Tag Archives: photoshop


Create Nostalgia in Your Images with an Easy Curves and Channels Conversion

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It carries within it memory and desire.

Evoking nostalgia with an image is not an easy thing to do, unless you achieve this by specifically choosing content that evokes childhood memory, or memory of a lost love, for instance, or a memorable trip somewhere exotic.

But how do you use the power of color to evoke nostalgia? This tutorial will show you an easy, step-by-step conversion using Photoshop to create nostalgic photos. In the conversion, you will learn how to add subtle duotones in your photograph that will help you create sentimentality in the image.


An image that works well in monochrome works best for this processing technique.

What types of photos work?

For this conversion, we have to work from a monochrome base, so it’s good to choose photos that look good in black and white: high-contrast photos that use light and dark to highlight what’s in the frame.

After you choose your photo, open it in Adobe Photoshop. Any version will do.

Step 1. Make a copy of the image, so you can work on it without changing the original.



Step 2. Create a Black and White of the image on the current layer.



Step 3. On the black and white layer, go to Adjustments>Curves.


Step 4. Choose the Red Channel on your Curves window. Move the curve according to what hues you want in this channel.



Step 5. Go through the same process with the Green Channel curve.



Step 6. Go through the same process with the Blue Channel curve. You get the picture.

Step 7. This is an OPTIONAL step. You can dodge and burn using a non-destructive technique previously shown here on Imagine That! And your image is ready!


The mostly red brick background and the light on the statues made this an easy duotone choice.


I chose a bluish cast on this conversion because it helps the image show how the stone statues were cool to the touch.

Although you might not be the mushy type, this conversion is useful to make dramatic duotone images and it works with landscapes really well. Why not give it a try this week, and see what emotion you can create in your images?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively




Bhutan Gangtey mountains color camp dwarf bamboo yak herders tent copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 18 Module: Make Postcards with Your Travel Photos!

Note: I’ve been away both traveling and taking doctoral courses, so we skipped two weeks of tutorials. Here is hopefully the new start of something that is possible and will continue.


This is the postcard I wanted to send you from Bhutan when I was there.

Postcard from Bhutan Thimpu copyright Aloha Lavina Buddha on mountainside sunrise

Actually, it’s a photo I took in Thimpu, just as the sun was rising, of the giant Buddha glistening in the early light on the mountainside overlooking the capital city.

Haven’t you ever wished you could share your travel experiences with someone through a postcard? There is magic in receiving one of these little old-fashioned gestures in the snailmail. The magic comes from the fact that someone is “wishing you were here,” and that they were thinking of you when they enjoyed their travels.Bhutan Gangtey mountains color camp dwarf bamboo yak herders tent copyright Aloha Lavina

But sometimes, you can’t find postcards that you would like to send. Or maybe you have no time to shop for postcards because you are 3000 feet above sea level, camping with yak herders in the hills of Gangtey in central Bhutan.

The solution is to bring the photos home, work with them a bit, and produce your own postcard.

Here’s how.

This week, take some photos of the place you are and turn it one to a postcard. Then, send it to someone.

And enjoy the magic of their surprise.

mermaids digital manipulation composite photo copyright Aloha Lavina 2012.

Creativity, Camera, and Photoshop

Which net would you use to catch a butterfly?

Many photographers argue that getting an image right in camera is the real deal—if you’re going to call yourself a photographer, you better learn your exposure and technical stuff, and compose beauty in the frame.

With the rise of digital photography, however, now you can take your images into a whole new realm of manipulation. Highly stylized images have grown in popularity along with the advances in digital cameras and software for processing digital photos. Photoshop is arguably the giant in the post processing world, so much so that people now use the name of the software as a verb. As in, “Was this photo Photoshopped?”

