PhotoTuts + Feeds


How to Shoot a Professional, Creative Low-Key Self Portrait

Monday November 19th, 2012 01:00:12 PM

Sometimes when looking at a beautiful black and white portrait, you think to yourself, “what a shot, I wish I could have one!” In fact, you do not have to be a professional photographer or use a professional service to have stunning shots. You can do it by yourself and all you need is some creativity, a little ingenuity and artistry.

The Starting Point

Because we’re making self-portraits, it’s up to you to handle all aspects of the shoot. So it is essential to have a plan to avoid unnecessary troubles, which can hold back the process.

At the beginning, I recommend first choosing the main idea of the shoot. When defining the topic, it is important to be sure that everything that is in your mind can be recreated in front of the camera. Therefore, it is good to choose a motif or expression that describes you well.

After thinking about it, I decided that my theme would be “the different faces of a woman.” I wanted to show femininity, strength, delicacy, vanity and sensuality all in one.

I then determined what photography techniques will be used in the self-portrait project. I felt black and white photography was the best choice for the purpose, and my face would be the main subject in the photos. You could choose you full body or even your hands, just make sure you’re comfortable with what you choose.

Black and white pictures draw away attention from all colors around us and lead the eye to more pure lines. Given the leading idea of ​​the photo shoot, this is a perfect choice for images. Also the combination of black and white photography and low key shooting creates fantastic results full of inspiration and emotion.

Black and White

A Little Theory

The low key technique I am using can be defined as using a light source to illuminate the subject, but allowing the background to remain unlit and black. It can be practiced on a sunny afternoon outside, and in the evening at home.

Basic rules are keep ISO at the lowest level to avoid noise in photos (ISO 100 or lower if your camera is able), adjust only aperture and shutter speed to create the desired effect.

Settings of aperture and shutter speed depend on the intensity of the light source (It can be any kind of lamp or natural one passing through a window. Just be sure your background is not lit.

Low key photography brings a lot of darkness, drama, and mystery. It creates stunning shots, and is also very simple. It is really worth a try if the idea is new to you!

A low-key portrait

Preparation for Action

Once you’ve decided on the scenario, it is time to design the scene. Choose things that mesh well with the main idea and things that suits you best. However, keep the whole scene simple and clean. I included a peacock feather, because although shooting in black and white, it still looked beautifully.

To be more creative, use some props like a hat, wig, jewelry, etc.

The necessary equipment is simple:

  • Camera with “M” manual mode, all the settings must be under control
  • The most important thing for this shoot is you and your personality
  • Various accessories that can be included in the photo
  • Tripod, essential for a self-portrait
  • Light is the second most important thing. Can be found everywhere, but for the pictures below you need a lamp (e.g. reading lamp)
  • A dark room and a comfortable place for shooting

Setting Your Camera

Camera settings are simple because the technique itself is easy/

  • Switch to “M” mode
  • Turn on the self-timer (3-5 sec so you don’t get bored waiting for the snap)
  • If possible, turn on “continuous” or “burst” mode, after hearing the first shot, you often feel more relaxed
  • Set aperture to f/3.5 – f/5 (depending on the desired depth of field) to keep the background soft
  • Shutter speed depends on the light you have, so you should experiment.
  • If the lens has built-in stabilization, you must turn off the system for using a tripod.

Look and Shoot

The question that remains is what comes next. The answer is simple. Just set up the equipment as it’s shown below on the photo, and now you are ready!

Setting up the scene

You need to feel comfortable and confident when you start shooting, so do what you need to do to feel that way. Turn on your favorite music or enjoy some of your favorite drink before hand, just not too much if you want your photos to be in focus.

The position of the light is all up to you. Here are some suggestions. Illuminate half of the face, shoot tight details of your face, then make your face a smaller part of the frame. Whatever you shoot, it should have strong emotion. There’s not much technical explanation to give here, just experiment and pay attention to your own feelings on the images.

Break a rule! It’s well known that focusing on the eyes makes the portrait look pro. Try something different and more creative! Use the light to paint over the skin. Feel free to express what you really mean by taking these photos.

Show that they are not the same old boring self-portraits. Keep shooting and don’t give up if the first ten pictures disappoint you. And even though it sounds silly, remember to have fun.

Some Tricks for Best Results

Do not use a very strong light source for these images. It can create very sharp contrasts

Turn the camera setting to black and white for at least a few shots. It will help you visualize what your final product will look like..

The more pictures you take, the more brave for experiments you become. Experiment with depth of field and get as close to the camera as possible.

Speaking of close-ups remember always to fill the frame. Keep the rule of thirds in mind when posing, but do not take it as law. All rules can always be neglected for the sake of the good shot!

