Take Better Photos – Use Color, Tone, and Texture Contrasts

To make your subject pop out use color, tonal, and texture contrasts. This video evaluates 2 landscape photos that illustrate this important idea.

Photos courtesy of:
Hugh Mobley – https://500px.com/HughMobley
Emma Loisch – https://facebook.com/eartandphotos

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

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How to Use a 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photography

Dreaming of silky rivers, whooshing clouds, and misty oceans? Well then WAKE UP and get yourself a 10-stop filter.

Nowadays many photographers are saying things like: “Cletus we don’t need no filters. That’s what Photoshop is for.” But one kind of filter that Photoshop can’t recreate is the 10 stop neutral density.

The 10 stop ND filter is an extremely dark filter that blocks almost all of the light trying to enter your camera. Which lets you do a couple of things, either shoot with a wide open aperture in super bright light, or more commonly, stretch your shutter speed out to astounding lengths.

For example, I took this photo in New Zealand in broad daylight, and by using a 10-stop neutral density filter I was able to make the exposure 62 seconds! Which caused the clouds to whip overhead and the lake to smooth out like a creamy pudding cup.

Lake Wanaka willow in fall color, South Island, New Zealand

But a 10 stop neutral density filter is so dark you can’t even see through it, so how the heck do you use it? Here comes the step by step.

1) First, compose and focus – Do this before you put the filter on your lens, otherwise you’ll you won’t be able to see anything. Once you’re focused, make sure to switch your lens to manual focus otherwise you’ll cause a rip in the space time continuum. Wait, no, that’s not right.. Oh yeah, it’s that when you put the super dark filter on it makes your camera’s autofocus hunt around because it can’t see, and that screws up your shot.

2) Next, dial in a proper exposure for the scene without any filter on. This is your baseline. For example ISO100, f8, 1/100 of a second.

3) Put on your filter, easy!

4) Math, ugh….. 🙂 10 stop filter: that’s more than just a clever name, it’s telling you that it blocks 10 stops of light. Which means that you need to increase your shutter speed by 10 stops to compensate. So you can manually count stops as you turn your shutter speed dial (only works up to 30″), you can multiply your shutter speed by 1000 (10 stops = 2^10 = 1024), or you can do things the old fashioned way, with an app on your phone! I like PhotoPills for this.

It doesn’t matter what method you use because they all give the same result (10 seconds for my example), so just do what’s easiest for you. And be aware that if you end up with an exposure longer than 30 seconds you’ll have to switch you camera to Bulb mode and use a remote.

And whatever shutter speed you land on, bear in mind it’s just a starting point since many 10 stops are a little darker than advertised and you may need to tweak things.

5) Tweak the color. If you take a picture at this point you’ll get some great long exposure goodness, but you’ll probably also get some funky looks with the color. And that’s because most 10 stop ND filters are not truly neutral, but rather have a color cast, like blue or brown. So you need to adjust for this, either by using your camera’s auto WB or by dialing in a custom WB. Each filter is a little different so it’ll just be a matter of trial and error until you figure out what works for your filter. Here I’m simply using auto WB.

Now that you’ve got your shutter speed and color adjustments dialed in you’re ready to take a totally kick ass photo. Be sure to cover the viewfinder on the back of the camera otherwise stray light may corrupt your image.

Ok, now things are looking cool, but what if you want more??? Well everything you know about aperture and shutter speed is still in effect here, so if I want to stretch my exposure even longer, I can simply stop down. If I change my aperture from f/8 to f/22, a difference of three stops, it means I can increase my shutter speed by 3 stops, taking it from 10 seconds to 80 seconds. And now my long exposure dreams are really coming true.

Thanks for reading. If you want to learn even more about 10 stop filters, or about other fun filters like the 6-stop you can check out a detailed article I wrote about them by clicking right here.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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Photoshop: Dodge & Burn…Like A Boss!! Part 2

In part 1 of this video we talked about dodging and burning on a 50% gray layer. It’s an amazing way to d/b non destructively but it’s got two problems: 1) it can wash out your colors, and 2) it’s not very targeted. So now we’re going to learn a couple of easy techniques to deal with these issues.

