3 tips for shooting HIGH CONTRAST photos

3 tips for shooting HIGH CONTRAST photos

Want people to stop and admire your photography? Want your image to nearly pop off the wall and say “LOOK AT ME!!!”

High contrast can help you do it! There are 3 different kinds of contrast in photography: High, Normal, and Low. 

Low contrast means that there is very little value change. It could be that the the light is mostly dark, mostly grays OR mostly light. The key is that there is not a lot of contrast in low contrast.

Normal contrast means that there are some bright lights, many mid tones, and some darker tones. This type of contrast will likely make up the bulk of your photos.

High contrast means that you have a lot of bright lights and a lot of dark tones with very little middle gray. And this is the contrast that we will be focusing on this week.

When taking photos for high contrast, think drama! Don’t think that normal or low contrast is bad, they certainly have their place, we just want to focus on high contrast for this week!

  1. The right time of day. Golden hour (if you aren’t familiar with this term click here to read my post on light). One good way to guarantee that you will have good contrast is by taking your shots at dawn or dusk. Not only is the light AMAZING, but you can also look for good opportunities for silhouettes, which you know are going to have good contrast! (SIDE NOTE: you can also simulate the silhouette affect by putting a bright light of some kind behind your subject.)
    golden hour
    image source


  2. Black and white. I talk a lot about how distracting color can be, and this is one of those cases. Not all photos that have good contrast are in black and white, but there is something about stripping the color from an image that makes it look more classy and contrasty. Try it and see!
    black and white
    image source


  3. Post editing. So once you have taken your amazing high contrast photo, you can enhance that contrast in your photo editing software. In Photoshop, the #1 way to do it is to adjust the levels. Cut out all the empty space in the histogram for each of the colors. Then make the “S” curve on your curves adjustment. And if that is not enough, you can always go in and dodge and burn sections of the photo.edits


Got to love that contrast! If you found this article helpful, click the box below and download the FREE project outline for High Contrast Photography. Happy shooting! (…with a camera…don’t get any violent ideas out there!)




3 tips for finding AWESOME pattern in photography

3 tips for finding AWESOME pattern in photography

Pattern is something that you see EVERYWHERE. Not only art, but in nature, architecture, product design, even science! Why do you think that they stress learning patterns as early as kindergarten! It is important!

Finding pattern in photography is not hard, it just takes a little extra intentional observation. Take a leaf for example. Any leaf will do. Look at the way that the veins on a leaf. Notice how they methodically trace themselves back to the central vein and into the stem. That’s pattern! 

image source

Or look at the windows on any building. Notice how there are the same amount of bricks between each window. Or look at the bricks themselves! Methodically placed and spaced the same distance apart. Pattern!

image source

Any average Joe can notice pattern, but it take a photographer to make the ordinary seem extraordinary! Check out my tips below for finding and capturing the pattern in our lives:

  1. Fill the frame. When you find a good pattern, position your camera so that the pattern completely fills the frame of the image. This makes it look like the pattern goes on forever!grate


  2. Try an angle. Many shots can look good from a straight on view, but sometimes if you shift your camera to the side a little, you can find some leading lines which can add visual interest to your image.bamboo


  3. Break the pattern. So you’ve found an amazing pattern, now see if you can add even more visual interest by breaking it! Imagine seeing a picture of 50 orange Skittles with one blue one in the lower third. Patterns can be broken in a number of ways (change the color, the texture, the shape, form, etc).pens breaking pattern

    If you found this article helpful, click the button below and download the FREE project outline for Pattern.

3 tips for telling stories with your photography

3 tips for telling stories with your photography

I would argue that every photograph you take tells a story. How well the story is told, however, depends on the skill and creativity of the photographer.

Confused? Take this photo for example:

emmett selfie

This photo was taken by my son, who stole my phone to snap some shots of himself. It was the first time that he had done this, so his skills are a little on the low side, but the point is: can you see the story? I can see it even through the smug look on his face.

How a photo’s story is perceived may also vary from person to person. Look at the picture of this church below.
image source

The story that I see is that that would be a peaceful, quiet place to rest. Others, however, may see it as a lonely, desolate place.

Do all the photos that you take need to have a good, clear message? Not necessarily, I just want you to be aware that images talk (an image worth a thousand words, you know). And the more powerful the message behind the photo, the more compelling and interesting your photography becomes.

So let’s talk about how to take photos with a good clear message. 

