please add them below!

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Fujifilm Announces the Mirrorless X-S10, With 20 FPS and IBIS

Fujifilm X-S10 announcement

Last month, we were fortunate enough to get a major camera announcement from Sony: the a7C, a compact-yet-full-frame option designed for vloggers, hybrid shooters, and anyone looking to gain top-notch image quality in a smaller body.

But now it’s Fujifilm’s turn to offer a camera guaranteed to impress vloggers, hybrid shooters, and more.

Just last week, Fujifilm announced the X-S10, an APS-C mirrorless model that combines a compact design with standard Fujifilm performance, while also sporting impressive video capabilities, continuous shooting speeds, and in-body image stabilization.

The X-S10 will feature a 26.1-megapixel X-Trans sensor, which is in line with Fujifilm’s current flagship options (the X-T3 and X-T4) and will undoubtedly perform well. You also get a decent viewfinder (2.36M-dot) which, while not quite as high resolution as the new X-T4, should satisfy most photographers.

And the 3” rear LCD is fully articulating, for anyone looking to shoot at awkward angles or do some inconspicuous photography from the hip.

Fujifilm promises lightning-fast autofocus, claiming that the X-S10 is adept at “achieving focus in as fast as 0.02 seconds in some cases, even at -7.0 EV.” And the X-S10 is also “equipped with high-precision Tracking AF for moving subjects and Face-Eye AF function to track a subject’s face and eyes.”

When it comes to continuous shooting speeds, Fujifilm has never been a company to let its customers down. The X-S10 continues this trend, featuring a walloping 20 frames-per-second continuous shooting speed when using the electronic shutter (though this drops to 8 frames per second when working with the mechanical shutter).

And as for image stabilization:

Fujifilm found a way to keep the IBIS down to a reasonable size, stating that the “camera’s IBIS mechanism is approximately 30% smaller in volume and weight than the previous, similar X series model” (here, Fujifilm is referring to the X-T4). This means that Fujifilm was able to successfully slip its IBIS technology into the X-S10, which is a huge deal, especially for photographers who frequently find themselves in low light situations. The handholding boost provided by a bit of IBIS can be the difference between sharp and blurred images.

Finally, we have the X-S10’s video capabilities to consider. While there’s no 4K/60p recording, you do get a respectable 4K/30p. Combine this with the image stabilization and the fully-articulating screen (discussed above) and you have yourself a useful little camera for vloggers and video hobbyists.

So if you’re a vlogger, a hybrid shooter, or simply a photographer looking for a compact mirrorless option, consider the Fujifilm X-S10.

The camera will begin shipping toward the end of November for $1000 USD (body only), $1400 USD (with an 18-55 f/2.8-4 kit lens), and $1500 USD (with a 16-80mm f/4 kit lens). But you can preorder your copy right here.

Now over to you:

What do you think of the Fujifilm X-S10? Would you rather have the Fujifilm X-S10 or the Sony a7C? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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10 Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography

A guest post by wildlife photographer Morkel Erasmus.

wildlife photography tips

Ever since DSLRs became readily available, more photography enthusiasts have started venturing into wildlife photography.

It seems that wildlife photography, in conjunction with landscape photography, has really seen a huge growth spurt over the last few years, at least as it pertains to the number of people practicing it as serious hobbyists or budding professionals.

This is especially true in my native country of South Africa, where it’s long been many a family’s tradition to visit legendary self-drive safari locations such as Kruger National Park. Having neighboring countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe doesn’t affect this trend negatively!

Yet spend some time on your favorite online photography forum (at least those that allow the posting of photos) or on other sites like Facebook or Flickr where photosharing is common, and you might notice that not every photo taken of a wild animal really speaks to you.

I’m not sure whether many folks just snap away and hope the image comes out half-decent, or whether many just think they’re doing their subjects justice (when that is not at all the case). Let me say outright that no offense is intended, and I also take photos that fall into the above categories.

In fact, I do it on every photographic trip I take.

But it’s stepping beyond that and getting a rare wildlife image that ticks all the right boxes that we all need to strive for. And we must be prepared when the opportunity comes along.

zebras fighting

In today’s article, I will attempt to provide you with some easy-to-apply tips and advice for improving your wildlife photography.

Some of these tips might seem like common sense, and you’ve probably read a similar list of “how-tos” elsewhere. But remember that common sense is not so common at all these days and that everyone has their own take on things, however similar it may be.

I do think I will cover a few points that are not just based on pure technical skill; photography is, after all, an art-form. Sometimes we need to be freed up to capture the vision we have in our mind’s eye, rather than stick to conventions and norms.

Here is a quick overview of the points I will cover in this article:

  1. Know your gear
  2. Know the wildlife
  3. Know the wildlife photography “rules;” break the wildlife photography “rules”
  4. Work the light
  5. Shoot wider; shoot closer
  6. The more, the merrier
  7. How low can you go?
  8. The content-technical dichotomy
  9. Patience isn’t a virtue; it’s a necessity
  10. Be there and enjoy it

These are the points that I try to cover when leading a photographic safari or presenting a workshop.

(Also note that I include the genre of bird photography in my definition of wildlife photography.)

Let’s get cracking!

a wildlife photography example of a lion on a dune

1. Know your gear

This sounds like the biggest cliché, but you know that it’s true.