When you dodge with a plain white brush the image gets lighter and lighter but it also gets whiter and whiter, hence the washed out look. So to fix that issue we’re not going to use white, but rather we’re going to dodge with a color. The best method is to simply grab a dominant color from the area you want to dodge, then go over to the color picker and select a bright version of that color. The closer to white it is the more it will dodge, the closer to the true color the more color it will impart. Somewhere in the middle is usually best.

Now we can dodge without making things washed out, giving the image some nice atmosphere, but our dodging is still not very targeted. For example, say I want to dodge this cloud without brightening the surrounding shadows. Or what if I want to lift the shadows in the mountains without affecting the bright areas? There are many complicated ways to do this but I’m going to show you a super simple one, booyah!

First, take your image and add a burn and dodge layer. Now add a layer mask. And before you do anything else go to Image -> Apply Image. Select the defaults and click OK. Photoshop has taken a black and white copy of the photo and made it into a layer mask.

As I’m sure you all know, when it comes to layer masks white reveals and black conceals. In other words, wherever our mask is bright our adjustment will show up, and wherever our mask it dark it won’t. Which means we now have an amazing way to dodge and burn exactly what we want. Want to dodge those highlights with a little color? pop pop pop, the shadows are unaffected.

Or say you want these shadowy trees to be just a little brighter? No problem, make another burn and dodge layer. And go Image -> Apply Image. This time, select Invert and click OK. Select the layer mask then hit Ctrl/Cmd M to bring up a curves adjustment. Use the little hand, the targeted adjustment tool, and whatever you want to be affected by your dodging, the trees for example, click and drag up. Whatever you don’t want to be affect, the mountains for example, click and drag down. Now our dodging is just where we want it.

And that’s all there is to it! some tried and true, easy techniques to burn and dodge like a Photoshop ninja. Try not to cut anyone’s arm off with your katana skillzzz.

If you’d like to see the rest of my editing process and exactly how I took this straight out of camera photo and processed it to look like this in its final form, you can check out the complete PS walkthrough by clicking here.

As always, thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article please share it with your friends, give it a thumbs up, and subscribe to Professional Photography Tips, the absolute best place on the web to learn to become a better photographer. Don’t forget to join the FB group and newsletter to get photo critique and processing help. Until next time have fun and happy shooting.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

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Photoshop: Dodge & Burn…Like A Boss!! Part 1

For those who don’t know what burning and dodging is, I’ll summarize here really quickly: burning is a way to selectively darken parts of your photo, and dodging is a way to selectively brighten parts of your photo.

Now why would you want to do this? There are a couple main reasons. One is to correct exposure issues in the frame, like if you need to balance the brightness of one area with another, or if you want to emphasize certain highlight and shadow areas. You can also use burning and dodging to add atmosphere to an image. But the big daddy reason is this: to completely control and direct your viewers’ attention in your photo. In photos people will pay more attention to the bright parts than the dark parts, and knowing this you can get them to look at whatever you want them to look at.

Ansel Adams was a master at this process and if he wanted you to look at a certain part of the photo well by gum he burned and dodged that sucker until you couldn’t help yourself but look exactly right there. For example, here’s a before image. Fine, but with a little burning and dodging I force your attention away from the edges of the frame and right to that big beautiful mountain in the middle. It’s sort of like mind control, so try not to abuse your soon-to-be powers too much.

Photoshop has dodge and burn tools built in and they do work, but I don’t like using them because of one key issue: they are destructive. You use these tools directly on the image itself, which means you’re actually changing the pixel values of the photo itself, which is kinda like making a copy of a copy: the more you do it, the worse the image quality gets. So if I dodge dodge dodge, then burn burn burn, things get totally effed.

Instead we’re going to employ the magic of blending modes to burn and dodge in a completely non destructive way. Hit Crtl/Cmd Shift N to bring up the new layer dialog. In the blend mode select soft light and check the 50% gray box. Now switch from the burn/dodge tools to the normal brush tool by hitting B. In a soft light layer anything that’s brighter than middle gray will brighten the underlying layer, and anything that’s darker than middle gray will darken it.

