In this clip, we are looking at shooting portraits in manual or M mode.


If you’re a beginner and you’d like to know what the range of modes do, take a look my clip ‘What do camera modes mean?’



So what’s so special about manual mode?


Well, it’s the only mode that gives you full creative control over each of the holy trinity of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Unlike in the other modes, you are not relying on the camera to decide anything – and that’s good.


A word of warning though. Shooting in manual mode isn’t for the beginner, so I would suggest you first get an understanding of:


  1. what most of the buttons and wheels on your camera do, and…
  2. the concepts of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I have videos on each of these that should help.


So this is my approach to shooting portraits in manual mode:


Keep it RAW

Make sure you are shooting RAW files. RAW, compared with jpeg, have lots of depth. This means more latitude to make adjustments to exposure in post-production (making the image brighter or darker) without losing detail in the shadows and highlights. Remember, even the best photographers don’t get a perfect exposure every time.



Next, think about light and ISO. Always choose the lowest ISO you can get away with. If it’s a bright sunny day, it’ll be 100; in the shade on a bright sunny day, probably 400. We can adjust ISO later if necessary, but it’s crucial to set it before you think about anything else.



Next set aperture. If we were shooting an action shot – and were interested in freezing or blurring the movement – we’d set shutter speed.


But a portrait subject is usually fairly static, so our priority is depth of field – how sharp or blurry we want the background to be. And this is controlled by aperture. So we widen the aperture (set to a lower number) for more blurry; and narrow it (set to a higher number) for a sharper background.


Here I’ve gone for f5.6 – a mid-range aperture that should give a little blur to the background.


Here I’ve gone for f4 – that should give some nice soft blur to the background.


Here I’ve gone for f3.2 – that should give some a soft blur to the background.


So, we’ve set ISO and aperture. But how to get the correct shutter speed for the right exposure? Here, there are a number of methods but we’ll look at two: trial and error and using a light meter.


Trial and error

First, trial and error. It’s not perfect but in the digital age it’s probably the most popular option.


Shutter speed for portraits is actually quite straight forward. Generally, you don’t want a speed that is so slow that small movements by your subject will create blur – so I’d say try to stay above 1/100th of a second. You also don’t want a speed that is less than the focal length of your lens – that means camera shake. So for example, I never shoot with my 135 lens at less than 1/160th.


But for creative purposes there’s nothing to be gained from a high shutter speed, say of 1/500th of a second. That speed would also mean shooting in blinding sunlight, which is horribly squinty for your portrait subject.


So I’m shooting with my 24 – 70mm lens at 1/125th. Let’s take a test shot. Remember to view the screen in the shade or where the light’s not too glaring. Forget the background – concentrate on the subject – are they too bright or too dark?


In this case, the image is too bright. So I could increase the shutter speed. That will help with exposure but it’s not going to do anything for the quality of the image. So what would? Well, I could always reduce the ISO – that would adjust exposure and also reduce the amount of noise in the shot, so it’s a win-win.


Keep taking test shots and adjusting until it looks right. Remember this method is not perfect. Depending on the light in which you are viewing the LCD screen, the quality of the screen and how it’s set, it can be at best a rough guide.


Instead, you could opt for …


A handheld light meter. For portraits especially, it gives you really reliable exposures. In brief, the meter in a camera measures reflective light, the light reflecting off things, whereas a handheld light meter measures ‘ambient’ light, so the amount of light hitting your subject. This is a more reliable measure.


To use your handheld light meter, follow the same procedure as on your camera in M mode: set ISO, decide on aperture, carefully position the meter in front of your portrait subject’s noise, pointing towards the camera and press the button. It will give you the right reading for shutter speed. If the shutter speed is unnecessarily high (ie. it’s not going to improve the quality of the image), reduce ISO and try again.


Then simply set your camera to the same numbers and away you go.


So I hope that was useful. Thanks and happy shooting!

Correct exposure – what is it? It’s a slightly tricky term but in this clip we’ll look at how it can help you understand light, tones and how your camera works – even if it’s not what you want to aim for in every image.



First of all, ‘correct exposure’ does not refer to what is creatively right for your image. As a photographer that’s the crucial question for each photo: does the degree of brightness or darkness of the image help tell the story you want to tell?


Of course that decision is entirely subjective – there’s no correct or incorrect – only what looks good and what doesn’t.


Correct exposure is a technical term. Here’s a good definition from the Canon website: “The act of having correct exposure means your combination of settings between apertureshutter speed and ISO speed have produced a perfectly exposed image. When nothing is blown out (highlights) or lost in shadow in an image, it has achieved correct exposure.”


