Tag Archives: tips

D is for depth of field copyright Aloha Lavina.

The ABCs of Portraits

You may not know that photography can make you better at Scrabble.

Here are the ABC’S of portraiture. Some of these can score high, not just in your next Scrabble game, but with your portraiture.

 A is for Abstract

Portraits don’t have to be the whole face of a person. You can experiment with abstracting the face, highlighting her most beautiful feature.A is for abstract copyright Aloha Lavina

B is for Background

Backgrounds help to declutter a portrait, to make the subject stand out.

C is for Composition

Designing a composition that works is crucial in a portrait. Want to make people uncomfortable? Center the subject. But most of the time, avoid centering your subject and use basics like leading lines, to lead the eye to your subject.

D is for Depth of field

Controlling depth of field using your Aperture helps you make a portrait pop. A shallow aperture can give a portrait a creamy goodness that’s better than milk. (Well, almost.)D is for depth of field copyright Aloha Lavina.

E is for Environment

Don’t be afraid to go wide and include the environment. The surrounding space around a portrait can help give it story.

F is for Foreground

Not just background, but foreground can give your portrait impact. Selective inclusion of foreground elements can help you make a good composition.

G is for Grace

Graceful portraits make us look again, and again. One of the simplest ways to introduce grace into a photo is using lines. Another way is to ask the subject to position their hands in a certain way, like in this photo.G is for grace copyright Aloha Lavina

H is for High key

Overexpose the photo artfully for a stunningly bright high-key image.

I is for Intimacy

Get up close and tell a private story with your lens. Intimate portraits take us into the subject’s emotion and helps our audience connect with the stranger in the image.

J is for Juxtaposition

Introduce tension or harmony into the image using juxtaposition. This is putting two things side by side to compare or contrast them. Contrast can be a good way to add impact to a portrait.

Oh wait. This is only 10 letters of the alphabet. If you want the rest of the alphabet, I guess you better get my free ebook!


Monk framed by doorway in Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos

I was watching my students at a recent workshop for emerging hobbyists. Walking around with the group, I noticed some images that they just walked past. In one instance, I saw a leaf no bigger than the diameter of a 50mm lens, perched precariously on an old piece of wood, with afternoon light making beautiful shadows across the dried up leaf. My students walked past it. It got me thinking how differently you see, after you learn how to see images. There were some behaviors that I knew I would do, which I noticed my newbie class did not.

Little behaviors can make a difference in what the lens captures.

When you’ve been making images for a while, there are a few things you forget you learned, to make your photos better. These little things might make a big difference in the way your photographs turn out.

1. Large scenes are the first things we see, but don’t forget the small details.

It’s easy to see everything in a scene, all at once. It’s harder, and more beneficial, to zoom into a more limited space around the object, and capture that. Often, details within a scene make for better compositions because you have one focal point of interest and make it easier for the viewer to enter the image, and exit the image. The easier it is for the viewer to interact with your image, the better the experience for them.

BW leaves copyright Aloha Lavina.

Walking closer and taking a detail of a scene can sometimes be better than the entire scene itself.

2. Declutter the composition.

Decluttering the composition means including only the elements that you absolutely have to have in the image to make it work. It means excluding things that only serve to distract the viewer from the subject you’re focusing on. Half the work of making an effective image is looking at the space around the subject. If this space is not interfering with the attention the subject is getting, it is probably going to be an effective photograph.

Bhutan morning with mist and mountains copyright Aloha Lavina.

Simplify and make your composition cleaner.

3. Move in small steps around the subject.

It’s easy to get distracted and make dramatic sweeps around a subject. But it is more effective to take small steps around the subject to see the changes in the light and how a slightly different point of view would alter the resulting photograph. Moving in small steps allows you to get used to noticing nuance in your imagery—those small things that might make an image tell a more compelling story.

Bicycle headlight copyright Aloha Lavina.

Walk around the subject slowly and learn to see small changes when you move the vantage point.

4. Look for the light.

Light can make the difference between a snapshot and a stunner. Often, we are dazzled by the content of a shot—what’s in the picture. A funny looking dog, a beautifully rusty car, a cultural moment that seems mysterious. But these situations can be more beautiful if we find them in good light. Conversely, a mundane situation can actually be stunning when it is lit well. Since we most often encounter ordinary scenes (unless we are NatGeo photogs on assignment), we need to look for the light to make our ordinary scenes look extraordinary in our images.

Novice watching television in Divine Madman Temple, Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

Light can make the simple more attractive.

5. Look for naturally-occurring frames.

There are elements everywhere that naturally frame a shot. Walls, doorways, foliage, and other objects around us often can serve as natural frames for our shots. Looking for these frames can give your photos depth, making your composition look three-dimensional.

Monk framed by doorway in Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

Natural frames occur everywhere. Learn to see them and use them in your compo.

6. Don’t forget to look up.

It’s easy to keep your eyes in front of you, looking ahead. But the thing is, you will find some images are hiding above your head. Don’t forget to look up once in a while on your search for things to photograph. You never know what you might find.

lights in baskets copyright Aloha Lavina

Look up. Some photos are hiding above your head.

7. Keep your eyes focused on the subject while taking the picture.

Slight movement of the camera while it records the image on the sensor can result in blurry photos. Aside from learning a breathing technique and how to hold your camera properly, something you can practice is how to keep your eyes focused on your subject, through the viewfinder, until the sensor has completely recorded the image (which is estimated to be around two heartbeats). This helps you get a sharp photo.

Burmese dancers in Rangoon. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Keep your eyes on the subject, and give the camera time to record a sharp image.

