Sharpening Images and the Unsharp Mask

One of the most often used and abused post processing tools are the sharpen filters. When applied properly, sharpening can boost the image by making it look crisper and more defined. However, there is a tendency to go overboard with this and the image can come out looking unnatural and ‘oversharpened.’ There is the popular misconception that if you sharpen a blurry image, it will magically appear clearer. What does happen is that the blurry image will just look more terrible. 

Sharpening works by exaggerating the contrast of the object’s edges, giving the viewer the impression of distinct delineation. There are many ways to do this. You can sharpen the entire image in one click with the Sharpen filter or you can use the Unsharp Mask for more control over how defined you want the sharpening to be. Some people prefer to use the High Pass Filter or the Smart Sharpen. Whichever method you use, just remember to be light-handed when sharpening since too much can make the image look unnatural with distorted pixels. One tip would be to sharpen only certain areas in the shot instead of the whole image. For example, if your image is of a bird flying against the cloudy sky, sharpen only parts of the bird while leaving the sky untouched to keep it looking smooth. 

An image edited with a simple Sharpen filter:

sharpcomp Sharpening Images and the Unsharp MaskWhen editing your image, always leave sharpening for last. Sharpening in the middle of editing is not advisable especially if the image might be resized later on. For full effect, do it when you have settled on the final size of your image. If you’re planning to sell your shots in a stock site, try not to sharpen your images at all. The buyers of your image might want to resize the shot and if there is obvious sharpening, they might be turned off from buying the image. Microstock sites have reviewers who peruse every single image that is submitted for possible photographic defects. They are very particular with photos that look too sharpened and I have had shots rejected because of oversharpening even though I hadn’t sharpened them at all.  

Sharpening might not make blurry images clearer but it can make images with soft edges appear better defined, and this can make a world of difference in your shot.

Let us use one sharpening tool and see how it works:

The Unsharp Mask is a quick process to emphasize the acutance (edge contrast) of details and it is controlled by three settings:

Radius – this defines the section to be sharpened. If you choose a low radius, only the pixels close to the edge will be sharpened and if you use a high radius, the larger the affected area. If you start seeing unsightly halos around the edges, it means you’re setting the radius value too high and is an indication to decrease the radius value. 

Amount – The edges of details have a lighter and a darker side and this setting controls how much contrast is applied. The light areas become lighter and the dark parts become darker when you increase the percentage amount.

Threshold – this limits the amount of sharpening that is applied to the image by determining how close pixels should be in order to be considered as edge pixels.  If there is little difference between pixels in a certain area, such as skin tones or an empty sky, then the threshold can be set to leave these areas from being sharpened. 

The settings to be used vary with each shot. Image size plays a big part in this case. For an image with a small print size, you would not need to increase the settings by a big margin before the result quickly becomes apparent.  The bigger the image size, the more you can increase the setting values. 

Step 1:

For this tutorial, Adobe Photoshop CS2 is used. Open a copy of your original image and create a duplicate layer. A keyboard shortcut to create a layer is Ctrl + J for Windows and Command + J for Mac.

Step 2:

beeselect Sharpening Images and the Unsharp Mask

 

 

Make a selection using the Lasso tool. Choose only the areas that need sharpening and leave the rest of the image untouched. In this example, only the bee’s wings, antennae, upper part of the body and the edge of the leaf were selected.

 Step 3:

 beesmartsharp Sharpening Images and the Unsharp Mask

Open the Unsharp Mask dialog box under Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. The box shows a preview of a selected area, the three settings and the preview checkbox. If you check this, you will also get to see a preview of how your adjustments will affect the image in the main screen.

If it is your first time to use the settings, you can experiment first with how they work. Try dragging each slider one at a time to the opposite side of the bar and, although the effect will be exaggerated, you will have a good idea of how each one will affect the image.

Since the Radius setting is the most essential of the three, you can start with that and then adjust the Amount and then the Threshold. Once you are satisfied with the adjustments of the three settings, the outcome should be an image that is more defined than the original, yet with the appropriate areas kept smooth and unaffected. The result most likely will be subtle but still apparent, especially when compared to the original such as in this side by side comparison:

beeunsharp Sharpening Images and the Unsharp Mask

What happens if you go overboard with the Unsharp Mask? Unattractive and obvious effects begin to happen. If your radius value is set too high, halo artifacts begin to appear. These are very light and bright outlines near the edges of details. Jagged edges and pixelation might also occur along the edges. There is more visible noise and graininess which is most evident if you oversharpen sections with no edges. This is the reason why none-edged areas are too be avoided when sharpening. 