The really great, action-packed moments in wildlife photography last, on average (based on my experience), between 5 and 20 seconds. If you are not deeply familiar with the settings of your camera or the abilities of your chosen lens, you will either miss the shot or blow the images you do manage to capture.

Here’s what’s important:

  • Know the minimum shutter speed at which you can obtain a sharp image with your camera/lens combo
  • Know any added margins that the in-camera or in-lens stabilization gives you
  • Know how to quickly toggle between focus points or focus modes
  • Know how high you can push your camera’s ISO setting and still achieve acceptable results

In general, I like to say that you need to be able to make most, if not all, of the necessary adjustments to your exposure/focus settings without lifting your eye from the viewfinder.

The action you see between the cheetahs in the following image lasted all of 10 seconds, even though we sat with them for more than an hour:

cheetahs playing

2. Know the wildlife

This goes without saying, right? Since much of wildlife photography is based upon capturing fleeting moments of natural history (read: interesting poses or behavior), it pays to be able to somewhat predict your subject’s behavior beforehand.

Granted, not every species is as predictable as the next. But there are patterns of behavior ingrained into every animal species. Knowing your subject can make the difference between being ready and prepared for capturing that “golden moment” and watching in agony as it flies by.

Now, there is only one way to get to know wildlife:

Spend time with it. Don’t just hang around for a few minutes and seek out the next subject if the one you are observing or photographing isn’t delivering the goods. Sit with wildlife. Watch wildlife. Wait.

(This also ties into patience, which I will discuss in more detail later.)

This image was captured by knowing what the Lilac-breasted Roller was going to do to its grasshopper-lunch, and being ready for it:

roller eating lunch

3. Know the wildlife photography “rules;” break the wildlife photography “rules”

There are certain unwritten rules that form the foundation of good photography, regardless of genre. And, of course, then there are certain “rules” that find their application mostly in the genre of wildlife photography.

Understanding proper exposure and the use of the histogram, as well as creating proper compositions using a guideline such as the rule of thirds, are all important to ingrain in your subconscious. You want to be able to instantly capture that fleeting moment properly.

In wildlife photography, much is made about eye contact with the subject, as this gives life to the image. In the case of avian photography (birds), you can take this a step further: the head angle in relation to the camera’s imaging sensor needs to be at least perpendicular to it, but ideally turned a few degrees towards the sensor (and therefore turned towards the viewer, who ultimately gets to view the image captured by the sensor).

The image below, for example, follows strong rule-of-thirds compositional guidelines:

wildebeest on a dune as stunning wildlife photography

Once you know the “rules” and the guidelines, and once you know when and how to apply them, it’s time to start breaking them. You should test the boundaries a bit, you know? You don’t want your photos to always look like the standard images that every photographer is getting.

Take a look at the image below. I mentioned the “need” for eye contact. Yet sometimes it can work to shoot an image in which the subject is not giving the photographer eye contact (this often means the animal is busy with something else and too busy to turn its attention to you).

thirsty Zebra foal makes for intimate wildlife photography

4. Work the light

The first piece of advice I got from a professional wildlife photographer when I started shooting is to stick to the hours of golden light.

This means getting up early in the morning and being in the field before sunrise, and going out in the afternoon to make the most of the last hours of sunlight. The light at midday (mostly between 11:00 and 16:00, at least where I live) is generally harsh and robs images of that spunk that they need. The exception is on overcast days, when the clouds act like a massive softbox and filter out the light evenly.

On days like that, I shoot all day (as long as there are willing subjects!).

Since photography is all about painting with light, you need to know how to use the light to your advantage in wildlife photography. Often, we will find ourselves in a position where the light isn’t ideal or, heaven forbid, the light is sweet but from the wrong direction (and we aren’t in a position to move to a better spot).

The good news is that light from the wrong direction can add lots of mood to an image. Shooting into the light is tricky to pull off, but if you adhere to my first tip (to know your gear), you can get some pretty interesting images from a less-than-ideal light position. The image below is one such photo:

backlit sprinboks at dawn

5. Shoot wider; shoot closer

Too many wildlife photographers get fixated on what I call the “focal-length debacle,” where it becomes an obsession to have the longest/biggest lens possible.

Now, I know this is location-dependent, as you might need more than 600mm just to get any shot at all in certain wide-open spaces. But the issue I want to tackle is more related to our obsession to get as close as possible to the animals and isolate them totally from their environment. The result is often an image that looks like it could be taken of a captive subject in a controlled location, with a perfectly smooth background and no idea of the real environment in which the animal finds itself.

Instead, challenge yourself to shoot at a wider angle to give the viewer a better idea of where you took the image and where your subject has to eke out a living in the wild. This is applicable to any species you photograph, from a squirrel to a deer to an elephant.

The elephant below was photographed with a wide-angle lens and a polarizing filter to give you a sense of the environment, as well as to make the most of the clouds and sky:

elephant in the landscape as wildlife photography

The flip side to shooting wider is (you guessed it!) shooting closer.

And I mean way closer. Get in-your-face close (by changing your position or by using a longer lens with an optional teleconverter) to create different and interesting studies of the animals and birds you photograph. This will also help you think in terms of more abstract compositional arrangements.

