Shooting Flowers and Foliage with Telephoto Lenses

Thomas Stirr Flower Photography (1)

My wife is an avid gardener and for more years than I can remember, I have accompanied her on a wide range of garden tours and other such outings. While gardening is of little interest to me per se, I do find some enjoyment in capturing images of flowers and foliage. And, on the odd occasion I have shot videos of private and public gardens.

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Shooting with Natural Light

Natural Light #2

People often ask me about my post-processing when they look over my photography. To be honest, the post-process I’ve developed has been a combination of small tutorials I’ve taken over the years from artists I respect. I’ve since developed my own style from these tools, but the most important part of post-processing is having an image that will take it on well. In this article, I will be talking less about the post-process and more about how to utilize natural light. In order for proper digital development, the shot has to be versatile for the final result.

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How to Organize Photos in Lightroom

Lightroom Import Screen

Lightroom has become a very essential part of the workflow process for many photographers, including myself. I cannot imagine managing my photo catalog without Lightroom and I use it every day for my photography needs. In fact, 95-98% of my post-processing work is done in Lightroom and I only occasionally use Photoshop for advanced photo editing / retouching, which not only simplifies my workflow, but also decreases the amount of time I spend on post-processing. Over the past few years of using Lightroom extensively, I have come up with efficient ways to store, organize and access photos on my computer, so I wanted to share a few tips with our readers on how I do it for both personal and professional work. Although there are many ways to organize images, this particular method has been working great for me (and many others that have been reading our site for the past few years). If you are looking for a generic guide on doing this without any third party photo software like Lightroom, then please read my older article on “how to properly organize pictures“.

1) Where do you store your pictures and how?

The first question is, where and how do you currently store your pictures? I used to store all of my photographs in various subfolders of my hard drive (commonly in “My Pictures” or “My Documents”), but after I got into photography, I decided that it was best to keep all of my photographs in the root folder of my PC’s hard drive that I use solely for storing photos and small family videos. Hard drives are really cheap nowadays, so creating a properly organized and redundant storage for your photography needs does not have to cost an arm and a leg.

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Post-Processing Pains

Dead Horse Point Sunrise

Over the last several years operating this site, I have been incredibly lucky to meet many talented photographers from all over the world. Some I met face to face (whether in my workshops or other gatherings / conferences), while others I met and interacted with online. One interesting pattern that I noticed in the majority of photographers, and I am talking about the ones that understand light, composition and proper technique, is that they often lack the key component of completing the image and making it successful – post-processing skills. It turns out that most of us spend our time learning our gear and how to take good pictures, but we fail to take that beautifully captured photograph to the next level and make it look amazing by enhancing it further in post-processing. Yes, camera technique, light and composition are all extremely important and those are certainly key ingredients that each of us needs to learn and eventually master, but we need to understand that a captured photograph is just the beginning of making the image. What happens to the photograph after it is taken, is as important as the process of capturing it. I have seen many photos that would have looked breathtaking, had the person put some extra effort into making it work. Even worse, I have seen so many examples of great photos that get slaughtered by very poor post-processing techniques and ugly presets.

Dead Horse Point Sunrise

How many times have you seen an overdone HDR, over-saturated, over-sharpened, over-contrasted, over-recovered, over-preset, over-insert-any-photoshop-term-here mess? Unfortunately, I have seen too many. The worst examples are what I call “forced photos”, where the photographer takes a terrible image and thinks that it can look better when post-processed. So much time and effort is spent on making a terrible photo look absolutely horrendous. How do I know? Because I have done it many times myself.

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Best Focal Length to Get Into Wildlife Photography

Allen's Hummingbird

What’s the BEST Lens for Wildlife Photography? If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, I could retire. It’s a very common and extremely valid question to ask. And to cut right to the chase, there is no one or right answer to this question. And that’s for many reasons from you, the photographer to the subject and most importantly, to the story you want to tell with your photograph. But there is a focal length that gets used over and over again and I feel is the best one to start with.

Allen's Hummingbird

400mm, you simply can’t go wrong with this focal length however you get to it. It’s the focal length I started with and depended on for the first years of my career. It’s the lessons I learned from that lens and some of the images it created that got me to this point. You can get to this focal length in many ways, 300mm f/4 with a converter, 80-400mm, 200-400mm or a 400mm prime. No matter how you get there or which lens you have, you have the same angle of view and that’s key.

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How to Photograph Wedding Details

Photographing Wedding Details (6)

Like any event photographer, most of my wedding shots are of people, i.e. the bride, the groom and their guests. This, after all, is what a wedding is all about and what people mainly want to see when they open a wedding photo album. Weddings, though, are always packed full of other visual details besides the people. So much time is spent in preparation to make a wedding look beautiful that it would be a shame not to preserve some of this in the album. I find that sometimes the best way to achieve this is to make these details the subjects of some of my photographs, even if this means leaving people out of some shots completely.

Efficient time management is a major factor in a successful wedding shoot, and it can be difficult to capture all the shots you require across the day. That’s why I always endeavour to turn up early. I do this partly because it affords me the opportunity to walk around the venue – both inside and outside – and assess the lighting conditions on the day. However, it also gives me the chance to get some photos of the building itself and perhaps some of the decorations, flower arrangements and so on before any of the guests have arrived.

Of course, often we are asked to take photos of the bride, groom or both getting ready for the wedding. If this is in a hotel or other location far from the venue, it may be difficult to find time to turn up early and capture these detail shots. If so, don’t worry, there will be plenty of other opportunities. Try to spot details and photograph them across the day, and perhaps steal a bit of time at an opportune moment. An ideal opportunity is usually during the meal; most people don’t want to be photographed when they’re eating, so I take the chance to have a walk around the building and its exterior to grab some extra shots.

