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Long Exposure Photography Without Filters? It’s Easy!

Long Exposure Photography Without Filters

Chances are that you’ve heard about long exposure photography. Perhaps you don’t know much about it but I can guarantee that you’ve seen images using this technique online. Maybe you’ve even played around with it yourself.

Then you might also know that you need to use Neutral Density filters. There’s no secret that this can be an expensive investment.

But what if I told you there’s a way to achieve this effect without using filters? That couldn’t be true, right?

It is. Read on and you’ll learn exactly how to capture beautiful long exposure photography without filters.

Sunset at Los Urros cliffs in Spain

What is Long Exposure Photography?

Before we get into the details of how you can achieve this technique without the use of filters, let’s take a quick look at what long exposure photography is.

I’ve written extensively about this in the Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I strongly recommend reading that article if this is the first time you have read about the technique.

Simply put, long exposure photography is a technique where you use a slow shutter speed to capture motion in a completely different way.

For example, photographing a river with a 2-second shutter speed will smooth the water and give it a silky and soft look. Take the image below as an example:

Long Exposure Photography of river

The longer the shutter speed is, the more blurred any movements become.

A good test to see exactly how the shutter speed impacts an image is to photograph the same moving element with exposure times ranging from 1/1000th of a second to 10 seconds.

Requirements for Long Exposure Photography Without Filters

There are still a few things you need to have in your inventory. That being said, this gear is essential for your photography in general, not just for this technique.

Luckily, the list is short:

  • A camera that has the possibility to manually change aperture, ISO and shutter speed.
  • A tripod that is sturdy enough to withstand some wind and weather.
  • A remote shutter to eliminate vibration when pressing the shutter button. (Alternatively you can use the camera’s delayed shutter function).

Both a camera and tripod are essential in other parts of photography so this is, as I said, not an investment specific for just long exposures.

Take a look at our article  Essential Equipment for Landscape Photography if you’re curious about what equipment I recommend having in your backpack.

Why are Filters Used for Long Exposure Photography?

Long exposure simply means slow shutter speed. The exact definition of when an image becomes a long exposure is somewhat vague but I consider it as the moment when you’re no longer able to get a sharp handheld shot.

If you’re familiar with the Exposure Triangle, you know that the shutter speed dictates how long the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. The longer the shutter is open, the more light reaches the sensor.

A long exposure time such as 30 seconds will lead to an image being over-exposed when used in bright conditions. In other words, the image becomes white.

That’s where a Neutral Density filter comes into the picture.

It’s a piece of darkened glass or resin that’s mounted in front of the lens to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor, allowing us to use such exposure times even in broad daylight.

So, how is it then possible to do long exposure photography without filters? Aren’t filters what allow us to use a slow shutter speed? Let me show you:

#1 Avoid Photographing During Daytime

Available light is one of the biggest factors when it comes to choosing a shutter speed so it’s no secret that this is the main thing to consider when attempting to do long exposure photography without filters.

As explained previously, using a long shutter speed in bright conditions will result in the image being overexposed (too bright).

When photographing in darkness, however, the sensor needs to be exposed for more light in order to capture a well-exposed image. How’s that done? You guessed it: by using a slower shutter speed.

Boats reflection in blue lake

Since capturing long exposures means that you want to keep the shutter open for seconds or even minutes, you need to be aware of available light.

When the sun is at its highest, it’s too much light to capture a long exposure without filters.


Recommended Reading: Why You Should Start Shooting Landscapes During Golden Hour


Instead, aim to photograph during the golden hour or blue hour. These are beautiful periods of the day and the dim light makes it more ideal for this purpose.

The darker it is, the longer you’re able to keep the shutter open.

#2 Use a Narrow Aperture

Aperture is another of the three fundamental camera settings that have a direct impact on the brightness of a photo.

Simply put, the aperture decides how big the opening where light lets through to the sensor is. A bigger opening (which means a lower f/stop number) lets through more light.

Combining a slow shutter speed and large aperture opening means we’re letting in a lot of light. By instead narrowing the aperture and making the opening smaller, it takes longer for the same amount of light to reach the sensor.

Quick aperture test: Set your camera to Aperture Priority and fix the ISO to 100. Notice how the shutter speed decreases when you go from an aperture of f/4 to f/22. What does this tell us? That narrow apertures allow us to use a slower shutter speed.

Combining a setting sun and a narrow aperture might make you able to achieve a shutter speed of a few seconds.

The darker it gets, the longer the shutter speed you can use.

Problems With Using a Narrow Aperture

It should be mentioned that there are certain downsides to using a narrow aperture to achieve a long exposure.

If you’re familiar with how aperture works, you might already know that an aperture such as f/22 has a negative impact on image quality.


Recommended Reading: Introduction to Aperture in Landscape Photography


While a narrow aperture leads to more of the image being in focus, it’s not as sharp as it would be at an aperture between f/7.1 and f/11. This is OK for images that will only be displayed on the web but it can cause problems when printing large format images.

Just make sure that adjusting the aperture doesn’t affect the ISO. I strongly recommend manually adjusting the ISO and keeping it at the lowest native value for this purpose.

#3 Use the Camera’s Built in Multiple Exposure Mode

There’s an abundance of settings and modes in your camera but one to take notice of when capturing long exposure photography without filters is the Multiple Exposure mode.

You can use this mode to increase the shutter speed by up to 10 times (without actually adjusting the shutter speed itself). Let’s just hop straight into it:

Start by mounting your camera on the tripod. Next, go into the camera menu and turn on the Multiple Exposure mode. The exact location of this mode varies from camera to camera. If you’re not sure where it is, a quick Google search or look through the camera manual will help.

Increase the Number of Shots option to the maximum possible. For most cameras, this will be 10. Change the Overlay Mode to Average.

Now go ahead and capture the series of images. You want to take the images with as short of a gap between them as possible.

It’s important that the camera doesn’t move between the images, so using a remote shutter is a good option.

Multiple Exposure mode long exposure photography without filters
10 images captured using the Multiple Exposure mode to imitate the effect of a 4-second shutter speed

When all the images are captured, the camera will automatically merge them. Notice that any areas of the photo containing moving elements will have a long exposure photography look.

Keep in mind that the slower the initial shutter speed is, the better this technique will imitate the use of a filter. For example, a 1-second shutter speed used for 10 images simulates the look of a 10-second shutter speed!

#4 Capture Multiple Images to Stack in Photoshop

The final method is similar to the previous but instead of merging images in-camera, it’s done in Photoshop. It’s a little more advanced but it can create better results.

You are limited to use a relatively low number of images when using the camera’s Multiple Exposure mode. That’s not the case in Photoshop. There you can stack as many images as you want.

Why is that better? Because the more images you have, the longer shutter speed you can imitate.

Start by mounting the camera on a tripod and capture a series of images. The more frames you have, the more extreme the effect becomes. Aim at having at least 20 images.

As with the previous method, avoid moving the camera between the shot and have as little of a gap as possible between the images.

Here’s the exact step-by-step to simulate a long exposure effect in Photoshop:

  1. Open Photoshop and select File -> Scripts -> Load Files into Stack…
  2. Click Browse, select all the files in the series and click Open
  3. Check the Create Smart Objects after Loading Layers box and click OK
  4. Let Photoshop open the files and create the Smart Object.
  5. When the Smart Object is created, go to Layers -> Smart Objects -> Stack Mode -> Mean

This should result in a beautiful long exposure effect where any moving objects are nicely blurred.

If the static landscape is blurred, it means that the tripod or camera likely has moved between some of the shots. In that case, start over and check the Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images box in the Load Files into Stack dialogue window.

Long Exposure Photography Without Filters? Now You Know How!

That’s it. It really is that simple to achieve a long exposure effect without using filters. There are only a handful of requirements:

  • Use a tripod
  • Use a remote shutter or delayed shutter
  • Avoid photographing when it’s bright outside
  • Use a narrow aperture such as f/22
  • Alternative: Use the Multiple Exposure mode
  • Alternative: Stack a series of images in Photoshop

Note that when using option #4, you don’t need to use a narrow aperture or avoid shooting during the daytime. Focus on applying the best camera settings and then take as many shots as you need in order to create the long exposure effect in Photoshop.

I encourage you to go out to try these techniques for yourself. Make sure to share the result with us, I’d love to see what you come up with!


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Long Exposure Photography Without Filters

Photographer of the Month: René Algesheimer

I’m excited to share this month’s featured photographer: René Algesheimer. René is a photographer whose work I’ve been enjoying for quite some time. It’s particularly his clean and calm style that I’ve been drawn towards.