Here it’s useful to consider the work of the towering genius of photography Ansel Adams. Not only are his images extraordinary but he was a major innovator in how we approach light and photography.


Much of Ansel Adams’ work was done in the days before colour photography and when considering exposure it is helpful to try to think in black and white tones – shades of grey if you like – rather than colour.


Ansel Adams developed the idea of a zone system, which divided the spectrum of tones – from 100% black to 100% white, into 10 tones or shades. A ‘correct exposure’ doesn’t have to cover all of those tones but the middle tone should be that middle grey – here number 5.


That grey, often referred to as ‘18 percent grey’, is the tone on the spectrum that the camera’s metering system is designed to ‘average’ out the image to. It’s aiming for correct exposure.


Let’s take an extreme example.


Here I’m shooting in the most basic mode – green mode – so the camera is deciding all the settings – ISO, aperture and shutter speed — in order to get that correct exposure.


I’m taking a photo of a well-lit white sheet of paper. To the naked eye, it looks very white. But when we view the image, it’s grey.


Let’s try this poorly lit black mouse pad. It looks pretty black, but – after a long exposure — the image itself is – again! – grey.


Looking at our two images, both are technically ‘correct exposures’. The camera has averaged out the tone of each to that middle 18% grey. But of course generally, we want our images to appear as we see the world through our eyes.


When all the elements in an image average out to around mid-grey, then the camera’s metering will probably get it about right. I find this often works outdoors on a sunny day.


But when the image is predominantly dark or light, it will get it wrong.


This explains why so many amateur shots taken with automatic exposure are either too dark (if say there is a bright background) or too bright (if there’s a very dark one). The camera is averaging out the whole image for a ‘correct’ exposure.


Consistently getting the right exposure in a creative sense is a long journey – it’s essentially what learning photography is all about. But understanding the concept of ‘correct exposure’ is a good start.


Finally I’ll leave you with a mention of an Australian photographer named Trent Parke, who’s exposures are anything but ‘correct’. Instead his early work takes an incredibly creative approach to extreme contrasts of light, with extraordinary – and sometimes spooky – effect.


Thanks and happy shooting!


Photoshop vs Lightroom: a look at which software is best for processing multiple files, dealing with RAW, image rating and selecting, image adjustments and creating graphics.



In this clip we’re comparing Photoshop and Lightroom – both Adobe products and the dominant photography processing software on the market.

First of all, they are both extremely powerful tools. I, like most professional photographers, use both, but for different purposes.


Batch processing

Lightroom is great for processing a whole batch of images. After a shoot you might have hundreds of shots. You’ll want to download them, store them in your photo library, back them up (very important) and then start going through the images one by one, discarding the poor shots and selecting the good ones.

This you could do on Photoshop but it would take forever. You’d have to open each file individually – very, very tedious. Also Photoshop is not designed for RAW images – and if you are serious about photography you’ll shoot RAW files.

Lightroom makes the selection process wonderfully easy. You can see dozens of images at a glance in the grid mode, or flick through them one by one. As you do so you can rate images by colour, stars or flags.

Personally I give shots I like a blue label, and those I don’t like a red one. Once I’ve gone through them all, I can select all the red labelled shots – and delete them. I can then view all the blue shots. I often make a further selection – the best of the good ones – with stars. I can then view just the starred blue pics.

So I’ve made a selection but so far, the images are unprocessed – they are just as they came out of the camera. Images can always be improved on in terms of adjustments: exposure, contrast, colour etc.

This is, of course, an area in which Photoshop excels – and more on that later – but the beauty of Lightroom is that you can apply adjustments to one image, and then duplicate those adjustments to a whole batch of images in just a couple of clicks.

The batch function is something that also applies to metadata. Applying metadata, using keywords, is really useful as you build up an image library and need to quickly search for particular images.

So we’ve made a selection and we’ve made image adjustments. But the files are still in RAW format and can’t practically be used in anything other than Lightroom. Time to export the selected images in a format that can be printed or used by a program like Photoshop. I always convert my images to jpeg.

So far I’ve talked mostly about Lightroom. That’s because Lightroom is great for the essential early stages of post-production: organising, applying metadata, image selection, image adjustments and conversion to jpeg.


Getting in deep

So what’s Photoshop good for? Well, let’s say I want to produce a large print for an exhibition. It’s worth spending the time getting that image looking as good as it possibly can. This means very precise and very detailed image adjustments. Here Photoshop comes into it’s own.