beeoversharp Sharpening Images and the Unsharp Mask


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How Pictures are Combined

Combining two or more pictures in a single frame enables digital photographers to come up with great artistic images that cannot be otherwise done with a single photograph of an image. This type of manipulation can be considered a distinct art form all on its own. By combining pictures, you can use your older images you have stored in your computer to create unimaginable artistic pictures and use it as your creative medium.

combine1 How Pictures are Combined

This type of manipulation will take a lot of creativity and imagination on your part because it requires more than the usual tidying up of an image. This can be used  for more than artistic interpretation but to create an actual believable image.

combine2 How Pictures are CombinedPlacing several shots in a single image is not at all difficult. You can take multiple exposure shots to replace a sky in a landscape to give your photograph a more dramatic impact.  For example, if you were to use a portrait, it would be useful to combine two frames from one shoot. If you photograph two models at the same time, it is difficult to make them look at their best at the same time. By combining pictures, you can merge a facial expression from one shot into another to get a perfect pose.

A technique used in photomerging is isolating each element using layers to be able to do small corrections in each piece of the jigsaw puzzle without affecting the image as a whole. Each piece may need its own distinct adjustments, effects and distortions. Layers are then arranged in groups or folders. The layers work within a folder enabling adjustments to not affect other elements. The folder will then act as a master layer that interacts with each other by using various blending modes, masks and opacities.

Layered Montages are separate images that have isolated elements in its own folder full of layers. This will allow you to remove each element in turn with respective adjustments.

Advanced blending such as in Photoshop will enable you to control the exact densities at which the blend will become visible. This further allows you to specify what areas you want the blend to affect whether it be light tones or dark tones within an image. This is also known as auto-masking. This can create effects that are impossible under natural circumstances.

 

 

 


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How to Use the Dodge and Burn Editing Tools to Enhance Your Photos

There are several ways to edit a shot in Photoshop and two of the most underrated yet highly effective tools are the dodge and burn tools. These are found at the toolbar on the left. The default icon is the dodge tool and if you click on the little arrow, a dropdown list will appear showing the burn tool and also the—-.The dodge and burn tools are the digital equivalent of the methods used in the actual darkroom, where to 'dodge' meant to obstruct the light hitting a section of the photo paper from the —- with the use of an object. While to burn meant to allow more light to hit a specific section of the photo paper. Since one cannot really see the results until the image has been fixed with chemicals, the procedure would usually be trial and error with a lot of test prints involved. Now, digital technology has made it so much easier to achieve the visual results we want.

Let us try out the dodge and burn method with a sample image. Open an image in Photoshop and make a duplicate layer.

dodge1 How to Use the Dodge and Burn Editing Tools to Enhance Your Photos

Pinpoint the areas that would need to be darkened and/or lightened. Let us start with the dark area. In this image, the bottom part of the snail's shell and the lower left corner are too much in shadow and it would be a good idea for a little more light to show more details. Click on the dodge tool and keep the hardness set to 0% so that the edge of your brush is soft. Set the diameter to a manageable size so you have better control of your strokes. As for exposure, choose a percentage that gives a subtle yet visible result. A high exposure value would mean a more drastic dodge effect. Use the dodge tool like a brush and swipe the dark areas until they are light enough.

dodge2 How to Use the Dodge and Burn Editing Tools to Enhance Your Photos

dodge3 How to Use the Dodge and Burn Editing Tools to Enhance Your PhotosNext, choose the areas you want to darken such as the upper right corner. Burning would make that area more balanced in terms of tonal value. Click on the arrow on the dodge tool icon to show the burn tool option. Again, adjust the settings and swipe over the light areas until you are satisfied with the results.

The burn and dodge tools are great for spot adjustments and using them can enhance the light and shadows in your photo by making the light areas appear even lighter and the shadows darker. They can also lessen the degree of light and shadow detail to make the lighting appear more even.


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The Advantages of Watermarking Your Photos

If you post your photos in the internet or email them to others, these images are at the risk of being copied without your permission. One deterrent to scare people away from stealing your shots is to place a watermark on your image. It can also provide information that would benefit the people you want to share your image with.

A watermark is an obvious text or logo that has been superimposed on an image. There are many types of watermarks and here are a few:

Generic text – this kind of watermark does not give any detailed information about you. For example, it can simply say ‘Do not copy’ or ‘Sample’.

Specific text – your watermark can also be used to identify you or the photograph in some way, such as your name or your website name.

Image – instead of text, an icon or logo may be used as a watermark for your image. This looks a bit more complex than a simple text but you just need to make the image watermark once and then apply it to all your photos. It is a great watermark if you have a business logo.