Purists, or people who scoff at Photoshop artists as hacks, don’t like overly manipulated photos. Indeed, a lot of contests out there specify the minimal adjustments that the entrant can make to their entry to the contest. Still, the world is not made of purists. At the other end of the spectrum are the—for lack of an official term—digital artists, who style their photos with scores of layers, stacking special effect upon special effect, and not apologizing for it.

In between are you and me.

Every week, I have a group of hobbyist photographers who make images because we like it. We call ourselves a Tribe. It’s a lot of fun now that we kind of know each other, and we sometimes chat briefly on Facebook about photography. And when I asked the Tribe if they wanted weekly modules with a Photoshop twist, I got an overwhelmingly positive response. So I can anecdotallyconclude that in my Tribe at least, we like improving our skills with the camera and we like to learn new Photoshop tricks, too.

mermaid manipulated photo in Photoshop copyright Aloha Lavina 2012.

Do you think I overdid this one, my first attempt at a total composite? I thought the fire ball tipped the scale.

Photoshop is a complicated software that is the industry standard; it takes a long time to master its tools. But it is somewhat accessible to the emerging hobbyist, as long as he or she is patient and doesn’t get overwhelmed.

But it’s not fair to photography if the shooter shoots thinking that Photoshop will fix everything.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my forays into the world of digital manipulation using Photoshop.

1. You still have to light the image right.

Photography is still capturing light, no matter what you can do to create light in Photoshop. A well lit image can be enhanced beautifully in Photoshop, but you cannot create light where there is none in the software. Yes, people argue that with tools like Shadow/Highlight control, or painting with light technique, you can paint light with a Photoshop brush easily. But you still get unnatural effects when you do this, like nasty noise in the underexposed areas you tried to bump up, or discoloration. Nothing works like a photo where light is where it should be, in the first place, as you capture it in camera. So yes, learn to manipulate light in Photoshop, but first learn to light.

2. You still have to get a good exposure.

We could say this is like Tip Number 1, but it’s a little different. This is about balancing the way your camera becomes sensitive to the light (ISO), choosing the right amount of light to enter the lens (Aperture), and rendering the captured image in the right amount of time (Shutter Speed) to get an image that has a good dynamic range. A good dynamic range in plain English is when the highlights and shadows have good detail just like the midtones. Now you can ‘recover’ shadows and highlights using Photoshop, but the resulting image is not as detailed as you would like it to be in a good exposure. You still have to learn to make a good exposure, no matter how high powered the latest version of PS is.

3. You still have to compose the image.

You can crop in Photoshop, and move the elements around. You can even composite different images, add things, clone things out, flip or transform or warp the image.

Manipulating every single image like this, to create a composition you really like, takes a lot of time.

And you’re not really sure about the compatibility of the elements. For instance, what if the lighting isn’t similar in the items you choose to composite? And what if you plunked a cow that is clearly not proportionally matched with a model in the original photo? Ooops. Visually, some things do not work composed in Photoshop. You still have to learn to compose in your camera.

mermaids digital manipulation composite photo copyright Aloha Lavina 2012.

This was better. The light was right, the framing was deliberate. And then the whole slew of layers.

4. The rules of optics still apply.

We see with a maximum aperture of f/2.1 in the dark, and a minimum aperture of f/8.3 in bright light. But another thing happens with us in our three dimensional world: we see in planes. That means that things that are on the same plane have the same sharpness for our eyes.  Why is this important for Photoshop? It means that we can’t blur the hell out of things we don’t want to see clearly in the image when those things are on the same plane as the things we want sharp. It just doesn’t compute in our brains.

But this is called artistic license. Skillfully done, you could still make a beautiful image with unnatural optical composition.

5. Photoshop is almost like painting.

Painters have the luxury of composing their pictures exactly as they imagined. Photographers have to find that composition and then interpret it with skill and technicality. Photoshop gives the photographer the advantage of adding or subtracting things that are in the frame, just like a painter does. But if the shooter doesn’t have skills in Tips 1 to 4, it may not work as well.