Find some inspiration in yourself and give high end self portraits a try. As this article demonstrates, selfles do not need to look like the ones taken by teenagers on Facebook.

Master of Photography Edward Steichen

Sunday November 18th, 2012 07:51:16 PM

Just because you didn’t get to go to that awesome photography conference doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something from the pros! Occasionally, we’ll be featuring a recommended photography lecture or interview on Phototuts+.

Widely regarded as the most influential photographer of the 20th century, Eduard Jean Steichen was born in Luxembourg in 1879. He worked in every aspect of photography, fashion, industrial, nature, combat, portraits, and many area of fine art. He also curated the famous “Family of Man” exhibition, which first was shown in 1955 in New York City.

You can see a gallery of Steichen’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery website.

Quick Tip: Shooting Photos for a Holiday Restaurant Layout

Saturday November 17th, 2012 03:00:43 PM

The briefing was a ten minute conversation over the phone: we need a photo to promote Christmas events catering at our place. We do not have any specific idea, but don’t want those same tables everybody uses. Can you do it?

The chosen image has the minimalist look the client wanted and can be used in the layout chosen.

Yes, I can! Christmas is a time when you’re asked to do some last minute photographs for those clients who always think things are done “in a few minutes.” Sometimes I feel a chill down my spine answering this way when I get this kind of commission. Working as a solo photographer you have to be the think tank, the action man, the janitor when the photo session ends and everything in between. And Christmas is just round the corner so… hurry up. Will the client like it?

So the brief is simple: no table decorations, no sweets in the bowl on the table, no nice turkey or whatever with some dashes of red in the background. In brief, no tables like the others do. And no table to photograph anyway. Not even one that I could shoot in segments to frame a final image for the client to use. Now that I think about it, I could have done a nice triptych with that, maybe another year, let me write this idea down.

Through different trials with the elements, the final idea begins to take shape.

1. Planning for a Specific Size

This is my flow of thoughts after hanging up the phone. I do not know about you, but my mind starts to race and imagine the possibilities. And remember the limitations too. The image to be used in a small article, but also in a banner on the top of their website and on the Facebook page. It will be horizontal, with a longer size that is almost three times its height. That will limit the number of elements that can be placed there. And yes, it as has to have space for words, and be simple, and communicate two things: Christmas and the joyous act of eating.

Just to make things clear, I am shooting for a layout. I have a specific place to fill, and I have to fit all the elements within that area, and still leave space for copy. This means I cannot do a full rectangular shot, I need to crop and I have to choose what will be in and out of the picture. Even if I could photograph a whole table it would be rather small in the final image. So I have to go for a few elements that will scream CHRISTMAS!

For the final picture, I decided to crop out part of the fork and knife and create a leading diagonal from the right.

2. Getting Down to the Shoot

I love white. I simply love white. So there I am picking my way to photograph animals with white backgrounds and adapting it to a Christmas shoot. After all, Christmas is white (not everywhere, but we like to think it is white, with snow) so it makes sense. Maybe the client will believe me, I say to myself. And I start to shoot.

I go for the traditional setup: a dish, a nice wine glass, a fork and knife, and a red Christmas ball. Minimalist and simple in terms of color: red and white say it all. It’s Christmas! I arrange the different elements, take some test shots, position my lights, one under the translucent base the other beside the table top setup, with a reflector on the other side. Efficient, clean light with two flashes. But I am not happy. There goes the glass.

3. Working through the Challenges

The landscape format of the website and Facebook banners define the constraints of the image

I keep shooting, placing the dish so only part of it is seen in the area that will be my final image. Some minutes shooting and chimping at my LCD and I am not getting anywhere. It’s a normal process. I consider this to be the warm up. Sometimes I can spend hours exploring things and nothing seems to fit, and then, suddenly, you feel like you’re holding the Ariadne thread and getting out of the labyrinth. It can be a painful process sometimes, it is true, but I guess all creative processes happen the same way. It’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

Excluding elements from the original setup left me with a fork and knife and a red Christmas ball. And the final image came from that trio, exploring the reflection of the ball on the knife and the positioning of elements in relation to each other. I shot various images, but ended using one that works perfectly for the client needs and fits within the constraints of the design.

I opted to cut part of the fork and knife, as that gave me more visibility on the Christmas ball reflection, what made sense to me. The suggestion of Christmas and food is fully present in the photograph, and on the right side, just above the diagonal created by the knife, there’s space for the client’s message.

4. Delivering Your Images

The banner for the top of the Facebook page and the website article illustration use the same photograph in a slightly different way.