Copyright © – this is very often used because it tells everyone that you have placed copyright protection over the image. Although some will try to get a way around it by cropping out the watermark, or by removing it with a photo editing program, it does raise a red flag that you’re on the lookout to make sure your images are not stolen.

Embedded – this type of watermark is found in the image file data, rather than being displayed on the image itself. The advantage of this is that there is no visible watermark that may detract the viewer from fully appreciating the shot. However, embedded watermarking is not free and you would need to purchase a software or program if you prefer to use that method.

Many photographers do not like to add a visible watermark to their image because it covers a portion of the shot, even if it is transparent, and it can disrupt the concentration of the viewer. However, having a watermark is good practice especially if you are into online commercial photography. If you would notice, all photo stock sites have their or the photographer’s watermark shown very obviously and covering most of the frame in the images that have been uploaded to the site. These images are often in full resolution and what the customer would get once the watermark is removed. By stamping the image with a huge and blatant watermark, it will be difficult for an online thief to get rid off it.

If you simply want to share your photos online without the intent to sell them, you can upload a low resolution copy with a watermark at the bottom corner. Low res images can still look great online but will be small in size if they were printed. Also, it will be harder for an online thief to just crop out the watermark at the edge of the shot because they might also crop out an important element in the image.

Watermarking an image is a matter of personal preference and is not a fool-proof method to protect your images but it will certainly make others think twice before attempting to download and use your image without your consent.

There are many ways to add a watermark, from adding it through photo editing, to purchasing watermarking software that can watermark batches of photos all at once. In this article, we will be using Adobe Photoshop CS2 to add a text watermark to an image.

There are a few important things to remember before placing a watermark:

Keep the original images. Store them in a secure folder so there is no chance they will accidentally be saved over once your start photo editing.

Make copies for watermarking. Save them in a separate folder so they will be easy to find and access.

Decide whether you want to watermark your images as a batch or one at a time. If you have loads of photos, it would be more convenient to batch watermark them. However, you will not have complete control over the watermark’s exact placement compared to if you were doing them individually.

Decide on what your watermark will look like. Experiment with its size, opacity, and its location in the image. The more obvious and bigger the watermark, the better it is for security reasons. But the downside is it could cover much of the shot and also spoil the impact of the image.  Try to find a balance by making the watermark visible but not intrusive.

watermark The Advantages of Watermarking Your Photos

Adding a watermark in Photoshop is quick and easy and it won’t take up much of your time at all.

Here are the basic steps:

1. Open your image, make a copy layer and then click on the Type tool. Type in your copyright symbol © (keyboard shortcut is Alt + 0169 if you’re using Windows and Option-G if you’re using Mac) and your desired text.

 2. While still using the Type tool, you can highlight the entire text and choose the desired color, font and size.

 3.  The text will appear as a solid color so if you want to make it blend more with the image, it has to look less opaque. Click on Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options and drag the slider of the opacity bar to make the text more transparent (see screenshot).

 4. Once you’re satisfied with its opacity, click on the Move tool and drag the watermark to the desired spot in your image.

 5. Save the watermarked copy image.

 


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Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

When shooting photographs that show off skin, we are often quite particular with how it looks, whether it is smooth, wrinkled, or blemish free. Skin texture and marks provide character in a photo but sometimes, presenting smooth clear skin is preferable or even necessary. 

Keep in mind that the trick to good skin retouching is knowing when to stop. It is easy to go overboard to the point that the skin starts to look like plastic and become unrealistic. Also, be careful with removing ‘blemishes’ because some may be considered ‘beauty marks’ and the model might want to keep them. It is always good to know what the intent is behind the skin retouching since this will affect your editing choices. Post processing a person’s skin for a fashion ad will be different from editing a friend’s skin just to make it appear clearer. 

In this 2-part article, we will cover the basic techniques of skin retouching, mainly blemish removal and skin smoothing.

Before we start with the skin smoothing, we must first get rid of blemishes. As mentioned earlier, we must be careful with what we remove because certain imperfections that the person was born with might be considered part of the person’s character and charm. A good rule of thumb is to remove the temporary blemishes such as pimples and blackheads and to lessen the impact of more permanent ones such as wrinkles and moles.

Look at your image and identify the blemishes you want to remove. In this sample, we will be removing the dark spots under the eyes, on the chin and a few on the cheeks. 

faceorig Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

There are two common Photoshop tools that we can use to remove blemishes and these are the Healing tool and the Clone Stamp tool. We can do a whole lot of retouching just with these two tools. 

Healing Brush tool – copies the pixels from the target area and tries to adapt them to fit the area that you brushed. 