So in conclusion, there has to be balance in the way we use our camera skills and the way we manipulate the resulting photos. Ignoring one for the other seems unwise when the beauty you could make with both is boundless.

And that’s why if you want to catch this butterfly, make sure your net is big enough.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! Even if you don’t like what’s on the blog, leave a comment any way, but please keep it nice. :) To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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Easy way to dodge and burn without destroying pixels

Dodging and burning is a photography darkroom technique that’s been around since film days. Dodging is a technique for making an area of a photo brighter, while burning is a term used for the opposite, the technique for darkening areas in an image. Although there are ready made dodge and burn tools in Photoshop, using them straight onto a digital photograph will invariably damage the pixels of that photograph.

Here is the way I dodge and burn my digital photos without destroying pixels. The goal for this technique is to increase drama in the light by painting the shadows and highlights in.

If you liked this video tutorial, let me know what other topics you want to see covered in the comments!

How to Convert a Color Photo into BW Using Channels

I’ve been busy off the grid for a couple weeks. Last week I spoke at Create Without Limits, an invitation only event for corporate executives where we discussed ideas about how art and business collide and synthesize. Two weeks ago I ran a workshop for emerging hobbyists in Bangkok, and promised the participants a short tutorial on how to convert a photo to black and white.

I chose to teach a BW conversion using Channels because it seems to me to be the easiest, apart from just using the Black and White automatic conversion on PS4 and PS5 (which is pretty good, and very easy). The workshop students also needed to practice using layers, so the Channels conversion was a good way to do this.

Step 1. The first thing is to start with the original file, and adjust Levels.

Adjusting levels using the dropper tools.

Step 2. Use the black dropper tool to choose a black point. Set the dropper over the darkest part of the photo, and click once.

Adjusting black point for levels.

Step 3. Choose the white point by clicking on the white dropper tool, then clicking on the whitest point in the photo.

Choose a white point to adjust levels.

Step 4. Choose the gray point. I chose a section of the man’s hair, that I saw was halfway between my blacks and whites.

Choose an area that is halfway between black and white for the gray point in levels adjustment.

Step 6. Now we’re ready to make the photo black and white. Make a new layer and name it “Channels.” Then click on each channel in the Channels menu to see which channel suits the subject’s tones. I chose the Green Channel for the man’s tones, and the Blue Channel for the shadows, because the Blue Channel’s shadows seemed richer, grittier, which is the look I want.

The Channels Menu is right beside the Layers Menu.

The Green Channel's tones looked great for the man.

The Blue Channel looked perfect for the background, to bring out rich blacks and grittiness.

Step 7. After picking these two channels for my subject and background, it’s time to blend the two layers. There’s a simple way of doing this. Put the layer that has the least change ABOVE the layer that has the most change. I moved the Blue Channel layer on top of the Green channel layer, so that I could just mask out the man.

Blending the two channel layers into one image using layers.

Step 8. To mask out the man, simply click on the Add Layer Mask button (it looks like a square with a circle in the middle) which is at the bottom of the Layers Menu on the right side of the screen. Then I take a soft brush at 100 percent opacity and brush the man so that the Green Channel layer for the man’s tones become blended with the Blue Channel layer, the background.

Tools for blending the layers: Layer Mask, Brush. Easy peasy!

Step 9. After blending the two channels layers, it’s time to refine the image. I found some spots on the background that were distracting in the photo. So I chose the Clone Tool, sampled areas close to the spots, and ran the Clone Tool over the distracting spots until the image looked cleaner.

So many distracting spots! They must be removed to give the image a neat finish.

The Clone Tool icon looks like a stamp.

After removing the spots, I merged the layers using this shortcut: Command + Option + Shift + E.

Step 10. Looking at the photo, I wanted more contrast between the black background and the lighter subject, so I decided to (1) use the Burn Tool to darken the shadows. (2) Don’t forget to name this layer “Burn!”