In this interview, you get to learn more about how he got started with photography, how his profession as a scientist impacts his photographic choices, and much more.

Tell us a little about who you are and how you got started with landscape photography.

Thanks a lot for this opportunity, Christian! Happy to do so.

My name is René Algesheimer. I am a landscape photographer based in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I have been photographing nature and the landscape for about six years now after re-discovering the camera in 2015. My father was very fascinated by photography and a passionate photographer. From early on, visual imagery had a huge influence on me.

While my father has an analytical and scientific background, my mother’s family was heavily influenced by music and the arts. On my artistic path

Rene Algesheimer Photography

In my professional life, I am a data scientist, full professor and lab director at the University of Zurich. There, I gratefully received the opportunity to manage a research excellence lab of about 25 young researchers on the topic of social networks. We do research on human values, sustainability, and social influence in online networks. Years ago, I received my master’s degree in mathematics and a bachelor’s degree in music (piano, sax). Then, in the Ph.D., I switched to applied math in management and marketing. Today, I mainly teach courses on personal branding, digital marketing, and marketing analytics.

Curiosity is my driver of everything – in research and in the arts. I try to ask many questions, read about the background of my photographic landscapes and always try to think out of the box.

Wondering makes me aware of my limits of understanding. It is a still desire to understand the world, but it also translates into love, awe of the world, gratitude, humility and stillness.

I’m a big admirer of your work and you’re one of a handful of photographers’ work that I instantly recognize. Can you tell us a little about how you’ve created such a distinct style for yourself?

That is very kind of you and means a lot to me. Thank you! There currently is a rich discussion about the development of personal style. However, I think style is the wrong word. I specifically choose a visual style when it fits the intention of my project. This means in full consequence that I can change a style as a tool. Perhaps today I am more interested in abstract, high contrast black and white photography in a project. Tomorrow perhaps in lush, colorful photography of large landscapes. A style is a tool for me.

Rene Algesheimer Photography

However, what remains behind each style in each project is my own personality, which exerts an influence on my questions, projects and the particular style.

Following up on the previous question, what do you recommend other photographers to do in order to create their own recognizable styles?

An authentic personality is something I can work on. From my point of view, this artistic personality is driven by three influences:

1. Who am I? With great inward attention, a presence and mindfulness towards the world, I get to know myself and the world better. This gives rise to a lot of questions that spill over into my projects. Photography is the medium I use to discover new facets of myself. I’d therefore recommend others to don’t look too much to the outside, but rather listen to yourself and find what makes you excited. Follow that path.

2. What do I want to express? From my questions, thoughts and feelings towards the world, an intention emerges, what I want to say. My contribution, so to speak, to the world. Based on my intent, I start thinking about the photographs I’d like to make to tell my story. Photography might be a tool, but think about what you are using the tool for.

3. How can I communicate my intention? I love to learn, to develop, to get to know new facets and I learn with great passion, discipline and commitment. With this attitude, I try to find the best possible form of communication for my intention.

Rene Algesheimer Photography

In sum, I believe that through mindfulness, patience, hard work and an authentic self, your personality will find its path to shine through your artistic work with time. There are no shortcuts for this. But there is also no enforcement necessary. Just create, and stop consuming.

One thing I may add: Of course, I have a very special situation of not having to earn an income with photography. This has always given me great independence to focus on those subjects that I enjoy. My focus should be on my intent, not on followers nor likes.

How important is personal branding for a landscape photographer?

In math, there is always a clear answer. In management, I have learned early on that the most reasonable answer in almost all situations is “it depends”. Well, to answer your question: It depends.

The focus of your question should be on the word “photographer”. First, there must be something that you can communicate as a brand. People discover very quickly when brands are empty of content and soul-less.

It takes a personality with an intention to communicate something through its visual images. If I can offer this intention as a promise on a permanent basis, the opportunity to build a brand around me presents itself. But the motivation must come from within and not imposed from outside.

If these conditions are present and if I want to make a promise to my potential target customers like in a contract that I can offer the same high quality of my work permanently through my authentic personality, then branding can be very important. Branding then helps to build a comparative competitive advantage through a clear unique selling proposition (USP).

Rene Algesheimer Photography

Currently, I am very excited to work on an upcoming mentoring class, in which I support and accompany young photographers in finding their true personality, their intent and visual style. We’ll work together and create project drafts. Throughout this process, branding will be very important, and we’ll slowly develop the personal brands of the involved artists.

Stillness and peacefulness are two words that come in mind when looking at your work. Are there any specific approaches you make in the field or in post-processing to ‘simplify’ an image?

If this is the case, I am very grateful. Across all my projects, this is certainly the great underlying motivation and intention.

I don’t use any special techniques, but I look for calmness and slowness. It is important to me to get involved or immersed with nature. Often, I sit, sometimes with my eyes closed, and let all the impressions such as sounds, smells, movements, or sounds and colors affect me. This helps me to get more involved with nature and to see new sides of it. When something appeals to me, I try to find out what it is that fascinates me. I then work this out. I often stay with an object for a very long time and experiment a lot in order to create this calmness already in the camera.

Rene Algesheimer Interview

When working on the computer, I simplify further and try to strengthen my intention of the image, but to let the tones, colors and contrasts come to rest. I don’t like it when images scream at me. I have to be able to open them up and discover them for myself. I succeeded little at the beginning, but I am on a path now.

As a professor of Marketing and Marketing Research, what are your thoughts on social media and other platforms for photographers?

How much space do we have? Overall, I would say that social media was one of the worst inventions of man. It has caused people to lose sight of the inside and orient themselves to the outside. Through clever mechanisms like gamification and intelligent algorithms that learn from our behavior, people become addicted. From a young age on. Suddenly only the feedback from the outside counts. It is a competitive world in which you only see what everyone else has. This development leads to a great artistic emptiness and replicated images without soul and without intention.

While in a few years we will probably say that we could have never approached a large number of potential audiences and get attention easier and cheaper than through social media, but we will then finally realize that we all became the product of social platforms. Eagerly giving them insight into our preferences and behavior by sharing data with them. A high price we then pay for the free use of these platforms. 

Rene Algesheimer Interview

You’ve mentioned that both music and words have inspired you throughout your life and that images have recently been added to this list. What is it that inspires you when looking at photography, and what inspires you to create your own?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. I firmly believe that in order to work creatively, we need a lot of different inspirations, a lot of rest and a lot of reflection. For me, books, music, pictures of any kind, but also woodworking, crafts or cooking are good sources of inspiration. Ultimately, of course, my wonderful family and all the mirrors they hold up to me every day. Planning to have off-photography time, seems important to me.

The Japanese philosophy Ikigai is also something you’ve mentioned as an inspiration. How has this philosophy helped shape your photography?

I have a great and deep fascination for Japan, Japanese history, culture and the arts – though a limited knowledge that I am slowly trying to expand. I find inspiration in many Japanese sources and wisdom.

Ikigai describes the state of living one’s life meaningfully and with a purpose. It is important to me that I know myself and live a life that is true to my nature. For me, human values, faith, gratitude, energy and joy are very important in life. I try to bring myself in harmony with my nature.

When I achieve this (which I have often failed to do), then I am in harmony with myself. This means that in the best case I no longer have to make conscious decisions in life, but that life shows me the way. Transferred to photography, the images then come to me.

Rene Algesheimer Interview

So much for the theory. In practice, I struggle, but I am learning…

What’s one piece of equipment you always have in your camera bag?

Guess you are searching out for the surprising rather than the expected gear. I have some weird stuff in my bag. When I’m in the mountains or in the “wild”, I always have a whistle with me. Since the movie Titanic, I have learned that it can even make sense on the open sea if you can be heard!

All kidding aside. I think safety should always be the first priority. I usually use a Garmin inReach mini as a secure satellite connection, mobile apps that send my GPS coordinates to my wife’s email account, and my whistle. Otherwise, the Multi-Tool by Novoflex to have different hex keys and screwdrivers at hand. Tape that I use for all kinds of things. Finally, an LCDVF viewfinder that I enjoy using to control the composition and verify the edges of a taken photograph.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these mentioned brands.

What are your top 3 advice for someone who’s just getting into photography?

#1 Focus where happiness lies and follow this path.

#2 Now is now. I don’t believe in any dogma, greatness, role models, templates for life, or any shortcut. There is just the moment. An artist is present. And from this stillness comes brilliance. Limit your inputs to listen to your stillness and share your insights with the world. I believe that this is an artist’s task.