8. Be patient.

Sometimes it takes a long time to focus a lens, or to finally get the one shot that will work. Be patient. I tell myself, Just because you show up with your lens doesn’t mean the universe is miraculously going to arrange itself into glorious harmonies. Anything that made you stop and think of taking a shot is something worth waiting for.

dragonfly at rest copyright Aloha Lavina.

Patience is a great teacher.

9. Get to know your camera well.

It’s important to get to know your camera well. Which buttons and what they do and where they are, are things you need to know well so you can change settings quickly as you respond to changing light or changing vantage points. Being able to change settings without having to peer into the camera every time is an advantage.

sunburst near Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Burma copyright Aloha Lavina.

Know your camera well, and catch a lot of shots you might miss by peering into camera controls too often.

10. Wake up early sometimes.

Photographers are crazy because we do anything to get a good shot. People get swept away in tsunamis, get knocked down by typhoons, and get hit by race cars because they are after a shot. Waking up early is less extreme, and it’s something that you can do if you want to get some amazing shots and enjoy the soft light of the day’s beginning.

Monk and alms giver in Ampawa Thailand copyright Aloha Lavina.

Wake up early and capture a surreally softly lit world.

What advice would you give to an emerging hobbyist?

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

Mono Lake another photographer moved into my shot. She knew I was there. I was there 2 hours before she got there. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If Miss Manners were a Photographer…

Imagine having the time for one sunset at a park to shoot a landscape.

Imagine you flew to the country where the park is, 8,263 miles from where you live, a 16-hour flight. You booked a hotel nearby at (higher) summer prices. You rented a car.

You spent months dreaming about that sunset.

Finally you are there, set up with your tripod with a decent composition, finger on the remote trigger for your dSLR.

At the perfect moment, you’re going to take the shot.

Then another photographer moves into your frame and sets up her tripod smack in the middle of your viewfinder.

The sun sinks. So does your dream of getting an uncluttered sunset at this park, an experience you paid thousands of dollars to photograph.

If Miss Manners were a photographer, what would she say about other photographers who deliberately or inadvertently insert themselves into our frame?

Mono Lake another photographer moved into my shot. She knew I was there. I was there 2 hours before she got there. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

I got there two hours before you. And here I am photographing your behind.

Be attentive to what’s going on around you.

It’s very easy to get lost in your head when shooting, especially with a beautiful setting and a sunset. But because there may be more than one photographer around, it is good manners to check if you are stepping into someone else’s frame. Even tourists wait their turn to photograph each other in front of one tourist site or other. This courtesy is something that can only be practiced if we pay attention to what others are doing around us.

Know how much a lens can ‘see.’

The person who stepped in front of the shot had a long lens. The photographer who set up her tripod first had a 16-35mm lens. The person with the long lens (if she knew her stuff), just looking at the photographer who already set up before her, would have known that she would be in the other photographer’s frame.

She would still have gotten good frames with her own telephoto even if she did not intrude on someone else’s frame. The lens was long enough to make images even if she was standing behind the other photographer.

Who got there first.

Shooting over someone’s shoulder. Really?

You can’t buy a photographic eye. You can’t steal it, either.

Shooting over someone’s shoulder is basically stealing their composition, especially if you are intruding on their personal space. There are folks who pay someone to ‘teach’ them in a workshop and end up just shooting over the instructor’s shoulder if the instructor has their own camera held up to their face.

News bulletin: you can’t get better if you have to depend on someone else’s eye to create a good image. There are no shortcuts to getting better at photography. There is only the hard work of finding your own point of view.

Portrait session kept walking and posing in the frame.

Another sunset, another person's butt in front of the wide angle lens.

Later on the photographer who traveled far for the foiled sunset went to another location for another sunset.

There were three portrait sessions going on at that location. One of the three portraitists for hire kept posing their clients wherever the wide-angle lens of the landscape shooter pointed. Total aggravation.

So tell me, should photographers develop some manners, or is this rude inattentiveness something we should teach in photo workshops in future?

storm approaching batanes copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Practical Ways to Improve Visual Problem Solving

When you are on assignment, often even with extensive research, there are variables you cannot prepare for. Challenges you find on assignment include:

  • Light conditions
  • Having to search for vantage points that work
  • People are always moving around
  • Weather

Also even if you studiously pore over maps of the place you will be photographing, you still have the challenge of composing based on what the layout of the area really looks like when you encounter it with the light, weather, people, etc when you get there. You still have to search for vantage points that work for the story you are shooting.

To be a successful travel photographer, you have to become a successful visual problem solver. A visual problem solver takes the existing conditions of where she is shooting, and finds ways to arrange those conditions into a harmonious image.

Like many artistic skills, visual problem solving is actually made up of a complex subset of skills. Here are 10 practical ways to practice your visual problem solving.

 Ways to practice visual problem solving

1. One lens or focal length.

Making images with one focal length is a limitation, but it is a limitation that allows you to free up your creative problem solving skill of composing with a constraint. Constraints like simply using a 50mm for an entire story is something that can help ‘force’ you to compose in creative ways. You have to zoom with your feet with one focal length. You have to move around. What this does is simply get you into the habits that allow for creative visual interpretations of what’s in front of you. If you have a zoom lens on, like your kit lens, don’t worry. Simply tape the lens to the desired focal length you want to work with for the week, and don’t change it!

2. Tell a story using a theme.

Themes can do wonders for your creativity because it is another constraint that you can impose on your image making that will challenge you to discover ways of solving a visual problem. Interpreting the theme you choose can hone your observation skills, composition skills, and all the other discrete skills demanded of a creative shooter. For example, you could shoot the theme ‘blue’ today! There are many ways to interpret this theme. It could be the color blue, the many hues of blue, or it could be the metaphorical blue, interpreted by images that show abandonment, sorrow, etc.