In other words, if I paint with white on this soft light layer, it’s going to brighten the photo. (definitely use a low opacity) And if I paint with black it’s going to darken the photo. So now you can do really cool things like easily add vignettes, and brighten the center of your photo with some simple brush strokes. And best of all, I can always undo these brush strokes, delete this layer, reduce its opacity and do all the other cool things you can do with a separate layer, making this completely non-destructive.

Now you probably noticed that this kind of burning dodging isn’t very targeted; unlike the built-in burn and dodge tools where you can select what tonal range to affect, this just sort of works on everything indiscriminately. And if I use too much in one spot it makes the photo either too flat or too washed out. So be sure to check out Part 2 of this video where I show you some easy techniques to prevent that washed out look, as well as target the burning and dodging more precisely.

Or if you’d like to really improve your Photoshop I’ve got a number of fantastic, in depth Photoshop tutorials . Everything from working with layers and masks to creating killer selections for super targeted editing. So check those out and kick your editing to the next level. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

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Improve Your Landscape Photos – Remove Distractions

Today we evaluate 2 landscape photos that illustrate an important idea in composition: Remove Distractions

Photos courtesy of:
Roger New – https://www.facebook.com/roger.new
Aliaume Chapelle – https://500px.com/aliaumechapelle

For your chance to have your photo critiqued, upload it to the Pro Photo Tips group on Facebook.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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Create Better Compositions – The Most Important Rule in Photography

Composition got you frustrated? Well turn that frown upside down because you’re about to learn the most important rule in photography.

For many people composition is the most inexplicable part of photography. It can be a major challenge to figure out what makes a good photo so if you constantly find yourself wondering why one shot is a home run and why another is out in left field I’ve got a simple credo that that will help you get your compositions in the ballpark every single time: Fill The Frame With What You Like.

The world is a complicated place and any scene you come across has hundreds of things that you could photograph. For example, when you’re out at the beach there are waves, rocks, sand, seaweed, other people, buildings, cliffs, plants, seagulls, seals, and dogs, just to name a few. And each of these things could find its way into your photos.

Your job, before you ever even push the shutter button, is to stop and look, and identify what, of all those things, you think is cool. Whatever you think is cool, that’s what should be in your photo.

And if you think a lot of different things are cool, then take a lot of different photos. Don’t try to shoehorn everything into one photo. Because often the best photos are the simplest ones, the ones containing only a single main subject. Or an idea, like the contrast or relationship between two different subjects. Photos are taken in at a glance, so the simpler your photo is likely the more impact it will have.

Now if you’re having trouble identifying what the subject of your photo should be, simply pay attention to what your eyes are doing. Whatever they keep coming back to, wherever they rest: that’s your photo.

And once you’ve identified what your photo is about, then fill the frame with it. You can zoom in, but generally speaking it’s better to physically get closer. I like to say don’t use your zoom lens, use your zoom legs. This will help the impact of your photo even more.

The next step, after you’ve actually taken a photo, is to get rid of what you don’t like or don’t care about. Look at all the elements in your image and if you don’t like them or don’t care about them, then they shouldn’t be in your photo. Too much blue sky? Pan down and it’s Gone [banner peak]. Weird branch sticking into the side of your frame? Take a small step and remove it. Footprints in your frame? Change position to get them out.

It really is that simple: Identify the good stuff, get closer, and remove all the distracting, boring, or ugly elements. Fill The Frame With What You Like and even if you never learn anything else about compositional theory, you’ll find your photos leaping off the page at you.

Thanks for reading!

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

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Landscape Photo Critique – Fill The Frame With What You Like!

Today we evaluate 3 landscape photos that all illustrate one of the most important ideas in composition: Fill The Frame With What You Like!

Photos courtesy of Carol Kathryn Langan Pomes, Sean Rooney, and Paul Jones.

For your chance to have your photo critiqued, upload it to the Pro Photo Tips group on Facebook.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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Improve Your Photos – Landscape Photography Critique, Episode 01

Today we critique a beautiful landscape photo to see what the photographer does well, and how he could make the image stronger.