The Burn Tool helps to darken areas of the photo if you run it over that spot. I use no more than a 20 percent opacity.

Step 11. To sharpen the photo and add more contrast, I used the Unsharp Mask tool located under Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. A window pops up asking you to put in Amount, Radius, and Threshold. For Amount, I typed in 120. For Radius, I put in 1, and left the Threshold at 0. Then I clicked OK.

Sharpening using Unsharp Mask.

Step 12. Last step! I flattened the image (Layer>Flatten Image) and resized it for the web, and here it is.

The finished black and white image, ready in 12 easy steps.

It’s not that difficult to convert a color photo into a black and white image using Channels. Try it and see!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
Using Background Effectively in Your Portraits
Confessions of a Photoshop User

Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide


vibrance adds intensity to color copyright Aloha Lavina.

Beginner’s Guide: Seven Tools for Working with Color in Photoshop

Working with digital color images, there are many ways of doing the same thing. Part of what makes Photoshop seem so complicated is that it has a host of different ways you can enhance your images. For color adjustments alone, there is a bunch of tools on the menu. Here’s a quick list of the top seven tools you can use in Photoshop to bring stunning color into your pictures.

1. RAW Vibrance and Saturation

If you shoot in RAW, you can enhance color right on the original file in the RAW Camera window. At the bottom of the default menu, there are two sliders you can use to increase vibrance and saturation. Slide those over to the right a little, and you get extra punch in your photos.copyright Aloha Lavina

Caution: If your photo has dark edges in sharp contrast to very bright edges, you might get some discoloration around these areas if you pump up the vibrance and saturation.

2. Adjusting Hue in RAW

There’s another place in the RAW Camera window where you can make adjustments to the color. Click on the icon that looks like a zigzagging line, and you reach the HSL/Grayscale menu. Here you can adjust the hues in your image. For instance, if you wanted the greens to look more yellow, you can move the appropriate slider to adjust this hue.HSL adjustments in RAW

Caution: Each move of a slider affects the color of other like hues, so be careful when you’re making adjustments in this menu. There is no way to mask the adjustments in this mode.

Once you open the file in Photoshop and you’re out of Camera RAW, there are a bunch of  color adjustment modes in the menu you can choose from.

3. Hue Saturation Adjustment

The HS menu allows you to adjust the hue and saturation of individual colors. For example, in the original photo, the reds were too intense, even though I had not adjusted Vibrance or Saturation in Camera RAW before opening the file. So I toned down the red using the individual color adjustment available in the Hue Saturation menu.toning down red

4. Color Balance

Another menu that is available for color work in PS is the Color Balance menu. Here, complementary colors are matched upon sliders that work like scales, for instance Yellow and Blue.

If you move the Yellow-Blue slider toward the yellow, the photo gains more yellow and loses some blue. If you’re doing selective color adjustments, you can mess up one color if you adjust another using the Color Balance menu. However, there’s a way you can get around this. color balance menu sliders

Using the Lasso or Magnetic Lasso tool, select the area you want to enhance and then work in Color Balance mode. That way, you leave the rest of the photo unchanged.

 5. Selective Color

Selective color menu is more discrete than Color Balance. Opening the Selective Color adjustment menu, you will see each color with its own hue sliders. For instance, if I adjust Cyan, I can pump it up by minimizing Yellow, by moving the Yellow slider in the Cyan menu to the left.selective color menu in Photoshop

The advantage of using the Selective Color menu is that the changes you make on one color doesn’t affect the other colors in the photograph. This can save you having to mask out unwanted color casts as a result of changes to one color that could affect the hue of another.

