How to Know What Aperture to Use: A Guide and A Cheat Sheet

A first step for any budding photographer is getting to grips with the manual settings on their camera. Learning how to properly adjust your lens and gear is the only way to take your shooting to the next level.

Aperture, depth of field, and the shutter speed are all closely related. Changing one can often mean changing the other. While this fact alone can prove overwhelming to many newbies, help is at hand.

This page will dive into the details of how to know what aperture to use, and we’ll talk about depth of field and lens work in photography. From f stops to shutter speed, we’ve got you covered.

What Is Aperture?

In short, the aperture setting you choose determines the amount of light that enters your lens. A small aperture lets in less light, while a larger aperture makes for much brighter photos. The amount of light you let in when shooting determines how ‘sharp’ your final image will look.

The term ‘f stops’, or f number, refers to the number given by your camera when you adjust the aperture.

You might set your aperture to an f stop of f/4.0, for example. There are more complex, accurate definitions of what ‘f stop’ means but as a beginner, the important thing to remember is that when you’re adjusting aperture, you’re changing to a different f stop.

Aperture is directly related to two other photography terms – depth of field and shutter speed.

Depth of Field

Depth of field is the area in which your subject will remain sharp. Once your subject has left this area, it will lose focus and become blurry. A shallow depth of field gives photographers a much smaller area to work with when shooting. The converse is true with a deep depth of field.

As aperture determines the inflow of light, changing it also changes the depth of field you have available. A large aperture creates a shallow depth of field and a small aperture makes your available depth of field deeper.

The image below is a shallow depth of field, as the area in focus is quite narrow, and the background is blurry.

shallow-depth-of-field

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is another camera setting that affects the amount of light that enters your lens. The longer your shutter remains open, the more light that enters your system when shooting.

In order to make sure you’re using a setup that’s right for your subject, it’s important to make sure that both your shutter speed and aperture are working together in the way you want them to. They both influence your available light when shooting, so you’ll need to get to grips with both.

One great way to do this, is to use aperture priority mode.

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture priority mode is a setting on most digital cameras that keeps your aperture and shutter speed settings in sync. Users choose the aperture setting they want and let their camera automatically set an appropriate shutter speed and ISO.

Aperture priority mode is great as it stops the speed of your shutter from interfering with your desired outcome for your shot. Use this mode whenever you want more control over the depth of field for your image.

Shutter Priority Mode

While we’re on the subject, another camera setting that’s worth diving into is shutter priority mode. As the name suggests, this setting gives users control over their shutter settings. In this mode, users choose a speed for their shutter that works for them and their camera automatically picks an aperture that matches.

Shutter priority mode comes in handy when working with moving subjects, as it makes it easier to freeze subjects or slow movement down in an image.

Is Aperture the Same as ISO?

This is a very common question for newbie photographers and it’s important to clear things up. While ISO and aperture are both related to light in photography, they’re not the same thing.

Your chosen aperture literally determines the size of the opening that lets light into your lens. ISO, on the other hand, determines how sensitive your sensor is to light in the first place. In darker environments, a higher ISO makes your lens more sensitive to light, making it easier to get a photo that’s bright enough.

Aperture is about how much light gets in, ISO is about how much light is even needed.

How to Know What Aperture to Use

We’ve now established the relationship between aperture and depth of field. As a general rule, a large aperture creates a shallow depth of field and vice versa. This means that figuring out the right aperture when shooting means knowing the depth of field you want for your shot.

Depth of field is the amount of ‘wiggle room’ you have for keeping subjects in focus. A shallow depth of field doesn’t give you much room at all, while a deeper depth of field gives considerably more room to play with. Different shooting scenarios call for different amounts of ‘wiggle room’.

This means asking questions about your chosen subject. Knowing how much space you need for your subject to stay in focus gets you much closer to an appropriate aperture.

Aperture Settings Cheat Sheet

The section below outlines a number of photography scenarios and the aperture to use alongside them. It’s worth noting that these should be used as a general guide only; circumstances vary from lens to lens and camera to camera.

Landscape Photography

When taking wider shots, it’s typically more appropriate to use a deeper depth of field. This keeps your entire subject nice and sharp. In this case a small aperture, or higher f stop, is what you’ll need.

This type of photography usually calls for an aperture range between f/8 and f/11 with a maximum aperture of around f/16. It goes without saying that each specific set of circumstances is different, so take some time to experiment with your settings and find a setup that works for you.

landscape

Portrait Photography

For portrait photography, things are a little different. Keeping a nice blurred background with your model still in focus calls for a shallow depth of field. This means keeping your aperture nice and wide. Use f stops between f/2 and f/6 for a better chance of success.

portrait

Macro Photography

When it comes to macro photography, it’s worth being clear on the specific type of photo you’re taking. What many people call macro photography is actually just a close-up shot.

‘True’ macro photography uses a reproduction ratio of 1:1, meaning a subject that appears 10mm across on the camera sensor will appear 10mm in the final image. We’re not saying this to be pedants, the f stop you use will change if you’re taking a ‘true’ macro shot or a close-up photo.

For true macro shots, use an aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/20. For more general close-ups, somewhere between f/3 and f/16 works best.

Check out our in depth guide to macro photography here.

Night Sky Photography

When shooting at night, you’ll want to let as much light as possible into your lens. When it comes to astrophotography, a large aperture is the way to go. Anything past f/2.8 is considered large. Tweak your settings as you go to figure out what works for your setup.

Remember that a much slower speed is best for your shutter in these environments. Your goal should be to maximize what little light you have available. This means using a higher ISO than usual too.

Looking for a recommendation for a great night sky camera? Check out out guide here.

When You Don’t Know What Aperture to Use

A great setting to choose if you’re completely unsure is somewhere between f/6 and f/8. The resulting depth of field pretty much guarantees that anything you point your camera at will be in focus. When snapping quick holiday photos, for example, this makes things much easier.

Things That Can Influence The Right Aperture

When dealing with things like depth of field and aperture, it’s worth keeping in mind that different camera setups can vary wildly. The lens and camera you use can change things quite a bit.

While the figures given in the ‘cheat sheet’ above are great for a general rule of thumb, mastering photography means learning what to look out for.

Available Light

Changing your aperture and shutter speed means changing the amount of light that comes into your system. For this reason, you should pay close attention to the amount of light that’s available in your scene. An incredibly sunny day or bright studio will need different settings to a darker environment.

The Size of Your Sensor

Each camera sensor comes with its own idiosyncrasies. A setting that gets a certain depth of field with one sensor can produce wildly different results with another. Mastering how to know what aperture to use means learning what works best for your sensor.

Your Camera

Different brands have their own approach to processing images on the fly. Canon in particular stands out in some macro environments, for example. Getting to know your camera is an important part of taking great photos with it.

Questions to Ask When Setting Up

Figuring out the right depth of field and aperture means asking yourself some questions about your scene. Read on for a brief guide to preparing your lens and gear.

What’s My Subject?

What is it that you’re shooting? Considering your chosen subject will make it much easier to make decisions about depth of field and camera settings. How large is your subject? Is it moving, or still? The list goes on. Pay close attention to the subject you’ve chosen and your life as a photographer will become much easier.

How’s My Environment?

Take stock of your scene and its environment. How much natural or artificial light will you have available when shooting? Are you outdoors or indoors? How much space do you have to work with? Questions like these will help you master your environment and pick settings that get the results you need.

How do I Want to Compose My Shot?

Are there particular elements of your scene that you’d to draw focus to? How much of your fore and background do you want to be in focus? Do you think a brighter or darker image would work best for your chosen subject?

The answers to all of these questions will tell you which depth of field you need and therefore which aperture you should use. Remember that a shallow depth of field works well for things like macro photography but will fall short with other subjects.

How Close do I Need to Be?

Maybe you’re capturing the intricate details of an insect’s eye. Perhaps you’re getting photos of a glorious landscape. Your optimal shooting distance will change depending on the photo you’re trying to produce.

Having a good general idea of how close you need your subject to be to your lens will make it easier to find the right aperture.

What Works Best for My Lens?

Your camera sensor and lens also play a big role in which aperture will work best. Getting familiar with your camera setup makes choosing the right settings second nature over time. While this obviously includes quite a bit of trial and error, you’ll get there in the end!

Conclusion

We hope this guide has demystified the process of choosing the right aperture settings for your lens. Remember that aperture priority can be an absolute godsend, especially when you’re first getting to grips with this aspect of taking photos.

Remember that while ISO and aperture are related, they’re not the same thing. Aperture determines how much light gets in, while ISO concerns how much light is even needed in the first place.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is the relationship between depth of field and aperture. You can’t change your aperture without influencing the amount of your scene that will stay in focus.

Remembering this relationship and experimenting with it will help you become a better photographer.

Standard Photo Sizes & Understanding Aspect Ratio: The Complete Guide

Photo sizes! They’re hardly the most riveting topic, but understanding which standard photo sizes you have to choose from will come in handy when you next want to print an image. Getting to grips with frame sizes, aspect ratio and what all these measurements mean can save you a lot of headache down the line.

It’s not the first thing most newbie photographers think of, but understanding how to print your work is a hallmark of someone who takes their photography seriously.

This page is designed to demystify the process of printing photos. We’ll run through the standard photo sizes, the ratios they’re associated with and how to choose the right print sizes for you.

Standard Photo Sizes & Aspect Ratio Explained

When it comes to standard photo sizes, it’s much easier for most people to understand measurements like 6×4″ or 8×8″ when visualizing how a print might look in their home. An area where people tend to get confused is aspect ratio.

So what is aspect ratio and why does it matter? Put simply, the aspect ratio of a photo print is a comparison of its width to its height. For example, if a print has an aspect ratio of 3:2, that means its width is 1.5x more than its height.

Aspect Ratio – Who Cares?

When working with your photos, it’s important to understand the relationship between aspect ratios and photo sizes. We know that long lists of numbers can be overwhelming, but once you know the basics it’s actually deceptively simple. Understanding aspect ratios is important for two main reasons.

1. Image Cropping

One reason it’s worth getting to grips with both image size and aspect ratio is it will make it much easier to know how your chosen size will crop your image. Some aspect ratios result in a square image, while others lead to a wider, more rectangular end result.

If you don’t understand the aspect ratio you’ve chosen, you risk cropping out elements of your image that you didn’t intend to.

Take this image for example. The square aspect ratio of this photo means that a print aspect ratio of 3:2 wouldn’t be appropriate.

square-aspect-ratio

As you can see in this cropped image, 3:2 means we lose elements of the subject. Understanding this fact of photography will go a long way when you come to printing your images. There’s no point getting a perfect image if you’re going to undermine your work when you print.

32-cropped

2. Aspect Ratios and Distortion

Choosing the wrong ratio when printing can result in a distorted, odd-looking end result. Photograph sizes are only half the battle; using the right ratio is just as important.

A good example would be when printing a landscape photograph using a square ratio. This would result in a ‘squashed’, distorted print that simply wouldn’t work for display purposes.

