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Working with Models: A Beginner’s Guide

Running a shoot from start to finish can be pretty demanding—working with creative staff, managing your camera, adjusting settings, directing, and ensuring that everything is going smoothly. It can be pretty daunting with the prospect of trying to handle all of this right?

One of the more challenging aspects when starting out can definitely be getting comfortable working with the model(s) on a shoot, and how to ensure everyone comes out happy and satisfied.

In this article I’m going to tell you:

  1. The principles and attitudes behind successfully working with models from all walks of life;
  2. How to talk to models, and how to get over that initial nervousness of being a director on a shoot;
  3. How to treat models on and off set to ensure a solid and strong professional relationship can be developed.

I have also created a video which outlines everything in this article. Feel free to watch or alternatively read on.

So let’s go!


Note: this article has been written from the perspective that the majority of models I work with are female. Everything in here applies to men and women, but it has been written from the mindset of working with female models.


Preface – Getting into fashion photography from other backgrounds

Chances are if you are reading this you may be interested to get into the world of fashion and portrait photography. You might be a fashion enthusiastic, you might want to get published in a magazine, or you may simply want to get incredible shots of people. Hopefully it would be all three of these.

“But I have only shot wildlife and landscapes before!”

Join the club! I have a background of shooting exactly those things, and suddenly came into enjoying shooting portraits when a friend of mine asked me to pick up the camera and get a basic photo of them for their Facebook profile. I had no clue as to how to direct or work with models back then but I snapped a photo, and loved it. From then I decided I’d give this whole portrait photography thing a try.

That was two years ago!

One of my old photos from 2010 – as you can see it is very different from what I usually produce nowadays, but this was where I came from!

So don’t fret if you haven’t got the background, we all need to start somewhere, and in this article I’m going to give you a thorough breakdown of how you can effectively work with models.


Part 1 – Fundamental principles of working with models

Let’s lay a solid base here. Having the right attitude and personal principles in place is essential. The following principles are what I abide by, and what I feel makes the whole experience of working with a model professional, personal, and fun!

Principle 1: Models are people too!

This is perhaps the biggest point I want to highlight. You have to remember that models are people too. These are people who have hopes, fears, anxieties, and dreams just like you or anyone else. They are not soulless objects, nor items without motivation. These are people who want to have fun, do the best they can, and be able to showcase some awesome work.

They can get nervous before shoots, worry about whether the makeup looks right, and overthink if they perhaps didn’t do a pose completely right. I’m not saying all models are like this at all, but these thoughts are probably more common than you think!

Please remember that! It is also important when we move onto Principle 2.

Everyone’s uniqueness is what makes them special. Models aren’t just items and objects you can move around; you have to remember that these are real people too.

Principle 2: The model’s comfort is your top priority, and they deserve your respect at all times.

I like to make a point of this again and again, and here I go again; on a shoot, the model’s comfort should be your top priority. By that I mean if at any point a model isn’t feeling comfortable with what is happening, the shoot should stop, and if the discomfort can’t be rectified immediately, the shoot should end. Period.

I say this for a number of reasons. The first is common human decency. Come on. If you are in an environment where you can usually easily stop what is going on, and someone isn’t happy, you should just stop. No photo is worth putting someone through something that could physically or emotionally hard them.

Nay sayers may say that this is me being over the top, but I can hand on heart say that I could turn away from any photo and be sure to capture another amazing one with the same team at another time.

Portrait and fashion photography should be fun! However, you always have to make sure that the model’s comfort is your top priority and that you make sure they are well looked after throughout the whole process.

The next reason is that if you have a model who isn’t feeling the shoot, and who isn’t comfortable, that is going to reek through the photos. If you are taking a photo of someone who doesn’t want to be there or isn’t interested in the shoot, you are going to see it in their eyes, in their posture, and in the end results.

Finally, one point to hammer home is that you should always ensure that everything that happens on a shoot abides by the rules of consent. That is ensuring that if you agree to do a fashion based shoot, you won’t be encouraging a model to remove clothing, or asking them to get into positions which are not in line with what was originally agreed with in the shoot.

This comes down to basic respect, and also (to put it bluntly) not being a sleazy creep who exploits models just so you can see a bit of skin. 200% not cool, creative, or in line with great ‘photography.’

Consent is one of the most important parts of a shoot; the photographs captured should be of a nature of which was agreed upon when the call was made for models. No model should ever be put into a situation that they did not explicitly consent to.

Principle 3: Realize that photographers have it easier than models in the majority of cases.

This may be a heated discussion point but I’m going to give you my opinion here. Photographers have it way, way easier than models do, in terms of what is expected, and behaviour.

Let me explain. As a photographer, on average you have to put your trust in the model being polite, able to listen and dressed as agreed, as well as making sure they credit your work properly post shoot.

Models on the other hand have to trust that the photographer will:

  • Conduct themselves in a professional manner before, during and after the shoot;
  • Be polite and respect agreed boundaries;
  • Take photos that are flattering and suitable for the direction they want to head in with their modeling career;
  • Edit the photos to a respectable standard and not go overkill on the editing so it looks fake (unless of course that is the agreed aim);
  • Credit the model properly on social media;

As you can see there is a lot more expectation and trust needed from the photographer when it comes to shooting and processing a photoshoot. Fair enough, this also highlights the hard work a photographer has to put in, but consider the above as a mindset of the trust models will put into you.

Models can face a lot of unseen pressure when it comes to thinking if the pose will look right, if the photographer will conduct themselves professionally, and if they will also subsequently process the photos in a flattering manner.

Principle 4: Don’t be intimidated by the model, and the perceived fame of modeling and the fashion industry.

I say this in the most respectful way to everyone involved in fashion photography; don’t be intimidated by the fame or glitz of the fashion industry. You will work with models who are incredibly beautiful people, and whom you could find intimidating. Society always pens a lot of weight onto someone’s looks and of course you will be working with people who can sometimes be exceptionally good looking.

Why am I saying this? Because I want you to remember Principle 1: models are people too. You are also a person as well, and the fashion and portraiture industry is open to anyone who has the gall and passion to work professionally and create beautiful artwork for everyone involved. Heck, I used to do wildlife photography, and had a very, very loose grip of fashion before I started working in portraiture. However, I channeled the passion I had to learn more about it, and this is where I am now. You can do it as well. Don’t ever feel like you can’t, because that is complete bull.