Why did I choose white, and why did the client like it? Well, there are multiple reasons for that but let me state here what I think. In the end it was easy and the answer resides in three points. First, I like to shoot with white backgrounds, especially with lighting going through a translucent base, so I try to pass this on to clients. Second, white is somehow a color that is back. People, at least over here, are choosing white cars (don’t ask me why, but they do) so it seems to be something viral. And third, white is Christmas, so add a touch of red and you cannot go wrong.

Let me add one more thing: the client wanted something different from the usual Christmas table, and the minimalist look of this photograph gives their message the strength they want. So, that’s how I did it.

Photo Critique #163

Friday November 16th, 2012 01:00:55 PM

Friday Photo Critique is our weekly community project, where we publish a photograph submitted by one of our wonderful readers, then ask you all to offer constructive feedback on the image. It’s a great way to learn more about photography, express your viewpoint, and have your own image critiqued!

Quick Ground Rules

  1. Play nice! We’ve deliberately chosen photographs that aren’t perfect, so please be constructive with any criticism.
  2. Feel free to offer any type of advice – composition, lighting, post-processing etc.
  3. You can also link to photographs that you feel offer a great example of this type of image shot exceptionally well.

Without further ado, here is this week’s candidate for Friday Photo Critique!

The Photograph

Photo Details & Inspiration

  • Canon 60D
  • 50mm
  • 1/160
  • f/1.4
  • ISO 200

In this photo, I was trying to capture pain, mystery, remembrance and regrets. She’s a siren battling her lost past. All she can do is try to beckon the passerbys by captivating them with her distant, hollow eyes. Her elongated, pleading hand. She has nothing left to give, but yet she’s still trying. Why?

She knows that one can’t make a mistake for each one molds us into who we are until the very end. It just takes a while to come to that realization. I think we all can relate to this at times.

Photographer: Wendy Weidemann

Please let us know what you think in the comments – how would you have approached the scene or taken the photo differently? A massive thank you to everyone who commented last week.

The most constructive and helpful comments will be featured on the site. Interested in submitting your own photo? You can do so here!

Your Guide to Stunning Surf Photography

Thursday November 15th, 2012 03:00:44 PM

A surfer performing a maneuver on a beautiful wave is always a photographic inspiration. Every wave is different and every surfer has his or her own unique style. As a photographer, the elements of surfing make it both enjoyable and exciting to capture.

You don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy being a surf photographer and take great images. But there are things you need to know to get started. Understanding the kinds of surf maneuvers to capture is number one. There are off-the-lips, floaters, cut backs, barrels, bottom turns, snaps, and nose rides among others. Knowing the best moments of action is crucial.


Being ready and reacting quickly to capture surfers’ maneuvers is one of the most important aspects of surf photography. If you don’t know what you should capture, you might not get the best photos. If you don’t anticipate what’s coming, you could miss some great shots.


Photo by Antoinette Seaman

When surfers start gathering speed, pay attention. This means they’re setting up a maneuver. Start shooting just before they perform a trick and continue shooting a few frames after. Professional surf photographer, Larry “Flame” Moore, says he captures the action by “getting the shot before the moment of peak action and the shot right afterward.”

If you’re not already a surfer or if you don’t have any introduction to the sport (but still want to capture the action), I suggest viewing surf photos taken by the pros. It’s a great way to take note of the kinds of moments and maneuvers by surfers that are best captured. A poor photographer can make even a good surfer look bad at the wrong moments.

Use a Telephoto Lens

Photo by Rian Castillo

A telephoto lens is a must for shooting surfing. Not only will it allow you to actually get close enough to your subject, the look of compression a telephoto lens achieves is excellent for surfing. I recommend having at least a 200mm lens. Surfing is about action, so you’ll want your images to make an impact.

A long lens better captures the action and gives photos a more intense feel. Another good option lens is a 100-400mm because it will allow you to capture a surfers entire wave as they ride closer toward you. Moving up though, a 500 or 600 mm lens is absolutely ideal for surfing.

I also recommend using a monopod. A monopod allows you freedom to move around and get the right angle, while not having the hold the bulk of weight from the lens for long periods of time. On a side note, if you go into video mode on your DSLR, then a tripod with a good video head for panning would be a good option too.

Have a Fast Camera

Photo by Rian Castillo

Waves can be long, but surf moves are quick. A fast camera is the only way to ensure that you’re getting the kind of images you want. A Canon 5D MKII or III or a Canon 7D are excellent choices for shooting action like surfing. Set your camera to burst mode and don’t be afraid to hold the shutter down at the opportune times. I’ve hesitated with holding the shutter for too long but then later looked at my images and realized there were pockets of action I missed because of my hesitation. It’s better to delete photos than it is to kick yourself for missing a shot.