Screen Resolution

A fringe benefit of understanding these ratios can be found when displaying images on a screen. Understanding the relationship between the width and height of a photo will make it easier to make decisions about which screen settings and resolutions to use.

Common Ratios and Standard Photo Sizes

Below are some common aspect ratios and related photo sizes. Learning these figures together will help your photography game long term.

1:1 (8×8″) – A Perfect Square

A 1:1 photo has the same width and height, resulting in a perfect square. Some common photo sizes at 1:1 include 8×8 inches or a 1080×1080 image. 1:1 shots work well for the square format of social media sites like Instagram.

3:2 (6×4″) – Common for Home Prints

3:2 is a very common standard photo format that first started in the age of film photography. 6×4 inches is a common image size with this aspect ratio.

4:3 (8×6″) – Rectangular

Photograph sizes in 4:3 include 8×6 inches or 1024×768 pixels. Think standard TV dimensions and rectangular photo prints. This is a great option for landscape and some wildlife photography.

16:9 – PC Screens

This ratio may sound familiar if you’ve ever tinkered with PC building. It’s the common ratio used by most modern computer monitors and is a wider, rectangular format. This is a great choice for smaller landscape panoramas. You may need to source a custom build if you’re looking to frame your image.

5:4 (10×8″) – Almost Square

5:4 is a nearly square aspect ratio that’s also great for Instagram and other social media shots. 10×8″ is one of the common photo print sizes that has a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Photo Print Sizes – Standard Photo Size List

This section will run through the most common sizes for prints and what they’re commonly used for.

4×6″ – The Standard

The most common size for home photo prints is probably 4×6″. It’s the format that most people are already familiar with. Most digital cameras already take great shots for this size.

Related: How many pixels in 4 x 6

8×10″ – A Step Up

This is a slightly larger size for images with bigger subjects. Think group photos or family portraits. Many photography studios prefer 8×10 for their prints.

16×10″ – Smaller Poster

With 16×10, we’re approaching poster territory. Consider this size for bold prints and photos of special occasions. The rectangular aspect ratio makes this size great for decorating a bedroom.

20×30″ – Poster

This is a common choice for a more standard poster size. If you have a statement piece that you want to show off, this is probably the size to go for.

How to Choose the Right Size for You

Hopefully the sections above have demystified some elements of photo printing and its most standard sizes. The question remains, how do you know which size you should print in? This section will outline our process for picking a size that works for you.

Consider the Purpose

What are you printing the image for? Are you decorating your house with your work? Perhaps you’re sending the images to a loved one or printing out memories to keep for later. Your reason for printing will determine the size you choose.

As a general rule, smaller prints are usually best for sending via mail or pinning up near a desk. For bigger display purposes though, you may want to consider one of the larger poster sizes we discussed above.

Image Composition

The standard photo size you choose for your photo print will also be influenced by the original image’s composition. If you originally shot in a square ratio, it’s probably best to avoid print sizes that are better suited to landscape images.

If your photo is a stunning landscape shot, smaller print sizes might not do the image justice. Consider the image you’ve taken and find a print size that works for you.

Measure the Space you Have

If you’re printing to decorate your home, it’s worth taking stock of your available room. While larger photo sizes can be tempting, they just won’t work if you don’t have the room. Spend the time getting to grips with the space you have available before deciding on image or frame sizes.

Conclusion

One of the greatest joys of photography is seeing your work physically in front of you. If you want to make sure you’re on top of you’re game, it’s worth taking the time to understand photo print sizes and their related aspect ratios.

While it’s far from the most exciting topic, it’s important if you want to take your photography seriously. Displaying your work for others means getting your head wrapped around the basics.

Grayscale vs Black and White vs Monochromatic: Explained

If you’re new to photography, you’ve probably heard the terms “black and white”, “monochrome” and “grayscale” thrown around while wondering what they all meant. Is there actually a difference? If so, does it matter?

This page will run through each term and clear up any confusion you might have about grayscale images, black and white images and everything in between. We’ll also discuss setting up the perfect black and white shot.

The difference between grayscale vs black and white

When photography was a new, exclusively film-based technology, color wasn’t an option yet for images. As the artform progressed, color photography emerged and the term “black and white” was coined, referring to images that didn’t use color.

These days, “black and white” is a catch-all phrase used to describe colorless images. If we’re getting technical, though, black and white images aren’t black and white at all: they’re grayscale.

What Does Grayscale Mean?

The color spectrum for black and white images is composed of varying shades of gray.

Take this image, for example. While it’s perfectly true that this is a black and white image, what we’re really looking at here is an image made up of different shades of gray, hence – “grayscale”.

Practically speaking, there’s no real-world difference when it comes to black and white or grayscale images if you’re a layperson. It’s just that “grayscale” as a term more accurately describes the spectrum of color these images use.

Now you know what’s being discussed when you read “grayscale photography”. Understanding terms like this is the first step in taking a stunning black and white image.

grayscale-example

What About Monochromatic?

A black and white, or grayscale, image is also monochromatic. A mono (one) chromatic (color) image is composed exclusively of shades of one color. As a grayscale image uses only shades of gray, it can also be described as monochromatic.

It’s worth noting, though, that monochromatic images aren’t exclusively black and white.

Take this image, for example. The bear and landscape above are all different shades of pink, but the image is still monochromatic.

monochromatic-exampl

How to Shoot Black and White Photos

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably fairly interested in photography. Understanding how to take stunning monochrome or black and white images is a hallmark of a good photographer. It’s important to get to grips with the fact that there’s more than one way to produce great grayscale photography.

Black and White Image Method – Post Editing

Taking a high-resolution image in color and saving it in a RAW format is a great way of producing a gorgeous grayscale photo. The reason for this is that it gives you more flexibility when editing later.

Retaining things like color data, lighting, contrast and resolution make it much easier to produce the effect you want later on. Using apps like Lightroom can really up your game and take your images to the next level. This is only made easier by a higher quality initial image.

Grayscale Images – In-Camera Method

Most modern digital cameras include options to shoot an image “directly” in black and white. The specific functionality varies wildly from camera to camera, but in general this in-camera method involves the following:

  1. The camera captures a color photo
  2. The camera’s onboard processor does its best to remove unwanted color from the photo
  3. The image is compressed down into a low-resolution format like JPEG

While this method can work very well if you need a black and white photo now, it sacrifices a fair bit of flexibility for post processing.

Monochrome and Shooting in RAW

If you have a camera that allows you to shoot monochrome images in a RAW format, this is probably the best way to go. The RAW format retains a ton of information, including color data.

The image you shoot will look black and white on your camera’s LCD, but you’ll have the flexibility to edit colors and tweak the black and white image to your heart’s content. In short, monochrome settings that allow users to save in RAW provide the best of both worlds.

Black and White Subject Ideas

So you’ve been dazzled by images with a million shades of grey, but you’re not sure where to start for yourself. This section will outline some subjects that work really well for grayscale images.

Trees

black-and-white-tree

A black and white image piles emphasis on dark, formidable shapes. Nature in general is packed full of unique patterns, lines and shapes. Trees embody these elements perfectly. Experiment with shooting one tree like this, and then try wider shots that contain a whole forest.

Grayscale photography works excellently with long, unique shadows. Look for interesting shadows that come through the trees for a stunning end result.

Weather

While it can be useful to fight against the form, it’s important to remember the symbolism that black and white photography brings with it. Grayscale images have become synonymous with emotional, heavy or dramatic subjects.

Extreme weather, crashing waves and desolate scenes all lend themselves very well to this genre of digital photography.

Embrace Your Subject’s Color Palette

If the dominant colors in your chosen scene are black and white anyway, why not embrace the situation and shoot in single color grayscale? Zebras, pianos, Dalmatians, soccer balls, the list goes on. Good photography is about clearing any unnecessary distractions from your scene.

Sometimes, these distractions are color. This same approach also works for other kinds of monochrome photography. Photos dominated by varying shades of one color can make a lasting impression when done correctly.

More photography guides

Final Thoughts

The transition from film photography into the world of color left overlapping terms that continue to confuse new photographers to this day. We hope this page has helped to clear things up.

To conclude, “black and white” photography produces images that exclusively use shades of gray. “Grayscale photography” is a more accurate term that refers to this same process.

Monochrome (one color) images consist of varying shades of any one color. This includes grayscale images but refers to any other colors on the spectrum too.

For more photography insights, check out the other posts on this page.

Learn Digital Photography: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

The world of digital photography is a vast, rewarding place. While learning how to take photos properly can seem daunting at first, it’s important to realize that this hobby is remarkably easy to pick up.


It takes some time to master, but even a complete novice can take stunning shots with a little knowhow. This guide is designed to get you started.

Why Pick Up Digital Photography?

Photography can help you cultivate a profound appreciation for the world around us. Taking good photos means developing an eye for beauty, precision and intrigue. A photographer really does see the world differently.

The beauty of digital photography lies in how endless your shooting opportunities are. The world is your oyster! If it exists, you can capture it in a photograph forever. This is a hobby with a deep, rewarding path to mastery.

Below are just some of the genres of photography you’ll be able to explore. It’s important to note that these examples are the tip of the iceberg. Remember that while some of these might seem complicated, they’re well within your reach.

Macro Photography

macro-photography

Macro photography gets up close and personal with the intricate details of the world. Digital photography like this can uncover parts of life you’d never even considered before. Flowers, insects, and all of life’s intricacies become subjects for you to capture.

For an in-depth look at macro photography and how to approach it, check out our macro photography guide.

Landscape Photography

landscape-photographyA gorgeous way to capture the vast expanse of the world, landscape photography is one of the best categories for newbies to sink their teeth into. Capturing a massive snapshot from your trip is a wonderful way to remember it years later.

Nature Photography

nature-photography

Digital photography can get you back in touch with the natural world. Nature is packed full of exciting challenges for new photographers and will earn you some stunning photos if you’re patient. For a more detailed look at taking wildlife photos, check out our nature photography guide.

Portrait Photography

portrait-photography

Taking photos of other human beings is one of the most rewarding parts of becoming a photographer. Encountering other people and learning what makes them beautiful is something you can look forward to if you decide to pick up digital photography as a hobby.

The Absolute Fundamentals of Digital Photography

Becoming a master photographer takes a whole lot of patience. Picking up the hobby, however, is refreshingly simple if you understand the fundamentals. This section of our guide will run you through the basic principles that are worth wrapping your head around.

fundamentals-of-photography

Lighting

Lighting is perhaps the most important element of photography to understand if you’re a beginner. Mastering your lighting setup will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you when it comes to getting a good photograph.

Below are the basic types of lighting and how to use them. We will discuss camera settings and some equipment here that are explored in detail later in this guide.

Natural Light

Natural light is, you guessed it, natural. Sunlight, and less typically moonlight, is sometimes all you need to get the right shot. The type of natural light you’re working with will depend on the time of day and the conditions of your environment.