  1. Plan. Have an idea for what you are looking for before you start out. If you are going to go to an old desolate barn to take some shots, think about the lighting. Maybe it would be best to take the shots at dawn or dusk so that it gives a more eerie feel. Maybe you want to make the shots black-and-white so that the view is not distracted by color.
  2. Look for emotion. When shooting people (not with guns…) look for emotion. The easiest example is a crowd at a sporting event. If the game is exciting enough, they are often oblivious to what is going on around them and you can get the raw expression on their face.
  3. Don’t forget about composition! It is difficult to tell a good story if the viewer is distracted by poor composition. (Think distracting objects in the background, bad balance, too many objects in the frame, etc.) Just remember to help the viewer focus on the main thing!

So this week, go out and take 3 pictures that tell a story. ANY story. Just as long as your photos are intentional, your story is valid. Keep the tips above in mind ask you shoot!

REMEMBER, your options here are limitless! These could be candid photos, they could be flash photography, maybe it is a still life, perhaps you want to try portraiture. Go have some fun this week!

If you’d like a project outline for Telling a story with photography, click the button below!

5 tips for taking Candid Photos

Taking candid photos

So the last article was all about how to use a flash…well now we are going to throw  all of that out the window! For candid photography, you want to almost be sneaky. Not because you are doing something wrong... no, no, but because you are trying to catch people without them knowing your taking their picture.

People completely change their demeanor when they know that someone is taking their picture. Everyone has different responses (some may put up 2 fingers and smile from ear to ear, others hide their face in their hands or turn away), but you simply can’t get a candid shot when people know you are taking their picture. You can’t see the pure, genuine feelings that are displayed when they know their picture is being taken either. And nothing shouts that you are taking a picture like…a flash!

There are so many different tips for taking candid pictures, but I will try to keep it simple for you. Here are 5 things to keep in mind for beginner candid photography:

  1. Use a phone or a point and shoot camera. These types of cameras are less obtrusive than your DSLRs and you can quickly maneuver them when you need them. Imagine yourself looking at your phone at the dentist office and you see a little kid doing something funny or interesting. How easy would it be to just turn your phone to camera mode, tilt your phone a bit, and snap a quick shot. Nobody need know the wiser!
    camera phone
    Image source


  2. Go to the crowd. When there are a lot of people around, you can “hide in the crowd”. How does the average Joe know that you are not taking pictures of the person behind him? Think sporting events, fairs, lunchroom, mall, etc.
    Image source
  3. Look for people who are “busy”. Look for someone who is so completely absorbed in what they are doing that they couldn’t possibly notice someone quietly taking their picture. Examples? Someone roaring at a basketball game. A child working on a coloring page. Girls talking in a group (nobody can interrupt that!).painting


  4. Take LOTS of pictures. If the camera you are using has a burst mode, turn it on! I preach incessantly to take lots of pictures and candid photography is no different, but in this case, most of the pictures you take of the subject may look pretty similar (no different angles or lighting). When you find an opportunity for a candid photo, lift that camera and push that shutter! (If your camera is in burst mode, it will take pictures continuously.)burst mode


  5. Wait PATIENTLY. Sometimes, if you wait, you can get the PERFECT shot! Get yourself in a good position to observe people, and when the moment arrives, you’re ready! For example, sit on a bench in the mall and observe people. As each person or group of people walk by, you have an opportunity to capture the perfect moment! Or sit in a corner table at the lunchroom and scan the crowd, a moment is bound to present itself you!waiting


REMEMBER! This is just an introduction to candid photography. If you really get into this, there are other ways to go about it. But this will get you started and hopefully spark something creative in you!

If you’d like a project outline for candid photography, click the button below!

Using a SPEEDLIGHT flash in your photography

How to use a SPEEDLIGHT

As promised, now we are going to talk about using an external flash on your DSLR camera. Scroll to the end of this post for a FREE project outline about using your speedlight.

There are SO MANY resources on how to use a speedlight (or external) flash, but I am going to give you some quick tips for using your external flash when you are just starting out.

This post is going to focus on how to use a speedlight as it sits on the top of your camera. NOT mounted on a side stand. 

This week try to use your flash to direct the light in your image. We are going to BOUNCE the light from the different surfaces in your environment. Give these tips a try and explore using that speedlight!