#3 Don’t judge your life in a day. Don’t make harsh decisions on your career, let it organically come. But, put your heart out in every photograph, every caption, post, talk, or work you do. Clients don’t buy your work, they pay for the authenticity of who you are as a person.

Thank you, René, for taking the time to answer these questions. For those who want to enjoy more of his beautiful work, make sure to visit his website, Instagram, Twitter, Behance or Foundation.


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What to do When Conditions Are Bad

Bad Conditions Photography

We might hope for dramatic clouds, rainbows, or perfect light each time we’re out photographing but the reality isn’t quite as nice. Either it’s too cloudy, not enough clouds, too wet, too dry, too windy, too flat… It’s just not right.

This is part of the game but there’s no secret that long periods of bad light affect your motivation. I won’t lie, I still struggle with this from time to time.

But is there really nothing to do when the conditions aren’t right? Should you just pack up and leave? No! There are still several things you can do to make it a productive and rewarding session.

What are bad conditions?

The first thing we need to do is clarify what bad conditions are. I bet you that the term is quite different for landscape photographers than most others.

What most consider bad weather conditions is often a landscape photographer’s favorite. Wind, snow, clouds… all elements that can help convey a story.

When I use the term ‘bad conditions’, I don’t refer to a specific type of weather. It all boils down to what I’m photographing or what I’m envisioning.

For example, harsh light might be tricky when photographing a waterfall but it can be great when focusing on an abstract scene. Fog is great when exploring the forests but not so much when photographing a mountain vista. Rainbows are great when… well, rainbows are always great.

My point is that there’s not one particular type of weather that is bad for photographers. TJ Thorne proves this in his eBook ‘There’s No Such Thing as Bad Light‘, where he teaches how to capture portfolio-worthy images even in harsh mid-day light.

The two images below are an example of this. The general conditions are, in my opinion, bad. I don’t like photographing wide-angle scenes when there are no clouds and harsh light. Now, I could consider this a defeat and try again another day but instead, I changed my perspective and zoomed in on the waterfall, eliminating the sky from the image.

Bad conditions for photography
The harsh light and flat sky categorises as ‘bad conditions’ in my book.
Zoom in when photographing in bad conditions
Changing my perspective and zooming in made for an interesting image even in harsh light.

While I was a little frustrated at first, changing my mindset and approach led to me returning home with two portfolio images from a session where the conditions were bad. Truth is that there are always subjects that will thrive in the given conditions.

But, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to ‘bad conditions’ as any type of conditions that aren’t ideal for the shot you have in mind.

Let’s take a look at a few things you can do when that’s the case:

Take time to scout the area

It’s easy to feel uninspired when things don’t work out the way you hoped. That’s why patience is crucial for photographers.

Instead of packing up and giving up, you should take the opportunity to explore the area. Search for interesting foregrounds and compositions. I guarantee that you’ll find something you hadn’t seen before.

The more time you spend scouting an area, the more likely it is that you’ll get great images when the conditions are right. Why? Because you’re prepared. You know where to go and you don’t need to run around searching for a composition.

Tree in snowstorm - scouting pays off
I had scouted this area during dozens of ‘failed’ attempts so I knew exactly where to go when the conditions got as envisioned.

The image above is an example of when scouting pays off.

This is shot in a location that I’ve spent years exploring in all sorts of conditions without ever quite getting what I wanted. I had an idea of photographing these trees in a whiteout snowstorm but conditions like this don’t happen too often.

When it finally did happen, I knew exactly where to go. I knew exactly which trees to photograph and from which angle they would look best.

Had I not taken the time to properly scout the place during other visits, I would’ve wasted valuable time searching for compositions. In the worst-case scenario, I’d end up having the perfect conditions without being able to capture anything noteworthy.

Take test shots

Just because conditions are bad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the camera at all. These days are all about preparing yourself for the moments when the light becomes good.

While scouting makes you familiar with the surroundings, taking test shots will prepare you to capture the best possible images.

When you find elements that look interesting, take a shot! Set up your composition, adjust your settings, and fire away. These aren’t going to be portfolio images but they will help you get them.

Change perspectives in bad conditions

Recommended Reading: 5 Compositional Guidelines to Know in Landscape Photography


Back home and in front of the computer, you should take the time to study your test images. Which angles work bests? What lines help the composition? Which composition tells the best story? Ask yourself all these questions and make notes.

Export the images to your phone with notes on them, so when you go back in better conditions you know how to handle the situation.

Step out of your comfort zone

The third thing you can do on days where conditions are bad, is to try something different. Force yourself to look beyond the surface and actively search for subjects that make good images in the given conditions.

Shift focus in bad conditions
Isolating the peak by zooming in made the image a lot more interesting

I’ve talked about the importance of experimenting with different focal lengths in previous articles and this is one of the things you can try when the conditions are bad.

The image above was captured on a day with bright blue skies. However, there were some clouds covering a nearby mountain, and every now and then the peak would emerge. A perfect opportunity to use a long focal length when the light otherwise was uninteresting.

Another idea is to shift your focus towards nature’s smaller scenes. Are there any interesting subjects in the ground around you? A flower that stands out, a crack in the mud, the formation of the mud? The image below was captured on an overcast day where I actively tried to look for something different than what I’d typically photograph. The result was a photo of seaweed moving in a little tidal pool.

Photographing in Bad Conditions

It’s first when you step out of your comfort zone that your creative growth begins. And what better time to do that than when the conditions don’t allow you to take the images you would’ve otherwise?

Conclusion

Photographers are quick to blame the conditions when returning home empty-handed but the truth is that there’s always an image to be taken. It might not always work out and you may still come home without a noteworthy image but at least you tried.

Days with bad conditions shouldn’t be thought of as failed attempts.

Take advantage of the opportunity and get to know the area better. Prepare yourself for the days when conditions are good. You should also challenge yourself to look for something different than what you’d normally photograph. Take a moment to carefully examine the surroundings and see what you find.

What do you do on the days where conditions aren’t ideal?


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Bad Conditions Photography

Patience: The Key Ingredient to Becoming a Great Photographer

Patience in Photography

When I first got into photography, I expected to return home with great images from every outing. Obviously, that didn’t happen and it didn’t take long for my frustrations to grow. Why wasn’t I able to capture photos as good as others?!

Maybe this sounds familiar to you. You’ve learned the fundamental camera settings and you’ve read up on compositions but most of your images still aren’t great. They lack that little extra. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This is something most photographers struggle with at some point.

There are many factors involved in creating a good photo but there’s one key ingredient that’s often neglected: patience.

The truth is that your favorite photographers don’t return home with great images each time they go out. In reality, only a small percentage of their images will ever see the light of day. An even smaller percentage finds its way into the portfolio.

It’s this factor that many forget. Especially in the beginning. You rarely see all the work that other photographers put into creating an image, so it’s easy to think that they’re just more lucky than you.

Having a technical understanding is important but having the patience, or grit, is just as essential.

Are you willing to spend days, weeks, or years trying to perfect a photo? Do you step out of your comfort zone and go on long hikes or drives over and over until you get the image you’ve envisioned? Do you put in the work?

That’s what it takes to become a better photographer.

Hard work pays off

I want to tell you a story about an image that I captured last summer. It’s a photo that I talked a fair bit about in a recent online presentation for a camera club here in Norway and a story that turned out to be a little eye-opener for some.

Patience in photography

When you see this photo, you might think something along the lines of ‘how lucky you were to get the rainbow and light’. It’s easy to understand why you’d think that as I’m going to guess that rainbows and colorful sunsets don’t happen each time you go out photographing. It certainly doesn’t to me.

I did get lucky with this shot. Lucky in the sense that it only took four attempts.

This was captured in an area that I had scouted a couple of years before and was determined to get a shot of during the late summer months. Getting there involves a 1-hour drive, a 2 to 3-hour hike with a 20kg backpack, and a night in the tent. Warm summer days don’t result in the light I’m looking for so, instead, I need to go on rainy days. Rainy days here in the Arctic often include wind and cold temperatures.

Now, hiking and tenting is a passion of mine but, from a photography standpoint, it got frustrating when the first three attempts didn’t result in a single good image. I returned home without anything. One time due to low clouds blocking the visibility, another due to too much rain, and one where the light just didn’t get interesting.

I feared the same would happen during the fourth attempt as the heavy rain seemed to have no end. But, for a brief 15 minutes, the sun broke through the clouds and gave some magical light.

Those 15 minutes were all that I needed. Since I had used the previous visits to become familiar with the area, I knew where to run when the light hit in this direction. 15 minutes is all that you need. It’s in that little window of time where your hard work pays off.

