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Pro Shooter Ken Ross Critiques Student Cindy Spicer’s Images

Pro Shooter Ken Ross Critiques Cindy Spicer's Images Hi Cindy, I wanted to take some time to go over your images and give you as much specific feedback as I could – drives me crazy when all I get from a critique is “nice” or “I like that” – doesn’t help me get better and I try not to do the same thing to my students  I’ll also include an example adjustment of your original image, just to illustrate my comments – it’s art so remember that my comments are just my own perspective and opinions; you have your own story to tell in your own way!             I love the angle of this shot for expressing the grandeur of the sanctuary – it really helps “set the table” for this set of images and gives the viewer a sense of perspective when their viewing the other images. There are two things that I’d want to do in order to improve this a little more; correct the perspective skew and the white balance. The skew is a natural side effect of lens distortion of course but when you’re shooting architectural subjects, it’s really important to make sure the walls at straight. Fortunately, Adobe Lightroom has a feature that makes this sort of thing super easy to fix! Also, knowing that you’ll have this sort of correction to do with architectural images, be sure to always shoot “wider” than you really want for your composition; straightening out the walls will result in cropping off some detail on the edges (the top left & right in particular for this image). For the color balance, you’ll find scenes like this are very difficult for the “auto” white balance to deal with; there are a lot of different light sources in the scene and lots of colored light too. The camera does the best it can but just doesn’t have a good reference. There are a number of ways to you can solve for this; the easiest is to make note of a white or “neutral gray” area in the scene that you can use for a point of reference; as long as you are shooting in RAW, you can use the White Balance Selector Tool in Lightroom to select that white/gray area and it will adjust all the colors in the image to correct them. If you’re in a place where you don’t see a good candidate (and it can be something like a white plastic bag, a gray sidewalk, etc.), just drop a blank white sheet of paper in the scene where it’s being hit with “representative light” and use that as your reference; you can take a second shot without the paper there and, again in Lightroom, you can copy the white balance adjustment from your paper reference to your other image (select both images while in the Develop tab, click the Sync button and select just the White Balance adjustment to copy). Since the samples you sent me were JPG files I couldn’t do a true White Balance correction (you need RAW for that) but Lightroom tries really hard to re-tint a JPG to get close so it’s representative of what you could do with your original image (but you can definitely do a better job!). Likewise, Lightroom does a better job of correcting lens distortion if it knows the make and model of the camera and lens used; it can usually read that from the original image meta data but that’s often stripped from JPGs (and for some cameras you may need to download additional profiles if it doesn’t know them automatically). Love the high angle of this shot – it’s more dynamic than the first image and less of a literal expression of what the sanctuary looks like, but is more exciting due to the perspective. Here again we have some alignment/skew correction to do as well as white balance (although the camera is doing a better job this time). Other small adjustments include increasing the exposure, contrast and a bit of Clarity (helps pop textures in these sorts of setting but be careful of using it with people in the scene as it can make their skin look haggard). I remember working with you on this composition and am really pleased with how well it turned out – I think the angles work well and framing the pipes between the stain glass windows gives it a strong sense of place. I made a few adjustments here to boost contrast and add a bit of Clarity, but didn’t want to brighten the image too much more and lose the mood (or blow out the windows). I did feel like the pipes needed to be enhanced though because they’re a key element in your story; I used the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to just “pain on” more exposure for the areas of the pipes I wanted to emphasize and used the pipes themselves as a White Balance adjustment reference (they’re gray).                     