There are so many ways to photograph surfing, but one thing is constant. Great images only happen when you get creative.

Shoot from different angles and vantage points. Walk up and down the beach, stand on a pier, move closer or further from the waterline, go on top of a cliff. Aim to create a well-rounded set of photos.

Photo by Emlyn Stokes

Photo by Gael LE HIR

There are several different kinds of surf breaks you should be aware of. Each will have different ways you can go about shooting.

Point breaks are long waves that break off a point of land. Surfers drop in far from your lens and end up much closer when they pull out. For this kind of break the longest lens you have (or can get) will be the best option. Start out by standing down the beach near the end of the wave. This way you can get a good perspective of surfers riding toward you at about a 45 degree angle. After you get to know the spot from this view, move up the beach and shoot the surfers as they surf away from you. Remember to look for anything you can include in the shot like a bird flying by, people walking along the beach, etc.

Photo by Pedro Gomez

Beach breaks are waves that break very close to shore. Surfers get much shorter rides than a point break. You’ll still want a telephoto lens for this break, but it doesn’t need to be as long as say, a 500mm. Most beach breaks only give a surfer enough time to perform a couple maneuvers, you’ll need to think extra fast to capture the action. Be prepared to swing your camera around to your left and right because waves at a beach break come in as different peaks and surfers will be spread out to find their own little wave. What’s great about this is that you can stand in one spot, pivot your camera, and get completely different perspectives.

Photo by Aristocrats-hat

Reef breaks are common to tropical places. Reefs that surround an island have waves that break so far from shore you need a boat to get there. One of the most dangerous reef breaks in the world is Teahupo’o, and is only accessible by boat. Photographers like to show the surreal setting by framing the boats in the foreground of these massive waves.

Photo by Emlyn Stokes

It’s best to be well aware of the type of wave you’re about to shoot. That way you can determine the kind of equipment you’ll use, think about safety precautions, and have a rough plan of composition before you shoot.


Get in the Water

Swimming into the lineup with a water housing gives you an awesome perspective. Some of the best shots from the water have the surfer riding straight towards the camera – either in the barrel or throwing spray to the lens.

Photo by Shane_Watson

Of course, the first thing you’ll need is a water housing for your camera. Protective gear such as a wetsuit, fins, and a helmet is also a must. But the most important thing about shooting surfing from the water is that you know your limits. Only shoot from the water if you are highly experienced dealing with the ocean.

If you’re ready for the challenge, make sure you give surfers their space. Watch a surfer’s movements ahead of time to predict what they will do. Good surfers will sometimes even give you a shot by performing a move right in front of your lens. Experiment with different angles, such as holding the camera as high as you can or swimming underwater and shooting through the wave (need clear water for this) or shooting perpendicular to the surfer (as opposed to being in the path of the wave).

Time of Day and Conditions

I’m sure you already know this, but early morning and late afternoon are the best times for taking photos. When it comes to surf photography, these golden hours of the day are pure magic. It also happens to be the time surfers like best, too.

Photo by Dave Young

Remember that you’re going to be in the sun for long periods of time. The position of the sun constantly changes so your position on the beach will need to change too. Keep your back to the sun to avoid subjects being back-lit in your images.

Surfing isn’t like most sports. The weather and surf report determines if surfers will be out or not. If you go to the beach when the waves are small, you probably won’t achieve the spectacular shots you want. Always check the surf report to see if any waves are breaking before you decide to shoot. Also, it’s a good idea to look in advance when a swell is coming so that you can be prepared.

Shoot the Scene

Photo by Minoru Nitta

A great thing about shooting surfing is that you’re in an environment filled with other great photo subjects. Birds, sunsets, waves, palm trees, and boats are just a few examples. When a surfer isn’t riding, turn your camera and capture the scene around you.

Get creative by walking around and setting up shots. If you see a tree that would be great as a foreground subject, compose an image and wait for a surfer to ride into the frame. Incorporating other subjects into your surf photography is a good way to portray the lifestyle of surfing – not jut surfing itself.

Put Together Sequences

Often the best way to capture the action of surfing is to put two or three photos together as a diptych or triptych, or even a longer sequence. An image of a surfer doing an aerial is great, but showing your capture of the entire move from launch to landing can be even better. A sequence like this tells a story. It puts viewers in the action and along for the ride.

Photos by Antoinette Seaman

For example, if you capture a surfer doing a turn off the top of the wave, you can include three images that show the sequence of his move. The first would be setting up the turn, the second would be the most powerful part of the snap, and the third would be the end of the move.


New places and talent will always provide photo inspiration. Many surf photographers spend the winter in Hawaii because it’s the most epic time for surf there. Other great places to travel to for surf photography are Indonesia, Mexico, Australia, and France. Traveling the globe is a rewarding experience on its own, and to follow surfing as a subject of photography makes it even more enjoyable.