Here are a few examples of the finer details at some of the more recent weddings I’ve shot. You’ll notice that none of these photos feature people as their subject.

The Venue and Location

What was the weather like on the day? What did the venue look like? Where did the wedding take place? These questions can be answered by taking some photos from outside the venue. Wide angle landscape shots that take in the whole scene can certainly play a role here, particularly if the wedding is in an especially picturesque setting. However, don’t just restrict yourself to landscapes. This is all about capturing the fine details of the day, so try to photograph some of these with a normal or telephoto lens too.

Try to consider: is there anything unusual about the location; any distinguishing features that are worth capturing? Also remember that it’s often possible to have some fun with these photos, especially if the wedding is in a quirky location.

Photographing Wedding Details (5)

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When to Use Flash

When to use flash (7)

Some photographers oppose the idea of using flash or light modifiers. Sometimes because it does not suit their style, sometimes because they do not feel comfortable using flash in first place. While we as photographers often love the feel of soft, natural light, knowing how to utilize artificial light can be of tremendous value in low-light environments. Not to mention that such knowledge and being ready to overcome challenging tasks in pretty much any environment can boost confidence and give peace of mind when working in the field. In this article, I would like to go over situations when flash should be used and how it can work to our advantage. I divided this article into indoor and outdoor photography to make it easy for everyone to follow. Please feel free to add your use cases in the comments section below. Please note that I am not going over the basics of flash photography here – the article assumes that you understand the relationship of flash with ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.

When to use flash (13)

1) Indoors

1.1) Lighting Ballrooms, Churches, Wedding / Corporate Reception Areas

As a working professional, one should have at least the basic lighting plan to be able to capture the day with ease. High-end DSLRs may be flexible enough to capture images in poorly lit environments, but it is a game of compromises. If light levels are too low, you will have to deal with blurry images due to motion blur / camera shake, or you will have to increase ISO level too high, which obviously increases noise, messes up colors and greatly reduces dynamic range. In short, you are leaving very few options for post-processing. In order to avoid that and potentially reduce your post-processing time and other headaches, why not use flash instead? You can start out with a simple configuration, with flash mounted on your camera, or you could get more creative and use flash in an off-camera setup to make images appear more dramatic and well-balanced.

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Portrait Photography Tips

Readhead Guy

In this article, Patrick Downs is providing very useful portrait photography tips to our readers, sharing his experience and beautiful images that he has taken as a professional photographer. As a photojournalist for 25 years and shooting for much longer, I may have a different or expanded definition of what a portrait is, and what it takes to produce them. There are genres of portraiture, of course, such as: editorial, corporate, commercial/retail, documentary or candid, and illustrative portraits. With some you exercise almost no control (e.g., William Albert Allard), and with others almost total control (e.g., Annie Leibovitz). There is no right or wrong answer … the photographer chooses their style! There are many photographers whose portraits I love, and not all of them are pure portrait photographers. Allard is a documentary photographer, but his found portraits are wonderful. Annie L. imposes her will on her subjects, but the results are fascinating and something I’d love to be able to do. If I were to pick my top 3 pure portraitists, it might be Arnold Newman, Gregory Heisler, and Annie L, in no special order. I went back and read my Arnold Newman’s “One Mind’s Eye” the other day, and was struck by how many of his images don’t use “perfect” light by today’s standards, but so many are amazing. This one, of Igor Stravinsky, is still one of the most brilliant photo portraits ever taken, I think. It’s interesting to know that Greg Heisler was one of Newman’s last assistants.

Arnold Newman

I have (too many) other favorite portraitists, for sure: Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, Mary Ellen Mark, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Avedon, Art Streiber, Dan Winter, Peter Yang, Brad Trent, and photojournalist Joe McNally, who is really a great generalist. I know I’m forgetting many.

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How to Upgrade Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5

Upgrade 1

This is a quick guide on how to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5, if you are considering moving up to the latest and greatest Lightroom version. While the process of upgrading the actual software is pretty straightforward, there are some important steps you need to take to make sure that the catalog is upgraded successfully and you are using the latest available features. If you are scared about upgrading and have not done it in the past, this guide might help you to go through the process. The good news is, Adobe allows keeping both versions of Lightroom on the same machine, which means that you can install LR5 and continue to use your old LR4 with the old catalog(s). Once you are satisfied with the upgrade, you can then remove the old version of Lightroom, along with the old versions of catalogs.

1) Download and install Lightroom 5

If you are hesitating about downloading the online version of Lightroom 5 versus buying a boxed version from a store, don’t – they are both exactly the same. Adobe lets you download the full version of Lightroom and use it for 30 full days until you input the serial number from a retail boxed version, or the one supplied by Adobe when you purchase it digitally. This is a great way to try it out and see if you want to keep it or not.

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Open and Closed Composition

Open and Closed Composition-11

In the first article of our Mastering Composition series, we discussed the definition of the term “composition”. We also outlined the main goal of composition and talked about why it is such an important part of any work of art. As we dive deeper, it is necessary to define two discrete types of composition with photographic context in mind. One such type is called “open composition”, while the other one, predictably, “closed composition”. These two types are further split into several smaller branches. Our readers have already mentioned some of them previously, such as symmetrical composition. These subtypes will be discussed in separate articles over the next few weeks. As before, an assignment for beginners is waiting for you to participate in at the end of the article.

Open and Closed Composition-11

1) A Brief History Lesson

You may be surprised to hear about open and closed composition. Where did these definitions come from? Well, I am quite certain a lot of our readers realize or know that photography has always been very close to painting, and is so even today. In fact, at some point photographers were actually seen as rivals to painters. Only, their art and craft got away without the skill of wielding a brush normally associated with painting (which painters were quick to notice and criticize). Here is a very brief summary on how photography and painting are related.

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