Useful Photography Tip #76: Learn to Read the Contrast of a Scene Just by Looking at It

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Useful Contrast (1 of 1)ISO 1001-50 sec at f - 7.1

This is one image that was exposed for the highlights slightly (underexposed) and had the shadows boosted in post.

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While leading a photo walk the other day, I was trying to teach folks that photography is a lot more than just composition, looking at a scene, and being captivated by it. Instead, it’s also about absorbing the scene and trying to figure out how you can capture all the details of the scene in a single shot. This, over most other things, I think is an incredible skill that you can use day in and day out as a photographer. To boot, you don’t need to shoot in manual for this.

For starters, look at the scene through your viewfinder and figure out the contrast between the brightest of brights and the darkest of darks. Your camera will automatically figure out a middle ground in the evaluative scene metering mode but in order to get the most details in the image ask yourself: “Are the brights more dominant in this image or are the highlights?” Also ask yourself which one is more extreme.

Editor’s Correction: the following section has been rewritten to be more clear and also corrected

If you’re shooting a scene mostly dominated by the shadows, then first expose perfectly for the shadows and then try to overexpose by around 1/3rd to 1 and 1/3 stop. The reason for this is because modern camera sensors can pick up more detail from the shadows then from the highlights. If you’re shooting a scene mostly dominated by the highlights, then underexpose by 1/3rd to half a stop. The reason for this is because you’ll have an easier time pushing the shadows to get less grain and an overexposure of this much can easily be fixed in modern software.

By shooting this way, you’ll have a lot less images to go through in the post-production phase and your workflow will be much more seamless.

Useful Photography Tip #75: Bend Like a Reed In The Wind


“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

― Confucius

I know you’re like, “WTF” but hear me out. As photographers we have to be flexible. There are those who say they only shoot with prime lenses. There are those who only shoot mirrorless. Hell, there are those like me who swear by full frame sensors. They stick to this. They do not change. However, it does not have to be this way. The equipment we use for photography are tools. To both succeed and get better at this craft we have to adapt and change.

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Useful Photography Tip #74: Don’t Forget About the Color Channel Tools in Lightroom

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.57.52 PM

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Today’s Useful Photography Tip is super quick and will require more of an effort on your behalf for you to actually see the differences.

When many people are starting out in Adobe Lightroom’s Develop interface, they tend to focus on the minor things like the saturation slider, vibrance, contrast, etc. But what they don’t know is that if you play with the color channels individually, you can bring greater life to your image through saturation of specific colors, changing the overall hues, and even changing how bright some of the color channels appear.

The next time you’re not in a rush to edit, give this one a try. And if you think this one is too simple, then why do people complain in forums about color depth so much? The truth is that modern day cameras have a color depth that is more than capable of handling every day needs but can be a bit more problematic when it comes to working with concerts or abnormal lighting.

Oh yeah–and if that isn’t enough then try making the blacks in your image deeper. Deeper blacks tend to fool the human eye into thinking that something is sharper than it really is.

Useful Photography Tip #73: Use Spot Metering When Shooting Portraits

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Retouches of Dave Shim (6 of 6)ISO 320

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Sometimes the best thing to do is to never trust your camera’s metering. When it comes to portraiture, this is why many photographers have traditionally used hand held meters to help them figure out how to get the right exposure. And if you’re going to shoot a portrait (and for example’s sake, we’re going to say that you’re shooting outside), you’ll need to keep in mind that the primary focus and subject of your end result will be on the person (or pet). If your subject is backlit (which can actually create some incredibly beautiful images) your camera will most likely tell you that all that sun coming in needs to be nerfed. Since your subject is backlit, they will come out looking very dark if you’re working with natural light without a flash (this is even the case for a reflector being used.) Though keep in mind that with a flash you can sometimes even overpower the sun.

So the natural workaround to this is to overexpose. We’ve talked about it in older posts before. Generally, what you’ll do is overexpose by a full stop. However, this is providing that your camera is set to evaluative metering–and 99% of the time 99% of photographers set their camera to this setting and never take it off. If you change to spot metering, your camera will meter off of a general spot that you’re focusing on. Providing that you hold the spot and lock it when shooting in manual mode, you’ll be able to quickly get rid of this issue.

Sounds so simple right? Then why don’t more photographers do it?