Have a look at this photo of a Cape buffalo, for example:

buffalo abstract close-up of ear

6. The more, the merrier

No real intricate explanation needed on this one. In wildlife photography, one is company and two is often a crowd, especially when there’s food or shelter involved. If you have a good view of more than one member of a species, stay a while!

Look at the images below. First up: a solitary African spoonbill, minding its own business on a perch, happy as can be. Throw another spoonbill into the mix, and you have a recipe for good interaction:

spoonbills in the trees; the more the merrier wildlife photography tip

7. How low can you go?

This is not a trick question, nor is it a call to do the limbo. The point of view of a wildlife photograph is just about everything. How you portray your subject can make all the difference in the world.

In short, try to get an eye-level perspective (or go even lower if you can). This brings the viewer of your image right into the scene and confronts them with the view of the world from your subject’s perspective.

Obviously, what counts as eye-level is relative (you will pretty much always be at a lower perspective than a giraffe, for example), but you get the idea.

Always bear in mind the constraints of your environment. In most reserves in South Africa, you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle in the field. This restricts you to a certain perspective.

Look at the images below for illustration. The first African painted dog was photographed from an open game viewer. The result is a somewhat bland shot; it’s nothing special to my eyes.

The second image, however, was taken lying flat on my stomach in a sandy riverbed not 20 meters from the pack of canines, and the alpha male was checking me out. This perspective makes the image come alive.

wild dogs

8. The content-technical dichotomy

This is an interesting one. Does great content trump a technically great image that includes average content every time?

It may be different where you live, but I am particularly relating this one to the African safari experience. Every tourist wants to see the “big 5,” or at least a lion. But if you’ve ever spent time around wild lions in the daytime, you will know that they are actually shoddy models for photography. They sleep up to 20 hours per day.

Conversely, I have had great photo opportunities from impala, who are the most common ungulate you’ll come across down here in the bush. My advice to the discerning photographer would be to look for great opportunities regardless of the species when the light is good!

Have a look at the contrast between these two images: an impala jumping gracefully and a “standard” portrait of a male lion, both in good light. Which do you prefer?

a lion (above) and a leaping impala (below)

Let’s use a second example, lest it look like I am becoming blasé about the subjects I am fortunate to be able to photograph in our wonderful part of the world:

Squirrels.

Everyone photographs squirrels, right? In the images below, the top squirrel is munching something with nice soft light and a nice low angle. And at the bottom, a mommy is carrying her youngster at a precarious height over a large branch at speed by biting down on the youngster’s stomach flap with it holding on for dear life. The light in the tree canopy wasn’t the best, but this is clearly a case of content trumping a technically good image.

squirrels

The jury is still out on this one. Awesome sightings of lions won’t always provide awesome images. Learn to see the potential in the mundane to create amazing photographic moments, then go out and make good images.

The obvious ideal is to capture a wildlife image with great content in great light shot with just the right settings: the utopian photo that most of us will never get right.

9. Patience isn’t a virtue; it’s a necessity

As a wildlife photographer, your images are predicated on the fact that things in nature are unpredictable.

Anything can happen at any time, but most things happen only rarely. Or, at the very least, they rarely coincide with the exact time that you are in that specific spot.

It is therefore imperative that you become patient. Very patient.

Now, I sometimes catch myself being very impatient out in the field. It’s something you constantly have to work on.

In fact, it’s almost a culmination of many of the things we’ve discussed so far. Observing your subjects and getting to know their behavioral patterns requires a great deal of patience.

Often, the implication is that you need to return to the same spot for days before things start to happen. And even if you do that, you run the risk of nothing happening and wasting your time.

The image below was captured after staking out the tree with the impala kill for more than five hours. I had also driven past this tree many times earlier that day to see if there was any action. I knew the leopard would return, but I had no guarantee that it would return before nightfall.

a leopard ascends a tree to find its kill

10. Be there and enjoy it

I will conclude this lengthy article with the following advice (I do hope you haven’t been bored to tears reading this!):

Be there and enjoy it!

running cheetah wildlife photography example

By this, I don’t just mean that you need to physically show up and be at the right place at the right time (although of course that applies).

I actually mean that you need to be present in the moment. Don’t get so caught up in the technical issues and your settings that you don’t take in the moments you are witnessing while out photographing birds and wildlife. We need to be mindful of the privilege of spending time in nature and being in places where humans haven’t quite exerted their full force.

landing kingfisher wildlife photography example

Maybe for you this is just the most isolated spot in your local park where you can sit and observe and photograph squirrels and birds. Or maybe it’s facing a wild Kodiak bear on the Alaskan floodplains.

giraffe with a rainbow in the background wildlife photography

Regardless, enjoy what you are doing! Have fun doing it! How does it help us to spend so much time on this amazing hobby cum art form if we are not enjoying the time spent?

I hope these wildlife photography tips will stand you in good stead out there in the field. They have for me. Good light and good sightings to you all!

About the author: Morkel Erasmus

After having been an avid naturalist from a very young age, picking up a camera for the first time early in 2009 proved to be a pivotal moment in the life of Morkel Erasmus. Since then, he has been infused with an unbridled passion for capturing forever fleeting moments of natural history and sharing them with people to showcase the wonderful natural heritage of his native Southern Africa, and to create awareness to conserve this heritage for future generations.