Photo by Eliot Jones

If you’re already a serious traveling photographer, try adding famous beaches to your itinerary. Remember to check the surf report wherever you go. You should also look at a schedule of professional surf contests, as they travel around the world visiting new spots throughout the year. Exotic places are an excellent way to build a portfolio of surf photos.

Learn from the Pros

Check out the galleries of pro surf photographers, Sean Davey and Aaron Chang. Notice how each photo in their portfolios is a work of art. From different camera angles to shooting at different times of the day to traveling to new places, the creativity of their work is endless.

Professional surf photographers apply artistry to their photos. Their work isn’t just about the surfer. It’s about enhancing something about the surfer or wave he’s riding. The power of a surfer doing an aerial is enhanced when a dramatic sunset is framed in the background. A desolate surf break feels more exotic when a physical feature is made the main subject.

For example, a famous wave in Costa Rica has a giant rock in the water near where surfers take off. Pro photographers enhance this location by shooting wide and capturing the unique setting as surfers ride by in the foreground.

Surf’s Up

Hopefully these tips give you a good understanding of surfing and how to best photograph the sport/lifestyle. Surfing is about style, power, flow, nature, and action. It’s rewarding as a photographer to go out to every swell and capture something completely different. The elements of surfing are in constant flux, which makes it always exciting to be a surf photographer. Follow these tips, add your own style, and understand surfing and surfers to capture the best photos you can.

Photo by Denis Dore

Mastering Advanced Saturation Control – Tuts+ Premium

Wednesday November 14th, 2012 02:00:06 PM

We have another Photo Premium tutorial exclusively available to Premium members today. In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at advanced saturation control. Learn more after the jump!

This seemingly straight-forward setting offers more than you might think. Saturation is basically how pure a color is. And it can have a huge effect on how your images appear.

Tune In for More

Didn’t hear about Photo Premium? You can find out more here. It’s an additional, in-depth article, published each week just for our Premium subscribers (on top of all our regular free content!)

Join Today!

Join Premium and Expand Your Photography Knowledge!

This is a really interesting technique to perfect, and you’ll be really pleased with the result! This Premium tutorial will help you get started with ease.

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Secrets Of Traveling With One Lens

Tuesday November 13th, 2012 03:00:29 PM

One question I receive regularly deals with photography and travel. “I only want to take one lens. What’s a good one?” This desire to simplify and lighten the load is common among people just getting started with a DSLR or looking to take a first trip abroad. Today, we’ll cover all the aspects to consider when looking to purchase just one lens for travel and then we’ll look at ways to get the most out of that gear.

Choose Wisely

Not all lenses are built the same and the same is true for cameras. With an expansion of innovations on the market today, choices abound from point & shoot classics to fixed lens cameras as well as traditional DSLRs or micro 4/3 cameras. Navigating this market might seem confusing, but let’s start by looking at some factors to help narrow the options.

Know What You Like to Shoot

An important aspect of knowing which lens to purchase is to know what you want to shoot. Do you want to catch fast action while traveling? Then you will need a lens with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or wider). Do you want bring home sharp images of broad landscapes that might include foreground and background subjects? Look for a wide angle zoom with sharp image quality (and you can find statistical information about almost every lens on

If you know you want to take portraits or close ups, you will want something solid in the mid range, from about 50mm to 100mm depending on your camera. What about macro shots? This might limit your range, but you may be able to gain nearly the same effect by employing a close-up filter.

It’s important to take an honest look at the type of photos you will be shooting because you don’t want to be stuck with the wrong lens for the trip. While you may take some excellent wide angle shots on the Serengeti, failing to have a decent zoom beyond 100mm will leave your wildlife photos lacking. That’s why it is important to think about what you will be shooting if you want to take only one lens.

Full Range Zooms: Not a Bad Compromise

Photography is one of the disciplines where there is often a trade-off with every decision. Do you want a faster shutter speed? Then you will have to increase your ISO or decrease your depth of field with a wider aperture.

The same holds true for lens selection. Apart from some noted exceptions (the Nikon 14-24mm comes to mind), most zoom lenses have to give up something in order to accomplish their mechanical advantage over bringing multiple prime (or fixed focal length) lenses. This often occurs with regard to maximum aperture or image quality.

On the plus side, working with a zoom, such as the popular 18-200mm range can be a real joy while traveling. The lenses are often light and fairly compact and travel well inside a smaller camera bag. Plus they don’t have that ‘professional’ look other lenses may showcase which can sometimes prevent you from shooting in particular locations with rules against professional equipment.