Useful Photography Tip #72: Mimic the Look of Window Light By Bouncing a Flash at a Window Shade

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer With and without flashes for a window lighting tutorial (1 of 2)ISO 4001-40 sec at f - 2.8

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Everyone loves the look of window lighting. But in order to get that very soft, diffused look that we all see in some of our favorite food photos, we either need to wait for the right light or we need to crank the ISO levels up to the really high levels. That can provide a fundamental logistical problem because it requires the right scheduling. This is only true though if you don’t have a single speedlight.

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Useful Photography Tip #71: Learn to Do Children’s Photography from a Child’s Perspective


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If you are a photographer whose work revolves around children, a thought that often come up is, “What’s the best angle to capture them?” I found the best way to find this angle is to actually use a child. As I have been training my child in the art of photography, I get to see though his eyes. With a Nikon D5100 and a Nikon 35mm f1.8G in his hand, this is what I have learned.

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Useful Photography Tip #70: Don’t Get Caught Up in Buying Gear and Not Learn How to Use It

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A99 at lomo party (3 of 3)ISO 400

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This post is inspired by the loads and loads of people that I’ve seen this past weekend at New York Comic Con that I’ve consistently seen not pay attention to what they were doing when taking photos. For example, my friend who worked incredibly hard on her cosplay ended up getting some really terribly lit photos from one person who had a camera, a good lens, and an on-camera flash. The problem was this: they pointed the flash towards the ground and also had a diffuser on it.

So why is this bad? Well, the diffuser is already cutting down the flash power and when you bounce it off the floor, you’re lighting the person from below and killing details on the subject.

A better idea would have instead to have bounced the flash above and behind slightly to fill in any shadows that might occur.

Now–don’t think I’m trying to point out just this occurrence. It happens often–folks think that if they just buy the latest and greatest gear, that they’ll get better photos. But it isn’t true. And for that, we think that people need to really learn their gear inside out.

If you agree, we encourage you to share this with anyone you believe should heed the advice.

Useful Photography Tip #69: How to Photograph Steam from Coffee/Tea

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Shooting Coffee Steam tutorial (1 of 1)ISO 8001-80 sec at f - 1.4

Shot with the Canon 5D Mk II and Sigma 50mm f1.4

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Though the concept of photographing steam may be above the heads of many of the the advanced crowd of photographers, some folks may have never done it at all. The visual of steam coming from a cup of coffee elicits something within us all that draws us all in because it’s something so familiar and so good.

What you’ll need for starters: coffee/tea, a coffee mug, a dark toned background, a strong light-source (window light will do fine.)

For starters, make the java. When it’s boiling, you’ll want to get your camera prepped and ready. We recommend either a 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm lens for this tutorial. Set your camera to manual mode; you’ll need it. When the coffee or tea is boiling hot (yes, for the best results you’ll need to boil and get the water very hot even though they recommend never drinking either of these brews with boiling water) pour it into your mug. Then take the cup to a kitchen table or another surface with good, soft window light. Get yourself into an angle where the coffee is positioned against a dark background.

Position your focusing point over the mouth of the coffee cup and shoot either a perfectly balanced exposure according to your light meter or a little underexposed. We’re giving you these ideas because that you can shoot to whatever settings you’d really like to work with. But for the best results, we strongly recommend working with higher shutter speeds of 1/250th or higher. And to create the effect that we have above, you’ll want to shoot wide open. Slower shutter speeds will result in it possibly disappearing.

The key to capturing the smoke trail overall though has to do with contrast, and if the steam isn’t in front of a dark background contrasting with its light white color, it won’t work out so well.

Useful Photography Tip #68: Using a Manual Focus Lens for Street Photography


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Most marketing gurus try to talk about their autofocus performance when it comes to capturing candid moments and street photography. While autofocusing performance has made loads and loads of advancements, using a particular method involving manual focusing can still beat the pants off of your camera’s autofocus.

First off, you’ll need a manual focus lens with a working depth of field scale. Then you’ll need to stop it down and read the depth of field scale accordingly. These scales usually have markings that look something like this: 16 11 8 4 | 4 8 11 16. At a given aperture and at a given focusing distance, you can see exactly what will be in focus. If you’re stopped down to f8 then everything on the focusing scale will be in focus that is between those two 8 markers.

To apply this to real life applications, all you need to do is to be focused on a certain distance away, walk up to said distance, and shoot. This is how many of the old masters used to shoot. Additionally, this is called hyperfocal length shooting and zone focusing. It works wonders and its how I’ve been shooting for a while.

Give it a shot and you’ll see just how many more photos you’ll be able to snag.