The primary reason that photographers like to shoot with natural light, or at least incorporate some of it into their shoots, is that it makes it easy to capture subjects in a way where they look the same as they do in real life. Natural lighting often leads to natural-looking photographs.

Things to Consider With Natural Lighting

When working with sunlight, it’s important to remember that you’re at the whim of the elements. It’s best to work with the sun rather than against it. Realize that you only have a certain amount of time before your light source moves and plan accordingly.

Position yourself and your subject in a way that takes advantage of the current position of the sun. Take stock of which parts of your subject are highlighted well with the natural light you have available. Use your situation to your advantage.

Important Camera Settings for Natural Light

Relying on the automatic settings of your camera can often be enough, but knowing what to tweak is a hallmark of a good photographer. When shooting in natural light, you’ll often need to adjust your aperture and shutter speed settings.

Aperture refers to the amount of light you’re letting into your camera lens. Adjusting your aperture means changing the size of the hole that lets light into your camera. Experiment with this setting and learn how it affects your final image.

Shutter speed determines how long the shutter stays open when capturing an image. Faster speeds mean crisper, blur-free shots. Slower shutter speeds can add artful blurr to your photographs. Play around with your shutter speed when using natural light.

The Golden Hour

In photography, the golden hour is a time of day with particularly favorable lighting conditions. It is the last hour in the day before the sun starts to set. For filmmakers and photographers alike this short period can produce some jaw dropping images and videos.

Use this Android app or this iPhone app to plan for the golden hour in your area.

Artificial Light

Artificial lighting is how photographers can create the ideal environment for their shoots. We discuss the equipment and accessories used later in this guide. For now, all you need to understand is that artificial light is a powerful, versatile means to get the photos you want.

With artificial lighting, everything from the intensity, to the unique qualities, of your lighting can be tweaked to your heart’s content. We explore the different characteristics that light can have below; artificial lighting can help you achieve all of them.

Soft/ Diffused Light

Diffused light is a wonderful way to capture flattering photos of people. Sunlight passing through clouds is a great example of soft, diffused lighting. The clouds spread the light out evenly, providing an indirect light source that allows for beautiful photos.

In general, soft and diffused light:

  • Casts small, hard-to-notice shadows
  • Is used for a lot of commercial and modelling photography
  • Can be very flattering when taking photos of people
  • Is considered quite “natural-looking”

Notice how the shadows in this image aren’t harsh or overbearing. The warmth and characteristics of this image were achieved with soft, indirect light.

soft-light

Hard Lighting

Hard lighting is direct, bright light that usually comes from a single source. It produces dramatic images with harsh, long shadows. Maybe you want to highlight a particular element of your subject. Perhaps you’re going for a moody shot with tons of drama. Hard lighting can help you achieve this.

hard-lighting

Front Light

Front lighting refers to the direction of your light in relation to your subject. When your subject is facing the light source you’re using, that’s front lighting. This approach is the most common setup you’re likely to encounter when getting started with digital photography.

At its most basic, you point your light source at your subject and are ready to start shooting. Front lighting is used in lots of portrait photography as it’s often the best way to bring out someone’s features.

Backlighting

A challenging approach to lighting that many new photographers are scared of. With a little knowledge and practice though, backlighting need not be so intimidating. This type of lighting is the opposite of front lighting. Your subject is positioned with your light source directly behind it.

When shooting backlit photographs, you’ll want to switch to manual mode and tweak the aperture and shutter speed settings on your camera.

In general, a wider aperture and a shutter speed of between 1/100 and 1/600 is what you’ll need. This will allow you to over expose your image to where it needs to be. If you’re scratching your head wondering what on earth we’re talking about, we explain camera settings later in this guide.

When to Use Flash

A common question for many beginner photographers is “when should I use flash?”. While it might seem appropriate to use your flash whenever it becomes dark, this isn’t always the best approach.

Using Flash Indoors

Indoor lighting environments can often be far from ideal for quick photos. A well-used flash can improve your situation significantly. If you want to avoid the harsh, overbearing lighting that can come from using flash, it’s best to bounce the light from your flash off a flat surface.

If you’re able to, direct your flash towards a wall or ceiling to diffuse the light for a softer effect.

Using Flash Outdoors

It’s important to remember that your distance from your subject will determine how effective using flash will be. Taking photos of the sky, for example, is unlikely to be made easier by using flash.

If you’re relatively close to your subject and the available light is quite low, using flash may help you. Remember that pointing your flash directly at your subject can result in a hard image with lots of shadows.

Remove Unwanted Shadows

If you notice shadows in your image that you want to eliminate, a well-timed flash can help you remove them. Direct your flash towards the light source that is casting the shadows you want to eliminate. It may take some trial and error, but this should do the trick.

Lens Size

lens-size

Many digital cameras allow you to mix and match the type of lens you use. The size of lens you take photos with will determine the images you create and the way you should approach your photography.

Focal Length

Focal length is most typically described using millimeters. In basic terms, the focal length of your length determines how close, or far away, you should be from your subject. The focal length of your setup will influence the type of photos you’re able to take effectively.

So, what’s a normal focal length? The important thing to emphasize at this point in our guide is that “normal” is relative. The type of photography you’re doing will change the “normal” range of focal length you should expect.

That said, for most everyday photography that tackles a variety of straightforward scenarios, a focal length of around 50mm is usually enough. For more specific tasks, however, your focal length can vary wildly.

Macro lenses, for example, typically use a focal length of 90 – 105mm in order to maintain sharp focus for close-up shots.

Your Gear

Your knowledge and skill will go a long way in the world of photography. At the same time, it’s worth making sure you have the right kit for the job! This section will explore the different types of camera available to help you make an informed decision about the gear you use.

Cameras

The pièce de résistance of any photographer’s gear, the camera you use will influence the type of work you’re able to achieve. There’s tons of choice when it comes to the specific camera you buy.

In general, it’s worth considering the following:

  • A good camera is future-proof. Buying a camera that can grow with you is a good way to go. A cheap camera today can become expensive if it needs to be replaced every year. A good camera with an interchangeable lens system can expand with your hobby.
  • Numbers like megapixels are only one small part of the picture. Bigger numbers on paper don’t always lead to a better camera experience. It’s best to read up on the experiences of others and the real-world performance of a camera.
  • The “best” camera is different for everyone. Your specific photography requirements will heavily influence the best camera for you.

With this in mind, let’s explore the different types of camera available.

DSLRs

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DSLR cameras are a powerful, versatile option used by photographers around the world. They use an interchangeable lens system which means they can adapt to a wide variety of scenarios. Need to capture a landscape? Pop on your wide angle lens. Want to capture the intricate details of a flower? Time to use your macro lens. The list goes on!

A good DSLR can set you back $1-2K, but will serve you well as a powerful photography tool. Some general things to bear in mind about DSLRs:

  • They’re comparatively bulky and heavy
  • DSLR is a mature format which means there’s a plethora of choice available
  • Budget options exist, but they’re generally quite expensive

Mirrorless

mirrorlessMirrorless cameras are something of a modern-day answer to the DSLR. They forego a mirrored system in favor of an entirely digital approach. The immediate advantage of this setup is that mirrorless products tend to be much lighter and more compact.

Like DSLRs, these cameras can accommodate a wide variety of different lenses. While the mirrorless format is comparatively young, multiple brands compete fiercely for the top spot; you won’t struggle to find a good mirrorless camera these days.

Some general thoughts on mirrorless cameras:

  • They’re much lighter and compact than DSLRs while still packing a lot of power and versatility
  • They’re usually a very expensive option
  • The format is comparatively new

Point-and-Shoots

The term “point-and-shoot” can sometimes feel synonymous with “cheap” or “poor quality”. This definitely isn’t always the case.

Part of the reason for this reputation is due to the fact that the point-and-shoot category is very broad. Anything from an $80 kid’s camera all the way up to an $800 all-in-one can be rightly described as a “point-and-shoot”. In general, these cameras:

  • Use a single, fixed lens designed to tackle most scenarios reasonably well
  • Are a cheaper option for those who don’t need loads of versatility
  • Use smaller sensors, onboard processing and lenses

Lenses

The lenses you use can be just as important as your camera. They bring a wealth of versatility to your gear. As a new photographer, it’s important to make smart decisions when building your first setup.

Most mid to high-end cameras come with a standard kit lens. A “kit” lens is designed to tackle most photography jobs reasonably well, but might not be enough in more nuanced scenarios. We’ll run through the major lens types below and then discuss how to choose the right one.

Macro

Macro lenses are designed to handle ultra-close-up shots of intricate subjects. The unique focal lengths of these lenses allow them to maintain focus at a distance that wider lenses just can’t handle. Use a macro lens for detailed shots of smaller objects.

Our macro photography guide will give you the lowdown on everything macro in the world of digital photography.

Wide Angle

Wide angle lenses are great for landscape photography and for larger images. Any photo that needs more space on the horizontal can benefit from a wide angle lens. They usually use focal lengths between 24 and 35mm and are a formidable tool in the photographer’s arsenal.

Zoom

Zoom lenses offer an excellent level of flexibility when it comes to the distance you need to be from your subject. These lenses have much broader ranges for focal length to accommodate a variety of different focusing distances. A zoom lens can be a great option if your photography involves scenarios spanning multiple distances.

Fisheye

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Fisheye lenses use focal lengths between 4 and 14mm and are used for more creative images with an ultra-wide viewing angle. Their namesake comes from the wide image a fish sees in the water to keep watch for predators.

Photos taken with these lenses have a unique, abstract effect and can fit tons into your composition. The distortion caused when using this kind of accessory can be used to create fascinating lines and shapes in your image.

The list of existing lens types is far longer than those featured above. Within the scope of this beginner’s guide, though, they’re the most common types that you’re likely to encounter.

Choosing the Right Lens for You

When you’re first starting out in the world of digital photography, learning about lens types and camera options can feel pretty overwhelming. As a general rule, it’s better to choose a more standard lens and specialize when you have a specific need for something else.

It might also help to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a specific kind of subject or scenario that interests me as a photographer?
    • Do these subjects involve the photographer typically standing a certain distance away?
    • Are these subjects particularly large or small?
    • Are these subjects typically static?
  • How often will I be in extreme lighting conditions?
    • Are these conditions especially bright or especially dark?
    • Will I be using my own lighting equipment or relying on natural light?
  • Will I be taking photos of moving subjects?
  • Do I like photos that are color-accurate, or do I prefer a warmer, more saturated image?
  • Do I care about post production and detailed editing?

The questions above are far from exhaustive, but they’re designed to get you thinking about the kind of lens you might need once you start to ‘specialize’ as a photographer. Use your answers to these questions to make an informed decision about which lens might be best.