Many say that you need to be at the right place at the right time, and that is true. But in order to find that time you need to try over and over again. Create your own luck.

I consider four attempts over the course of a couple of weeks to be a success. It’s not uncommon that I return to the same spot, often requiring much further drives and hikes, dozens of times during a year without getting anything that I’m excited about.

There’s always an exception

Now, every good image doesn’t require days of hiking, years of planning, and all sorts of hard work. Sometimes, things just work out. It’s perfectly possible to get a good image on the first visit. Here’s one of my favorite examples of that:

Patience in landscape photography

This shot was captured on a recent road trip to a place I knew little about. It was ‘luck’ that I found this particular composition and it was luck that the light got so good. To be honest, I expected little from that night as it had been raining upwards the entire day.

So yes, there are always exceptions. There will always be those moments when all the elements align and you get a great shot. But don’t expect to get those conditions each time. A professional photographer spends hundreds of days shooting without capturing any noteworthy images.

While I’m excited about the image above, it’s far from perfect. I look at it as a good beginning. It was a new area for me and I was treated with brilliant light but there are many things that can be improved. That means I need to get back in the car and spend more time exploring the area. Then, perhaps, I’ll one day capture something that deserves a spot in the portfolio.

Don’t give up. Patience is key

One of the most important things you can learn as a photographer (or artist in general) is to invest time. The more time you spend in the field, the more likely it is you’re going to get a few sessions with great conditions.

The days where the light is boring and the conditions aren’t optimal shouldn’t be viewed as a failure. Instead, take the time to explore and take note of possible compositions and perspectives. Look for interesting subjects. Become familiar with the place so that you’re prepared when the light becomes better. Because, if you’re patient enough, conditions will be top-notch one day.

Hard work pays off and that’s especially true when it comes to your creative endeavors. Stick to it, keep trying, and don’t give up. Great results will come!


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Patience in Photography

How to Straighten a Horizon in Photoshop

Straighten Horizon in Photoshop

Let’s be honest… Capturing an image with a perfectly straight horizon is easier said than done. Even with the help of built-in level guides or hot shoe levelers, some photos just don’t want to be straight.

Luckily, it’s an easy problem to fix in post-processing as the majority of photo editors has a straightening tool.

I’ve tested many of them and while most do an equally good job for simple corrections, I find Photoshop to be the best. By far.

The reason is that it’s more flexible. You don’t need to rely on a single tool or work within a specific parameter. Instead, you have a handful of options that can be used to correct crooked or tilted lines. Be it a horizon or a tilted building or tree.

Below, I share two methods to straighten a horizon in Photoshop. One method is ideal for simple corrections while the other can be used for more complex corrections.

First, Create a New Guide

There is one thing you need to do before initiating one of the below methods: create a new guide and place it along the horizon.

This makes it easy to see when the horizon becomes straight. Especially since you’re not able to zoom in or out during the straightening process.

A guide is created by clicking on the top ruler and dragging down. This reveals a white line that you can drag and drop onto the photo. If you haven’t activated the rulers, you can do this by clicking CMD+R on a Mac or Ctrl+R on a PC. Alternatively, you can go to View -> Rulers from the top bar menu.

Create New Guide in Photoshop
Start by creating a New Guide…

If you don’t want to use rulers but still want a guide, you can create one by going to View -> New Guide.

Method #1: Skew

The first method is ideal for basic straightening. Images that fall within this category can easily be straightened by using a simpler photo editor such as Lightroom or Luminar 4.

An advantage of applying this straightening method in Photoshop is that you avoid cropping the image in areas below the horizon. Standard straightening tools will rotate the image until the horizon is correct, meaning that you lose chunks of the image.


Recommended Reading: How to Straighten a Crooked Horizon in Lightroom


Using Photoshop’s Skew tool, you correct the horizon or crooked lines without rotating the image. Start by moving the guide to touch the highest part of the horizon, such as this:

Straighten images in Photoshop
Step #1: Place the Guide to touch the highest part of the horizon

As we can see from the guide, the image above is slightly tilted towards the right.

Next, activate the Transform Tool. This can be done by hitting Cmd+T on a Mac or Ctrl+T on a PC. Then right-click on the image and select Skew from the drop-down menu. Alternatively, you can go to Edit -> Transform -> Skew.

Straighten images in Photoshop
Step #2: Activate the Skew Transform Tool

The final step is to grab the top knob on the side where the horizon is not touching the guide. In this case, that’s the upper right knob. Click and hold while pulling the knob upwards. This will ‘pull’ the right side of the image (more correctly, skew it). Keep pulling until the horizon aligns with the guide.

Straighten images in Photoshop
Step #3: Pull the top knob until the horizon and guide is aligned

That’s it! The image is now straight. Hit enter on your keyboard to apply the correction. You can then click and drag the guide back to the rules to remove it.

Method #2: Warp

The second method is slightly more tricky but is the go-to method for images that require more than a basic straightening. This could, for example, be due to distortion from a wide-angle lens. In those cases, the highest point of the horizon tends to be around the middle, with both sides tilting each their way.

What that means, is that following method #1 won’t work. That will only make things worse.

Instead, we need to use the Warp tool. Start by placing the guide at the highest point of the horizon, such as this:

Warp in Photoshop
Step #1: Place the Guide to touch the top of the horizon

Next, activate the Transform Tool such as we did in method #1. Then right-click on the image and select Warp from the drop-down menu. Alternatively, you can go to Edit -> Transform -> Warp.

Warp in Photoshop
Step #2: Active the Warp Transform Tool

Unlike the previous method where we only adjusted one knob, we need to now adjust two. This is because we need to correct more areas of the photo.

It doesn’t matter which side you do first. Simply grab the knob nearest the horizon and pull it up until that side looks ok. Then, repeat for the opposite side.

Warp in Photoshop
Step #3: Pull the left and right knobs until the horizon is straight

I recommend keeping an eye on the horizon when using this tool. It’s not uncommon that you get some unwanted curves along the horizon (i.e. a wavy look). If this happens, you need to either undo your previous step or attempt to correct it by pulling up or down along the horizon. This gets a bit more complicated as you need to add more control points. I recommend reading this article by Photoshop Essentials if you want to learn more about advanced uses of the Warp Tool.

In most cases, you won’t need to worry about adding extra control points. That’s more likely if you have an extremely crooked horizon with various elements that need different corrections.

For simpler purposes, such as the image above, these few steps are enough to make the results look good.

You might notice white areas around parts of your image after using this method. In that case, open the Free Transform tool and pull the corners slightly outwards until they’re gone.

Combine Both Methods

The beauty of Photoshop is that you’re extremely flexible compared to more basic photo editors. What that means for us when straightening crooked horizons, is that we don’t need to stick with only one method.

It’s perfectly possible to combine both the methods above. In fact, I quite regularly do. It’s not always that every part of an image benefits from being perfectly straight; distortion can play to your advantage.

You can hop between the Skew and Warp tools as you want. Simply right-click on the photo (when the Transform Tool is active) and select either option from the drop-down menu.

Finally, I strongly recommend having this as the first step of your Photoshop workflow. This allows you to maintain a non-destructive workflow and avoid unnecessarily merged or stamped layers.

That’s it! As you can see, it’s not that difficult to straighten a horizon in Photoshop. There are a few more steps than in the more basic photo editors but you can handle much more complex tasks. There’s nothing to be intimidated about!


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Straighten Horizon in Photoshop

Saturation vs. Vibrance. What’s the Difference?

Saturation and Vibrance

The Saturation and Vibrance sliders are well-known and used by photographers in all genres alike. But do you know the difference between them?

If not, then you’re not alone. In fact, most photographers just play around with them until finding the combination which makes an image look good.

It should go without saying that this isn’t ideal. That’s why I highly recommend taking two minutes to understand their differences.

To make things visual and easy to understand, we’ll be adjusting vibrance and saturation to the image below. The image hasn’t been processed in any other way. For this example, we’ll use the Saturation and Vibrance sliders in Lightroom but the effects will be similar in other photo editors too.

Difference Between Saturation and Vibrance
The original and unedited RAW file

What is Saturation

The Saturation slider is used to adjust the colors within the image and is perhaps one of the most debated tools across all photo editors, as it’s one that’s often overused.

Colors are brightened and deepened when dragging the slider towards the right while pulling it to the left removes the colors and ultimately makes it a monochrome.

But how’s this different from Vibrance? Isn’t that exactly what it does as well? Kind of…

Saturation adjusts all the pixels in an image. That means that pixels with an already high saturation are treated equally as pixels with low saturation.