  1. Straight on flash light. Just stick that speedlight on the top of your camera and shoot your brains out! This is a quick fix for you if you are in a place with little light, but it’s…well, not usually desired or flattering, especially for portrait photography. See how the light completely washes out all of the features of the face? We want to redistribute the light so that it is more appealing.straight on


  2. Bounced from the side. Depending on your ambient light (the light that exists in the room or area you are shooting pictures), a side light may be the answer to your problem. Take your picture next to a blank (and preferably) light colored wall. Turn your speedlight to the side and bounce the light off this wall and onto the subject. It will brighten up some of the shadows which would be present without the flash, but not completely wash the subject out (as would happen on the straight on flash light).from side


  3. Bounced light from above. If you have a light colored ceiling, you can tilt your speedlight upward and bounce that light off the ceiling. This could be helpful if you have ample light coming from the sides and need a bit more coming from above. If you have a bounce card (which is built in to many newer models including the one I use) you may want to pull it up to pull more light forward toward your subject.from ceiling


REMEMBER: You can increase or decrease the amount of light coming from your speedlight (with most models) so keep that in mind as you shoot.

If you’d like a project outline for speedlight flash photography, click below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)





How to use your built in flash without making it look "amateurish"

Built in flash

In past blog posts, I praise the use of natural light in photography. But what if there is just not enough light? 

Yes, a flash would be required. (And it’s not a bad word. Despite the fact that I usually avoid it at all costs…)

When you are first starting out, you should avoid using flash because it creates an extra element that you have to factor into your photography (you know, on top of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and just a few other things :). But after you have your feet wet in the world of photography, you can dip your toe into the world of flash photography.

One reason why you should not use a flash when you are first starting out, is that you need to understand how important light is when you are taking pictures. You need to understand how to change the direction of the light and know that usually, light coming directly from the camera doesn’t work very well. And where does light come from when you use the built in flash on your camera?  Directly from the camera!

For this blog post, I will only explore the built-in flash on your camera. I’ll discuss some tips that you can use to make the most of your flash whether it is on a DSLR or a point and shoot camera. 

So, down to business!  I don’t generally suggest that you use the built-in camera flash, but sometimes, you just can’t help it. If you are in a situation where there isn’t a lot of light, you need a flash! So here are two quick tips for using the built in flash:

  1. The first photo was taken at short range with the flash blaring in poor Zander's face. You see that the light quality is rather poor and that there is a black rim covering the lower portion of the picture. This is caused by the camera lens.Photo 1


  2. So, back away from your subject as much as you can. This will eliminate the harsh light on the face and the shadow that might appear from the flash itself. Photo 2


  3. In post editing, consider removing red eye (or green eye in the case of my dog). If you have a picture of a person, you may need to remove shiny spots on the face and other imperfections that the flash may highlight. (I also pulled my dog away from the wall so that he wasn’t right up against the white trim; it made him stand out a little bit.) Photo 3


And that’s it! Easy right? The quality of light may not be absolutely fantastic, but it’s better than dark shadows on the face and indistinct details!

If you’d like a project outline for using the built in flash on your camera, click the button below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




Where is the light coming from?!

Light Direction in photography

One of the ways that you can excel in your photography skills is to study what others have done.

Sometimes just perusing some professionals is helpful to gain some inspiration and to study good photography. (I love to just peruse to find some inspiration sometimes!)

Start by asking some technical questions:

  1. What kind of light is it? - Hard or soft? (For a full explanation of hard and soft light, click this link:
  2. Where is the light coming from? - Front? Side? Back? Overhead? Below? Is it coming from multiple directions?
  3. Is there a catchlight? (If you are taking a picture of a person, that would be the light that reflects in their eyes)
  4. What do you think the aperture size is? - is it a shallow or deep depth of field? (For an extensive unit on aperture, click this link:
  5. What time of day might it be? Sunset? Noon? Is it cloudy? Sunny?  - This will effect how the light falls on the subject.

After you have answered these questions, you can get an idea for the conditions in which the photographer was taking the image.

The challenge this week is to see if you can recreate an image from an image you admire with the same light. Note that you will not likely get it to look exactly the same, but by getting an idea for how that photographer used light in the image, you can learn how to take better pictures!

Click the button below to get a FREE project outline for learning light directions in photography. (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




How to give EXTRA CREDIT without seeming like a pushover!

Giving extra credit in a photography class

How many times have you heard: “How can I get extra credit in your class?”

Usually, at least in my experience, this question comes 2 days before the end of term from a student who is 2% away from the next letter grade and is desperately trying to raise it just enough to make the grade or even to pass my class.

So here’s how I handle it: I say, “Yes! Absolutely! Go take some pictures at some school events…though I’m not sure how many school events are planned for the next 2 days.”