At this point, the longer a lens zooms, signified by its X or times factor, the more it compromises. A 4X lens won’t have a lot of compromise while a 25X will have more. Again, this isn’t to say the 25X will be worse. For instance, I was on a cruise with InnerSea Discoveries teaching photography and a number of guests had professional grade zoom lenses in the range from 24-105mm. This is a decent range and has excellent sharpness.

However, I was impressed with one guest’s images of bears on shore that were shot with a 20X Canon PowerShot SX20IS. She was able to get closer than I was even with a 400mm f/2.8 lens costing $12,000. Sure, my images were sharper, but for her needs that little Canon did the trick for far less money.

My Suggestion

It has long been my suggestion for amateurs looking to travel with only one lens to pick up an 18-200mm lens. This type of lens is built for travel with an 11X zoom that grabs decent wide angles and will zoom in for most closeup needs.

In testing options in the field, I found Canon and Nikon’s offerings in this range to be first rate with Sigma’s version being close behind.

There are a crop of lenses raising the bar for total zoom, such as the Tamron 18-270mm, a 15X zoom. While this lens is lighter than the Canon and Nikon 18-200mm versions, its quality is not as high.

However, there is a price difference that comes into play, realizing that saving $100 or more may mean a few extra days on the road. Again, lens selection is about compromise and you need to decide which works best for you. is an excellent place to look for lab-based testing data as a first stop in comparing lenses.

If you wish to buy a lens/camera combo, I’ve seen good results from both the Canon PowerShot SX20IS and Sony Cyber-Shot HX200V, both of which have a large amount of zoom as well as image stabilization. These cameras also offer a range of features suited to travel, such as a flip-out screen for easy self portraits and panorama modes (see note on stitching below).

Want to spend a little more and carry a lot more weight? The Sigma 50-500mm is a great lens, but HUGE! Otherwise, Canon makes a 28-300mm that is expensive, but smaller than the Sigma. Nikon also has a 28-300mm that is smaller still. These lenses work best on a full frame camera.

Using Your One Lens

Now for some tips on how to get the most out of that lens. The obvious compromise of traveling with a single lens is that you have less flexibility and options when shooting. But there are several way to overcome these limitations.

Learn to Stitch for Wide Photos

If your lens isn’t quite wide enough to take in the entire Coliseum or that beautiful old mosque in front of you, consider shooting multiple shots and stitching them in the computer afterward. This method takes some forethought, but can be fun.

There is a free program called Hugin, which will stitch the photos for you (as long as the scene is not overly complex or full of clear sky), but you need to ensure the best results with your camera in the first place. Tips on taking panorama photos (and the technique applies even if you are shooting just two or three shots to stitch) can be found here.

Get Close

If you bought a DSLR, chances are it came with a ‘kit’ lens. This is a cheap lens the manufacturers often include to help you get started taking photos. A popular size for this kit lens is 18-55mm which, for most DSLR cameras, produces an image close to what the human eye can see when zoomed to 55mm.

I see a lot of shots from people taken as the human eye would see them; from a distance with a semi-wide field of view. This can work for some shots, but a travel zoom lens can help you emphasis so much more if you get closer to your subject. For instance, take a look at these two images of a small tree on the edge of a canyon in Canyonlands National Park.

The first shot is from further back, but not much is leading viewers to focus on the tree. When I got lower and zoomed in, the tree becomes far more prominent in the image.

Use the zoom capabilities of that one lens you brought, but also move closer to highlight what you want your viewers to see.

Know your Limits

The biggest compromise with a zoom is the maximum aperture obtainable. Because of mechanics while building zoom lenses, the maximum aperture is often f/3.5 at the widest zoom and between f/4-6.3 when the lens is zoomed out all the way.

What this translates to in the real world is less available light at a given focal length. For instance, a typical 18-200mm lens will be at f/5 while zoomed to 100mm. A corresponding 100mm prime lens will likely achieve f/2.8. That is a difference of 1 and 2/3 stops. In shutter speed terms, the prime might be able to achieve 1/125 of a second while the zoom would be limited to 1/40 of a second. 1/40 with a zoom of 100mm has a greater possibility to show blur, either from the subject moving or from the photographer moving. In anything less than bright light, this is certainly an issue.

Some lenses have a fixed maximum aperture across the length of the zoom, like the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 or a 70-200mm f/2.8. The compromise here deals with your pocketbook and arm strength. Lenses with a constant maximum aperture will cost significantly more as they are more difficult to engineer and manufacture.

They also contain more actual glass, as opposed to acrylic found in cheaper lenses, and metal, making them noticeably heavier. Both of those factors can play a part in the enjoyment of any trip. If you can handle both of those trade-offs, the fixed maximum aperture lens will give better results than a lens with a variable maximum aperture.