As an example, I recently was fortune enough to shoot with the absolutely stunning Stefania Ferrario. Those of you who know her may know that she was recently voted Sexy Australian of the Year, is Dita Von Teese’s Australian Rep, has over 450k Instagram Followers, and over 200k Facebook Fans.

Now I’m not stating these facts to attribute Stefania’s only worth down to numbers, but more as a comment on how social proof and following can lead some people to think “I could never work with her, I’m not worthy enough”.

I can tell you first hand that Stefania is an absolutely lovely person. Throughout the whole time I have known her she has been nothing but fun, approachable, and so incredibly easy to talk to. Stefania, like so many awesome models, is also a real community engager, and has shot with a whole incredible range of fantastic photographers, from novices to industry pros.

Don’t be intimidated by these numbers; behind the fandom and well deserved following these models have lies a real person who has a real passion for the industry they work in (I appreciate I sound like the most broken record in the world right now).

Stefania’s incredible modeling career has been spurred on her being passionate, thoughtful, and engaged about what she does, and her love for creating beautiful art.

Principle 5: You should be aiming to develop a strong, personal, and professional relationship with everyone you come into contact with.

As with so many art scenes and industries, it isn’t always what you know, but who you know. I have seen photographers who don’t have the technical skills when it comes to shooting as some of the big name photographers, but they have a huge following and people will sing their praises constantly, because they put the effort in to build strong working relationships with people.

This can be anything from offering help to another photographer, trying their best to assemble a team so that they can get a model published in a magazine, or giving a recommendation to other photographers when asked about a potential job when you may not be available. The fashion and portraiture is stronger as a community, and people who take the time to help each other do not go un-noticed.

For example I once was contacted for a professional paid shoot because a model I worked with had told her friends that I gave her free advice on how to improve her iPhone photography. This conversation I had maybe took up about 5 messages over Facebook over the course of about 2 hours.

Building a good professional working relationship with models and other creatives will help you get noticed, and help better your reputation.

Saying that, you have to be genuine. People will always value others who are honest, genuine, and passionate. Don’t expect anything in return and do it because you want the community, of which you are a part of, to grow as a whole.


Part 2 – Best practices and techniques for working with models

With the above principles in place, you should now have a good mental base for now learning how to actually set up a shoot, and most importantly, how to communicate and work with models effectively.

The process of how to set up a shoot from start to finish can seen like a daunting task. However, once you get the fundamental process down, you’ll find it is a breeze from start to finish.

I want to give you a breakdown of how I work with a model at different stages of a photoshoot.

Arranging a Shoot

I’m not going to go into a heap of detail on where to find models here, but I will tell you that one of the most common ways to arrange a TFP (Time For Print) photoshoot, is by joining your local area’s Modelling Facebook Group. Trust me, unless you live out in the wilds, there should always be a local one if you search on Facebook; and if you can’t see one for your local area, set it up!

Here is how it usually works; you will go onto the Facebook group, and post something like:

Calling all models / MUA / creatives!

I’m new to the fashion and portraiture world and am looking to set up my first shoot with some willing creatives! I’m 30, and have previously shot real estate and wildlife but am really excited to get into the fashion world!

I’d like to arrange a shoot with a natural boho theme in the local national park this weekend.

Please find below my recent work, and inspiration photos for the shoot!

My Facebook page is www.facebook.com/whoshothim if you want to check out some more or my work and a bit more about me.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

This instantly lays a good base for you to then arrange a shoot with people who will PM you in response, or reply to the request. From there you will want to see who replies, and if you feel the model is a good fit, you can get them on board for the shoot.

If you take the time to create a thoughtful and passionate post showcasing what you are all about, chances are you will get a good response and be able to start shooting with other local creatives.

So just some basic pointers for when you do talk to models for the first time:

  1. Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I can’t stress this enough. Please. If you can’t be bothered to spell the word ‘there’ properly, how can you assure someone that you can be bothered to edit their photos properly?
  2. Don’t be demanding. Remember that people do have busy lives, and the majority of people who do TFP shoots aren’t able to supplement their entire income with modelling gigs. If a model says they want to shoot but when you send them a message they don’t get back to you, leave it. Archive the message and move onto who is interested. This isn’t being mean but maybe they have changed their mind, or something has come up. Don’t blame, persecute, or harass people. This is unprofessional, rude, and just not appropriate.
    You can find out a bit more about the model in terms of what they have done previously, but keep it based around the job at hand. By this I mean don’t start asking personal questions about their private life, when not everyone is comfortable about that. Remember this conversation is about working on a photoshoot, not about how long they have been with their partner for.
  3. If you want to, arrange to have a coffee together to introduce yourself; however this isn’t necessary or possible in some cases. When I first started out, I did this with every model, as I wanted to show off my portfolio in person, and explain what I’m all about. This was especially helpful considering I didn’t have a huge portfolio, and nobody really knew me. I highly recommend doing this for photographers new to the scene. It goes without saying that you pay for the coffee as well.
  4. If a model doesn’t want to work with you, or isn’t available for a shoot, don’t take it personally. There can be a lot of ego involved in photography, and as per Principle 5, you want to make sure you are helping build a strong community. So if it turns out that it just doesn’t work with a model, don’t take offense. There may be a whole myriad of reasons you don’t know about for why they don’t want to do the shoot, or arrange a shoot with you.

The Day of the Shoot

So now that you’ve set up the shoot, here comes the big day; shooting and directing the model. It can see pretty daunting right? Well I have a great series of points here which showcase exactly how I operate, and how you can direct a comfortable, fun, and awesome photoshoot.

One of the more challenging aspects of a photoshoot can be how to direct a model. However, once you learn a few principles and techniques, you’ll find it a lot easier.

These little points are all based on basic politeness and decency. These are some of the key things I do:

1. Chat with the model

As previous mentioned, you have to remember that at the end of the day, models are people too. When I first meet up with a model on location, I will more or less always ask “How has your day been?”. This is a simple opener to help everyone relax and get into a chilled conversation.

2. Remember to compliment the model

Models will go to a lot of effort to get ready for a photoshoot, and there is nothing more flattering than a simple “you look amazing!” from the photographer. Don’t be fake about it, but obviously they will look incredible as you got them on the shoot, and this is a perfect little confidence and ego boost!

3. Ask the model thoughtful questions about their experience with photoshoots, and anything else that isn’t too personal.

People love to talk about themselves. This has been proved by a mountain of scientific studies, and of course every day life! You love to talk about yourself when asked a question right? I’m not going to lie, I do!