Useful Photography Tip #67: How to Make Eyes Pop in Lightroom

Felix Esser The Phoblographer Make Eyes Pop

In portraiture, the focus is on the eyes–quite literally. While it’s a general rule to get the eyes in focus (if anything), what really makes a portrait stand out is when the eyes attract all the attention. But how, besides getting them in focus, do you achieve that? Adobe Lightroom has the very clever Adjustment Brush tool, which you can use to enhance the look of your subject’s eyes during post-processing. There are a couple of things to keep in mind, though, in order not to overdo it. In this article, we’re showing you how to make eyes pop in Lightroom, step by step.

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Useful Photography Tip #66: Take Your Time to Get Prepared

The skyline of Frankfurt, Germany during the blue hour

The skyline of Frankfurt, Germany during the blue hour

Recently, I went on a photowalk with a friend. We went to Frankfurt, the European capital of finance, to do some street and architectural shooting. After roaming the busy streets of Frankfurt’s city center, around 7 pm, my friend suggested we head to the banks of the river Main to get a better look at the skyline. Once we arrived, he set up his tripod, mounted his Nikon D800 equipped with the 14-24mm f2.8 on it, and laid down on the grass. When I asked him what he was up to, he said, “Now we wait for the blue hour to arrive.”

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Useful Photography Tip #65: The Secret to Get a Dog to Look At Your Camera

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm x pro 1 atlantic ave test (12 of 13)ISO 400

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A lot of us have dogs, and we all love our pups–but capturing their gaze is extremely tough sometimes. Chances are that if you point the camera at them, they’ll look away. The answer to fixing the problem is very simple. Think about this for a second: What do dogs love?

Balls to play with? You attention? Oh we know: food!

The way to get a dog to look at your camera to is stand back a bit with a very dominating posture and body language. Then bring out the camera, look through, then put a doggy treat right on top of the lens. The dog will look at the treat and do nearly whatever you want it to–just as long as it gets the treat.

To speed things up, try choosing a focusing point beforehand and composing a scene in your head. Then place the point over the dog’s eye and shoot. Be fast though, because some dogs are more anxious than others. For even better results, get down low and on their level.

Useful Photography Tip #64: How a Small Reflector Can Enhance Your Food Photography


“I’m a natural light photographer” doesn’t need to mean that you can’t manipulate the way a scene is. In fact, whether or not you’re a natural light photographer has nothing to do with light sources and needing a source in a specific spot at just the right moment. Lighting geeks will tell you that the only way that you can get more light is to introduce another source of it. But there’s a little technical workaround for that. With a $15 Pocket Reflector from Photojojo, you can add just enough of a subtle difference in your food photography to give it an extra pop.

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Useful Photography Tip #63: How to Deal with Back Lighting

Mary and Tommy Sutor's Wedding Batch 2 (44 of 149)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 5.6

Back lighting is one of the toughest situations to expose for unless you really learn to study your camera’s metering. By definition, back lighting is when your primary light source is behind your subject. For example, in the above photo the sun is behind the little girl. If you went along with what your camera’s metering system says, it would render her and the other main details of the image as way too dark. And if you underexposed, then it would be extremely dark but you would get details in the sky.

So the answer is amazingly simple: overexpose by a stop. When you overexpose an image, you’re doing what we call, “Exposing for the shadows.” While your eyes can see the subject clearly, your camera can’t. Afraid of losing the sky detail? You can pull the highlights back in Adobe Lightroom quite easily.

When would this be useful? Let’s say you’re trying to shoot a cityscape with the sun behind it but your camera isn’t giving you the details in the city. Instead, it is turning the city into a silhouette. First off, take your camera off of auto mode and put it in either P, S, or A. Then crank up your exposure compensation by one stop. And voila you’ll have the photo. Shooting in manual? Expose your image to one stop brighter than what your camera is telling you is perfectly balanced.

Try it, and remember this for next time.

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Useful Photography Tip #62: Remember to Take Advantage of the Warmer Times

Hot day

As I am writing this this, the New York area is dealing with another heat wave. Shooting in the middle of the day is down right insane at the moment. The temperature has been hovering around 100f/37c for a few days now, again iced coffee is not enough to refresh you.  It’s brutal out there. We talked about this once before but time and experience has given us a few more tips to share.

Here are some more ways to deal with the heat. And if you really have this problem a lot, check out our other list.