“I absolutely love being in the wild and unspoiled places of this world,” says Morkel, “and living in South Africa means there are plenty of those to choose from.”

An industrial engineer by profession and an accomplished artist across many genres, from music to poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect marriage of his engineering brain and artistic soul. Showing off God’s glorious creation is something he enjoys immensely. He is also a Nikon South Africa ambassador.

Besides being widely published, Morkel has been honored for his commitment to his craft with various awards in the short span of his photographic career, most notably by receiving a “Highly Commended” award for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Morkel is a devoted husband and a proud father of a beautiful daughter and soon-to-be-born son.

See more from Morkel on his homepage or blog, and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, 500px, and on Instagram.



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How To Keep Your Mind Positively Occupied

Using your camera as a tool for photography as therapy is a healthy habit to develop. Often artists produce some of their best work when they are feeling pressured or stressed. Creative expression is a fabulous way to release tension when you are feeling down.

Creative minds tend to be more sensitive and respond differently to the stresses life can bring. By picking up your camera and engaging in the creative expression of photography, therapy happens.

photography as therapy meditating
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Why it’s good to engage in photography as therapy

By picking up your camera and taking photos, you are helping your mind focus on something other than what’s causing you stress.

(Unless your camera or creative process is the cause of your angst, that is. Hopefully, that is not the case.)

I know that, whenever I am taking photos of a subject I find interesting, I am in a very different mental space. I concentrate more intensely and can easily forget about what might be worrying me.

Focus on what you enjoy and it will be therapeutic. As you have your camera in hand and give your attention to being creative, your mind will give more space to positive, constructive thoughts than the negative ones you may have been dwelling on.

Meditate on what you are doing. The more you can clear your mind of thoughts that are worrying you and concentrate on taking photos, the more you will see great results. If you can, follow your feelings as you are taking photographs. Infuse the feelings into your pictures, and you may soon begin to feel better as your mood changes.

Being creative generally requires positivity to a certain degree for most artists. As you put your energy into taking photos, you will hopefully notice a change as you stick to your constructive thoughts. The more you focus on taking photos, the more your negative thoughts and feelings will diminish.

Woman taking a photo for photography therapy
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Regularly practice photography therapy

The more frequently you do anything, the better you become at doing it. Photography as therapy, when practiced frequently, can help improve how you feel.

Concentrating when you’re stressed can be challenging. By committing to regularly taking photos, even for 15 minutes a day, you’ll most likely find that you can concentrate better and for longer. You’ll also see an improvement in your photography skills and creative expression.

Make time to take photos. Photography therapy will not happen unless you commit time and energy. As you press on and make a daily habit of photography, you will experience being more satisfied and will feel free from what’s been bothering you.

Photography is not likely to eliminate all your problems, but it can at least give your mind a break from them. 

You may also find that, as you have your camera in hand and your attention is given to positive thoughts, potential solutions to your problems will come to mind. 

Woman with a film camera for photography as therapy
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Work on a photography project

To help keep yourself engaged in photography, having a project to regularly work on is beneficial. Knowing each day what you’ll photograph means you can grab your camera and take photos without having to search for a subject.

If you’re someone who finds it challenging to find new subjects, creating a project for yourself will enable you to be more productive. That way, you won’t waste time trying to decide what to photograph.

Pick a theme for your photography project that you know you’ll enjoy. Photographing what you love will naturally help you take more creative photos. By capturing the same subject or theme over a period of time, you’ll make more diverse photos than if you only photograph a subject occasionally.

Working on a photography project will help you develop as an artist. Once you’ve been working on your project for a while, you’ll be able to look back over the body of work you’ve created and see how you are progressing.

Take the time to study the photos you’ve made. Analyze them and consider how you’d like to progress with your project. By reflecting on the photographs you are making, you can discover new ways of seeing and expressing yourself through your photography.

I love gardening and being in my garden, but I have never been particularly interested in photographing it. Now I am challenging myself to take photos in my garden often because I want to get better at this style of photography.

Without commitment and without pushing myself to photograph my garden regularly, I know I’ll never get better at it. I’m not expecting to take masterpiece photos as I begin. But I do hope that, in time, I’ll be able to capture some images that I’ll be satisfied with. 

Pressing forward with this project has challenged me to improve my photography. The deliberate concentration helps me to remain focused on my creative expression. When I have time, or when I see that the light is particularly beautiful, I can pick up my camera and begin photographing without having to stop and think about what to take pictures of.

tricycle taxi project photo
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Get inspired by the photography of others

If you’re not sure where to start, pick up a book or look at the websites of some of your favorite photographers. 

When you are stressed and in need of some photography therapy, it can be difficult to find inspiration on your own. At times like this, it’s helpful to look at the work of other photographers with an open mind; that way, you can find new ideas. 

Don’t confine your sources of inspiration to photography. Draw ideas from music and other art forms. You might pick a theme to photograph based on one of your favorite songs or movies. Think outside the box a little more than normal as you look, listen, and feel the art you love.

Learn by mimicking, in some ways, other creatives you admire. Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Take ideas from others and make them your own. Don’t merely copy something that you like. Put your own expression into it so that you truly own it.

Two Kayan long neck girls
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Share your photography therapy experience

Many photographers prefer to work alone. Being with your camera and having no one else around can help you concentrate better. But, at times, being with other photographers and comparing notes is helpful, too. Group photography therapy can help you develop your creative expression in new ways.