So when you are working with a model and in-between shooting, ask them questions about what they enjoy about modeling, if they have done any shoots lately with any other photographers, and if they have been published before. I do genuinely find these kind of chats interesting and have learnt a lot about the local fashion photography scene as a result!

If you are on good terms with the model, then feel free to ask other questions about how they are finding work, and if they have been busy; but only do this if you are on good terms as it can sometimes wander into the realm on ‘too personal’.

4. Do not touch the model or their clothing without first asking permission, and only do so if it is necessary.

Another key philosophy I have when it comes to working with models is that you shouldn’t need to touch a model on a photoshoot. I believe it can be a little bit too personal, and opens the possibility of photographers breaking boundaries and acting inappropriately.

Directing can be tough sometimes, and it does take time to get comfortable. However one thing I will always say is that if you are having a hard time trying to direct a model into a pose, do the pose you want yourself (yes, yourself!) and then get the model to mimic you. Not only does this work well, but also will probably elicit a laugh or two which eases the pressure off even more.

In all of the 100+ photoshoots I’ve done, I only probably had to touch a model once or twice, and that is just because a leaf was caught in their hair and it was easier for me to remove it for them. In this case as well, I told them “there is a leaf caught in your hair, would you be ok if I got rid of that?”, and only when a “yes” came back, I’d do it.

If you have an idea in your head of the specific pose you want a model to emulate, there is no better way than to do the pose yourself so that the model can mimic you. There should be no reason to touch the model, unless the model has explicitly agreed to it and it is necassary.

5. Tell everyone on set that you will need five minutes to scout out the next shot before setting up

This was probably one of the biggest game changers for me when I learnt how to do fashion photography. With so much rushing around and perceived pressure, it is so incredibly easy to rush around and try to get a hundred shots in ten minutes.

Simply stop and tell everyone that you’ll need five minutes to get an idea for the next shot, and they can relax. People will be more than happy to find another few minutes to relax.

6. When it comes to directing, if you try something and it doesn’t work, don’t stress

Directing was a big challenge for me when it came to my first experiences with moving a model into place, and setting a scene up. After doing over 100 shoots I can honestly tell you do not get stressed or worried if something doesn’t work out.

So what do you do if you pose someone and it doesn’t look great? I have the solution. Simply tell the model to ‘relax’. This will put them at ease, and stopping the pose, hitting the reset button and allowing you then to take a few minutes to reassess what you want to do next (as per point 4 above).

Please trust me when I say that I have had a whole ton of posing directions which didn’t work before getting that one pose which did work. Don’t let it get to you, and above all just take your time.

Directing models can be tough, and you will find that sometimes that a pose you think looks good in your head, won’t play out so well in real life. That is part of the creative process, and I can tell you that it is completely normal and happens more times than not! However, this is the learning process, so don’t give up and keep trying! The above pose we got after trying three other poses, and it was great to finally capture this moment.

7. If the model is going to be changing half way through the shoot, respect their privacy and give them time and space to change

Yet again I feel like I’m wandering into OTT territory here but if a model is going to be changing outfits through a photoshoot, you need to give them privacy. I use a pop-up changing tent which I got from eBay for about $100 and it works like a charm; alternatively if you are shooting in an urban area see if there are any restrooms nearby.

If none of these are options and the model needs to get changed out in the open (for example in a forest or in a car), then tell them you are going to give them privacy and leave the immediate area until they say it is all good to come back.

Bottom line: be respectful.

8. Welcome partners, friends, and family on the shoot

This was mentioned in my post about the importance of crib sheets for a shoot, but in my opinion don’t be afraid of offering the opportunity for family members, friends, and partners to come along on a shoot.

There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, models may want to bring along family, friends, and partners for support. As I’ve touched on, it can be a pretty nerve wracking experience sometimes, and that moral support may mean a lot to the model. Not only that but it is a legal requirement for any shoots with under 18 year olds, that a parent signs off the model release form; this means it is more or less granted that parent will want to be on the shoot as well.

Secondly, and this is incredible important for more boudoir based shoots, they may want people there for safety. I once heard of a photographer who set up an erotic shoot with a model, and when told that she wasn’t allowed to bring her boyfriend to the shoot, the photographer stated that it was because ‘his male energy may interfere with the shoot’. Complete and utter rubbish. I’ve never had male energy be responsible for damaging my camera, nor for producing sub par shots. The entire premise comes across as creepy and inappropriate.

Now, one point I will make is that just because people come along doesn’t mean that you should also allow the shoot to be derailed by these familiar faces. I always say that the model can bring people along, so long as they respect that it is a creative shoot, and that the directing should be left up to the photographer.

I’ve experienced times where friends have said “maybe you should pose X this way?” in regards to setting a scene up. This may happen, and if it does a friendly “thank you, but for the moment I just want to make sure we get some awesome shots for X so we may try that later” will do. This isn’t being rude, it is just asserting that you are the one who has the experience in portrait photography and know best for the model!

Saying that, there may be some good suggestions as well but at the end of the day don’t let people interfere too much.

Friends, family and partners can all provide great moral support for any models who are on the photoshoot, and should always be welcomed; as long as everyone respects you taking the creative lead.

9. Remember to do your model release forms

A vital necessity for all TFP shoots is that a model release form is completed. Model release forms are vital for a legal point of view, ensuring that the model agrees that all images taken are your copyright, and this also acts as evidence that you did a TFP shoot. If you want to get published, Magazines will require this as well.

I use the Snapwire app for iPhone, which is unbelievably free. It is fantastic, and has a model specific agreement that can be altered if you wish.

For Android I used to use ‘Easy Release,’ although it does come with a bit of a price tag.

It is easy to get carried away with the shoot and call it a day at the end, but you need to make sure that you get this done.

10. Do not drink before or whilst on a shoot

I’m saying this because I have heard more than a couple of incidences where this has happened. Do not drink before a shoot to give you ‘dutch courage’ to get over your nerves. I have this as part of my crib sheet for models as well, and it is extremely rare that people do it but regardless, you should never be encouraging or taking the consumption of alcohol at any part of a shoot.

The only exception to this would be at weddings and events of course, but when it is a professional one on one session with an individual or couple, I don’t recommend this.

I have heard of these incidences once from a model who said she smelt the whiskey on a photographer, and second from a photographer who admitted he did this to get over nerves. We all get nerves in some form of another. I still do sometimes; but you cannot drink to try and solve this. It is not only potentially dangerous, but also sets a bad professional standard for the shoot.