3. Crop in camera.

If you tell yourself that every frame must contain only what’s necessary to tell the story, you are giving yourself an opportunity to become a great visual problem solver.

fallen birch in pond copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

These days with humungous digital RAW files, it’s easy to just snap away and crop your compositions later. But what this does is make for a lazy visual problem solver. If you ever want to be a photographer on assignment, you want to get the compositions right in camera; often your editor will expect the files as they are when it’s time to submit a story. Practicing this composition in-camera skill will enhance your visual problem solving skill and improve your photos dramatically. You might even find that you don’t need to spend hours in post-processing because your straight-from-camera pictures are already breathtaking as they are. Imagine that: less time on the computer, more time to shoot!

4. Look at things in fresh ways.

Take a page from poetry. Wallace Stevens has a great poem called “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” where he explores how to see in 13 very short stanzas. Looking at things in fresh ways means to move not just your feet, but your mind’s eye—what can you see if you look at a subject in a different way? Given a theme, what would be a list of ways you could look at it? Changing up your point of view not just physically but also mentally can change the way you interpret the subject.

5. Using design principles.

Line, form, color, balance—these are always great themes to shoot. Spending some time composing using graphic design themes can inject freshness into your imagery. These are also elements you can find in every setting, so you will never run out of things to photograph.

6. Photograph the light.

There is no more beautiful way to interpret a place than by recording the way the light falls on it. A tree is a tree is a tree, but a tree in great light is a beautiful photo.

morning mist at Tioga Pass copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

 7. Vary your exposure.

Changing your exposure subjectively is a great way to interpret scenes and give them mood and atmosphere. You can try high-key images, or images that are overexposed to give them a bright, cheerful mood. Or you can underexpose to change the mood and give it a bit of mystery. You can spend a lot of time photographing one scene, and vary the exposures with which you capture it. Then you would have a lot of images to choose from, to tell the story. Making subjective exposures gives you a way to bring emotion into your images.

8. Vary technique.

There are some themes commonly used in travel photography that would work to help you vary the techniques you use to capture a place. Panning, light painting, and slow shutter work are some of the techniques you can use to creatively interpret your vision while on assignment. Practicing these techniques wherever you go can give you a variety of images that might give you more insight into a place.

9. Use color in various ways.

Color is everywhere, so this is a great way to explore a new place. But making color work for your image is a skill that can help you move beyond just making eye candy, into making expressive images.

Seeing how colors complement each other, or how it affects the mood of an image, is a great skill and can help you in visual problem solving. For instance, a spot of blue in an otherwise all-yellow-and-green landscape might make a better photo.

storm approaching batanes copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You can also influence color in your images by changing up your white balance settings. (You can change white balance in RAW, so if you shoot in RAW the white balance setting is quite irrelevant. But if you need a visual feedback system for the ‘feeling’ color produces in an image, try shooting in a different white balance just to be able to see the effect on your image on the LCD screen.)

10. Use contrast to add interest to an image.

I’ve discussed some techniques for using contrast in images over at LightStalking. Spotting contrast is another way to add interest to your images. Practicing seeing contrast—in content, color, values, size, lines, texture—hones your observation skills and gives you a whole new way of seeing.

With some patience and perseverance, you can train yourself to be an effective visual problem solver. Practice will make these skills part of your natural workflow, so start on them today!

Which of these 10 have you tried? What have you done to produce an image you loved?

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.

You might also like:
Confessions of a Photoshop User
Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
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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?
Beginner’s Guide: Top Ten Tools for Enhancing Portraits in Photoshop

Chloe Lane copyright Aloha Lavina

6 Questions to Ask When You’re Casting Models

The right model helps a photographer produce awesome photos. How many times have you photographed someone and come away with technically superb photos that just didn’t have that extra something? That elusive awesomeness in your portraits is inspiration, and inspiration can begin with casting the right model for your shoot.

Here are six questions you can ask when you’re casting models for your photoshoots. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have tips to add, please don’t hesitate to add them in a comment!

1. Does the model fit your concept?

Unless you’re just starting out in portrait photography and just want to practice using the camera, you will want to have a solid concept before you shoot. There’s nothing like a strong concept to enhance your technical skills and help you produce compelling images. Making sure your model ‘fits’ your concept is a choice you can have. Because you’re not Tyra Banks trying to mold a modeland train her to be able to interpret concepts, you want someone who already gives you a head start toward awesome photos. Talking to your model beforehand, looking at their portfolio, and seeing if your vision and their look and personality match is a place you can begin when casting for a photoshoot.

Vachini Krairaksh as Gaga Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Does the model match the clothing you will be using during the shoot?

Models come in unique dimensions. Someone could have a perfect face for beauty shots because any close-up of their face from any angle stuns your lens. But you’re not always shooting close-up photos. You’ll sometimes want to show off the clothing—a short skirt, for instance, requires nice legs, and an evening gown might demand that someone has miles of legs. Matching your model to the clothing you want to photograph is a way to ensure that you will get the shots you need.

3. What’s the budget?

Unless you have oodles of disposable income and can pay someone from Elite for a fun photoshoot, you have to think about the budget for your photoshoot. As a general rule, models with experience modeling for fees will charge money, and they can be pretty expensive, too.

Models who are just starting out might agree to do what is called a TFCD or “time for a CD” of photos. This means you exchange benefits—you get a model for a photoshoot, and the other person gets a CD of their photos. This is not a bad way to begin, but you also have to think of the modeling skill of the person whom you have an agreement. Do you have time to train them? What are you using the photos for? If it’s for practice and portfolio building, TFCD works for you.