Go Wide and Go Long

The joy of a wide range zoom is in the ability to bring back a variety of compositions. Wide angle is not just good for all-in-focus landscapes and vistas, you can also get close and fill the frame with subjects. Portraits can even be had with the 18mm range and take on a new feel as compared to the more traditional 80mm shots.

Don’t forget to take multiple shots of the same scene! The first shot is at 28mm on a 28-300mm lens. The second is at 300mm on the same lens.

Use the zoom at the long end to get closer to subjects that are already close. Single out just one flower instead of the whole flower bed. Show me the texture of the hills. Highlight the sunset with a wide shot and then zoom in.


If you wish to travel with just one lens, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. Life, and photography, is compromise but it need not be a hard decision. Picking a lens like an 18-200mm will serve well in 90% of the situations a casual to semi-serious photographer will encounter all over the globe.

Have you found joy in traveling with only one lens? Let us know what has worked well, or badly, for you in the comments section below.

Ian Forsyth: Multimedia Photography Master

Monday November 12th, 2012 01:00:23 PM

The popularity of multimedia slideshows and the development of the photofilm have caught the eye of the world’s major news networks, but what are the benefits for photographers to present their work in this way? We caught up with English photographer Ian Forsyth to discuss his use of multimedia tools to present his documentary work and to find out why it’s so a valuable in an ever evolving market.

QWhat first inspired you to use multimedia tools to display your photographs?

I’ve always had a passion for documentary photography and how the lives and stories of people are documented, and as the need to look at fresh and different ways of showing this type of work developed and expanded, the ability to connect the images with the actual voices and the narrative of those in the stories held a great appeal as a fresh and interesting way of showing the work. Seeing this done, especially in the UK, by the likes of Duck Rabbit was inspirational and pushed me to try it for myself.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QWhat does a photofilm allow you to do as a photographer that a set of stills can’t do?

I think that the still image is and will remain a very powerful tool and a way of illustrating a story, an individual or a subject in an incredibly strong way, but when this is then added to a strong narrative from someone directly connected to the story it takes it to another level completely. When done well, it can be even more powerful. I don’t think it works for every situation but when it does it becomes a way of connecting with the viewer in a different way.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QWhy do you think the use of photofilms is becoming more popular with news outlets such as the BBC and the New York TImes?

I think it is simply because the market is changing. Online news is becoming more popular each day. With all the electronic tools now available allowing us to connect to the internet, they have had to adapt what they do to try and reach these readers. I think that photofilms offer a fresh and different way of doing this.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QDo you vary your approach depending upon whether you are setting out to gather content for a photofilm or going out to shoot stills?

My approach will vary a little depending on my reason for shooting. For my documentary work, I am aware of the need to tell the story with the pictures and as such I will look for those pictures that help me achieve this – a beginning, a middle and an end if you like – and all the pictures that go towards allowing me to do this. Some of those pictures wouldn’t be of any use in a more news-based story.

If I am shooting for my news work then my priority is to look for the pictures that tell the story in a single image. This isn’t always possible, of course, but I concentrate more on trying to find it.

Either way though I think it is of huge importance to not become so focused on one that you completely neglect the other, and that, where possible, and where time allows, you remain aware of both. Sometimes those shots that lend themselves more to storytelling may also be the best ones to shoot for news requirements. Remain flexible.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QWhat is the most important element to consider when putting together a photofilm?

The story. That’s it. The tools of this process such as the cameras used, your audio equipment, your editing software and the style of presentation used in the final edit to show the photofilm, and even the very way in which it is edited together are all very important because they allow you to produce them, but none of this should take over and be more important than the actual story itself.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QDoes the process of creating a photofilm alter your perspective on the images or subject matter?

I think that it brings more awareness as to what images can work and which ones don’t when it comes to putting a story together. Images that you may not ordinarily think would have any real contribution to make can suddenly become quite an important way of allowing the story to flow and as such you start to see and look for more of these images.

From the point of view of the relationship with the subject, I think that whatever the story is, be it a very serious subject or a more light hearted one, it inevitably brings about a better understanding of the people involved and of the subject and that has to be a good thing.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QWhat benefits do you think displaying your images using multimedia tools has over displaying stills online?

I think it becomes more interactive. It allows the viewer to feel more part of an event or the story in a way that looking at a single image may not. It brings it to life with the audio. I believe that if done well then a photofilm will hold the attention of a viewer more. Also I think that people are now used to a far more interactive way of doing things online and, as such, they expect more.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QAs a photographer, was engaging with audio an issue? Did it take time to get to grips with the relevant recording equipment and audio software?