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Useful Photography Tip #61: Shoot from the Hip to Get a New Perspective

julius motal the phoblographer shooting from hip image 1

Gone are the days of TLR-style photography, at least for the most part. By that, I mean holding the camera at your waist, looking down at the screen, and composing your image that way. It seems that most hold their camera to their eyes, or their phone about six inches to a foot away from their squinting eyes. Within the past several months, I’ve taken to lowering my camera from my eye and shooting from the hip. It is, at first, a tad bit jarring not knowing what’s in the viewfinder. There’s as much chance as there is technique involved in getting images from your midsection. Herein lies a few pointers for getting used to holding your camera down under.

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Useful Photography Tip #60: Brighten Your Rangefinder On the Cheap

chris gampat the phoblographer yashica electro 35 gsn camera reivew (1 of 4)

We found an awesome hack on Lomography magazine for those of you who are really into rangefinder photography (and we’re talking about actual rangefinder coupled cameras.) Basically, if you look through the viewfinder at the middle area (which corresponds to focusing) you’ll see the two images that line up. If you place a little bit of gaffers tape right over that focusing area, the rest of the rangefinder screen will brighten.

The staff here was talking about this and we didn’t totally believe it until I tried it. With my Polaroid 185, Voigtlander Bessa R and Yashica Electro 35 GSN, it worked flawlessly. The key is to not put it over the rangefinder itself, but instead the key area in the viewfinder.

Try it out for yourself. But before you do, take a look at this piece on how a rangefinder focuses.

Via Lomography

Useful Photography Tip #59: Don’t Let Images Become Orphan Works

Orphans 20120520Gservo-0105

Everyone knows that free is good. However, there is a dark side to this idea–especially in photography. People and businesses want to keep a low bottom line and if they can obtain things at no cost they will, especially photography. If an image is found online and the owner is unreachable, it is open to theft. These images are considered orphan works. There are policies in place in some parts of the world that make this easy. It is sometimes sad to say, but photography is not always about hitting the shutter. We as photographers put a lot of work into image creation. However, we should also think about protecting those images by making sure it’s clear who owns them. In the ever changing world of copyright laws, precautions have to be taken. Here are some ways to avoid that.

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Useful Photography Tip #58: Develop Your Eye


We often talk about cameras, lenses and lighting but rarely do we talk about what’s behind them–your eye. Not the organ, no, the part of your mind that actually helps you see the world and share it with others. This is what inspires you to capture the world with your lens, what drives you. To me, photography is a person showing how they see their world and capturing moments in time. A person’s “photographic eye” is something that is developed over time with training.

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Useful Photography Tip #56: Use a Rogue Flashbender for Macro Photos

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 90mm f2.8 images with phottix mitros flash (1 of 5)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 5.6

When you’re down to the macro focusing range, it is almost never recommended to shoot wide open. The reason for this is because you’re focusing so closely to the subject, very little will be in focus at any given aperture. So you’ll need to stop down the lens. But in order to also minimize your post-production, we recommend putting a flash on your camera to get it right the first time around. Set that sucker to TTL, and put a Rogue FlashBender on it and hover the modifier over the subject. The flash output will bathe the subject in beautiful soft light that will look extremely natural–perfect for shooting the rings at a wedding. Flashes can be affordable too, just take a look at this list! And when you’re ready for more, take a look at our lighting modifier guide.

Need extra help? Here’s a demonstration of how flash and apertures work together.

Gear Used: Canon 5D Mk II, Tamron 90mm f2.8 VC, Phottix Mitros, Large Rogue Flashbender

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Useful Photography Tip #55: Place a Flash Against a Large Wall to Imitate Window Light


Often when I shoot products for the website, I try to think of different and creative ways to light the scenes but also have a natural and lifestyle like appeal to them. Due to a busy shooting schedule, legitimate window light isn’t always available–so it needs to be faked. Firstly, we should keep in mind that the larger and closer a light source is to a subject, the softer the light is. And in general, the light coming in from a window is usually quite soft. Soft light refers to the quality of the shadows.

So when I shoot some images, I often simply take a speedlite, place it right up against a white wall, and shoot with an according shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Once again, shutter speeds control the amount of ambient light leaking into the photo white the aperture controls flash exposure but not flash output. Additionally, ISO controls overall light sensitivity in the scene. Often when I’m doing this, I use TTL. For this particular set of images above, I used a Phottix Mitros flash with their Odin triggers in conjunction with Tamron’s 90mm f2.8 Marco VC mounted to my Canon 5D Mk II. And if you didn’t know beforehand, you might just think that this was all shot with natural light.

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