4. How much experience does the model have?

Since experienced models have higher fees, you might consider casting family and friends to model for you. But having your beautiful family and friends model for you is sometimes not the right choice, especially if you are casting for a paid photoshoot. If the client casts their family and friends for the photoshoot, that’s out of your hands. But if you are the one casting for the shoot, it is better to cast experienced models. Why? Well, people you know might be beautiful and all, but will they know how to pose, how to use their face, which angles are flattering, how armpits are not good in a pose, etc.

Irina Lysiuk for Khoon Esmode copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. How much post-processing do you have to do after the shoot?

Time is money, we know. A good photog also knows that every hour spent zapping skin blemishes is an hour docked against the fee. Perhaps seeming cruel, but honestly, a model with a lot of spots and hasn’t shaved means you spend hours in front of the computer, and if this is a real job, you’d be getting less than minimum wage unless you charge for the time in advance. Knowing your model’s features before you cast them is essential if you are not planning to spend hours on each image meticulously retouching.

6. What experience does the model have?

It seems strange to be asking this question because why would a model’s motivation affect your photoshoot? In my experience though, it does, so you can take this with a grain of turmeric if you wish. Here is why.

Some actors feel like they can model. If your shoot has a kind of storyline and that is the creative thrust of the whole production, an actor could be the right choice. But at times, what you need is someone who can use their body and face to sell a concept or clothing, not to emote in front of the camera. Acting is a mostly a large muscle, large movement activity, whereas a good model will give you small movements, small changes that change the way the overall photo looks. You can argue that a good actor has subtlety in their facial movements—doesn’t that help them model? Yes, it does help them in a motion picture or on stage, not a still photo. Also, sometimes actors turn a photo into a snapshot by doing their ‘signature smile,’ and that’s just another shot you can’t use.

Chloe Lane copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Dancers are also sometimes cast as models. Dancers have great physiques, so if you are photographing an art nude shoot or something where you are sculpting with light, dancers would be great to cast. But if you are doing clothing once again, dancing is a large muscle activity, and you really might not want a dance move with arms in positions that might take attention away from the clothing.

Casting the right model for your photoshoot can give you that added inspiration to create magical images. By paying attention to your criteria when you’re casting models, you can ensure that you have one more of the right ingredients to create those awesome photos.

What questions do you ask when you’re casting models?

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:
10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You About Portrait Photography
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything

article on Canon Photo You by Aloha Lavina

So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…What’s in it for you?

This post was written for Ying Huang in Scotland, who emailed me about the essence of travel photography. Thanks Ying for inspiring this post and the last one!

Although travel photography is long, lonely, hard work, there are a lot of benefits.

You Get Great Experiences and Learn a Lot

I traveled a lot as a kid, missing a lot of school. But for this, I have to thank my parents, who were global nomads while they raised me, for the experiences I’ve had first hand could not have happened to me in a school room. I’ve come face to face with a beached whale, played magnetic Scrabble in a boat pitched violently by a storm, learned how to sleep on a bus, a boat, a Toyota Land Cruiser…the list of cool stuff I learned from traveling is long. The point is, without being able to travel, the learning I gained from wandering around the globe would not have happened.

Travel is a masterful teacher. It’s helped me to be persistent when things don’t work out. To respect cultures different from my own. It’s helped me to see people without first focusing on differences because as a traveler I’ve had to look for similarities first, to find a friend. This openness has helped me as a travel photographer.

Sometimes you get a story that stretches your worldview. A recent memorable one is when I went to Bhutan to shoot and write a story for Canon PhotoYou Magazine (Check out the Summer 2011 issue!). In Bhutan I met anatomically detailed giant penises painted on walls as charms to ward off evil spirits. Then I learned that the paintings were related to a local hero, so I sought those stories about him…and found he was a prophet and saint whose most repeated stories challenged the hypocrisy of local religion and all involved sleeping around…even with his own mother. Oops, did I really want that much information? I had to process these stories as part of my experience in Bhutan, and it was a challenge to separate myth from fact and get to a story that would work, especially as my editor cautioned me against being ‘too mystical’. In the end, I realized the story was the mix of fact and myth, because that was Bhutan.

article on Canon Photo You by Aloha Lavina

Learning about a country firsthand is a great benefit to a travel photog.

Travel will make a photographer uncomfortable at times. But remember that this discomfort is a sign of learning, so be open to it, and it will reward you with insight.

You Meet Lots of Cool People

I am fortunate to count so many people all over the world as ‘friends,’ not in a Facebook sense, but in the sense that once, we shared a day or a moment as human beings. I’ve enjoyed noodles with the entire roster of residents in an old folks home in Burma’s heartland. Another time, in another village, I spent a night watching a soccer game with the whole village on the only television in that place. In Da Lat, Vietnam, I met a man who was the first person in his village to graduate high school. From his last email, I learned recently that he’s started a cooperative for the tribes in Da Lat to regulate the production and sale of their crafts—something that will help them both find appreciative markets and preserve their traditional arts. In Cambodia, I met a shoe shine boy whose dream was to be able to afford going to school…I can’t list all the inspiring people I’ve met while traveling in this blog post, but in every place, there have been people who have again and again restored my faith in humans.

Burmese dancer copyright Aloha Lavina.

I've met lots of cool people as a travel photog. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You Learn to Live Simply and Resourcefully

As a traveling photographer, you learn how to make do. It makes you appreciate the small things, like the banana a local matriarch gives you for breakfast while you wait for the sun to rise and the fishermen to come in on a lonely stretch of volcanic beach in Indonesia.

You also know that you have to travel light, so you become more resourceful. While in Burma during Thingyan, the water festival, I was on a long sampan in a waterway, flanked by locals on the banks ready to douse the boat tip to stern with a fire hose. But my camera bag was dry, wrapped in a large plastic garbage bag—something I now carry with me everywhere, along with some rubber bands—a low cost, light waterproofing solution to wet locations. In Borneo last April, the plastic bag became a raincoat, keeping dry both my camera and my clothes while I scouted for orangutans along the Panabangan River.

Being a travel photographer means being able to bring home images that will give someone insight into places they may not ever visit. It gives you a chance to teach an audience, to tell stories with your images that many people will enjoy. It also means taking home some intangibles, like insights and friendships, and new learning that make you better appreciate your world.

Few people make a fortune with travel photography, but the experiences you gain as a travel photographer are priceless.

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:
So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…Can You Handle It?
Shoot Themes When You Travel

Keep Your Camera in Motion
Don’t Put Your Camera Away after Sunset
A Changing Story


early morning light in Batanes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Three Simple Tips for Sharper Handheld Photography

I was on a mountaintop last week, trying to take these shots without a tripod. The strong winds in the Batanes archipelago, in the Northernmost tip of the Philippine Islands, just knock tripods down, so I didn’t have much of a choice.

In situations where you have to take shots handheld, there are a few techniques you can practice to make your shots as sharp as possible.

1. Watch how you breathe.

Breathing can cause slight camera shake. But you can apply a rhythm in the way you breathe while you’re shooting that helps you keep your cam steady. It’s always best to finish exhaling before pressing the shutter. Practicing this breathing technique can seem distracting at first, but mastering it will help you get those handheld shots sharper.

batanes storm coming copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Watch how you hold your camera.

Combined with your new breathing technique, you can stabilize your camera using your body. Digital Photography School has an excellent illustrated roundup about various positions you can adopt to hold your camera steady with your whole body, instead of just your hands. The bottom line is, use your body to steady the camera, and the closer you hold the camera to the core of your body, the more stable it becomes for you to take that sharp shot.

early morning light in Batanes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Watch how your eyes move.

This is a tip I learned from golf. Even after you have picked a focal point and locked on it, you need to keep your eyes on that focal point while you are taking the shot. Moving your eyes to a new focal point on the viewfinder means your hands will move.  Keeping your eyes locked on target will make sure your shot is sharp.

What are your techniques for handheld photography?

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:
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures
All You Need is a Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo


portrait Burmese man wooden temple copyright Aloha Lavina

Surviving a Typhoon, a Birthday present from Alltop, and 12 Bite-sized Lessons

Imagine being in a small 30-seater plane 25,000 feet in the sky in the middle of a typhoon that kills 2 people and leaves 15 missing. That’s where I was yesterday, literally gripping the edge of seat number 8A, counting the raindrops on the window that streaked diagonally like tadpoles on steroids.

I was happy to be in the air, after having to stay an extra day in the Batanes archipelago, where I had gone on assignment. Batanes is a cluster of small islands in the northernmost tip of the Philippines, about 190 miles from Taiwan and 890 miles from Manila, the capital. The main island of Batan has the northernmost weather station in the country; it records and tracks all the typhoons that enter Philippine airspace, covering some 7,100 islands. So to speak, all the bad news about the weather comes from there. It’s no wonder everyone has the misconception that Batanes has more typhoons than the whole country experiences; in fact, while it stormed in Manila last week, Batanes had relatively clear skies.

Batanes sunset copyright Aloha Lavina.

Batanes sunset. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Ironically, Imagine That celebrated our first birthday in a place that had no internet access, so I didn’t know that something cool happened this past week for Imagine That. I was off the grid for a whole week and didn’t know that Alltop is now featuring us in its Photography page. That’s a great birthday present! Thanks Alltop!

For a year now, this blog has been trying to find its voice; it started with the tagline “light epiphanies from Asia,” aiming to combine stories about photography with stories about travel, two things I am most passionate about. A few months ago I really found that voice when I wrote a short article talking about being a photographer and not a lens changer. That article changed this blog and made it what it is today. With its new tagline “photos and light epiphanies,” Imagine That hopes to share not just technical tips but also some insight into what it’s like to be obsessed with photography.

It’s great to be obsessed with something that gives you so much beauty and joy. But it is true that photography has a lot of facets to it, and sometimes it can be daunting to go through the countless complex guides that are available to you. So here are some bite-sized lessons you might use to improve your photography.

How to use content to create a powerful photo is something most photographers ponder a lot. Composition is a place to begin. There are quite a few ways to build photos with powerful content. You can also check out this article on making eyecandy, which talks about how to use color to improve composition.

portrait Burmese man wooden temple copyright Aloha Lavina

Portrait photography remains a beautiful obsession. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If like me, you are drawn to making photos of people, making expressive portraits has to be one of your goals. If portraits are what keep you shooting, you might want to learn about how to conceptualize a shoot or using props to enhance a portrait. We’re so obsessed that we take advice from most things, including these 10 cliches that a photographer could believe, and advice about portrait photography from the incomparable Tyra Banks.

Then there is travel photography. Travel photography is fascinating in the way it is always unpredictable and fresh. Within this expansive genre are subgenres that you can do as mini-projects. You could learn how to capture motion. You could organize your travel photography into themes. You can even break down a theme into little topics. These topics hold in them little skills that can take your photography into creative avenues, such as shooting after the sun goes down.