Photo courtesy of Justus Steinfeldt: https://www.facebook.com/justussteinfeldt.photography

For your chance to have your photo critiqued, upload it to the Pro Photo Tips group on Facebook.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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5 Things You Didn't Know About Layer Masks

Layer masks are one of the most useful tools in Photoshop. But you probably aren’t using them to their full potential. Learn five awesome tricks to jump start your editing with layer masks.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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Photoshop – Make your watermark….invisible!

In this episode of Professional Photography tips learn to make your watermark all but invisible, and yet still virtually impossible for would-be thieves to crop or clone out.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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Photography Tutorial: White Balance Made Easy

In-depth Photoshop tutorials:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/shop/video-tutorials/photoshop-basics-video-bundle/
https://www.joshuacripps.com/shop/video-tutorials/photoshop-advanced-video-bundle/

On-location Photography Workshops:
http://www.seatosummitworkshops.com/

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Episode Transcript:

When is white not white? When it’s blue, yellow, or orange. What the crap am I talking about? Even I don’t know! So stick around and we’ll both learn everything you need to know about White Balance.

[opening credits]

Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of pro photo tips with me! Josh Cripps. Ask a random photographer about White Balance and you’ll often get an answer like:

“I don’t really know what it is but I think it has something to do with color in the camera.”

“Or: I just set to auto because you can always change it in post.”

But what the heck is it? Well, let me ask you a question:

(in the shade) Here we have a sheet of ordinary printer paper, what color is it?

(in the sun) How about now?

(inside) And how about now?

If you answered, uh, it’s white, you’re right! Well, sorta.

What we perceive as color is actually light of a specific wavelength entering our eyeballs. Now white is amazing because it reflects all wavelengths of light. So if you shine green light on it, it’ll reflect green, and if you shine purple light on it it’ll reflect purple.

This is important because in different conditions and lighting situations, different colors of light dominate. For example, shady light is slightly blue in tint. Whereas sunny light is slightly yellow. And indoor incandescent lighting is downright orange.

And for this white piece of paper, that means it’s actually almost never white, but rather blue, yellow, or orange.

Now, your eye and brain are so good at tuning out those minor color shifts that you never even notice them, which is why a white piece of paper always looks white to you.

But a camera can only record the actual wavelengths of light hitting its sensor, so this white piece of paper reflecting bluish shady light will actually appear blue in a photo, and that’s where White Balance comes in.

White balance is how your camera compensates for those small color shifts, so that white things appear white. For example if you’re shooting in this cool, shady light, turn your white balance to Shady and the camera will add amber tones and warmth to the image to offset the blueness. Or if you’re shooting in the sun, the camera will add cool blue tones to counteract the yellowness of the light, so that white stays white.

And that’s all there is to white balance!…..Or is it??……..Because what happens if we don’t want white to be white? Or more to the point, what if you want to emphasize certain colors in your photo over other colors? I mean, are we here to document the universe exactly how it is or are we here to create art???

So knowing what white balance is and what it does, say you’re shooting a scene that has lots of beautiful warm tones. Well you can emphasize those tones even further by deliberately choosing a white balance that you know will warm up the image, like cloudy or shady. Or say you’re shooting an glacier and you want to bring out its blueness. Then a cool white balance, like daylight, will make the colors pop!

When selecting a white balance you can either use the presets, like shady and daylight, or you can use the Kelvin scale, which on your camera runs from around 2,500K which will make your images really cool, to 10,000K to make your images very warm. The presets are good for making a quick selection, the Kelvin scale is best for fine tuning. So experiment with both and see which one you like. Either way you’ve got an amazing tool you can use to enhance the colors you want to enhance, and embiggen your creativity in the process.

And one final note: I always recommend changing your white balance in the field while shooting, rather than in post-processing at home. Why? Because when you change the colors you see, you’ll often see the scene a different way, and that can mean changing your composition and getting a different shot you otherwise wouldn’t have. Easy to do on location, but once you get home it’s too late. So work your white balance and let those colors fly!

As always, thanks for watching. Be sure to subscribe to get more great photography tips and techniques and check out some of my other helpful videos to learn more about other camera functions like aperture and shutter speed. You can visit my website joshuacripps.com for landscape photography, photoshop tutorials, landscape photography workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

4 Things All Great Photos Have in Common, Part II

Episode Transcript:

[opening credits]

Howdy my photo peeps. Josh Cripps here from Professional Photography Tips and today I’m going to be analyzing a few of my own photos to show you exactly what’s missing and how I can improve these shots.