I’d suggest that Photoshop is used more by graphic designers than photographers. If you want to use a photo to produce a poster, a magazine cover or perhaps a banner ad for a website – anything using multiple images or pieces of text – then you’d use Photoshop.

Photoshop is immensely powerful and it’s wonderful for the later ‘product’ stages of post-production. But be warned: if you want to master it – there’s a lot to learn.

So, I hope that was helpful. Good luck – and happy shooting!

Lens flare – what is it and how can we harness it to serve our creative needs? Find out in my latest youtube photography tutorial. Please take a look at the video and see the transcript below.



In this clip, we’re asking what is lens flare and how can we apply it to add a creative sparkle to our photography.


What is lens flare?

Lens flare is the effect you get when strong light shines directly into the camera lens. As I’m sure you know, a lens is made up of numerous glass elements. Normally, when shooting, light will flow through the elements, one by one, before hitting the sensor or film. But powerful direct light will reflect between the elements – effectively bouncing around like a pinball – before burning an image on the sensor or film.

Lens flare can take different forms depending on the strength and shape of the light and the lens you are using.


Rings, streaks and blobs

You’ll find washed out, or ‘vieling flare’ that will cover much of your image; rings, streaks, hexagon or similar-shaped blobs of light, and – my favourite – starbursts.

Lens flare isn’t necessarily good or bad. It can look fantastic, really adding dynamism to an image, or it can simply mess up an otherwise pleasing image. Or like here, it can just be a bit unnecessary.

Bokeh, is similar to lens flare, but a little different. Bokeh is caused when highlights in an image are blurred or out of focus. It’s a nice effect and works best with a very wide, open aperture.

So here are some tips on how to experiment with lens flare:

‘Golden’ hours. It’s no secret that early morning and late afternoon are the best times to take photos. That’s especially true when using the sun to create lens flare. In the middle of the day, the sun is generally in the wrong place – too directly above – and too bright. Remember – looking directly at the sun, even through a viewfinder is really bad for your eyes.

When the sun is lower in the sky, it’s diffused through thicker atmospheric layers, making it less blinding and also a warmer, more golden colour. Conveniently for photographers, the sun is then also well positioned to make silhouettes. And lens flare works beautifully with silhouettes.
Manual focus. Shooting into the light confuses the auto-focus on your camera. It’s best therefore to duck into shadow, focus on your subject using auto-focus, switch to manual focus (all the while maintaining the same distance between camera and subject) and then shooting.

Manual exposure. Similarly shooting into the light confuses the auto-exposure on your camera. It will try to ‘average-out’ the exposure of the shot, when in fact you often want to keep the shadows nice and dark.

Personally I find lens flare works best shooting with a wide-angle lens. That way the lens flare doesn’t dominate the shot but becomes one feature in a larger picture.
It’s also when you can get the most dramatic results. For crazy lens blur use a lens with a really round front element. These images were shot at 16mm with my 16-35mm lens. You can actually see the roundness of the front of the lens in the lens blur.

The smaller the light source shining into the camera, the more defined the light flare. If you want to create starbursts, try obscuring part of the sun behind your subject. Moving the camera just an inch or two in any direction will change the shape of the light and therefore the lens flare.

Generally a zoom lens will create a broader more blurry lens flare and a fixed or prime lens will create a more defined one. This is because there tend to be fewer elements in a fixed lens than a zoom and therefore less opportunity for the light to bounce around.

Vieling flare produces quite a pale, washed out look. I generally find it necessary to really boost shadows in post-production (Lightroom or Photoshop) to give the image some definition.


Lens flare is not an exact science

My final tip is: take lots of shots. Lens flare is not an exact science. You’ll probably find most of your shots don’t work but you may also get a few corkers too. And the remember the fun is in the experimentation.

So good luck and happy shooting!

I’ve just posted a new youtube photography tutorial on a topic that is front of mind for many newcomers to the DSLR:


Cheap vs pro lens: what’s the difference?


Here’s a transcript of the above clip:


Lenses come in all shapes and sizes.. and yes, prices.


It can be a little confusing when comparing different lenses that cover a similar focal range, for example a general purpose zoom that goes from reasonably wide-angle to long. They do roughly the same thing – but have vastly different price tags.


In this clip we are going to look at two lenses – one cheap and one not so cheap – and ask: what’s the difference in functionality – in other words what can the pro-level lens do that the cheap one can’t – and what’s the difference in image quality.


I’ll be comparing Canon lenses simply because I use Canon equipment. This is not intended as a lens review – we’ll be looking at general guides that should apply equally to cheap and pro lenses from Nikon or any other brand.