Tripods

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Tripods are an oft-overlooked accessory by beginners, but they can prove incredibly useful. They’re one of the best ways to guarantee a steady, blur-free shot. Follow these general rules when using a tripod:

  1. Switch off image stabilization
    1. Onboard image stabilization can actually cause blur and noise if you’ve attached your camera to a tripod. While you know your camera will be stable, switch off this feature.
  2. Consider using an IR remote with your tripod.
    1. We discuss remote accessories later in this guide. In short, they free up your hands and can make you much more productive.
  3. Only extend the legs when you actually need the height.
    1. The further your tripod legs are extended, the less stable your base will become. Only extend when the height will actually help your shot.

Lights

Adding a few studio lights to your setup can elevate your photography and dramatically improve your versatility as a photographer. With the right lights, you’ll be able to optimize your lighting environment every time you shoot.

The list of lighting accessories is staggeringly long, but many are used in pretty niche scenarios. We’ll explore the basics here.

Softboxes

Softboxes are a phenomenal way to add more soft, diffused light to your environment. They achieve this with a single bulb that scatters light through a white covering filter.

They’re one of the first lighting accessories that many professional photographers buy, as diffused light tends to be far more forgiving in portrait and product photography.

Strip Boxes

Strip boxes are a specific type of softbox with a narrower, more accurate frame. They can be used to great effect when lighting your subject from behind or the side. The smaller beam of light they produce is easier to manipulate in the studio.

Strobes

Strobes are dedicated flash accessories that emit a targeted burst of light when taking an image. Unlike softboxes, strobes don’t run continuously and can therefore be less predictable when used by a beginner.

Diffused/ Umbrella Flash

If you ever had your picture taken at school, the photographer was probably using an umbrella flash. These accessories direct a flash device at a reflective umbrella that bounces the resulting light strategically throughout the room.

These tools can make portrait photography much simpler and are well worth the investment if you’re interested in this line of work.

Basic Lighting Terms

When you first start to experiment with lighting your setup, there are a few terms to keep in mind.

Ambient Lighting

A good photographer will take stock of their ambient light first. This is any light that is already present in your environment before you start setting up. Ambient light can be used to produce stunning, natural-looking images.

Key Light

This is the main light to consider. It’s usually the brightest and most powerful light used and defines the bulk of your composition. Decide the key element(s) that you want to highlight in your image. Use the key light to draw focus here.

Fill Light

Fill light is used to reduce unwanted darkness and shadows in your environment. Softboxes can be a great option for this.

Background Light

The background of your subject is tackled with this kind of lighting. Consider your desired outcome and plan your approach accordingly.

Reflectors

Reflectors are used to give your lighting that extra push when needed. They’re used to reflect and reposition the light in your environment to where you’d like it to be. They typically come in the form of collapsable discs that are white, gold or silver.

For ambient light in particular, a well-positioned reflector can be a godsend.

IR Remote

An IR remote isn’t essential, but you might be surprised how much it can improve your workflow. They connect to your camera wirelessly and can be used to trigger your shutter. This allows for seamless, hands-free shooting.

In certain contexts, this can give you the flexibility you need to hold reflectors, reposition lights, or simply redouble your focus on the subject at hand. Double-check that your specific camera has built-in IR functionality. You’ll need this if you’re going to use a universal remote.

Understanding the modes on your DSLR or Mirrorless Camera

Most beginners tend to lean on the automatic settings of their camera in the beginning. There’s absolutely no shame in this, and some of the more premium cameras on the market can be uncannily intelligent when it comes to autofocus and lighting adjustments.

However, there’s an endless list of scenarios where automatic mode just won’t cut it. In these cases, you’ll need to at least understand what the different settings on your camera do.

Auto

If you use a camera in auto mode, you’re letting it do the bulk of the thinking for you. Simply point your lens at your subject, press the trigger, and your camera does the rest. Adjustments for ISO, focus, color and everything in between are handled by the sensor and chip on your device.

More expensive cameras use dizzying numbers of autofocus points and AI features that make them staggeringly smart.

Areas where auto modes can falter include:

  • High contrast images
  • Low contrast images
  • Moving subjects
  • Backlighting
  • Low-light or bright environments

It’s worth noting that this is far from an exhaustive list.

Aperture Priority

The aperture priority setting is a great way to manually optimize your setup while saving quite a bit of time. In short, it allows you to manually choose your aperture setting while allowing your camera to automatically choose a shutter speed that matches.

As mentioned earlier in this guide, aperture refers to the amount of light you’re letting into your camera lens and therefore the portion of your image that is in focus.

When changing the depth of field for your image (the distance between the farthest and closest objects in focus for your scene) you’ll need to tweak your aperture setting.

Check out this video on aperture priority from photographer James Lavish.

Shutter Priority

This is essentially the reverse of aperture priority mode. It allows you to manually select your shutter speed while letting your camera automatically choose an aperture that matches. Shutter priority is a great mode to use when aiming for sharp images of moving subjects.

The folks over at Photo Genius have some great tips on shutter priority here.

Program

This mode is sometimes referred to as “programmed automatic”. It’s basically a compromise somewhere halfway between full manual and automatic settings. Using program mode allows your camera to handle exposure but gives you control of some key elements.

These are ISO speed, white balance and flash. This is a great mode to use if you want to improve your understanding of manual settings.

Your camera will tell you the aperture and shutter speed values it has automatically chosen, allowing you to get to grips with which figures work for which scenarios. Practice taking shots for a while using ‘P’ mode and take note of the values your camera chooses.

For a great introduction to ‘P’ mode, watch this video from photographer Mike Smith.

Manual

Once you’ve got a little more experience, manual mode will give you complete control of your camera. Full manual mode allows you to tweak to your heart’s content, changing each and every aspect of your shot.

Once you’ve worked in ‘P’ mode for a while, the next logical step is to practice in full manual mode.

When you’re ready to try manual mode, Hyun Ralph Jeong has a great introduction on YouTube.

ISO

Your ISO setting determines your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher your ISO number, the brighter your image will become. Darker shots are achieved with a lower ISO. Tweaking your ISO setting will allow you to adapt to different lighting environments.

If you need to brighten your shot, try tweaking the aperture and shutter speed first. Increasing the ISO can increase the noise in your photo.

This YouTube video from Saurav Sinha offers a great ISO tutorial.

White Balance

The human eye is fantastic at identifying colors immediately. Digital cameras have to use complex programming to figure it out. White balance refers to the color-accuracy and temperature of your shot.

Good white balancing produces photos where white objects in particular appear true to life. Automatic white balance settings can struggle on some cameras and can over or under compensate, resulting in images with a blue or orange tint.

If you want to get to grips with manual white balance settings, Radhakrishnan Chakyat from Pixel Village does a great job of outlining the fundamentals.

Composition Guide

Reading is a great way to improve your intellectual understanding of a subject, but it’s important to practice in the real world too. This is a vocational, physical hobby so it’s important to shoot as often as you can!

This section will run you through the absolute basics of getting started for your first shoot. The more you get out there and practice in the real world, the easier this will all become.

Shot Framing

The way you position your subject is fundamental in how your final composition is received by others. Consider the following:

  • Which feature(s) of my subject(s) do I want to draw attention to?
  • Are there particular shapes and lines that could add intrigue to my shot?
  • Do I want my background in or out of focus?
  • Are their colors in my scene that should be drawn out and highlighted?
  • How do the foreground and background of my scene relate to each other?

These questions are designed to get you thinking about how to frame your shot. Once you have general answers for them, it’s time to use either the rule of thirds or the phi grid.

Rule of Thirds and the Phi Grid

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Two common composition tools used by photographers are the rule of thirds and the phi grid. They differ slightly, but are both similar in application.

Both grids consist of four intersecting lines that create 9 rectangular spaces of equal size. The theory behind these tools is that it’s best to position your subject(s) within these 9 spaces to achieve great aesthetic results.

Most modern cameras have overlay settings that can digitally place a rule of thirds grid over your viewfinder. Experiment with using this feature while setting up your shot. Try to position your subject(s) in the areas of the grid that will draw the most attention.

This rule of thirds extension is a great way for beginners to visualize its effects on images. We also go into the phi grid, the rule of thirds and their applications in far more detail here.

Quick Steps to Taking a Photo

The vast depth of digital photography means that your approach should change quite dramatically from environment to environment. The list below is designed to be a general introduction to taking a photo effectively.

Choose Your Subject

Take stock of your scene and identify one or two elements that you would like to highlight. These are what you should focus on moving forward.

Decide How to Frame and Light Your Subject

Now it’s time to pay attention to the subject you’ve chosen. Use your knowledge of the rule of thirds to make decisions on how you’d like to frame it. At this point, you should also decide how to light your scene.

Which particular elements of your subject do you want to celebrate in your image? Use these elements to determine where to position your key light and other lights.

Experiment With Your Settings and Shoot

Play around with the settings on your camera and take a few test shots. Take a look and see if there’s anything you’d like to change at this stage. Once you’re happy, it’s time to get shooting!

Photography Challenges for Beginners

understanding-modes

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, practice really is everything when it comes to photography. The suggestions below are designed to challenge beginners to expand their knowledge and experience.

Portraits

portraits

Get some loved ones together and practice taking pictures of them. The human face is a fantastically varied subject that will force you to adapt quickly to the features of each model. Different people will require vastly different lighting setups and camera settings.

Things like skin tone, bone structure, hair and myriad other factors will keep you on your toes.

Macro Subjects

The world of macro photography is really quite something. Working with tiny subjects can feel like something of a gear change, which is great for your photography practice. You’ll want to use a dedicated macro lens, or at least an extension tube, when shooting.

Backlighting

backlightingTaking photos of subjects that are lit from behind will force you to get familiar with changing the exposure of your image. Your first few shots won’t come out as planned, but that’s why you’re practicing!

Bokeh Experiments

bokeh-experiment

Bokeh describes the aesthetically-pleasing effect in images where the background is soft and out of focus. Aiming for this effect when shooting means increasing your grasp of things like depth of field, focus and aperture.

The Perfect Beginner’s Kit

In an ideal world, we’d all have the money to splash out on a $4000 camera kit when starting out. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that kind of money and need to think practically. Everyone’s ideal kit will vary quite significantly. We outline some key elements to consider below.

Start With “Jack of All Trades” Then Expand

Even a state-of-the-art fisheye lens will prove useless in certain contexts.

When you’re first learning how to take good photographs, it’s best to use gear that can adapt and hold its own in a variety of different circumstances. Start with a decent kit lens and a reasonably powerful camera with an interchangeable lens system.

This way, you’ll learn so much more about capturing great images and will have a much better chance of knowing which specialist lenses might actually be useful later on. Once you have a clearer picture of the more niche pockets of photography you enjoy, it’s time to buy a secondary lens.

Versatility is Key

If you want to make photography your hobby, it’s probably best to consider either a DSLR or mirrorless camera with an interchangeable lens system. This way, your setup will come with built-in versatility and expandability.

You’ll be able to adapt and grow your kit over the years. Buying a decent point-and-shoot is great in the short term, but these cameras can show their age quite quickly.

Spend Within Your Means

Be clear with yourself about how much money you can afford to dedicate to your new hobby. For a good entry-level camera, $300-$600 should be enough. Remember that lighting and knowhow are a huge part of what takes a great photograph.