Find a few people who enjoy the same style of photography and subject matter as you. Plan photography sessions together and engage with each other as you are taking your pictures.

Get together over a coffee and discuss your photos. This will help you all grow as you discover how others see and photograph the same subjects. It’s not a competition. Don’t make it one. Treat it as an encouraging time to build each other up, and you’ll all begin to see an improvement in the pictures you’re taking. 

Two cameras for photography therapy
© Pansa Landwer-Johan

Photography as therapy: Conclusion

Be purposeful about photography as therapy. Practice being mindful and having your camera in your hands frequently. 

As you make yourself take photographs regularly, you’ll begin to notice how much easier it is to concentrate on what you are doing. You’ll start to see your creativity increase, your photography improve, and the stresses of life begin to fade away.

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Weekly Photography Challenge – bicycle

I guess you could say we’re being very specific, but not very specific this week! ‘Bicycle‘ is our #dPSWeeklyChallenge theme! The reason being is that I managed to get my old bike going today and got out of the house to whip around the neighbourhood. Riding in the sun made me think of some amazing cycling photos I’ve seen over the years, and thought it’d be fun to see what we can come up with! Your entry can be a photograph of your bike, of a street with bicycles, a race, whatever you would like as long as the main subject includes a bicycle of some description, perhaps you could try your hand at product photography and photograph a part of your bike? So many options! #dPSBicycle

Missed a dPS Weekly Challenge? We’ve made a special home for them all! Here

Weekly Photography Challenge – bicycle

You could make it an abstract, like my photograph above (oddly, from a series I call ‘stuff stuck in stuff) or it could be from an organized ride, like the photograph below.

Weekly Photography Challenge – bicycle

Or it could just be a random scene of two chaps cruising down a street somewhere in Cuba. We look forward to seeing your entry in this week’s Digital Photography School Weekly Challenge!

Weekly Photography Challenge – bicycle

Great! Where do I upload my photos?

Simply upload your shot into the comments field (look for the little camera icon in the Disqus comments section) and they’ll get embedded for us all to see. Or, if you’d prefer, upload them to your favourite photo-sharing site and leave the link to them.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Looking Up

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

You can also share your images in the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

If you tag your photos on FlickrInstagramTwitter or other sites – tag them as #DPSBicycle to help others find them. Linking back to this page might also help others know what you’re doing so that they can share in the fun.

Follow us on Instagram?



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A Great Deal for Vloggers

As smartphones advance, mobile vlogging and filmmaking continue to rise in popularity. Thankfully, camera accessory brands have come up with whole systems to support phone vloggers. The Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit is the latest system to hit that market, and it is chock-full of accessories that you can use with your phone (or with other camera setups).

But what’s in the Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit? And how does it perform?

In this Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review, you’ll discover the pros (and cons) of this product.

And you’ll leave knowing whether the Vlogging Kit is right for your needs.

Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review

What’s in the Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit?

Here’s what’s included in the Vlogging Kit package:

Tripod

First off, Joby is the brand behind GorillaPods, the bendy-arm tripods that have been popular with vloggers and photographers for many years.

The base of this kit is the GorillaPod Mobile Rig: a small version of the GorillaPod that perfectly complements the size of modern smartphones. I used my copy with a Samsung Galaxy S10 and it fit perfectly.

The GorillaPod has a standard 1/4″ tripod screw, so you could also use it with another camera if you chose to.

Smartphone clamp

The Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit also comes with a smartphone clamp that has two extra bendy arms attached. The clamp is very sturdy and adjusts to fit just about any smartphone out there. The bendy arms are great for attaching accessories such as a light and/or an external microphone, but the arms can be removed.

One of the best features of the smartphone clamp is its ability to easily flip between portrait and landscape orientations. All you have to do is loosen the lock and the clamp swivels. This is especially helpful for those wanting to shoot vertical content for Instagram Stories or TikTok.

Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review

Another great addition to the smartphone clamp is a cold shoe mount on top for mounting an accessory. Truth be told, I prefer using the Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit without the extra bendy arms; I simply attach my main accessory (usually the microphone) via the smartphone clamp cold shoe.

LED light and microphone

With this vlogging kit, Joby is branching out of the tripod market and debuting two other camera accessories: the Beamo Mini LED light and the Wavo Mobile microphone.

Both products are incredibly solid and perform very well. The Beamo light is reminiscent of other rugged light competitors such as the LitraTorch 2.0. It’s waterproof and rugged, has two cold shoe mounts to attach accessories, charges via USB-C, has multiple brightness settings, packs a magnetic attachment, and comes with a silicone diffuser to produce a flattering beam of light.

Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review

The Wavo microphone looks like a clone of the Rode VideoMicro. But the nice part about the Wavo mic is that Joby includes two different cables: a TRRS cable so that the mic can be used with a smartphone, and a TRS cable for use with a regular camera.

Note that you have to use the correct microphone cable. Otherwise, sound will not be captured properly.

Using the Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit in practice

This vlogging kit comes with a lot of camera accessories.

But how do they perform?

The GorillaPod is as steady as ever, although parts of the legs can sometimes snap off if they are bent in one direction too forcefully. It’s easy to snap the legs back into place if that happens, but it’s just something to be aware of.