If you haven’t seen part I of this video, The 4 Things Every Great Photo Has in Common, I highly recommend you go back and watch that first. In that video I break down the recipe that every great photo uses in order to give you a framework to analyze your own images. So this video will make a lot more sense if you go back and watch that one first.

As I mentioned in that video, the main points to every great photo are Subject, Composition, Technique, and Light. So let’s take a look at a number of photos and see what’s missing.

Here’s the first image, a beach in Santa Cruz. What does the image have going for it? Great light for sure, and nothing is blown out or out of focus, so decent technique. The composition is acceptable in a boring, bland way. So what’s missing? Yup, it’s the subject. Sure, clouds and light can be a subject themselves, but they’re got to be really unique or special, and even then they’re almost always providing a backdrop for an earthly-based subject. Same with this beautiful sunset in Alaska. The light is bonkers, but where’s the subject?

So my rule now is subject before light. Find something that’s worth shooting, like this arch, and set up a seascape composition that works regardless of the clouds. That gives me a stronger start to an image. Then throw in some amazing light like this as the icing on the cake and you have a pretty good shot.

For this next shot let’s take a look at another seascape. Here I’ve got a good subject, this cool seastack, but my composition doesn’t do anything to show it off, I’ve blown out the image, and the light itself is harsh and ugly. But if I move much closer to the seastack, I wait for sunset, and a use a filter to help tame the vibrant sky then I’ve solved those issues and made the shot.

Here I’ve got a perfectly boring shot of a tortoise in South Africa. It’s a good subject, it’s technically an acceptable image, and the light is nice and soft. So why do I feel such a big yawn when I look at this? Because the composition does nothing to show the tortoise off in an interesting way. But if I wait a few minutes until it does something interesting, and I change my point of view to take advantage of that I’ve now got a photo that makes you look twice.

Now let’s take a look at this bald eagle photo I took in Alaska. It’s an interesting subject, the composition is ok, and while the lighting is boring, it’s not downright bad. Here what makes the image fail is technique. I was using a poor-quality lens and didn’t have a fast enough shutter speed (1/400 s) to freeze the eagle in flight, hence all the blurry details. So if I correct those faults: better, sharper lens, and a much faster shutter (1/1600 s), all of a sudden I can make a much better image.

For the next shot, let’s try to figure out what’s wrong here. I’ve got a great subject: these vast fields of tidy tips. I’ve got a good composition that emphasizes the endless expanse of flowers, and I’ve got just about perfect light: soft on the foreground, and dramatic in the sky. What could be wrong? Well, the problem was I was very close to the flowers but only shooting at f/10 and so if I zoom in to the foreground you’ll see the image is clearly out of focus, which ruins it for me. But if I simply stop down to f/18 now I’ve got the depth of field needed to recover the quality in the shot.

Finally, let’s look at the importance of light. Here’s an ambient light shot of my friend Kate. She’s beautiful but still this mage is uninspiring. But if I darken the ambient exposure by a stop, light her from the front with a softbox, and splash a little more light onto the wall behind here I’ve turned this boring alley into a studio and all of a sudden I have something much more interesting.

But what about for natural light. Here too it makes all the difference. This is one of my favorite beaches in the world, which makes it a great subject for me for a photo. I’ve got a compelling composition set up, and other than a blown out sky the technique is good: enough DOF, and a long shutter speed to add silkyness to the water. I’ll add a filter to take care of the sky problem, and I’ll leave everything else exactly how it is. Then I simply waited for the vibrant colors of sunset to hit, in other words, for the light to get better, and this was the incredibly different result.

There you have it, everyone. I could sit here and analyze images all day but hopefully that’s enough of a starting point to get you going on your own. Thanks so much for watching and be sure to check out some of my other videos. You can also subscribe to get awesome new videos when they’re uploaded. Or visit my website, joshuacripps.com, for landscape photography, workshops, tutorials and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting.