DO YOUR “PHOTOGRAPHS” STILL LOOK LIKE SNAPSHOTS? – Here’s some help.

Every day, talented photographers post hundreds, even thousands of incredible images on social network sights. When you see them, are you often in awe of these shots? Do you find yourself wondering “How do other photographers get their pictures to look so good?” Or, “ Why do my photos look like snapshots while everyone else’s look like works of art? What camera or processing trickery do they know that I don’t?”

The good news is that you’re not alone: no photographer started creating magic the minute they picked up a camera. It can take months or years of work until YOU are completely happy with the pictures you take. But there are some things you can do right away to help prevent your photos from looking like snapshots.

1. Stop letting the camera decide
If you treat your DSLR like it’s a point-and-shoot camera then you’ll end up with point-and-shoot snapshots.

Left in one of its automatic shooting modes, the camera will choose where to focus, the aperture, shutter speed and ISO mix required to make an exposure, how saturated and sharp the image is… pretty much every shooting parameter.

There’ll be times when it does an acceptable job. But your camera doesn’t have a clue what you’re photographing or how you want to photograph it. It’s pre-programmed to deliver a specific set-up for its scene modes and defaults to the safest settings in fully automatic mode.

For more interesting and creative results, you need to take control of the picture-taking process. Your camera’s Program, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes allow you to do this, while still retaining a degree of automation.

2. You’re not exploring more interesting compositions
Snapshots are taken spontaneously with little thought to the composition. But deciding how to arrange things within the frame and what things to leave out of it are crucial steps to giving your photos more weight.

Some photographers are lucky and find that good composition is instinctive, but most of us have to learn the basics and work at it.

Think about using the Rule of Thirds as a starting point in order to help position the focal point of the photo in a more interesting position.

Check the edge of the frame for distracting elements and make sure you’re not cropping off the main subject at an awkward point, such as the waist or knees in a portrait.

Use the Live View display’s grid overlay to make sure the horizon and other straight edges are level. Try alternative crops when you’re processing your photos on a computer too, as this will help you develop your eye for a picture.

Before you take a photo, ask yourself what you’re trying to show. How does the scene or subject of the photo make you feel? Which parts are you drawn to? Is this the best angle to photograph it from?

3. You’re not paying enough attention to the light
The quality and quantity of light will make or break a photo. If you’re not shooting in light that complements the subject, or the look you’re after, then you’ll end up with a so-so snapshot.

We’re not suggesting you should take all your photographs during the ‘golden hours’ at the start and end of the day, although that is the best light available. No, shooting at dawn and dusk might be the classic advice for landscape photography, but it doesn’t suit every subject, or every shooting timetable.

Some subjects work better with more directional, hard-edged light, while others are better photographed under softer, more diffused light. The harsh, burning light you get in the middle of clear, sunny day is generally the least flattering, particularly if you’re creating portraits or close-up photos, but sometimes, that’s all you have to work with.

If the light’s not working, then try enhancing it: a diffuser or reflector can help you manipulate the existing lighting, while fill-flash will allow you to reveal detail in shadows that would otherwise be lost.

4. You’re not looking at the background of a photo
How many of your photos have been ruined by a distracting and plain-ugly background?

We’ve all done it: concentrated so much on framing the subject and making sure it’s tack-sharp and perfectly exposed, that the background becomes largely ignored.

No portrait-sitter will thank you if there’s a tree or telegraph pole sprouting from their head, or the horizon splits them neatly in two.

Landscapes lose their impact with a shiny red car parked in the distance, and wildlife photos look woeful when a distracting mash of twigs and branches takes attention away from the animal.

Make the background the first thing you think about and the last thing you check before pressing the shutter release button and your photos will look more professional.

5. You’re not keeping an eye on the shutter speed
Slow shutter speeds can lead to blurred photos, either because the subject moved or because you couldn’t hold the camera still during the time it took to make an exposure.

The thing is, a slow shutter speed is an easy thing to miss – after all, there’s so much to think about before you press the shutter release.

If the camera’s shooting mode is set to Aperture Priority then you’ll be focusing on setting the appropriate aperture for the subject or scene you’re photographing and letting the camera take care of the shutter speed.
To get around this, consider using your camera’s Auto ISO setting.

This will automatically adjust the ISO setting to ensure that the shutter speed is fast enough for sharp handheld photos, whatever aperture you choose.

6. You’re not close enough
If your photos lack impact, the chances are that the focal point of the picture is too small in the frame.

Everything looks much bigger through the viewfinder than it does when you review your photos on the computer.

Obviously you can crop photos later to tighten up a baggy composition, but doing this means that you won’t be realizing the full potential of your camera’s sensor.

Try and think about any ‘dead space’ before you take the photo. Taking a few steps forward is often enough to do the trick, and, unlike zooming a lens, brings you closer to the subject of your photo.

This is an advantage when it comes to street photography and photography that requires a reaction from the subject, but perhaps less so when you’re photographing African Big Game.

7. You’re not being subtle enough with flash
Used inappropriately, flash is notorious for making photos look like snapshots.

The deer-in-the-headlights look caused by automatic on-camera flash being used close to a subject in low light is a classic: all bleached-out subject, red eyes and featureless black background.

The trick here is to balance the flash with the available light by choosing a higher ISO setting or a slower shutter speed – you’ll need to use the camera on a tripod with the latter to prevent the un-flashed areas of the picture being blurred.

Whenever possible, move the flash away from the camera with an off-shoe camera cord, or wireless flash sync, to control where the shadows fall. If you can’t do that, try pointing it towards a white ceiling or nearby wall for a softer quality of lighting.

8. You’re not spending long enough processing photos
Photos that aren’t processed, or processed without care, can have that flat, straight-out-of-the-camera snapshot look.

You don’t have to manipulate a picture to the point where it bears no resemblance to reality.

A Levels adjustment, a tweak of Curves, a slight crop, perhaps a shift in White Balance – this may be all that it takes to lift your photo from snapshot to hotshot.

“FREAKY” SKIN SMOOTHING TECHNIQUE in Photoshop ~Dave Stabley

Skin retouching is a delicate balance between getting the skin smooth, and still keeping enough of the detail to prevent the face from looking like plastic. Here is a method that works exactly the opposite of the way you would think it should.

Diana Orona, our model for today’s tutorial has great skin, but the sharp details revealed with a quality lens means that skin can look overly detailed and that can be distracting.


As we can see in this image, there is quite a lot of texture in the skin and also a little too much detail for a beauty or glamour shot. So let’s get started smoothing…

The first step is to create a duplicate layer using Ctrl + J (Cmd + J for Mac)

Now we need to invert the new layer using either Ctrl (Cmd) + I or from the menu as shown here.

This creates a rather “freaky” version of our portrait, kind of reminds me of my old darkroom days, but things are about to get even stranger.

Next, we apply the Vivid Light Blend mode within the Layers Palette.. and everything turns.. Grey

What we have done now is effectively created a second layer that cancels out the first layer. This is the layer we will work on to remove any unwanted blemishes while retaining the underlying skin texture.

At this stage, we convert the layer for Smart Filters. This allows us to be able to go back and adjust our smoothing settings rather than rework each stage. Another benefit of using the Smart filters is that you can easily create an action to achieve this technique and adjust the settings for individual images.

This screenshot shows an icon in the bottom right of the layer preview, showing that this layer is now ready for Smart Filters.

And now for the fun stuff. As strange as it sounds, we are going to Sharpen the layer using the High Pass Filter. This will have the unusual effect of blurring the overall image. If this confuses you, just think that we are working on the opposite of the original image, so sharpening to blur makes a weird kind of sense.

Change your pixel radius in the High Pass pop up box so that the skin no longer shows any blemishes. Be careful not to go too high, although as this is a smart filter we can fine tune it later if required.

You may notice that the image blurs while the High Pass preview box sharpens… this is due to this layer being an opposite of the layer beneath. Also, only be concerned how the blurring looks on the skin as we will not be applying this to the hair etc.

So if we sharpened to blur the image, now we need to blur to sharpen the image… talk about mind bending! We now apply a Gaussian Blur to restore the skin texture.

Change the pixel radius of the Gaussian Blur to reveal the underlying skin texture while hiding any blemishes. A good starting point for the pixel radius is less than half of the value used in the High Pass Filter.

As you can see in the screenshot, both the High Pass and Gaussian Blur filters have been applied to Layer 1. This allows us to double click on either of these filters and fine tune the values used if needed. As things stand, this skin smoothing has been applied to the entire image. What we need is to apply it to only the skin.

This is simply a case of creating a black layer mask for layer 1. To do this, Alt (Opt) + Click on the mask layer to fill the mask layer with Black. As always with layer masks, Black conceals, White Reveals… so now all that skin smoothing has vanished.

Now it is just a case of painting the smoothing back into the image. Choose the Brush from either the Toolbar or by pressing B, make sure that you have selected White as your foreground color. Choose a nice soft brush and paint on the selected layer mask.
As you paint in white on the layer mask you should see the skin being smoothed while retaining all the lovely skin texture. If you find the smoothing is too much you can either adjust the settings of previous filters or you can lower the opacity of the layer.

BEFORE

Above you can see the starting image…

AFTER

…and here the smoothed skin, edited image.