The problem with this is that you’ll end up clipping the already saturated colors and losing details in them.

Saturation vs. Vibrance
Saturation +65

For the example above, I increased saturation to +65. Certain colors are too saturated and bright in my opinion but it’s still somewhat restricted. Yet, notice how the already bright colors (see the original file further up) are starting to lose details.

Now take a look at the second photo and see what happens when increasing the saturation to +100. Certain colors have lost all details and we’re even seeing a few new colors that weren’t visible in the beginning.

Difference between Saturation and Vibrance
Saturation +100

The Saturation slider can be a useful tool but adjusting colors at a global level is something you always should be somewhat careful with. It doesn’t take much to ‘break’ an image.

What is Vibrance

The main difference between the Vibrance and Saturation sliders is that Vibrance only affects the less saturated colors of an image; colors and pixels that already are saturated are less affected, which means that it’s less likely to blow out any colors.

In the image below, I’ve increased the Vibrance to +65. Compare this to the image above using the same value for the Saturation slider and you can see that this is a less surreal and more constrained result.

Saturation or Vibrance
Vibrance +65

The difference is even bigger when increasing the Vibrance slider to the far right. This looks desaturated compared to when doing the same for the Saturation slider.

Vibrance +100

As you can see, the originally saturated colors haven’t been adjusted nearly as much. The Vibrance slider is less ‘surreal’, more constrained, and can handle bigger adjustments.

Use the Sliders Carefully

The Vibrance and Saturation sliders are two tools that should be used with some restrictions. They definitely have their purpose in your post-processing workflow but it doesn’t take much to over-do it. That’s why these are two of the most talked-about tools in modern image editing.

Using moderate values on these sliders is going to give greater results. Of course, each image (and each photographer) is different. But, in general, I recommend avoiding high values. If you see any strange artifacts in the colors, you’ve gone too far.

An advantage of using the Vibrance slider is that it’s less likely that you get extremely unnatural-looking images.

Avoid Global Color Adjustments

Working with color adjustments on a global level isn’t always ideal. Especially not when working on the image’s saturation. It’s rare that all colors within a photo benefit from the exact same treatment.

A better option is to work with the individual colors. This isn’t much more difficult than using the standard Saturation and Vibrance sliders but the results will be a lot better.

In Lightroom, this can be done using the HSL/Color Tab. In my opinion, this is one of the most important tools as it gives you great control over the individual colors.

HSL/Color Tab Lightroom
Colors adjusted using Lightroom’s HSL/Color tab

You can use the tool to adjust the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of the Reds, Oranges, Yellows, Greens, Aquas, Blues, Purples and Magentas.

What this means is that you’re able to, for example, increase the saturation of the reds without affecting any of the other colors. This is essential in order to control and correct the colors in your image. Best of all? You don’t have to worry about introducing strange-looking colors.

Conclusion

Saturation and Vibrance are important parts of a photographer’s post-processing workflow. After all, they can make an image more vibrant and welcoming.

The main difference is that Saturation affects all pixels while Vibrance only adjusts the less dominant colors. Besides that, they are similar and are used for the same purpose.

Using the general Saturation and Vibrance sliders, however, isn’t ideal. Colors rarely benefit from global adjustments. That’s why it’s better to use tools such as the HSL/Color tab in Lightroom or the Advanced Color Settings in Luminar 4. This lets you target the individual colors and, ultimately, get better results!


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Saturation and Vibrance

Sunset Photography: 8 Proven Tips for Great Images

Sunset Photography Tips

There’s no big secret that sunset photography is popular. What’s not to love about a beautifully pink or dramatically red sky?

Nowadays, it takes something special to have your golden hour images stand out from the crowd. There’s an abundance of images with nice colorful skies but fewer that can be considered impactful.

So what does it take to create images that look professional? How can you tell a story beyond the colorful sky?

The good news is that there isn’t all that much extra that needs to be done. It’s often enough to make just a few simple changes in your approach. Let’s find out what.

#1 Arrive Early and Stay Late

Patience is a key ingredient in becoming a better photographer. You can’t expect to simply show up, fire off a couple of shots, and leave with great images. Those situations are rare.

Instead, you need to arrive at the location early and stay late. This will drastically increase the likelihood of returning home with great images.

Exactly how early you should arrive depends on the location. If it’s one that you’ve never visited before, you want to arrive extra early to explore the area and find the best compositions. If it’s your local spot that you frequently visit, you might not need as much time exploring, so you just need to be all set up before the best light arrives.

I also recommend staying for a while after the light starts fading. It’s not over before it’s over. Sometimes the best light comes unexpectedly late or closer to blue hour. There’s no worse feeling than being in the car on your way home when the light suddenly becomes amazing! (Trust me, I speak from experience)

#2 Know the Sun’s Position

There’s certainly a fair bit of luck involved in sunset photography but there are some factors you should pay attention to in order to increase the chances of capturing impactful images. The sun’s position is one of them.

Sunset Photography Tips
Know the sun’s positioning for sunrise or sunset. Shutter Speed: 15 seconds, Aperture f/11, ISO100

Knowing where the sun will be during sunrise or sunset is important in order to get an idea of what the light will do. It means you know whether your main subject will be bathed in light or left in the shadow. Knowing how the light affects the landscape will better prepare you for what’s to come.

It also gives you an idea of how the sky takes on color. Of course, there are more factors involved in colorful clouds but the sun is definitely one of them.

A common misconception for sunset photography is that the sun needs to be in a particular direction. This is not true! Good light comes in many variations. It doesn’t matter if you get backlight, sidelight or if you shoot directly into the sun. What matters is that you adapt to the light you’re given.

#3 Watch Out for Lens Flare

Lens flares are amongst a sunset photographer’s worst enemies. They can be hard to avoid, especially when photographing towards the sun, and they instantly remove the ‘wow’ factor an image could’ve had.

There are two basic methods to avoid unwanted lens flares:

  1. Use a lens hood (though this doesn’t work when using filters)
  2. Adjust your perspective until the sun is out of the frame

These methods work ok in most scenarios but they aren’t ideal. The first option doesn’t work when using filters and the second means you’re altering the composition.

The third option is to capture two or more images that are to be blended together in post-processing. This is a slightly more advanced alternative but it works wonders.

Start by placing the camera on a tripod. Set up your composition and take the shot. Now, place a couple of fingers in front of the lens and cover up the sun, such as in the example below. Then take a shot. Make sure that there are no more flares in the landscape.

The next step is to blend the two images together in post-processing using a software such as Adobe Photoshop. This is done by opening both images as layers (where the covered image is placed on top), then using a black brush on a white layer mask to paint back the sky.


Recommended Reading: Understanding Layers and Masks in Photoshop


There are going to be some of you who want to comment and say that lens flares can add an extra dimension to a photo. You are, of course, right. What we’re talking about here are unintentional lens flares. Those, you want to avoid.

#4 Avoid Silhouetted Landscapes

Just as with lens flares, there are scenarios where a silhouetted landscape can do wonders for a photograph. But, again, that’s only when they’re intentional.

Generally speaking, unintentional silhouettes are distracting and an indicator that the photographer is new to the craft. Focusing primarily on the sky while leaving the lower portion of the image pure black makes the storytelling much harder.

Silhouetted landscapes are, unfortunately, very common when photographing sunsets. The high dynamic range of the scene, i.e. bright sky and dark landscape, make it difficult to correctly expose the photo. There are two main methods you can apply to avoid this:

  1. Expose for the landscape – this means using a longer shutter speed to introduce details into the foreground. In some cases, it might lead to overexposing the sky.
  2. Use a Graduated Neutral Density filter to darken the sky. This is a great way to balance the exposure and brighten the foreground without overexposing the sky.

The second option is a better choice when dealing with scenes that have a very bright sky. Modern cameras have drastically improved their dynamic range performance and you are able to recover details in a bright sky and bring them out in the shadows. So, combining one of the two options with some basic raw adjustments in your photo editor helps a lot.

#5 Bracket Images

Exposing for the landscape or using a Graduated Neutral Density filter isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes the dynamic range is too big, other times there’s a mountain or object projecting from the horizon. Whatever the reason might be, those basic solutions won’t always work.

That’s when you need to bracket the images and do some magic in post-processing. It’s a technique very similar to what we looked at when avoiding lens flare. The main difference is that instead of placing your fingers in front of the sun, you capture multiple images with different exposures. For example, you can capture one image exposed for the sky and one for the landscape.

This gives you two files that then need to be blended together in Photoshop. You can put the darker exposure on top and paint back the landscape, or vice versa. The result is an image that is correctly exposed in both the sky and foreground.