If you want to get over your nerves, I’d suggest meditation before a shoot, or just run with the feeling and you’ll eventually get over them the more shoots you do. I know that isn’t the best advice when starting out but trust me, the energy and creative stress from nerves is actually a good thing!

Whilst it may be tempting to get over your nerves with a bit of help from a drink, it can potentially cause a lot of problems, as well as being unsafe and unprofessional. The confidence to work on a photoshoot comes from your own confidence and experience with learning from the ups and downs of doing a photoshoot.

11. Have fun

At the end of the day, you want to make sure everyone who is on the shoot has at least some fun! We don’t do photography because it is a chore (well I don’t!), but because we love to create beautiful images and experiences for people! My photography is my creative outlet in my life and I adore doing shoots because of how much fun they are, and the end result that is created from everyone working together.

Fashion and portrait photography is a social hobby / business, and so you should enjoy yourself, and find fun in the small directing mistakes you make, the comedy in a pose you joke around with trying, and the pleasure in getting that photo that makes you shout “yes!” as soon as you see it pop up on your screen.

We all do photoshoots because they are awesome fun! It’s an experience unlike any other, bringing together a team of creatives to create something beautiful to showcase our unique ideas.

Final Comments

Working with models can be challenging. Directing can be challenging. However, life is just a series of challenges to overcome, and you know deep down that once you get over a challenge, you can revel in the satisfaction of perfecting your craft, and the next big challenge that lies over the hill.

In summary, you should now have an idea that:

  1. Models are people too, and may be equally, if not more nervous for a shoot;
  2. The model’s comfort is your top priority, on and off set;
  3. Chat and engage with the model and other creatives – people love to talk about themselves, and having a relaxed atmosphere can help everyone on set feel much more comfortable which will always lead to better photos;
  4. Directing can be tough but there are ways to deal with it – remember the take a break rule which eases off the pressure from yourself so you can revaluate what you want to do next in the shoot;
  5. Encouraging and being part of a strong community is the best way to build professional working relationships with creatives.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you agree in the comments below, and tell me about your experiences getting into fashion photography!


About the author: James Harber is a fashion and portrait photographer from Canberra Australia. Originally starting his journey into the world of photography in with Kodak Film at a young age, James has since expanded to shooting primarily fashion photography. He’s a big advocate of education and positive attitudes in the photographic community, and enjoys helping others, especially when it comes to understanding how to process photos. To see more of his work, visit his website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.

Understanding Basic Aesthetics in Photography

aesthetics_feat

Recently I got a message from a person who said that they liked my pictures, but unfortunately they don’t have a “photographic eye.” This inspired me to write the following article about basic aesthetics and their relationship to photography.

Express your Opinion

When we talk about aesthetics, we mean that some things are generally more pleasing to the eye—whether it be in a photograph, painting, or sculpture.

One thing that often happens when discussing the quality of pictures is that people are self-conscious about their own photographic abilities, and therefore think they can’t judge a picture. In my opinion, anyone can evaluate a picture and express whether they like it not; you don’t need to be an expert to convey your own views.

The difference between a photographer and anybody else is not their ability to notice beauty, it is that the photographer should also be able explain why some elements are pleasing while others are not. The understanding of aesthetics are ingrained in everybody. Anyone can see them, but only few can actually analyze a picture and are able to explain the compositional techniques to create a beautiful picture.

These techniques were not “invented” by some expert painters, they were discovered in many different disciplines. For example, the golden ratio is not only of importance in photography or paintings, but also in architecture, mathematics, and even in the arrangement of flowers. This means we can apply some of these universal rules to create pictures that, visually speaking, most human beings will find harmonic.

Compositional Elements

Leading Lines

The viewer’s eye is automatically led by lines and other geometrical figures. Leading lines help to put an emphasis on the subject, making them the center of attention. If the natural eye movement can follow these lines and ends up on the subject, it gives a very harmonic impression. Conversely, fighting against this flow can be very stressful.

lines

Rule of Thirds

Slightly different than the golden ratio, the rule of thirds is an approximation and divides the image in three areas. It is often more pleasing to place the subject slightly off-center. This is not only meant in a horizontal aspect, meaning from left to right, but also in the vertical gradient from bottom to top.

This leaves us with four intersections (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right) where we want to place our subject “ideally.” In Street Photography, using the top coordinates allows us to show more from the subject, making them the most preferable points to focus our attention.

rue-of-thirds1

Triangles

Geometrical symbols help to control the flow of the picture. They build a basic framework for the viewer to follow, and create some dynamic movement because symbols like triangles or circles aren’t a dead end.

triangles

Rule of Odds

The picture above already shows an example of three subjects that form a triangle. But it’s not only three subjects that are pleasant for a viewer—5 or even 7 points of interest can increase the aesthetic value of the image tremendously.

The psychology behind this odd rule is that even subjects are easy to organize, easy to pair (2,4,6 etc.), and this is an uninteresting task for our brain.

the-rule-of-odds

Breaking Symmetry

Having a symmetrical picture is a nice achievement, but a picture that is 100% symmetrical is too easy to comprehend. In order to make it more interestingly, you can simply use a subject very slightly off the sectional plane.

symmetry

Marking the Checklist

The listed compositional elements can help you create pictures that are aesthetically pleasing, and you don’t need to be born with an “exceptional eye” in order to see interesting images. Also, keep in mind that everybody has this sense of aesthetic. The difference is in being able to explain and recreate eye-pleasing pictures or paintings.

Basic rules are also not an invention by some masterminds, but the codification of an easy way to create enough tension for a picture without being overwhelmingly chaotic. In other words: Having an aesthetically successful picture also doesn’t make it automatically great; it provides a beautiful framework to present the story.


About the author: Sebastian Jacobitz is a 27-year-old hobby Street Photographer from Berlin, capturing the everyday life in the city. The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, visit his website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.

15 Street Photography Techniques and Tips

Hey streettogs, if you want to learn some practical tips and techniques when shooting on the streets, check out the video above, or read more to see all 15 tips.

1. Work the scene

workthescene

One of the common mistakes I see in street photography is that photographers only take 1–2 photos of the scene, and move on (because they are either too self-conscious, nervous, or impatient).

Try this instead: work the scene. Take multiple photos of the scene. Preferably 15–20 (more tends to be better).

workthescene1

Why? The more you “work the scene” the more likely you are to make a great photograph. Sometimes a subtle difference between what is happening in the background, the eye contact of a person, or a hand gesture is what makes the photograph.

Think of the analogy of baseball— the more times you swing your bat, the more likely you are to hit a home run.