Final Thoughts

The two words you should keep with you when learning are: patience and practice. Make them a part of your daily photography routine and you’ll be a pro in no time!

Types of Lighting in Photography: Beginner’s Guide With Examples

Photography is a beautiful discipline. Mastering the art means getting intimately familiar with the different types of lighting that photographers deal with on a daily basis. The more you know about your light source and the types of lighting in photography, the better your photos will become.

This page will run through the different types of light you’re likely to encounter on your photography journey. From soft light, to hard light and everything in between; we’ve got you covered.

Types of Light in Photography

The list below explains some of the most common lighting types and how to work with them.

Front Lighting

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This type of light comes from in front of your subject. When taking photos of people, front lighting can illuminate their face and bring out their best features. Get used to tweaking your exposure settings to make sure your photo doesn’t come out too bright.

This is one of the most common and straightforward approaches to lighting. It’s the one that most of us get to grips with first when starting out with photography. This approach can produce some fantastic images with a little practice.

Backlight

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Backlighting describes when the light source is placed behind the subject you’re shooting. When used correctly, backlighting can create a “glowing” effect around the edges of your subject. Smartphone and less premium cameras struggle with this, however.

You’ll need a camera that can handle the white balance and high contrast demands that come with this approach to lighting. The exposure settings on your camera will help you get the shot you need.

Rim Light

girl-3987693__340

This is a type of backlighting that emphasizes the edges of your subject. A thin ‘rim’ of light runs around the edge of the person or thing you’re shooting for a great effect.

When using rim light, your photos will have a less hazy edge. Play with your exposure settings to tweak the visibility of your subject’s features.

Soft Light

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Soft light is bright but well-balanced. An image that’s shot with plenty of soft light will have fewer hard lines and sharp shadows. When taking photos of faces, soft lighting will eliminate shadows under the eyes and lighten darker areas of the subject.

Sunlight that shines through clouds is soft, for example. It’s diffused through the clouds, creating a light source that is indirect. Photographers use soft boxes and even translucent windows to achieve this type of lighting.

Diffused Light

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Diffused light, like ‘soft light’ above, can be achieved with many different light sources, both natural and artificial. Sunlight passing through clouds is diffused. This type of light is soft and indirect; it won’t cast long shadows or cause sharp, dark lines to emerge in your shots.

Artificial lighting options for this kind of light include professional diffusers, soft boxes and umbrellas. These help photographers achieve the light they need while shooting.

Hard Light

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Hard light creates crisp, hard shadows on the subject that you’re shooting. This type of lighting comes from a comparatively small, direct light source. Fresnel lights and individual light bulbs are often used to create hard, direct light in certain environments.

For more dramatic or creative compositions, a setup that uses hard lighting can work well.

Flat Light

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Flat lighting produces images with much less contrast between the highlights and shadows in a scene. Photography that uses too much flat lighting can lead to undesired “2d” results.

Midday light is often described as flat; the videos and images taken at this time of day can lack the “punch” that many photographers look for. A common application of flat lighting is in some portrait photography. The forgiving nature of flat light means that blemishes and other facial features are less noticeable.

Broad Light

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Another type of lighting that’s used in portrait photography is broad lighting. This approach lights a portion of the subject’s face more brightly, resulting in a broader face in the final image. While this effect isn’t desirable for everyone, people with particularly narrow faces can benefit from broad lighting.

This approach is also used to increase the available contrast for a wide variety of photography scenarios.

Short Light

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When shooting with short light, the light source lights the side of the subject that is facing away from the camera. In portrait photography, this can emphasize the narrower side of the face while creating shadows on the broader side.

Short lighting is also used by photographers to increase the contrast in their images.

Split Light

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Split light involves lighting one side of your subject and leaving the other in shadow. Hence: ‘split’ lighting. For more dramatic shots, this approach can work very well. One side of a model’s face will be highlighted in vivid detail while the other is cast in mystery.

This setup is sometimes referred to as “old Hollywood” lighting, as it was common in earlier movie sets.

Side Lighting

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Side lighting describes when your subject is lit from one specific side. Like with split lighting, your light source should be positioned to the side of the person or object you’re shooting. Try experimenting with this approach to photography.

It can add an artistic flair to your images and bring texture to an otherwise flat shot.

Rembrandt Lighting

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This is a type of side lighting, or split lighting, named after the painter Rembrandt who used a particular lighting style in his paintings. Similar to the styles outlined above, one side of the subject is lit and the other is in shadow.

In Rembrandt lighting, the difference is that a triangle of light is used under the eye on the side of the face that is in shadow. This effect can add depth and texture to flat compositions.

Loop Lighting

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Loop lighting is a great way to achieve flattering shots of your models. An artificial light source is placed just to the side of your subject, pointing downwards. This emphasizes more flattering features and bone structures while softening less “desirable” characteristics.

When setting up your shot, experiment by moving around your light source and paying attention to how this changes your model’s appearance. You may have to readjust each time if you’re working with multiple people.

Butterfly Light

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The name for this light comes from the shadow that is cast under the nose of subjects when it’s used. With butterfly light, the key light is centred directly above your subject. This approach is often used when shooting women, as it highlights prominent cheekbones.

One thing worth mentioning is that this approach can also emphasize shadows under the eyes. Good portrait photography takes the unique look of each model into account and adapts accordingly.

Natural Light

As the name suggests, this lighting doesn’t use artificial lighting of any kind. Sunlight and, less typically, moonlight can be used to produce stunning shots if you know what you’re doing.

Depending on how you position your gear and subject, natural light can be used to achieve many of the lighting effects we’ve described above.

In photography, the “golden hour” is described by photographers as the time in the day where natural light is at its best. Cinematographers in particular love this time of day for filmmaking. The golden hour is the small time in the day after sunrise but before sunset.

Artificial Lighting

Artificial light comes in many shapes and sizes. Photographers use a broad range of different light sources to achieve different effects for their images. The type of light needed will determine the artificial light source used.

While photographers using natural light are far less able to control the quality of the light they’re using, artificial lighting gives users almost complete control over their shoot.

Light and Digital Photography – The Equipment You’ll Need

Knowing the different types of lighting in photography is half the battle. You also need to know how to achieve them. There is a plethora of different accessory options when it comes to photography lighting. We discuss the basics below.

Studio Lights

Picking up some decent studio lights is well worth the investment if you’re serious about your shooting. They allow you to establish the perfect conditions for each and every shoot. If you’re just starting out, a standard soft-box pair will be more than enough for most shoots.

Once you start developing specific demands, individual, specialized lights are worth considering.

External Flash

While not essential for every shoot, an external flash can be just what you need in certain situations. For shoots where you need to eliminate shadows or compensate for low light conditions, a good flash can be a godsend.

Add an Umbrella

Using a flash umbrella when shooting will diffuse the light from your flash for a softer, less harsh result. Larger umbrellas lead to a softer photo and smaller umbrellas still retain some sharp lines and shadows in certain contexts.

Light Stand

A decent, adjustable stand is essential for any light you pick up. A good stand will make it easy to change the height, angle and general position of your light. These stands can also be used to support external flash accessories, another key tool in the photographer’s arsenal.

Reflectors

Reflectors are a common lighting accessory used by most photographers worth their salt. They bounce, or reflect, light to where you need it to be. They usually come in the form of a collapsable disc that can fold away for easy storage.

The most common colors are gold, silver, white and black for different degrees of light absorption and reflection.

Tripod

Any composition you plan for your image should take both lighting and movement into account. The best lighting equipment in the world will be useless if your image is ruined by a shakey camera.

A sturdy, adjustable tripod is a must for all types of photography and is well worth picking up if you’re a beginner. Look for models that allow you to quickly change the height and angle of your camera.

Lighting Basics

This section will run through the absolute fundamentals of how to tweak your camera in different lighting situations

Natural Lighting

When taking photos in non-artificial light, it’s important to remember that you’re at the whim of the elements. You can do a little to control the direction of sunlight using reflectors but ultimately, you have to adapt to your situation.

As a general rule, a wider aperture, slower shutter speed and higher ISO setting are a good idea when shooting in non-artificial light. This will give you the flexibility you need to get the right shot.

Diffused or Reflected Light

It’s useful to know what effect to anticipate when working with reflected light, as opposed to direct light. With reflected light, a softer result is what you should expect for your images. Any flat surface can, in theory, be used as a reflector, but the purpose-built ones work best.

Remember that the color of the reflector you use will influence the color of the lighting in your shot. When using this kind of light, a process of trial and error will be required to get things perfect. Get used to experimenting for a while to get your setup ready.

Direct Lighting

Any light that is pointed directly at your subject is direct lighting. Understanding when to use a direct light source is important. When used correctly, it can eliminate shadows or bring focus to the right part of your image. When used gratuitously, it can blow out your shot or overshadow parts of your photo.

Final Thoughts

Practice makes perfect; spending time experimenting with these lighting setups is the best way to master them. Trial and error is the name of the game here. At first, you’ll feel like you’re tweaking your positions endlessly before you’re even ready to take your picture.

Over time, you’ll soon develop the intuition needed to get things perfect quickly. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start with direct, front lighting and slowly move your way up to a more obscure type of side lighting like Rembrandt lighting.

Pay attention to how each approach can transform your subject and you’ll be a master photographer in no time!

What is The Golden Ratio of Photography? How To Utilize the Fibonacci Swirl and Rule of Thirds

The golden ratio in photography is a standard for good composition. Photographers who use the golden ratio effectively produce shots that are pleasing on the eye; the viewer knows where to look and then where to look next. Other terms for the golden ratio include the Fibonacci spiral or divine proportion.

If you want to master the art of photography, it’s worth getting to grips with the golden ratio as quickly as possible. The sooner you understand how it works and how to use it, the better your photography will become.

What is the Golden Ratio in Photography?

The mathematician Fibonacci is responsible for the inception of the golden ratio. He saw a repeating spiral pattern recurring in much of nature. This spiral, which is composed of the same predictable ratio, can be found everywhere around us – even in the spirals of our DNA!

While it may seem daunting that using the golden ratio in photography means using the work of a genius mathematician, it’s more straightforward than you might think. You won’t need to do any calculations to use the golden ratio yourself.

The thing to remember is that the ratio is 1.618 to 1 and that this ratio can be found everywhere you look for it.

What is the Fibonacci Sequence?

In mathematics, the Fibonacci sequence describes a series of numbers where each number is the sum of the two preceding ones. How is this relevant to photography or the golden ratio? Well, this sequence also describes the outward development of the Fibonacci spiral.

What is The Fibonacci Spiral Exactly?

The Fibonacci spiral, or golden spiral, is a spiral with a growth factor of φ. All this means is that this spiral expands outwards following the ratio and sequence that Fibonacci identified in his work.

What’s remarkable about the golden spiral and the Fibonacci sequence, is that it really can be found in all parts of the natural world.