Really love how this turned out – I told you you’d get it!! This is exactly what we talked about with this technique; get enough exposure at one spot to cement the details (especially her face) and then pull back on the zoom to create that dynamic effect in-camera. Great job!! My only contribution here is to boost contrast and add Clarity to help the image pop and create more apparent sharpness on the base image (see how her face looks “sharper”? That’s due to Clarity).                   This is another outstanding image. I really love how you saw this possibility while we were walking out and insisted on “working the scene” to make this happen. In particular, I liked how deliberate you were in your framing and, as a big fan of high-contrast B&W images myself, I love the mood of this image. Here again I’ve made just a few small changes to take an already great image up a notch; exposure has been increased slightly to get more detail on the foreground element, I’ve rotated the image slightly to straighten the window and added Clarity to bring out the texture in the floor. Lastly, I used the Lightroom Adjustment Brush to paint in some “drama” on the top three window panes, adding a bit of exposure and Clarity while making the dark areas just a wee bit darker. I’m going to be honest here; this isn’t a great composition. The exposure is good and the white balance is reasonably good, but in terms of presenting a subject or telling a story I feel this fails to hit the mark. I know that you were drawn to that amazing keyboard, a subject that excited you and was frankly challenging to capture (you knew what all the buttons did but it might as well have been the space shuttle cockpit for me!). Looking at this image as presented, it appears that the subject is the decorative carving at the end of the pew (rather than the keyboard) but the keyboard in the background is too distracting (and the top of the carving is just being clipped by the top of the frame). Lastly, the railing at the edge of the pew is acting like a “leading line” – pulling the viewer out of the image instead of into it. Now, there are a number of things we might do differently if we had it to do over again (hindsight is awesome) but what we can do to improve the image we have at hand? Well, let’s assume the subject is the carving. Let’s take advantage of that leading line like we talked about in class – use that to help direct the viewer to our subject. How? We’ll flip the image so that line is coming in on the left . Next, we need to create more emphasis on our subject than the background; we can do that by using the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to paint the areas we want to de-emphasize, making it darker (less exposure) and less distinct (lower the Sharpness and Clarity). Then, create a new brush and paint a little added exposure and Clarity on the details on the face of the carving. Lastly, we crop the image in a bit tighter on the main carving and use the Post-Crop Vignetting to darken the edges of the image, further deemphasizing the windows and back wall. There’s a lot to like in this image – the atmosphere of the solitary “parishioner”, the dramatic lighting from the windows. However, when we have a person in the image then the story really is about them and I feel like the image is too dark with too many bright windows and our subject just gets lost. What I’d recommend in this case is to re-crop the image to make it more about the subject and then use the Adjustment Brush to paint on just a bit of extra exposure on our subject’s face and arms, just enough to lift them out of the shadows but not so much as to make them look “flashed” or unnaturally lit. I didn’t want to do anything to the overall exposure since that would change the mood too much.                   Another great angle to explore in this venue – really love how you’ve picked up the play of light across the floor and controlled the exposure so that the massive stained glass at the back of the sanctuary wasn’t blown out. With this image we have very little to correct that we haven’t looked at earlier – some White Balance and perspective skew adjustment is all we need, as well as a smidge of Contrast to make it pop.   I hope you found these comments and examples helpful and thanks again for coming to my class and for sharing your images with us!   Ken