2. Use your flash

useyourflash

If you’re like me (a lazy photographer) you don’t always shoot when the light is good (sunrise/sunset). So if you’re shooting in the middle of the day, in the shade, or indoors, try to use your flash to have your subject “pop” from the background.

I personally keep my camera on “P” (program) mode and use the automatic flash settings. Use the flash built into your camera (if you have it) or a small external flash if your camera doesn’t have a flash.

You can use a flash when you’re photographing a subject against the sun, or when they are in a poor lighting situation.

I used to shoot off-camera flash with a trigger like Bruce Gilden, but nowadays just shoot with an on-camera flash (because I don’t need any crazy flash angles anymore). I also suggest to try to shoot with a flash during the day (people don’t notice it) rather than the night (when it can blind and scare people).

3. Get eye contact

geteyecontact

There is a saying: “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” I feel that by getting eye contact in your photograph, the viewer feels a lot more connected to your image. It almost looks like the subject of your frame is looking directly at the viewer.

The stronger the eye contact, the more emotional, and more memorable the photograph generally is.

But how do you get eye contact when you’re shooting on the streets? My suggestion: get close to them, and keep clicking, until they notice you and make eye contact with you. The second they make eye contact, that is when you click.

4. Get low

getlow

Many photographers shoot from eye-level. The problem is that this is a boring perspective. We are always used to seeing the world from this perspective— try to get a unique perspective by getting low.

By crouching down and shooting your subject from a low angle, you make your subject look bigger than life. Things on the edges of the frame also get exaggerated (which look novel).

getlow1

Not only that, but by crouching down and getting low— you seem a lot smaller and less intimidating to your subject. Imagine a knight bowing down before a king.

5. Capture the “unguarded moment”

unguarded

We often talk a lot about trying to capture the “decisive moment” (the moment something interesting happens). However I also suggest to try to capture the “unguarded moment” (the moment when someone forgets about you, and drops their guard).

unguarded1

I like to ask to take photographs. What I try to avoid is having someone just look at me and pose for me with a peace-sign. What I try to do instead is to capture an “unguarded moment” — a moment when they forget me, forget about the camera, and show a little bit of their soul.

How do you capture the “unguarded moment”?

Well— you can either ask them open-ended questions like, “What are your plans for today? Where you from? How would you describe your personal style? What is your life story”? And then when people start to talk and get into “story-telling mode” — you can capture more authentic moments that aren’t as “pose-y.”

6. Direct your subject

direct

If you ask for permission from your subject, know that you can also direct them. I generally ask them to stand against a simple background, and try to get them to do an interesting hand-gesture.

direct1

To get a subject to do an interesting hand-gesture, I ask them about their sunglasses, their hair, or even their watches. I will ask them “Where did you buy it?” and when they start talking, they make hand gestures— that is when you should shoot.

You can also ask your subject to loosen up by jumping up and down, by “working it”, by playing with their hair, or by “looking tough.”

But isn’t that “inauthentic” in street photography? For me, street photography is about creating your own version of reality, not “objective” reality (leave that to the photojournalists and documentary photographers).

One great photographer who was a “director in the streets” is William Klein. Even his famous photograph “Kid with gun” was captured because William Klein told the kid: “Look tough!”

7. “Can you do that for me again”?

doitagain

Sometimes when you’re shooting a person, you see an interesting gesture, movement, or happening. I think it is fine to tell your subject, “Can you do that again?”

doitagain1

For example, when I was in Downtown LA and photographing this man, his partner started to wipe the sweat from his forehead. I saw that interesting gesture and asked her, “Oh— can you do that again? Can you keep wiping his forehead?” She listened— and I ended up making one of my favorite photographs (that looks candid, but was actually with permission).

8. The “fishing” technique

fishing

This is one of the most classic techniques in street photography—identify an interesting background, and wait for your subject to enter the frame.

fishing1

You can either look for an interesting background, billboard, leading lines, and create a juxtaposition with your subject who walks by it (or somehow interacts with it).

The reason why it is called the “fishing technique” is because in fishing—sometimes you can cast out your rod and catch no fish for hours on end. Sometimes you catch a lot of fish. You never know—but the skill to have is patience.

9. Shoot head-on

headon

Another common mistake I see a lot of beginner street photographers make is that they don’t shoot head-on. Rather, they shoot from the side.

If you want to make photographs that are a lot more engaging, full of energy, and dynamic— shoot head on. Sometimes you might accidentally bump into people, but this is important especially if you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens. When you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens and head-on, the photographs make the viewer feel that they’re really there.

So the way you can do this is walk down a crowded street, stop somewhere in the center, and wait for people to walk head-on towards you. Then after you take the photos, play dumb, and move on.

10. Create layers/depth

depth

If you want more engaging photographs with more depth and complexity, try to incorporate layers/depth.

What I suggest is putting your camera to manual focusing, and pre-focus to the background (whatever is furthest away, between 3–5meters). Shoot in Aperture-priority mode, keep your camera at f/8 to get more depth, and a high-ISO like 1600 or 3200. Then try to incorporate more subjects into your frame—the foreground, middle ground, and background.

A good photographer to study is Alex Webb, who does this extremely well.

11. Look for lines/patterns/texture

lines

If you’re not in the mood to photograph people, know you can do more conceptual street photography without people that focuses on lines, patterns, and textures.

I do this a lot when I’m shooting “urban landscapes.” I feel that by finding lines, patterns, and textures of old buildings or places—you add more character and emotion into your photograph.

12. Embrace negative space

negativespace

I am more of a minimalist and prefer having negative space in my photograph. Why? Negative space allows your photograph to “breathe” and for your viewer to focus more on the single subject in your photograph.

Where to add negative space? My suggestion is to just use it intuitively—if your frame feels too crowded, add more negative space.

Furthermore, you can add more negative space to your photograph by capturing dramatic shadows. Shoot either at sunrise or sunset, or shoot in the bright light with -1 or -2 exposure compensation. In post-processing increase the “blacks” and contrast of your image.

A great photographer to study who uses minimalism, negative space, and shadows well is Rinzi Ruiz (also goes by “Street Zen”).

13. Minus exposure compensation

minuscomp

This is related to the prior technique. The idea is to put your subject into the bright light, and set the exposure-compensation of your camera anywhere between -1 and -3. This is a technique I learned from my friend Neil Ta—which can add dramatic shadows in the background (even when you’re shooting in the middle of the day).

14. Leading lines

leading

Leading lines can be found anywhere—from alleyways, to street poles, to parks, or even drive-ways.