6. Photo Filter

This is an addition to the newer versions of Photoshop. Photo Filter adjustments are simple temperature changes to the photo. By choosing the Warm filters, your photo gets a warm tinge, and by choosing a Cool filter, you add more blue and coolness to the photo’s look.using the warm filter in photshop

7. Vibrance

Vibrance adjusts the intensity of color in your photo. By moving the slider to the right, your colors pop more. The Vibrance slider is only one adjustment, and it works best not only for enhancing the intensity of the colors in the photo, but also helps pump up what might just be a tinge of color. For instance, if you had a sky with a tinge of orange, you can use Vibrance to enhance that little blush of orange.

vibrance adds intensity to color copyright Aloha Lavina.

The image still looks natural, but the colors are enhanced after processing using color-enhancing tools in Photoshop.

Although this list is only for Photoshop, you can find the same tools (except for the Camera RAW ones) in other photo processing software, most often with the same terminology. They work the same way, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll lack the tools to help you enhance color in your digital photographs.

What other tutorials would you like to see covered in Imagine That? Let me know in the comments!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Would You Resort to Oversaturating Color in a Boring Photo?
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conservative saturation copyright Aloha Lavina

Would You Resort to Oversaturating Color in a Boring Photo?

Saturating colors in a photo is something that is easy to do, if you have the right tool. Many times, all it takes for Super! Saturated! Color! in a photo is to move a slider to the right.

But before you get slider happy, let’s think about saturation and why it might be wise to saturate moderately.

Take Photo 1 as an example. To super-saturate the colors in this photo, I simply went to Photoshop’s Adjustments Menu, scrolled down to Hue/Saturation, and in the ‘Master’ setting, moved the Saturation slider to the far right.

oversaturated photo copyright Aloha Lavina

Photo 1. Over the top saturation.

Instant super saturated color. Even more saturated and vibrant than real life, which is Photo 2, taken straight off-camera.

straight off camera copyright Aloha Lavina

Photo 2. What the camera actually took.

Compare the two and tell me with a straight face that the super saturated photo is still believable.

Like fiction writers, one of the things you have to do as a photographer is to suspend disbelief. This literary terms means to make us believe a story even though it is made up, or fiction.

Like fiction writers select what readers discover in the story’s scenes, photographers select what’s in the frame for the viewer to see. Skillful and thoughtful framing can result in skillful and engaging storytelling for both fiction writers and photographers.

Since we are selectively presenting the world through artistic expression, we often develop a style of storytelling.

This is where saturation comes in.

Saturation of colors in a photo is often done ‘to taste.’

Personally, I do adjust saturation in post-production, to enhance a photo. In Photo 3, I saturated color-by-color in Photoshop, but didn’t go over more than a 6 on the slider. Why? I try to suspend disbelief, so that folks who look at my photo look at the whole thing and make of it a believable story, rather than losing themselves in the candied gimmickry of an over-saturated image.

conservative saturation copyright Aloha Lavina

Photo 3. Saturated, but not beyond belief.

Wouldn’t you rather get really good at composition, interpreting concepts, and recognizing decisive moments than use gimmickry to attract attention to what may be a mediocre photo?

What are your thoughts on color saturation?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Focus on a story

Stories have power.

Stories appeal to us because they are like shared reality. Something in a story, even something small, will be a thing we connect to ourselves. It could be an emotion, or a situation. It could be a metaphor for how we feel, or a sliver of a moment we remember.

"Dawn" Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

We consume stories because they are mirrors of our humanity. Inspiration comes to us in the form of survival stories; we cheer for strangers who beat the odds; we celebrate those who bravely move on after catastrophe strikes.

Some of us write. Others of us talk. Many of us take pictures.

But the stories all have something in common. They can illuminate the best of who we are, and lend us hope.


"Persistence" Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Beginner’s Guide: Top 10 Tools for Retouching Portraits in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is a complex, sophisticated software that has become the industry standard for digital photographers. Although it takes a while to get used to Photoshop and to learn its entire repertoire of tools, there are some staple tools that a photographer can use, and use effectively, to enhance a portrait. Most of the time, I have some basic tools in Photoshop that I use to retouch a portrait. Here are the top ten tools I use every time.