Like anything new, building up an understanding of audio takes time. Not so much in the ‘button pressing’ of the audio equipment itself and even the software can be understood relatively quickly, but understanding how audio can be used is a great and fascinating skill to learn.

It is one of these things that we take for granted and only when you break it down into parts do we see how important it is. The best way I found in the beginning to understand the use of good audio was by listening to the longer feature pieces on BBC Radio 4! The way the audio was used was incredible and can totally transform a piece.

The best piece of advice I could offer for audio would be to let it breath. Just because your piece might be three minutes long, you don’t need three minutes of continuous narrative. Sometimes what you leave out can be more important than what you put in!

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QDo you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about working on?

My main documentary project that is ongoing at the moment is something I’ve been working on for over a year now and when I can get the time, and is a project called ‘Coast People.’ I’m looking at a stretch of the north east coast between Teesside and Flamborough Head and documenting the different ways of using or living with the sea.

Whether it is for commercial or business reasons, a traditional activity or simply as a means of recreation and enjoyment. I’ve photographed some individuals in more of an environmental portrait style and some pictures are more ‘street’ or maybe ‘beach’ photography in style.

I have quite a large collection of pictures already and my future plans for this are to produce a number of short photofilms on some of the people I meet and then publish it all on an interactive website. Some pictures from this collection can be seen in posts on my Room 2850 blog.

I’m gathering material for this as often as I can whilst at the same time trying to generate interest in galleries and publishers to try and get the work displayed to a wider audience.

I love this kind of social documentary work and firmly believe that as photographers, whether we use such titles as ‘professional’ or ‘amateur,’ we all have a responsibility to contribute either directly or indirectly to a collective photographic history that can be seen by future generations.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

QWhat advice would you give to any photographers out there who want to have a go at making their first photofilm?

Go for it! Just jump in and give it a go. Start local, with something familiar and don’t be afraid of the mistakes. There will always be mistakes and I can guarantee that once you have edited your piece and ‘finished’ it, you will always see another way you could have done it.

Watch as many examples of photofilms and multimedia productions as you can. Whether the subject interests you or not, it is a great way of seeing what can be achieved. I’m not saying to copy them, be original, but use them as a learning resource.

Keep the story as the most important element and use your skills, equipment, editing and software as tools to help achieve this. Work hard to gather strong audio it will make a difference in the end piece. Aim to grab the viewer and hold them throughout and keep their interest.

Ask questions of your audience. Challenge them and make them think.

Finally, be respectful towards your subject. Treat them with courtesy and humility and be professional at all times. Whatever it might be, it is their story. It isn’t a story about the photographer and their ability to produce the story.

Photo of Ian Forsyth

You can find out more about Ian and keep up to date with his latest projects via his blogs through his website, Ian Forsyth Photography.

Donna Ferrato on Photographing Domestic Abuse

Sunday November 11th, 2012 10:51:37 PM

Just because you didn’t get to go to that awesome photography conference doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something from the pros! Occasionally, we’ll be featuring a recommended photography lecture or interview on Phototuts+.

Donna Ferrato is a legendary documentary photography who stands with the likes of James Nachtwey, W. Eugene Smith and I’d even say Henri Cartier-Bresson. She has spent over 30 years documenting domestic violence against women. In this interview with Aperture, she talks about her work. The best part, she’s still alive and working.

You can see more of Ferrato’s work at

Photo Critique #162

Friday November 9th, 2012 01:00:04 PM

Friday Photo Critique is our weekly community project, where we publish a photograph submitted by one of our wonderful readers, then ask you all to offer constructive feedback on the image. It’s a great way to learn more about photography, express your viewpoint, and have your own image critiqued!

Quick Ground Rules

  1. Play nice! We’ve deliberately chosen photographs that aren’t perfect, so please be constructive with any criticism.
  2. Feel free to offer any type of advice – composition, lighting, post-processing etc.
  3. You can also link to photographs that you feel offer a great example of this type of image shot exceptionally well.

Without further ado, here is this week’s candidate for Friday Photo Critique!

The Photograph

Photo Details & Inspiration

  • Nikon D90
  • 60mm
  • 1/2
  • f/8
  • ISO 100

I live in a residential school in rural India. We share our home with many different species of animals including, frogs, crabs, lizards and snakes. We found this poisonous viper resting on a leaf outside our house the other day. I wanted to portray that we live in his/her habitat, not the other way around.

Photographer: Siddharth Atre

Please let us know what you think in the comments – how would you have approached the scene or taken the photo differently? A massive thank you to everyone who commented last week.

The most constructive and helpful comments will be featured on the site. Interested in submitting your own photo? You can do so here!

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