An easy way to incorporate leading lines is to first identify the leading lines, and then wait for the right subjects to enter the frame. You can pair this with the “fishing” technique.

15. Subtract from the frame

subtract

The last tip is remember: what you decide not to include in the frame is more important than what you decide to include in the frame. So when you’re shooting, think to yourself, “What is superfluous in my frame? What is a distraction at the edges of my frame? What should I decide to keep, and what to ditch?”

Keep subtracting from your frame, until there are no distractions left, and you are left with the essence of your image.

Conclusion

These are some practical tips and techniques to use in street photography, but know that this isn’t a full-list. Try a combination of these techniques, or if you want to practice, just focus on 1 of these techniques in a day.

The more tools you add to your street photography toolkit, the more prepared you will be for certain shots. Even though we all have different styles and approaches, trying something outside of your comfort zone will help you grow and develop as a photographer (and human being).

Be brave friend, go forth, and make beautiful photos!


About the author: Eric Kim is an international street photographer who’s currently based out of Berkeley, California. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.

Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started with Magic Lantern (Safely)

Getting started with Magic Lantern can be a bit daunting for a beginner. That’s why computer science student and filmmaker Jake Coppinger put together this easy-to-follow step-by-step video guide that shows you how to (safely) install and use the powerful software add-on.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Magic Lantern is a free “software enhancement” that adds a bunch of features to any compatible Canon DSLR.

Adding ML to your camera can make life a lot easier and even save you money (no need to buy an intervalometer for timelapses, for example); however, you also risk ‘bricking’ your DSLR while installing or using the software, which is why many people never even give it a shot.

ml_feat

Coppinger wants to take away some of that risk with this short, easy-to-follow beginner’s guide. Not only does he show you how to install the software and use some of its key features, he also shares a few important safety tips that will keep you from permanently damaging your camera.

Of course, no video can entirely mitigate the risk involved with using third-party software/firmware (and as such, PetaPixel cannot officially encourage that you use ML). But if you’ve been on the fence, having an easy-to-follow guide might just give you the peace of mind you need to finally give Magic Lantern a shot.

Check out the video for yourself up top, and if you’re already a veteran Magic Lantern user, don’t hesitate to drop some advice in the comments for the newbies!

A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

pyramid

This guide to photographic exposure aims to help you take full control of your camera. I often tell my students that I want them to move away from the idea “taking a photograph” and towards the idea of “making a photograph.” I teach them how to take the camera off auto mode and take full control of the settings themselves in order to create the photograph they want.

Why let the camera decide these things for you? Do you let your mother choose your clothes? Maybe some of you do, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t want to know.

I hope to do the same for the readers of this tutorial. I want you take control of your camera. In order to do this, it’s essential to understand the 3 components of what we call “The Exposure Triangle”. These are: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. By the end of this tutorial, you should understand what these 3 components are and how they affect the final photograph. You will also learn how to use the 3 main shooting modes on your camera: aperture priority, shutter priority and manual. Finally, I’ll explain how to decide which settings to choose as you prepare to shoot a scene.

What is exposure?

First of all we need to define what we mean by exposure. Exposure refers to the amount of light that enters the camera and hits the digital sensor. Basically, it is a measure of how dark or bright a photograph is.

If the image is too bright, it is overexposed. Too much light has been allowed to hit the sensor. If it is too dark, it is underexposed. Not enough light has been allowed to hit the sensor. We can control how much light reaches the sensor by changing the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings.

Exposure is measured in ‘stops’. For example, if you find that your photo has turned out too dark (underexposed), you may increase your exposure by a ‘stop’ or two to make it brighter. Conversely, if the image is overexposed, you may need to decrease the exposure by a stop or two. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ exposure, only the right exposure for the photograph you are creating. Some photos such as night shots are supposed to be dark while photos taken in the snow for example are supposed to be bright.

Measuring exposure using a histogram

All digital cameras allow you to see a visual representation of exposure using the histogram. Check your camera’s manual to find out how to turn on the histogram feature. There was a member of my photography club who would tell all new members to RTFM. This stood for ‘Read the Manual’. I’ll let you figure out what the ‘f’ stood for yourself.

The histogram is a graph that represents the spread of tones in a photograph, from the shadows, to the mid tones to the highlights. It allows you to check if the photograph has any shadows that are too dark or ‘clipped’ and to see if you have any highlights that are too bright or ‘blown out’.

Clipped shadows are areas of pure black and contain no detail. Blown out highlights are areas of pure white and also contain no detail. Very generally speaking, you will want to avoid both of these. That said, I personally don’t mind a little clipping in the shadows as it adds punch to the image.

If you look at the histogram below, you will see that some of the graph is right up against the left hand axis of the graph. This means that some of the shadows are clipped. If you look at the right, you will see that a very tiny amount of highlights have been blown out as a very small part of the graph is up against the right hand edge. Sometimes this is unavoidable for example with street lights or if the sun in the frame. Remember, that the histogram is only a guide.

histogram

Examples of underexposed and overexposed photographs

Below we have examples of an underexposed photo, an overexposed photo and a correctly exposed photo.

under

Underexposed photograph: This photograph is underexposed by about 3 stops. You can see that the histogram is completely bunched up to the left as a result. There are lots of clipped shadows on the underside of the gondolas.

over

Overexposed photograph: This image is overexposed by about 3 stops and as you can see, the histogram is bunched up to the right as a result. There are a lot of clipped highlights is this photo. In fact, the entire sky is pure white and contains no detail whatsoever.

correct

Correctly exposed photograph: The photo above has the right exposure for the scene in question. You can see on the histogram that there is a good spread of shadows, mid-tones and highlights. It’s quite a bright image as you can see from the fact that the graph spikes on the right of the graph.

There is a little clipping in the shadows which I don’t mind as it adds some punch to the shot. As you can see from the right hand side of the graph, there are some very bright areas but the highlights are not blown out.

Using the highlights warning feature on your camera

It’s always a good idea to check the histogram after you’ve taken a shot in order to prevent too many clipped shadows and blown out highlights. Most digital cameras also have a ‘highlight warning’ feature.

This makes areas of the image that have blown highlights flash on your screen. It’s an incredibly useful feature and I keep it turned on all the time. Below, you can see how the highlight warning looks on the overexposed gondola photo. A huge amount of the photo is flashing because so many of the highlights have been blown out.

What is aperture?

lens-aperture

The aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens through which the light enters the camera. The size of this opening can be adjusted and the aperture size is measured in f-stops. The image on the right shows you exactly what the aperture on a lens looks like.