1. Layers

Using layers is a must for me because it’s insurance against bad judgement. What I mean is, if I make a mistake on an adjustment on the original file, I’ve got to trash the entire file and start all over again. But if I make a mistake on a layer, I can always delete the layer and start fresh on another layer.

2. Lasso

The lasso tool is great for selective adjustments. These are adjustments that affect only a small portion of the image. Take the eyes of a portrait. If you want the eyes to have some more detail in them, you can lasso the irises of the eyes and make a small curves adjustment, lightening them up a bit. This is just one example of how the lasso tool makes retouching easier.

3. Shadow Highlight

The Shadow Highlight function in Photoshop is a way for you to add some punch to the detail in the dark areas (shadow) or the light areas (highlight) of the image. Using the Lasso Tool, you can for instance select a dark area, choose the shadow highlight tool, and adjust the amount of detail in that selected area by moving the sliders right or left.

4. Curves

The Curves adjustment is something I use for every single photo. Using Curves adjustments, you can add contrast to a photo by brightening some areas and darkening others.

Photoshop is a full of great tools, which once learned can really make portraits pop.

5. Levels

In my workflow, this is actually the first thing I do. “Levels” is the amount of black and white and every value in between, in the photo. It is the levels of light being reflected by every element of the photo. Adjusting levels makes your blacks black, your whites white, and your middle values just right. Photoshop actually has an automated Levels adjustment, which I always test out for every photo I process. Sometimes the program makes a really good adjustment based on whatever mysterious digital computation it makes, and my photo looks better. Other times, I use the dropper method of adjusting levels, which I go over here.

6. Healing Tools

What retouching is done nowadays without using the Healing Tools? I don’t use this for travel portraits or other documentary work, but I use it extensively for retouching beauty shots or fashion editorial work. There are two nifty tools in this subset I use—the spot healing brush and the healing brush. The spot healing brush is like magic—you hold it over the blemish and click—and the blemish disappears! The healing brush is a little more subtle. You sample an area you want to ‘copy’ and then you brush over the areas you want to clean up, and the software helps you to paint over those blemishes with the sampled color and texture you picked.

7. Clone Tool

I use the Clone Tool for a lot of different things. One is to remove distracting spots or highlights in a wide angle shot. Another is to smoothen skin, especially underarms or for eyebags.

8. Brush Tool

The brush is a great tool in Photoshop. You can use the brush to do a lot of things. One, if you use it with a layer mask, or a layer on top of a layer, you can mask out things you don’t want and brush back things you do want. Other times, you can paint over parts of the image with white to brighten up those spots, or paint black or gray over other parts of the image, to increase shadows. This is what is called ‘painting with light,’ which is a popular technique in postprocessing.

9. Hue Saturation

I love punchy color—so I use the Hue Saturation adjustments to add more punch to clothes, or enhance makeup or eye color. The great thing about the Photoshop hue saturation adjustments is, you can choose which colors to saturate using individual color sliders.

10. Dodge and Burn

This is a tool that even Ansel Adams used, only he did it manually. On Photoshop, we’ve got a burn tool which makes things you brush with it darker, and a dodge tool, which makes things you brush with it lighter. I use it sparingly because it does ruin the pixels of a photo, but I do use it especially for monochrome shots. Dodging and burning are techniques that can add drama to a photo.

So now that you have this introduction to the top ten tools of Photoshop I use for retouching portraits, give it a go! Here’s a free tutorial on how to retouch an environmental portrait using most of the tools in the list–it’s a preview to what you might learn at a 3inOne Workshop©. This ebook is only going to be available for a limited time, so hurry on over and check it out.

Have fun, and don’t forget to let me know how you did!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts

So you got yourself a brand spanking new DSLR. What do you do now?