Now, this is a more advanced technique that requires a certain understanding of post-processing. Most importantly, it requires practice. When it’s done right, this technique is brilliant. When it’s done wrong, however, it looks bad.


Recommended Reading: Capture the Full Dynamic Range by Taking Multiple Exposures


I recommend capturing a few images with different exposures and use these to practice your blending in Photoshop. When you get comfortable with the basic methods, you can use Luminosity Masks to get even better results.

#6 Experiment with Shutter Speeds

The shutter speed is arguably the most important camera setting when it comes to the creative aspect of photography. Even slight adjustments can make a significant difference.

There’s no blueprint of what works best. It often comes down to personal preferences. Personally, I’m a fan of what water looks like when using a slow shutter speed. It makes less of a difference when there are no moving elements in the frame.

This tip is best explained with some visuals so let’s take a look at the same frame shot with at different shutter speeds:

  • Image 1 has a shutter speed of 1/25th second
  • Image 2 has a shutter speed of 20 seconds

As you can see, the difference is significant. Personally, I find the image with a slower shutter speed much more interesting. It adds a new dimension and steps away from reality. The first photo is ok but feels a little more ordinary.

Experimenting with shutter speeds is still a big part of my workflow. While I have an idea of what an image will look like with a quick or slow shutter speed, I still set aside time to try different settings. Having Neutral Density filters is crucial for this.

#7 Use Different Focal Lengths

It’s not only the shutter speed you should experiment with; the focal length is just as important. I’ve written extensively about the importance of focal lengths before and have gone in-depth about this in my eBook ‘A Comprehensive Introduction to Landscape Photography‘ but it’s worth repeating.

An image captured at 14mm will have a completely different meaning than one captured at 200mm, an image shot at 200mm will be different than one shot at 400mm.

Again, there’s no right and wrong. This is another aspect that comes down to personal preferences but it also depends on the scenery you’re photographing. Some situations benefit from a long focal length while others look better when shot at an ultra-wide angle.

Long Lens Sunset Photography
Photographing a sunset at 200mm. Shutter Speed: 1/500, Aperture f/10, ISO125

Having at least two lenses with different focal lengths is going to be a huge advantage in your development as a photographer. Not only will you be able to photograph a large variety of scenes but you’ll also learn to better observe your surroundings.

It wasn’t until I started photographing with a telezoom that I learned to look beyond the grand landscape and appreciate the smaller details it consists of.

#8 Focus on the Composition

All the tips shared above are important parts of improving your sunset photography but they make little difference unless the image has a good composition. This is the fundament of a good photo.

I know that it’s easy to get carried away when the sky is exploding in colors. In those moments, you forget about everything else. But it’s also in those moments you need to take a deep breath and put a little extra effort into your image. At least if you’re aiming to become a better photographer.

Incorporate the sky into a composition. Shutter Speed: 1 second, Aperture f/10, ISO80

The most important part when setting up your composition for sunset photography is to incorporate the sky into the composition. Yes, that often means you include less of the sky. Less sky means more foreground, so it’s essential that you find a foreground and composition that guides the viewer through the frame.

A sky is there to complement the rest. It’s the icing on the cake!

Conclusion

Sunset photography is without a doubt popular amongst landscape photographers. The golden light and colorful skies look great in a photo. It’s also the perfect time to be outside and simply observe.

Capturing a great sunset photo doesn’t come without challenges. Dealing with the dynamic range, light, lens flare, and even the sun’s positioning can be frustrating. A few simple mistakes are enough to make an image less appealing.

Luckily, it doesn’t take that much extra effort to create a beautiful image. Implement the tips above and you’ll quickly see a difference. Are you ready to get back out there?


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Advice from Full-Time Photographers on Turning Pro

Tips for Turning Pro
Image by Stian Klo

Many aspiring (and seasoned) photographers dream of making their hobby into a full-time profession. Who doesn’t want to make a sufficient living from traveling the world and taking pictures?

But what does it take to turn pro? Is it really as perfect as it sounds? I’ve talked with 5 industry-leading full-time photographers and asked them to share their best advice on turning pro.

#1 Be Willing to Make Sacrifices

Mark Metternich is a well-known name amongst most landscape photographers. With more than 10 years experience as a full-time professional, he certainly knows what it requires.

Here’s Mark’s best advice to those who dream of making photography into a full-time profession:

“As a full-time professional landscape photographer for over 10 years, the very best advice that I can give someone who is interested in attempting to become a professional nature or landscape photographer would be to take an extremely sober and hard look at your passion level, work ethic, willingness to sacrifice immensely and willingness to become a business person even before a photographer. I can not overemphasize how seriously these questions need to be considered.

Tips for Turning Pro
“Red Rain Falling” by Mark Metternich

My favorite musician who passed away many years back, Rich Mullins, when he asked his father for marriage advice, his father said this: If you can live without her, do! I take this wise answer as meaning, if you can live without her, you likely will not have what it takes when the going gets extremely tough! If you can not live without her, you might have a chance.

My absolute best piece of advice would be this: if you can not do nature photography for a living, then don’t do it! I believe that the only people who have any chance at all of actually making a living in this profession are those who can’t not do it! It’s going to be much harder than you think, you will have much more setbacks than you think, they will be bigger than you think, you will have to make sacrifices much larger than you think and the uphill battle will be much steeper and longer than you think.

Tips for Turning Pro
“Light Show” by Mark Metternich

Having said all that, am I glad that I chose to do this for my living for the last decade? Yes! But for me, it has been more of a calling than a mere career or business decision. I simply could not, not do it!”

#2 Find the Connection with Photography

It’s clear that passion is an important factor in succeeding as a full-time professional and Kevin McNeal points out that you need to find a connection with photography and focus less on the numbers. Here’s Kevin’s best tip:

“Although it sounds very cliché, photography must be a passion first and foremost. I have met many people who get involved in photography full-time who are looking to replace their current job which they are not happy with. The problem with this setup is they are always looking for ways within photography to meet the same level of money that their past jobs provided.

As hard as it is to make it full-time, it has to be something you absolutely love more than anything else in the world. When you have passion and enthusiasm for what you do, it comes through in anything you portray out into the world.

Every time I teach a workshop, I emphasize finding the connection to each image and finding a purpose for your photography. Sometimes it takes really exploring yourself to find out what really excites you about photography. But when you do find that one thing that makes it very special, I tell people never to let go of that. As long as they continue to feel as passionate as they did when they first began, any dream can be achieved in whatever you choose.”

#3 Have a Backup Option

A common misconception is that photographers spend all day and every day in the field. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. Australian landscape photographer William Patino emphasizes the importance of having a backup plan and money to fall back on during tougher times:

“Becoming a professional photographer in this day and age is a multifaceted profession, particularly in the landscape photography realm. Unfortunately, creating good imagery is only one piece of the puzzle, with marketing, teaching, and customer service skills all being elements that are almost equally important (to name a few). My honest advice for anyone wanting to turn their hobby or passion into a career is to give yourself a backup option if things don’t work out.

Advice from Professional Photographers

The industry is incredibly saturated and glamorized because of social media and being able to make an honest living from photography requires working almost every hour you’re awake. You really need to love it and have the passion to stay afloat. I’ve seen a few people suddenly quit their jobs and want to pursue photography full time without really thinking of the long term. When this happens and things aren’t running as smoothly as what was perceived, stress develops and the passion can be lost very fast, which in turn affects business, and then it’s a downward spiral.

Giving yourself another option to fall back on or even a second job will really alleviate the pressure to make it work as a photographer and in turn, be better for the creative side of things. This isn’t something I’ve had to do but I certainly made sure that before I quit my full-time career, I had some savings in the bank to get me out of trouble in case things didn’t work out. Photography and being outdoors is so important to me personally, and I don’t ever want to jeopardize the freedom that this art has given me.

If it means having to stop shooting as a career then I can accept that because I haven’t allowed myself to get in such a tight situation where it has to work or I’m doomed.”

#4 Be Persistent, Patient and Curious

Just because you’re a full-time professional doesn’t mean you know it all. No matter your position, it’s important to remain curious and willing to learn. Norwegian photographer Stian Klo says that there are 3 keys to turning pro:

“My best tips for those who want to turn pro would be persistence, patience and curiosity.

By persistence I mean always do your best, you need to be on your toes and create quality content and be true to your style. Building a successful career requires a lot of time and patience. By setting yourself several smaller goals on the way, you will keep on pushing and never look back. At the end of the day, a consistent workflow and signature style will improve your chances of making it.