When you change the f-stop value, you change the size of the opening. Here’s the weird thing though. The higher the f-stop, the smaller the opening.

Take a look at the chart below to see what different apertures look like at different f-stops. On the far left, you can see that setting an aperture of f16 will result in a small opening. Choosing an aperture of f1.4 will result in a very wide opening.

aperture-chart

How does your choice of aperture affect the photograph?

The most noticeable effect your choice of aperture has on the photograph is the depth of field. What do we mean by this exactly? In very simple terms, depth of field refers to the amount of the image that is sharp. What does this mean in practice?

If you use a wide aperture, the depth of field will be shallow. Only part of the image is sharp and the rest will be out of focus or blurred. Look at the picture on the left below. The cat is perfectly sharp but the background is blurred. Using a wide aperture works well for portrait style photographs as it makes the subject of the shot really stand out against the blurred background.

depth-of-field-diagram

In this case, the depth of field extends from about the tip of the cat’s nose to just behind its head, no more than a few centimeters (from point A to point B in the diagram). Anything not in this range, either in front of it or behind will not be sharp. For this shot, I used a wide aperture of f/3.5.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When you use a narrow aperture, the depth of field is deep. When the depth of field is deep, all of the photograph from foreground to background is sharp.

Take a look at the photo below taken in the Dublin Docklands. Everything from the dock cleat in the foreground to the bridge in the background is sharp. In this case the depth of field is several hundred metres, extending right from the foreground to the background of the scene. In this case, I used a narrower aperture of f/11.

samuel-beckett-bridge-at-sunset-dublin

Most of the time, we want to achieve a deep depth of field when shooting landscapes. We want all of the image to be pin sharp.

The mid range apertures (around f/8) are good for shooting handheld for example when doing street photography. You get a good balance between having enough depth of field and fast enough shutter speeds to shoot hand held. We’ll discuss shutter speeds in more detail later.

The chart below gives you a good idea how different apertures will affect the depth of field in your photographs. You can see that as the aperture gets wider, the pyramid in the background becomes more blurred.

aperture-effect-chart-2

What is shutter speed?

The shutter speed refers to the length of time the opening in the lens remains open to let light into the camera and onto the sensor. The shutter speed can be as fast as 1/10,000 of a second or as slow as several minutes.

How does your choice of shutter speed affect the photograph?

Fast shutter speeds have the effect of freezing motion in the scene you are photographing. Conversely, slow shutter speeds will blur motion in a scene. Both of these can be used to great creative effect.

The shutter speed settings on your camera provide a great way to experiment with capturing motion in your landscape photography. This is especially the case with moving water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

fishing-boat-at-sunset-tunisia

By using a slow shutter speed (1/2 second), we can blur the water in a waterfall for example and create a sense of motion even though it’s a still image. You can see this in this photo of a waterfall in Ireland above. When working with slow shutter speeds, it is essential to use a tripod otherwise camera shake will result in a completely blurred photo.

In the second photograph taken in Tunisia, I used an extremely long shutter speed of 160 seconds. To achieve this, I used a 10 stop neutral density filter. This reduced the light entering the camera down to 1/1000th of what it would be without the filter. This, in turn, allowed me to set such a long exposure time.

As you can see, the clouds moved across the sky during the almost 3 minutes it took to take the photo resulting in the blurred effect.

You can also use fast shutter speeds to freeze motion like in this black and white seascape below.

atlantic-coast-donegal-ireland

For this photograph, I wanted to freeze the motion of the waves crashing against the shore. A fast shutter speed of 1/320th of a second ensured that the wave seems to ‘freeze’ in time. Landscapes that include moving water afford great opportunities to experiment with different exposure times.

The chart below shows how different shutter speeds would effect the sense of motion if you were photographing a person running. Fast shutter speeds will freeze the motion. This technique is often used in sports photography. The slower the shutter speed becomes, the more blurred the person running becomes in the photograph.

shutter-speed-effect-chart

How do you know if your shutter speed is fast enough to shoot handheld?

There is a very simple trick to check if your shutter speed is fast enough to shoot hand held. Simply look at the focal length you have zoomed in to on the lens.

On the lens below, the focal length is set at about 30mm. In this case I simply multiply the focal length by 2 and divide it into 1 to get the minimum shutter speed required to shoot hand held. So, 30 x 2 is 60 therefore the minimum shutter speed required to shoot hand held is 1/60 of a second.

camera-lens-focal-length

This means that you can get away with using slower shutter speeds when the angle is wider. It’s obviously harder to keep the camera steady when zooming in. Think of how difficult it is to keep your sights on an object when using binoculars. It’s the same principle.

If you find that the light is low and you can’t get a fast enough shutter speed, you can increase the ISO. In the next section, I’ll explain what ISO is and how it effects the photograph.

What is ISO?

The ISO refers to how sensitive the digital sensor in your camera is to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to light. Setting a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera sensor to light. Most cameras have ISOs ranging from about 50 or 100 ISO right up to 16,000 ISO or higher.

How does your choice of ISO affect the photograph?

As you increase the ISO value, your camera sensor becomes more sensitive to light. This means that you can achieve higher shutter speeds. This can be extremely useful when shooting in low light without a tripod. You may find that shooting at 100 ISO results in shutter speeds that are too slow to hand hold without camera shake. By increasing the ISO to 800 ISO for example, you may find that your shutter speed is now fast enough to hand hold.

You may be wondering: why not just use a really high ISO every time to ensure a sharp photo? The problem is that there is a trade off when it comes to image quality. The higher the ISO used, the more digital noise will be present in the image. Digital noise results in a graininess that can have a negative effect on image quality. Take a look at the labels of this bottle of wine shot at different ISOs.

The first one was shot at 100 ISO.

iso100

The second photo was shot at a very high ISO 3200. You can see that the graininess has degraded the image quality quite a lot.

iso3200

When I finished taking these shots of the bottle of wine, I of course sampled the contents. I… eh… wanted to learn about French culture. Funnily enough, after I finished the bottle, the image quality from my own eyes degraded somewhat.

The chart below illustrates the effect of ISO on image quality.

iso-effect-chart-1

This does not mean that you should not increase your ISO when the need arises. The example of ISO 3200 above is quite extreme. Most of the newer cameras actually handle higher ISOs very well and retain high image quality. I know that in low light conditions, I prefer to increase my ISO a little to avoid camera shake even it it means a little graininess. It’s usually not enough to seriously degrade the image quality though.