Create a new layer from the opened image by clicking on the paper icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette then select the Healing Brush from the Tools Palette. If you got the Spot Healing Brush, just right click and change it to Healing Brush instead. Next, change the Brush size to a diameter that is around the size as the dark spot or a small and controllable size if you are healing an area. To change the diameter, click the dropdown list next to the Brush shape and select the desired diameter. You can also right-click anywhere in the image area to make the dropdown list appear. By ticking the ‘Sample All Layers’ option on the top toolbar, you can make edits on the layer without affecting the original layer underneath.

faceheal Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

The Healing tool is ideal for large areas such as the dark spot beneath her right eye. Select a source near the blemish, something similar to the color, skin tone, lighting and texture to paste over the area you want to fix. When healing, try varying your brushstrokes. Sometimes, you get a better result by going over the area with short clicks, rather than dragging the brush like a stroke. If you do make a mistake, just click on Edit > Undo. You can also use the Spot Healing tool for smaller areas such as pimples or large pores. Unlike the Healing Tool, the Spot Healing tool does not require you to select a target area. Instead it makes use of the adjacent area around the brushstroke as the source.

Healing tool is good for keeping the original skin texture the same since it gets the information from the area around the brush. However, if the nearby area has both light and dark pixels, this tool can pick up on those and the result might look like a smear.

You can alternate between the Healing tool and the Clone Stamp tool, whichever gives a better result.

Clone Stamp tool – copies the pixels of an area that you targeted. You can set the source area just once and as you move the tool, the source will also move in tandem. When using the Clone Stamp tool (found below the Healing tool), press Alt-click on the target source and a cross will appear in the brush icon to indicate that it is the targeted area. Always make it a point of defining the appropriate source since human skin has various textures and using the wrong area as a source can make your retouching unpleasantly obvious. Next, paint over the blemish or simply click on it and the source will be pasted or copied over it, in effect, erasing the small imperfection. Keep an eye on the source area since this will change as you move the tool around. You might have to select new areas once in a while to keep the editing realistic and seamless. 

Here is a comparison of the results of a quick five minutes of removing blemishes:

facecomp Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

Stay tuned for part 2 which will show you how to smoothen skin and minimize wrinkles!


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4 More Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots

We have previously discussed five Photoshop tools that can quickly improve your shots and here are four more to include in your arsenal of fast editing tactics. Please note that all these tools can further be explored and controlled by making full use of their capabilities.

crop 4 More Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots1.  Crop – strategic cropping can do wonders for the final image. If your original has some undesirable elements at the edges that you would rather remove, then a simple crop can be the solution. Cropping can also help accentuate the composition you are striving to present. The subject can be placed in a particular area in the frame compared to where it was to start with. In this photo example, the yellow pistils were right at the center of the frame and there were blurry green stems below the flower that I wanted to discard. By cutting them out, the sharp 4 More Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shotspistils moved to the bottom third of the frame which then showed a stronger composition.

2.  Sharpen – images straight from the camera may not be tack sharp and if you want the edges of lines in the image to appear more defined, sharpening might do the trick. Be very careful, though, because too much sharpening can worsen the image. A blurry shot will not magically become focused with the sharpen filter.  The colorburn 300x300 4 More Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shotsunsharp mask isoften used if you want more control but for a quick fix, click on ‘sharpen’ in case the result is satisfactory.

3. Color burn – this tool can make colors more vivid although too much of it can also burn out details and make the colors appear oversaturated. Color burn is ideal if you want certain areas in the shot to have a more intense shade of color or to show more contrast. I’ve discovered that it’s also great for lessening the appearance of smoke or fog.

4. Hue – this adjustment option allows you to change the color hues in an image. If you were to slide the hue arrow left or right, you will see the color or colors change based on where they are located in the color wheel (which in this case will look like a strip of colors). Images that show only one color can benefit the most from this speedy color change. If there are two or more colors, they will also be changed to two different hues and you might not like the new combination.

hue 4 More Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots


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5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots

 

If you are in a hurry to edit your pictures, or just want a quick fix to make your photos come alive, here are some Photoshop tips that will spice up your shot in a jiffy. All these quick fixes are just autolevels1 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shotsthat, fast and sometimes imperfect since you are not fully controlling the adjustment settings. However, you can do any of these in the space of a few seconds and with just a few clicks of the mouse, and you can also get a glimpse of what editing can do for your shot.

1.  Auto Levels – the levels adjustment is used to fine-tune the brightness of an image. You can manually control how dark or light the picture will appear but Photoshop also offers ‘auto levels’ wherein the program will do it for you. It doesn’t mean that the outcome will be perfect all the time. But clicking on auto levels can quickly show you how your shot can brighten up with the use of levels.

autocolor1 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots2.  Auto color – color can also either be manually or automatically adjusted. If you want full control of shades and hues, you can use a variety of adjustment options such as Color Balance or Hue/Saturation. However, clicking on ‘auto color’ might be all you need to remove a color cast.