If you like to use multiple compact cameras, it’s very easy to take off the included smartphone clamp and stick another camera on the GorillaPod. I did this a lot with my GoPro when I wanted to change my filming style.

Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review

Sound-wise, it’s tough to trust a microphone not made by a reputable sound company. Cheap mics often show their true colors via bad sound quality. However, the Wavo mic has very clear sound, and the windscreen does an excellent job of blocking out wind. The Rode VideoMicro has a slight edge in sound quality, but for the price and the fact that the Wavo mic is included as part of a kit, it’s a great deal. Plus, it can be used with a regular camera, which is even better.

After the sun went down, the Beamo light came out to play. After using similar light products made by Litra and Lume Cube, I have to declare the Beamo my favorite compact rugged light. It has a solid feel that is still lightweight, and the light quality is incredibly strong.

In fact, you must use the silicon diffuser if you plan to vlog with the Beamo light. Otherwise, the light is so powerful that it will wash out the video (and strain your eyes).

Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review

Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review: Conclusion

Now that you’ve finished our Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit review, you know all about the power of this handy little kit.

Overall, the Vlogging Kit is a great deal that gives you three high-quality products in a single package. You can use them together with a smartphone, or you can trade the phone for another compact point and shoot or action camera. You can even mix and match each accessory with different camera setups.

So whether you intend to vlog or simply want a good deal on three awesome camera accessories, you can’t go wrong with this kit.

To see the Joby Mobile Vlogging Kit in action, check out my video review:

Summary

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Introducing the New dPS Editor and Content Manager, Jaymes Dempsey

Introducing the New dPS Editor and Content Manager, Jaymes Dempsey

We’ve had a quiet change of guard in the editorial role here at dPS. And the reason it’s been so smooth is that our new editor Jaymes Dempsey will be familiar to you as one of our current writing team members. He has been an understudy to Caz for a while now and has easily slipped into the editing role. Before I introduce you to Jaymes, a quick word from Caz

From Caz:

All the changes taking place on a worldwide scale have led me to do a lot of soul searching (as I’m sure it has for many). This exploration has made me realise I need to be focussing on my creative pursuits as they make my heart truly sing. While I have enjoyed being the Managing Editor of dPS and interacting with you all, I’m looking forward to continuing my traveling around Australia and creating as I go.

You are now in great hands with Jaymes Dempsey and the dPS team. I wish Jaymes all the best in his new role and I wish all of you the best on your photography journey!

A very big thanks to Caz for the energy she brought to the team and her role. We wish her all the best for her adventures around Australia and will always look forward to her latest updates.

About Jaymes Dempsey

Jaymes is a photographer and writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. At 13, Jaymes decided he wanted to become a bird photographer; at 14, he decided that macro photography was the better option; now, over a decade later, he’s passionate about pretty much all photography, no matter the genre.

That said, Jaymes loves getting outdoors with his camera, and nature photography of all sorts (including bird, macro, and landscape photography) will always hold a special place in his heart. He also spends his evenings photographing downtown Ann Arbor, where you can often find him struggling to lug around an unreasonably large tripod and camera setup.

But Jaymes isn’t just passionate about photography; he also loves to help other photographers learn and grow. Jaymes believes that everyone is capable of being a great photographer, no matter their background or equipment, which is why he continues to do what he does!

Jaymes brings years of writing, editing, and content management experience to the table. He runs his own instructional photography blog, and his work has been published in popular photography magazines across the internet. In fact, it was Digital Photography School that first inspired Jaymes to starting writing about photography, and he has spent the last several years as a regular dPS contributor, which is one of the many reasons he is delighted to be coming aboard as Editor and Content Manager!

Jaymes is thrilled to take on a larger role within dPS, and he looks forward to interacting with the wonderful community that is Digital Photography School.

We hope you join us in welcoming Jaymes into his new role.

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11 Things to Experiment With When Starting Out in Digital Photography

Starting out in digital photography can seem a little daunting. With so many avenues to explore, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where to begin. Here are 11 things to experiment with when first taking up photography.

experiment when starting out in digital photography wattle flower
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/250 sec | f/7.1 | ISO 100

1. Semi-automatic and manual modes

When first getting started in photography, it can be tempting to switch a camera over to Auto mode and forget about making manual adjustments, especially when starting out in digital photography. Why make manual adjustments when the camera can do it all for you, right?

The truth is that shooting with Auto mode sacrifices experience, flexibility, and control. If you can avoid Auto mode, you should.

Now, the prospect of shooting in Manual can prove overwhelming to start with. Fortunately, there are often semi-automatic modes available in-camera to bridge the gap between Manual and Auto.

Shutter Priority allows you to alter shutter speed while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture. Aperture Priority is similar, but it allows you to change the aperture while the camera adjusts the shutter speed instead.

experiment when starting out in digital photography spider's web
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/125 sec | f/1.8 | ISO 800

Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority facilitate a creative approach to photography while allowing the camera to manage some of the load in maintaining a decent exposure. This balance of functionality allows you to experiment, which in turn helps you develop a good sense of the right settings for any circumstance.

And after becoming familiar with the dynamics of semi-automatic modes, graduating to Manual is a lot more fluid, when you can finally take full advantage of the camera as a creative tool.