Next, we’re going to take a look at how to actually set the aperture and shutter speed in your camera. There are 3 modes you can use: aperture priority, shutter priority and manual.

How to use Aperture Priority Mode on your camera

aperture-priority

Aperture priority mode is a semi-manual mode. When using this mode, you choose the aperture you want and the camera chooses an appropriate shutter speed in order to achieve a correctly exposed photo. To switch your camera to aperture priority, turn the dial on top of your camera to ‘A’.

This is actually the shooting mode I use 90% of the time when shooting urban landscapes. I usually choose an aperture of around f16 to ensure maximum depth of field and then let the camera choose the correct shutter speed. As I usually use a tripod, I am generally not too concerned about the shutter speed being too slow.

If I am shooting hand held, I always keep an eye on the shutter speed the camera has chosen just to make sure it isn’t too slow. If it is too slow, I use a wider aperture which will give a faster shutter speed as the opening is larger and lets the light in faster. I also have the option of increasing the ISO to get a faster shutter speed.

How to use Shutter Priority Mode on your camera

shutter-priority

Shutter priority is basically the opposite to aperture priority. You set the shutter speed you want and the camera sets the aperture. To switch your camera to shutter priority, turn the dial on top of your camera to ‘S’. On Canon models, this mode is actually called “Tv” mode which stands for “time value”.

I personally don’t use this mode too often. It can be useful if you need to set a minimum shutter speed in order to avoid camera shake. You may also want a specific longer shutter speed in order to create motion blur. I tend to use manual mode in this case as it gives me greater control over the shutter speed and aperture together. More on manual mode later.

How to use the Exposure Compensation feature on your camera

exposure-compensation-button

Sometimes when you use aperture or shutter priority modes, you may find that your images are too bright or too dark. Sometimes the lighting conditions may confuse the camera and it results in the image being underexposed or overexposed. Thankfully, there is a way of fixing this. It’s called exposure compensation. To switch this on, press the button with the plus/minus symbols.

This will bring up a chart that goes from -5 to +5. Sometimes these numbers are different and may only range from -3 to +3 depending on the camera. This chart represents the exposure of your photograph. So how does it work?

When you are using aperture priority mode for example, the camera will set a shutter speed that makes the camera expose at the “0” point of this chart, right in the middle. In theory, this should be the correct exposure. In reality though, this is not always the case. As we said, some photos are supposed to be bright and others are supposed to be dark.

If you find that your photo is too bright or overexposed, you simply dial down the exposure by a stop or whatever you think is needed. When you turn the dial to the left (RTFM to see which dial), you can set the exposure at -1 for example. This will make the photograph 1 stop darker. When you turn the dial to the right, you can make the photo brighter. You may need to experiment a little to get the exposure you want.

exposure-compensation

How does exposure compensation work exactly? If you are using aperture priority mode and dial the exposure down 2 stops for example, the aperture will stay the same but the shutter speed will change to a faster speed so that less light enters the camera and the picture is made darker.

The opposite happens when you dial up the exposure. The aperture stays the same but the shutter speed will get longer to let more light in and make the image brighter. As already mentioned, keep an eye on the shutter speed if you are shooting hand held. Don’t allow it to become too slow in order to avoid camera shake.

Exposure compensation works in the same way when using shutter priority mode except that the shutter speed will stay the same and the aperture will be changed by the camera accordingly.

How to use Manual Mode on your camera

manual-mode

Here comes the scary one: manual mode! When you set the camera to manual mode, you set both the aperture and shutter speed. How do you know what combination to use to ensure the right exposure? It’s actually quite easy. When you switch to manual mode on the dial (M), you again see an exposure chart that is exactly the same as the exposure compensation chart.

You then turn the aperture and shutter speed dials until the exposure is set to 0. Check your manual to see which dials to use.

Here is an example of how I might use manual mode when shooting a landscape:

  1. I decide what aperture I want to use. If it’s a landscape, I might pick an aperture of about f/16 to ensure plenty of depth of field. After all, I want everything to be sharp from the foreground to the background. I turn the aperture dial until, the aperture is set to f/16.
  2. I then turn the shutter speed dial until the marker on the exposure chart is at zero. This in theory should mean that I now have the correct combination of aperture and shutter speed to ensure the right exposure.
  3. I then check that I am happy with both the aperture and shutter speed and make some adjustments if necessary.
  4. If I find that the shot is too bright or too dark I retake it after moving the dial to either minus a stop or plus a stop (or more as the case may be). The ‘right’ exposure may not always be at the “0” point in the middle. As I have said a few times now, some photos are supposed to be bright or dark.

How do I decide which settings to use in manual mode?

This is where your own creativity comes in to play. I usually decide which is the most important element in the photo and set this first.

As I mainly shoot urban landscape photos, this means I usually set the aperture first as ensuring plenty of depth of field is my biggest concern. I then set the shutter speed. It’s basically a balancing act and with practice you will gain an intuition for what settings you need to achieve the vision you have for a particular photograph.

What if the highlights are blown out or the shadows are clipped no matter what settings I use?

Sometimes the contrast in a scene is simply too much for your camera to handle no matter which combination of aperture and shutter speed you use. In this case, bracketing can be used to solve the problem.

When I bracket a photo, I usually take 3 photos of the same scene, one with the exposure set to “0”, another deliberately underexposed by 2 stops and a final one deliberately overexposed by 2 stops. I can then combine these these in post-processing to get the ‘perfect’ exposure. There are several methods of doing this which I will cover in a future tutorial.

In the example below, I took 3 exposures of the Charles Bridge in Prague and blended them in post production to produce a single photograph with plenty of detail in all areas of the frame.

exposurebracketing

exposure-blending-example

The final photograph is a blend of all 3 images, leading to plenty of detail throughout the image. There are also no clipped shadows or blown out highlights. As you can see, I also cropped the final image to create a better composition.


I hope that after reading this tutorial that you will be confident to take your camera off auto mode and take control of the settings yourself. In this way, you can move from merely taking a photography to making a photograph. Don’t be afraid to experiment with all of the settings you have just learnt about. Over time, you won’t even have to think too much about the settings.

I often advise students to go on a photo shoot where they specifically experiment with different apertures, another to experiment with shutter speed and so on.


About the author: Barry O Carroll is a Dublin, Ireland-based photographer specializing in landscape photography with a particular emphasis on urban landscapes, street scenes and architecture photography. You can find more of his work on his website or by following him on Facebook and Twitter. This article was also published here.