Finding a Crowd

From Josh Anon/ DPA instructor in San Francisco To view more of his images please visit A small change in perspective can make a big impact in the photos we create.  The San Francisco Ferry Building is often quite crowded during the Saturday morning farmers market, but when you’re down in it the crowd, it’s tough to capture the feeling you have of being there.  By finding stairs to a second floor, I was able to find a unique perspective, looking down at the crowd and showing how dense it was.  However, if I just took this with a regular lens, even at a small f-number, the crowd would read as a texture and the photo would lack a subject.  Instead, I used a Lens Baby to bring selective focus to just one part of the crowd, specifically an area squished in the middle of the crowd.  This blurred the crowd in such a way that it didn’t read as a texture (some is blurred and some isn’t), and it makes it clear that the focus of the photo (pardon the pun) is the crazy crowd.  Additionally, the lines in the wall converge, further brining your attention to the in-focus area. Canon EOS 1D MkIV with Lens Baby Composer.  f/4, 1/60 sec, ISO 400  

The Panning effect

 From Frank Siteman/ DPA instructor from Boston View more of his images at The technique used to make this photo is called panning.  It is a very effective means of conveying motion, and can bring amazing energy to a photo. To obtain images like this, one moves the camera with the subject, keeping the main object in the same place, relative to the edge of the frame.  The image of the background sweeps from side to side while the car remains centered….or wherever you’ve placed it in the frame.  You can check out the intensity of the blur by simple experimentation, moving the camera at different speeds and/or following subjects which move at different velocities.  I like to find a shutter speed which gives me an acceptable and appealing blur and then find an aperture/ISO combination which gives neither an over nor under exposed file, checking your histogram to ensure you are not unnecessarily blowing out important detail.   Digital photography makes taking pann shots relatively simple, as it gives you the means to adjust your settings to meet whatever situations you encounter and provide you with an instant preview.   In this instance, I was in the small village of Lyme Regis in England and saw this red coupe coming towards me at a relatively slow speed.  In order to show it’s motion, I knew from experience that I would be able to get the results I wanted by setting my camera to it’s shutter priority mode and to a 1/15th of a second.   If the car had been traveling slower, I might have used a 1/8th sec exposure.   This technique is wonderfully effective when shooting runners, people biking, dogs running or even kids playing soccer.  The important thing is to find the shutter speed which works for your particular situation and then work around that setting.


 From Frank Siteman/ DPA instructor in Boston To view more of his images please visit: I don’t think I’ve ever gone out shooting when I haven’t met a dog worthy of having it’s photo taken.  One technique which nearly always works is to get down to the dog’s level.  This isn’t to say that other unique angles won’t work, but what makes this particular image stand out is that “in your face” factor that you get when looking slightly up at him. I used a relatively short (24mm) lens and came in as close as I could, without altering the situation.  In doing so, I accentuated the nose and diminished the relative size of the ears.  I felt that this gave a slightly goofy, yet pleasing, feel to the photo.   Significant post production work included a NIK HDR application in conjunction with silhouetting the dog and treating the background as a separate entity. I was obviously not going for reality here, but rather a hyper-reality. To that end, I blurred an already out of focus background, while significantly sharpening the dog, except for areas (eyes, muzzle and nose) which wanted to remain crisp.   When shooting animals, it’s always helpful to have their person, as well as a helper, around.  The owner can get his pet’s attention and your helper can hold a fill card for you.  It’s important that the fill card, or reflector, does not alarm the animal however, and I’ve found that with some animals it’s best to use a bright reflector which works from greater distances.

Shallow depth of field

 From Frank Siteman/ DPA instructor in Boston To view more of his images please visit : A boy and his dog…..  Sure it’s a cliche, but for a good reason.  When a photo shows emotion, it’s successful.   One difference between a painter and a photographer is that a painter starts with an empty canvas and puts down on it what he or she wants to present.  A photographer on the other hand, starts with a full canvas and must eliminate what is distracting or unwanted.   In this photo, a relatively long focal length (200mm) was used at a wide aperture (f/2.8) to ensure that there would be a very shallow depth of field.  The focus was on the catch-light, or twinkle, in the dog’s eyes.   The sun was relatively low in the sky and I positioned the boy and his puppy so that they were illuminated from behind.  That produced a rim light that separated the subject from the already out of focus background.  It makes the image come alive.   I typically use a large reflector, made from a rigid foam insulation board (with an aluminum foil surface) and cover over 50 percent of it’s surface with gold spray paint.  This reflector can work from great distances, but must be catching direct rays of sunlight in order to bounce them back.  If there is an overcast sky, it will need to be much closer to the subject to work, but the gold warms what would be the reflection of a cool sky.   Again, a post processing affect was employed on a separate layer (with a mask) to selectively alter areas of the image and to create a painterly look.