Danang bridge at night Vietnam copyright Aloha Lavina

Don't put your camera away at night. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Whatever type of photography you grow to love, you will find that photography inspiration is never too far away. For example, you might learn that you are better off improving your skills than trying to buy it by acquiring lots of shiny new gear. Sometimes, you can even find photography wisdom in something as strange as the thought process of a golfer.

I hope that new readers will appreciate these insights from a year on Imagine That, and they can help you appreciate the wonder of discovery that I’ve enjoyed in my photography. I hope that you, too, will continue to enjoy those little epiphanies of light that you find in your viewfinder.

Happy shooting, from Imagine That.


portrait with catchlights in eyes copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You About Portrait Photography

Tyra Banks is a genius. She’s built a beautiful and powerful brand for herself and for her famous show “America’s Next Top Model.” If you have watched ANTM, you know that Tyra is not just the brains behind the show. She’s worked not only in shaping the models that grow up on ANTM, but has been behind the camera on a lot of shoots. Both behind the scenes and in front of the lens, Tyra has a lot of things to teach the photographer who shoots models. Here are 10 things I’ve learned from Tyra Banks that you could use in your photography.

portrait with smize copyright Aloha Lavina

Smize. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

1. The eyes are the pivotal points of a portrait.
We’ve all heard Tyra say “Smize!” to her models. She even had an episode where the models had to compete to use their eyes to express everything—the art of smizing. In a portrait the eyes hold the portrait together, and that’s why you always have to keep the eyes in focus when you’re making a portrait.

double portrait with emotion copyright Aloha Lavina

Bring out emotion. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Bring out emotion.
Unless the face is contorted in a strong emotion, the eyes have to carry the emotion in a portrait, especially in a closeup. Bringing out emotion in the model helps to achieve emotion in their facial gesture. Tyra always coaches her models during a shoot, if she’s around for it. Once, she even made a few cry with her coaching. Taking time to coach the model on the emotion in a portrait helps to realize its potential for impact.

3. Motion and energy give dynamism to a portrait.
Motion brings dynamism to a portrait. But motion doesn’t really literally mean having the model move around. It means being able to direct poses and create an image that has energy. What I’ve learned from Tyra is that she often asks the models to tense certain parts of their body during a shoot. Finding out which muscles to sculpt a pose helps the photographer achieve a look that also speaks of energy.

double portrait with contorted poses copyright Aloha Lavina.

Contortion. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Ask your model to contort their body.
Sometimes, the most interesting poses are almost ugly. Especially with her work that is ‘high fashion,’ Tyra asks her models to contort, to push the boundaries of their physicality and find a pose that works for the image. Often what results is an image that is as beautiful as it must be uncomfortable for the model.

light and shadow portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Play with light and shadow. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Play with light and shadow
One of my favorite shoots done by Tyra on ANTM is when she created shadows with things like doilies, lace, and cloth. She shot the photos outdoors, in bright sunlight, and told the models about her concept. What resulted from that play with light and shadows were some amazing shots.

portrait with catchlights in eyes copyright Aloha Lavina

Teach models to find the light. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

6. Teach the model to find the light.
Catchlights in the eyes are attractive because they give the eyes depth and character, making it easy to see the model’s ‘smize.’ Tyra is always telling the model to find the light during the shoots on ANTM. If a model is new or unfamiliar with the shooting process, you can help them help you make the image better by teaching them where the light is coming from. Sometimes, just telling them to look in a certain direction helps you get those stunning catchlights.

7. Make it about the fashion.
If you are shooting a model in color, it has to be also about the clothes. Sometimes, it could be about a simple accessory like a hat. Composing the photo using the standard compositional techniques like leading lines to bring attention to the clothing is something that Tyra teaches. Keeping this in mind helps you to ‘sell’ the clothing in your portraits.

portrait with hat copyright Aloha Lavina

Make it about the fashion. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

8. Model from head to toe.
This is really great advice from Tyra. Even if you’re taking a closeup shot of a model, you want the model to feel the concept with every bit of her (or him). Asking someone to ‘model from H to T’ or head to toe will make your portrait pop.

9. Start with a concept.
I really like the Tyra Mail that happens every week on ANTM. This is a note Tyra writes to the models telling them what’s going on. When there’s a shoot about to happen, she’ll include something cryptic in the note referring to the concepts they are about to interpret with their modeling. Tyra comes up with interesting, beautiful concepts that result in fabulous photos. Paying attention to your concept means you don’t just take photos of a beautiful person, but you are taking beautiful photos of a person.

10. Every model is an individual.
Tyra might put her models through makeovers that chop their long hair or make them ‘edgy’—but she does this because it either pushes the model to come out of a comfort zone and become more interesting (read ‘marketable’ as a model), or to challenge them to make the new look work for them. But in the long run, you can see that she appreciates their individual qualities and tries to hone those qualities to strengthen their skill as a model. She tries to get to know each girl by listening to them and making careful observations. Using the same technique, you can make the model a partner in creating awesome portraits by giving them opportunities to be themselves in the photos.

We can all learn from Tyra Banks who is model, photographer and a fashion visionary in one. Why not try these tips I’ve learned from her, and create some awesome portraits this week. Remember that awesomeness always ‘wants to be on top.’

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:
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer


good light copyright Aloha Lavina

Light is the Thing

Make sizzling portraits tip # 4: Make a portrait in good light.

Portraits resonate more with a photography audience because people seem to prefer looking at photos of people, and also because most people alive these days are visual learners. That means we prefer to see things to make sense of them.