This technique works just as well for B&W images as it does for color. Give it a try.
Model: Diana Orona

STUDIO SHOOTS – Master your lighting setup ~Dave Stabley

Just the thought of “Studio Lighting” setups can make some photographers cringe and back away in fear. There is all the technical “stuff” you need to know to shoot in the studio, like the “inverse square law,” “reciprocity,” and that “angle of incidence/angle of reflection” thing. Then there is all that expensive equipment you NEED to buy, and learn to use, before you can even get started.

Let’s face it, if you just wait for a nice day, not too sunny, not too cloudy, you can grab your model, go outside, find an interesting background and get some beautiful shots. Right?

All you need to do is be patient, and wait for the right weather conditions… hopefully the model will also be available when that occurs. You can wind up with great shots, without the technical hassle, and save a bundle at the same time. What’s wrong with that approach? ANSWER: You give up all control to fate, circumstance, luck. You can’t really control the time of the shoot because you don’t know what the weather is going to be like that day – at that time. Is it going to be sunny, or cloudy and overcast? Is it going to rain? Windy?

If you are a serious photographer, you need to know how to shoot in the studio. Believe me when I tell you this, with a little practice, you will come to love the control you have and the results you get . So let’s start with the simple stuff. The least complicated place to begin, is with a one light set-up. That single light system will provide an endless reservoir of great imagery. Most of you have been shooting with a flash, this will just take that idea to the next level.

In studio lighting, it’s the transition of light to shadow that provides depth, beauty and interest to your photos. Do you want a hard transition with a distinct line and harsh contrast separating the lights and shadows, or do you see it as a soft, gradual melting of the two? This transition zone is what should be the focus of your attention when getting into studio lighting, because you can control it.

The distance your light is from your subject, and the size of the modifier on the light will determine how these shadows change. These are concepts that need to be experimented with and understood and the best way to do it is to practice. So let’s go ahead and give you a place to get started and begin to nurture your studio skills.

Keep it Simple
The best way to get started with studio lights is to keep it simple. This means one light and one light only. That way if you don’t like what you see while you are shooting, you only need to adjust, move, or tweak one thing. You will not be fiddling around with everything and getting lost in the set-up. You will be able to keep your attention on your subject and the shoot. Also, use a large, diffuse light modifier that throws light like a hand grenade at your subject such as a shoot through umbrella (no smaller than 36 inches).

Light Source
My favorite light modifier is a Westcott 7 foot Parabolic Umbrella. I recommend using a large light source so that you can light both your subject and your background at the same time. I also recommend using a diffuser on the light source to soften the quality of the light and prevent extreme hot spots on your subject. These Westcott umbrellas produce an incredibly beautiful, soft light, and they are really inexpensive… around $100. Okay, we have picked a light source, now where do we place it?

Light Placement
Without getting into too much physics, basically the closer the light source is to your subject the softer the light will be, giving you a nice gradual transition from light to shadow. Subsequently, the farther the light source is from your subject, the more harsh the light gets and you get a harder transition from light to shadow. Ultimately, you should try both scenarios to learn more about how it changes the look of your portrait. A good rule of thumb is to place your light source the same distance away from the subject as the size of the modifier – a 24″ softbox should be about two feet from the subject. For this
seven foot parabolic, start around 5 to 7 feet away and you will find it produces a softer, more diffuse light which is more flattering to your subject.

Also, in terms of light direction, you cannot go wrong with a traditional loop lighting pattern (named for the shadow created by the nose on the cheek) where the light is placed at roughly a 45 degree angle to the side and a 45 degree angle above your subject.

Think Before You Shoot
Now before you set the power on your lights, think about what you want the portrait to look like and what sort of depth of field you will need. If it’s a simple head shot and you want a nice shallow depth of field with the eyes in focus and the rest of the photo gently blurring into a beautiful bokeh, then choose a wide open aperture of f/4.0, or lower.

If you have props and other elements in the portrait that you need in focus, then choose a smaller aperture and a broader depth of field of f/11.  ISO should be set as low as possible to prevent noise. Shutter speed is not much of a factor with studio strobes as the flash is illuminating everything, so I would keep it set just below your sync speed at something like 1/160 sec. Thus, let the aperture you want dictate the shot.

Now, you can either adjust the power of the strobe till it reaches the proper exposure for your shot, or if you want to get even more detailed you can go ahead and use a light meter to set the strobe at the exact aperture you require.

Experiment and Learn
Now just shoot! Move the light a little to the left or a little to the right. Bring the light farther from the subject or so close it is almost touching the subject. Experiment and learn. Stop worrying about making mistakes. That is how we learn and get better. What is the worst that can happen?We get a series of horrible captures? I do not know about you, but as a photographer I have had plenty of shoots that have been disappointing. Big deal! Study the bad shots to figure out what went wrong and try again. Learn to embrace your mistakes and I promise you that improvement is not far away.