Look at this diagram of the golden spiral below:

fibonacci-swirl

Now take a look at some of these real-world instances of the golden ratio:

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Stairway using golden ratio
shell-swirl
Shell using golden ratio

Looks familiar, right? The relevance of the golden spiral to photography is that balance and precision can produce images that all humans are naturally familiar with. Using the golden ratio means composing images with mathematical science to back you up.

When it comes to the golden ratio in photography, understanding this growth factor, and how it relates to proportion, can significantly improve the composition of your images. You may have noticed that the images above were composed quite effectively.

They’re not using the rule of thirds, but using the phi grid instead.

The Phi Grid

The phi grid is like the rule of thirds on steroids; it can produce images that are more balanced and well composed. Using it effectively can dramatically improve your ability to create pleasing images. The Greek symbol phi, Φ, is often used as the symbol for the golden ratio.

The culmination of Fibonacci’s spiral is a grid structure, hence – the phi grid. So how to you actually use the phi grid and golden ratio in photography? The idea is that the spaces in the phi grid where the lines intersect are naturally pleasing to the eye and should be prioritized when shooting.

The Rule of Thirds

The rules of thirds can be an excellent composition guide if you’re in a rush. The advantage of the rule of thirds is that the grid overlay is simpler and therefore easier to access. The main drawback is that this approach lacks the precision and elegance of the Fibonacci spiral.

This isn’t to suggest that the rule of thirds isn’t a good compositional tool, it’s just that it isn’t the only, or indeed the best, option out there.

rule-of-thirds
Image Credit

Using the Golden Ratio and the Phi Grid in Photography

While photography is a vast discipline with an endless list of possible subjects, there’s a general approach you can use to make good composition choices.

Assess Your Subject

The first thing to consider is the nature of your subject and how this is likely to influence your shoot. Using the golden ratio effectively means understanding the person or thing you’re shooting. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the primary element that I want to draw focus to?
  • Are there any secondary elements that I would like my viewer to see next?
  • Are there any shapes, lines or curves that catch the eye in my subject?
  • Are the elements of my scene that could be distracting and draw focus?

These questions are designed to get you thinking about how best to compose your image. At this stage, you should decide whether the rule of thirds or phi grid will be more useful. If your image is very simple, with only the most basic demands, the rule of thirds will probably do fine.

If you’re capturing something more complex and want to take things to the next level, it’s time to use the golden ratio. This approach is especially useful for images that feature long curves or interesting lines. The golden ratio makes it much easier to capture these elements effectively.

Line Things up and Shoot

We appreciate that not everyone has a perfect image of Fibonacci’s golden spiral ready and waiting. With a little patience, however, it’s relatively simple to get started. Your first step should be checking the overlay settings on your camera.

Virtually all digital cameras made in the past few years come with a rule-of-thirds overlay and many also include an option for the phi grid. Failing this, you may want to consider finding a good reference image when you’re starting out.

Over time, you’ll become familiar enough with the grid that it becomes second nature to line things up. Once you’ve assessed your subject and determined which elements you want to draw focus to, use the grid to position these elements in the eye-catching areas where the lines intersect.

The key to this approach is trial and error. It’s about experimenting with different positions and tweaks until you’re happy with the end result. Practice makes perfect; once you’ve been using this technique for a while, you’ll soon become much quicker at using the golden ratio.

Golden Ratio and Phi Grid Applications

There are endless photography scenarios where the golden ratio, Fibonacci spiral and their phi grid can come in handy.

Landscape Photography

Say you’re shooting landscape image and want to focus on a mountain on the horizon. The golden ratio in photography dictates that the mountain should be placed in one of the areas where the lines intersect. For example, centering the mountain might be the best approach here.

In general, landscape photographs can benefit from the golden ratio and its grid. If your subject spans the width of your image, try to contain it within the central three squares of the grid.

Portrait Photography

Portrait photography is a broad discipline. As a general rule, the golden ratio can help you draw focus toe the features of your model that you want to highlight. It’s a good idea to experiment and get creative with how you frame the people you’re shooting.

A good portrait photographer understands that every model is different. Become familiar with which facial features are flattered by which elements of the grid.

Nature Photography

The natural world is packed full of examples of the Fibonacci spiral. Everything from huge crashing waves, to the intricate details of a flower can demonstrate the Fibonacci sequence. This means that when taking photos of nature, you can use your knowledge of the golden ratio to your advantage.

Say you’ve found a golden spiral occurring naturally in a nautilus shell on the beach. Using what you’ve learned on this page, you’ll be able to line up your shot and capture the shell effectively.

Architectural Photography

Modern architecture is full of fantastic curves, lines and spirals. Many of these intentionally recreate Fibonacci’s golden spiral. The complexity that can be found in architecture presents a welcome challenge for many photographers.

Identify the elements of a building you’d like to capture most prominently. Be sure to frame these in the “sweet spots” of the grid when working.

Some Great Examples of the Golden Ratio

Artists and mathematicians alike understood the importance of balance and proportion in imagery long before the modern camera existed. Below are some good examples of artworks that use the golden ratio. Some of these uses were intentional, others used the principles without realising it at the time.

In both cases, seeing the golden ratio in practice will make it easier to apply it to you own work.

The Last Supper

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It’s argued that da Vinci used principles of the golden ratio when composing his painting of the last supper. Jesus and his disciples can be seen situated across the central strip of the phi grid. Jesus is positioned in the lower centre of the image with the dinner table just below him.

The eye is immediately drawn to God’s son and the people around him. Study the painting for yourself and see how many areas you can spot that use the principles of the golden ratio. Use what you notice in your own practice to improve your photography skills.

Sacrament of the Last Supper

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Another depiction of the last supper that benefits greatly from the golden ratio comes from Salvador Dali. Virtually everywhere you look in this painting, the principles of balance and proportion are waiting to be found.

The dodecahedron in the background, the positioning of Jesus and his disciples and the landscape in the background are all positioned and proportioned according to the ratio laid out by Leonardo Fibonacci. Dali loved to use symbolism like this in his work and it’s effectiveness is self-evident.

The Mona Lisa

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Art experts and mathematicians maintain that da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was painted according to the rules of the golden ratio. The positioning and composition of the image are in line with Fibonacci’s principles. Multiple areas of The Mona Lisa use the golden rectangle, or grid.

The mysterious woman’s face, eyes, body and position in the painting itself are all consistent with the golden ratio. It is argued that this is one of the reasons that the painting has gained such prominence in modern times.

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Final Thoughts

Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder is more biased than you might think. Principles of beauty and aesthetics are fascinating as they tell us more about how human beings perceive the world and the subjects in it.

When it comes to photography, our advice is to use the right approach for the right scenario. If you’re shooting something simple, it might be overkill to whip out intricate works of art as a reference point. The rule of thirds is often enough to get the job done.

However, using a more nuanced, complex approach can be hugely beneficial to your photography if you have the patience for it. Taking the time to experiment can teach you more than you might expect.

As a personal photography challenge, why not find a more complicated subject with intricate lines and curves? Try applying what we’ve outlined in this article to capture the best possible image you can. The more you experiment with challenges like this, the better your photography will become – trust us.

How to Photograph Jewelry: An In-Depth Guide

Successfully selling a product relies heavily on good product photography. If you can’t showcase your product well, it will prove difficult to shift. Jewelry photos are infamously difficult to capture. Beautiful jewelry can look terrible if you use the wrong light, camera or lens.

Even hours of trial and error might not be enough if you don’t know what you’re doing. This page outlines the fundamentals of how to photograph jewelry. We’ll walk you through lighting setup, post processing and everything in between to help you make sure you get the best final image of your product.

The better you capture the beauty of your jewelry, the easier it will be to sell! We also touch on how to take great jewelry photographs at home.

how to photograph jewelry

How to photograph jewelry at home

Lighting

This is perhaps the most important element of any image, regardless of your subject. When it comes to photographing jewelry, you’ll have myriad challenges with shadows and reflection. Each jewelry product comes with its own unique set of curves and reflective surfaces. You’ll have to spend some time getting used to the piece in question.

It’s important to use plenty of light when capturing jewelry images. Natural light that’s diffused and soft can work well, but is far from practical in many indoor settings.

A bright, large softbox is the best way to go when shooting jewelry indoors. They keep everything brightly lit without throwing up crazy reflections. The keywords to remember are soft and indirect. Direct light is your enemy with jewelry photography.

If you’re on a budget, a bare bulb shielded by a sheet of white paper can be a great source of soft, indirect light.

The position of your lighting setup will be determined by the jewelry piece in question and the number of light sources you’re using. Experiment with positioning your light overhead and directly to the side until you find the appropriate fit for your product.

Necklaces Vs Rings

Your approach to your photos and setup will change depending on whether you’re capturing a necklace, a ring or a different piece altogether. The reflections, shadows and composition all change each time.

Using a reflector and a black or white card will help keep unwanted reflections at bay. These can be bought professionally or made at home with sheets of card and tin foil. A closely considered home setup can still produce excellent shots.

If you’ve got great lighting, a good tripod and decent reflectors, it’s even possible to get great photos with an iPhone at home! Using an appropriate background is also important. A simple, plain background is best.

Composition

When you photograph jewelry, it’s important to know how best to showcase your product. The position of your jewelry in the frame and your camera’s angle are the main things to consider.

You may want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you photographing a single piece or multiple pieces?
  • Are there particular colors you would like to draw focus to?
  • Which areas of your jewelry are the brightest and most eye-catching?
  • Which shapes and lines for the product are the most important to capture?

The answers to these questions will determine your approach to composition. For single pieces, it’s probably best to keep it simple and center your ring or necklace in the frame. For multiple pieces, following the rule of thirds will help you.

Consider your image as consisting of nine separate sections. Experiment with how your subject is balanced across these sections to produce a stunning photo. The angle of your camera will change the shapes and lines captured in your photo. An overhead shot might capture the overall shape of a piece but lack the depth you need.

A side-on shot might capture some interesting lines, but lose the overall impression of the piece. Experiment with your camera angle until you have the perfect shot for your product.

A good post production tip is to use the “Unsharp Mask” feature in photoshop. This can sharpen up your image when you need that extra boost.

Choosing a Background

jewelry sparkle

A loud, busy background is the last thing you want for this kind of photography. Rings and necklaces are full of intricate details that take a lot of work to capture properly. A loud background will only distract from this. Simple, block colors are usually best. Even a sheet of paper can do the trick.

Consider the colour palette of your pieces and choose a tone that will compliment it well. Would a white background work, or would something darker be better? You want your photography to celebrate your subject, so it’s important to pick a background that supports your work rather than distracts from it.

How to Make Jewelry Sparkle

If you get your setup perfect, it will be much easier to capture a natural sparkle in your pieces. Use our tips above for lighting, background and composition to get the image you’re looking for. Thoroughly cleaning each product before your shoot will also work.