Many photo enthusiasts who get their first upgrade from the “point and shoot” into the world of digital single lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, often opt to shoot in Program mode, the mode that allows the sophisticated camera to make all the decisions and produce what it computes to be the best image given the circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Why relegate all the fun decisions you could make to your camera? Isn’t the camera a tool? You might ask, where do I start? How do I start making great photos with this nifty new camera?

There are so many resources you could use to speed up your growth as a photo enthusiast, and a great number of these resources are free. Here are some things to do with free online resources that will help you get your photography where you want it to be, and say goodbye to the Program mode!

1. Know your equipment, and maximize use.

Your DSLR kit comes with a manual. Read it, and try out the different functions. If you want summaries from other photographers about what your camera can do, Phot.net has excellent information about a wide range of camera equipment. People who belong to this forum are usually very helpful. If you’ve got a specific question, participate in the online forum. Meet new photography friends, and gain a whole world of information at your fingertips.

2. Learn about the exposure triangle.

Exposure is the result of how much light reflects back from the subject into your lens, and is recorded as an image by your camera. How to properly expose

A photo shot in Manual mode. (C) Aloha Lavina.

an image is crucial to learn because it also gives you the dynamic range of your photograph—this is the gradation of light from the whitest part of the photo (the most reflected light) to the darkest part of the photo (the least light reflected), and everything in between. The more detail you have in your photo, the better your exposure. You can learn about how to make good exposures at this excellent discussion at Digital Photography School, one of my favorite resources online. They even have a newsletter you can subscribe to for free, that you get in your mailbox weekly.

3. Learn composition, and make art.

Composition is what makes a photograph attractive or unique. Centuries of art have taught us what the human brain is attracted to in a visual sense, so there are some simple “rules” you can learn to get you started in making some compelling images.

Good composition can be learned, so why not learn right away how to make your images distinct and stylish? A great place to read a lot about composition is photoinf.com.

4. Learn about white balance and control color.

White balance is the way the camera records color, depending on the temperature of the light that it captures. If the light is “cool” it has a bluish tinge, and the camera records that. If the light is “warmer” it has more yellow in it, so the people might come out with a yellowish cast over them. Digital Photography School has a concise primer on white balance, and some other suggested information below the article. It pays to learn about white balance, to control the color in your shots, and to get “true” skin tones for the people in your images.

Most cameras have white balance pre-settings, and your manual can tell you which icon means which white balance. Learn about white balance, and you avoid photos that have blue people or yellow people in them. Unless you are photographing Smurfs or Mr. Smileys, that is.

5. Know your camera’s “modes.”

DSLRs come with modes that are ways you can tell the camera the circumstances you are shooting in, and help the camera’s computer make decisions for the best shot you could possibly get. Some modes include portrait, nightshot, or sport. In portrait mode, a camera tries to isolate the subject by blurring the background, giving the portrait a soft, creamy look. Nightshot mode tells the camera to open the lens opening (called the “aperture”) and let more light in to record the dark scene. Sport speeds up the shutter, so that motion can be frozen and not blurry. There are other modes you can use on most DSLRs, and there is a great resource with photos at Photonhead that can help you get acquainted with your camera’s modes.

6. Get started on some photo projects.

A recent photo project I had was to try to light and photograph "stuff." I learned a lot about lighting in this project.

Photo projects can get your creativity flowing, and there are a lot of sites out there that help you to focus your creativity and learn as you complete your project. Everyone knows Flickr, of course, where you can join a group and shoot specific subjects, have great discussions with like minded hobbyists, and be inspired by the thousands of photos uploaded every minute.

A great resource is this article by a Flickr member titled “7 Photo Projects to Jumpstart Your Creativity.”

7. Photoshop is your friend.

There are “purists” who say that using Photoshop or other processing software on your digital images ruin the integrity of the photographs and so makes it no longer “photography.” These folks have their point of view, and we should respect that.