Your Point and Shoot Camera ñ Photoshop Content Aware and NIK Tonal ContrastF

Digital Photo Academy and LivinginHD present a free monthly series of photography webinars on Your host, John Bentham answers many questions live during the webinars. Additional questions, answers and tips are posted here on where you can also view the archived webinars. Photos by ©Bob Barba, DPA student of instructor Brian Widdis, Detroit This action photo shot by DPA student Bob Barba, who took classes with DPA instructor Brian Widdis in Detroit, is a great photo of a quintessential sports moment. Notice the ball situated in the mouth of the tiger in the background, a lucky one in the million catch (no pun intended). This photo was included in the Point and Shoot Webinar both as a great photo but also as an example of how to fix and unwanted object in frame. Notice the white jacket in the photo (obstruction in lower right fame). To easily fix this problem the new Content Aware feature in Photoshop offers a fast fix on something that up until recently would have been a major retouching job. In the sample above John selected the offending object using the lasso tool in Photoshop. Then filled using Content Aware. The feature abstracts information from the surrounding areas of a photo and fills in the selected area with a best guess for content. Depending on the object, color, detail, texture etc this can be more of less successful. In this fix the Content Aware feature did a remarkable job leaving only a few “Artifacts” that need repair (as indicated by red arrows). Still a lot less work and time required that in the old days of photo retouching. John then went in and repaired the artifacts using the Clone (Rubber Stamp) tool and the healing brush. Once this formerly major repair was implemented there required just a minor adjustment, adding more detail and edge to the photo to really make the image come to life. By adjusting Tonal Contrast using the NIK Software Color Efex filter the whole image takes on a much more 3 dimensional aspect, more alive with more depth and detail. Photos by ©Bob Barba, DPA student of instructor Brian Widdis, Detroit The transformation results above, the original is on top while the bottom photos shows the repair and the effects of added Tonal Contrast using NIK Software. Webinar Submission Specs: All DPA students can submit photographs for inclusion in the Digital Photo Academy, LiHD Webinar, Online Photo Class Series. If you would like to submit your photographs for an upcoming webinar, read the following. Each webinar has a specific theme or topic. You can see the date and topic of the next webinar at, Tip of the Day, Online Photo Class. Note that webinars are edited and formatted days in advance, thus please submit your photos at least a week in advance of the webinar, late submissions can not be added. Photographs are chosen, and edited, for their applicability to the webinar theme, artistic and technical merit, and content length. If your photograph is NOT chosen, it will be archived and may appear in a more appropriate future webinar. Submit your photographs to By submitting your photographs for consideration, you grant and authorize, The Digital Photo Academy, and Panasonic, the following rights: The right to use your photographs in the content and promotion of the webinar series, and for use on each company’s respective website. You further authorize your photographs may be archived online and/or in a database, and allow unrestricted internet availability of any webinars containing your photographs. You further authorize the use of your photographs in any future webinars. By voluntarily submitting your photographs for consideration you agree to the aforementioned without any legal claims, or claims for remuneration, whatsoever. You, as the photographer, retain the copyright © of any submitted photographs. The aforementioned companies will make best possible efforts to apply proper photo credit and acknowledgement with your photograph whenever possible and practical.