Also, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with using cheap lenses. We’d all love to have the best equipment, but, that said, some of my favourite shots were taken with a cheap zoom lens. Remember – it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it.


So here are the lenses:


First, the Canon 35 – 80mm f4-5.6. This is what’s known as a ‘kit lens’ – a lens that is usually sold as a package with a camera body. This lens is no longer on the market and I believe newer kit lenses are better quality. I bought this lens second hand as a package with this old film camera – total cost: $50.


The other lens is the Canon 24 – 70mm f2.8. It’s part of Canon’s L range, which essentially means it’s a ‘pro’ lens. I bought it second hand but in ‘as-new’ condition for $1,300.


Put the lenses together and we see some obvious differences. First, the L lens is huge in comparison. It also weighs roughly 5 times as much as the 35 – 80mm.


Not surprisingly, the lens barrel for the cheap lens is made mainly of plastic, whereas the L lens is metal. The L lens is therefore much sturdier. It’s also weather sealed to protect the internals from moisture.


Cheap vs pro lens: functionality

Let’s look at the mount-end of the lenses. This gives us a clue as to an important difference in functionality. The glass element for the cheap lens is much smaller than for the L. This indicates the aperture of the lens – and relates to those mysterious numbers: f2.8 for the L lens and f4 – 5.6 for the cheap lens.


To understand what this means, let’s take a practical example:


We’re shooting with the cheap lens at 35mm – so this is as wide-angle as the lens will go. The first shot is at f8. OK, let’s try and blur that background a little more with f5.6 (changing the ISO to keep the same exposure). Let’s blur the background further to f4. Remember that number.


Now let’s change the focal length to 85mm – as long as the lens will go. Here’s f8 (notice the fact that we’re using a longer focal length makes the background naturally blurrier), and now f5.6. But when we try and get to f4, we discover we can’t. This is because the lens has an aperture of f4 – that’s at its widest angle – but only f5.6 at its longest focal length.


So now with the L lens. We’re at 50mm. So here’s f5.6, f4 and beyond to f2.8. Notice the level of blur we get in the background. This lens is f2.8 across its focal range. So here it is at f2.8 at 24mm – its widest angle – and 70mm – its longest.


Having a wide aperture isn’t just useful for background blur. It also gives us much more leeway for shooting in low light.


Here we’re shooting in pretty gloomy conditions. We’re on a veranda sheltering from the rain.


We’re using the cheap lens at 80mm. In terms of aperture, we can only go as open as f5.6. With a sensible shutter speed of 1/100 that means we have to set ISO at 1600. This results in quite a ‘noisy’ image.


Let’s try wide-angle at 35mm. This allows us an aperture of f4, but that still means ISO 800 – still quite noisy.


With the L lens we can shoot as wide as f2.8 – actually we’re shooting just short of that at f3.2, which allows us ISO 500. That’s less noisy.


Image quality

Now we’ve looked at the functional differences between the lenses, let’s try comparing image quality. This is not a scientific comparison – rather my impressions on looking at the images side by side. All the images used in this video were shot on my trusty Canon 5DIII. They are also unprocessed – so straight out of the camera – unless otherwise stated.


The first thing to notice is a haziness to the cheap lens. The colours are not as vivid and the nice contrast of the L lens is lacking. The highlights – the bright areas — are similar but the shadows are distinctly washed out (COLOURED FLAGS).


Let’s also take a look at the corner of the image. You’ll notice that, using the cheap lens, the image is a bit soft. That’s not uncommon in lenses of this quality.


Now let’s look at general sharpness. These shots were captured at f8. Now, f8 – 11 is in the middle aperture range and should therefore be the sharpest. And sure enough, the cheap lens comes out looking reasonably sharp.


Let’s now open up the aperture all the way to f4. Here we can see that the image has a softness to it, especially compared with the L lens image.


Now let’s try and address the haziness in the cheap lens. Here we’ll darken the shadows in Lightroom in order to create some contrast. As you can see, it works quite effectively – we have a much more pleasing image. But it does come at a cost – we’ve now lost a lot of the details in the shadows, especially compared with the L lens image, which hasn’t been altered.


Loss of shadow detail is especially important when you print images, as prints tend to increase the contrast – brighter highlights, darker shadows – meaning more loss of detail.


If you want more detailed, scientific comparisons between particular lenses, I’m sure you can find them on the web. But I hope that’s given you some idea of the difference between cheap and pro lenses. Essentially they boil down to build and durability, aperture – perhaps the most important one for me – and image quality.


But whatever lens you use, have fun and keep shooting!


And please check out my other youtube clips!