A non-abrasive, cleansing solution can be used to get your jewelry photography ready. A little buffing with a microfiber cloth can really boost your images. The last thing you want in post production is to find smudges and smears across a necklace or ring. For some images, a white background may blow out the sparkle in your image.

Consider these tips on a case by case basis.

Which Camera is Best for Jewelry Photography?

There’s plenty to consider before buying a new camera for jewelry photography. In many ways, your lighting and camera lens are far more important. However, a larger, more versatile camera will give you the flexibility to play around with multiple lenses. A more adaptable model will also give you more freedom to play around in the studio.

For something as tricky as photographing jewelry, increased wiggle room can be a godsend.

Canon EOS 70D DSLR

It’s not the only option out there, but we think this is a great camera for versatile jewelry images. The EOS 70D is compatible with the full line of Canon EF and EF-S lenses, which should be more than enough to produce stunning product photography.

The intelligent auto mode, powerful manual control mode and smart viewfinder make this a handy piece of kit.

Which Lenses Are Best for Jewelry Photography?

The nature of this kind of photography means you should be using a macro lens. This will be far more forgiving when getting up close and personal to your subject. Some options are a bit on the pricey side, but if you’re photographing jewelry, they’re practically essential.

Luckily, there’s plenty of good macro products out there. Just make sure the lens you’re considering is compatible with your sensor and camera.

Canon EF 100mm

This is a stunning macro lens for close-up product photography. The inner-focusing system and full-manual settings give you ultimate control over your images. One thing you’ll need to consider for this type of photography is image blur. The image stabilization that comes with this model should help out a great deal.

Panasonic LUMIX G MACRO LENS, 30MM

If you’re working on a budget, this is a great option. This is a perfectly capable lens, especially considering the price point. The optical image stabilization and excellent close-up focus will elevate your jewelry photography. This model is particularly good at producing beautiful bokeh shots.

Camera Settings

There’s plenty to tinker with when getting great product photos of jewelry. The intricate details of rings and necklaces can make it difficult to find the appropriate depth of field. Another challenge, and one of the most important things to consider in this genre of photography, is your white balance.

jewelry photographs

White Balance

One of the most common challenges with jewelry photography is the images coming out with an orange hue. This is caused by the white balance setting on the camera fighting against natural and artificial light. As a general rule, daylight comes with a naturally blue hue and light from bulbs appears as orange.

The white balance setting on a camera is designed to “guess” the correct color when capturing a photograph. If it’s grappling with both natural and artificial light, excessively blue or orange product images are the result. It’s best to set your white balance manually to get the image right.

Experiment with your camera settings until you’re happy with the image.

Focus

Getting the right focus for shooting this kind of product can be tricky, especially when you’re not using a macro lens. No matter what equipment you’re using, you should get as close as you can to your subject while maintaining focus. Using enough light will go a long way here.

Once you’ve got at least one good photo with your whole product in focus, feel free to play around with focusing in on one spot in particular.

Aperture

If you want more control over the focus for your photos, tweaking the aperture will help you. The higher your aperture number, the more of your subject will be in focus. This will let in less light, however, so it’s necessary to experiment and find a good compromise for each photo.

ISO

Photographing jewelry demands a bright lighting setup. As you’ll be working with a lot of light in your studio, it’s best to set your ISO to a lower setting. This makes your equipment less sensitive to light and will likely aid the look of your image.

More Recommended Accessories

Using the right kit will make shooting a whole lot easier. You want your images to look great, so it’s important to use the right tools. Consider the following accessories when working:

  • A tripod. Camera shake is one of your biggest enemies for this kind of work. Using a tripod will keep your camera steady and eliminate unwanted blur and noise.
  • A Lightbox. Lighting is probably the most important factor for any kind of photography. Use a lightbox to get soft, indirect light for your images.
  • A remote shutter release. To further reduce the risk of noise in your images, use a remote control to take the shot.
  • A stable surface like a table. It’s a simple one, but it’s important. A flat, steady surface for your jewelry is essential for crisp images.
  • Firm paper or foam boards. You can use these to block unwanted reflections from ruining your work.
  • Holders and props. These can prop your necklace or ring upright for the perfect composition.

Conclusion

It can be hard to find the desired look when capturing a necklace or similar jewelry. Photographing any subject comes with its own set of challenges. We hope you’re able to use the tips on this page to improve your work. If you only remember two words from this article, let them be lighting and macro.

Eliminating shadows and reflection, and maintaining close-up focus, are the two biggest challenges with this type of work. Soft, diffused light and a good macro lens are what you need.

Whatever your setup and experience level, we wish you luck!

Telephoto vs Macro Lens: Which To Use When

Macro photography and close up photography have become synonymous when discussing photos taken very close to the subject. While this is a convenient shorthand, a true macro photograph is one that was captured with a reproduction ratio of at least 1:1. This is sometimes described as 1 magnification.

So, a 1-inch flower would appear as at least 1-inch in size on the sensor of your camera. A macro lens lets photographers get extra close to their subject while maintaining a sharp focus. The resulting image can reveal small wonders that usually go unnoticed by the naked eye.

Close up shots are becoming increasingly popular, and a growing number of new photographers are wondering how to get macro results without splashing out on a new close-focusing macro lens. The best solution is using equipment that you already own.

Telephoto lenses are a common component of many kits and can be used to achieve the zoom necessary for imitating macro photography. Depending on your camera sensor, you may even be able to reproduce at a 1:1 ratio.

As a general rule, however, the larger magnification distances that come with these lenses mean that your ratio is likely to be less than true macro lenses.

Your focal length and image quality may change, but a telephoto lens can be a great option for getting stunning images of small objects with your camera.

Sony Alpha 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS Super-Telephoto APS-C Lens

Telephoto Lens Advantages and Uses

Taking a macro photo with a telephoto setup comes with a few distinct advantages. The most obvious of which is that many people already own one. Instead of having to buy new cameras and lenses, you can save a lot of money on your image if you use the gear you already own.

The next thing to mention, is that this type of lens comes with an increased working distance. This flexibility is where most of the telephoto benefits come from. When you use a telephoto setup to take macro images, you can take your shot from comparatively far away by using your available zoom.

The increased wiggle room with these lenses means you’re far less likely to bump into, or even scare away your subject. Let’s say you’re trying to capture a beautiful macro image of a ladybird on a flower. If you use a macro lens for this, your focal length means you’ll have to get very close to your subject. This could scare the ladybird away!

With a telephoto lens on your camera, you’ll be close enough to get the shot, but far away enough to stay hidden and leave your subject undisturbed. This increased minimum focusing distance also makes it much less likely that your camera will cast a shadow and ruin your photo.

It will be easier to frame your shot with a telephoto lens. As most lenses of this kind are able to zoom very well, it’s much less hassle to set up your image. These lenses have a better depth of field for this type of work. In certain contexts, this can allow for more flexibility when getting the right focus for your subject.

There are some great telephoto offerings out there from the likes of Olympus, Canon, and Nikon. Make sure the products that you’re considering are compatible with your gear and meet your requirements. The last thing you want to do is waste money on equipment you can’t even use!

Macro Lens Advantages and Uses

When it comes to maintaining a sharp focus at close range, your best option might be a macro lens. Nothing takes a macro image quite like a lens purpose-built for the job. These components add an unparalleled level of crispness and quality to your gear. If this matters to you, use a macro lens.

An f 2.8 macro option will offer an image resolution that’s great for most purposes. Where these lenses really shine though is with their f 4 and f 5.6 variants. These options offer phenomenal levels of quality for both professionals and enthusiasts. If you’re just starting out, an f 2.8 lens will save you money and still add tonnes of value to your gear.

The aperture that comes with your average macro lens means they’re more versatile than you might think. If you adjust to a broader focus, you’ll be able to capture excellent wildlife or sports shots. While it’s not the first thing that springs to mind with macro lenses, you can take some great wide-angle shots if you know what you’re doing.

If portrait or food photography is more your speed, then a macro lens can be a great choice. Their depth of field and ability focus at very close distances allow them to capture crisp, detailed shots of most things you throw at them. If you’re new to the field and looking to buy, a prime lens is the type to look for. Read our guide on everything macro to learn why.

Just so you know, the Canon ef series has some excellent lenses in a 100mm macro f 2.8 format. 150mm variants are available from the likes of Nikon, Sony, and Olympus.

Using a Telephoto Lens for a Macro Effect

So how do you get good close up images with a telephoto lens? There are quite a few obstacles when venturing into this type of camera work, so it’s definitely good to read up and come prepared.

One of your biggest challenges will be camera shake. As the approach here is to zoom in very close to the subject, even the tiniest nudge or change can cause your camera to move around too much. Use a tripod setup that uses a collar to firmly hold your device in place while you shoot.

It’s also worth picking up an IR shutter release. This way, you can keep your hands away from your camera once you’ve found the right zoom level. The less movement involved with your process, the easier it will be to maintain focus and get a crisp photo of your subject.

Use small aperture settings. When aiming for macro results with telephoto lenses, we’re dealing with excessive focal lengths and very close distances. This shrinks your depth of field way, way down. The right aperture setting will help with this.

Keep your sensor parallel to your subject if you want to maintain focus. Both your field of view and depth of view will likely be very small. For this reason, positioning your sensor correctly is very important.

If you want to give yourself a little more breathing room when shooting, consider picking up a teleconverter. This will allow you to stay the same distance from your subject while increasing your available focal length. This will add a welcome boost to your available magnification.

Keep in mind, that you’ll have to adjust your shutter speed and aperture settings if you add a teleconverter to your lens.

If your lens has the option, it’s time to switch to manual focus. You’ll need as much control over your shot as possible if you want the best results. This is one context where autofocus probably won’t cut it.

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Conclusion

No matter which lens you choose, it’s possible to create stunning macro photos if you know what you’re doing. Macro lenses have a lot going for them, but a telephoto lens is no slouch either. If the tiny focal length of a macro lens is likely to cause issues for you, it might be worth looking elsewhere.

The increased distance that comes with cameras using a telephoto lens can be a breath of fresh air. If you’re constantly aiming your cameras at living, skittish subjects, a zoom or telephoto lens will help you avoid scaring them off. If you need your cameras to deliver unrivaled close-range focus and quality, a macro lens is the way to go.

Remember to use the right distance for your lens and keep camera shake to an absolute minimum. These are critical for macro photography regardless of your set up.

Whether Sony, Nikon, macro or telephoto, we hope this page helps you get the most out of your lens. The tips on this site are designed to make photography as accessible as possible for everyone. If you want to elevate your photo skills, then check out our other articles and guides. Feel free to contact us with any questions or article suggestions!

Why is it Called Macro Photography? Exploring the answer

When photographers take extreme close up photos of small objects, that’s macro photography. This is photography that makes very small things seem enormous. The art form has exploded in popularity over the past ten years as more and more people are able to see its stunning results online.

While describing macro photography as “close up photography” is certainly a great shorthand for describing the technique, it gets a little more complicated than that.