But the 21st Century is the digital age, and eschewing Photoshop when we are capturing digital photographs seems to be limiting when Photoshop can help us create images that are unique and beautiful. How much post-processing you do on your images is entirely up to you. You can go crazy or you can do what great makeup artists do—make a lot of makeup look like none at all. It’s up to you.

If you’re like a lot of new photographers, who want to use software to enhance their digital photographs, there are some basic tutorials to start the fun at Mashable.

8. Flash is also your friend.

Most semi-pro and entry level camera bodies include a pop-up flash. Pressing a button on the side of the pop up unit releases it and gives you instant source of light in very dark or very glary conditions.

It can be confusing to learn how to decide when to use flash, but the rule of thumb is that you “fill” the areas that are dark in your photo with the flash’s burst of light. The amount of light your flash gives you along with the exposure you want tell you how much flash you need. You can learn the basics of using flash at Brighthub.

9. Take a course.

There are some excellent online places where you can pay for guidance from a professional. Betterphoto.com is one of the sites I have tried, and the course I took from there really helped me get to know exposure. Betterphoto also has courses on many other topics, including an interesting one on composition and creativity.

MatadorU also has an excellent course I would recommend. MatadorU’s photography course is geared toward becoming a travel photographer, but it addresses many of the topics I have mentioned here, in greater detail. The best things about MatadorU is that you get wonderful feedback from your tutor, and you get access to a lifetime of tips on a wide range of topic from equipment to using social media to gain an audience for your work.

Online, there are a few sites that offer basic photography courses. A good place to start is the appropriately named Photographycourses.net.

I travel with my photo club and it is a LOT of fun.

10. Join a camera club.

It’s fun to learn with other people! We learn this in school, and we never seem to outgrow it. Learning with others helps you to maximize your learning and enjoyment, and you gain new friendships this way. There is probably a photo club in your city. Talk to some other enthusiasts, join a forum that is run by a photographer in your city or nearby, and arrange to join some of the photo walks or excursions arranged by the photo club.

Getting started with your new DSLR is not as challenging as you think. These links are just a few resources of the plethora of sites out there. Let’s help to grow our photography community and post more resources in our comments!


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The Man at the Window

The man at the window, Myanmar. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

He was at the old wooden temple with his family, but they were somewhere else in the building, in another room. He sat by the window, deep in thought.

It was my first trip to Burma, and I had a D200 with the Nikkor 17-55 mm 2.8f lens.  From inside, I saw him sitting by that circular window. All wrinkles and warm colors, seemingly the same textures as the wood.

I ran downstairs to get this shot.

To get the shot: I zoomed the lens as wide as it could get and angled the shot so that the wood would distort.  I saw the planks at the bottom of the shot, leading to his hand. I abstracted the window by cropping it above and on the right, so his face would float in the dark background. To get the colors to pop, I used Aperture priority and compensated for exposure by underexposing three quarters of a stop.

In post processing, my goal was to enhance the underexposure and separate the man from the shadows around his face. I also wanted the textures accentuated.

Most often my exposures are subjective, so I did not do a levels adjustment with Photoshop CS2 as I was quite happy with the underexposure. The more dramatic the contrast, the better, for me. Instead I wanted the skin tones to remain the chocolate color of the man’s real skin. So I used Channels, using the blue channel for the wood to give it more grain or noise, and the green channel for the man. I blended the two channels using the Multiply mode, which effectively darkens the whole image. Then using a layer mask, I brushed back the color, using a very soft brush and around 30 percent opacity. Later, on a separate layer, I used the dodge and burn tools to achieve more pronounced textures in the wall. Lastly, I sharpened the whole photo using Unsharp Mask and Fade Unsharp Mask combinations, with the aim of increasing the already dramatic contrast.

And that was how this image was created.

This photo is special to me, one of my favorites, and the reason why I fell in love with the stories of Burma.

NOTE: This post was written for LightStalking, who asked me this question on Twitter. Thanks for inspiring this blog post!


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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