When I say curiosity, I mean it in a way that you always need to willing to learn and evolve your work. The very moment you think you know it all, you are done for. Look at other photographers’ work, but never imitate or copy their style – instead, ask yourself what, why and how they did it and try to make your own “mindmap” and use that creativity to always be one step ahead of the pack.

Tips for Turning Pro
Image by Stian Klo

Last but not least, always have a backup plan – personally I saved up a 6-month buffer till when shit hits the fan, there are always going to be setbacks on your journey, but with a safety net, you can allow yourself some patience and failures. Those failures will be very useful at a later point in your career.”

#5 Invest in Content

It’s not uncommon that ‘newly turned professionals’ start selling tutorials, tours and other products from an early stage but they lack the content and don’t deliver consistent work. Eric Bennett emphasizes that without creating new content you’ll get stuck in your career and miss out on many opportunities:

“Doing photography full time is great because it allows you to dedicate all of your effort to your craft. It’s not about shooting photos for money, but when money can be a result of you creating your art, then it allows you to create more art since you don’t need to worry about sustaining yourself any other way. I think if anything becomes your motivation besides that, it will be a difficult and frustrating pursuit.

As with any kind of art or freelance type of career, money isn’t always consistent, and it can hardly be made on command. It always seems to just come in waves for me, so if money were my sole motivation or the cause of my photography, it would be extremely disappointing. There has to be some kind of motivation greater than yourself in order for it to continue to feel worthwhile, even in the slow months where you are scraping from your savings to get by. I think before anyone tries to take the jump full time they need to find that and establish that for themselves. Holding onto that will be the only thing that can keep you from giving up down the road.

Top 25 Landscape Photographers 2017
Image by Eric Bennett

Another super important thing is to start off by investing in your content. There is that common rule that “you need to spend money to make money.” Once you go full time, hopefully, you have some savings so you can invest in trips to go to the places you connect with the most and produce the best quality work you are capable of.

If you start out by only focusing on ways you can make money (like making tutorial videos, teaching workshops, selling prints, etc.) you’re going to get stuck where you don’t have any new work to sell and you don’t have new locations to offer new workshops. Throughout your career, you will need to keep that balance so you have plenty of time for serving others in order to make an income as well as shooting photos for yourself in order to keep progressing and improving the quality and variety of your products.

I think that great success comes from great products (art) and when you focus all of your attention on making money, then the product (art) is going to suffer. You have to ignore the money to make great art and then the money will come on its own.

Conclusion

The five photographers I spoke with all have different backgrounds, business models and income streams, they all seem to agree that there needs to be a certain level of commitment if you want to make it as a full-time photographer. You need the passion and photography needs to be your only option. As Mark Metternich said, if you can not do it, then don’t.

It’s easy to think that a photographer’s job is to spend all day outside exploring new terrains. That’s, unfortunately, far from the truth. Speaking for myself, the time spent in front of the computer is more than in the field. But that’s ok. It’s when you’re out photographing a beautiful landscape that you remember why you make all these sacrifices.

So, to sum up the essentials of taking the leap into full-time photography, you need to:

  • Be passionate and curios
  • Have a plan and a backup plan
  • Invest in your art
  • Be willing to make sacrifices

If that sounds like you, you might have exactly what it takes to become a professional full-time photographer. If it doesn’t, then you (and your art) might be better off keeping photography as a hobby. Remember, the best photographers aren’t always full-timers. Some of my personal favorite artists have careers outside photography.


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Tips for Turning Pro

6 Pro Tips for Better Wide-Angle Landscape Photography

Tips for wide-angle landscape photography

I’ve always loved photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens. In fact, it was the only lens I had for a long time after purchasing my first camera. 

There’s no denying that it’s a satisfying feeling to capture the grand vista revealing itself in front of you; first an interesting foreground, some nice leading lines in the middle, a beautiful backdrop, topped by a nice sky above. What’s not to love about that?

But wide-angle landscape photography isn’t as straightforward as one would like. There’s more to it than simply pointing your camera towards something pretty.

It’s challenging to create a visual impact when there’s so much information going on. That’s why most wide-angle images end up becoming ‘too much’ and fail to take the viewer on a visual journey.

The tips shared through this article will help avoid that. Follow them and you’ll quickly notice your wide-angle landscape images becoming a lot more interesting.

#1 Fill the Space

The most common mistake made in ultra-wide-angle landscape photography is that the frame isn’t filled. Instead, there’s a lot of empty space that doesn’t contribute to the image.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Tips for Wide-Angle Landscape Photography
Notice how I’ve filled the space within the frame

The image above is a good example of when I’ve filled the frame. There’s not much empty or distracting space within the image; the foreground works like a frame for the mountains, the ocean separates the two, there’s a rainbow filling the upper left and there’s a bird flying in the brighter area of the sky.

In other words, the frame is filled and there’s no particular place where the eyes exit due to lack of interest.

Now let’s look at another image from the same spot but with different conditions and a slightly different composition. This is shot at 22mm (compared to 14mm for the one above).

Tips for wide-angle landscape photography
The empty space to the left is distracting and results in a compositional imbalance.

Most of the frame is still filled in the upper half and the right area of the image but there’s a lot of empty space in the lower left. Since we’ve removed much of the foreground, there’s nothing interesting in this area; it’s a large empty space that takes attention away from the surrounding scenery.

Empty spaces like this don’t contribute to the composition. In fact, they have a negative impact. So, when possible, try to fill the spaces within a frame.

#2 Use a Low Perspective and Get Close to the Foreground

The second tip for wide-angle landscape photography is to use a low perspective. Getting down low introduces you to a whole new world of compositional opportunities. Particularly interesting is the abundance of new leading lines.

Tips for wide-angle landscape photography

The image above is captured at hip height. While the conditions and scenery are beautiful, there’s a lot going on in the foreground and we don’t have any strong leading lines. Instead, it appears quite messy.

In the image below, I’ve used a much lower perspective and moved closer to the formations in the sand. The conditions that day were quite different but you can see how the sand now serves as an interesting and important part of the image. These lines are strong leading lines that guide us to through the image.

Tips for wide-angle landscape photography

Another advantage of using a low perspective is that you can make even small features in the landscape stand out. Even tiny rocks or patterns can become an important part of the image.

#3 Take Advantage of Distortion

If you’ve ever photographed mountains with an ultra-wide-angle lens, you know that they become less impressive and may look small in the photo. This is because the field of view is so great that distant subjects look smaller than what they are.

Luckily, there is a neat little trick you can use to avoid this from happening. This technique can even make mountains (or distant subjects) more impressive and impactful than what they actually are.

Tilting the camera down and placing the mountain in the upper part of the frame takes advantage of the lens distortion and makes it appear more like what you’re seeing with your own eyes. Simply put, the distortion on ultra-wide-angle lenses ‘stretches’ anything which is placed at the top of the frame. This makes them appear bigger and more impactful.

Though the conditions are quite different, notice how the mountain changes in the example above. On the image to the left, the mountain has been placed further down in the frame. It’s still an important feature of the image but it doesn’t have nearly as big of an impact as it does in the second image.

Placing the mountain in the upper part of the frame has stretched it and made it a more dominant part of the photo.

Keep in mind that tilting the camera forward will include more foreground. Make sure that you find interesting lines or elements in this area that contributes to the image.

#4 Pay Attention to the Corners

One of the challenges of using an ultra-wide-angle is that you have a lot of information within the frame. It’s easy to then forget about the smaller details found along with the corners of the frame.

I tend to always look at the image preview and zoom in after capturing an image. By doing so, it’s easy to spot any distracting elements that I missed when setting up the composition. Any element that’s distracting on the camera preview is going to be ten times as distracting when viewing the image on a large monitor.

Look for branches, tripod legs, camera bags, or other elements that aren’t contributing to the image. You can remove them by adjusting your perspective or zooming in slightly. If you can’t eliminate them without damaging the composition, you should make note of them and remove them in post-processing.

#5 Watch out for Vignetting When Using Filters

Filters can make a huge difference to your landscape photography. There’s a reason why most professionals have some. That being said, they’re also known to cause issues when used in combination with a wide-angle lens.

Vignetting is the most common problem. This is especially the case if you’re using a budget filter system, a system that’s not specifically made for your lens, or if you stack multiple screw-in filters.

Tips for wide-angle landscape photography

Pay attention to the frame of the image and notice if your filters are resulting in a vignette. It’s easy to fix this in post-processing but make sure that the vignetting isn’t obscuring any important elements.