2. ISO

ISO is a little misunderstood; there’s a great video about it here. But in basic terms, ISO is a setting that brightens an image in-camera. As the ISO value is increased, images grow progressively lighter. It’s a function that is useful for photography in darker environments.

However, raising the ISO value also increases noise, which can compromise the quality of a digital image.

Experimenting with ISO will give you a sense of how your images will turn out in low-light situations. By becoming familiar with ISO and its trade-offs, you can learn to anticipate the outcome of a photograph, maintaining as strong image quality as possible in a variety of environments.

3. Metering modes

In-camera metering is how a camera determines the appropriate exposure for a given situation. Metering modes refer to the method the metering system uses to evaluate a scene.

starting out in digital photography metering modes

Different metering modes allow photographers to select the ideal settings for a particular situation. For example, Matrix metering (Nikon)/Evaluative metering (Canon) measures the light intensity at several zones in a scene, then combines the results to find the average settings for the exposure. Spot metering, on the other hand, measures only a very small portion of a scene to determine exposure settings.

While Matrix/Evaluative metering is useful for situations with evenly-distributed tones, Spot metering is ideal for metering in high-contrast scenarios. Experimenting with metering modes exposes a user to effective ways of working in different lighting conditions, leading to greater creative and technical control.

4. White balance

Different lighting conditions can impact the color temperature of the overall photo. For example, fluorescent lights can generate a different color cast than the afternoon sun. To rectify this, many digital cameras offer a function that balances the whites in a scene in order to make images appear more natural.

Experimenting with preset or custom white balance modes can help achieve a more aesthetically pleasing result in-camera. Although white balance can be set to Auto, the camera doesn’t always get it right. Trying out custom or preset white balance functions prepares a photographer for tricky lighting situations down the track.

5. Manual focus

As a beginner photographer, achieving sharp images can be a challenge. Although a camera’s autofocus function is quick and relatively easy to use, shooting with manual focus can sometimes be the difference between successful and unsuccessful images.

Often, manual focus is much more effective than autofocus in low-light and low-contrast conditions, and shooting through objects (like glass or fencing) with autofocus engaged can be a frustrating experience. The autofocus system may even get confused when the user is trying to focus on a fast-moving subject.

starting out in digital photography manual focus
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/125 sec | f/4.0 | ISO 800

While autofocus may be convenient in some situations, switching to manual focus can play a vital role in creating quality images. Experimenting with manual focus when starting out in digital photography builds and reinforces technical experience. Using manual focus also fosters a greater awareness of camera capabilities and generates a more diverse range of images.

6. Composition

Throughout the history of visual art, concepts have emerged to aid in the formulation of impactful imagery. Composition refers to the organization of visual elements within an artwork. Whether it’s a painting, a photograph, or a sculpture, all art hinges on composition.

Experimenting with composition allows photographers in the early stages of their practice to arm themselves with helpful knowledge that has been passed down by artists. By experimenting with compositional elements (such as perspective, the rule of thirds, and leading lines), new photographers can quickly start to identify and utilize key visual aspects of a scene.

7. Abstraction

Wikipedia defines abstract photography as “a means of depicting a visual image that does not have an immediate association with the object world and that has been created through the use of photographic equipment, processes, or materials.”

Basically, abstract photographers generate subject matter that prioritizes aesthetic experience over conventional discernibility.

starting out in digital photography abstraction
Left: Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM | 1/250 sec | f/8.0 | ISO 100
Right: Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM | 1/250 sec | f/6.3 | ISO 100

Abstraction is a unique facet of photography in that it encourages a more experimental approach to the photo-making process.

By taking advantage of abstraction, those starting out in digital photography are free to experiment beyond the conventional notion of a photograph. This experimentation will inevitably inform other areas of a new photographer’s practice, building experience and developing individual perspective.

8. Subject matter

There is nothing wrong with specializing, but tackling a range of different photographic fields expands your photographic experience. And it can also completely alter the way you approach your preferred subject matter.

For example, landscape photography can reveal opportunities for beautiful outdoor portraits. Abstract photography can impact the way motion is expressed in action shots. Street photography can help you develop an eye for subtle photographic opportunities. Macro photography will help you notice small details.

In short, experience with different photographic subjects can feed into one another in surprising ways. Experimenting with a variety of subjects is a solid means of developing a well-rounded photographic approach.

9. Perspective

One of the reasons photography is so effective is because it challenges both the photographer’s and the viewer’s comprehension of the world. However, it can be easy to get into the habit of photographing subjects from the same eye-level viewpoint, especially when starting out.

starting out in digital photography plane
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM | 1/160 sec | f/9.0 | ISO 100

We all know the saying, “Show, don’t tell.” Moving around with the camera is one of the simplest ways to convey a unique photographic experience. You can shoot from above your subject, below your subject, or off to the side.

And by experimenting with different camera positions, you explore the nature of photography and the world we live in. By photographing from interesting or unusual perspectives, the physicality of the image-making process is emphasized, providing a unique insight into the world through the experience of the photographer.

10. Post-production

Getting it right in-camera is ideal, but sometimes a bit of work in post-production is necessary. Becoming familiar with digital post-production techniques can be very handy, especially because even minor adjustments can create a positive impact. In addition, editing can affect your overall approach to digital image-making by revealing photographic techniques that work well or need improvement.

Photoshop is a great tool for editing images, but there are also free applications such as GIMP to make use of. With practice, you can develop a sense of how to bring the best out of a photograph.

11. Accessories

There are plenty of ways to expand your creative image-making through economical accessories.

For example, extension tubes are a cheap way of getting into macro photography. Filters can significantly alter the outcome of a photograph. And a budget tripod will help you achieve sharp images. Renting or buying second-hand is also a viable option. In some cases, digital photographers can even make use of old lenses designed for film cameras.

Investing in economical accessories allows new photographers to experiment with engaging techniques without breaking the bank.

starting out in digital photography flower
Extension tubes are a cheaper alternative to a macro lens. Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/2000 sec | f/2.5 | ISO 500

Starting Out in Digital Photography: Conclusion

While there are plenty of considerations to take into account when starting out in digital photography, experimenting with technical settings, creative approaches, and accessories gives you a strong foundation for future photography endeavors.

And this allows for a more comprehensive skillset and well-developed creative instincts.

Now over to you:

Have you tried experimenting with any of these items? What are you going to experiment with first? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Easily Create 2D Illustrations from Photographs Using GIMP

From advertising campaigns to cartooning your profile photo, 2D illustrations are used much more than you realize. Creating 2D illustrations can be a lot of fun, but they aren’t necessarily easy to do. Here’s an uncomplicated way to use photography as a template to get great 2D illustration results.

Create 2D illustrations from a photograph

Create 2D illustrations in GIMP

There are tons of programs for visual artists and graphic designers that specialize in digital drawing and 2D illustrations, but have you ever tried to actually create an illustration from scratch?

Graphic design software can be amazing and, for some great professionals, this can be the way to go. But many of us need a starting point to get us going, especially if our talent is in photography and not design.

That’s why I’m going to show you how to use GIMP to create 2D illustrations out of a photograph.

1. Draw the subject

First, choose the photo you want to draw. There are no restrictions here; you can use a portrait, a landscape, still-life, or anything else you want. I do suggest you start with images that are simple and don’t have too many details.

Create 2D illustrations using photographs

Imagine you’re creating an illustration from a photo in real life. You would place some tracing paper on top of your image and then start tracing and coloring on it, right? Well, this is the same thing.

First, create a new transparent layer. You can do this by going to Layer (in the menu) and then choosing New Layer. Make sure you select Fill with Transparency and press OK.

Next, you need to select the outer part of your subject. You can use any selection tool that works best for you; GIMP has many solutions for this.

For example, you can use the Path tool because it gives the most control. Just click every time you want to create an anchor point around your subject. Then move the path handles to adjust the curvature.

Make a selection with the Path tool

Once you’re done outlining your subject, click Selection from Path on the left-side Options panel. This will turn your path into a selection, which is what you want. But note that this is only necessary if you used the Path tool; with any of the other selection tools, you can skip this step.

Now you can use the Bucket tool to color your entire subject. You can use the color picker to select a color that matches the original color from the photo.

Of course, you can also use a color different from the original object. Get as creative as you want.

Finally, click inside the selection to fill it with your chosen color.

2. Color the inside shapes

Now that you have your main shape, you can start adding some shapes on the inside of your subject using different colors.

To do this, disable the top layer by clicking on the eye icon next to it. That way, you can see the original image.

Select the area you want to color. Then come back to the top layer and use the Bucket tool with a new color to fill it.

Draw shapes to create a 2d illustration

Repeat this process for all the shapes you want. Keep in mind that 2D illustrations are not as detailed as a realistic 3D model. So keep going only to add enough information to your subject to make it recognizable.

You don’t have to be extremely precise with your selection when you’re working inside a shape. GIMP will automatically stop at the edge. Notice in the next image how my selection is over to the yellow part, but the new color doesn’t spill there; it stops at the edge of the dark brown shape.

Selecting and coloring shapes

3. Add some details

Working on the top layer, turn down the Opacity so that you can see the original image underneath to use as a template for drawing details. Keep in mind that only you will see both versions (the illustrated and the original), so you don’t have to copy everything exactly as it is.

If you want to add details with thin lines and you don’t have a steady hand, you can use the Path tool to trace them. Then choose Stroke Path from the Options Panel. This will draw a line using the current Brush or Pencil settings.

Stroke path to simulate pencil lines

Of course, you can draw the details freehand using the Pencil or the Brush tool, as well.

To add some thicker decorations, you can use the selection tools again to make things faster. In this example, I used the Color Selection tool to select the blues on the original photo. I then painted the flower:

Use the selection tools to paint the details

The specific tools and strategies that you use will depend on the illustration you are creating and your own drawing skills.

4. Fill the background

If you want to draw a background, then add a New Layer in between the original photograph and the first drawing layer.

Choose the color you want, then go to Edit>Fill with FG color. FG stands for “foreground.”

You can leave the background as a solid color or add some decoration by drawing lines and shapes the same way you did for the subject.

Create 2D Illustration with creative backgrounds

Final thoughts

As you can see, by using a photograph as a template it’s really easy to create 2D Illustrations.

When you’re saving your file, remember that GIMP has its own format that will be the default setting when you use the Save or Save As choices. To use a universal file format such as JPEG or TIFF, you need to select Export As.

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial! The next time you want to create 2D Illustrations, let your photography skills help you out.

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