Technically speaking, true macro means the lens you’re using is capable of reproduction ratios of at least 1:1. So what on earth does that mean? A 1:1 reproduction ratio means that what you see on the camera sensor or film plate is at least the same size as the real-world subject.

It’s up to you as a photographer which subjects you choose for your macro photos. With the right camera and lens, you’ll be able to get close to the hidden, the minuscule, and bring focus to its beauty. Making the invisible seem life size is a tricky art, but with a little research, practice and the right macro lenses, your image quality will improve in no time.

macro-example

Why is it Called Macro Photography?

In the normal world, the term “macro” is used to describe something in a larger scale. This is also true for photographers, but it gets a little complicated. Macro photography refers to photography that gives a large view of a small subject. The size and scale here refer to the type of photographs that macro lenses produce.

Your image will be a close, tight shot of usually one small subject. The result is an image where the size of your subject appears much larger than in real life. Hence, “macro” photography.

What’s the Difference Between Macro and Micro Photography?

So then what on earth is micro photography? How is it different from macro photographs? Can I still use macro lenses, or will I need a new camera lens altogether? A micro photograph is an image of a subject that cannot usually be seen with the naked eye.

Unlike true macro images, a micro image is produced by lenses that use a magnification ratio of at least 20:1. This means that what you see through your lens or on your sensor looks at least 20x larger than it does with the naked eye. Micro photography captures subjects that are “micro” -scopic.

So in short, you’ll definitely need different lenses to produce a micro image. A macro lens just won’t cut it!

How Does Macro Photography Work?

Magic. Just kidding, but sometimes it feels that way! Some photographers have been using a macro lens for years before they actually sit down to learn the science of a macro image. We outline the basics below.

The reason you can’t just grab any old digital or film camera, throw some lighting at something and produce a great macro photograph, is that the camera and lens just won’t be able to focus properly at such short range. A macro lens then, uses a focusing distance small enough to reproduce at a ratio of 1:1.

A macro lens uses a minimum focusing distance that can stay sharp when very close to its subject. Make sure you choose a macro lens with the right focal length.

Focal length varies greatly between cameras and from lens to lens. In the field of digital photography, it’s easy to get bogged down by technical terms and terminology. Non-macro cameras can still take stunning close up shots, they’re just technically only macro if this 1:1 ratio is used.

What Kind of Lenses do you Need for Macro Photography?

So we’ve learned that for great macro photographs, you need focal lengths that can hit that golden 1:1 ratio. So what makes a good macro lens? Are most macro lenses the same, or does one brand stand out from the rest? Canon? Nikon? Read on to learn more.

Magnification

To cut to the chase, the macro lens you choose should use 1 magnification. This means you’ll get a magnification of at least 1.0x. Some lenses, like the Canon MP-E 65mm, offer a whopping 5.0x max magnification. It’s worth noting though, that this may be overkill for most photographers.

Some digital lenses are advertised as macro while only offering 0.5x magnification or less. These can still be great for close up photography, but if true macro is what you’re after then it’s best to keep looking. Even in perfect lighting conditions, these won’t focus in the way you’ll need them to.

Stability

Taking macro photos is often a handheld process. This means more vibration and less stable photographs overall. Plenty of modern digital lenses come with excellent image stabilization features. The Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR lens delivers great images with fantastic stabilization.

Focal Length

When you’re getting up close and personal with your subject, your requirements for focal length change. You don’t really need to cover wide angles or capture stunning landscapes in the field of macro photography. What’s important here, is your minimum focusing distance.

The longer this distance, the further away you’ll have to be from your subject, and vice versa. Choose a focal length that works for you. Your depth of field is the area just in front and behind the thing you’re taking photos of that can stay in sharp focus. Depth of field is affected by your focal length.

Think about the type of macro pictures you’re hoping to take and use this to find the right lens.

Related

Macro point and shoot cameras

Open source focus stacking software

Conclusion

One thing to remember is that ultimately, if you enjoy the photos you take then it doesn’t necessarily matter what other people call them. However, learning the correct terminology and associated kit can really elevate your work as a photographer.

Our goal with this site is to make it as easy as possible for people to get into photography. No matter what camera, lens, or lighting conditions you’re working with, we’re here to help you stay on top of your game.

If you have any questions or product recommendations for us to review. then please don’t hesitate to contact us!

5 Open Source Focus Stacking Software(& Paid Options)

One of the most important things to consider in photography is the focus you set for your camera. No matter what subject you’re shooting, you’ll need to focus properly to capture each detail in all its glory.

Focus stacking software can achieve levels of focus that even a premium tilt-shift lens would struggle with. Its use is especially prevalent in fields like macro photography where close-up focus is paramount. Compare a focus stacked macro image to one you took yourself and you’ll likely be amazed by the difference.

Most people’s photography kits are already full to the brim with expensive tools. Why should focus stacking software be one of them? Thanks to the plethora of good quality open source options out there, editing your image focus is simple, easy and most importantly, free.

This page outlines some of the best free options available for good focus stacking software. We also discuss two premium solutions. Read on to find the best program for you.

Open Source Focus Stacking Software

This page contains a list of our favourite focus stacking software. Each program featured is compatible with windows and has been chosen for its ease of use, convenience and results. In most of the software on this list, a GUI is used to add your shots. These images are then auto-processed to produce a shot that’s virtually impossible to achieve alone.

1. CombineZPcombinezp

First on our list is a handy program called CombineZP. The user interface is refreshingly easy to use. Just click to add the images of your choosing and when you’re ready to start processing, click “So Stack” followed by “Go”. If you want to tweak your shots before stacking them, it’s easy to align your photos with the included align tool.

Your finished photos are exported to an output folder in a location of your choosing on your PC. If at any time you find yourself stumped using this focus stacking software, there’s a built-in help function that’s ready and waiting.

2. Picolay

picolay

Picolay is pretty amazing if you need software that can focus stack your photos very quickly. The process for adding your photos is just as simple as with other options. Just click the images you want for processing and let Picolay do the rest.

To create a stunning image stack with Picolay, click the “File” tab to add your images. Next, click “Stack With Current Parameters” in the “Stack Operations” tab. This will focus stack your images.

If you take a lot of macro or micro photos, then this is definitely a focus stacking program to consider. Just make sure you capture your images from a fixed point. For those who find the process of manually aligning each image to be quite time-consuming, the auto align feature that comes with Picolay will be a welcome breath of fresh air.

Among the other tools in this stack-happy app’s arsenal are auto-brightness tuning, colour based stacking, flat-field stacking and auto white balance tweaking.

3. Chasys Draw IES

chasysdraw_ies

This is another free piece of focus stacking software that’s worth a mention. The slew of tools available on this program can be used for editing a single photo or for focus stacking a huge pile of photos. As always, click to choose the images you’d like to stack and export them to your chosen output folder.

For best results, use images from identical shooting points where only the focus has changed. Other features on this open source software include image HDR, like-image averaging and auto white exposure tweaking.

4. Image J

imagej

This is a very modular approach to helping you stack images. Image J has a number of available plug-ins that add different features to the software. One of the most popular plug-ins for Image J is their stack images option. To create your focus stack, you’ll have to download the relevant plug-in.

Feel free to download other options if the idea of messing with plug-ins is off-putting to you. Once you’ve added the images you’d like for your photo stack, click the “Stk” button to combine the layers and get your stacked photo.

One of the features to be aware of is the “Stack Focuser”. This is a small box that gives you a preview of your chosen images. Here, you’ll be able to save in a variety of formats including tif, png and gif.

5. TuFuse

tufusepro_config1

TuFuse is a bit different from the other options on this list. It’s a great stacking solution, but it doesn’t have a GUI. You’ll have to use a command line for this one. Don’t worry though, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Here’s how to use the command line with TuFuse:

  1. Open your TuFuse folder.
  2. Place your desired images here.
  3. Click the address bar of the same folder and delete the contents.
  4. Now type “CMD” into the address bar and press the enter key.
  5. You should now see the command line.
  6. Enter this command to stack multiple images: tufuse -o output.tif input1.tif input2.tif input3.tif input4.tif.
  7. You should see your resulting photo in your TuFuse folder.

 

This process can be overwhelming at first but it gets much easier over time.

Premium Options

Below are two premium options for those looking for a more comprehensive piece of software for their stacking needs.

1. Helicon Focus

helicon_focus

This is a powerful piece of editing software. For several years now, advanced technologies such as HDR and EDoF have been paving the way for a world where stacked images are the norm. Helicon Focus is purpose-built to accommodate that world.

As with other options, multiple photos are combined in a focus stacking process that delivers the best photo your camera is capable of. The output quality from Helicon Focus is quite remarkable. Other features on offer with Helicon include the run benchmark tool, folder monitoring system, color accuracy processing and advanced interpolation options. This is a killer feature set that begins to justify the price tag.

If you’re looking to create a high quality stacked photo, you may need to give Helicon Focus a try. It can easily handle raw files and can output in a variety of formats.

2. Zerene Stacker

zerene_stacker

Zerene Stacker is the second premium option on this page. It was designed specifically with challenging macro subjects in mind. Focus stacking doesn’t get much more sophisticated than this. If you need stacking software for your work, this may be one to consider.

While other options on this list are more versatile tools that happen to offer a stacking process, Zerene Stacker was purpose-built for stacking. For this reason, many photographers consider it the best option out there. This software works with virtually any camera you throw at it and is suitable for a huge variety of subjects.

No matter what setup you’re using, Zerene Stacker can probably handle it. The feature set on Zerene Stacker includes automatic alignment, ultra-high-quality interpolation, a large image capacity, advanced stacking algorithms and high output optimization.

If you’re a professional who needs to process a lot of raw files, Zerene Stacker is hard to beat.

Related

What is Focus Stacking?

Using stacking software involves a process of taking multiple shots of the same subject using different focus levels. These files are then run through the software of your choice to combine the images. After some clever processing, the result is images that are truly stunning, with a focus level that captures detail vividly and authentically.

The focus stacking software automatically identifies the best focused areas of each image you add. These are combined to produce a far superior image.

Many fields of commercial photography are now almost completely reliant on focus stacking software.

Some of the following can be achieved with either premium or free focus stacking software:

  • Increasing the depth of field further than is possible by just stopping down
  • Maintaining a razor-sharp focus across the image
  • Creating a beautiful blurred bokeh while keeping the subject sharply in focus

These software work by using state-of-the-art algorithms to comb through each image layer you upload and combining the best aspects of each.

Conclusion

There are tonnes of great editing options out there for getting perfect stacked images. Before you decide which one to download, take a minute to think about your requirements. If you’re mostly a hobbyist photographer who just wants to do a bit of editing and share a nice image every now and then, it’s probably worth choosing a free option from the list above.

There’s no point splashing out on Zerene Stacker until you’re working in a professional context. If you work professionally as a photographer, or are a more experienced photographer with higher demands, a free solution might not cut it. Either way, we hope this page makes your decision that bit easier.

If you’d like to learn more about photography and boost your skills, then check out the other articles on this site.