Buying a Laptop VS Desktop; Laptops in the Field; Image Back-Up

Photo by Frank Siteman, DPA instructor Boston Photo by Frank Siteman, DPA instructor Boston Photo by Frank Siteman, DPA instructor Boston The three photos of corrugated cardboard shot by Boston DPA photographer Frank Siteman are wonderful examples of how with controlled and careful lighting and some specific post processing with Photoshop and NIK software you can make anything look good. Think about it ... Frank made a cardboard box look sexy. Computers: I’m a long time Mac user to the point where Imp hesitant to comment of PC computers. With the exception of a few oddballs, every photographer, graphic designer and art director I know uses Mac computers ... There must be something to this. However, the Panasonic Toughbook line is used in the field by NGOs, security personnel, police forces and the military. Obviously these computers are built to withstand punishment and knock-em-about use so if you’re looking for something to take on safari, or for an extended foray into the Amazon jungle you might check them out. With any Laptop the considerations are size, weight, speed, memory and cost. A smaller screen and slower processor with less RAM will significantly reduce the cost but then it’s difficult to use as a primary computer. A small computer screen is really only useful as a carry around reference on location type of computer. Unfortunately one computer, much like any one camera, does not do everything. You need to weigh cost and size against portability etc. The best case scenario and the system used by many pros, including myself is a 15 inch laptop with lots of power and memory and an even larger more powerful desktop computer. I just recently bought a MacBook Pro, 4GB RAM, 500GB Hard Drive with a 2.66 GHz processor and its great, love it, although Ill probably boost the 4MB RAM up to 8 soon. As a recent alternative I’ve met a few photographers who carry an iPad in the field to preview images and show photos to clients at the shoot. The main issue here is upload speed as the interface to load images to the iPad is not nearly as fast as loading to a laptop. However if you’re not loading a large number of files it works pretty well. This two-computer system can be pricey for a number of people. When investing in photo gear often there must be a compromise. If you’re at a point where you can only invest in one computer I would suggest a 15-inch with as much power and speed as you can afford. The 15 inch screen being large enough to edit and process on in a pinch and you always have the option of running a larger auxiliary screen with it, effectively increasing your desktop surface significantly. Alternatively Apple iMacs are a good deal for a large screen if you don’t need the portability of a laptop. You can currently buy a loaded 27-inch iMac for about the same price as a 15-inch laptop. Laptops due to the miniaturization required during manufacturing are more expensive than many desktop computers; they also must make allowance for the portability and shock effects of being portable. A desktop just sits on the desk; it doesn’t need to be (as) rugged and shockproof. There is something most people overlook when buying a computer and that is the Scratch Disk size. Computer imaging programs like Photoshop and NIK use the empty hard drive space on your computer when processing images. With modern computer programs taking up a lot of hard drive space, simply to load the programs, but also to operate them, its very easy once you store a few thousand photos, to fill up a computer hard drive to the point where it cant run the programs quickly, or at all. The more free space on your hard drive the faster your images will process and the less danger of crashing or freezing during processing large files. Photo by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York The image above shot on location in Morocco for an AUDI campaign is a simple shot. The lighting was good which helped but what makes the photo interesting is the post processing applied using NIK Software. John added a film grain, boosted contrast and saturation, and increased the structure of the photo bringing out the detail. A simple shot which then works better, much better. MacBook VS MacBook Pro: I often get this question from students wishing to move to a Mac but trying to save a little coin. The basic difference between a MacBook and a small MacBook Pro is construction, the Pro made out of aluminum, the basic MacBook made out of plastic. That said they have very similar guts is you buy the same configuration. I would recommend an upgrade to at least 4GB RAM (or even better 8MB), if you are running Photoshop and NIK Software. Either model gets more expensive of course when you add the Apple Care extended warranty, although I highly recommend this option. Current Mac Laptop prices (Nov 2010) MacBook 13 inch, 2.4 GHz, 4GB Ram, w 250 GB HD = $1100 MacBook Pro 13 inch, 2.4 GHz, 4GB Ram, w 250 GB HD = $1199 A similar size Toughbook is $2400 but I did notice a 50 percent off promotional deal while researching this tip so there are bargains to be found even on the good stuff. If you want a screen larger than 13 inch you go must go for the Pro model, MacBook Pro 15 inch, 2.4 GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB Drive = $1999. Mac as every manufacture does changes the specs and configurations every year or more often thus these specs and prices are just for example. A number of people reading this may be thinking - I can get a 13-inch PC for $500 or a 15 inch for $600. My personal experience is that bargain priced PC laptop computers are not worth the trouble, my wife having burned through two of them within the same period I had my previous Mac laptop. The aforementioned Panasonic Toughbooks are more expensive than bargain PCs but significantly better quality. Back-Up your Images: I cannot stress enough the importance of backing up your images, ... multiple times. A best-case scenario is 2–3 copies plus an Off-Site back up, either online or an alternate location. I can think of three students that had not only their computers stolen but also their back-up drives. The thieves’ just swept everything into a box and hit the road ... leaving the student photographers with only the low res copies they may (or may not) have uploaded to Facebook. Also see the samples below of corrupt files, thankfully I had a back-up copies but when I opened these image files they were obviously unusable. Back-Up, back-up, back-up ... and back-up elsewhere!!! Corrupt File Photos by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York