3.  Add a border – aside from providing visual enhancement to an image, a border can also frame it by delineating the image from the background page, especially if the shot has large white or very light areas. To add a simple border, click on Image border 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots> Canvas Size, then under the drop down menu (under New Size), choose ‘pixels’ and input a number (preferably divisible by two) in the width and height boxes. The numbers will be divided by two and will be the size of the pixels that will border the image on each side. For example, if you choose a 2 pixel horizontal canvas size, it means the left side will have a 1 pixel borderline and the right side will also have the same. To choose the border color, click on the black square beside Canvas extension color and it will open a screen where you can choose any color you want. If you want the border to match with a certain color in the image (like what I did for my photo example), after clicking the black square, move your cursor to the desired color in your image. Your shadowhighlight 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shotscursor will look like an eyedropper as you do this. After clicking on the color you want in your shot, press OK and this will be your border’s color.

4.  Shadow/highlight – removing a percentage of shadows can bring out details in the dark spots that were previously hidden. Clicking on this adjustment will decrease the dark areas of the shot by 50%. It will also open up a screen where you can then slide the markers for shadows or highlights and adjust them to your liking.

5.  Gradient Map – if you want to convert your colored picture to black and white, Photoshop again has many options you can use to get this result; from using desaturation, to tinkering with channel mixers, to clicking on the gradient map. The gradient map changes the image to grayscale and also provides a higher contrast between black and white compared to desaturation.gradient 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots


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How to Photograph Leaves

One of the most versatile subjects you can find is a leaf. There are thousands of different kinds of leaves. If the saying is 'no two snowflakes are alike' then I would also argue that no two leaves are alike. Not only do they differ in family but also in shape, color, texture, pattern and size. Each leaf of the same plant is distinctive which just goes to show the intricacies of nature.

goldenleaf 300x224 How to Photograph Leaves

Leaves are easily accessible. They can be found almost everywhere you look, from the ones in the garden to the produce section in the grocery.

Your subject may be just a singular leaf, it may also be a pile of leaves. It can be in its natural state hanging at the end of a plant stem in a field, it might also have fallen and drifted to the edge of a concrete sidewalk. The possibilities of capturing stunning leaf shots are only limited by your creativity and skills as a photographer.

Did you know that leaf shots make great stock photos? Some clients buy them because they can be the perfect background for a magazine cover or a blog template, others buy them purely because they look interesting. You can upload hundreds of leaf shots to your online portfolio and each one would be unique and a possible sale.

The question is how do you make each shot interesting? Sure, the leaf itself is one of a kind but if your shot is uninspired, it will be obvious and your good shots will be buried under your mediocre ones.

Here's what you can do to spice things up:

Highlight its best feature. What is it about the leaf that makes it so special? Is it the strange patterns or the large veins? Maybe it is the color? If so, play around with the lighting to show it off. With this photo, I used the backlighting technique to further enhance the golden color of the leaf. A simple black background was used to add contrast to the gold hues. The lighting method also brought attention to the fascinating vein patterns.

Add 'props' such as water drops. Yes, dew or water droplets on a leaf would be considered a 'cliché' shot but if it does make your shot more interesting then why not. Try to surprise the viewer by going one step further such as overdoing the number of droplets such as in this leaf shot. The droplets make wonderful patterns and you might notice that they also magnify the details of the leaf which add to its 'interestingness'.

Do something to the leaf itself. Capture it as it is burning, cut it into strips, write on it, tear it, bend it, fold it, weave it, roll it, freeze it, dry it out in the sun, press it, wrap it around something. The shots you take after doing any of this are bound to be attention-grabbing. Of course, still keep the basic photography principles in mind or else you might end up with a very unappealing shot of some green mush that barely looks like a leaf.

Close up and macro shots are often used for leaf shot but it really depends on how you compose the shot. Depth of field can provide focus on only a few leaves while keeping the other leaves blurred and therefore less distracting in the background. The more you shoot leaves, the easier it will become for you to know how to show its uniqueness.


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A Guide to Taking Group Shots

Group photos are very popular and knowing how to take them is a great advantage, especially if you are planning to be an event photographer. From regular family events to activities like sports games, to weddings and other special occasions, the opportunities to take them are always available. However, photographing a lot of people in one shot can be quite a challenge. There are a lot of elements that might be hard to control, such as hyperactive children.

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