Recommended Reading: Recommended Filters for Landscape Photography


I highly recommend doing some initial research before purchasing your first filters. You want to get a brand and filter system that’s compatible with the lens or lenses you’ll use them with.

#6 Focus Stacking is Your Friend

Low perspectives are useful in wide-angle landscape photography. We’ve already talked about the benefit of having a strong foreground and a visually pleasing background.

The challenge with this is maintaining sharpness on both near and distant elements. Even when using the hyperfocal distance, it’s likely that one of the two is less sharp than ideal.

Focus Stacking is a popular solution. This is a technique where you capture multiple images with different focus points and blend them together in post-processing. The result is an image that’s razor-sharp from front to back.

This technique is essential to understand if you want to produce high-quality images with wide focal ranges.

Conclusion

There’s something magical about creating a beautiful image that features a grand vista. Either it’s the picture-perfect mountains of Northern Norway or the salt flats of Bolivia, this wide focal range can help tell a story that otherwise would be impossible.

Unfortunately, capturing these impactful images aren’t that easy. Most of the time, the photographer ends up with an image containing an overwhelming amount of information. Information that doesn’t contribute to the story.

There’s more to wide-angle landscape photography than pointing the camera towards a grand vista. It takes attention to detail, compositional skills, and a connection to the landscape to create something special.

Following the steps above will help you in the right direction. Implement them into your workflow and see your photography progress. Soon you’ll be looking back at old images being proud of how far you’ve come.


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Tips for wide-angle landscape photography

Little-Known Way to Create Luminosity Masks in Lightroom

Luminosity Mask in Lightroom

Luminosity Masks are mainly associated with Adobe Photoshop but did you know you can easily make them in Lightroom too?

It’s no secret that Lightroom is mainly used for applying global raw adjustments. Sure, there are some tools, such as the HSL/Color tab, that allow you to make more targeted adjustments but in general, it’s not used for local changes.

That’s why many photographers include Photoshop in their workflow. There you can use layers and masks to target as specific areas of an image as you want. Luminosity Masks are a popular way of doing this.

Lightroom has neither layers nor masks but there’s still a way to create Luminosity Masks. This is only possible when using a Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, or Adjustment Brush. More precisely, it’s made using the Range Tool.

There’s even a little-known way to create a mask that’s more or less the same as what you can make in Photoshop. Let’s see how!

Note: This feature is only available in Lightroom CC.

What is a Mask in Lightroom?

Before creating the Luminosity Mask, you need to understand what a mask is. It’s a big part of Photoshop but not so much in Lightroom.

Lightroom has a few tools that contain some sorts of masks but they aren’t flexible and can’t be used for anything else than that specific adjustment.


Recommended Reading: Understanding Layers & Masks in Photoshop


There are, however, three tools that allow for a bit more advanced masking. More specifically, we’re talking about the Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, and Adjustment Brush. These tools make it possible to apply adjustments to specific areas of the image. 

For example, dragging a Graduated Filter from the top of the photo and down to the center tells Lightroom to apply its adjustments to the area above the bottom line. This can be considered a mask.

Graduated Filter in Lightroom

Hitting ‘O’ on your keyboard or checking the ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’ box reveals a red overlay that shows exactly where the adjustments are added.

What is the Range Mask?

Simply put, the Range Mask is used to fine-tune a mask based on color, luminance, or depth. 

The Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, and Adjustment Brush are good when wanting additional flexibility in your post-processing workflow but they are quite basic.

Let’s say that we want to use the Graduated Filter to darken the sky. The mask is easily made by dragging a graduated filter from the top of the frame and down to the horizon. You can then use the exposure slider to darken the photo. 

The problem is that by doing this, we also darken unwanted areas. Either because they’re already dark, or because it would be unnatural to darken them. 

That’s where the Range Masks come in; You can use it to refine the mask created by the Graduated Tool and tell Lightroom to avoid adding the adjustment to certain areas. 

There are three options of how to refine the mask: Color, Luminance, and Depth. 

The Range Mask Luminance

It’s the Luminance method that’s used to create a Luminosity Mask in Lightroom. Creating a mask based on luminance values means that you can target areas based on their brightness.

I’ve written extensively about these types of masks in my eBook A Photographer’s Guide to Luminosity Masks, as it’s one of the most important masking techniques you can use in Photoshop but creating them in Lightroom is different. The Range Mask tool itself isn’t nearly as complex as what you make in Photoshop but the results are surprisingly good.

In Lightroom, you need to first create a Graduated Filter, Radial Filter or Adjustment Brush before accessing the Range Mask. For this purpose, I recommend using the Graduated Filter and placing it just below the photo. Doing so means it will affect the entire photo.

After creating the filter, you can find the Range Mask tool beneath filter’s sliders:

Range Mask Luminance

The Luminance Range Mask consists of the Range and Smoothness sliders but also has an Eyedropper Tool and a Show Luminance Mask checkbox. Let’s take a closer look at the slider and options:

View the Luminance Mask

It’s essential to view the mask while it’s being created. If not, you have no idea of which areas it’s targeting.

The most common option is to tick the Show Luminance Mask box and use the red overlay that’s identical to the one you have with the Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, or Adjustment Brush.

However, I don’t recommend this option when working with the Range Mask tool.

A much better option is to hold Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) while adjusting the Range slider. This reveals a monochrome overlay known as a grayscale mask; a mask that will be familiar to Photoshop users.

The mask might look confusing at first but how it works is that adjustments are only added in the white areas of the mask. Grey areas are affected at a lower opacity while black areas are left alone. 

The Range Slider

The Range slider is the most important part of creating a Luminosity Mask in Lightroom. It’s this slider that tells Lightroom to which tonal range your adjustments should be applied to.

Think of it as a histogram where the left side represents blacks and the right side represents whites. A value of 0 represents pure black and a value of 100 represents pure white.  

Luminosity Mask in Lightroom

By default (with a setting of 0 and 100), the entire image is selected. Taking the right knob and reducing it to 50 means that only the shadows and Midtones are affected. 

Luminosity Mask in Lightroom

I strongly recommend taking a moment to pull the slider back and forth while holding Option or Alt to see how the grayscale mask changes. Pay attention to what happens when you increase the left knob and what happens when you decrease the right one. What about when you pull them close together?

The Eyedropper Tool

Above the sliders, you find the Eyedropper Tool. This is connected to the Range slider and can be used to create a mask based on the luminance values of the spot you click. 

For example, clicking in a shadow adjusts the Range slider to only affect the dark parts of the image. while clicking the sun makes it affect only the highlights. 

Personally, I’m not a big fan of using the Eyedropper but it can be helpful when trying to understand how the Luminance Mask work. 

Of course, you can use both the Eyedropper and the Range slider together; start by selecting a tonal value with the Eyedropper, then fine-tune the mask using the Range slider. 

The Smoothness Slider

The Smoothness slider controls the transition between the selected and non-selected areas (i.e. the white and black parts of the mask). 

A lower smoothness leads to a harder transition while a higher value makes it soft. As with the Range slider, holding Alt (Mac) or Option (PC) while adjusting it reveals the monochrome mask overlay.

It’s often best to leave this as it is. Too extreme values in either direction tends to look bad and lead to strange artefacts.

Creating a Luminosity Mask in Lightroom

By now you probably have an idea of how it works but let me show you a couple quick examples of how you can create luminosity masks that targets the shadows, midtones, or highlights:

  • Step #1: Create a Graduated Filter and place all of it just beneath the image (you can place it on the photo to but know that the Range Mask is then only affecting those areas)
  • Step #2: Select the Luminance option from the Range Mask Tool
  • Step #3: Hold Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) and move the Range slider.
    • Create a Highlights Mask: Move the left knob past 50. The further towards 100 you move it, the stricter the mask becomes (i.e., targeting just the brightest brights)
    • Create a Midtones Mask: Move both knobs towards the middle. The closer towards 50 they are, the stricter the mask becomes. A standard midtones mask is in the range of 35/65
    • Create a Shadows Mask: Move the right knob down below 50. The further towards 0 you move it, the stricter the mask becomes.
  • Step #4: Apply adjustments using the Graduated Filter’s sliders.

That’s it. Not too difficult, right?

Conclusion

Using Luminosity Masks in Lightroom can be a game-changer for many as you can apply adjustments to the shadows, midtones, or highlights individually. You can even refine the mask to only include very specific tonal ranges.

This gives you greater control when processing an image and you’re able to apply techniques and effects that most think are only possible in more advanced photo editors.

Lightroom’s Luminosity Masks aren’t as flexible as what you’re able to achieve in Photoshop but it’s perfect for those who prefer using Lightroom for their entire workflow.


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