Wedding Webinar – Editing Photos, How to Choose the Best Shot

Editing Photos, How to Choose the Best Shot Wedding and Event Photography and NIK Image Enhancement Webinar John Bentham Digital Photo Academy and LivinginHD present a free monthly series of photography webinars on Your host, John Bentham answers many questions live during the webinars. Additional questions, answers and tips are posted here on where you can also view the archived webinars. Photo by Craig Strong, Lensbaby, Portland Oregon The stylish photo above shot by Lensbaby inventor and CEO, Craig Strong has a dreamy quality to it which is what the Lensbaby does best. You can see the classic Lensbaby Sweet Spot center, surrounded by the soft focus fall off front and back, and the soft breadth of focus side to side. Craig culled through a number of frames to pull this one one shot where the center sharpness was just right in addition to the positioning of the bride, groom and priest. When editing a large number of photographs the difficulty is often determining which are the 10 best, or one best from a series of photos. This can be especially difficult if you are just beginning your photography career. I remember my first assisting job many years ago, I was a week out of photo school and had landed a job working for a fashion photographer. My very first task was to develop 50 rolls of 35mm black and white negative film the photographer had shot a few days before. Stressfully I developed the film and made contact sheets without any hitches and I started looking through the images with a loupe. The shoot was a marketing campaign for a wool marketing board. The photographs were of a young boy wrapped up in a plaid wool blanket asleep in the back seat of a beautiful vintage 1950s Chevy. It was a sweet, nostalgic, softly lit beautiful image. The problem was out of 1800 images I couldn’t tell one from the other, to me they all looked the same. Photos by Adam Stoltman, DPA Instructor New York In the sequence of four photographs above shot by New York DPA Instructor Adam Stoltman you can see the progression of events as the bride and groom enjoy a personal moment alone on the beach during their wedding in the Bahamas. When editing this sequence you should look for specific things to determine which is the strongest image. Top Left: This photo is interesting but the groom is all but blocking the bride. There is a little bit of sea grass coming in from the bottom but its more a distraction than a working element. Top Right: This photo is beginning to come together, there is separation between the bride and groom. The grass is more prominent. Bottom Left: In this image the grass becomes a more significant and playful element making for a stronger photograph by adding another dimension and depth to the image. Bottom Right: This for me is the best image of the series. The sea grass is in a nice position. There is good separation between the new couple where you can really see their clasped hands a very nice touch. And finally the brides face is tilted up catching the light a bit more than the previous shots. Sometimes all is takes is a bit of luck. Of course once you’ve done your homework, and found your camera position, and chose your focal length, and set your focus, and nailed the exposure, etc, etc ......! Look again at the final select below and you will notice the details I have pointed out. Photos by Adam Stoltman, DPA Instructor New York When you first start looking at images, yours or those of other photographers, this is a uncommon issue. The skill of choosing a winner develops over time and develops faster the more images you look at. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to edit a shoot down to just one image a good technique is to compare no more than two images at once. Its very easy to get confused and overwhelmed when you’re juggling 20 – 30 images in your head. You keep jumping back and forth between 10 – 15 good ones and get confused very easily and can never come to a decision. The trick is a system, you just start with an initial edit, weed out what we call the winks and blinks, any shots with people making funny faces, or any technical gaffs, where the exposure or focus didn’t work well etc. Delete those. Then go through and tag what you consider the best as an initial edit. From a shoot of 500 images you′re looking to pull out 100 possible images. Then go through that 100 and pull out a better quality selection of 25 images. Now you′re down to a reasonable number to begin comparing individual images in pairs. Switch your editing process to a method where you are comparing only two images at any one time. Adobe Bridge works well for this as you can easily pull up on screen any two images from a folder. Then star rating system in Bridge is useful as well, you just tag your possible selects with a star (or multiple stars) and then by switching the view option to View by Rating, you can drag or save all your selects to a new folder in one move. Using this method reduces the editing process to a simple process of elimination  – Is this one better than that one? Yes or no? Each time you compare two images you choose the best one and then move on to compare it to the next image. Don’t waver, don’t start back pedaling and give an image a second look, fight the urge. You will find this works very well if you stick to your guns. If you don’t believe me just start the whole process over again. More often than not you will come out with the same best shot in the end. After a bit of practice using this method you can edit very quickly and painlessly. After doing this for 20 years I can now cull a shoot of 2000 images down to 10-20 select images in about 1 hour. You’ve heard the adage, first you get good, then you get fast. Give it a try and go for it. Photo by John Bentham, DPA Instructor New York The image above shot by New York DPA instructor John Bentham was chosen from approximately 25 images of the bride and grooms dash from the church to the limo. All in the scene was tart to finish 30 seconds but by shooting high burst rate John was able to record quite a number of frames. John chose the shot above because it appeared the bride and groom were really worried about being pelted with rice, it showed defensive posture and their determination to get to the car. A somewhat atypical image perhaps but fun none the less.

The Beauty of a Scan

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Lighting Effects

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