A long time ago, when radio was the most common mode of entertainment, most people preferred to learn by listening. Now with more than half a century of television, the advent of the internet and our ability to produce multimedia, we’ve reached an age of visual references. But with this new profile of the average audience member, photographers also have a new challenge. With the countless choices to look at or watch online, the photograph has to really stand out for it to be noticed.

We could start with content, by making a portrait that has interesting elements.

But content will only go so far; after all, there are sites online which trap attention by titillating their audience. What the photographer needs is great content and fantastic light.

great light copyright Aloha Lavina

Good light helps your photo create impact. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Light is still the thing when it comes to photography. Without dramatic lighting, a photograph doesn’t achieve as much impact.

Here are five tips for achieving great lighting in a photograph without it costing too much.

1. Shoot at the right time.

Sunlight remains the most beautiful lighting a photographer can get, and it’s free! Scheduling a shoot in the early morning or the late afternoon can do wonders for your portraits.

good light copyright Aloha Lavina

Shoot at the right time to get good lighting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Use a reflector to fill in shadows.

I’ve talked about how side-lighting makes a portrait dynamic. But at the times of day when the light is best, it also has intensity in one direction, and positioning the subject so he or she is lit from one side produces strong shadows on the other side. Placing a reflector in the shadow side can fill in these shadows and bring out detail.

3. Control the light indoors using a window.

Indoor portraits are great because you can do these any time during the day. Even though the sunlight has become harsh in the later part of the morning, during midday or the early afternoon, you can control window light by positioning your model at the right spot near a window. If you really feel that the light is still too contrasty and the shadows are too deep, you can diffuse the light simply by covering the window with a white sheet. This in effect makes the window into a huge softbox, softening the light and the shadows on your subject.

portrait at sunset copyright Aloha Lavina

A window can help you control light. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Control the light outdoors using a shelter overhead.

When shooting outdoors, especially when the soft light of early morning has been replaced by the harsh light of midday, you can still shoot some amazing portraits. Looking for something that you can use to shelter the model—a roof, a tree or awning. You can even use a hoodie or a hat. As long as the model’s face is in the shade and you are in the light, what you will get is a shooting situation where you can control the light on your subject. (You can even act as a reflector by wearing white to the shoot.)

5. Learn how direction and intensity affect your images.

With a lot of practice, you too can spot good lighting for a portrait by paying attention to direction and intensity, and how these affect your photos. Starting with the basic lighting situations, you can then move on to experimenting with tough lighting, such as high-contrast lighting and backlighting.

Light still reigns as the most important ingredient in a portrait. Without good lighting, a portrait is just a photograph of a person. Using the right lighting, you can make a beautiful photograph that stands out.

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:
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
Using Location to Make Your Portraits Sizzle

10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

Two women walk down an alley in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode

Spice up your travel photography tip # 2: Play with Monochrome Picture Mode

Sometimes, I get too serious.

I mean, walking around in a place I haven’t been, enthralled by all the new things I see, I sometimes forget that the best thing to do with my camera is play. That’s right, play: that state of experimental joy that feels good in itself because it’s relaxed and holds no pressure.

Walking around in Hoi An in the middle of the day, it is hot. The shadows are sharp, the light is harsh. The common response is, put the camera away, have a superb Vietnamese coffee, and practice portraits by people watching, take a nap in the air-conditioned hotel room until the light softens and turns a warmer color in the late afternoon.

Or, keep walking with the camera on Monochrome Picture Mode and make some monochrome images.

I decided to play with this feature of the 7D and learned some new things.

Shoot in RAW + JPG

Ducks on a motorbike, Hoi An Vietnam.

Ducks on a motorbike at the market, Hoi An Vietnam. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Most dSLRs now allow you to choose both RAW and JPG as the output files when you shoot. RAW isn’t really a picture file per se; it’s a composite of all the information the camera gets when you take a photo. So if you choose Monochrome Picture Mode and shoot in RAW, you’re still taking all the good stuff from the scene you captured even though the image shows up monochromatic in your LCD display. Shooting the extra JPG file gives you a ‘true’ monochrome image, processed in camera.

Play with Exposure Compensation

Shooting JPGs will allow you to hone your skills in shooting black and whites. The fun part of shooting black and white is getting to use and learn about exposure compensation. This is the ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ calibration line you see on the top display of the camera. Plus on a Canon means you compensate by ‘adding’ more light or overexpose, and minus on a Canon means you compensate by ‘subtracting’ light or underexposing. What do these pluses and minuses do? They actually allow you to make images darker (minus) or brighter (plus). (And you can use exposure compensation even when you shoot in color.)

Make Subjective Exposures


Two women walk down an alley in Hoi An, Vietnam.

One of my faves from Hoi An is from playtime with Monochrome Pic Mode. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Black and whites need pronounced blacks and glowing whites, so you can use exposure compensation to make what I call a subjective exposure—an image that looks like what I have in mind. This means you can underexpose or overexpose to taste, and play with the amount of light you let in the camera when you capture the image.

Playing with the Monochrome Picture Mode on your camera while traveling can help you have fun and learn something new about controlling how you make images.

Up next: Spice up your travel photography by shooting motion, right here on Imagine That!

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:
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo


The Girl in the Pink Dress: How to get this shot

Light It! Shoot It! Process It!

I enjoy fashion editorial photography, and when I’m not traveling, chances are I’ve got a photoshoot lined up. Sometimes, I post my photos up online (when the client gives the go ahead, after publication), and people ask me, How did you do that?

I’ve heard this question lots of times, and decided recently that I’m going to deconstruct the lighting, the shot, and the processing for you. So here is the first in a series I call 3inOne-Light it, Shoot it, Process it. Sometimes, I’ll talk about the lighting. Or I’ll talk about the thought process behind an image. Other times, I’ll talk about some Photoshop post-work on an image. Then, if I’m feeling really nice, I might just talk you through the whole thing—all 3 in one.