I can say this because at the beginning of the school year, I have already given them this opportunity. I allow them to take pictures at school events throughout the whole semester (and turn in pictures up to 10 times).

This way, I don’t have to dread the question, because before it leaves their lips, it has already been answered!

I don’t care what they take pictures, as long as it gets them out at school games, meets, dances, etc. I have even accepted a cool class science project before.

Of course, don’t just accept any picture. The images they turn in still have to be quality images and display good composition as we have discussed in class. 

As I have always said in class, “There is no reason you should fail this class. All you have to do is TAKE PICTURES! After all, you are in a photography class!” (But that doesn’t stop some of them…)

If you are interested in a FREE project outline for Extra Credit Photos, click the checkbox below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




Alphabet photography

Alphabet photography photo assignment

Have you ever seen those abstract letter photos? They’ve been around for a while, but they are still a fun unique gift. So how do you take cool photos like that? Well, I’m so glad you asked!

Alphabet photography are really just macro-mode photos. (Here is a link to my macro-mode blog post)

Here are some tips for making some really cool alphabet photos of your own:

  1. Get in close! Use that macrocode setting. (It’s the one that usually looks like a flower on your camera dial) Get in even closer than you think you do, it makes for less post-editing.
  2. Look intentionally. You may look a little strange to your friends as you lean in uncomfortably close to a fence post or the little pin on the fire extinguisher…but if you aren’t looking for letters, then you won’t find them!
  3. Stay outside. It is just better lighting, and since you will be getting in close to objects, it will make it easier for your camera to focus.

Join me for an Alphabet photo challenge next week (September 24, 2018)! For each day (on week days) I am going to post a new letter (in alphabetical order). I'll be posting on facebook and instagram. I hope you'll consider joining me!

Anyone who completes the photo challenge from start to finish (abiding by the guidelines below) will receive 40% off any subscription plan!

And of those who finish the challenge, I will enter their names into a drawing for ONE FREE MONTH subscription! 

That is up to $60 in savings! Just post your photos either to instagram or my facebook page with #alphabetphotochallenge. Tag me when you finish the challenge, I'll be looking for you!

So pull out those cameras and start finding some letters! But here are a few guidelines to get you started:

  1. As much as you can, try to get a good shot with enough light
  2. Make it easy to see the letter in question, avoid distracting backgrounds that interfere with the letter
  3. Don't "create" letters with objects (so don't get sticks and form the letter or get your kids to bend their bodies to a letter, etc)
  4. Don't take pictures of letters that already exist (so no billboard or graffiti letters)
  5. Only post on weekdays and post each letter on it's appointed day (give yourself a rest on weekends :)
  6. Oh, and HAVE FUN!!! 

Thats it for this one, it’s pretty straight forward. If you want a project sheet that lists all this plus some post editing tips, click below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




Advanced Photography Photo Assignments for high schoolers

Advanced Photography Photo Assignments

Do you have difficulty getting students to take photos? I never understood why it was so difficult to get kids to do this. It seems like it would be easy…you just have to take pictures! Even if they aren’t very good, at least bring in something!

But no, week after week, I would have students not bring in photos. I think I have it figured out: laziness and lack of imagination. Not that they don’t have an imagination, they just don’t get the opportunity to exercise it often enough.

So, how do you spark the imagination of an unmotivated high school student? If I had the answer to that, I am quite certain that I would be an millionaire. But I do have a few ideas that seem to help at least some of my kiddos:

  1. Remind them OFTEN. Every day is good, maybe even at the beginning and end of class. Say something like, “Has anyone come up with any ideas for your photo assignment? Care to share?”
  2. Keep it simple. Kids seem to get nervous when they have too many steps. It’s like me and a new recipe; if there are too many steps, I’m looking for a different recipe.
  3. Do it with them. It seems like this tip works really well to challenge them and show them that it is possible to do the project without too much fuss. After all, if YOU can do it with your busy schedule, surely THEY can get it done too…

Of course, these aren’t guaranteed wins, but they will help some of your students stay on top of photo assignments. It is specifically important to try to keep them motivated at the beginning of the school year, because once they’re behind, it’s hard to get them motivated to jump back in and get started again.

If you need some ideas on photo assignments, feel free to get this free download which includes a list of photo assignments that I have used with my advanced students. As the fall semester ensues, I will be highlighting each photo assignment with helpful examples and definitions. The document attached currently does not have the articles ready because they haven’t been posted yet! But stay posted and I’ll be presenting them for you weekly!