How to Light the Girl in a Pink Dress

This image was published in Masala Magazine, December 2010.

When we got to the location, I was very excited about this window. The client’s dress had this wonderful scarf that was delicate and diaphanous, and I wanted to love it in the image. So I had to use the window and the scarf to add drama —impact— to the image.

The other advantage of the window was the directional light through it. Plain good old sunshine—but the most beautiful light of all.

I placed the model in the gorgeous dress on one side of the window and angled her body so that the dress would be seen in its elegant cut: a brilliant upper bodice with intricate embroidery, and the skirt with its graceful folds. Then I asked the model to hold the scarf in front of her, and love it.

Notice that the window light does a couple of things. One, it gives the shot a sidelight which is perfect to create that 3D effect in a portrait (Thank you, Mr. Rembrandt, for this centuries old tip). Two, the window light gave the scarf a backlight, showing us how delicate and lovely the fabric is.

The last lighting bit was to fill in the dress with a portable strobe. I didn’t want to overpower the sun; all I needed was a suggestion that there was another window at camera right. So I just popped the flash at a medium intensity. Below is the lighting diagram.

Sometimes one light and a window is all it takes.

And there you have it. In my next posts, I will be going through some camera settings for an editorial shoot and a Photoshop workflow, Parts 2 and 3 of 3inOne. So stay tuned!

Let me know what you’d like to learn 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:
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
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How to Stay Creative

11 ways to build a better photo

A recent article in the New York Times warns, “generic photos are ignored. “

Because most digital work is displayed online on blogs and other sharing sites, the travel photographer cannot afford to take a generic photo—a photo which does not tell a story, tickle the imagination, and fire neurons into attentiveness. The photographer has to think about each image and carefully design what is captured so that the resulting photograph is compelling, creative, and meaningful.

Just like stories, photos have to contain balance and impact, two very powerful ways to engage the viewer’s attention. Designing balanced, impactful images begins in the mind. Photos that are mindfully created are the ones with the most impact, and impact is what makes the difference between a photo that is ignored and photos that draw the eye to them, again and again.

Here are some techniques for composition that an image hunter can practice to get rid of the generic and find your vision within.

Girl with offering, Bali.

Nuns reading, Burma.

1. Find different angles

“Zoom with your feet” is something a photography mentor told me. With today’s powerful zoom lenses, it is almost too easy to be lulled into letting the camera and lens do the work that the photographer should be doing. Moving around gives you a chance to see differently, and it just may be a different point of view that makes the shot.

2. Use the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds has to do with imaginary hotspots that would appear if we drew a grid of three by three over the viewfinder or photo. The intersections between the two lines of the horizontal grid and the other two lines of the vertical grid would be the hotspots. The human brain is attracted to these hotspots.

3. Isolate the subject

Man smoking in the shadows, Bali.

Uncluttering an image involves both luck and skill. Zooming in to the subject whether with the zoom lens or walking to a tighter frame will give the photograph a cleaner composition. The less distractions in the photo, the more impact the isolated subject will have.

Prayer flags lead to the golden spire of a stupa, Nepal.

4. Use leading lines

Leading lines are elements in the frame which act like arrows to the main emphasis. In this photo, the prayer flags lead the eye from one corner of the image to the stupa spire. Leading lines make it easy for the viewer’s eye to travel to the point of interest in the photo.

5. Use the foreground

Walk at sunrise, Bali.

Something interesting in the foreground can give a tension to a photo. In this photo, the woman walking beside the boat is just as sharp as the boat. Her apparent motion gives a story to the photo and makes it more dynamic.

Khon mask, Thailand.

6. Depth of field

Depth of field is the quality of sharpness from foreground to background in a photo. A large aperture (small f-stop number) gives a photo blurry background or shallow depth of field, while a small aperture (big f-stop number) gives a photo sharper background. In the photo of the Khon mask, the shallow depth of field created patterns in the light that hit the lens, giving it a dreamy quality.

7. Patterns

Looking for patterns can turn a photo into something special. This photo of a row of monks begging for alms in

All in a row, Laos.

Luang Prabang, Laos tells a story with the variation in the theme—one monk is anticipating the food a merit maker will offer, and breaks the pattern, and that becomes the interest point of the photo.

8. Scale

Scale can show the subject in relation to its environment. This large Buddha on a mountainside in

Big Buddha on mountaintop, Bhutan.

Bhutan is large, and the scale of it is shown through the wide view showing how it sits visible amongst the giant mountains.

9. Framing

Looking for natural frames is a great way to add interest and story to photos. This rickshaw driver,

Rickshaw driver, Nepal.

obscured by the roof of his rickshaw, tells a story with his eye—within the frame through which he looks daily as he makes his living.

Color at the market, Vietnam.

10. Fill the Frame

There’s no use including space if the space does not add to the story. Sometimes, the subject is more than adequate to tell a story. Other times, any other element in the photo would take away from its impact. The woman selling vegetables and her colorful environment fills the frame and creates a kaleidoscopic story of one woman in a market in Vietnam.

11. Use a Vertical Frame

Puppeteers, Thailand.

Shooting Vertical is a decision—the vertical frame has to work for the story in the image. In the photo of the puppeteers, the smoke rising from

Monk folding robe, Thailand.

the incense sticks offered to the artist’s patron spirits add to the image. In the photo of the monk, the robe he is folding is better as part of the framing and so demanded a vertical composition.


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:
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
How to Stay Creative

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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